The Cat and the Coup

This was a beautiful offering and an interesting way of encouraging engagement with historical events.

The graphics and interactions are symbolic.  I experienced this as more of an interactive text with an element of ‘game’ to make more of a connection than just reading/watching might.

The animation style is very friendly, for want of a better word – it feels real because it’s not trying to be realistic; it’s a collage in exactly the same way the story is a collage.  I love it when the medium of storytelling matching the storytelling.

The story itself was well out of my sphere of awareness, being not American, not Iranian, not British, and not born until the 80s, so I probably missed a lot more depressing references.  My main reaction to the actual content, historical and real, was “huh, well, typical” in relation to the US/Britain, with the game-structure/text-structure meaning any empathy I felt was for Mossadegh, knowing nothing else of his term of service than what the game showed.

This was in beta only; will be interested to see if the format develops into a more complex textual unwrapping of history.  It’s a very innovative format in any case.

 

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A Story About My Uncle

Beautiful environment, great physics and quite seamless.

But otherwise, just a lot of leapfrogging.

…in all honesty, this is not a fair comment for this game, which I can imagine would have struck a younger me much like Myst did back in the day, with wonder and amazement that gaming could even be like this.  But now, the comments are coming after a series of progressive disillusionment with gaming in general.

I wonder if the step into VR will make the point of difference for gaming like this, particularly for us jaded middle-agers.

The Help

Overly simplified.  The “bad” white woman and “good” white woman characters are almost more stereotyped than the black women.  The starting framing of Skeeter and Hilly looked like it had far more potential; what do you do when your whole society, your best friend, your whole structure is racist.  In the end, it just ended up being a dumb portrayal of “only morally deficit people are racist”, which makes for a simpler, cleaner storytelling path but not much about racism and class/economic slavery linked to race persisting in the US.

Shadowy male figures in the background casually perpetuating violence upon women of all races.  Unchallenged through the course of the film; white women trying to please casually racist men become more violently racist than the men.  Black women trying to keep their families alive and find better futures for their kids, locked into domestic slavery under white women by the demands and general uselessness of alcoholic black men stereotypes.

Overall, the simplification was just as depressing as the content.  There were glimmers of interest in a few statements/connections.  “My momma was a maid.  My Grandmother was a house slave.”  And we are shown how Aibileen’s generation’s children become university students, lawyers, doctors, presidents.

For a movie about such a teetering cusp era in US history, the story and storytelling felt like it was still locked in the 50s.

Source Code

I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  Not very memorable, but it felt like one of the better Twilight Zone episodes stretched to a tightly plotted short film, in a good way.   Not too long, not too short, not too many people.  Made me think of End of Tomorrow (rinse and repeat), Minority Report (prevent the crime before it happens) and Cube (very tight/limited set; find the answer from the limited pieces).  It might have been better with completely unknown actors?

I disliked the marketing imagery, which for some reason focused on selling the romance.  There is basically no romance.  The predominant emotion this film left me with was sadness for the lead and the complete loss of control over his own fate.

Schindler’s List

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this yet.  I vaguely recall getting it confused with Shawshank Redemption (Schindler’s Redemption…the Shawshank List…) and accidentally renting Shawshank Redemption twice instead of Schindler’s List.

The overall sense I’ve been left with is more about the filmmaking than the story.  The first 1/3 of the film had excellent film making.  It stood back and let the viewer make up their own mind about what they were seeing.  I kept thinking of the best of Quentin Tarantino – the unreal charismatic character, the near farcical exchanges.  By the time the storytelling hit the middle, it was so heavy handed in trying to force an emotion I switched off.  I could even tag the switch from ‘stand-back-storytelling’ to ‘movie-maker-manipulating’ to this one moment when some bathos-ridden musical theme started to play to further tug at the heartstrings.  By contrast, the first 1/3 I couldn’t recall any music except that which was integral to the scene (like party music being played at a party).

If ever there was a story which didn’t need all this film fruit on top to actually evoke an emotion, it’s this story.

 

Oryx and Crake

The trouble with reading too much of the same author is that particular themes or motifs stop being clever and start being annoying.

Like, after this particular offering, I came away with this impression that our much lauded feminist author really hates mothers.  Or is it that she hates the role of motherhood and therefore writes women trapped in the roles of mothers struggling to break free, but somehow always manages to represent them from the positions of their children or spouses absolutely hating and resenting them?  I don’t know; there’s a distinction for sure, but I’m getting sick of reading stories where mothers who try to be or do anything are hated by all those around them for simply trying.  There is just so much shame heaped on mothers already, why do intelligent stories always have to buy in to the shame structure which already exists.

By contrast, I think of Boneshaker and how for once, for once, a story left me with the sense that being a mother is neither the be-all or end-all of life, but that it can be a story motivator without being the sole story motivator, and that it’s totally possible to have a meaningful respect-based relationship with your teenaged child.  And it took a steampunk zombie story to do this?  This shouldn’t be innovative.  No wonder so many women give up on the so-called literati shelves and turn to pulp for their escapism.

Which brings me to the rest of the story.  Yep, it was good.  It was intelligent, and witty, and the characters felt realistic and alive, and accurately motivated; the story was well paced, effortlessly crafted, and never broke immersion.  There were interesting concepts, if none original; the edge cities of privileged gene-factory employees, the crumbling yet crowded urban centres, the numbing distance of the internet’s dark side told in a wonderfully boring and completely integrated manner — it’s an essential to life now, like walking from room to room, it’s not even worthy of particular emphasis.

And I came away bored.

Maybe it’s just that this is no longer speculative fiction, it’s getting to close to life.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before.  Telling me about it does nothing.  Tell me how to avert it, and maybe my reaction will be different.  Tell me how despite this, it’s not the end of the world, and I’ll embrace it.  This had an almost clumsy level of preachiness to it in the same way that Sherri S Tepper’s message is getting painfully repetitive.  We already know all the reasons why humanity is horrible and worth destroying.  Tell us why it’s worth saving.

My vote rests with Station Eleven as the best post-apocalypse novel I’ve read this year.  Oryx and Crake?  It’s way more clever than Station Eleven, but its message is tired and tiring.

Station Eleven

I loved this so much.  It was such a pit-trap of making me feel nostalgic for the act of nostalgia itself, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is a post-apocalypse story that has absolutely nothing new about it — except that it maintains a shining love for human fallibility and fundamental decency.  I felt for everyone.  The empathy was glorious.  The interwoven stories were neither too much nor too little.

If I were to relate this to anything, it’d be the blend of nostalgia and future-tech and human inspiration in Pacific Rim.  I’ve read reviews about Pacific Rim being the Gen-Y’s approach to apocalypse.  The time has passed for wallowing in our inevitable deservedness to suffer horrific civilisation crushing ends.  We have amazing technology.  We have innovation.  We have people resource.  We form teams, we aren’t single white male heroes/failures in this alone.  Survival is worth the effort because people are worth the effort.

Much love.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I read a detailed synopsis of this short story some time before I was able to find a copy.  The synopsis piqued my interest; body horror, a very weird inverse of cosmic horror (where despite the pitiful insignificance of the humans they nevertheless hold the full sadistic attention of a creature of far greater intelligence and power), tortures directly related to previous individual strengths (that old sadistic Dante’s Inferno).

Strangely, reading this synopsis turned out to be a big mistake.  By the time I found a copy of the story and read it, I was disappointed in how short the short story was. The synopsis was actually longer. The dry, impartial tone of the synopsis – never trying to force an emotion — made me feel far more horror than the POV character’s monologue – which tried and sometimes missed in being as evocative.  The synopsis’ descriptions of the various tiers of rusting hell through which the characters descend was more descriptive and referential than the single segued paragraph used in the short story.  So very, very weird.

This whole experience left me thinking more about the potential of using non-fiction voices in fiction storytelling (like a synopsis) as an omniscient narrator who does not in any way attempt to impart an emotional reaction — all while leaving plenty of room for the reader’s brain to fill the gaps with their own, possibly more intense emotional reaction.  The premise is memorable, but once is the premise is subtracted from the writing, the writing itself is not memorable.

I wonder if a synopsis of a Stephen King novel would also be more interesting than the novel itself…

Icewind Dale 1: Crystal Shard

I’m sure I will regret my decision to read through the entire back catalogue of the Forgotton Realms.

So, Icewind Dale: Crystal Shard.

The editing is atrocious.  The typos are atrocious.  Drizzt has a completely out of character and out of context compulsion to eat the mutton being cooked by a bunch of frost giants he’s in the process of killing.  (Was this supposed to be a running joke?  I cringed through this section.)  Wulfgar’s character development is entirely offscreen.  The story is a lessons learned regarding how much story momentum, meaning and opportunity are lost when you get too obsessed with telling rather than showing.

The in-joke of everyone else getting credit for Drizzt’s achievements borders on some very telling social commentary, but the clumsy way certain other complex concepts in the story are handled suggests that this was accidental.

I just cannot talk about Cattiebrie (spelled as Cattibrie, Catti-brie, or Cattie-brie) and the treatment of women in this story, or this will become a six page snarkfest about the 1980s and 1990s fantasy genre being the last bastion of those clinging to the false promises of the patriarchy.  The reason why some dude authors don’t write women into their stories?  Because they honestly can’t, and the attempt to do so under editorial duress is worse than the gentle and familiar insult of being fully excluded from the patriarchal storyline.  Just let those authors be, and gently strike through in red the word ‘woman’ from every page of their drafts.

 

The pacing is good.   Once the need to obsessively describe geography was overcome – about 1/3 of the way through – the flow and pacing really improved.  The affectionate love of weaponry and inventories is nostalgic and grounded in gameverse.

The realism is lacking (horses, avalanches, game tactics, poor concept of time/army movements/provisioning).  Characterisation was painfully shallow, with the main distinctions around race and class.  The closest non-fantasy comparison is a Harlequin novel, where White Male Billionaire or Black Lady Lawyer become the equivalent of a race and (job)class shorthand.  It’s interesting how FR fandom seems to have latched on to Drizzt — while this is my first encounter with a FR story with Drizzt, I can kind of see how his backstory tropes have a much more easily accessed (or at least, familiar) ‘depth’ than the other characters.  And Atypical Chaotic Good Drow Elf Ranger is a goodly sight more interesting than Typical Lawful Good Human Barbarian Warrior and Typical Lawful Good Dwarven Warrior and Typical Chaotic Good Halfling Rogue.  (Although the hints of Regis’ atypicality also pique interest – hopefully to be developed in the sequels.)

But it’s only a FR story?  It’s not supposed to be high literature? It’s not supposed to be deep?  Bullshit.  All fantasy, by the way its creator needs to pick and choose what’s going to transfer from real world concepts and experiences into the realm, how that’s going to transfer, and how it’s going to change, tells more about the context it comes from than the story itself.  I would have been less scathing and highlighted more of the moments of amusement and entertainment, but I also started reading the Realms of Magic anthology concurrently, and the stories, characterisation, diversity of characterisation, and interest factor in Realms of Magic is 1000x what Icewind Dales provoked.  There ARE mature stories and complex characterisations in Forgotten Realms, even in pissy little short stories whose sole intent is to beat a singular moral drum, and what’s more, good storytellers who at least make that single drum beat happen on cue. Unfortunately Crystal Shard really suffers by comparison, and I’ve yet to forgive it.  The elements of a good meaty story are there, but the overall execution was so raw it practically mooed.

Magic Carpet – Flashback

GOG reminded me of this game today with their EA discount package.  I had no recollection of it until I found a graphic of this little monstrosity (original found on dosgamesarchive.com):

magiccarpet4

The flashbacks of horror.  The nightmare of these things, dying and dying and dying, then suddenly watching one burst into gold balls with no idea of what I’d done or how I’d done it.  The grand difficulty of being 11 and having no idea how to play this game to begin with, no user manual (I liked user manuals) and gaming context consisting of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Wolfenstein 3d, Captain Comic and Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Even looking at this fuzzy screencap, I’m filled with gleeful annoyance at the memory.