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.


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.

Old Man’s War

The back blurb comments made reference to Scalzi writing so closely to Heinlein that the book may as well have been written by Heinlein.  (As if that’s a compliment??) For reference, the only Heinlein books I’ve read are Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love, and I couldn’t see the similarity.  Maybe the reviewers meant Starship Troopers, which, from the Wikipedia description, seems to follow the same plot structure – new recruit, learning about life as a murderer of alien beings, framework for the same discussions about morality and ethics and virtue.

Which is where my biggest criticism lies: this well written, well structured and entertaining story felt like every other story just like it, with the one major distinction being that it didn’t go out of its way to insult or exclude me for being female, ethnic, etc etc etc.  This is a terrible reason to like a story: hey, I read something written from the POV of a man about a traditionally masculine/parochial/prejudiced cultural institution and it didn’t make me rageful enough to throw the book across the room!  Yay!

So, the strength of the book is in its peripheral characters?  The texture of its surrounds?  The way that, my goodness, someone can finally envisage a future for earth which doesn’t endlessly repeat the same contemporary political framework?  (At least there was no mention of monarchy…)  But the book continues to repeat these structures, the military structure, the colonial structure, despite the superficial diversity of its cast.  (Remember: Avatar also had a superficially diverse cast.)  The moral and ethical questions are exactly the same as the ones asked now, even if it is set in a war with random aliens.  One lot of aliens, under invasion, even have a conversation exactly like a bunch of humans (more superficial diversity).  The gimmick of a 75 year old being recruited into a war rapidly becomes nothing more than a gimmick.  Seriously, a 75 year old reacts no differently to war than an 18 year old?  And considering the greater proficiency of the Ghost Brigades, what is the economic benefit in transferring the brain of a 75 year old?  Why not just clone the DNA of everyone on earth multiple times over and have a boundless army?  It’s not like any of them can return to earth.  What is restraining the ethics (or resources) of the CDF such that they only take volunteers, then promptly train any ethical consideration out of them, as out of place in the brutality of colonial war?

The BrainPal was mildly interesting, except it’s far too much like a brain-implanted iPhone to seem like anything more than an inevitability. The Consu were interesting as an alien race representing something somewhat different from human morality and motivation, but were never explored.  The transferred consciousness never went anywhere.  The new bodies never went anywhere.  The undercurrent themes and messages said nothing new.  The skip drive concept, explained only towards the end, is fascinating, but the consequences never explored.

I’d recommend this book to someone who likes space military stories, but for me it was just a bland, inoffensive, likeable, and generic war story that could have been set anywhere.  I was harder hit because of how many good reviews this series gets, but I have very high expectations for my sci fi, particularly when the book is clearly trying to focus on some moral undercurrent message which should apply to ‘all’ (cue wild laughter: the first and biggest mistake).  Stranger in a Strange Land did something completely different in questioning the foundations of human belief without actually moving to a conclusion except to keep moving; Old Man’s War only appears to reaffirm the foundations of human belief, in a very static way, and ends in that most traditional of motifs, reaffirming the value and virtue of marriage even across a body and consciousness transfer.  (The DNA remembers.  Cough.)  The thing is, most sci fi these days is so badly adulterated pap that this book stands out miles about the crowd: this IS a good story, it’s just nothing new.  I can’t even tag it with my usual “could have been more”, because it is exactly what it is.

After a quick scan of the summaries of next books in the series, I do not think I will read, seeing as the very next book seems to be an entire plot device just to give the newly re-wed sterile clone couple a child.

Dracula Untold

Yet another film where the overly competent dude’s descent into bestial atrocity is made to seem inevitable, thanks to the unrealistic expectations of a patriarchal world view.  And those who suffer?  His dependents, of course.  This paradigm is so gutlessly tiring.

If only he’d simply stopped making stupid promises about things over which he had no control.  And then feeling like he had to uphold them.

That said, there was a lot to like about this.  The texture of the background scenes.  The priests, barely a line among them, yet I could imagine their stories of this story passing into myth and legend.  The grey filter (or whatever it is that gives that gritty faded texture; I know nothing of cameras).  Dracula’s pre-history (yes, there is a pre-history to this pre-history movie!) as the Impaler; his twisted logic.  The BAMF hilarity of single handedly killing an entire army.

I kept oscillating between being interested and being bored.  The end scene, in modern day, was the most interesting part of the whole movie.  I thought, ah, NOW the story starts — and of course it cuts to credits.