The Orenda

The OrendaThe Orenda by Joseph Boyden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was given this for a book club, and I am glad they chose it because I don’t think I would have read it otherwise. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, and historical fiction based on Canadian history (the most boring type of history on the planet) just does not grab me. The Orenda turned out to be a gripping read, though, and lays out historical tribal life in brutal fashion, not sparing any details. If my history classes had been anything like this I might have actually been interested.

I was initially turned off by the first-person-present-tense and how difficult it was to tell which point of view we were following, but once I locked down on the fact that we were only following three different characters it wasn’t too burdensome. The ‘voices’ of the characters weren’t distinctive enough, and you had to wait until they observed something to orient you, or dropped a snippet like speaking to “my love” or “Lord” to figure out who the chapter was following, so I dislike the choice and I think it would have been easier to follow if it hadn’t been in first person. At many points the minor characters change names based on which viewpoint we’re following, the events that happen to name them, or even whether the person we’re following likes them right now or not. I was able to keep up, but I thought I would issue a warning that it’s going to require a bit more attention than usual.

I really liked how the story drew parallels between the three viewpoints we were following, but at no point did it seem to take a side. Each group had their beliefs and motivations which made sense to them and they acted appropriately within those beliefs and motivations, weaving a strong narrative as the cultures clashed. I think my only complaint would be that I wish the ‘magic’ had been more plausible, to draw a stronger compare/contrast between belief systems. It started losing me when they started having prophecies. Ambiguous visions and their interpretations of them is one thing, but literal visions of what is about to happen was kind of ehhhhhhh…

The book is nearly 500 pages and I don’t know that there is much else for me to elaborate on. I really enjoyed the journey through the story, but it might also be worth mentioning that it is not for the faint of heart or those who deal with depression.

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Cruddy

CruddyCruddy by Lynda Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is disgusting, disturbing, and fucked up… and I loved every minute of it. I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it up. I read Lynda Barry’s illustrated syllabus and really liked it, so when I saw Cruddy I thought “Oh hey she writes books too?” Turns out she doesn’t write many books but what a book she wrote.

You often find a lot of authors are masters of one thing and then everything else is sort of propped up on that thing. Since she’s primarily a cartoonist, I thought maybe these books would be an experimental foray into something different, maybe a little threadbare or grasping. The imagery is incredible, and you might think “well yeah but she’s used to portraying things in a visual medium” but it wasn’t just that. I enjoyed every facet of her writing. Some of the word choices are things I would never think to make, but they were so effective. I was continually impressed by how vivid everything was. Vividly disturbing, with a whole extra layer of fucked up on top. It was really something to experience.

But it’s also bleak. Even though it has its share of black comedy, this is probably not a book to read if you’re feeling down. It’s a snapshot of a miserable world full of miserable people who are fucked up because of the shit they’ve gone through and they’re getting by as best they can because there’s really nothing more they can do—this is it. Addiction, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse… everything is laid out bare and unflinching in Cruddy, and the vivid descriptions bring it home in full colour.

I can’t give this book enough stars. It needs to be experienced.

Dark Souls I and II

We spent probably close to 200 hours obsessively playing the first two Dark Souls games this month, and now I feel like I should tell you about it.  Normally I try not to bother writing about mainstream games (unless there’s something to bitch about), but I misunderstood the Dark Souls games and now I feel like I should try to ensure no one else makes the same mistakes.

I bought Dark Souls I a looooong time ago, when it first came out on Steam.  I spent a fair amount of time fighting what I called ‘the first boss’, which was getting GFWL to fucking work.  Once I got past that ‘boss’, I spent a fair amount of time on ‘the second boss’, which was getting the actual game to work by installing player made patches to fix all the bits and pieces that the people who ported the game over from console didn’t bother to do.  (The second ‘boss’ was much easier than the first ‘boss’.  Fuck GFWL.)  Then I ultimately died to ‘the third boss’, which was getting the controls to work.  There were TOO MANY BUTTONS and I kept swapping shit when I didn’t need to and jumping backward when I didn’t want to and… it was hard :(.  I was so exhausted from fighting the first and second ‘bosses’ that I didn’t get very far with the third ‘boss’, and I didn’t get very far into the game before wandering off.

My second attempt at Dark Souls went much better.  I made it all the way to the actual second boss of the game and spent some time dicking around trying to farm up souls and get some items before trying to actually fight it.  Which is about when GFWL took a big steaming shit and the game stopped working entirely.  Frustrated, I uninstalled the game and put it in a Steam category labelled “Broken because of GFWL >:(“.  It remained there for years.

Then they talked about GFWL shutting down and removing it from games that were fucked by it and my ears perked up.  And then they decided not to do that and I sighed dramatically and closed the “Broken because of GFWL >:(” category again (which was starting to collect more and more titles…).

Then I discovered that they had FINALLY.  FINALLY. actually properly removed GFWL from the game and I reinstalled it.  My husband reinstalled it at the same time (he had gotten much further than I did, but didn’t actually finish it).  THIS time the game worked beautifully, all the online integration was smooth, I still had to install the fan patches to make the graphics pretty but that was all smooth sailing as well, and because I didn’t waste 20 hours getting the fucking thing working, I was able to finally commit the controls to muscle memory.

And then we binged.  We binged so much that my forearms got sore from holding my shield block button.  And then the Christmas sale happened and we bought Dark Souls II, which my husband had actually already bought, but now it had the Scholar of the First Sin version which was all updated and shit so he upgraded to that too.  We completed Dark Souls and jumped straight into Dark Souls II.  And we binged.  Like seriously, my wrists are probably fucked from holding this controller, now.  But we “finished” the game, in that we completed the main story but there’s probably another 30 hours of DLC for us to go through still.  We are now very much looking forward to Dark Souls III, and we’re super pissed that Bloodborne is not coming to PC.  We cannot co-op when it’s on a console (unless we buy two PS4’s, I guess, buuuuuuut…), and the co-op together is what launched the games from “really good” to “fucking amazing”, so there’s not even any real point for us to buy it.  Shitty.

We had a really good combo going, for both games.  I went super-knight, with high melee and armor, and my husband went super-caster.  I was all “fuck magic” (mostly because I didn’t want to have to swap another button around…) and he was all casty explody.  So we’d team up for bosses, I’d piss them off, and he’d blow them up.  It was very effective.  On bosses that were difficult to melee, I’d just dodge the entire fight and try to keep it distracted away from him.  On bosses that were resistant to magic, I’d beat the shit out of them while he mostly tried to stay alive.  Good times.  Without the co-op I’m not sure how far I would have made it into the game.  The boss fights were challenging, but knowing you could team up and make it easier made even a hopeless fight seem worth tackling.  We only really stalled out on a couple of the bosses, and mostly optional ones that we tackled before we were really ready (we abandoned one of the DLC bosses in Scholar, which we DEFINITELY were not ready for.  But at least now that we’re at the end of the game we can just port straight to it and give it another whirl).

Dark Souls has a reputation of being incredibly difficult and frustrating, and I think it’s been misconstrued.  It’s challenging for sure, and the co-op helped a lot with that, but I was MUCH more frustrated with Diablo 3 than I was with Dark Souls at any point.  In Diablo 3 I was continually getting fucked by randomness that I had absolutely no control over (wrong kind of rift that you have no chance of winning?  Welp lose that keystone I guess).  Nothing felt random in Dark Souls, and I was far less frustrated as a result.  I died a lot, but I could always see exactly why, and learn from it, and then come back and try again.  It was kind of interesting because I am far more patient than my husband, so I was willing to creep forward and scout, and wait out the enemies to attack them, and I ended up doing far better in combat than he did.  But he was far better at memorizing the layouts of the levels, so I’d focus on the monsters and traps and whatnot I was dealing with and then get turned around and be annoyed because I couldn’t figure out where to go next, and he’d zip through the level and forget that there’s a monster around that cor—oops you died.  In some of the particularly terrible twisty layouts (Sen’s fortress, or Blighttown with the god awful toxic shit) we’d just co-op to make the exploration smoother.  I’d deal with the monsters and he’d guide me through the place so I didn’t get lost.

At first it seems super punishing because you lose all your collected souls (which are used as experience and currency) when you die, but you only lose them if you cannot collect them again.  In reality, you really only truly lost the souls if you were reckless.  I found it very easy to position myself so that if something went wrong, retrieval would be easy.  And often I didn’t even care.  You quickly progress to a point where the majority of your souls will come from boss fights and victories, and any you manage to preserve on the route there are just a bonus.  My husband referred to it as “exploration mode” and “farming mode”.  When you first bust into a new area and you have no bonfires lit, you’re in exploration mode and don’t even bother worrying about the soul counter.  Once you have them all lit, you can clear it out a few times and build some levels if you want.

One of the things I was really hesitant about when I started the game was the PvP aspect.  Other players can invade you and kill you.  But they can only do that if you are human.  The only time this was an issue was in a certain area we were trying to co-op in (you must be human to summon your buddy, which leaves you open to attack).  Also, it’s not even such a big deal if you die in pvp.  You don’t lose anything except a few minutes of time to run back to retrieve your corpse, and once they hit you once you’re no longer human, so you can’t be hit repeatedly.  Unless you’re trying to summon your friend in a high pvp area… then it’s pretty irritating.

The summoning your friend aspect could really have been smoothed out, though.  We had a LOT of issues with it in Dark Souls I.  We’d sometimes have to reboot the game a few times to try to end up in the same invisible ‘lobby’ to be able to see each other’s summon signs, and sometimes it was frustrating to get it working at all (ok I was wrong, Dark Souls did frustrate me quite a bit… but it wasn’t the god damn gameplay that did it :P).  Also, once you kill a boss, you cannot summon each other anymore, which meant we screwed ourselves out of co-op on a couple of exploration areas by doing things out of order, which sucked.  I really wish they had made it smoother and let you summon your friends preferentially, especially now that it’s integrated into Steam.

Dark Souls II DID improve the summoning aspect.  I was worried at first because they tightened the summoning restrictions.  In the first game you must be within a certain percentage of each other level-wise (usually ~15 levels worth).  In the second, you must be within 10 levels and a certain ‘soul memory’, AND they added restrictions for how long another player can be in your game, solidifying the “I’m just here to help with the boss” aspect and making it less of a co-op exploration experience (although you can now summon each other at any time, even if the boss is dead… so they both tightened and loosened that restriction).  But then they added a nifty little ring that lets you choose a god, and then you can summon anyone nearby who has chosen that god regardless of requirements (and also prevent people who have not chosen them from picking you up randomly, which was far more of an issue in II than it was in I, due to much higher player counts I suppose).  The ring made coordination MUCH easier, and the lobby problem seemed to be resolved in II as well.  The only issue we ever had summoning each other in II was the day the servers crapped out, which we finally figured out when we realized we weren’t seeing messages anymore either.  It could still be done a lot nicer, but at least they made it less horrible to summon each other.

The other thing I really disliked when I first went into II was that it seemed to punish you for dying.  This is DARK SOULS dammit.  Why the fuck would you punish the player for DYING??  In II, when you die you lose a % of your health pool permanently, and on top of that, the monsters can be permanently killed.  In the first game you always had the option of just going back and farming an area to regain the souls you lost.  In II, you could kill monsters, take their souls, and then die and lose them with no way to get those souls back.  They would leave your game forever if you failed to retrieve them.  This was stressful to me.

BUT.  As before, it ended up being not nearly as bad as I imagined.  Just like in the first game, the majority of your souls come from bosses, not farming.  Being able to perma-clear an area actually ended up being a really NICE feature because you could spend 10 minutes clearing out that annoying asshole monster that fucks you every time, and then never have to deal with it again for the rest of your playthrough, which could be a strategy for clearing out a tough combo in an area.  And the health thing was a non-issue, because we were playing co-op.  Going human or helping another player restores your health pool completely.  It was less of a punishment for dying, and more of an encouragement to step out of a solo game and help other players.  Even if you hate playing with others, the humanity restoring items were everywhere, and you can burn them to prevent people from invading you if you were super worried about that.

The Dark Souls games are unique, which is a difficult thing to claim nowadays.  There have been a few attempts at copying it (all of which my husband has jumped upon, and then quickly abandoned), but they utterly fail at capturing the magic.  Also the games are GORGEOUS.  Even in the first game which has kind of shoddy graphics, there are plenty of places you just look around and go “Wow.”  The second is even better.  And what I’ve seen of Bloodborne is incredible (too bad I can’t play it >:(.  Fuckers.)  They really accomplish something with their graphics and I am impressed.

Very excited to require wrist surgery once Dark Souls III comes out.

Darwin’s Children

Darwin's Children (Darwin's Radio #2)Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is pure emotion.

I don’t actually know how I feel about it. There are parts of it that are probably some of my most favourite scenes I have ever read, and I highlighted a whole bunch of shit just because I really really liked the way it was written. And there are a bunch of parts that made me squint my eyes and scratch disapprovingly at my chin. I spent a whole day reading this book practically non-stop and felt like I was loving every minute of it, until I got to the end, where I stepped back and looked at it as a whole and thought to myself “……. I’m not sure that I liked that.”

But that’s a Greg Bear novel for me, I suppose. It happens every time.

The first book was exhaustively researched and it was a comfortable stretch to believe that the things proposed could happen. This book does not feel quite as tight. The first book spent a lot of time etching out every minute detail, and this one seems to spend a lot of time skimming over those. I’m quite willing to suspend belief for the sake of plot, especially when creating a new species, but learning and behaviour is my pet field of study and I feel like there are some huge holes in the development of the society of the children. Not to mention the religious element that was introduced. It almost feels like the first book was meant to be hard scientific fact and then he wanted the second book to come at it from the other angle to provide contrast, which is a nice idea in theory, but the way it is presented just doesn’t jive with me. I put comments in several places saying “I hope this is explained a little bit better later…” and then I had a moment of hope when Kaye gets all the scans done, but nope, that was just a distraction too, as if it’s trying to explain that there is no explanation so just get over it. It’s like we go from hard facts and figures to watching the book wave its hands spookily and then conclude with “A God did it.” (Well. Maybe. Because that’s not confirmed either.) Unsatisfying.

The time skips are especially bad. I’d be reading almost breathlessly, racing ahead to get to an anticipated point where two plotlines would collide and I could see the result, annnnnnnnddd *poof* 3 years later. That thing happened during those three years and it was cool but we’re past that now and won’t waste any time describing it, thanks. It happened every time and it made me so mad every time.

I have to say, I love the way the characters interact in this book. The characters feel so robustly human to me, full of emotions and flaws and character traits, and I loved them. But they spent a lot of time on superficial interactions and leave the bulk of the plot development behind the scenes to be discussed in hindsight while they go about their superficial interactions. I’m not sure how I feel about that. And apart from the main family (Kaye, Mitch, Stella), no one else gets a lot of development.  They have their template personality and that’s about it.  At times there are characters used from previous books that might have been thrown in purely so that there would be a backstory already in place and there would be no need to add further development.  It led to a lot of cardboard supporting cast.  There are even some characters who felt abandoned. Where are the rest of their stories? Such as:
Minor spoiler:
We skipped entirely over the bit with Stella and Will. Will exists in like, four scenes in this entire book? We start to get to know him and then *poof* 3 years later. Welp, nevermind that now.

I am so exquisitely torn about the main character too. I loved Kaye. I loved the interactions between Mitch and Kaye. I must have been in the right emotional (hormonal??) state of mind for it because I was more invested in their relationship than I was in the fate of the children, most of the time. I highlighted so many of their scenes together because they felt so real. The scene where Mitch finally snaps and Kaye recognizes how unfair she’s been:

“Kaye stood beside the bed and watched Mitch, eyes wide. Her chest felt wrapped in steel bands. She was as frightened as if she had just missed driving them all off a cliff.”

That moment when you emerge from your own misery and realize with a shock that it affects other people too and you’ve been a huge selfish ass about it. That is real.

But then, I don’t know. She struck me as a near Mary-Sue at first. It’s almost textbook – gifted genius girl who doesn’t recognize how good she is and everyone is in awe of her and everyone wants to fall in love with her oh my. But then she displays real, palpable flaws and it dispels the Mary-Sue threat. I found her to be a realistic depiction of an emotional (and at times irrational) female, but at other times she would drop down into a sort of “This is a female being written by a man” template and I’d find it disappointing purely because it was such a contrast to some of her other scenes.  It’s like she has transitions where she grows as a character and changes her behaviour, and then transitions where suddenly she’s just acting sort of different and it seems odd. And then she finds God or something, I don’t fucking know. It felt like a character departure at several points, in this book and the last.
Ending spoiler:
And then I was pissed at the ending. Seriously pissed. I think that means that my ultimate judgement of her is that I like her? I got the impression that the ending was supposed to be hopeful but I guess I’m just not religious enough for that because no, fuck you, give her more time with her family, you fuck. They’ve been through enough!  I think I’m angry at how unnecessary that was.  The injustice of it.  If that was the goal then bra-fucking-vo.

I don’t think I could read this again, but I think I’m going to be thinking of the characters over the next few days.

Oculus

It’s October, which means it is time for our annual search for scary movies that are rated higher than, oh, let’s say 4 on IMDB.  That’s usually the point where a movie stops being scary and just becomes scarily awful.  With any luck I should be able to update this blog with cheers and jeers as we wade through a queue of hopefully-good-but-probably-actually-awful “scary” movies!  One of the recent ones I queued up was “Oculus”.

I don’t ask for much from horror movies. I prefer tension-filled horror movies or mindfuck horror movies, and not so much the “there is blood everywhere gosh isn’t this scary?” sort of horror movies, and I’m pretty forgiving of a ridiculous premise when it’s trying to set up a ghost story, so really all you need to do is display some effort and I will enjoy your stupid horror movie.  I quite enjoyed Oculus.

The premise of Oculus is that a family moves into a new home and the wife invests in some antiques to furnish it.  Among those antiques is a mirror that is so obviously demonic in its design that I’m not really sure why she couldn’t immediately tell that it was going to kill her… but anyway she buys it and hangs it in her husband’s new office.  It proceeds to cause almost everyone to go insane and murder each other, finally ending with the son finishing off his dad while protecting his big sister.  And a decade or so later he gets out of the psych ward and his sister picks him up and says “Now that you’re free, let’s go kill that thing”.

The movie has a decent amount of tension throughout.  It tells the story of the past and present simultaneously, revealing bits as it goes.  It starts out pretty strong with the “Was it all in my head?” theme, but it pretty quickly dispenses of that and goes “Yup, mirror trying to kill us.” which is a bit unfortunate in some ways, but at least it isn’t entirely cliche.  The mirror has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, usually involving a warping of reality that leaves you wondering which thread is true and which is insanity.  I enjoy ‘monster’ movies that don’t shove monsters down your throat, so I liked that the enemy was a largely unseen presence, experienced but not seen. I also liked that the characters started losing grasp of reality and started making little mistakes that indicated as such (like referring to the dog by the name of their childhood pet), and the movie didn’t come running out of the wings to go “SEE.  DID YOU SEE THAT??  I JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE YOU DIDN’T MISS THAT!  Carry on then!”  I felt like the writers actually had some confidence in their audience, which usually results in a better story overall.

I wouldn’t try to claim that it’s entirely fresh and original, but it’s definitely got enough interesting elements that it’s a decent “dim the lights” October style movie, worthy of a watch.

Elysium

Since it’s so new, I will endeavour to keep this spoiler free… honestly there isn’t much to spoil, but I’ll try anyway.
Sci-Fi movie!!!!  Usually we’re pretty cheap and wait for DVDs, but we loved District 9, and the previews for Elysium looked so good that we went and saw it at the theatre.  It’s not even 3D and we saw it at the theatre!

Elysium was simultaneously really good, and also disappointing. As is typical, my bitching revolves around the writing – the movie was disappointing because it could have been really good, but the writing was just sloppy enough to be distracting in how easily it could have been fixed, god damn it.  I suspect they read the screenplay and were like “Well, we have Matt Damon and Exoskeleton suits, no one will notice.”  I noticed >:(

The premise is that Earth is fucked and super populated and polluted and all those wonderful things we can see in our future right now, so all the rich people built a space station called Elysium and moved there to live in idyllic mansions surrounded by palm trees and swimming pools.

And this is where it starts to fall flat, because the worldbuilding ends there.  All it would have taken is a few more lines of dialogue to tie everything together with a throw-away explanation or two, but instead they leave ambiguous plot ends flapping around and the audience wondering “so… why is that?”.

Elysium residents have access to Med Bays which scan your body and instantly heal each and every thing wrong with it, from split ends in your hair to cancer in your blood cells (how did they design this technology and not solve any of the other problems lying around?  *shrug*).  There was a line somewhere that suggested people are living 200+ years so they also presumably extend your life and keep you young and beautiful forever.  Every single house on Elysium has one of these med bays, and it takes a whole, like, two minutes to cure every single ailment known to man.  For some reason, even though every single house has a med bay and they also have dozens of EMS ships filled with dozens of med bays which are all run by robots so there isn’t even any manpower cost in running them, Elysium refuses to let anyone on Earth use a med bay unless they are promoted to the rank of Elysium Citizen, even pushing it to the degree of needing special identification coded into your DNA before the med bay will activate.

The character development of every single person on Earth is something like this:  “I am sick and will die if I don’t go to Elysium and use a med bay – Therefore I must go to Elysium no matter what the cost.”
The character development of every single person on Elysium is split between “Ew people from Earth are gross” and “I will take over the world.”
That’s as deep as character development gets in this movie.

Unsurprisingly, desperate people are attacking Elysium all the time trying to get to a med bay, which results in things like Elysium launching missiles at them and blowing them all to shit.  Just put a fucking med bay on Earth, and the attacks stop.  WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT??  Jesus.  There is absolutely no worldbuilding development that explains why they’re so stingy with their plentiful med bays, other than “Ew Earth people are gross” (not that you need to touch them or see them if you leave a fucking automated med bay on Earth, mind you… and in fact you would see less of them because they wouldn’t keep trying to come to your station to use your med bays), and “We need a reason for Matt Damon to go to Elysium” (undoubtedly the true reason).  It’s so sloppy that it was distracting for the entire movie.
Are they withholding med bays because………. Of limited resources? (Unlikely when there’s a million med bays lying around and people use them for face lifts… but plausible that they want to withhold those resources for their greedy facelifts?  But they don’t explain what they run on or how they work, so…)
Maybe the life extension benefits are too costly when the world is already packed? (plausible, but again, you think they could have mentioned that.  They’re already sequestered on their little space station, why do they care if the Earth stays crowded and fucked)
Because they’re huge elitist dicks? (This seems to be the only explanation, but there are so many other reasons to just throw a token med bay ship down there, like, NOT BEING ATTACKED ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
It feels like it would have worked a lot better if it were a truly alien race living up there on a spaceship with their super crazy technology we can’t understand, enslaving humans to build their robots, but hey they can cure diseases so let’s try to get to those med bays!  … but no, they’re humans, and they’re dicks with no really well explained reason for being so.  Yes, humans are dicks to lower classes of humans, that is well established.  But THE MED BAYS ARE FULLY AUTOMATED.  If only the med bays took fully trained personnel to run, oh look!  A reason to not have them on Earth!  But nooo.  No explanation provided.
I would have been happy with a bad explanation, like any exposition where they were all “Oh no don’t let them use our med bays because we are comically evil and if they use this the med bays will no longer be special and I want to feel special for having one”, but it doesn’t even give us that.

Slightly less distracting is the plot device that requires Matt Damon to use his brain as a flash drive, which makes absolutely no sense, but conveniently makes it so they can’t just solve the problem by shooting him because they need his brain data and it’s not retrievable if he dies.  (Incidentally – this is probably a good reason why a brain is not a good flash drive.  Among other things, which also happen.)

The rest of the movie is people in exosuits brutally punching each other, which was pretty cool… but it’s got some pretty terrible timing because I think everyone will find it pretty lacklustre coming on the heels of Pacific Rim.  Every fight scene I was distracted by the amount of shaky cam they used to cover up the CGI, and I kept thinking again how impressive it was that Pacific Rim didn’t do that.  If I’m thinking about other movies during your action scenes, there might be improvements to be made.

Oh and don’t forget the obligatory contribution of “We are the bad guys so we are going to threaten to rape the pretty girl” scenes.  Don’t forget those!

I’ve done a lot of bitching, so it’s important to point out that I did enjoy the movie, but almost all of the problems I’ve pointed out could be so easily solved with just a little bit of attention to detail.  It’s really kind of a shame.

Oh and then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone on Earth speaks English and Spanish, while everyone on Elysium speaks English and French.  I am deliberately not going to touch the potential allegories going on this movie (because you see, the English/French have good health care and a beautiful clean place to live above the dirty polluted English/Spanish people, so clearly it is a representation of how everyone wishes they lived in Canada.) (arguing about the allorgies is kind of the point of a movie like this I suppose, but you should probably have decent writing before moving to that stage >:( ), but I do want to mention that Jodie Foster has the most irritating accent going on in this movie… I think it was supposed to be French?  I don’t even know, it kind of faded in and out and was really weird and distracting.  Everyone’s accents were distracting. I think it was intentional to show some sort of melting pot society going on, but I can’t say for sure… and if I can’t say for sure, then something has probably gone wrong in the writing/directing department.  It was either an intentional attempt to show something that was a teeny bit too subtle for me because I was so distracted by all the rest of the sloppy writing, or it was just sloppily handled.

At this point it is probably distracting to think about how many times I have used the word distracting, so that’s probably the focal point of this review – there were too many sloppy distracting things going on, and just a little bit of polish could have really cleaned it up.

God, I hope Gravity doesn’t suck.

Pacific Rim

TL;DR: I lost count of how many times my eyes rolled, but then giant robots started punching giant monsters and it was awesome.

I’m not sure what I expected when I went into this movie.  I knew it was about giant robots fighting monsters and the fights were supposed to be awesome and didn’t rely on cheap tricks like shaky cam to obscure the action.  That’s exactly what I got!  But it was pretty obvious that 99.99% of their budget went into CGI and cinematography, and possibly 0.000000001% went into the writing. The premise alone got some huge eye rolls, before the characters even started talking!  Then, dear god, the characters started talking…

But let’s be honest here.  You did not go to this movie to see deep character development.  You went to see this movie to see giant robots punching the fuck out of some monsters with rocket fists and hokey samurai swords made out of chainsaw chains, and it totally knocks it out of the park for that!  Which is why it is somewhat unfortunate that it spends so much time on what were apparently supposed to be deep character development moments on characters that have no dimensions.  Every single character in this movie is a cliche cut from cardboard.

The middle of the movie dragged because there were no robots punching things.  Instead we spent a lot of time exploring the feelings and emotions of characters who are all Mary Sue incarnate.  Every single one of them.  Every single one of them.  I don’t know what the record is for number of Mary Sues in a single story, but man.  Everyone in this story has super special talents making them the best at everything, and a tortured past to make them sympathetic (when you’re not rolling your eyes at them, I guess).  Even the fucking robot is a Mary Sue (because it’s analog.  And can I just say: Ahahahahahahaahahahahahaha…).  Everyone is a Mary Sue except the guy who is a dick for no reason.  That guy is a dick.  Except he’s not even a good dick, because we already have a one dimensional evil enemy in the giant fucking monsters who want to take over the world.  So why have this guy being all dickish up in the face of the protagonist?  I don’t even know, because it didn’t even pay off in the end.  Instead they shoehorned in some sort of emotional father-son plot arc out of nowhere.  Make up your mind!

But then robots punched things.  And they punched the fuck out of things.  The CGI is fantastic, the 3D was pretty god damn good (although if I wanted to be all nitpicky I could point out that I was distracted by it a few times, so it was not the best 3D I have seen so far.  So there.)  The only flaw with the robots punching things aspect is that they did not punch things for long enough.  Why did we waste all this screen time on a ridiculous romance story, anyway?  Punch things, dammit!

Pacific Rim is an excellent movie for watching robots punch the everliving fuck out of things.  It is also excellent for making fun of bad writing.  So it’s kind of win/win I guess.

Also: May I point out that it was a terrible mistake to hire Ellen McLain to be GlaDOS as the background computer, and then only have her make one tiny not very insulting jab at someone.  Use your resources properly, people!

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider consumed a few days of my life, and now I am going to tell you about it.  I’m not sure that it really needs any kind of promotion, but I still feel like talking about it.  I paid 13 dollars for it and I feel guilty for not paying more (although apparently they didn’t even bother to count digital distributions when they calculated whether the game was a success or not, so, welp).  It took me just over 20 hours to 100% the game, but that includes all the time I spent running around aimlessly and trying to jump on/off things just to see if I could, and obsessively reloading because I fucked up a stealth kill and wanted to try again.

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Tomb Raider (The “Bobbing” Rant…)

I was very interested in the new Tomb Raider game when it came out, but I figured I have enough shit to do so I would wait for a sale.  Now it’s on sale at Green Man Gaming for 13 bucks.  Sold.  It probably means it will be 5 bucks in the Steam summer sale, but fuck it, 13 is a good price point.

I haven’t gotten very far yet, just through the tutorial section (at which point I can already say that the game should really be subtitled “Lara Croft has a very bad day.”), but I have a couple of things I want to say.

First: Holy shit this game is running incredibly well on my 5 year old computer that I am about to replace because the motherboard is starting to die.  Also it looks fantastic.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game in that it’s just a series of quicktime events carrying you from cutscene to cutscene, but you know what, if it looks like this, I’m fine with that.  Lara is incredibly expressive, and the action events pull you in and make you jump.  And then you die horribly in brutal fashion, but it’s okay because it only sets you back to the beginning of the sequence.  So that you can die again.  It’s pretty awesome!  I’ve heard many complaints about that, too, but I’m mostly worried that it will become frustrating later on.  It’s not yet, though… but I would hope the tutorial sections wouldn’t be…

Second: The real reason I am writing this entry despite having spent about 30 minutes in game is because I need to take a break because the game has camera bob, and it’s not possible to disable it.

There are few things which make me as angry as mandatory camera bobbing.

The thing is, a large number of people (myself included, obviously) have issues with motion sickness when what your eye sees (lots of bobbing) does not match up with what the inner ear is detecting (not lots of bobbing).  Usually this is an issue in first person games where the camera attempts to emulate walking by bobbing up and down… except it never made any sense to me to do that because our brains compensate for the bobbing motion and we don’t really see everything bobbing up and fucking down while we walk, so why would you artificially emulate it?  Lots of people do not have motion sickness issues and do seem to like bobbing, though, to the degree that if you search for the easiest way to disable bobbing, you’ll inevitably find pages upon pages of people replying with “lol it doesn’t bother me just get over it lol” (except usually with worse spelling and grammar).  My issue isn’t so much that the bobbing is included – by all means include it if people like it and they feel it enhances their experience – my issue is that it is not offered as a mother fucking option that can be fucking TURNED OFF.  

That was probably unnecessarily harsh, but I’m getting really fucking sick of digging around in ini files to find the little line that says “head_bob = 1” and changing it to a 0, when you could put that fucking option in the settings screen so people like me wouldn’t be irrationally fucking angry at your shitty UI designers that should all be fired for not putting the fucking option there, assholes.

I did say “irrationally”, right?  Ok, good.

We include subtitles for the deaf (well… usually…), and colourblind modes for the colourblind (well… hopefully…), so why can we not include “no fucking headbobbing” modes for the bobbing impaired?  This is an important issue that must be addressed, guys!  Those of us who are going to vomit on our keyboards are being neglected by the game development community :(

I was actually surprised when I felt the familiar headache creeping in after 15 minutes of Tomb Raider, because it’s actually a third person game where you see Lara in front of you as you move around.  Usually if there’s an obvious thing in front of the eye (like Lara Croft’s huge boobs… actually they’re surprisingly mild in this game, come to think of it) the bobbing doesn’t trigger the “oh god our readings aren’t lining up ABORT ABORT ABANDON SHIP” reaction from the equilibrium system.  The camera shakes a lot, but it doesn’t really bother me so much in the cutscenes.  It’s a lot like watching a movie shot with shaky-cam (and motion sickness aside… why the fuck would you choose to emulate THAT of all things???) so if those kinds of movies bother you, the game might too.  The actiony scenes actually helped my headache ease off a bit because it’s more like the shaking is expected.  What brought it on in full was when Lara was staggering on a lovely grassy path in an otherwise calm scene, and the camera is swaying back and forth and jittering like the cameraman was dying of hypothermia on the deck of a sinking ship.  I can see Lara swaying, why does the camera need to be swaying?  I am not seeing this through Lara’s swaying eyes.  I do not need the camera to explain to me that she is swaying right now.  Why can’t I turn this fucking swaying off?  Fuck you.

Unfortunately, I also can’t seem to find any sort of camera sway options in the ini files.  It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for it.  The camera effects in the cinematic sections make sense, and I probably wouldn’t even want to turn those off… but just moving from place to place… uggghhh.  But I guess if they’re all part of the same programming it would be pretty hard to put in a way to disable one and not the other.  Still, I would like an option to disable it wholesale and deal with the decreased experience that not having a cinematic camera leaves me with.  Right now it’s a choice between having a decreased experience of having a splitting headache and nausea vs a decreased experience of having to take a break (and write an irrationally angry blog entry) every hour or so.

But the headache is easing off now so I think I will go see what hilarious end Lara will meet next.

Update:  I mentioned to my husband that I had bought Tomb Raider and he said “How big are her boobs?”
So I said “Pretty average, really.”
“I hate it already. Worst game ever.”

Liminal States

Liminal StatesLiminal States by Zack Parsons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really struggled with how to rate this. I was originally thinking a solid 4.5, but then the ending was a little too ambiguous, so that dragged it down to 4… but the uniqueness of it deserves to be rewarded, so it bumped back up to 5. Eh, 5. Why not.

This is not a book for the faint of heart. If this book is made into a movie, they will need a very large “fake blood” budget. I meant to go back and see how many times the word “entrails” appears, but I forgot to. It was a lot, though.
It is also not a casual read. I discovered pretty quickly that it is not the kind of book you can read while half asleep at 11PM and still understand what the fuck is going on in the next chapter. The book is a masterful example of showing and not telling, and you have to pay attention to keep up.

How do I even describe this to you. At its heart, the book is a horror novel that reminded me a lot of Stephen King. A lot of the imagery is brutal or disturbing. Despite that, it somehow never seemed gratuitous. The story itself spans three time periods, which correspond to three different genres of writing. The old west, ’50s noir, and finally sci-fi and dystopian present/future.

I’m not sure I even can provide a quick synopsis of this. Let’s just say it involves a mysterious pool that seems to resurrect and provide immortality to someone who falls into it. Each section of the book follows the same characters (more or less…) but examines a different aspect of the consequences of the pool, seeming to widen the scope each time, beginning with individuals and eventually moving to a global scale.

Common criticisms seem to be that the different time periods don’t interface well with each other, making it more like three different related novels than one whole story. Looking back, I would probably agree that is true… the jumps are very significant and you have to re-orient for each one. While I was reading I did not find it to be an issue, and probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t commonly bitched about.

The different genres for each time period are well written and feel authentic. I’m not a big fan of noir, so the middle of the book dragged for me, but someone who enjoys the genre will probably love it. The sci-fi section had a decent “oh, shit is going down now” feel to it, and I thought the visuals worked really well. The over-arching horror story of the pool itself felt a bit vague, though. I read some discussion about it and it seems like it was intentionally left that way, and then a lot of the questions and backstory is resolved in a separate serial. I dislike relying on external material to understand a book… but to be fair, it doesn’t really matter for the narrative of the actual story, so it just left the situation ambiguous in an unsatisfying way.

If you’re looking for something unique, gripping, and disturbing, you should probably give Liminal States a try.

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