Monthly Archives: December 2023


A long time ago, I saw the George Clooney remake of Solaris, a movie about which I remember essentially nothing except that I sort of hated it. The open (and unanswerable) question is: was past me wrong? Later, my horror(?) movie podcast decided to watch the original[1] Russian Soviet adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel, which is what brings us here today. Arguably, having watched these movies in reverse order, I should next pick up the book.

Solaris, in a non-spoilery nutshell: there’s this guy, and he wanders around his family property staring distantly at the lake and the underwater reeds and the empty road. Later, a second guy comes to visit and recap his history with the largely oceanic planet Solaris, which we[2] have a station in orbit around. Some people went missing, and the second guy piloted a failed solo rescue mission in which he saw a lot of weird things that his onboard camera system did not corroborate, as a result of which he has advice for the first guy, who is a psychologist going to the station to decide whether it should stay open. Also, the second guy has a son who seems unfamiliar with the concept of horses, and then afterwards the second guy and the son go on a long, pointless[3] drive in [probably] China. Later yet, the psychologist goes to the station, and discusses with the remaining two residents a) what happened to the until recently remaining third resident (who was the psychologists’s friend) and b) why there are in fact rather more than two residents. Then he spends the remainder of the movie coming to grips with the answers they provide him, as well as the answers they do not provide him.

I think I might have gotten more out of the film if I had a better grasp on the painting where those hunters(?) are returning to town on a ridge while everyone ice skates in the valley town below, or more fully caught the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky references, for examples. But even at three hours, it only wears out its welcome once or twice during the most drawn out and inexplicable scenes, or when director Tarkovsky gets a little too clever by switching to various black and white shades as though we’re meant to know what is being conveyed by this change in that moment. The rest of the time, we are presented with a slow (nay, lingering) meditation on what it means to be human, and to behave humanely, in the face of the unknown.

And really, you cannot ask for much more out of your science fiction than that.

[1] False! There was a TV movie in the USSR four years earlier, which, huh, okay.
[2] humanity? The Soviets? It’s not perfectly clear, but probably humanity.
[3] Okay, that’s editorializing. I have no idea whether it was in some way central to the plot or it wasn’t.

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe

I just really like these John and David books, okay?

That said, I think this is the best one. First book: suffered from first book syndrome, and especially from being written episodically on the internet before it was bundled into a book. Second book: too many spiders. Third book: a little too much depression therapy, though if it helped anybody, that’s really great news.

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe covers multiversal time travel, tamagotchis, questions of determinism, and more, all through the lens(es?) of the losers who are all that stand between us and fourth wall-breaking, world-ending dangers. It also serves as a different kind of therapy than the prior book, I think, and it incrementally advances our knowledge of the narrator[1], in new and troubling ways.

There are definitely things[2] about the book that make it appear, impossibly, as though the whole series has been planned out from front to eventual back, from which I can glean both appreciation of the writing craft involved and also make some shrewd guesses about as yet unwritten events to come.

But then again, questions of determinism, I believe I mentioned? Recommended, would read for the first time again.

[1] Complete tangent, but I think my favorite thing about David Wong is that he thinks John is the main character.
[2] and by things I mean retcons

Hotel Leikeu

If you think it’s hard to watch a foreign film in a language you don’t know while working, well, it is, but what I was going to say was, imagine how much harder it is when you watch the two halves of the movie with a gap of probably two weeks in between. So if you think this is going to be a shitshow of a review: fair.

Lingering is a haunted hotel story, a la The Shining. A young Korean woman is called upon to care for a disruptive younger sister she never even knew existed, which is also how she learns that her mother has died by suicide. At a loss for how to take care of a little girl, she takes the sister to a hotel run by one of her mother’s friends, a place where she spent a lot of time as a child herself but which in latter days is seeing less and less business; now there are only a handful of employees and maybe one other guest?[1] Only, the little girl has visions of violence and death (to be fair, this was the disruption at school as well, so it predated the hotel), but then other people start dying in mysterious and/or suspicious ways, depending on whether you think you’re in a ghost story (as our hero does) or a crime story (as the investigating police do).

Sometimes, I think movies aren’t very good but wonder if I failed them instead of them failing me, by watching while working. This time, I’m quite sure the movie was good and I would have enjoyed it more watching it at night, but at minimum all in one sitting. (This was not a choice I made, just an oops.)

[1] The rundown, “nobody comes here” aspect put me in mind of an additional hotel movie, to be honest.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I played a good deal of the then-new Zelda game in 2018, but kind of too fast? I mean, I rushed it. I mean, I did tons and tons of main quest and did not treat it like a sandbox RPG where you luxuriate in exploring every nook and cranny, and fulfill the need of every minor and major person you come across, even those who it would seem will not actually trigger a quest at all but you just have a sense that they ought to, and only after all of that is completed do you fiddle with the main quest. Or at the very least, you spread out the main quest pieces amongst all this luxuriating and fulfilling, such that you’re only thinking about that last little bit of game when you’re also running out of anything else to do anyway,

Then, for reasons that are lost in the mists, I stopped playing it.

Now, five years and one already-released sequel later, I have played a great deal of Breath of the Wild. Previous Zelda games have been a) smaller, which okay is a contributing factor, but mainly b) have been in fantasy settings. Sure, there are monsters around and a bad guy to defeat, and eventually villages and villagers and various races of creatures besides generic green elf-costumed heroes with swords, but all in service of a bit of magic trinketry and a giant boss fight and a princess of some kind to rescue and/or be rescued by.

This game, though… it is post-apocalyptic, and it is lonely. Okay, yes, there are obviously a lot more people to interact with than in any prior game in the (let’s say) series, and a lot more ways to interact with them, but the world is so huge, and so full of formerly rampaging sci-fi behemoths, and so full of monsters, and so devoid of people on a moment by moment basis, and even more devoid of people who aren’t huddled together in tiny enclaves of light against the darkness… It’s hard to hit every nook and cranny. And it’s a little depressing to try.

Well, no. What I mean is not depressing, it’s melancholy. Every action you take that isn’t directly related to fulfilling someone’s quest, you are either wandering around in the wilderness (hence the name) fighting things or looking for immeasurably old tombs to raid or collecting ingredients, or else you are unraveling the tragedy of a hundred years ago when everyone you hypothetically care about was killed.

I’ve noticed I’m making the game sound not fun, which is just spectacularly not true. There are so many puzzles to solve, so many stories to discover, so many things to collect, and upgrade, and defeat. I think I’m over 150 hours into the game at this point? There are still things I want to accomplish, but not many more that I feel I must. Uh, wait, you are asking yourself. If you didn’t finish, and especially if you are close to finishing, why the review?

So, funny story. I was killing time on Sunday while waiting for the in-game clock to reach night time, as a few quests I’m working on can only move forward at that time of not-day, and I was exploring Hyrule Castle plus trying to kill guardians to collect their cores (which they do not drop nearly often enough), when I wandered into a room that seemed to me not nearly high enough in the castle to be the place I would have been going for the big boss fight, only I noticed something that made me say wait, I probably shouldn’t be- and before I finished the thought, cut scene. And then, somehow, I won the boss fight on my first attempt, counter to expectations. And all in all, it feels like waiting to write the review after seeing the end of the game would be a mistake. So here we are!

The thing where most of the equipment in the game is consumable / degradable, i could do without. And some things are maybe a little too hard to accomplish. (Which arguably it would be more accurate to say, I haven’t figured out how to accomplish, but it isn’t actually all that hard. I have reason to believe this is the case.) But man, I understand why this game received the acclaim it did. It’s practically perfect in every way, as long as you don’t mind feeling melancholy.