Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this intensely unsatisfying. I love dystopias, and I love post-apocalyptic worlds, and I found the worldbuilding in this to be wonderfully imaginative and intriguing, but somehow it managed to be incredibly dull and plodding at the same time.

I think the problem is that nothing happened in this entire book. I was fully halfway through it when Jimmy finally decided to leave his tree, and I thought “aha, finally there will be some plot”, and then his adventure simply served as the prelude to more flashbacks which still only served to build the world, not have anything happen within it. I would have much rather learned about the disaster from a present-day perspective than the hackneyed flashback structure used here. The characters weren’t likable, and they did nothing of note for me to care about, which made the entire thing fall flat on its face. Which is a shame, because the world is a fascinating backdrop.

I see it is a series, so I assume this serves as the introductory paragraph and there will be plot in the later books, but it’s already lost me. I might read a synopsis of the rest of them, I guess.

Horizon Zero Dawn

I don’t know if I can say something about this game that would do it justice.  I didn’t even know it existed until I happened to see some comparisons between it and other games that were released around the same time (and the answer to ‘which should you buy’ is ‘why not all of them?’), but then I saw the main character was a female with a bow who primarily uses stealth and I was like “well… I guess it was made for me.”  I suppose we have Katniss Everdeen to thank for the “badass female with a bow” trope becoming more popular lately but as someone who always picks the archer when it’s available (even when it suuuuuccckkkksss), I’m pretty excited about this trend.

If someone were to take all of my favourite games and blend them together, the result would probably be something similar to Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD).  Post apocalyptic, stealth elements and tactical combat, collections and crafting, good dialogue and interesting characters, a plot that holds a lot of mystery and doesn’t let you down with the reveals… all it’s missing is terraformable terrain and economics systems to hit pretty much every one of my favourite games, so it’s probably not surprising that I loved it.

I had expressed some interest in it after reading a little bit about it, and I happened to be sick and confined to the couch, so my husband brought it home for me.  I spent the next 2.5 days piling tissues around the couch and binging through HZD until my wrists hurt from holding the controller.  My husband watched the first couple of quests and then decided he would play it after me, and it was brutal to not be able to talk about the plot points as I went through it (I had to settle for repeating “Oh my god it’s so good…” and he kept repeating “Well hurry up and finish it so I can play it, then.”).  He’s playing through it now, but he’s on very hard difficulty and dallying around doing all the side quests so it’s going to take forever *shake fist*.

For those who like a challenge, the combat offers plenty of ways to be creative.  I had it set to the easiest (“tell me a story”) mode, so I spent the majority of the game sneaking around being a backstabbing goddess of invulnerability… but even on the easiest setting I had to use tactics, set traps, duck into cover, and learn the weak spots of the enemies in order to expose their weaknesses and go in for a critical hit.  Being on easy mode meant I could be sloppy and just be like “fuck it” and flail away when things went wrong.  My husband is playing on very hard and when things go wrong it means he is swiftly dismembered and gets to start the sequence over againI expect a lot of cursing on some of the later bosses.

What did I like about HZD (besides everything?):  It’s got pretty standard open world gameplay (go to places, unlock travel points, collect plants, find quests, clean out the map of points of interest) but the world itself is interesting to explore.  You start out as an outcast, which is a well-done version of putting the player inside of a protagonist who doesn’t know much about the world, in order to learn along with them (not facepalm inducing like ‘amnesia’).  The main plot point is Aloy trying to figure out why she was outcast as an infant, so she works her butt off to earn a way back into the tribe and get some answers.  As a player, you’re just as invested in discovering those answers as she is, and the writers did a fantastic job.  The world feels real.

What really won me over was the writing, by far.  I loved the story and I’m still thinking about it a week later.  I went onto the wiki and re-read all the data points.  The plot zags when you expect a zig, and even though some elements may play out the way you expect, there are enough flourishes that it will still surprise you.  As the ending sequences played out I was watching it and trying to rank it against my favourite games of all time, and I was sitting there thinking “It’s REALLY REALLY good, but it hasn’t really made me cry yet, so I don’t know if I wou—… … … fffffffffffffffffffff okay I’m misting up now.”
I think my “story enjoyment” final ranking would be just above Mass Effect, but not quite to the level of Last Of Us.

So we’ve established that I love the game.  How about Criticisms?  I really only have one, but it’s kind of a big one.  The game spends a lot of time hyping up its strong female characters.  I have no problem with that—more games need to have badass, yet realistic females that have more depth to them than just their badassery.  When I think back across the characters you meet, though, I can’t think of a single male character who isn’t pathetic in some way.
The ironic thing is I can’t tell if it’s intentional or not.  The cast of characters includes (I presume quite deliberately) a hugely diverse cast of races and cultures, and yet every single accomplished character is female.  Every named male in the game is either a failure, or outright evil.  Many of the males who are failures need females to solve the messes they’ve made.  Many of the males who are outright evil are thwarted by females, and solely females.  Even among the scientists, the ones with the most screentime and the most showcased roles are females, except for the one who programs the questionable content, who is, of course, male.  Avad seems to be a strong male character on the surface, until you dig deeper into his story and find he’s actually obsessed with his (female) Military Captain.  That’s a pretty minor character point in the grand scheme, but if you were to apply some sort of reverse Bechdel test to the game, it would go back to a fail right there.  Meanwhile, there is precisely one female in the game I can think of off the top of my head who could be considered pathetic or evil… and it’s made abundantly clear that she’s just misguided and following her own values.  And even she comes around in the end.

I’m not sure if I would call it misandry, and I’m certainly not certain if I would call it intentional misandry, but it’s skirting a line that I think needs to be balanced a bit more.  It is ENTIRELY possible (if not preferred) to have a strong female protagonist without shitting all over males while you do it.  The whole “mother earth” theme is pretty strong throughout the game, so maybe it’s intentional, but if “males ruin earth, females save earth” is intentional subtext, that’s pretty lame, to be honest.  I’m hoping any sequels, should there happen to be some, will rectify the imbalance by continuing the trend of badass females but also mixing in badass males to balance them, along with some pathetic evil females to balance out the pathetic evil males.

That niggling detail aside… I love this game.  Once again I lament the existence of exclusivity contracts.  Everyone should have access to this game on whatever platform they choose, because it is a masterpiece of storytelling that needs to be experienced.

 

Into the Forest

(Not to be confused with “Into the Woods” which is a very different sort of movie.)

This is a movie that really makes you think.  But not in a good way…

This review is going to contain a lot of spoilers but it’s okay because if you’re watching this movie, it’s for the acting and emotional impacts. Not the plot.

I picked this one up because I was in the mood for a post-apoc tale (preferably about a virus since we’re dealing with household illnesses right now and it would be thematic) but, alas, it would appear that I have seen literally every post-apocalyptic movie ever made.  Even the bad ones.  But then “Into the Forest” scrolled past and I went “close enough.”

“Into the Forest” is a post-apocalyptic (sort of) tale about two sisters who are staying at a remote forest cabin with their father when a severe power outage strikes the world. Instead of a chilling tale of virus contagion, I got a tale of two teenage girls whining about the internet not working. Which, honestly, was still pretty entertaining, simply because it was so god damn realistic.

We really did enjoy it—for the most part—but it suffers mightily from “stupid decision syndrome”.  Not quite to the degree where you are yelling at the TV like “NO YOU IDIOT DON’T GO IN THERE YOU WILL DIE.  SEE I FUCKING TOLD YOU YOU WOULD DIE YOU FUCKING DESERVE TO DIE YOU FUCKHEAD” but more along the lines of “ALL of these problems could have been solved if you had taken a tiny little precautionary action eight months ago you dipshits >:(“.  Again: it’s pretty realistic!

Except it’s not.  Stupid character decisions aside… it suffers from a fair amount of bad writing.  More specifically, the movie really suffers from scaling issues.  Supposedly the movie is set in Canada, and the girls spend a lot of time talking about surviving the winter.  The movie spans at least 15 months of time, and not one single snowflake is to be seen, and the greenery never goes away.  Instead there are lots of idyllic berry picking scenes.  The cedars and rain suggest it was located on the west coast, where sure there’s less winter than some places in Canada, but you’d definitely have a few more hardships and a lot more issues with cold than were depicted here.  Worse, they’re living in a modern upscale cabin (with all kinds of electronic gadgets that don’t work anymore!) with a few initial shots of a tarp on the roof to establish that there is some patching that needs to be done, and it goes from that to mold infested and literal beams rotting and collapsing in less than a year.  And it didn’t even have to deal with the weight of snow at all! Apparently it was built with paper mache, which was a bad decision for the west coast of Canada. (Meanwhile, they are still driving a 1995 Jeep Cherokee which is as bombproof as ever.  Oh but for the glory days of Jeep to return…)  If the movie had scaled the timeline up a bit this could have been a bit more believable, but it’s even more annoying that the girls take the time to research topics like in-depth nutrition and “DIY abortion” but not flip a few pages over to look under “Carpentry”.  It’s not like they didn’t have enough fucking wood, and even cedar for shingles!

And then there’s the ending.  So the house rots and collapses around them and they decide “let’s waste the last of our gas to burn it down” for… reasons.  Their logic is explained in the movie but I was still kind of like “…what?”  I mean sure don’t live in the mold infested pile of rot but the gas has a lot of value and you could still store the goddamn books and supplies and shit in… nevermind.  Then they move into a hollow tree stump with a shard of plastic for a roof annnnnnd fin.
I think the intent is to suggest they go back to their ancestral roots and live happily ever after, foraging off the land and enjoying each other’s company as they live out the rest of their lives in symbiosis with nature (hence: ‘into the forest’ see?  Get it??).  In reality, there probably should be a footnote after the credits saying “And then they died.”  Because, yeah.  You don’t just burn down your shelter then wander off into the forest and live in a stump at the onset of winter.  Not even the winter that exists in this world where it just rains and then you go pick some blueberries.  I don’t care how fucking resourceful you are.  If you can’t even be bothered to patch your goddamn roof, you’re not going to make it through a winter in a stump with a newborn baby.

Bitching aside, the REST of the movie was pretty decent.  The acting was great, and the two girls really hit off each other for some high emotional notes.  There aren’t many tense moments or suspense like might expect from most post-apoc stuff, and the worldbuilding is pathetic at best (nothing is explained, and seriously, if the entire world can be fucked for over a year if not permanently by a single power grid failure then the future is pretty dumb), but the emotional moments are A+.  So it’s kind of a girly post-apoc film, I guess.  If that appeals to you, by all means check it out, as long as you are wary of stepping in pits of dumb decisions, bad worldbuilding, and lengthy interpretive dance scenes.

The 5th Wave

We watched The 5th Wave last night.  I recalled being mildly interested in it from the previews, but then when I saw the ratings it had garnered I quickly quashed any sort of optimism.  I was still curious though, and we were also mildly drunk, so it seemed like a good time to see what was up.

Rather than create a formal review of this movie, I think it will be more appropriate to transcribe the intoxicated messages I sent to my friend while watching it.  Enjoy.

[Warning: Spoilers.  But you shouldn’t care because this will be more entertaining than the movie.]

————————————-

We are watching the fifth wave which has a whopping 5.2 on IMDb.
So far not bad but she just used her cell phone and typed y o u and it autocorrected to “u”

>:( One star.

Husband asked for a space marine movie before we picked this.
Me: “They’re basically space marines but they’re children is all.”
Him: “Not very good space marines. Also they’re not in space.”
Me: “But they’re fighting aliens!”
Him: “It’s really not the same.”

Female protagonist has been helped/captured by hunky male now. She just did the lip thing that suggests she wants to fuck him. Odds of hunky male being an alien??!?

Husband and I are laying bets on his alienness now

He’s is totes an alien and she’s going to fall in love with him and be horrified by herself and then come around. Book it
(AFTERMATH SPOILERS: I was wrong.  It actually kinda happens the other way around which makes even less goddamn sense)

Husband doesn’t think he’s an alien because he hid her from alien drones. That was the whole point to make her trust him YOU FOOL

Female protagonist shows loving nurturing side while proclaiming “I’m not TOUGH, okay??!?”.  Meanwhile second female character (only other one in movie) is being super badass and beating up all the males and training them to use weapons because she’s a girl but also super badass you see

He is lovingly tending to her wounds. Boning imminent.

Oh man I didn’t even get to hit send before they started shoving tongue down each other’s throats

He’s gonna be an alien he totally is

Husband: “I’m giving this movie a lot more credit than you are. He’s not an alien. They just want you to THINK he’s an alien.”
Me: “There’s a reason this movie has such low ratings.”

“I guess you were right. He’s an alien.”

I WIN.

It was pretty obvious because this is LITERALLY Twilight with aliens now

Female protagonist: “Did you really believe that??!?”
Alien love interest: “I did. But then I saw you.”

*Hurk*

Holy shit this has lost so many stars in like the last 20 seconds

Badass girl is now saving “still badass but deliberately not as badass to still show her feminine side” girl

Yeah.  That was awful.

Eidolon

I should really play Eidolon more before I try to review it but I bought the Hexcells pack in the Steam sale and every time I start playing that it magically becomes 2AM… so I should probably bang out some semblance of a review before I get distracted and forget everything about it.

An eidolon is an apparition, a ghost, a remnant of something that used to exist but now does not.  The game Eidolon has you exploring a “post-human Western Washington”, uncovering all the ghosts of what used to be Seattle.

The game has a sort of “walking simulator” feel to it, where you wander around (mostly aimlessly) trying to uncover the threads of the stories to figure out everything that happened.  This part of the game is actually pretty interesting, I felt.  You have a journal where you collect all your little scraps and you can choose which thread of the story to pursue next, or just see what crops up.

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way:  The graphics are not good.  You are not playing this game for graphics.  It’s actually a bit unfortunate because I’m usually in it for gameplay so I’m pretty tolerant of low graphics (especially in games that cost 5 bucks or so)… but these graphics often left me wondering if I was having some sort of rendering problem that was preventing textures from loading.

This is a wall, I think?  A green wall?

I think this is supposed to be a crumbled wall, but why is it green?  Moss?  Let’s say moss.

That wasn’t even so bad until I wandered back and forth around a “rock” only to discover it was supposed to be a car.  I think.

This is a car, right?

This is a car, right?  Or a rock with a windshield?

Yeah… low poly trees are one thing but that car, man.  But the graphics are not without their own sort of “paper cut-out” kind of charm, either.

But anyway.  Gameplay!  As I said, you wander aimlessly trying to uncover the stories of the past, which largely include the individual stories of people who existed around the time the city was destroyed.  How was the city destroyed?  What happened to the people?  Well, that’s the game!

The game does not hold your hand at all.  You’re quite literally dropped into a forest with no explanation whatsoever.  Your journal says something about being too far from the beacon so you’ll die if you get injured or starve, but it doesn’t do much to explain to you what any of that means.  Where’s the beacon?  Are you visiting the planet from a space ship?  Time travel?  A different part of Earth?  Do you need to find that beacon?? Things do get explained to you (and there are lots of really weird and interesting things to dig up) but you have to work for them.  It’s refreshing, really.  It’s nice to just sort of pop into a world and get your bearings the old fashioned way instead of having a tutorial spoon-fed to you for the first 20 minutes.  My biggest complaint in the beginning was that it was a bit TOO aimless… the world is huge and there you are wandering in circles in a forest with no idea what to do or where to go.  I finally tripped over a story chunk and it gave me some direction, but I felt like the game should have started me with something to follow at first since the map is pretty much literally the size of western Washington.  Then I discovered there’s apparently a bird showing you the way to the first bits of story, and also I am an idiot.

What you’re looking for are little blinky cubes scattered around the world.  White cubes represent new tools, and green ones represent story chunks to add to your journal.  Once you’ve got a story chunk there’s a selection of related terms listed below it, and clicking one will give you a light to follow in the general direction of the next story chunk related to that story thread.  Or, you can follow birds.  Apparently.  The blinkies can be really easy to miss, as I discovered while I was attempting to warm up to make an attempt to swim across a channel to one in the distance, only to turn around and discover one right beside me /facepalm.  I did notice that sometimes they’re easier to spot at night, because they pulse.  But then it’s night and also really dark…

There's a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.

There’s a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.  Also it is coastal Washington so it’s raining ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this game.  Realism!

One of the first things I discovered was a fishing pole, which I promptly used to catch some fish, which I cooked on a fire.  Which leads us to the next part of the gameplay: survival.  Eidolon joins the ranks of the open world “don’t die” simulators, where you must feed and warm yourself or suffer the consequences.  These are some of my favourite types of games, and the addition of a super creepy post-apocalyptic world with stories to uncover just makes it better.  But I find the survival gameplay in Eidolon is somewhat lacking.  Food is everywhere, and you’re really in no danger of starving at any point (at least so far as I’ve gotten in the game.)  The only thing that has killed me so far is attempting to swim across a freezing ocean just to see how far I could make it.  (The answer was: really far).  Fortunately (?) dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever in this game, so after dying in the ocean I merely popped up somewhere else at 100% and carried on my merry way.  I climbed a mountain (possibly Mt. Rainier??) and fell off a cliff and broke a leg (I assume.  It just said ‘wounded’) which later became infected and made me sick.  Being sick meant I would vomit periodically, which would drop my hunger levels, but I couldn’t eat to stop starving because I would immediately vomit and waste the food.  Because I was wounded and exhausted I moved very slowly, which was really pretty annoying because it’s not like you’re particularly zippy in the first place and those blinkies are really far apart, man.  I couldn’t seem to heal my infection, which meant I couldn’t stop vomiting, and I couldn’t heal my leg to move faster again.  I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to just fucking die and start fresh (and move at a normal speed again), but dying turned out to be really god damn hard to do.  I needed to find another cold body of water to freeze to death in again because I was just too stubborn to starve to death, apparently.

So let’s see.  This game has really interesting stories to hunt down and creepy/fascinating sights to see, but you’re constantly hounded by a largely pointless survival system that will force you to abandon your story hunting to pick mushrooms (and discard them if you’ve had them for too long.  And may I just say I GREATLY DISAGREE that blackberries become “old” after one day, and furthermore that “old” blackberries are no longer safe to eat.  *shake fist*  Now, had you said mouldy I could perhaps see your point.), and periodically you will be arbitrarily slowed down with some sort of infection or wound that will prevent you from reaching your goal of finding more stories or interesting sights to see.  At which point the best solution is probably to just kill yourself and start fresh because there is no penalty for doing so.  This does not sound like a well implemented survival system… it sounds like a nuisance system that was included because they felt the game would get too much of a bad rep for “lack of gameplay” if all you did was collect story bits.  But on the other hand, it’s nice that it’s not such a strict survival simulator that you’re constantly losing any progress you made toward finding story bits because you starved to death or were eaten by wolves like in Long Dark (grr, fucking wolves).  May I suggest a toggle for “story only” vs “survival” mode?

Eidolon is certainly not without its flaws, but the world is interesting to explore and presents a unique setting that I’m glad to see they did some intriguing things with.  The map is apparently accurate enough that you can recognize landscape features, and there are lots of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic story surprises waiting to be discovered.  I recommend checking it out if you’ve been interested enough to reach the end of this review…

The 100

This is cheating because it’s a TV show, not a movie, but it’s technically a “moving picture” right?  And I feel like rambling about it.

I was bored and looking for something to sleep through, so I glanced at my recommendations on Netflix and ultimately clicked on “The 100”, which was recommended to me because I am one of the few dozen people on Earth who enjoyed Terra Nova and all of its campy low-rent glory (come on guys, it’s basically a worse Stargate SG-1, but with dinosaurs.  How can you not like that?!?  Damn you, Fox).  I ended up mocking the terrible writing in the pilot the whole way through, then taking it off my Netflix list as soon as it was done.  And then maybe 15 minutes later I went back and started episode 2.  Now we’ve finished binging the first season and the few episodes currently available for the second, and I am conflicted.  The show was captivating, yet the writing is terrible.  The writing certainly improved as it went along, but it was still pretty awful.  So why was it so interesting?

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Aftermath (2012)

Upon looking for information about this movie, I discovered there is another movie by the same name from 2013, which has a MUCH MUCH better rating on IMDB.  Now I’m interested in watching that one instead…  But anyway.  We watched this one.  It’s the one with Ed Furlong in it, which may or may not be the only actor name you recognize.  (IMDB lists a couple of actors who I don’t think are actually in it, so even THEY are confused…)

I love post apocalyptic stuff.  I don’t care what the apocalypse is, I will watch/read/play it.  I usually enjoy them, except when they’re really fucking stupid and don’t bother to explain their shit because they’re in too much of a hurry to make some sort of statement which may or may not be actually poignant (looking at you, Perfect Sense).

If I had to sum this movie up into a sentence, it would probably be “Tries way too fucking hard.” The setting was great and I’m glad to see nuclear war creeping back into the media scene.  Zombies are getting old, man, let’s get some good old fashioned bombing back up in here!  I’ve read all the “the world just exploded” classics like On the Beach and Canticle for Leibowitz and so on, and this really reminded me of those, so it got the tone right.

The writing was kind of meh in that it didn’t do anything impressive and was kind of predictable, but not out of place for the genre.  It was really fucking stupid that the desperate people suffering from radiation sickness literally acted like zombies, to the point where they address the fact that they are not actually zombies in the dialogue (which is your cue that you’re writing it wrong.  Did I mention zombies are getting really old and stale?  Pseudo-zombies do not breathe new life into the genre.  Sorry). But otherwise the only major writing crimes were predictability and unlikable, unsympathetic characters (I’m not sure that I could tell you a single difference between the women in this movie). Also possibly a bit of gary-stu-itis with Mr mysterious-background Doctor who knows everything about everything… but that could at least be explained by having enough of a build-up to the war that he spent some time googling everything he could possibly need to know to survive. There are so many little niggling details in the plot to be nitpicked that I won’t even bother (they cover the doors to the cellar with dirt, but leave the windows exposed… /facepalm. Doors everyone can shoot cleanly through like cardboard, but which no one can manage to break down… /facepalm), other than to say if you have OCD you may want to avoid this movie.  They didn’t detract from the overall story other than to annoy, though.

What actually bothered me the most was the way the movie itself was presented.  Understand – I am saying this as someone who has not gone to film school, or any sort of film composition class, and has absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing so:  It did a lot of things that felt like they should get a low grade in film school classes because ugh.  Low budget is one thing (the whole movie is shot in a single room so low budget is probably implied), but this was almost insultingly amateur in places.  It felt like youtube was leaking.

A lot of the angles are off-kilter, probably to do the “dutch angle” thing and try to portray that whole “something is wrong here” feeling.  But I’m not actually certain if it was because of that, or because they really needed to buy the camera guy something to set his camera on. Because god damn it was bobbling all over the fucking place in most scenes, which made it really obviously hand-held.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they set the camera on the ground, noticed it was crooked, then went “Hey, that works!” 

Okay whatever, I can deal with shaky cam when it isn’t bad enough to make me physically ill… but then at the end there’s this incredibly dragged out series of scenes that are just chains of dramatic “zoom frame” shots where it’s all “OH NO GUYS SOMETHING DRAMATIC IS HAPPENING AAAANNNNDDD FREEZEZOOM ON THE FACE.  Okay sweet we just showed everyone how dramatic this is and that the characters are feeling emotions right now.  Wait, we better do this for all of the characters.  Multiple times.  Because it’s really emotional, guys, we don’t want the emotions to be lost.”

No.  Stop that.  Bad.  uggghhh.  This is like this video editing equivalent of telling instead of showing.  Have a little faith in your audience and/or actors to not need to spoon feed the scene.  Christ.  Normally I use this blog to bitch about writing, but nothing in the writing really jumped out at me as something that could tank the movie.  It’s cliche, unoriginal, and a bit meh, but none of that made me fly to my keyboard in anger.  The scene composition totally did.  The movie was sort of hovering in the “This isn’t really good but it’s still pretty okay” zone and that whole sequence just tanked it.  :/

So I guess that’s my review.  “It’s not really good but it’s sort of okay, except for the amateur scene composition especially at the end.”  Now I am in the mood to read some post-apoc nuclear fiction again, though…

Snowpiercer

What an absolutely ludicrous plot.  Why was it so enjoyable…

I feel like I was actively trying to dislike it, and I kept forgetting why I was trying to dislike it.  I had a laundry list of criticisms and I can barely remember them all the next day.

Here’s the premise:  Global warming is out of control, so someone develops a way to slow it down.  We release shit into the atmosphere and it results in dropping Earth into a deep ice age.  Oops.

Everything living dies, except for a lucky group of people who happened to be on a really large train called the Snowpiercer that traverses the world precisely once per year (or maybe they re-engineered the length of years based on one traversal, I wasn’t entirely clear…).  There was a bit of explanation about the train but not nearly enough to explain how a world-traversing train was engineered to cross oceans and run perpetually with absolutely no external maintenance (of the train OR tracks…) in an atmosphere that is cold enough to completely freeze someone’s arm in 7 minutes… but apparently it runs happily for the next 18 years.  The people on the train develop a dystopian caste system based on their original tickets, with those in first class living in luxury and those in the tail section living in squalor.  First class regularly comes back to the tail to steal children and generally be dicks about everything.  The tail section get pissed and plan an uprising.

There’s a lot of really well done stuff in this movie.  The atmosphere is great, the acting is great, even the premise is interesting despite hurting your brain if you think about it too much.  It’s mostly the brain-hurting that drags the movie down – there are too many things that are convenient or casually brushed over because they cannot possibly be explained.  We’re presuming this train was already in motion before the world ended, right… because that’s how they survived.  It’s got aquarium ceiling-ed cars.   Like, okay so maybe it’s supposed to be super luxurious so they designed a train with that’s entirely an aquarium for both walls and ceiling in 2014, but… no.  I just can’t.  Where did they get the materials to build and maintain this shit?  Where did these translator things come from if the world ended?  Why do they only use the translator things half of the time yet still understand each other?!?? It’s in that uncomfortable sci-fi area where they want to be cool and unique, but it’s not a fantastical enough environment to pull it off comfortably and you need to turn your brain off to enjoy it.  But once you do that, it’s great.  Certainly above Elysium, at any rate.

The Battery

We chose a movie pretty much completely at random and ended up with The Battery.  I sort of glanced at it and thought “It may as well be titled “Yet Another Zombie Movie”, except IMDB says this one won a whole whack of awards, so let’s see what’s up.”

This is a tough one to review.  I simultaneously like it and dislike it.  It is simultaneously cliche and unique.  It is Schrodinger’s movie.

I went into the movie not sure what to expect.  I like post-apocalyptic movies, which zombies fall into, but there are a lot of really bad zombie movies out there and a majority of them tend to lean in that direction lately.  The whole genre is getting a little played out, too, so even if you come across a good one it tends to be a bit ho-hum.  But then the first half of 28 Days Later, where he’s wandering around a desolate landscape trying to piece together what happened, is probably my favourite movie sequence of all time.  I’m usually willing to take a risk if it might mean experiencing something like that again.

The movie started with a notice about all the bands that are featured within the film.  My immediate reaction was “Oh no.”  It wasn’t too bad because they at least tried to weave it into the story with the headphones being a part of the plot, but there were way too many sequences where they did nothing but showcase music for 5 minutes (with wistful cuts to zoomed-in shots of insects on flowers), and it started getting tedious.

The actual story started off fairly well with lots of scavenging through empty neighborhoods for supplies, but I was having a lot of trouble getting a sense of timescale from the movie.  All of the houses were empty, but pristine.  There were no real signs of panic or struggle.  One protagonist had a bushy and unkempt beard like he hadn’t shaved in over a year, but the other didn’t have a hint of stubble around his sculpted facial hair.  Lawns and road-sides were freshly manicured.  I had the idea that the apocalypse had literally just happened, but then the characters started talking about how they’d been moving around for months.

I was disappointed with the lack of worldbuilding.  It’s usually my favourite part of disaster movies – what happened, and why?  There’s absolutely no explanation, not even a glossed-over one.  I guess zombies are just so familiar now that it seems like a waste of time to try to explain them, and I don’t necessarily fault them for just skimming over it, but I still missed it.

Then we had a three minute scene where they enjoyed brushing their teeth after looting toothbrushes and toothpaste from a house.  It started out pretty great and you could feel how awesome it was for them to experience clean teeth again after an extended period of neglect, and it was a powerful scene with good silent acting going on.  But then it kept going.  Okay, we get it, it feels good, and they miss the comforts of their old life.  No, seriously.  Move along now.  Jesus christ they’re still brushing.  …  Oh my god, really?

There were a lot of little moments like that, where there was a good idea behind a scene, and interesting themes to explore behind a scene, but then it was dragged out until all the power behind it was lost.  Even during the dragged out scenes, though, the acting remained good – which becomes very impressive when you discover that the movie had a budget of $6000.  Suddenly the manicured lawns and lack of mess make sense (as does, to some degree, the unnecessary scene padding…).  The movie didn’t remain confined to a single room or cut budget by having wooden actors or a 20 dollar camera that shakes all over the place, and the result is quite watchable and doesn’t even really feel low budget.  It’s really only the writing to blame, which has little to do with budget.

There are decisions like displaying Mickey’s loneliness and longing for female companionship through having him sniff and then pocket some panties.  It’s pretty creepy but it could be a way to display how desperate he is for human contact.  Then he decides the best course of action is to masturbate to a female zombie that is attempting to break into the car to kill him.  What the fuck.   It’s one thing to have him be a whiny twat who constantly puts the group in danger because he wants to pretend everything is the way it used to be.  Masturbating to a female zombie… that’s just a mind boggling character development decision.  It would be one thing if it actually factored into the plot a bit more but nope, it happens, it’s not really considered exceptional (they have a good laugh over it…), and it’s never mentioned again.  Then his reaction to being told to fuck off by the only living female they encounter is to whine about it for the rest of the movie and put them into even more danger by trying to deny it.  This is great character development for a character we’re supposed to hate, but not really all that great for a character we’re supposed to feel sympathy for.  I felt a lot more sympathy for his companion, who had to put up with all the whining as well as deal with all the dangerous situations the whining thrust them into, all for the sake of having any companion at all.  Maybe that was the point and he was the only character we were supposed to root for…

It does have some good moments though and, despite the bizarre character choices, I did enjoy watching it.  I’d like to say that the good moments outweigh the bad… but honestly, it’s probably more accurate to say the good moments outnumber the bad.  The bad moments are so bad that, unfortunately, they end up colouring the whole thing, resulting in the conflicted rating I’m giving it.  I’m just going to give up and give it every single tag, instead of trying to decide on just one… but I decided not to give it the “Kind of shitty” tag, which suggests it wasn’t all that bad!  I like that the zombies were not the main focus of the film, and yet it wasn’t the same old plot of “Humans are the real threat” (well, for the most part).  The focus was on the character development and the progression of relationships under duress.  I’m not even sure I would classify it as “horror”, but I guess there is no category for “Mildly unsettling and thought-provoking disaster movie, with some tension”.  I do think the movie hit on the themes it was attempting to hit, and it did a decent job of it too.

Would I watch it again?  Probably not… but is it worth watching once?  It’s not on the top of my list of recommendations from the zombie genre, but it’s worth checking out if you happen to spot it.

The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers Are the Angels (Reapers, #1)The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been reading a lot of what can probably quite accurately be referred to as “crap”. As a result, some of the automated recommendations that pop up have been… interesting.

If were asked, I would probably say I am not a fan of zombie fiction, so I kind of scoffed when this book cropped up. But I love post apocalyptic wastescapes and isolation/survival fiction… so it actually seems like something I should really enjoy. The first half of 28 Days Later is one of my favourite movie experiences, where we wander around in an abandoned London trying to piece together where all the people went. And I rather enjoy The Walking Dead video game series from Telltale (not the TV show. I loathe the TV show and all its misogynistic melodrama), where you follow the heart-rending exploits of a little girl trying to survive post-zombies.

The Reapers are the Angels started out as a mix of the best parts of both of them – following a little girl (okay fine she’s 15) trying to survive in an abandoned wasteland.

I was riveted and finished it in one sitting.

It’s actually really well written. Miracle upon miracles – it uses present tense, and I think it is effective and not annoying as shit. It had to happen one day, I suppose. It helps that it is third person present tense, not first. First person present tense is just too awkward. It’s like standing beside someone who is narrating their every thought, and that’s just bizarre. Third person is like standing beside someone as they experience things, which ramps up the tension, and also allows the protagonist to die with a seamless handing of the storytelling to a secondary character, meaning anything could happen. There are also a lot of very vivid descriptions of wastelands and zombie decay which really put you there and bring it to life around you.

What it doesn’t have is quotation marks. And for the life of me I cannot understand this decision. It adds nothing but annoyance. I also noted some other writing weirdness and mistakes, like poor comma usage. It’s nitpicky, but it’s something that really jumped out at me when the rest of it seemed so well done.

Also unfortunately, the vivid descriptions are a bit lost behind tired zombie cliches. There wasn’t much of a plot to begin with: “Temple” is just living her life, surviving, catching fish and smashing zombie skulls. She happens onto a colony of people living in a city and immediately there are shifty looks from the men and warnings from the women to avoid the area where all the single men hang out, because it can be “rough”. “Oh good, we’re going to get to the obligatory zombie-fiction rape scene really early in this one”, I thought to myself. Sure enough, one of them wakes her up and shoves his cock in her face. She obliges by punching it, which made me happy, but the ensuing knife-fight results in her losing a finger and he losing his life. She goes on the run as his brother attempts to hunt her down, presumably to exact revenge. Ta-dah: plot.

The next place she runs to is a little oasis of normal life surrounded by electric fences. Within the barricades, everyone lives life as if nothing untoward has ever occurred in the world. They wear nice clothing, they have a butler, they play the piano, they have proper meals and sit at the table. Oh but father will not be joining us – he’s been sick. I wrote a note saying “There is no way he is not a zombie who they sealed up in the basement out of denial.” Spoiler alert: You’ll never guess what happens next! Can’t we do anything new in this genre?

We can, actually. Those were the only two major blights on the unravelling story of the book. We follow Temple as she travels across the country, and along the way we meet novel dangers and reveal snippets of past events that really enrich the characters and world. You could get out a microscope and pick some holes in the timing and factuality of things, but I felt it was not distracting and thoroughly enjoyed all of it. I was a little worried that the religious undertones might ramp into high gear and get preachy (it says angels right in the title and there are plenty of allusions to whether mankind brought the zombie plague down via sin). They stayed sufficiently out of my way, however.  The actual zombie plague is never really explained, which was both annoying and refreshing.  It’s annoying because I like those sorts of worldbuilding aspects… but it was also refreshing because the zombies are in no way the actual threat or focus of this book, so it was good not to waste a lot of time on them.  They’re proper slow, uncoordinated, largely harmless, indefatigable zombies that must be dealt with but are only an issue if you’re careless.  It’s a nice venture back to the roots of zombie-ism.

That was a really excellent little book, and I’m sure whatever drek I will pull out of my recommended pile next will probably be a little bit worse for being compared to it.

[edit] Hrm it’s a series. I don’t know if I dare look for a sequel… it might suck and ruin everything.

Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands, #1)Blood Red Road by Moira Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this book four stars. It does not deserve four stars, but I still gave it four stars. That might be confusing to you because I am going to spend most of this review bitching about it.

Blood Red Road is yet another dystopian fiction that popped up in the wake of Hunger Games, with yet another female protagonist wielding ranged weapons and going head to head with others to survive. Saba’s tiny little family is torn apart when a group of men show up, murder her father, and kidnap her twin brother. She sets out on an action-packed quest to brave harsh elements and rescue him, all while saddled with her 9 year old little sister.
I actually really enjoyed it and didn’t feel like it was trying too hard to cash in on “genre of the week”, although there was one kind of “plunked” section that felt an awful lot like it was trying to force Saba to mimic Katniss’s PTSD character arc (especially since it conveniently never really seems to crop up again for the rest of the book, where it ends up being a huge part of Katniss’s character development throughout the entire trilogy. Hrmmm…)

The first thing you will notice, even if all you do is read reviews about the book, is that it’s written in a “dialect” to reflect the idea that the characters are uneducated (ie: they say things like “ezzackly” instead of “exactly”).
I hated it. Hate hate hate hate.
I actually had no problem with the dialect itself – it’s perfectly acceptable to have a sort of grammar-less drawl be the ‘voice’ of your character if that’s how you want it. Why are the god damn descriptions written in it too? It’s a description of the character’s actions from the author of the book not a written description by the uneducated characters, so it makes no sense to mangle it. It just adds difficulty to reading without adding any depth to the book.

There are no quotation marks throughout the entire book. They don’t know what quotation marks are, because they are uneducated and don’t know how to write, you see. Which makes no sense because they are speaking to each other. This is not someone’s uneducatedly-written account of who was speaking. What’s more, every single character has the exact same ‘dialect’ which just made them all sound like they had the same voice, to me. Even characters who seemed to be quite well educated would speak in exactly the same grammatical patterns, and it was just bizarre. I had to keep stopping and going to back to weed out who said something vs who thought something vs who described something, and it was tedious and stupid. I actually think I would recommend waiting for the inevitable movie to be made, just to avoid wading through this bullshit.

I felt like the story was simultaneously strong and unique, and also shallow and cliche. Figure that one out. I don’t even know if I can adequately describe it… it felt unique enough that I really enjoyed it, but there were a lot of really obvious cliches at work and I rolled my eyes at each and every one.

One of the biggest flaws that kept jumping out at me was the complete lack of a grasp of scale. Time jumps were very hard to get a hold on. Things would progress at a rate that seemed like it must have been a year, and yet it’s like “one month later”. And then at other times it would be all “she got a tiny scratch that was nowhere near as bad as some of the other shit she’s gone through, but despite that she was knocked out and unconscious for two days, but despite it being two whole days we’re just going to get around to stitching it up now…”. It felt like “seat of the pants” convenience writing which probably reflects a lack of experience more than anything.

The most glaring example is the whole sequence with the cage fighting. She’s captured, they spend a few days travelling (though the way it’s described certainly seems like longer), she’s sold to the fighting ring, and in less than a month she’s got her own private cell and special treatment and has never lost a match, and is even asked by one of the other characters to lead the way because “You know this place better than anyone.” This needed so much more setup. Did she do a lot of fighting in her tiny isolated farm that had no livestock to wrestle or anything? Was she secretly a blacksmith to build up all this strength? If the story had spent a little more time developing her at the rink it would have been best, but you couldn’t do that because of the three-losses rule. And of course, the whole pressing overall time limit for the rescue of Lugh. It’s quite a dilemma – too long and it’s unrealistic for her to still be alive, but too short and it’s unrealistic for her to be the champion, so instead it has to skip out into Mary Sue territory to get through it. A bit more planning (and maybe a bit more hanging on by the skin of her teeth instead of winning everything effortlessly) and it would have been much smoother.

Not to mention how, later, miss “undefeated angel of death” screams at the sight of a skeleton. /facepalm.
Oh I’m sorry. It was a “skelenton”. Ugh.

Having said that and done all this bitching, I’ve seen a lot of bitching about the character and how she does not develop and she’s all mean to her little sister all the time so she’s unsympathetic and people hate her. You know what, the flaws of the character are the part I actually enjoyed the most, and I think those people completely missed the awesome character development that did happen with regards to her relationship with Emmi. No, the book does not end with everything being all rainbows and butterflies between them, and thank god because they’re on an actually believable arc that I’m hoping will continue to develop with the series. Yes, you want to smack her at times. That’s who her character is, and it makes sense.

I enjoy dystopias for the worldbuilding, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Blood Red Road… which, again, might be pretty confusing because there wasn’t actually a whole lot of worldbuilding. What was there was very subtle, and (this is the important part) it made SENSE for it to be subtle, because this is Saba’s world. She does not need things explained. That’s just how things are for her. She takes note of things, and occasionally wonders about things, and in that way the world is revealed to the reader. I enjoyed it, but I also hope the series goes on to meet a literate historian and reveal a bit more backstory about how things got to be this way.

I also hope they spend a little time explaining the “magic” that seems to exist in the world. Pa’s seeming divination skills, the strange properties of the “heartstone”, Nero having a unique amount of intelligence (to the degree that it’s even commented on in-book… Chekov’s gun?), the king’s immortality? Are there scientific explanations for some of these things, are there magical explanations for these things, or are we just going to smile and nod? There was a vague attempt at explaining the giant worms (though the hind leg reveal was pretty eye-roll inducing…), so there might be some ideas behind things, but then it becomes a question of whether saying more will help, or if it will just make us go “… well that’s just fucking stupid“.

There were plenty of things that already made me raise an eyebrow. They’re constantly travelling somewhere and going “Oh no we can’t stop we have to make it before dark!!!” while also bitching about the heat and their water supplies. It. is. a. desert. Travel at night, dummies! At least the worm explanation made some sense for the one part, but every single other desert-travel section? And speaking of the worms… they let their horses go because they hope the horses will make it to the other side before dark. Why weren’t you riding the god damn horses to go faster in the first place.

And there were just some weird decisions in the plot, too. Rooster showed some interesting character potential playing the part of the abused husband, and then, well… so much for that I guess? Massive armies using stealth when they quite clearly overwhelm the other side? Except… I guess they didn’t because when the dust clears only two people are injured? … More seat of the pants writing. But I really only noticed these things as oddities, rather than being annoyed by them.

Even the inevitable romance bits were tolerable, primarily because they were part of the story and not constantly tromping all over the plot just to be seen. I am worried about the next books though. Naturally the only not-ugly bad guy is going to turn out to be actually a good guy and spark a love triangle, isn’t he. Ugh. Ugh.

So there it is. That is my review. I enjoyed this book despite its massive flaws and I hope they don’t do a cheap cash-in for the movie, because I think it will make for a decent action adventure where lack of quotation marks won’t make me fly into a rage.

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Blood Music

Blood MusicBlood Music by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have now read two books by Greg Bear, and they both went the same way. They started out good and kept me interested, cranked it up to amazing in the middle and gave me eyestrain, and then became a big pile of facepalm at the end which made me drop my ranking.

The book starts out with what I felt was a very familiar sort of story: a scientist injects himself with modified cells and begins to experience beneficial effects like advanced healing, heightened senses, youthful energy, yadda yadda. I actually went on a short pilgrimage to try to figure out when this style of story was first used, but with this book coming out in 1985 it might actually have been one of the first. But that was kind of moot because a few chapters later the story had changed completely.

It moved from there into a pandemic story, and then into full blown post-apocalyptic descriptions. My favourite kinds of books are stuff involving science, medicine, pandemics, post-apocalyptic wastelands… this book had it all for me so maybe I was a bit biased, but my god it was so good.

Then I got to the end and… nngh. I don’t know. It just totally lost me. Everything I know about quantum physics comes from entertainment media and likely not accurate at all, but it was a little eyerolling for me even taking it from an entertainment perspective. There were long pages full of completely unnecessary reminiscing, which I guess was supposed to mean more to me but I just didn’t care about the characters enough to give a shit. Then there was a long section where the characters argued about the plausibility of what was happening, which almost came across as the author providing a laundry list of all the things that were wrong with it, as if to preempt the inevitable pedantic naysayers.

But the first 3/4 or so of the book was absolutely worth my time. I’m trying to decide if I should take on another Greg Bear book next. I’m pretty sure I did this exact same thing last time… I was halfway through the book and thinking “holy shit I’m going to read every single thing this guy has written”, then I got to the end and went “….” and moved on to something else. Hrm.

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The Quiet Earth

Sometimes I go on movie binges, looking up lists of recommendations and accumulating a pile of “to watch” movies that look interesting.  And then we don’t get around to watching them for 6 months and I can’t remember if I picked this up because it was Halloween so it’s going to be a cheesy slasher movie, or if it was supposed to be a comedy, or what.  I pulled “The Quiet Earth” out of the pile tonight and went “1985???  Must be sci-fi…” because we tend to avoid anything made pre-2000 unless it either looks really good, or is sci-fi, since we’ve watched every single other good sci-fi movie that exists (and usually for sci-fi we haven’t seen, pre-2000 ends up being not good… but we keep trying.)
The Quiet Earth was good.  It was bizarre, but good.

The movie opened, surprisingly enough, with a penis.  I immediately said “Well, this must be European…” because I don’t think North America acknowledged the existence of penises in the 80s, and they most certainly didn’t show them dangling and bobbing around like this movie was.  Then the guy got into a vehicle (he put clothes on first), and the steering wheel was on the wrong side, so I said “Aha.  I told you.”  Then he spoke and I said “… it’s not England.”  My amazing powers of deduction were correct – the movie is actually from New Zealand, which probably also explains why we hadn’t seen it before.

It was actually a post-apocalyptic style movie, with the whole first bit being this guy wandering around exploring abandoned locations and trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  The opening of 28 Days Later is quite possibly our favourite movie sequence of all time (the whole first half of the movie is our favourite movie.  We turn it off when they get to the soldiers, though.) and it was quite reminiscent of that, so I really enjoyed it.  Nothing like a big mysterious exodus of people to put you on edge.

Then he started going a bit nuts, cabin-fever-The-Shining style, which was also fantastic.

Then it goes downhill a little bit (does EVERY “end of the world” scenario need a fucking love triangle?  Ugh), but it’s still not bad.  It was almost bad, but it had enough “wtf” to save itself from the bad.

The whole movie was quite engaging, as long as you don’t try to figure out what the fuck happened when they actually start trying to explain what happened.  Most of it at least makes some logical sense in that you can put the pieces together and go “Okay, this is not plausible but at least I can follow it and see what they were going for”, but the science behind a network of energy circling the globe that airplanes can tap into so that they never need to refuel… maybe it made some sense in the 80s, but nowadays it’s probably best to just smile and nod.  The ending is a pretty good “what” moment – it’s a decent wrap for the movie but it’s not going to answer any questions for you – and a quote from the director says “it’s intentionally ambiguous” which is usually code for “we couldn’t come up with an ending that didn’t ruin the movie, so we left it ambiguous so you can write your own”.  I’m glad they didn’t try to explain it, really.  When I was looking for info about the movie, I found it on a list of “shock endings”.  The definition of that must have changed since 1985 because I wouldn’t say it was shocking… but it was certainly interesting.  It’s one of those endings where you’re like “Okay, I think this is what happened.” and then you google it and marvel at how many theories the internet can actually generate… there’s not enough information for some of these theories, people.

It’s a really decent addition to my post-apocalyptic library, as well as the “quantum physics mindfuck” library (right alongside “Primer”, although the levels of “wtf” are a mere glimmer next to that movie, jesus), and I would recommend checking it out.

Oblivion

This review comes with a disclaimer: We are heavily biased to enjoy space-oriented sci-fi films.  You can take the shittiest most generic plot and put it in space and we will still enjoy it.  We’ll probably mock it, but we will still enjoy it. It’s probably because we’ve watched every single space movie that exists, and some of them are really fucking bad, so movies like Oblivion still feel like a treat.

Very little of Oblivion actually occurs in space, but we still enjoyed it.  It’s sci-fi, it’s post-apocalyptic, and it has decent acting so there are no ridiculously cheesy lines to make you facepalm.  It’s written on greasy onion-skin paper that is so transparent that you can see every single word of the ending from the moment the opening credits roll (Oh a mandatory “security” memory wipe, you say?  Gosh that won’t be an important plot point!  No-sir-ee I bet that’s completely inconsequential and will not be a plot twist at all), but it’s a tried-and-true plot.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they are good.  It is a little disappointing to walk into a cliche that attempts to hide behind the couch and then jumps out and yells “BOO!” and then you have to pretend to be surprised, but on some level it’s still a little bit fun… provided you go into it with the right frame of mind.

I’m already running out of things to say.  You do not watch Oblivion expecting something new and unique… you watch Oblivion expecting a sci-fi setting with awesomely constructed post-apocalyptic landscapes and a decent (if obvious) plot that also has giant floating death machines.  Tom Cruise doesn’t suck, and Morgan Freeman is always awesome even if he doesn’t really get a whole lot of screen time.  It’s still worth it.

The Last of Us

I’ve been trying to decide how to review The Last of Us.  It’s difficult to talk about without talking about the story, but I don’t want to talk about the story because I feel that you should see it for yourself.

TL;DR you should buy it.  At full price, even!  The Last of Us is absolutely worth it.  It’s somewhat short… it has about 6 to 6.5 hours of story in it, but the time you spend exploring and picking up collectibles with backstory will pad that out a bit without making it feel like it’s been padded.  It took my husband 12 – 13 hours to finish it, I think.  It was a marathon over two days so maybe more.  NORMALLY I would say that is too short for 60 dollars, but the thing is it’s really good.

In case you’ve been under a rock and have not heard of it, The Last of Us is yet another post apocalyptic “zombie-like” apocalypse game.  In this one, a fungus (based on a real one!  Cordyceps.  Which, incidentally, helps to thin out populations of ants when they become too numerous.  HMMMMmmmm) starts infecting people’s brains, which causes them to lose control of their actions and… start attacking everything (as opposed to climbing up a blade of grass and freezing to death like the real Cordyceps does, but y’know).  Infection spread through bites, yadda yadda, fungal spores mixed in for flavour… the military tries to take control and welcome to the zombie apocalypse.  When my husband was playing through it I wasn’t paying full attention, and I thought it was a pretty generic setting.  I was wrong.  So if at first glance it seems generic to you, take a deeper look.  There are definitely some cliches at play, but the writing and worldbuilding more than compensate for them.  The writing.  I cannot say enough about the writing.  Yes, the base plot has nothing terribly original going on in it, but the characters and the world they’re in.  Everything is lovingly crafted with high levels of detail.  I wouldn’t call it “scary”, but if you like atmospheric post-apocalyptic games, you must get this game.  Right now.

They did a masterful job with the characters – you relate to them immediately and they feel genuine, and at no point did I feel that they were shoehorning character traits in my face to emphasize them.  The character’s motivations are natural and understandable, even if you don’t agree with them, which makes every character strong and believable.  Ellie is one of the best crafted teenage characters I think I have ever seen in a game.  She’s vulnerable and terrified, desperate for someone with some permanence to latch onto, but at the same time teenage defiance keeps flashing out as she struggles to find some independence.  The voice actors do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, too.  It’s one thing to have incredible writing but a wooden performance will sink it just as quickly.  I am so happy with the voice actors in this game – thanks for doing a good job, guys.  And the graphics don’t hurt, either – cutscenes are incredible, but I did notice a bit of stiffness in the animations when the characters were speaking while moving around the world.  One day we will be unable to distinguish CGI from live action, but it is not this day.  That’s an incredibly petty thing to nitpick on, but I just don’t have anything else to bitch about, dammit.

Speaking of bitching… I hate bringing it up because I feel like a feminist when I do, but the female characters in this game are also fantastic and believable.  I really appreciate it when games go out of their way to flesh out female characters (and also clothe them…) so I feel I must give them another gold star for that.  I don’t usually put a lot of stock into the “Bechdel test” (in order to pass, the media must show two females speaking to each other about something other than a man), but I do find it interesting sometimes to see if whatever I am entertaining myself with at the time does pass it.  Not only do Ellie and Tess talk to each other, but Ellie and Marlene talk, and Marlene and Tess talk, and I don’t think any of them talk about men (unless discussing how to slay male zombies counts, I guess), so it passes multiple times.  Tess is just awesome and badass and I kind of want them to do a “prequel” DLC where we can watch her set up her smuggling ring or something.  Because I want more time with her :(

The only bad thing about this game is that it’s a playstation exclusive.  Not because I don’t like playstation, but more because it limits the audience.  Everyone should be able to play this game.  Everyone should be able to buy this game and encourage the creation of incredible games like this.  It should be on PC so that it can be on Steam and be in the summer sale that is about to start and then millions of people will buy it (and then never play it because that’s how Steam works) and then they can go create more awesome games with that revenue.  Also it should be on PC because fuck shooting things with a controller, grr.

I don’t think I’m even going to say anything more.  I don’t even care if you don’t have a PS3, go buy this game :P

 

Perfect Sense

I was reading Discover magazine and they had a little blurb about how the world was supposed to end in 2012 because of the Mayans, so naturally all of Hollywood celebrated by releasing a fuck-ton of apocalypse movies.  They listed a bunch of the apocalypse stuff that had been released, and I actually really like apocalypse movies, so I looked up some of them.

One of them was Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor.  The blurb on it talked about how a disease was running rampant around the world, so I was all “Ooh I really liked Contagion!” and I crossed my fingers for a good one.

There are probably going to be spoilers in this review because I don’t really mind if I ruin it for you, so you might want to stop now if you care.

The premise of the movie turned out to be that the disease comes along and starts affecting people’s senses (smell taste touch yadda yadda).  The disease made absolutely no biological sense, even if you’re happy to ignore the entire world being afflicted simultaneously with no method of transmission.  I’m usually pretty lenient for “convenient” plot devices if it manages to advance the story, but… nnngh I dunno about this one.  But hey it’s an interesting thing to explore, right?  So let’s see what they do with it!

Each affliction of the disease has a precursor of an impulsive and uncontrollable emotional episode (also completely unexplained… how does the emotional system tie to the senses?).  So the very first thing that happens is everyone on the Earth starts crying for absolutely no reason, then they all pass out and wake up to discover they can no longer smell anything.  The movie spends… oh my god it felt like three hours… explaining over and over and fucking over how important the sense of smell is and now they can’t do this anymore and now they can’t do this anymore and now this is different for them and look at how difficult it is for people to live without it!!! But everyone in the world has lost it so gosh we better find ways to adapt since it doesn’t look like it’s coming back!
This entire sequence was some artsy bullshit (oh I am infuriating so many movie buffs right now, I bet) with lots of quick clips and a lot of monotone voiceover and it went on and onnn and onnnnnn and onnnnnnn and then it got whinier and whinier and oh my god why is it still going we fucking get it already they can’t smell anything boo fucking hoo let’s move on.  Nothing has even happened in the movie yet except for this and it feels like a fucking clip show with no substance.

At this point I believe I commented “This is the worst apocalypse ever” and my husband said “It’s the emo-pocalypse.”

Finally they shut the fuck up and actually started following Ewan McGregor as he does things!  How novel!  Turns out his character is a chef, so he has an actual reason to be concerned about the loss of smell, and we get to see him compensating for it in his commercial kitchen.  Then they spend a big chunk of time watching him get to know his new girlfriend.  (Still not very apocalypse-y…)

Then everyone has a fit of insatiable hunger, eating literally everything around them, then they all pass out and wake up with no sense of taste.  This does not bode well for the restaurant!  What will he do?!
…but before we can find out. there’s another 30 minutes of monotone voiceover whining about how taste is really important to us too.  And now they can’t do this anymore and now this has been affected and and and…

I really enjoy “show, don’t tell” in storytelling, and I really dislike pointless whining in the midst of a lot of “telling instead of showing”.  That’s all the movie seemed to be up to this point:  5 minutes of something interesting happening and then 40 minutes of whining about it.  They got the point across but then they kept hammering at it and hammering at it until it felt like someone grabbing a dog and grinding their nose into the carpet while yelling “SENSES ARE IMPORTANT DO YOU GET IT???  REALLY IMPORTANT AND YOU TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED DON’T YOU! BAD DOG BAD.”  It COULD have been interesting, but the way it was presented was heavy handed and made me want to retaliate instead of consider.

Fortunately the movie got better at that point.  Things moved faster, things actually fucking happened in the plot instead of a clip show voiceover presentation, and they started doing some neat things with the sound and visuals of the movie.  And they stopped whining about things and focused on how humanity was being resourceful and getting around the deficits left by the disease.

Except, by that point the movie only had a bit left to go.

And then it just sort of ends.

I found it wholly unsatisfying and I feel like it was wasted potential of what could have been an interesting plot, but instead was used as some kind of soap box and vehicle for artsy camera effects.  Unfortunate.

The Last Policeman

The Last PolicemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well that was a surprise. I’ve never considered myself a fan of the noir detective stuff, so I really only picked this up because of the “asteroid is hitting the Earth” angle.

The basis of the plot is that an asteroid is about to hit the Earth, killing all life where it lands and most likely resulting in the death of any life that survives since the various dust clouds and ejecta will probably destroy the ability of the sun to breach the atmosphere. The dates of the imminent collision are just being calculated, and society is starting to fall apart as people decide “fuck this” and go off to do whatever it is they decide they want to do in their final 6 months or so. For many people, this includes simply ending it now.
The book starts off with a detective attending yet another suicide scene, but something about it doesn’t sit right with him, and he starts to investigate it as a possible murder. Naturally, everyone else around him is like “…who the fuck cares? The world is ending.” but he keeps at it.

The book spent hardly any time talking about the asteroid (although it did a good job painting it as a background setting) and instead spent all its time doing the noir detective thing. Surprisingly, I enjoyed all of it. All the things that normally annoy me about noir detective stuff – choppy terse sentences, random swaps to dour and unnecessary descriptions, manly fist fights – I actually enjoyed all of it. Not enough to actually look into further noir stuff, but enough to give this book a decent rating. I rolled my eyes through the obligatory “I am investigating you but you are a dame so I am going to sleep with you now” stuff, but I suppose it was required for this style of story.

Worth a look, especially if you already like the noir style detective story.

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The Dog Stars

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in a post apocalyptic mood so I grabbed this one. The book is set in a world where the vast majority of the world’s population has died of a flu virus, and a good chunk of the remainder are suffering from a blood borne wasting disease, so even the survivors refuse to trust each other or work together if they should happen to meet. The story follows “Hig”, who is a private pilot who lovingly maintains his 80 year old cessna (“the beast”) and flies to the bush to go hunting with his dog to help replenish food stores. He managed to strike an uneasy alliance with a gun-nut and their lives consist of defending their territory (an airport…) and supplies from interlopers.

The world is great. The book doesn’t spend a whole lot of time lingering on describing the wastelands of post-disaster, and instead spends time developing the story and letting the world unfold around it. It was well done and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, one of the first casualties of the flu was apparently the quotation mark. Despite a decent amount of dialog, there is not one single quotation mark in this book. It was an odd choice, and I think the author tried to use it in a few places to add effect (you weren’t sure if they were thinking, speaking to themselves, which character it was meant to be… the confusion was deliberate) but I didn’t like it. It added a layer of confusion and difficulty throughout, and added very little benefit even in the places it was intended to enhance. I’m sure someone will come up with artsy-fartsy explanations of how it adds meaning, but I felt it was a poor choice.

The text itself is abrupt and kind of strange. It took a bit to get used to the style, but I felt like it fit well once I got into it. Normally it would piss me off to no end, so that it is some sort of accomplishment to admit that.

If you really dig down, nothing much actually happens in this book. The plot is aimless and wandering, just like the lives of what remains of humanity. There is no point and no purpose to their lives anymore, and the book conveys that well. Hig becomes lost, and then physically loses himself in the world, looking for something to latch on to.

Well written, well described, well done.

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Out of the Dark

Out of the DarkOut of the Dark by David Weber
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Alright. I stumbled through the first 30% of the book and came away with the impression of a book that used vivid writing to create nice scenery, some interesting characters that you might be able to relate to and grow to enjoy, and waaaayyy too many words. It takes 25% of the book for anything to even happen because it’s too busy describing things, and then once something happens, it has to stop and describe that too. It’s great if you like reading about military hardware or computer hacking in painful, pedantic detail, but I felt it was unnecessary and bordering on some kind of writing equivalent of masturbation. “Look! Look how much I know about these topics! See, I know all these tiny little details about them, isn’t that impressive? Aren’t you impressed?” No, I am not. I did not need all these details to understand the story, so you’re just wasting my time.

Around 30% is when the war starts rolling, except it was filled with the aliens being blown away by the Americans and continually being shocked about it and thinking to themselves “Hmmm how can this be, these humans are so puny – how is it that these “Americans” from this “United States” are so good at fighting us???”. I was already low on patience from all the wordy descriptions, so the prospect of wading through a book full of all the worst parts of the worst alien invasion movies was not appealing to me. I held out hope that it was going to get better, but I peeked at some other reviews and spoiled myself to see what might be up.

At which point I learned that the end of the story consists of…

This is a spoiler!

God forbid I ruin this shitty book for you!

…DRACULA rescuing humanity?

Really?

Really?

Yeaahhhh… I’ll go read something else for now. :/

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Earth Abides

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Final Word: A resounding “meh”. The first part was boring, the second part was stocked with characters I hated, or characters with no personality (which I hated), who all made dumbass, arrogant decisions that made me hate them… and the third part was just fine, but not quite enough to redeem everything else. The third part is *almost* the book that I WANTED to read, showing humanity solving problems and adapting to the changes in the world. Instead, the entire book focuses on a bunch of ungrateful whiners who refuse to get off their ass and do anything, and somehow succeed anyway thanks to amazing engineering. Seriously, I think my city has more technical problems with things that *are* maintained than these guys have over the course of 50 years with things that are completely and utterly forgotten about. It would have been nice if they were at least shown trying to maintain things. Then they would have at least been problem solving something… instead, things break over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to do stuff fuck this.[the entire reservoir leaks dry over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened to the water!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to pack buckets fuck this. (hide spoiler)]

I wish I could give it 1.5. Starring it “I didn’t like it” would be accurate, but I think it deserves a bit more than 1 star, if only because it’s interesting to see a precursor to the more modern day post-apocalyptic stories.

The rest of my review follows, which was pieced together as I went.

—-
I’m half way through now but I’m going to start writing my review anyway.

I was pretty excited to read this book. I love post apocalyptic stuff, I love survival stuff, and I even like “The World Without Us” stuff. This fits the bill perfectly!

The disaster happens and Ish wanders around until he realizes that serious shit went down, and then he has a moment where he’s like “Well, I like to observe things. I’m going to observe this!”

And that is pretty much the first half of the book. It plods along as he drives from place to place and observes what happens when things aren’t maintained. Some of it is interesting, but we now have books that do a much better job of it (like, “The World Without Us”…). There is literally no other plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but the most interesting thing was the discovery of Princess, and even that was described in an outsider-style “Hmm this dog’s behaviour suggests…” sort of way.

There was never a point where he was really in any sort of danger, or anything tense happened. He panicked about driving through a desert and starts stockpiling backup plans, lest something go wrong… and then just as he gets started doing that he goes “Well fuck it, I should be dead anyway” and so much for that.

And then he goes home. End the first half of the book.

The second half has some interactions with actual characters, but perhaps that is a generous description of them because there hasn’t been any building of personality. I just finished “The Quick Years” and they certainly were quick. It was practically a bullet point list of 15 years worth of happenings which read like “This happened. Then this person showed up. Then babies were born. Then this person died. Then this happened.”
There were some opportunities for interesting things in those years, like the plagues of rats and grasshoppers, the various illnesses they dealt with, what to do if someone was injured… but instead it was more stand-offish observation narration which completely fails to get the reader involved emotionally. I was more emotionally invested in the grasshopper plague described in Little House on the Prairie than I was in this book’s description of the decimation of possibly the only garden on the entire planet.

The characters are continually spared of anything interesting. The rest of the city crumbles around them but oh hey, they found someone who’s a carpenter so their houses weren’t touched, even by earthquakes. They just observe everything else happening, never really getting involved themselves. There is no survival in this post apocalyptic world (They even have a never ending supply of canned food and medicine, thanks to being in a city), other than the occasional offhanded mentions of “This character that was introduced a sentence or two ago and never had an opportunity to gain a personality has died. Gosh look how dangerous things are!” (Hmm I wonder if they were wearing red shirts…)

Perhaps it is to this book’s credit that I am still interested despite that, but I feel like it could be so much more.

Starting in on the second half now. This review may be updated if things change!
—-

In the second half, things start to break down and everyone spends their time whining about it, refusing to do anything about it, or whining about how everyone refuses to do anything about it. (While also refusing to actually do anything about it because, well, no one else is so why should I!)

I really dislike arrogance, and that is one of the best words to describe the majority of these characters. Ish is arrogant about how much smarter he is than everyone else and laments how there will be no smart people left when he dies. Yet he doesn’t particularly want to encourage anyone else to use his precious libraries, either. “His ego was not above being pleased with the belief that he was a demi-god. Was this a way to treat a demi-god?” fuuuccck you. Whenever he starts ranting about how no one will think of the future, everyone interrupts him with ironic clapping. Arrogance. Splashes of good old fashioned misogyny and prejudice (appropriate for the time I suppose) mixed in for flavour too, whenever they declare how inferior women are or how the dim witted shouldn’t be breeding.

Maybe it’s a deliberate anti-humanity statement, in which case it’s effective because none of the characters are likable and I am rooting for them all to hurry up and die so the Earth can cover their corpses in Kudzu or something.


Annnd done. Whew! Part three was better, mostly because everyone I disliked was dead, and Ish was too senile to be an arrogant ass. He still managed a bit, though. The outcomes were more believable and it was nice to see some of humanity not portrayed as dipshit elitists. It’s unfortunate I had to wade through the rest of it to get here, though.

The final part of the book, after the next generation takes over and becomes a hunter gatherer society, is the book I would have WANTED to read. Unfortunately it’s a footnote tacked onto the end of the story of the group of whiny assholes who sat around eating canned food and bitching that they have to dig outhouse pits and take care of the girl who has a mental deficiency. Disappointing, although I do have to admit I am impressed that Stewart portrayed the subtle changes in mannerisms and tribal behaviours in a realistic manner, given when the book was written.

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