Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2)Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was desperately in need of a ruthless editor. The plot was bloated and aimless, and it was only the excellent characters and witty banter that kept me going. The first book had its fair share of bloat, but it wrapped up fairly tightly by the end, with only a few stray threads that you could argue served as obfuscation. This book has endless ramblings and descriptions that make your eyes glaze over, that ultimately serve no purpose other than to show off how much research the author put into the background. I think the sea training montage was a good 15 to 20% of the book on its own and served only the barest of purpose in terms of setting up later plot points, not to mention the 40% of the book you had to get through before being jarringly dropped into it. The plot threads didn’t tie together as well as in the first book, and it took me so long to slog through everything that I started forgetting who all these people are or why they’re important, so a lot of the impact was lost. It felt like it was trying to weave a super complicated twisty-turny plot but it really should have stuck to one or the other: deal with the casino con and pitting the two men against each other, or deal with the piracy plot. Mixing the two together just didn’t feel like it was working.

The book as a whole felt “immature”. Not in terms of banter, but in terms of polish. A lot of it felt like first pass writing that never got a proper second going-over. It needed to age a bit more, to let all the nuances seep in and flavour it throughout. And it needed all the useless crap strained out of it before it was bottled. In short: it needed an editor.

It does the same time-skipping bullshit as the first book, and I found it even more intolerable this time somehow, probably because we’re skipping between a short period of time instead of decades. Those interludes taper off midway which was a relief, but there’s a big one that the book opens with that isn’t resolved until the end, some 500 pages later. That resolution was so eyeroll-inducing that it could have knocked a whole star off the rating on its own. Seriously. Stop it. Along with that one, a couple of the big “twists” were so badly telegraphed (as well as being tacked onto plot threads that were basically ENTIRELY optional if not for the need to have this thing happen because it has been decreed that this should happen) that it was really cramping the book. One of my favourite parts of the first book was that their narrow escapes always seemed to have wit behind them, and some of their escapes in this one are blind luck or coincidence.  Unfortunate. If this one had been left in the polisher just a little bit longer it would have been a rock-solid romp with some powerful moments.

Having said all that, the characters were as fantastic as always, and the plot was reasonably entertaining even if it felt a bit rickety. The witty fast-paced banter is something I really enjoy, and I’ll probably venture into the third book just for the hell of it.

Infoquake

Infoquake (Jump 225 , #1)Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m going to abandon this one, which is unfortunate because I was excited about the premise. It’s a sci-fi setting with a corporate board room twist which is unique enough that I really wanted to see it play out.

It starts off feeling a lot like Neal Stephenson which was a very good sign. There isn’t a lot of over-explanation of concepts which was another very good sign. You’re dumped into the world and the characters react to the world and its unique concepts as if it’s completely normal, which is great, because for them it IS. None of the concepts are difficult to understand, you orient quickly, and it’s interesting to watch the subtleties of the world unfold.

Then you meet Natch, who spends his entire introduction being a prick to everyone. And you think to yourself “Aha, this is probably the villain of the story. A shades-of-grey nuanced antagonist, perhaps?” But then the book does its damnedest to make you sympathize with him, and completely fails on all counts. You also spend a fair amount of time with one of his female underlings who has thoughts like “I hate him so much. I wish I wasn’t so attracted to him!” And you think to yourself “………..”

To be fair, I bailed on it before the conclusion, but I couldn’t give a single solitary shit about any of the characters. I was interested in their world, but I didn’t care about them, I didn’t care what they were doing, and I finally went a couple weeks with the book sitting untouched in my bag and then went “Welp. I may as well read something else.” It wasn’t the setting at all—I was really interested in the corporate angle, even though it means it’s a slower pace than your typical sci-fi might be—but there was simply no one to root for and the characters felt forced.

It’s too bad because it’s a relatively unique approach to a plot and I’d like to see it thrive, but it really needs strong, relateable, characters to carry it. Instead, we have a jackass CEO that I’d like to see shot out of a cannon, while his underlings talk about how much they despise him but also how brilliant and amazing he is. Blurgh.

Nova War

Nova War (The Shoal Sequence, #2)Nova War by Gary Gibson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wrote about my distaste for the first book in the series, which had SO MUCH potential but was completely overpowered by sloppy writing and self-indulgent gratuitous eroticism. Dakota Merrick has all the parts in play to be a strong, intriguing character with a lot of depth… but she wastes it by spending the first book fucking everyone (including her ship). Other reviews suggest the series gets stronger as it goes, so I popped open the second one to see how the writing evolves.

It opens with the same problem the first one had: huge exposition dumps from characters I haven’t really been given much of a chance to give a single shit about. The underlying plot points really have some power to them, but it feels like such a slog to care about any of the characters.

We finally get back to Dakota, who finds herself in prison. She’s naked, of course, with plenty of mentions about her breasts, and she immediately notes how her pubic hair has been shaved. This does not look like a promising indication that the writing will be any less indulgent. Sure enough, when she is finally reunited with her boy toy (who, I noted, is also naked but he’s such a flat character that he isn’t even graced with a physical description) the first thing they do is fuck. Even though she’s been starving herself and is so weak she’s barely coherent. Priorities!

Let me be clear: I’m not prudish, and I will happily read explicit content in books, as long as there is a REASON for it. There is no reason for all of the gratuitous sexuality in these books. It’s self-indulgent and distracting, and the worst part is (as I said in my review of the first book) it could fairly easily have been modulated to actually have a point. Dakota Merrick could be a really interesting female protagonist, because she’s been ostracized and traumatized and has difficulty connecting to people. Building a trust relationship with Corso could be a REALLY powerful sequence. But, instead, she prances around naked and fucks everything with a cock at every opportunity (real cocks or artificial ones, it doesn’t matter to her!). It’s pretty clearly biased, too. We become intimately familiar with Dakota’s naked body, breasts, pubic region, anus… but there is barely any time wasted describing Lucas Corso. Who wants to read about him anyway, right? It’s all about the boobies and pubic hair! And, naturally, the males she fucks think it’s the best sex they’ve ever had. Even the main enemy is like “You know what, I kind of like her, despite trying to kill her.” I wonder how long it will take before she fucks him too, despite the fact that he’s a fish in a floating bubble. (He does have tentacles that extend outside of it! Hmmmmm…)

I skimmed through roughly 30% of the book and found the characters were still acting inconsistently (one moment they’re badass, the next they’re weeping and cowering) and just gave up before getting out of the prison sequences. It’s really a shame because the plot is interesting and the action is fast paced, but the characters ruin it for me. As I said with the first book, though: give it to an editor who will slash all the bullshit out of it and an effects team who will bring the action to life and we’ll have a decent (possibly cheesy) movie that I will happily watch.

Stealing Light

Stealing Light (The Shoal Sequence, #1)Stealing Light by Gary Gibson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel like I should really like this book. It’s a space opera with daring smugglers and firefights and alien species and mysterious technology and plenty of action, and the main character is a no-nonsense female pilot. Or… at least she should be no-nonsense but somehow a lot of nonsense keeps getting mixed in. I really try not to be feminist about these things, but I’m really put off by how frequently she’s described naked, or how often her anus is mentioned. I mean… we really needed that much detail to get the point across? In chapter three I wrote a note in my book saying “Wait… is she fucking her ship now?” and a few paragraphs later it was like “Yup. She’s fucking her ship.” Literally fucking it. It takes human form and fucks her. Yeah.

There’s a LOT of potential here, actually. The character is a “machine head” with implants in her brain that give her all sorts of (overly described and leaned upon for plot devices) tech abilities and information, but the implants are sufficiently balanced by having some significant downsides: they’ve previously allowed the bearers to become controlled and commit heinous crimes. The implants are actually illegal now because of the exploitation potential, but they offer huge benefits, especially to a pilot like our main character. So there are huge benefits, but not to the Mary Sue level because there are also huge risks. No one really trusts a machine head, so she’s a loner who’s also dealing with the traumas and consequences of the implants, and suddenly it makes a bit of sense that she might become ‘involved’ with her ship since that’s her only companion. Right? Right??

… except every other male she encounters seems to end up fucking her too. Sigh. And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure there are any other female characters of note for her to encounter.

Yeah, I dunno.

I found the first few chapters of the book were far too heavy on exposition (laying out every detail of the technology and world without really giving me any reason to give a single shit about the characters who had all clustered together to talk about it), but the action scenes have been decent enough and I am reasonably interested enough to see what happens. I keep going despite the vague distaste I keep feeling as I plow through descriptions. I feel like this would be way up there on my list of must-reads if it weren’t for this greasy feeling that the book is more self-indulgent than it needs to be for plot purposes.

The characters spend the entire book flip flopping between emotions with no logical transitions. They’re badass in one paragraph, weeping and cowering in the next. Then they’re yelling and screaming at each other, and fucking in the next. It’s disjointed and the poor writing doesn’t do it any favours, with lots of perspective shifts and occasional lapses in tense. But despite all that, the second half of the book was decent, despite a very awkward sex scene that is initiated by the dialogue “I can tell by the way you have your hand on my dick.” They were almost in the midst of growing as characters before they did that, too. Alas.

Give this to a ruthless editor who can cut all the bullshit out of it, and hand it off to an effects team, and I bet it would make a really decent (but probably cheesy) movie. As a book, it’s pretty meh, although I am sufficiently curious to see how the plot wraps up across sequels. Curious enough to put up with more random sex and forced descriptions of nudity? Eeeehhh, maybe later.

Handbook for Lightning Survivors

The Handbook for Lightning Strike SurvivorsThe Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had trouble with this one. It had an interesting premise that I wanted to know more about (A girl who is struck by lightning repeatedly, with some mysterious events such as watches that tick backwards in her presence, or halos around her in photographs), and it had some really powerful, raw emotion to it, but I found it disjointed and difficult to keep track of.

The author clearly loved the characters (as evidenced by the somewhat unnecessarily detailed summary of everyone’s lives at the end…), but the book failed to get me invested in them. Many of the side characters were introduced haphazardly, and it made it difficult for me to connect with them or care about their stories. I was interested in Becca’s story, kind of neutral on finding out what happened to Buckley, and couldn’t give a shit and had to resist the urge to skim when it started going off on tangents about anyone else, even when those threads eventually tied back in. I feel like it would have been stronger overall if it stuck to following one character (either Becca, or Buckley who learns Becca’s story through his book research) instead of jumping around like that.

POV tended to change mid-page. I suppose it was an attempt at third person omniscient, but instead of offering insight into all the characters it was just disorienting. More disconcertingly, the tense would sometimes swap mid-page, which was jarring. Maybe it was deliberate because of how the story skips around in time, but I disliked it.

Worst was that it just felt sort of aimless and pointless. I kept at it thinking the story was interesting enough that I wanted to see how it wrapped up, but even that was anticlimactic.

The characters have some interesting depth and the emotional moments are on point, but it was a struggle to slog through to the end.

The Half Life of Stars

The Half Life of StarsThe Half Life of Stars by Louise Wener

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a tough one to rate, made ironic by the fact that I almost didn’t read this. I selected it, looked at the cover, hesitated, read the synopsis, and thought to myself “ehhhh I don’t think I’m in the mood for this right now” and then tried reading a different book which turned out to be god awful, so I came back to this and I went “Well, at least it can’t be THAT bad” and dove in. Silly me. This is why I shouldn’t break my rule of just diving into books and seeing what happens, judging them on their own merits instead of pre-judging them by their covers and synopsis and previous reviews!

I really enjoyed it, and I kept waffling back and forth between 4 and 5 stars. The plot was well done, the characters had real life to them, and the language was wonderful. And every now and then there’d be a big twist that made perfect sense but I didn’t see it coming and I’d think “okay this is definitely 5 stars”. Then there would be a badly edited sequence where words were misused (“I couldn’t bare to do it” came up a few times and I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a UK language thing, because it doesn’t make sense that you simply cannot get naked in order to accomplish this thing right now, does it? Or… does it…). I love heavy dialogue, especially when the characters are as vivid as this, but sometimes the dialogue was so poorly edited that you couldn’t tell who was saying what and I’d start to get distracted and lose the flow. Unfortunate. I’d give it a solid 4.5 stars and I’m still really torn on whether to round up or down.

You know what… it’s been sitting on 4 stars the whole time I typed this but, fuck it, I’ll round it up to 5. The writing and characters just had a brutal honesty that I could relate to. I hated her family, because they were too real. That’s worth 5 stars. The surprising plot that didn’t leave any threads was just icing.

Graceling

This is worthy of flak but I just quit at 3%.  This… just… augh no I can’t do it.  I can’t take this right now. I’m not going to officially rate it yet though, and I am dutifully keeping it loaded on my Kindle under the pretense of giving it a proper rating later, but I feel like I should record my attempt, especially since I rarely give up on books.

I picked up Graceling because it was recommended alongside a lot of books I’ve enjoyed, and it features a ‘strong female protagonist’ which I usually enjoy a lot.  It was also touted as being highly original with lots of interesting ideas.  I was looking forward to cracking into this one.

The writing jumped out at me immediately as kind of pretentious and annoying.  Everything just smacked of ‘trying too hard’, and maybe a bit arrogant too.  But hey maybe I’m just grumpy today, so I trundled on and tried to ignore all the choppy sentences that are just begging you to notice how important they are.

The story opens with the main character basically beating the shit out of a buttload of guards.  Great care and attention is given to describing how great she is at beating the shit out of these guys, with precision strikes that fell everyone with a minimum of effort or notice. But then we are quickly reminded that she doesn’t want to do any killing because she’s done enough killing in her life (which, by the way, reminds us she’s really good at killing.  Like so good at it, guys).  So that’s good, at least she’s overwhelmingly good and kind and conscientious on top of being an unstoppable killing machine.  Which is good because her ability to kill like this is due to a special ability that only special snowflakes have, which is why she’s so special.  There’s no way this could turn into a Mary Sue character, right?  Oh wait we’re not done yet, we better lay on the heavy handed references to how she’s the only female who is this good at absolutely everything and no one suspects she’s as good at everything as she is because she’s female.

My eyes were already rolling when I paused to glance at some reviews, hoping this was just an awkward segue and it would settle the fuck down once it got rolling, but it really sounds like it’s not going to.  I just… I don’t have the energy right now.  I can’t do it.  I cannot put several hours into awkward choppy writing that’s pushing agendas about a surly and unlikable Mary Sue, even if the worldbuilding and ideas surrounding it are fantastic and unique.

Maybe when I am on summer vacation, and am suitably drunk.

[edit] Geeze, I just read more reviews that got into the feminist debate surrounding the book and now I’m terrified to even go near it anymore.  I didn’t even have a chance to be outraged by that before I got fed up!  The book has many gifts to give, it seems…

The Night Circus

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was almost good. I kept saying that the whole time I was reading it. “This is almost good.”

I was feeling in the mood for a good ‘curl up and read’ book, and I was about to start ovulating so I figured it would be a good time to tackle a romance (usually not my favourite), so I skimmed through various book club lists until I found The Night Circus. Ovulation is probably the only reason it got the third star.

The premise is that two magicians set up a challenge where they each enter a student and see who wins. The challenge is never fully explained, but it’s heavily hinted that they disagree about the best forms of training methods and seek to prove that their own methods are superior by producing the victorious pupil. But it’s also suggested that they’ve been doing these sorts of challenges for centuries and yet they still feel the need to keep digging up hapless children and abusing them into playing pieces for their satisfaction. They train their students and inform them that they will be challenging an opponent at some point in their life and ‘you’ll know it when you see it guys’ and that’s about it.

So at this point you might be thinking “Okay, so we’ll learn about the challenge along with the protagonists!” but yeah, you’d be wrong.

The venue for this duel is a circus. The girl, Celia, gets a job there as The Illusionist, performing magic passed off as clever tricks except it’s actual magic, of course. The boy, Marco, works from outside the circus, getting a position as the assistant to the owner of the circus. Marco works from outside the circus, Celia works from within. Each of them use their magical powers to create fantastical attractions, and eventually come to realize that this is the challenge. They must out-do their opponent and prove that they are the best.

I mean… I think so, anyway. It wasn’t really explained, and also it made no god damn sense. They spend the entire book creating fantastic things (which are all very interesting to read about) and then they wander around the circus and go “Ooh this is new! My opponent must have made this! How wonderful!” and then every so often they meet up and complement each other on their creations, or collaborate on something, and then occasionally have some forbidden sex.

And then every so often they press the back of their hand to their brow and lament “This challenge is such a strain I don’t know how much longer I can take it!” even though it makes NO sense to the reader why this should be a strain on them at all. It’s not even a challenge. They never challenge each other. They WORK TOGETHER on half of it and it’s constantly described how it’s such a pleasure to wander around through the circus attractions. If it’s supposed to be some sort of battle it certainly didn’t translate well into the text. The ‘scoring’ is never explained, to them or to the reader, and the purpose is never explained. Why would these two ancient magicians constantly play out ‘challenges’ where they enter two students who dally around with magic for decades (the challenges last ~40 years) where the only win condition is the death of your opponent? But they seem to rather enjoy collaborating together on things. It’s not like they’re chucking fireballs at each other, so there is no (reasonably explained) reason why they can’t just carry on forever until one of them dies of natural causes. Why is creating pretty circus attractions so stressful that one of them will eventually want to kill themselves?

Oh, right. Because it provides a tragic backdrop for a forbidden romance.

Plot qualms aside, I had some problems with the actual writing, too. The whole first half of the book felt… listless. I kept reading the descriptions of the circus and thinking “This is a really cool and wondrous location that is being described to me. So why is it so flat and boring?” It wasn’t until after the romance got rolling that the descriptions really started to pick up, and I really enjoyed the imaginative imagery after that, but the first half felt as limp as a warm lettuce leaf.

I had a similar issue with the characters. There are a lot of characters and they all feel flat and unremarkable, other than the main protagonists/antagonists. A lot of the punch in the plot lost its steam because I had some difficulty keeping the side characters straight. The protagonists aren’t necessarily all that remarkable either, if you want to be picky, but at least they have a bit of life to them.

I think a lot of the trouble is the choice to write it in present tense. Now, I’m biased because I hate present tense, but I’ve run across a couple books that used it well so I know it’s not impossible to impress me with it. This case is absolutely not a case where I think present tense is a good choice. If you think about it enough and really convince yourself, it kinda makes sense for this story. We have a circus that we’re clearly meant to be experiencing in the moment (there are several ‘second person’ scenes where the reader themselves are supposed to be investigating the circus. I hated all of them, by the way. Somehow they had the opposite effect of totally taking me out of the story… and they also tended to describe things that had already been described so it felt like a waste of time), and we have this supposedly deadly duel where we don’t know who will survive so present tense, in theory, should make that more exciting because it’s happening now. But the duel itself takes place over three decades and there’s not a single solitary direct attack in the whole thing. Also the setting is over a century ago so by default we know it happened in the past, even though the intent is probably to take us back there. But then the timeline jumps around! It just doesn’t work and it makes the whole narrative awkward and flat. If it hadn’t been written in present tense I feel like it would flow better, the characters would be more memorable, and the reveals would pack more punch.

Then we have the romance. The romance was okay. I deliberately read it while ovulating, and I definitely enjoyed some of the sequences, but by the end it was too sappy even for my ovaries. Once again: it just didn’t make enough sense. They’re bound together, so there’s some leeway there—they’re probably going to be drawn to each other in a special way, and we can forgive the explosions of magic every time their skin touches. It’s magic, after all. The problem is he is very clearly in love with her at first sight but she doesn’t even know who he is for half the book, and then doesn’t fall in love with him until a little ways after that. When she does it feels like it comes out of nowhere. And then, even after they get things rolling, he’s got a girl on the side that he keeps around for years? /facepalm. But, naturally, by the end they’re both falling over each other to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. “I’m gonna kill myself to save you!” “No I’m gonna kill myself to save you!” even though it makes no god damn sense that either of them have to die at all.

But the ending wrapped everything up in a fairly satisfying little bow, even if it dragged on a bit too much. Three stars.

Apparently the movie rights have been purchased already. I can’t decide if it will be good or not. It has the potential to be good, but odds are it will not be good. The imagery is just crying out to be brought to life on a screen but it will be difficult to do it justice, and they’ll Hollywood the shit out of the romance and make it unbearable. I’d probably still watch it but only on Netflix.

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Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on AirLate Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly disliked this book at first, but it ended strong enough that I tacked an extra star onto it, almost out of pity. I ENJOYED reading it (mostly), but it annoyed me enough that it really should only have 3 stars. But then a sentence would float past and I would think “That was a really good sentence. I enjoyed that.” and then I would lament not having it on my kindle to highlight in order to go back and look at those sentences again later. There were enough of those moments that I do not regret offering the 4th star.

This book was far too in love with its setting. I’ve been to Yellowknife and hiked around a bit in the summer, so I enjoyed reading the descriptions, but I’ve always had this stubborn notion that books should have a setting and a plot, and it kept letting me down on the second part.

There was no plot for the first half of the book. It was all setting. Setting that characters talked to each other in, but each of the characters had the exact same voice (the voice of the author, I imagine), and I had to keep checking the names in the sentences to figure out who was saying what. The characters have backstories that are all painstakingly laid out for you in the first 100 pages of the novel in an awful display of telling instead of showing, but their personalities fail to come through until the very end. I could tell them apart by name, but they did not convey any of their personality through dialogue. I hated every single one of them except Gwen for a full 2/3s of the novel, and never really did warm up to anyone else by the end.

I did not care for the writing at all for most of the book. It was fragmented and rambling, constantly bringing up little threads of plot that abruptly end or just get dropped into nothing. I was continually annoyed by flowery descriptive moments where the writing dropped into an almost pretentious tone. I’ve never been a big poetry fan, and a lot of the descriptive passages twigged the same dislike in me that poetry does. And then the incredibly annoying habit of ending a section with something like “They didn’t know it yet, but this would be important later.” Stop telling me things. ESPECIALLY stop telling me things you haven’t even gotten around to writing yet. SHOW me things.

But then there were the good moments. A turn of phrase that strikes you as particularly beautiful or apt, or a character moment that makes you nod. The characters, for all their flat dialogue, were REAL. I loved that they all had flaws and behaved realistically. Some of the interactions were things I could really identify with, such as when Gwen is flabbergasted at being accused of being too proud or arrogant about her skills, when (to her own perception) she was barely stumbling along and hanging in there. It’s so true.

But at its heart, the book feels like a sappy romance, because that’s all there is for plot. This character is in love with that character but shouldn’t be. That character is in love with this character but doesn’t know it yet (but hey at least they will in the future! Look the author says so right here at the end of this paragraph.) Those characters are in love but it was never meant to be. Or was it? That’s really the entire plot. I was intrigued by the jacket cover description of a trek through the barrens, but it takes you 200 pages to even start talking about that trek, and then it’s over long before the book ends. I feel like the jacket should be sued for false advertising, but to be fair, what else would you advertise as a plot?

The barrens trek was by far my favourite part of the book because the characters finally had a purpose and a goal beyond just interacting with each other, and suddenly all the descriptions and character interactions held so much more meaning. That’s when the extra star got tacked on. If only the first 2/3rds of the book had been edited down a bit to have more direction, I might have enjoyed it that much more.

The Kings of Eternity

The Kings of EternityThe Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost gave up on this book several times.  It’s fairly short, but I was a full 25% of the way into it before anything happened.  I was just done with it.  I didn’t particularly like the character, it kept jumping back and forth between two time periods and my lack of interest in the character made it difficult to follow (in one time period there is a girlfriend named Carla and in the other there is one named Caroline, and I’m bad with names so I kept getting them crossed with each other which made his seeming 180 degree reactions toward them very confusing), but worst of all the language in the book was almost pretentious to read.  I had heard the term ‘purple prose’ before and I even remember looking it up once and thinking “aha, that is the name for that” but then forgetting again.  This book is purple prose.  I don’t think I will forget the meaning of it again, after this.  There is even a section in the book that I highlighted where a character reads out a section of writing from the main character’s books (who is also an author, naturally) and criticizes it for being “Interesting, if a little overwritten.”  That is this book.  I was about to give up on it and went back to the blurb on it to remember why I had even loaded it on my kindle in the first place, and went “Oh.  Hmm.  That does sound interesting.  Maybe I’ll keep going for a little more…”

Then I got to 25% and things happened and I was like “ahh, finally, the reason I loaded this.” and once I was into it even the over-writing started to feel more like Jules Verne than simply trying too hard, which may have been what they were going for.  And then at 40% I was like “holy shit this is pretty good actually.”  And by the end I was like “Eeeh, that was flawed, but these characters are cropping up in random thoughts throughout the day so I guess it’s pretty good.”  3.5 stars.

The premise, in case you’re reading this because you haven’t gotten 25% of the way into it yet and want to know if there’s a point to continuing, is that a reclusive author and his three friends stumble upon an anomaly in the woods which turns out to be a gate to an alien planet.  They have an encounter with an alien creature, save him, and are rewarded with some gifts in return.  One of those gifts is the gift of immortality (more or less) via what is not explained as but is almost certainly some form of nano-medical-technology.  Now they must deal with the fact that they will outlive everyone else.  But there’s more… they can give one dose to one other person each.  Who do they give it to?  How will they conceal their non-aging properties?  Use of the technology is forbidden… what will they do when the aliens come looking for them as lawbreakers?

There were a lot of things that I picked up on and I wasn’t sure if they were intentional or not.  A lot of things are repeated.  In a lot of cases it seems like it could be an attempt to signal something significant, but in other cases I was genuinely not sure if the author just forgot they had done that already.  For example, the author in the book writes a story about a reclusive author living in Greece who is finally charmed by a woman and brought out of his solitude.  Guess what happens to the character!  In exactly the same town as the book he wrote!  That can’t just be a coincidence.  But then certain descriptive phrases were used repetitively, like the one about heat hitting their skin like a physical blow.  It’s actually a plot point in the book that the author is accused of plagiarism because he accidentally re-uses phrases from books he penned under different names.  Are these repetitive phrases some sort of nod to that or just a mistake of editing?  Would there be a point to adding a nod to that??  I’m not sure.  It went over my head if there is one.

And I noticed an odd tendency to over-explain things, but only the things that really didn’t need any explanation whatsoever.  To make it even more irritating, when something actually needed explaining, it would be glossed over.  But if you ever wondered how an object got from one end of the room to the other, hoo boy nothing was left to imagination!  Except then sometimes it wouldn’t be explained and suddenly it was glaringly obvious that an object that had previously been described as on that side of the room was being picked up by a character on this side of it.  Ironically, the breaks in continuity wouldn’t have been an issue at all if it weren’t for the anal over-description of everything else.  There were times when I was absolutely positive I could see the author re-reading the scene and then going “Crap, what if someone asks about this,” and adding a bunch of extraneous descriptive text to head off any pedantic questions, then forgetting that it impacted a scene later on.

Minor ending spoilers:
I was actually surprised it worked out the way it did because it spent so much time building up to the ending that I was expecting it to be a twist, because it was just too obvious and the character had everything worked out and naturally life would throw him one last curveball and punch him in the gut or something because that’s how these things work.  But then… nope just the obvious happy ending.  Disney-esque, even.  Satisfying, though.

Much bigger ending spoilers: Read more of this post

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (First Impressions)

First impressions is all I ever do now because I never finish games anymore… but anyway

I am a huuuuggggeeeeee old-school Splinter Cell fan.  I got into Splinter Cell and the original Thief games around the same time back in the early 2000’s, and suddenly realized that the stealth genre was made for me.  I think the SC games were the first “shooter” games I ever actually finished.  The first time I realized you could actually shoot out light bulbs with your silenced pistol was like holy shit this is the greatest thing ever oh my god.  I mean sure you have water arrows to douse torches in Thief so it’s not like it’s even an original concept, but dude, I just shot out the bulb on that guy’s front porch holy shit.  I dunno, I guess the water arrows pretty much exist for only that one purpose, where the light bulb thing almost felt like emergent gameplay at the time (even though it’s totally not).  It felt like I really had some control over how to get from one end of a room to another, and shooting a light bulb was just one clever option amid a myriad of not-necessarily-scripted options.  In Thief I always tended to club and hide all the guards, but Splinter Cell was 100% hanging out near the ceiling in a dark corner while an unsuspecting guard wanders through, oblivious to my shadowy presence.  Yessss.  Of course, it also meant I’d spend 8 hours trying to make it through a single mission without anyone spotting me, which was rather time consuming…

I played the shit out of the original, I played the shit out of Pandora Tomorrow, I played the shit out of Chaos Theory… and then they did that crazy thing with Double Agent where they released two versions of it and the PC version was the “bad” version, which left me paralyzed because I didn’t want the bad version, but I didn’t want to play it on a fucking console either…  sooooo I ended up not playing it.  I bought it on Steam a million years later but never did play it (damn you, Steam).  Then Conviction came out and that was just a clusterfuck of “You don’t stealth anymore you just kill everyone now” and I was like “what”.  (I bought that on sale too but also didn’t play it. Fucking Steam, man).  Then I heard Blacklist was a return to the stealth roots of the originals, so I bought it when it came up as a daily sale (Steam >:(  *shake fist*) and actually played it, this time.

The good:
It does feel like old school Splinter Cell.  I’m even ruining my life all over again by resetting it over and over again trying to not be seen.  The AI seems really impressive so far, which is either good or bad depending on how patient you are (stupid observant guards >:( ).  The controls are great.  It feels really solid, and there’s the occasional “No don’t run out from cover now you idiot” moment, but I can usually attribute that to me hitting the wrong key instead of some asshole context-based control fuck up.  (Have I mentioned I fucking hate the move to context based everything?  It greatly displeases me to have a button suddenly change its function because I took one step too many).  I was initially annoyed by the inclusion of a fly-out menu for my gadgets, but it’s got proper keyboard integration and it’s not getting in my way.  This is probably aided by me never actually using anything because I stealth past and then reset if I fuck up, so… as long as it works for me, I guess!  So far the controls feel fluid and I’m enjoying creeping around, and that’s all that really matters.

The bad:
The story.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  I mean, it’s Tom Clancy.  And it’s not like SC really had sparkling writing before, but… it’s so bad.  Soooooo bad.  Also they’ve decided to cling to Sam Fisher as the protagonist, despite making him 20 years younger (as opposed to introducing a new 20-years-younger protagonist to carry the torch), which kind of invalidates the character.  He’s not actually 20 years younger – he’s still supposed to be past retirement age – he just looks and sounds 20 years younger and in the prime of his physical condition and not at all old and tired and past retirement age.  It’s dumb and they made a bad decision.  That alone drops it below the calibre of the originals, and that’s before I even started reading about some of the drama behind the switch in actors… I’m not sure I even want to know more.  The excuse of “We need someone who matches the build to do motion captures” really loses a lot of punch when you start wondering why motion capture effects the voice acting (especially since I don’t think the facial animations are really all that impressive and I doubt we would notice the difference in facial capture as much as we notice the loss of Michael Ironside…)…  but mostly I dislike the direction it takes the character.  He had a lot of heart as a grizzled veteran with a gravelly voice.  Now he’s just another “Commander Shepherd” generic 25 year old looking guy, oh but don’t worry he’s actually still old and grizzled.  See, grey hairs! …  Maybe I should just pretend nothing happened and go obliviously enjoy the gameplay (while skipping the story bits because it’s so bad).  New Sam is nowhere near as appealing as old Sam, and I even vaguely dislike him.  I don’t think that’s due to nostalgia, I think it’s because the character is a shallow, boring, action-figure shell.  It wasn’t exactly a deep character before so it doesn’t take much to lose everything.  A shame.  Fortunately the story is really bad so I have no desire to listen to his character interact with the other characters and I can just skip through the dialogue.  That… shouldn’t be a bonus.

But the gameplay is good enough to keep playing…. so far. I’ve heard rumors it gets more forced combat-y later which makes me frown, and it definitely seems to assume you’re just going to shoot everyone, so they missed the mark by a little bit despite the best intentions of the few designers who knew what they were doing.

I’m going to go shoot some fucking light bulbs.

Watch Dogs (First Impressions)

This is a verrrryyyyy early first impression.  I played the tutorial crap and did the first mission, then drove around and collected some check-in points.  But first impressions are the most important, right?!?

We got Watch Dogs for “free” with a new video card, which is convenient because I really really dislike Ubisoft and their disdain for PC gamers, so it meant I could try it at release instead of stubbornly refusing to give Ubisoft any money until it was dirt cheap on Steam.  (The greatest tragedy of the gaming world is that Ubisoft has the Anno franchise… alas).

I somehow managed to avoid the uPlay fiasco because I downloaded it (something I was apparently lucky to be able to do), immediately turned off cloud saving, then went into offline mode.  I did that because I hate uPlay and it fucks everything up far too often for me to trust it.  Well guess what!  It fucked everything up for everyone who stayed online.  I was able to go offline and play relatively unhindered, but it sucks for anyone who actually wanted to try the multiplayer invasion PvP stuff.  Of course, every time I boot it up, it whines at me about how I should really go online because I’m really missing out!  Ugh, uPlay.

But anyway.  Bitching about uPlay is low hanging fruit.  Instead, I will bitch about the game.

One positive thing I will say about Watch Dogs is that the enforced tutorial was NOT onerous.  It did have the little popup tooltips telling you what buttons to press to make shit do shit, but it didn’t get totally in your face and force you to stop, or prevent you from playing with your abilities until it had painstakingly explained the controls to you (despite the controls being exactly the fucking same as every other game, because if they weren’t exactly the fucking same as every other game, you would be doing it wrong.)  Of course, it’s able to get away with it by not giving you any abilities to start!  But that is an acceptable compromise.  I did dislike how it sort of dictated where my first skill point should go, though.

The opening mission was decently interesting, and it really didn’t explain much to you at all.  Some people might even find it confusing, but I enjoyed it.  I’m getting sick of having every game handhold you through the opening minutes.  However I do feel like it needed a bit more exposition, if only to help the player bond with the main character a bit more.  You’re sort of dumped into this guy, you have no idea who he is except you may have an idea that he’s a hacker if you’ve heard anything about the game before, and you’re sort of scrambling around trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Why you are doing what you are doing.  We’re hacking a stadium to escape because… uh… we’re stealing money?  We hate these guys?  I’ve already forgotten why he was even in there and I was just playing it last night.  It’s the same sort of problem books run into when they give you no reason to root for the protagonist.  Why do we care?  He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing but we’re sort of tagging along in a clueless haze, trusting that we will also care about his success once we know the whole story.  The problem lies in keeping the reader/player interested long enough to become invested in the story… but I guess when you’ve got a 60 dollar initial investment into it you might be more motivated to plow on.

Once you’re out of there it dumps you into the world and you are free to dick around, or move on with the story.  I dicked around a bit, realized I had no idea what I was doing (I’m stopping crimes?  So wait, am I a badass hacker thief or some sort of Spiderman do-gooder who also occasionally steals cars and robs ATMs?), then moved on to the story hoping it would all become clearer.

It sort of became clearer… but it also became a lot whinier.  We’re clearly meant to empathize with this guy, but it’s so heavy handed that I think I made an “ngh” noise out loud.  The line: “*dramatic pause* But now I’m afraid of the silence.” was so… you’re just trying way too fucking hard here, jesus.  Instead of empathizing I actually started to actively dislike him.

My biggest complaint (so far) is with the controls.  I enjoyed the opening mission because it was very Splinter Cell-ish – hiding around corners, using gadgets to distract or incapacitate guards so you could advance without anyone detecting you – and my only complaint was that everything was done with the same gadget, which just had different contexts.  I was sort of hoping that would improve as the game went on, but instead I just unlocked more contexts for my gadget.  There are craftable doodads which might alleviate the problem, but I disliked how they’re all stuck on a god damn flyout wheel and feel very awkward to swap between.  I hate flyout wheels.  I have lots and lots and lots of keys on my keyboard.  I want to use them to make switching items quick and efficient.  I want to select which button does which skill so that I can place my most used items exactly where I want to access them.  Fuck your flyout wheel.

But mostly I hate the camera.  First, an aside – I dislike how everything is enforced third person nowadays.  At least give me the option of first person if I want it.  I prefer not having a third of my screen be taken up by my avatar.  The character movement is really awkward and clumsy.  I’m not sure if I can articulate it better than that… it just feels like it’s imprecise.  I turn the character around and he kind of wobbles and flails and then I have to fine tune the direction I want him to go in.  I think it’s related to the mouselook camera not picking up diagonals properly with the WASD movement, because it’s designed for a control stick instead of mouselook and they didn’t bother to optimize it for mouselook.  Instead of turning gracefully, he does an about-face when you try to turn with a key, probably because it’s directly translating your keypress into a flat-out controller stick movement instead of having proper keyboard control.

The camera as a whole just feels floaty and awful.  The reason I hate controlling cameras with controllers is because it feels floaty and imprecise, where a mouse can move a camera with speed and precision.  I have a high DPI mouse and just a tiny amount of movement can swing a camera around for a quick scan of an area, but also instantly stop on a target in the middle if I spot something interesting.  I like having that level of control.  But even with the settings at maximum, the camera in this game feels like I’m using a controller, i.e. floaty and awful.  It’s not so bad that I won’t get used to it, but it’s annoying knowing that it’s deliberately awful because it’s designed for a controller, and they didn’t bother to optimize their mouse option.  I HAVE a controller for my PC and I did try it that way, but the camera is just as awful, which makes sense because the whole reason I dislike it is because I hate controlling cameras with controllers.  My husband tried the Mouse/Keyboard route then opted for the controller, but is disliking it as well.  His comment was “My favourite open world games are ones with great movement, and this game has the worst controls.”

Once you get out into the world you realize it’s not Splinter Cell, it’s Assassin’s Creed with GTA cars.  They’ve even got “parkour” challenges, which is another fad I’m hoping will stop polluting games soon.  It makes sense in AssCreed.  It doesn’t even make sense for a hacker vigilante to be a ninja wall runner.  Of course, I tried climbing some walls and he huffed it up the side of a box like he was a 40 year old man with arthritis, so maybe it does make sense.

The camera continued to betray me out in the open world, and I actually came across something I really dislike about contextualized commands.  I was doing a mission where I was chasing someone down, and I tried to use my gadget to gadget his ass.  Just as I went to hit the button, the cursor popped over to a camera nearby instead of the target I was trying to aim at.  I didn’t notice in time and hacked the camera instead, which made my dude slam to a halt and changed my view to look through the camera as the perpetrator ran the fuck away from me.  Sigh.  Having buttons change their function in the middle of delicate maneuvers really does make it feel like an AssCreed game.

And there is camera bobbing while running.  >:(
No headaches yet though, so I will refrain from ranting.  For now.

I’ll play some more this weekend, possibly while drunk, and see if it starts to suck me in.  I’m not sure how optimistic I am though, given that my husband isn’t too impressed either.  His short and sweet review is:  “Feels like a game designed by a committee.”

—-

[edit] Okay I played a bit more and the gameplay is improving as I adjust to the still shitty controls (mouse sensitivity cranked up helped movement a lot but the flyout wheel is still intolerable and I’m going to neglect my craftable items because of it…), but the characters and writing hasn’t picked up yet.  I’m hearing it starts out slow and gets better so fingers crossed.  I really hate this guy, though.  ugh.  So far the only character I like is his asshole psychopath friend.

It feels like they tried to pull all the most popular gameplay parts of GTA and  Assassins Creed (open world, cars, exploding shit, theft, parkour, a plethora of collectables and unlockables to find in your spare time), and slapped the dramatic overtones of The Last of Us on top, presuming that would somehow make it even more successful.  It’s kind of like dumping the wrong condiments into a recipe and assuming that it’s a good condiment that worked in someone else’s recipe so it will make the dish better by default.  It’s really not working.

[Edit again] The entire point of a stealth game is that you have the option of solving scenarios with clever stealth mechanics instead of just running in with guns blazing (although ideally you could just do that too).  So why is it that I am constantly pushed into a mandatory gunfight scenario in this game.  I just did a mission where I successfully snuck past every guard and got the objective without detection, only to have my buddy go “Hey look there’s lots of Fixers coming sucks to be you!” and suddenly I’m shooting 30 guys and a helicopter, despite being completely undetected up to that point.  It was so scripted that it even reset the gun I was holding once I walked past the checkpoint.  This makes me irrationally angry and I don’t even want to bother with this shit.

The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Augh this book. It’s so good, and then it grabs the ball and just drops it all over itself and leaves me going “…” because why. Why did you drop that ball. You did everything else so well. Why.

It has so many flaws and yet I must rate it 5.

The Chaos Walking series continues its excellent character development, and even the villains are interesting this time. The story picks up where the first book left off, and the entirety of it is set in the capital city of the planet. A number of heavy issues are broached (racism, slavery, torture, approaches to morality, self esteem and identity…) and it never once became preachy or uninteresting to me.  It also managed to stop doing that thing I hated in the first book where Todd would discover something and react appropriately and not tell anything to the reader grrrr.  So kudos for stopping that bullshit.

It did, however, become a bit baffling at points. What the book (and series so far, really) seems to lack is motivations. Amidst all of these excellent character depictions and believable responses to things, there is a complete lack of a sense for why they are doing what they are doing. The real strengths of these characters are how believable they are, but the lack of clear motivations is starting to make even that a bit muddy in this book. Before reading these books I probably would have said it wouldn’t be possible to write characters this well and somehow miss their motivations, but, well, here it is, and it’s probably the worst thing about this book given how well the first one developed the characters.

In the first book we had comically evil mustache twirling villains who seemed to be evil for the sake of being evil, because there wasn’t really a decent motivation behind their actions. We still have that here, but the villains are fleshed out a bit more and it’s easy to forget that the bottom line is they’re being evil pretty much for the sake of being evil. Okay fine the motivation is “I will rule the world” but that’s synonymous with “comically evil”.

[Vague plot discussion follows – I try to avoid major spoilers but it’s worth a warning:]

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So difficult to rate. I really really enjoyed this book, but there were some flaws that marred the experience. If partial marks were allowed I’d probably end up dipping into 1/2s and maybe 3/4s, but as it is I will just start at 5 stars for being amazing, and drop it to 4 for having unfortunate flaws.

The language was not one of those flaws, although it could have been. The book uses “cleetus speak” to show that the characters are uneducated. The dialects aren’t slathered all over everything and, unlike the Dust Lands books, characters had unique “accents” as the characters moved from place to place. I could actually tell characters apart as they spoke. I enjoyed it, even. (And they use quotation marks! How novel!) It did still annoy me when words were misspelled when it made no sense to do so. e.g. words ending in -tion would be spelled “-shun”. Why. It is pronounced the same, so it doesn’t even contribute to an accent. It’s a minor annoyance and I got over it, though.

It’s such an interesting premise. Todd was born on this planet, but he’s actually part of a colony who landed here and soon discovered that something on the planet is causing them to hear each other’s thoughts. The plot is a bit sparse to begin with – Todd is going about his life, and then shit goes down and he needs to flee his hometown. He’s just as confused about it as we are, and the readers learn about the story while he figures it out. It’s like a blend of old time farmland settings and sci-fi genres, and it works. The worldbuilding is good and keeps you wanting to know more.

I have some issues with the second part of that, though. It relies heavily on a “hook” that I dislike – not telling the reader anything, even if the protagonist learns something. It’s mostly handled well, but then there are parts of the book where it cuts to Todd’s reaction as someone explains something really really important to him. No one explains any of it to us, the readers, and it’s such a transparent hook to make you keep reading. It works, mind you, but I resent every moment of it. You can handle it more gracefully than that guys, come on. It’s jarring and transparent. ESPECIALLY when you’re trying to pull off first person present tense. It was shockingly sloppy compared to a lot of the rest of the writing.

There’s a bit of really obvious telling instead of showing, too, which was also really odd given how well most of the book was constructed. In pretty much the first chapter Todd is thinking about how the year has 13 months in it, and I was all “aha, these are not typical Earth years.” Many many many chapters later Viola painstakingly lays out how the years are a different length here. Seriously? Did you forget that shit was in chapter one or did you think “omg the years are a different length why” would be a mystery for the whole book and it better be cleared up?

The characters were fantastic. They were real. They had human thoughts and made human mistakes. They reacted to each other in human ways. Each character was distinct. Even the dog had an appropriately dog-styled personality. Most of the writing was sort of stream-of-consciousness choppy style, which made a lot of sense in the context of all thoughts being audible, and it was used effectively to bring the character’s reactions to life. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit overdone in areas.

I loved almost every interaction between characters in this book, except for the villains. All this effort was poured into the main characters to make them believable and human, and then it came time to write the villains and they slapped some comically evil paint onto some cardboard and propped it up. Their motivations are weak and cliche (“I will ruulllleee the wooorrrlllddd” yeah yeah we’ve heard it before). The protagonists “kill” the main antagonist like 4 or 5 times and oops he just keeps popping back up! No explanation as to how he didn’t die, just vivid descriptions of the visible damage from the wounds they inflicted last time (and a conspicuous lack of descriptions of a terminator-style endoskeleton, because I was getting pretty certain that’s the only way to survive all this shit by the end).  And then the reveal of how Todd is supposed to transition to manhood.

I just don’t buy it. It’s too flimsy. Enjoyable I suppose, but flimsy.

A bit of an aside, I suppose… one thing I noticed in this book is that it used the word “effing” copiously. It was amusing in a number of ways, mirroring a teenager trying to toe the line and test their boundaries. But then it would say something like “(but I don’t say “effing” I say the real word this time)”. Just fucking say fucking. I thought it was so the book could be properly marketed to a younger audience without having to worry about any scary words being included that would make parents angry or saddle it with a profanity warning, but then Viola lets a proper “fucking” slip and Todd reacts to it. … we have no need to self-censor then, do we? So why so much self-censorship? Baffling.

Bitching completed. I really liked this book. Flaws aside, the writing was powerful and well crafted, the characters were fantastic and believable, and the world is interesting and unique. The villains kinda suck but maybe it will come into its own later on and flesh out the plot a bit. I can kinda relate even if it doesn’t… I often come up with characters I really like and then have no ideas for good situations to get them into.

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Rebel Heart

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2)Rebel Heart by Moira Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I merely wanted this book to be adequate. I didn’t want something deep or meaningful, all it had to do was entertain me for the couple of hours it would take to burn through it.

It failed.

I enjoyed Blood Red Road enough that I sought out the next of the series instead of moving on to the next book in the pile. The first book had its issues, but I thought there was enough potential in the characterization and potential for interesting worldbuilding that I wanted to see where it would go next.

Full disclosure time: I am only halfway through Rebel Heart at the time of writing this. Not a god damn thing has happened yet and I’m seriously fed up. I want to finish it and see where it goes, but I’ve also avoided reading anything all weekend because I just can’t be bothered. That’s about where I usually give up on a book and move on to something that actually entertains me. I’m not sure what will happen… I may edit this review if I do slog on. We will see.

The first book impressed me by not making the romance the focal point. It didn’t get distracted with it like so many books do – the romance was just a thing that happened during the course of the adventure. In Rebel Heart, we start out with a little intro chapter starring Jack, who is carrying out his business as quickly as possible so he can get back to Saba as quickly as possible.
So now we know Jack’s inner thoughts and intentions, and we know 100% that he loves Saba and that’s his only real goal right now. Alrighty then.

Then we get punted back to Saba and company (and god awful first person again… The writing was so much better in Jack’s chapter where it used third person. It’s a shame, but I guess you have to experiment sometimes). Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack again. Saba loves Jack. Saba briefly worries that Jack won’t return to her. Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack. Tommo falls in love with Saba (WHAT. Oh of course he does because she is so amazing how silly of me. Ugh. Isn’t he like 9? I can’t tell if this is a failure to adequately describe a character in the first book, so we just assume he’s around Emmi’s age when he’s actually supposed to be ~15, or if it just means the series continues to completely fail at consistency in time passage and scale…). Saba continues to wish to see Jack. Saba loves Jack. Word gets back to them that Jack is running around with a group of bad guys. Saba’s world ends.

The whole thing was an infuriating waste of my time. Nothing happens for the whole first part of the book except thinking about Jack. There is no other plot. Then the “shocking news” comes along and we spend entirely too much time watching Saba wrestle with the news. Is Jack a traitor?? Does he not love her?? How could he?!? Saba refuses to believe it despite all the characters saying “I told you he couldn’t be trusted”, despite those characters agreeing that the “threat” Jack sent along to Saba just doesn’t sound like something he would say hmmmmm gosh I guess we really misjudged him we could never believe he’d say things like that! Saba makes the startling leap of logic that it is actually a coded message.
This is all a total waste of time because we, the readers, knew from the fucking prologue that Jack’s only real goal is to survive to see Saba again. You just wasted half a book to have Saba figure out something we already knew while everyone around her argues about it. It’s the worst kind of telling instead of showing… But I said that about Blood Red Road too didn’t I… Hmm.

I’m not even done bitching. We now have a plot (sort of… I mean its still the same plot of “must see Jack again”) so now Saba sets off to find him. We’ve spent half the book with no plot, and now the plot is pretty much exactly the same as Blood Red Road: an arbitrary time limit to travel an immense distance to find someone, except this time it’s less interesting. Saba even veers off deeper into Mary Sue territory by acquiring more animal companions and super abilities. I was almost really interested when she set off down the wraithway because the landscape was interesting, but it rehashes Blood Red Road again by pulling the trope of “I will sneak off when my friends are not looking because I do not want them to be put at risk because of me” and then oops all the animals she so carefully tied up just show up shortly thereafter and help protect her, and then there’s a whole sequence where she is running for her life and has a near escape only to realize what she escaped from was actually all of her friends who followed her. It would be fine, if it hadn’t happened in almost exactly the same way about four times over a book and a half. I’m not certain I can think of a near escape in this series that actually turned out to be something threatening.

And every time Lugh says anything I want to strangle him. Every line of dialogue he has makes me regret spending all that time reading the first book to save his negative ass. I think Nero is the only character I don’t hate right now. Oh I know it’s all going to turn into some sort of moral lesson about friendship and supportive relationships near the end of the book, and I’m actually interested to see how it unfolds (in terms of will it be done well or will it be a schadenfreude-laden trainwreck of writing mistakes?) but I might need to wait until I’m in a better mood to attempt to get there.

And there’s still no real plot.

I feel like I’m just about to get to a point where SOMETHING fucking happens, so I want to keep going, but… I don’t think I care anymore. Disappointing.

[edit] So yeah.  I woke up this morning and read some spoilers for the second half of the book.  She sleeps with the bad guy and has a pregnancy scare?  Holy what the fuck are you fucking kidding me?  I am retroactively regretting reading the first one, now.  I want post-apocalyptic dystopia, not “After School Special” soap opera.  A whirlwind of angst and melodrama and this is AFTER she was magically “cured” of her conveniently Hunger-Games-Like PTSD thanks to some shamanism.  I think I’m done with this :/

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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The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book because I discovered it was written by JK Rowling. That’s the only reason. I don’t even really like detective mysteries, and I sought out and read this book solely because I discovered it was written by JK Rowling. And I feel like that was kind of her point.

The book itself was pretty good. Much like Casual Vacancy, it was a fairly solid 3.5, but since Goodreads doesn’t allow for .5s I was once again stuck with the decision to either round up or down. I rounded Casual Vacancy up because I felt like I wanted to reward the risks taken, because it was experimental and I enjoyed the attempt even if the result fell a little flat. This book was not experimental in the slightest, aside from the whole pseudonym thing maybe. It’s a whodunnit from start to finish, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t really strike me as anything special, so I rounded down this time.

Here’s the premise: Robin is assigned to be a secretary at a private eye office through her temp agency, and from there we meet Cormoran Strike and follow along as he solves a murder mystery. That’s pretty much it – the mystery itself is unravelling whether a “suicide” of a famous lady was actually suicide or if it was actually a murder, and Rowling displays much of the same aptitude for laying down hints and false trails as she did in Harry Potter. The writing itself is excellent as always, although I felt it often drifted into overly flowery descriptions, which never bothered me with any of her other writing. Either I am getting grumpier and pickier (entirely plausible), or she tried just a bit too hard in some places.

The book is set up to introduce the characters and set the stage for future sequels, which I feel is probably a good thing, because I feel like Rowling is writing to her strengths and things will only get better once we get out of the whole “this is who this character is” stage. I’m going to make a lot of presumptions here and they may not be correct at all, but I got the sense that these characters were bouncing around in Rowling’s head for a good long while. There is a lot of character exposition and it felt like she was just boiling over with the need to share it all with us, even when it wasn’t necessarily very appropriate or timely. Strike’s amputated leg is practically a character in the story for the amount of time we hear about it, and it could be safely deleted without affecting the actual plot whatsoever. There’s absolutely no purpose to it other than to add a bit of depth to him. The story almost starts to spin its wheels when it gets into establishing the characters, but it’s really the characters that make the story worth reading. An interesting dilemma.

Here’s some more presumptions: This book spends a lot of time making points about the lives of celebrities, and I couldn’t help but feel Rowling was adding in a little bit of side commentary based on personal experiences. There’s a bit of meta-story going on which seems to parallel how the book was relatively ignored until it was connected to Rowling, and then *poof* suddenly it’s a best seller. I have to wonder if that was entirely intentional, much like how Casual Vacancy seemed to attempt to manipulate the readers judgements of the characters behind the scenes.
As a bonus, there are also side commentaries about the lives of those living in poverty. They say you should write what you know, and Rowling is in a position to write from personal experiences with both.

I have a note about the plot too which might be a tiny bit spoilery – I felt like the ending was a bit too contrived. It was one of those plots where you think to yourself “Okay, the most unlikely culprit would be…” and then oh look, it’s them. Rowling is usually so good at laying clues down earlier (in the case of Harry Potter, literal books earlier) and you can look back and go “ohhhhhhh…”, but in this book you look back and go “… so WHY did they do that, again? They gained absolutely nothing from it, and it led to their downfall.” The only semblance of explanation seems to be “They’re kind of a narcissistic psychopath and thought they were invincible, you see”. Unsatisfying.

Not a waste of time, though (how’s that for a glowing recommendation…) and I’m interested in seeing future installments of this series with a bit less character exposition and a bit more intuitiveness in the plot twists, next time.

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Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, survival fiction, to some extent military fiction, and I loved The Hunger Games which Divergent gets a lot of crap for copying. I actually saw the trailer for the movie (which I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest) and saw the magical words “based on the best selling novel” and was like “hmm. I should look that one up.” Even if it was just a cash-in ripoff of the success of Hunger Games, I should probably still enjoy it right?

I’m going to put a bottom line up front here: teen and “tweens” will love this book. For the rest of us, it’s just too god damn dumbed down to extract any real entertainment out of. I may have rolled my eyes here and there during Hunger Games, but I never felt like it was actively insulting my intelligence. Divergent… oh my god I felt like I was losing IQ at points.

One of the things I love the most about dystopian fiction is the worldbuilding. What is this world? Why is it dystopian? How did it get this way? Was there a purpose behind making it this way? How are the people coping with their circumstances?
Divergent has almost no worldbuilding. This is the first book in a trilogy (another glaring sign of cashing in… does it need to be a trilogy or are we just hoping to sell 3x the books?) but even if the rest of the series builds the most amazing world, it’s TOO LATE. That shit needs to go in book one, people. The civilization is broken into several factions, and it never explains why. Why do we have these factions? Why were they formed? What is the purpose? There’s a sniff here and there that, hey, maybe there IS actually a plot reason for these factions and it’s not just all pulled out of an ass, but the book doesn’t bother to explain anything to you until a couple of snippets near the end. The main character even explicitly states that she never paid attention in history, to give us a convenient out for not explaining anything.

Speaking of which, the book is in first person present tense, which is a point of view that I loathe. I hated it in Hunger Games and it’s one of the few things I feel really limited the ability to tell the story of that series. In a surprise twist, the POV is probably one of the things that didn’t irritate me about Divergent. I didn’t detect any sloppy mixed tense, and it was effectively used to ramp up the action scenes without losing too many opportunities to advance the plot due to the awkwardness of needing the main character to be present to show the reader every single development.

The problem is, it was probably effective because this book has no god damn plot to advance. The entire plot is “Tris switches factions and goes through hazing rituals for 400 pages”. Then there’s actually a bit of plot in the 10 pages of a war at the end, which is supposed to get you to buy in to the rest of the series. There’s no real background, no worldbuilding, and no real character development either. It’s just Tris going through ordeal after ordeal and trying to survive to make it to the next one, with no clear indication as to why. And also heavy allusions to High School social bullshit (with very one-dimensional bullies), to make sure the kids can relate to her.

The character development was a real issue. We see each and every thought Tris has, and she becomes more and more unlikeable with each one. She comes from the selfless faction, so she’s constantly beating herself over the head with how selfish she’s being now that she’s in a new faction and if she was back home she’d be doing all these selfless acts instead and prostrating herself in front of everyone instead of trying to advance herself. When I say constantly, I mean constantly. She does not shut up about it. Just shut up. Augh. But then she has dizzying bi-polar flips to completely different personalities. She’s flipping between self-loathing to angst to spite to psychopathic rage and then right back to self-loathing (and then incredulousness when she scores first place in everything. How could this be when she’s so bad at stuff?!?). And she’s as thick as molasses in winter, unless the situation dictates that she out-smart everyone by being super clever all of a sudden. Then she will be super clever and amaze everyone. Then she will wonder why everyone is so amazed because she’s so awful at everything how could be they be impressed!??

At one point she asks a stupid question about what’s going on and the reply is “I can’t wait until you finally catch on”. I wrote a note next to it saying “Me too.”  If you ever find yourself reading a book and the main character says “I open my mouth to object, but I can’t.  He’s right.”, and you find yourself yelling “OF COURSE HE IS RIGHT YOU STUPID BITCH”, the character might not be well written.

The characters are all one-dimensional and feel unnatural because they only display character traits when it is necessary to advance the scene (whether or not it makes ANY GOD DAMN SENSE based on past scenes involving that character.  Al?  What the fuck was that, besides a transparent attempt at subverting the expected to elicit shock). The book attempts to use the same “hook” the Maze Runner did of trying to not tell the reader anything about what’s going on, in the hopes it keeps you curious enough to keep reading to find out. What that means is, Tris flips between being completely oblivious and missing the obvious when they want to tell the reader something without “telling” Tris… and asking very pointed and clever questions to try to get to the heart of things, only to be told “I’ll explain later.” It’s infuriating, and it feels completely contrived from start to finish.

And then there’s the romance. The rating of this book plummeted so much during those pages, let me tell you. Before that it was a mediocre but at least sort of interesting attempt at a story that I could see the younger readers really enjoying. The romance heated up and it became porn for 12 year olds. Oh they’ll love it, because it’s perfectly and very pointedly targetted at that age where they’re desperate to know anything about sex and this is a likely parentally-approved route to reading about it (no sex takes place oh goodness no they just cuddle and kiss no sex nope). But it suffers from the same character development flaws as the rest of the book. These characters are not acting naturally, they’re acting in a way that is carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience. Add to that Tris’s ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING obliviousness every single time her boyfriend is on screen (gosh they kissed last night and now he’s ignoring her at breakfast how could this be she thought he loved her he must actually hate her she wants to cry this is so awful because there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for him not wanting to reveal to everyone in the military compound that they’re in love since you know he’s kind of the leader of the group and boy I don’t see any problems with this news getting out do you? Nope he must hate her now well fine then she hates him too. Oh wait he was acting that way to hide that fact that he loves her because if everyone else found out they might think there was bias going on oh my god he’s soooooo smart she loves him so much for being so smart ~*~dreamy sigh~*~)
… okay I got carried away but ugh. ugh. I don’t even care if this is an accurate portrayal of how teens think. It was tedious.

It gets a lot of crap for copying Hunger Games, but I actually didn’t feel it was much of a rip-off for most of the story… but at the end it veered down a path which is dangerously close to copying plot points word for word. I’m not sure what I think of that, and I’m not sure I will bother delving into book two to find out how Divergent (heh heh heh) it is, because I cannot stand the thought of sitting through another book of Tris’s tortured thoughts and self-flagellation over her lover boy.

In short (yes I know it’s too late for short): I feel like it’s a carefully engineered attempt at cashing in on popular-genre-of-the-week. It doesn’t feel genuine to me. This book was not written to entertain, it was written to sell. It’s unfortunate.

[edit] Now having finished reading, I read some more stuff on the internet and it seems like the author is actually quite young.  I could be wrong about it being deliberately written to appeal to a juvenile audience… it might just be working out that way due to the age of the author.  I bet if young adult dystopia wasn’t “the thing” right now, though, no publisher would have come within a mile of it, much less the movie deals.  But thanks to genre-of-the-week they were all over it like ants in a pop can on a hot day…

The Purge

I saw the previews for this movie and immediately scoffed at the premise.  I suppose it’s an interesting thought exercise but as a movie plot… Ennnh.

We were looking for some good Halloween type movies and it turns out we may have seen every not shitty horror movie.  While I was deliberating over whether to risk a movie where a murderous bigfoot terrorizes a town, or the ghost of a shark terrorizes some fishermen, The Purge popped up in the list of horror movies and we decided we may as well see just how bad it is.

It was surprisingly not shitty.  For most of the movie, anyway.  The premise was just as shitty as it seemed like it would be, but they got past it pretty quickly and got right down to the suspense.

The suspense part was good. I actually really enjoyed the way it was shot and the tension was palpable at several points in the movie, which is all I really ask from a horror thriller.  Well that’s not true I also ask that it not be so stupid that I can’t stop laughing the whole time, and it surprised me there too.  The preview clips made it seem like the “purgers” were trying to get into the house kind of at random, but in reality the plot had some plausible explanations for all of it.

In case you didn’t have the opportunity to laugh at the premise if this movie yet, it is set in the future when the United States of America has decided that the best way to solve its issues with violence is to give everyone a period of 12 hours once a year where they can commit any crime they want and just get it out of their system.  Hate your boss? Just wait until the purge and then murder them!  This solution is so very effective that violence no longer exists.
The main character of the movie is a guy who has become rich selling security systems to people who want to lock themselves away safely for 12 hours once a year. Because somehow there aren’t more people taking advantage of that extremely obvious cash cow.

The purge begins and this guy’s young son sees a man running down the street begging for someone to help him.  The son decides to help him, disarming the system and letting the guy into the house. The guy is not only black, but also wearing dog tags to indicate he is a veteran, just to ensure the symbolism is obvious.  They did earn a few points from me for only showing the dog tags in every scene, and not having a character blatantly and repeatedly point it out.

The people participating in the purge are not pleased with this decision and give the family an ultimatum – turn the guy over to be purged, or you die too.

This is when we learn the security systems this guy sells are a very expensive equivalent to The Club. It’s a visual deterrent where they move on to a juicier target, unless they actually want to enter the house, in which case all they need to do is spend about 5 minutes attempting to break in.  Also there is a disturbing lack of copious amounts of guns which could mow down any assholes standing on your lawn while you remain safe inside.  That probably would have been the first feature I asked for when defending against a night of free-for-all murdering, even if I planned to never use it.  They proceed to spend a large amount of time creeping around inside the house and fighting, and it was pretty good for a tense thriller type movie.

Then the ending happened and I discovered why it has such a low rating.  Why.  Ugh.  The premise is so fucking stupid, all you needed to do was spit it out as a setup and then ignore it. Noooo you had to go try to make some kind of social statement. A terrible, stupid social statement.

Sigh.

It was okay but don’t expect any thought provoking social commentary, whatever their original intentions were.

Turbo

We’ve been taking a lot of sinus decongestants and I kinda wanted to do something completely effortless… so I watched some animated movies!  I haven’t really been keeping up with the animation scene, but today I watched two relatively recent ones: Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

Despicable Me lived up to its predecessor in that it had supervillains hatching ridiculous plots, crazy ray guns and gadgets, and low IQ minions.  All the humour was spot-on, and the plot was dumb, but enjoyable mostly because the timing of the writing was excellent.

Turbo was terrible.

The interesting thing about that is that it follows a very familiar “underdog” formula.  A down on it’s luck [blank] falls on hard times and decides to follow its dream of [blank], making new friends and learning valuable moral lessons along the way.  In this case the [blank]s are “snail” and “win the Indy 500”.

I am going to paste this quote out of Wikipedia (without checking to see if it’s properly sourced or anything first. I’m living dangerously!):
“For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It’s smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that’s where racing came into the picture.”

That’s it.  That’s the extent of the writing in this movie.  “People like underdogs.  Snails are slow, and fast is the opposite of slow – let’s have a snail win the Indy 500!”  Usually the writing in these things is clever enough to hide the formula a little bit, but in this case the movie is like “eh, he gets splashed with nitrous oxide and that lets him move at 230mph.  The kids won’t realize how dumb that is, don’t worry.”  It also installed LED lights that leave a trail behind him, his eyes are headlamps, there are blinkers in his butt, a stereo he turns on by banging his eyes together, and an alarm he can’t figure out how to turn off.

It was really dumb, and this is immediately after I praised a movie which contains yellow minions wielding fart guns. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, man.  Of course a supervillain is going to have yellow minions and they’re going to create fart guns!  It’s a natural step in the progression!  Dumping a snail in nitrous is only going to result in a dead snail.  You could at least say it’s some sort of super experimental thing someone was working on in order to create a super car, but they just couldn’t get it working until whoops, a snail fell in and it looks like the formula only works when combined with living tissue!  See, I’ve already written a better movie, and it’s still really stupid.

This is all completely ignoring the fact that once he gains super magic racing powers and sets a world speed record, he is no longer the god damn underdog.

It wasn’t even just that, though.  All of the characters were terribly written, which is probably tied directly to the fact that no real worldbuilding occurs.  The snail colony at the beginning is full of non-characters who do nothing but belittle Turbo for having a hobby.  The only purpose for any of it seems to be to set up a transparent “never give up on your dreams” morality lesson (and maybe hopefully a “don’t bully people like those dicks are doing” lesson), except that in this case the dream is fulfilled by somehow gaining magic powers, which is maybe not the best lesson for the little ones.  The “working at the plant” joke was something that they clearly thought was pretty clever (evidenced by the long pause and camera pull-out to reveal the plant.  ho ho ho it’s a literal plant, get it?), but it was hollow because they didn’t spend any time doing any worldbuilding in the garden.  You realize why worldbuilding is so threadbare when you realize the movie is split between three different locations, none of which are lingered in long enough for any building to occur.  Just as we start to figure out who these characters in the garden are, everything is whisked off to a new location and we lose track of them.  The “racing snails” are hastily introduced about halfway through the movie, not developed whatsoever, then go with Turbo to the race and proceed to do absolutely nothing important or even interesting (my god how did they get Samuel L. Jackson in on this?).  The only character that has any development at all is probably the driver that Turbo idolizes, and that’s only because he turns into the villain so he’s there throughout all of these locations.  Then we have Turbo’s brother who spends the entire movie being negative as shit and completely unproductive (he witnesses his brother moving at 230mph and still does nothing but whine about what a waste of time it is to try to do anything with it), making you want to punch him in the face. Then he makes a crazy about-face at the very very end, just when everything seems bleakest.  Man oh man I did not see that twist coming.  I still want to punch him in the face.

You know what would have helped immensely?  Just cut the whole garden from the plot.  Start at the mini-mall with the racing snails as a diversion in the back.  Suddenly Turbo has a reason to be into NASCAR, he has a reason to want to be faster, it doesn’t take an amazing amount of serendipity for him to be randomly picked up by some guy who happens to race snails, we have more time to develop the supporting cast…. dunking him in Nitrous is still really stupid but the rest of the movie would at least support it better.

There’s a big difference between a plot that’s written to appeal to children, and a plot that’s dumped out because kids won’t notice the difference.  Your kids might like this movie… in fact they probably will like it.  But there are so many cleverly written movies nowadays that appeal to children, teach them things (without being sappy as shit), AND contain humour that still appeals to adults… that’s the standard that movies should be trying to reach.  Turbo is just an unfortunate cash-in attempt.

After Earth

We saw the previews for this way back when and said “Hey, that looks like it will be good!”.  Then it came out and it was universally mocked, almost immediately.  And we said “Sweet, we can wait for DvD then!”  The only question left in my mind was “Is it ACTUALLY bad, or is it bad because everyone hates Jaden Smith?”

Now I have watched it.  The answer is: This movie is completely irredeemable.

“After Earth” is the story of Gary Stu, and his son, Gary Stu.  It is one of the most remarkable displays of bad writing that I have seen in a while.  Will Smith’s character (fuck if I remember his name [edit] I looked it up.  It’s “Cypher Raige”.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahaha…[/edit]) is a badass soldier (the best soldier of all soldiers, of course) who is so fucking badass that he feels absolutely no fear, which allows him to “ghost” past the fearsome “Ursa” creatures which track humankind solely by the pheremones we release when scared.  He is so badass that he doesn’t even bother to kill them with fancy ray guns or even pedestrian physical bullet weapons, despite this being the future.  No, he kills them with dual bladed swords.  You can pause to vomit now, if you want.

His son has been working super hard to be the most badass of rangers just like dear old dad, but naturally he hasn’t been able to make the cut (this is a smoke-screen, so you don’t suspect that he is also the most Gary Stu of all Gary Stus.  He is, though.  It’s pretty fucking obvious.  He even has the tragic childhood to go with it)  Some touchy feely shit happens where Dad is all cold and unfeeling to his disappointing son (oh but you can see how much he loves him but cannot display it.  You can pause to vomit again now), and then we finally get on with the fucking movie and they get on a spaceship.

Gary Stu (the older one.  The one we aren’t supposed to expect to be worthless) uses his spidey sense to detect space phenomena that almost certainly doesn’t exist, and goes and warns the pilots who disregard his warnings because they didn’t get the memo that this guy is perfect and knows everything.  Oops, he was right, and the ship explodes and summarily crashes (this is what I mean by Gary Stu, man.  It couldn’t just be that shit happens and the ship fucking crashes, oh no, it has to be mr super fucking soldier who notices the danger while all the oblivious plebeians fumble around uselessly.  He doesn’t even do anything useful after noticing it which makes it ENTIRELY EXTRANEOUS that he is the one who notices.  Fuck).
The two Gary Stus are the only survivors.  Because that’s how good they are.

Conveniently, older Gary Stu is injured and cannot go and just do everything himself, so he sends younger Gary Stu off to save their lives.  He’s guiding every step of the way on the intercom though (which also lets him see everything occurring from multiple camera angles that are in no way attached to his son’s suit, because it’s the future I guess.  A future where they use fucking melee weapons.) and also pauses to emotionlessly belittle his son’s every actions because that will make his son better at stuff (then zoom in on his face to show that he’s actually having emotions he just won’t show them because that would be a weakness you see).

Oh my god it was intolerable… made worse by the fact that absolutely nothing unpredictable happens in this movie.  You’ve read this far – take a wild fucking guess at what happens.  Guess what, you’re right!  It’s actually directed by M. Night Shymalan who is known for his (usually terrible) twist endings.  The twist in this movie is that there is no twist!  He got me pretty good with that one.

The movie is also a grand display of telling instead of showing.  There’s a big (and completely fucking pointless ARRRGHH) scene where little Gary Stu realizes he has broken a couple of his inhalers, which are essential for breathing in EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE (no explanation of why Earth has changed that much, or why it’s primordial now despite that being absolutely not the path a planet ages on…) so he lies about it because he is afraid daddy will call off his mission due to his inevitable death.  Big Gary Stu, however, is perfect, so he looks at the biomedical readouts and can tell little Gary Stu is lying.  Then he calls off the mission because of little Gary Stu’s inevitable death.  Which makes no fucking sense because they’re both going to die anyway if the mission fails.  But amazingly enough that’s not even the reason I started typing this.  Big Gary Stu runs a computer simulation of how to reach the tail section of the ship (the goal of the mission) and it pops up and lists off how many inhalers are needed.  Little Gary Stu has 2 left.  The computer pops up and shows a route that will use 4 inhalers, and one that will use just under 2 inhalers.  There is a short pause and then it pops up and points out the shorter route, and blinks “ONLY SURVIVABLE ROUTE” over and over.  I’m so glad it pointed that out because I almost didn’t understand what the scene was trying to convey.

The entire movie is just scene after scene of Gary Stu-ness, telling instead of showing, bad science, and whiny scenes that are probably supposed to be dramatic and emotional but are just fucking annoying, oh my god shut the fuck up.  The 4 it has on IMDB is too generous, and that’s when considering ONLY the movie, not even delving into the rabbit hole of Scientology tie-ins I spotted on Wikipedia (which may or may not be reaching.  It seemed like pretty generic bad movie writing to me)…
God, it’s even generous before considering the awful acting.  I think Jaden out-acted Will in this movie, but we’re talking about a subterranean bar, here.

Ugh.  Ugh.  At least Red Dawn is entertaining to make fun of.  This has too much whining to even make a good drunken movie night movie.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We were watching “Oz the Great and Powerful” (which was decent, but pretty shallow, and very Disney), and I realized I had never actually read any of the original Oz books. I knew I had them so I figured I should probably remedy that.

I’m probably going to piss someone off with this, but, what surprised me the most about it was how bad it was. Not the story! The story was imaginative and unique and perfectly captures that “fairy tale” feeling. What was bad was the writing. I was trying to put my finger on it, and I think it just feels amateur, which probably makes sense. It’s similar to what you would expect from a young author – there’s almost an obsession with documenting each and every trivial action of the characters, almost as if there’s a fear that the reader will either become confused, or call out the story for not describing how something came to be (even when obvious). It makes several parts of it unwieldy and wordy, but even more bizarre, it flip-flops into sections where absolutely nothing is described in detail, which is quite glaring after the painstaking details in every other section.
The oiling of the Woodman is a good example. The whole section is like: “Oil my neck”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his neck. “Now oil my arms”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his arms. “Now oil my legs”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy… okay we get it. There’s like two pages that could be condensed into the sentence “Dorothy oiled the Woodman until his joints moved once more.”
In another section, Dorothy pulls out a whistle and the book explains that she always wears it around her neck so it’s been there the whole time. My version was annotated, and the accompanying footnote said “Commentary has been unable to explain this suddenly appearing accessory.” I can take a crack at explaining it though – it’s lazy writing. Either the whistle was mentioned in a section that later got hastily chopped out and not cleaned up, or it was never mentioned and when this part got written, the explanation was jammed in on top with some hand waving.  That’s my interpretation.

Speaking of the annotations… I know this book has been analyzed backwards and forwards and inside and out for the past century, but I read books for the entertainment value, and I tend to analyze them on the same level. I generally prefer going into a book “blind”, without any encounters with any outside opinions to colour the formation of my own opinions. Which is why it drives me absolutely nuts (and I know I’ve bitched about this before in reviews…) to have a classic edition like this that spends literally the first 25% of the book going over the history of the creation of the book, the life and times of the author, their favourite passages from the book, and what they think those passages mean in a symbolic and allegorical sense, all before letting me start to read the fucking book. Put that shit at the END of the book, AFTER I have read the book. It’s absolutely mind boggling. What possible reason do you have for putting all of this shit before the content of the book itself. It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone on the planet has already read the book. What if a 5 year old child is reading this as the first book they have ever read, and now you’ve ruined the story for them! Way to go! [/rant].

That said, I found the footnotes amusing, in that they reinforced my belief that I will never get along with literary analysis. My god, the sheer effort spent trying to derive meaning from every little thing. The tin man rusts, but tin cannot rust! What can it mean! Well, it could have some sort of allegorical meaning, or, it could be that, back in 1900, L. Frank Baum didn’t understand how rust works. It’s probably one of those things. I skimmed over the whole “Oz as an allegory for economics”, as well as something about how Dorothy must have been a vegan because she is only ever seen eating nuts and fruit, and all I can think is that it’s entirely too exhausting to read things while trying to dig up clues that may or may not exist under the words.

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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.

Splice

We watched this awhile ago, so my memory of details is probably fuzzy, but I remembered it recently and movies like this are exactly why I decided to start writing blog entries about shit.

Splice is a movie about scientists doing scientisty things and messing with DNA and trying to cure diseases.  Their research has led to the creation of an apparent new species of lifeform created by throwing buckets of animal DNA into a blender, so they’re starting to pick up some speed on the research front.  Then they “accidentally-on-purpose” mix a little human DNA into the recipe (something that is ethically forbidden and they know it) to try to create something that can be better used as a human analogue for testing.  What emerges is……. not human… but more animal like and difficult to control.  The first little bit of the film is spent exploring this thing, trying to gain its trust (apparently it’s a grouchy little thing), and marvelling at how it has an incredibly accelerated growth rate and is quickly growing and changing forms (thank goodness, since the movie is only 104 minutes long!).  Even though they planned to terminate it because they totally just wanted to see what happened and didn’t really plan to let this experiment run, well, whoops we’re kind of attached to it now so let’s let it keep maturing and see what happens!  What could go wrong!  The creature eventually develops into what is essentially a little human girl, except gone horribly wrong and with a tail and stuff.  The scientists then attempt to raise it like they would their child.  The lab/company is appropriately named NERD (I laughed), so they decide to name the creature “DREN” (I facepalmed).

The whole first part of the movie was actually really interesting and enjoyable.  Splice is really a shame because it was almost really good and even had some potential for exploring deep philosophical themes, if you should so desire to write it that way.  But then it was bad.  And it wasn’t just bad, it was really bad.

The movie goes through its paces and addresses a number of interesting scenarios that might arise if you happen to be dealing with a humanoid-thing-made-from-DNA-soup, including the inevitable look into a mirror where the creature realizes “hey, I don’t actually look anything like mom and dad.  What am I??” (well acted out with expressions, I might add, since the thing doesn’t have proper speech).  Sadly, it is at that point the writers either ran out of things to write about, or realized they were actually planning to make a horror movie, and everything just goes to shit.  The biggest shit the movie takes is the point where “Clive”, the male scientist, realizes the human DNA that was chucked into the soup is actually the DNA of his wife, and apparently sees some sort of resemblance to her in Dren.  His natural reaction at this point is, well, what else!  The only thing any rational person would do.  He has sex with it.

I’m pretty sure I yelled “Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME” at the TV.  But anyway, it turns out, when you have sex with a developing creature that’s trying to learn how to behave, it learns that it should rape everything!  So that was great.  Good job, Clive.

It just gets worse from there.  …No, I take that back, that’s definitely the worst part, but it doesn’t get any better from there.  The rest of the movie is your typical cheesy horror slasher movie with dumb “twists”.  Since the creatures have been created with a blend of animal DNA, it gave the writers free license to give them whatever animal abilities they wanted to swipe, at whatever time it was appropriate for the plot (and surprising to the scientists, of course, because you certainly wouldn’t have any way to control or monitor which genes your DNA soup is expressing when you’re at the point of being able to create a new species).  The initial “not made from human DNA” creatures provide the foreshadowing and then “Dren” goes through all the same paces, except much more tragically and deadly, since it is human sized and much stronger and deadlier (and also not in a safe little cage in a lab).  I don’t even remember what else happens.  It was all stupid and I was still reeling from the “It’s my wife’s DNA! I’m totally going to fuck it now” decision.

It was almost such a good movie.  I mean, not like, amazing or anything, but fully enjoyable.  And then…
My brain hurts.

Lockout

Lockout was a rare gem, in that it was a “science fiction” movie that we had not seen before.  I mean specifically my husband and I, because I’m pretty sure we’ve seen every single sci-fi movie that exists, so we jump on every sci-fi-ish movie that staggers out of the box office, even when they suck.  And boy do some most of them suck.

It’s actually kind of hard to tell that Lockout is sci-fi.  It is set in a prison colony that is orbiting the Earth.  The vast majority of the movie is spent inside the colony where absolutely nothing resembles space and everyone uses conventional tools like pipes to hit each other over the head, instead of futuristic laser guns or whatever.  You could alter a small handful of scenes and drop the sci-fi label from it entirely, so it was disappointing in that aspect.

The plot was so thin that I’m not entirely certain I can explain it to you other than “they go to a prison in space and blow shit up”.  That’s just about all you need to know to understand this movie.  It opens with a thing happening and a guy trying to clear his name but the guy who can clear his name is in the prison colony, and meanwhile a completely separate event happens where the president’s daughter goes to the prison colony and proceeds to not make a single good decision for the entire movie, resulting in every single prisoner getting out of stasis and wanting to rape her.  Naturally the president wants his daughter back and who cares about the other hostages, but hey if we storm in there they will almost certainly rape and then kill her, so we better do this covertly by using the guy who has an ulterior motive for wanting to go to the prison colony!  Also this guy is amazing at every single thing he does, is the only character in the entire movie who does anything correctly, and he may as well be superman because he is a pretty terribly written “Gary Stu” style character.

My god, the writing for that character.  The entire movie he attempts to be funny. Every single line – EVERY SINGLE LINE that this guy says is an attempt at a witty one-liner.  Some of them are amusing; I chuckled a lot in the beginning.  It very quickly became obvious that the writers were trying way way too hard.  They tried so hard that they began throwing in self-referential jokes where the other characters start making fun of his one-liners.  When you are writing characters that are making fun of you for writing badly, you should probably step back and reconsider whether you can write less badly instead.

They blow shit up.  Much shit blows up.  If you want exploding shit you will probably enjoy this movie.  I didn’t dislike it enough to give it an “I don’t like it” tag, but the bad writing was just too much for me to give it a like tag.  One thing I noticed while shit was exploding, though… a lot of the action scenes are artificially sped up and intentionally jerky to obscure what’s going on.  The speediness annoyed me and added to the whole “wow look at how fast this guy moves he’s so amazing” bullshit that I was already annoyed with, but then the arbitrary dropping of frames to hide actions just made me suspicious that a lot of corners might have been cut.  The exploding shit is all this movie has going for it, so it didn’t bode well.

I already mentioned the bad decisions on the part of the characters, but seriously.  Does she do anything right?  I think it was intended that we see her as some sort of badass independent-minded and intelligent chick who can take care of herself in the end, but, no.  You got off the fucking escape pod, meaning you completely wasted the fucking escape pod (not to mention all the time it took to escort your ass TO the escape pod) and now no one gets to use it, and all you accomplished by doing that is getting every single other hostage killed and also you got in the way of mister Gary Stu here who clearly does not need any help because he is perfect.  That was probably some kind of spoiler but it’s okay because you’re only watching this for the exploding shit anyway.

So there is your checklist:  Exploding shit – check.  Terribly written characters that will make you want to vomit or stab your eye out in frustration – check.  Snappy one liners that will probably amuse you (especially while drunk!) but get kind of wearisome by the end – check.  Sci-fi… uhh kinda not really but if you close your eyes you can pretend it’s sci-fi.  If the list corresponds to your “things I like in movies”, you should check out Lockout.

Tunnels

Tunnels (Tunnels, #1)Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much to say about this book.

Quick synopsis: Will Burrows is the son of an archaeologist who likes to dig excavation tunnels (Burrows. GET IT??) around town and uncover artifacts for his museum. His father has had the credit for several “big” finds stolen from him, so when he stumbles on something important, he becomes secretive and withdrawn. Eventually, he disappears. Will takes it upon himself to find out what has happened.

It sounds promising, doesn’t it? And to some degree it is – the environments are intricately detailed and a decent sense of claustrophobic wonder is conveyed throughout. It didn’t quite reach the “Indiana Jones” level of swashbuckling archaeology I was sort of hoping for, but it was interesting enough to keep the pages turning.
Unfortunately it was also bad enough to keep me writing snarky notes.

I’m not quite sure where the line is between “Amateur” writing and “Lazy” writing. I often run into this problem with young adult books, and I can never tell if the authors themselves are actually inexperienced with writing and finding their way, or if they’re like “the kids who will be reading this haven’t read enough yet to recognize how lazy this is” while taking shortcuts to get things done faster.

The very first thing I started bitching about in my notes were similes. The book starts off with a fair amount of description, and for some reason it seems like it was impossible to describe an object or action without coming up with some sort of simile to throw at it. I did a search: The word “Like” appears in this book 344 times. We can probably assume some of those are not similes, but the phrase “It was as if” also appears 186 times. Fortunately it stops drowning in similes towards the end – it felt like the writing was trying much too hard to be “fancy”, but once the plot got rolling it forgot all about trying to show off and focused more on actually describing what was happening, and it was much better for it.

The second major problem is that the book doesn’t seem to know what its point is. It is full of so much filler that you never actually resolve anything that happens.  In some places it even describes the same things repeatedly, back to back in each paragraph (“he has big fingers.  He has sausage fingers.  He has fat fingers.”  WE GET IT.) that it makes me wonder if they were revised, but then not edited to remove the duplicates. The search for Will’s father takes a back seat early on and isn’t really revitalized until the final chapter. It turns out it’s the start of a series, so perhaps that was intentional… but the sheer amount of wasted space in this book would make me question if it’s just a “milking” move to try to sell more books, which just annoys me. You could have fit a lot more plot into this book, but instead it is full of similes, like a pinata full of IOU coupons… (look look I am using a simile!)

I don’t have a good “spoiler tag” solution yet so I should probably mention that I bitch about plot points from here on out.  If you intend to read this book, it will either ruin or enhance your reading experience – You decide!

The plot that IS there feels a lot like “bullied kid escapist fantasy”. The main character has albinism which makes him get picked on at school, and his family is highly dysfunctional. The ONLY scenes involving his mother hammer home over and over and over and over that she is mentally ill, and yet this has absolutely no bearing on the story as a whole except to further hammer home how sick she is when she fails to do anything about anything (like… her husband vanishing). His sister is apparently left to run the entire household (quite efficiently!) at the ripe old age of twelve, is incredibly bitchy, and seems to have OCD to a disturbing degree, especially considering the context of the family unit. But hey that’s okay because she’s actually not from his family at all because he’s actually from this super special colony underground (see he’s an albino, and people underground don’t get much light…) so really he DOESN’T belong to this fucked up family at all!  And she was placed there to spy on him! … which feels like it was written up against a wall and then brainstormed a bit going “hmmmm what’s the most shocking and unexpected thing that can happen right now. Oh, I know!” except it is unexpected because it makes so little sense. For that matter, Will’s age doesn’t seem quite right either. He’s supposedly 14 which makes a bit more sense than 12, but all of the characters act a bit too mature for their prospective age ranges, and I think it would have made more sense to make them all older. But perhaps that would have placed the characters out of the age group they were hoping would identify with them. Hrm.

By the way, in a completely arbitrary filler scene that serves no other purpose, they also beat the shit out of the bullies with their super special underground cat-dog, which makes the bullies cry and run away.  What bullied kid doesn’t have that fantasy, right?

I’m not done bitching about characters! I still need to bitch about motivations! The bad guys in the book (which encompasses the entire fucking cast except for like, two people I think) are all assholes. What is it about living underground that makes you a colossal asshole? Do they need more vitamin D? But it’s not just that they’re assholes, it’s that they’re moustache-twirling assholes. They are purely evil for the sake of being evil. When Rebecca shows back up in her evil role, they even go to great lengths to describe how her hair has been super greased and slicked back, like some sort of Bond villain. There are some vague references to “we don’t like topsiders because they will reveal our civilization” and that is the whole of the motivations for all of these people.  Apparently that gives you license to flat out persecute and torture people, gloating the whole time. It appears to be an entire underground race of empathy-less totalitarian jerks. The vast majority of characters behave in such an unbelievable fashion that it feels like watching a B movie full of bad actors who are hideously over-acting their parts. The non-asshole characters were largely unsympathetic too, because they spend the entire book whining, so I found there was no one I could really latch onto. You root for Will because the narrative is locked onto him, and there’s really nothing else to do.

So I ask again: What was the point of this book? Did the dysfunction of his family serve some sort of purpose? Was that making a point? What is the underground population supposed to represent? They’re not even sympathetic in any fashion, and the characters gleefully slaughter them during their escape attempts. We never even find his father, so what was the point of going down there and getting caught in the first place?

I suspect the point is to get people to read the next book… but if it comes to an amazing culmination later in the series, I’m afraid it failed to convince me to continue on and discover it.

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Red Dawn (2012)

I’m trying to think of how to review this in a way that isn’t just pages of laughing.  It’s tough.

It’s probably important to point out that I have not seen the original movie.  After watching this I DID go read a synopsis, and they actually butchered the premise less than I expected!  This kind of ridiculous premise made more sense in the ’80s, I guess.  I could tell just from reading the synopsis that the original was a better movie, ridiculousness and all.

North Korea has decided to invade Spokane because… reasons.  At least THAT part is reasonably realistic – no one knows what the fuck they’re doing or what their motivations are other than “rar we defeat America rar”.  The least realistic part is that they bother to occupy Spokane.

The movie opens by introducing us to Alpha Male who is a soldier fresh back from Iraq and he’s all badass and shit and is good at combat and hardened and whatever other descriptors you would like.  We establish his manliness with a bar scene and then there is a country-wide power outage (the radios still work to relay this news.  I guess it could be a satellite radio though) and he wakes up to soldiers parachuting into his residential street.
First of all: ahahahaha the CGI in this scene.  I don’t usually complain about shit like that but it felt like someone had taken an image of a single parachute, copy/pasted it 800 times, and placed it in a looping animation to make them appear to be moving.  Then had some planes flying in front of them (think about it.).  If I had more ambition I would attempt to recreate it in gif form.Second of all: It sure is important to send thousands of soldiers to secure this residential neighborhood in Spokane.  Good thing they have such deep reserves of trained military men that they can spare for this.  Also they have lots of vehicles and tanks that materialize on the ground in well placed blockades, despite not seeing any air drops of them or anything like that.  God damn they’re organized!  You’re probably just fucked, America.
[UPDATE] I noticed I’ve been getting a lot of search hits for search terms like “why are they using American vehicles in Red Dawn 2012”.  I was not nerdy enough to notice this about the movie, but I can still answer it for you: Because it’s not a very good movie.
Alternatively, they bought the vehicles from America and then never bothered to ship them back home before invading, which also explains why we never see them being air-dropped!  All problems now solved, the plot makes total sense now.  You’re welcome.[/UPDATE]

The residential invasion was slightly explained by them finding and seizing the Mayor, so you can suspend some disbelief and think ‘okay they were targetting the mayor’.  The mayor of… Spokane…

Alpha Male immediately springs into battle readiness mode and herds a group of mewling teenagers off to their cabin outside of town.  He does this by using the most amazing 1980’s truck ever which battering-rams its way through several military vehicles and smashes shit and kills people and gets shot and keeps on ticking, losing a mere headlight in the process.  They just don’t make them like they used to.  They later get this truck stuck in a mud puddle (despite having EIGHT FUCKING PEOPLE to push it) and abandon it and I will never forgive them.

The whole next part of the movie goes something like this:
Alpha Male takes control of the situation and uses his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them in a resistance movement.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
Alpha Male berates Subordinate Male for not listening and takes control again, using his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
(rinse repeat)
(rinse repeat)
Subordinate Male vomits at thought of doing violence.  Alpha Male supports him during this difficult time in his life.
Alpha Male trains Subordinate Males in combat and they bond or something I don’t even know, I think they needed to fill some screen time.
Subordinate Males are now all hardened combat veterans.  Elapsed time: three days or so?  That’s enough time, right?  Sure it is.
Alpha Male gives inspiring speech about war and how when you’re invading somewhere it’s just a place, but this is our home.  Irony goes completely over his head.

Then the resistance part of the movie commences, where the ragtag group of teenagers manage to defeat the evil army (who, I will remind you, were able to invade and set up organized vehicle blockades before anyone managed to get out of bed in this town) with clever weapons like skateboards and holes in the ground.  The leader becomes angrier with them and the rest of the country is inspired by reports about them and apparently bothers to fight back as a result, because they certainly wouldn’t have that idea on their own.

Oh and don’t forget the scene where they find themselves in a Subway, demand they hand over all their bread (to which the employee says “What kind would you like?” and they list off the entire menu) and toppings, and then have a lovely scene where they talk about how good Subway is as they eat it.  I’m sure that endorsement was entirely sincere and no extra money changed hands at all.

See, I read the synopsis for the original and I see them getting a lot of help from outside sources at points.  They meet up with soldiers from other areas who are involved in their own struggles and who compare notes.  The war as a backdrop is fleshed out and it’s clear the country as a whole is struggling, but fighting.  Not in this movie.  They take the reins and inspire an entire country with a couple of pilfered explosives (I would also like to point out they stole these explosives by… walking uninhibited into a garage containing military vehicles and just taking them out of the back seat).  The invasion seems a bit better explained in the original, too.  In this movie it’s like “whoops they invaded and now they are here, let’s get em!”  Late in the movie they get a report on how the attack went down simultaneously in a number of areas, but that’s the extent of it.  No real plans revealed, no motivations, just “they wanted to attack so they dropped paratroopers and non-nuclear tactical strikes”.  Even the parts of the movie which are retained are badly done – like [spoilers – because you care] in the original, under threat of torture, one of the members is forced to swallow a tracking device and rejoin the group.  When he is discovered as having betrayed them, they turn on him.  In the remake?  The tracking device is sneakily injected into one of the members, and when it is discovered he bravely volunteers to abandon the group and lead the bad guys away.  I don’t think a single person actually makes a fucking mistake in this movie.  Even when things go wrong it wasn’t THEIR fault.  Does anyone even have a character flaw in this movie? Except for the prick at the beginning who betrays them and steals all their food and then runs off to join the leadership of the invading army in a bid to get ahead.  At least he had some decent motivations!  But they get revenge pretty early on, making his whole role in the movie last about 10 minutes of screen time with an unsatisfying arc.

And probably the most revealing is the difference between the endings.  In the original, it’s basically implied that the fight continues and the group’s efforts were not in vain, but it’s not exactly a happy fluffy “yay we win” ending.  In this movie… things go wrong so it’s not all sparkles and rainbows, but the end is all set up as a pumped up “we are inspired and KICKING ASS over here FUCK YOU INVADERS” with heavy overtones of success.  The same ironic speech about “when you invade, it’s just a place” is given, and it still goes over everyone’s head.

I just don’t get it.  Why are remakes always so much worse than the originals?  Updating special effects is one thing (and this movie didn’t even really do that well… I’m willing to bet lovingly crafted special effects from the ’80s were better than shitty CGI from today!) Why haven’t we figured out that trying to “improve” an original by altering its basic elements will likely destroy all the parts that made the original good?

Dear Esther

I had heard a bit about Dear Esther and was intrigued, but not enough to actually pay money for it until it came on sale for 2.50.  At that price I decided it was worth a shot.  It’s not exactly what you would call a “game”.  You do not play Dear Esther.  You experience it.  It’s marketed as a sort of interactive storytelling experience, but in reality not very much of it is interactive.  Literally the only thing you can do is walk and move the camera around.  You can zoom in on things to take a closer look, but really it doesn’t do anything or trigger anything.  The story comes in chunks as you walk from place to place and trigger them.

For a game that’s lauded for its writing, I was expecting to “play” a really good short story.  That’s all the game HAS so the writing must be pretty damn good, right??

Ehhh… to be honest, I found the writing to be the weakest part of the whole thing.  First of all, I get annoyed very easily with “fluffy” writing.  The game’s dialog chunks are bloated with unnecessary simile and metaphor that sound like they’re trying way too hard to be impressive.  If you’re trying too hard to impress me that means you’re not spending enough time on fleshing out your writing.

Secondly, it didn’t make a lot of sense.  I went and looked up some spoilers afterward to try to figure out what the fuck happened, and I discovered the game actually picks random story chunks, meaning each playthrough can result in a slightly different story.  Supposedly the ambiguity is supposed to let the player draw their own conclusions, which is something that worked reasonably well in the game “Home”, although most of the time I find that technique just means lazy writing that relies on the player/reader to fill in the gaps so you don’t have to actually plan to fill them yourself while writing it.  The human brain is SO good at making connections that it can make connections where absolutely none were originally intended, which means the author can come along later and be all “See, look how deep this story is!” when really they were just pulling it out of their ass and didn’t have any real initial plan. (See: “LOST”).  I’m not necessarily opposed to that sort of storytelling – christ, I really love the way House of Leaves comes together and that book explains absolutely fucking nothing to the reader, to the degree that the vast majority of the internet argue about all the most trivial parts of it (and annoy me by skipping all the parts that delve into deeper layers and actually fucking matter… of course you didn’t like it if you skipped those!  …anyway, that’s a different review, although a number of parallels can probably be drawn in the way things are constructed).  I’ve only played Dear Esther once, so it’s difficult to say, but I could have just gotten unlucky and gotten some random chunks that didn’t really mesh well together.  Suffice to say, my story made no goddamn sense and no amount of gap filling really helped.  I did pick up on a few of the themes I read about afterward, but there were so many ends flapping in the breeze that it felt like only a few of them actually connected.

What’s probably the most damning is that when I go and look for discussion about the writing, I find a lot of confusion and wild speculation, and no clear consensus as to what the fuck is going on.  (I actually found a wiki for the game, and all the “explain the story” sections were left blank. HMM.)  The vast majority of descriptions for anything other than island fixtures are preceeded by disclaimers like “seems to suggest that” and “there is a possibility that…”.  Nothing is clearly laid out, and everything is ambiguous to the degree of being explained in multiple ways. There are even arguments as to who the “protagonist” actually is in this game.  Are you the narrator?  Are you Esther?  Are you some random person wandering around on an island learning about them but personally have no connections to them?  No one fucking knows for sure.  What that says to me is that the writing does not have any clear direction… so you can make of the story what you will, but the ambiguity is literally all you’re going to get.  There is no plan here, no direction (or at least not one they managed to connect clearly for the player… which could be a symptom of moving from mod to expanded game), and therefore no real story except what you make of it.  For a “game” focused solely on storytelling, it’s incredibly disappointing.  I was looking forward to a creepy stroll through a beautiful but possibly sinister island, slowly uncovering the dark secrets of the past, eventually leading to the horrible truth that was simply too much to bear.  What I got was some random ramblings about events that didn’t really make much sense together, but maybe there were hints that the bigger story was about to unfold, and then it… uh… ended.  Without a sensible build-up the ending felt shallow and unsatisfying.  I sat there and said “…it’s over?  What the fuck just happened?” which led to some googling because I assumed I had missed some side paths and integral plot points somewhere.  Instead it led to writing this review(slash rant).

What the game excelled at was atmosphere.  The island is fucking gorgeous to walk around on.  If it weren’t for the amazing island, this game would not exist, because I don’t think the writing is what propped it up and moved it from “Source mod” to “for sale on Steam”.  I’m not even going to put screenshots in this review… you really need to walk around on the island to see how amazing it is.  There is no part of it that’s boring to look at.  Even in the dry grass fields at the start, you have wind whipping around you and dust blowing past and you feel like “holy shit I’m on an island and I’m looking at the ocean and I can practically smell the salt water.”  When you start getting into caves and can see the light reflecting off of damp surfaces and slightly luminescent fungi… it’s awesome.

And it’s made even more awesome by the soundtrack.  I was expecting the whole experience to be really creepy… and it is to some extent, with a few whispered words in your ear… but for the most part it’s a very melancholy atmosphere.  The soundtrack is fantastic and very fitting.  I’d go so far as to recommend dropping the extra buck on the soundtrack version, if you happen to like orchestral style scores.

The atmosphere makes this game.  Or “game”.  The unfortunate part of a storytelling game like this is that it only takes an hour to play through (80 minutes, in my case), and you could easily just fire up a Let’s Play video and literally see the entire game without missing out.  In the case of Dear Esther, the writing actually isn’t the draw… the experience of walking around on the island, listening to the score and examining creepy glowing diagrams is what you’re after.  For 2.50 on sale, it’s well worth the experience.  For 9.99?  … I don’t think I would go for it.  The writing just isn’t good enough to be worth the price of a good book.

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book solely because I was curious what Rowling would do. I also promised when I started that I would not compare it to Harry Potter. I generally leave authors out of mind while reading and try to judge books on their own merit, but since literally the only reason I read this book was because of the author, it was a bit difficult to separate them.

It’s a solid 3.5. Since Goodreads doesn’t let you vote for .5s, I debated endlessly over whether to round up or round down. I finally decided to round up, partially because I simply love the way Rowling writes (I could nitpick some passive and convoluted sentence construction, but everything is so vibrantly described that I let it pass), and partly because I think she tried to do something clever, and even if it didn’t work out, I still kind of appreciated it because I like it when authors try to do interesting things.

The book is set in a fictional town which is probably fairly typical… it has good upscale areas and seedy poor areas, and a local political body that squabbles over what to do about everything. One of the councillors drops dead, and while half the town mourns in shock, the other half scrambles to nominate themselves to fill the seat and further their own agendas.

That’s it. That’s the book. The story follows the reactions and day to day doings of several key players in the town (and their teenage children…). It wasn’t un-interesting… and it’s beautifully described with brutal honesty, going through topics like drug abuse and child protective services, high school drama, prejudice, attempted murder, theft, self mutilation, abusive husbands, mental illness, hateful gossip, pedophilia, sex of both the consensual and nonconsensual varieties… if you can think of a horrible thing, it’s probably described in vivid detail in this book. (Hmm, there was no cannibalism though! So that’s something.)
There’s pretty much no other plot devices than “this is what this character is doing now”, which was my main complaint… there was nothing driving the story. but there was nothing “hooking” me to come back and find out what happens next.

It is 100% character driven, and one of my other complaints was that the first 25% of the book is spent introducing you to all of the characters. One after the other after the other until everyone blurred together in a giant amalgamated mass. I’m already breaking my rule and comparing it to Harry Potter – in HP, we had a ton of characters who were all fleshed out, but the reader was introduced to them gradually as Harry met them. That’s a decent means of exposition. The protagonist is just as clueless as the reader, so we learn together. In Casual Vacancy, everyone in the town knows everyone else and we’re dumped into the middle of it. I’m a fan of showing not telling, but a bit more orientation would have helped the book get rolling I think.

The second problem with the characters was that I hated all of them. Well… not hated I guess. I hated some of them (probably because I was supposed to), and didn’t give a shit about the rest (and I’m not sure if I was supposed to…). It wasn’t until the very end of the book that I realized this was probably on purpose, because the beginning of the book shows you the shallow petty sides of everyone, and it’s not until later that their more intimate secrets are revealed and you understand their history and motivations. I suspect you’re supposed to do an about-face on many of the characters later on and gain some sympathy for them THEN, which honestly I think is kind of a neat thing to attempt in this book. Taking abhorrent characters and turning them into everyone’s favourite is something George RR Martin manages to do in A Song of Ice and Fire, and it’s one of the things I was most impressed with. Unfortunately, with no sympathetic characters to latch on to early in the story, it falls a bit flat. The reader needs a reason to keep reading, and I really only kept reading because I wanted to give it a fair review…

Another thing that might be kind of clever, is that by introducing the characters with only their shallow petty sides visible, the reader is tempted to make shallow judgements of the characters. Which is exactly what the characters are doing to each other throughout the book. At the end, when the reader gets to see “behind the curtain” and see their motivations, it’s a revelation into how those types of judgements are flawed, and simultaneously a revelation into the flawed motivations of the town as a whole.
I’m probably reading too much into it, but the point still stands – the reader has to actually make it to the end before the story becomes anything other than shallow and unfocused.

And one final, sort of minor complaint. I mentioned how every sort of horrible thing is vividly described – The book is very sexually explicit. You can hardly turn 10 pages before tripping over a penis in this book. In MOST of the cases it makes sense, but in a number of them I felt like it was being sexually explicit simply to throw some shock factor in there. Here we go with the HP comparison again – I felt like it was artificially explicit simply because Rowling wanted to distance herself from the “children’s author” typecasting. It felt like she wrote a brutally explicit book simply to say “See? Look, this isn’t a children’s book, is it?” and she tried just a teeny bit too hard in places.

Once you make it to the end, the last 25% or so is a page turner and I enjoyed it very much. The whole “denouement” is full of action and you *finally* want to keep going to see what happens next. It’s just getting there that’s the issue.
And once you’re done… the ending might leave some readers a bit unsatisfied, too. I would suggest avoiding this book if you are prone to clinical depression.

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Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn (Omnitopia, #1)Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That was certainly a story! I’m not really sure what to say about it.

The book is about a MMORPG that is on a level past what we see today. People actually log into it as a virtual reality, and within the world there are little sub worlds of different themes and game types. In many ways it’s like the internet itself with various web pages, except the pages are worlds where people take on roles. Most of the ones described are your typical fantasy tropes with orcs and elves and swords, but it passes through historical scenarios and even one called “Million Monkeys” which is entirely text based, where people are attempting to improve on Shakespeare.

The story spends less time talking about the game worlds and more time talking about *creating* the game worlds. Someone who has no interest in MMO style games and no understanding or interest in computer programming will probably not enjoy this book. Someone who knows a LOT about computer programming might find it annoying, because it uses a made-up futuristic language which falls into a lot of “ooooooh it’s the fuuuutttuuurrreee” traps and does a lot of unlikely things that a pedant will be annoyed by, like having a glowing sword that physically leads your programmer to any potential bugs in the system (which would be frikkin cool, but I’d like to see how that would work…). It also attempts to portray hacking attempts as in-game battles which really didn’t work for me, but at least the battles were interestingly portrayed, if a little far-fetched. If you are someone who likes MMO style games and either have enough knowledge of the workings of programming, or at least the ability to enjoy sci-fi movies where you don’t think too hard about how things were accomplished, you will probably really enjoy this book.

I found the writing style to be very vivid, to the degree that I could easily imagine this being a very good movie. The special effects paint themselves out for you. I also appreciated that the book knew when not to take itself too seriously, while never becoming too silly. There is some quality writing skill on display in this book.

I do have some writing critiques, though:

The story itself is quite slow to get going, and in the end it leaves you wondering how much else could have been included if it had been properly paced. It felt like the author was so excited to describe the world to you that they forgot to get the plot rolling until halfway through, and then they didn’t have a whole lot of time left. Fortunately, everything is described really well, so I really only noticed it when I thought about it too hard. Still, it could have been improved. As it is, it’s almost as if the plot is the fact that the game world exists, and then it goes “Oh and uh, then they fight.” The fight is set up throughout the book, but it feels a little shallow.

There also seemed to be a lot of exposition on things that didn’t really matter in the end. We spend a lot of time with Rik and his microcosm, and it was really cool to see how the worlds are built, and the subplot with his wife coming around and becoming involved was all cool… but what was the point? (view spoiler)[His world crashes because of the bug with the CO (hide spoiler)] … sooo was the the entire reason for this character? Because nothing else really important happened, there…
And then the bit at the start with the statue honouring the character/player who discovered how to travel to other worlds. That left me a little confused because it seemed like it was introducing something really important that would be vital to the story. Does it mean the world is actually linking to something outside of code??? Are there other gateways that will be discovered??? Are they going to discover it in this book??? …nope, we’re just never going to mention it again. So, was the gate placed there by the programmers as an in-game event and that character was just the first lucky one to discover it, or… I feel like I’m missing something and I’m not sure that it’s entirely my fault.

Chekov’s gun: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the second act you should fire it. Otherwise, don’t put it there.”
This book is a veritable armory of Chekov’s guns that are never fired and have no immediate purpose. Since this is a series, perhaps they will be important later… but I feel like I spent a lot of time reading about things that ultimately didn’t matter, which makes me feel like I wasted time trying to get to the plot. Books should not leave their readers feeling like they wasted time :/

Secondly, the characters are entirely too black and white. The worldbuilding is amazing, but the character development borders on cartoonish. The good guy is sooooooo good and everyone loves him and he is so humble and caring and gosh isn’t he great? And the bad guy is sooooo bad that he is just a bastion of evilness and bitterness and spite and you half expect the next scene to be him in a big chair stroking his fluffy white cat. There is no human motivation behind either of these characters, and it leaves them feeling artificial. The best characters are shades of grey. Their motivations are clear and relate-able, even if you don’t agree with them. The good guy here is a CEO who apparently has such pure and altruistic motivations for his company that he has managed to create a blockbuster company and become the seventh richest man in the world without ever having a selfish thought for himself or his profit margins. Everyone loves him unconditionally (except the bad guys of course. But they’re just jealous…) Humans do not work this way. It just usually doesn’t happen. Companies who are entirely too altruistic go broke because they don’t plan things properly, but this guy just doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. Even when he fucks up, it all works out in the end. When he farts, it smells like roses, and everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Meanwhile, bad CEO is so consumed by thoughts of revenge that he’s willing to put his entire (currently successful, just not *as* successful…) company on the line just to get back at good CEO. Bad CEO’s company probably wouldn’t be as successful as it is with such single-minded logic behind it. I feel like it all should have been fleshed out just a little bit more…

Not that I didn’t enjoy the characters, I just feel that giving them more human motivations would deepen the story without losing anything. It felt like biased character development, where it was too risky to give the characters flaws or sympathetic points, lest we didn’t view them in the intended way. But the result is somewhat artificial…

Those points aside, I really enjoyed this book. The story was unique in that I haven’t read a whole lot of books about MMOs like this (maybe they exist and I’ve just missed them somehow, but I found it refreshingly unique anyway), but the ending was fairly predictable too (especially since the characters pretty much *can’t* deviate from their stereotypes). It didn’t stop me from blowing through it in two days. You know it’s a good book when you get on your exercise bike and then notice an hour and a half later that your butt went numb.

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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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