Review: Freedom

So I gave up 39.8% of the way through Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. One of few books I can say I’ve given up on.  It might help if I could skip ahead, but that’s really hard to do well in an audio book.  Especially since I generally listen while on my commute and I’m driving.

The characters are flat.  And there is a part of me that detests them because I’m afraid someone out there is like that.  The first third of the book focuses on Patty – through her college & married life.  She struggles with anxiety, depression, and alcoholism – and at 40% of the way through you have a hit (since it’s written like her autobiography) that she is aware of it “now” – whenever now is.  But then, a chapter or two before I stopped she stopped being the narrator (I think).  It switched to her husband’s best friend Richard.

Thus far both of them are looking at the third character,Walter – Patty’s husband & Richard’s best friend – with this weird lens of him being a supportive character but somehow also the glue that holds the three of them together and frankly the only pseudo-mentally-stable of the three.  This switch is where I really just fell off the bandwagon (pun intended) and had to go find something else.  I looked at my app and it said 38-something % and I went “shit.  I thought Patty was the character and I feel like her arc is so close to done. I can’t sit through another arc or whatever this dude is doing.  I have no idea what the plot is and no interest in these characters.”

Now, I will say that I had to read Prince of Tides in highschool and this books reminds me a lot of that.  and I will say, I don’t tend to enjoy books that try to rip me up emotionally – I have enough stress in my life, I like my books to be more escapist. Freedom reminds me a little of Prince of Tides.  Not like 100%, but that idea of exploring what made someone do something really messed up and emotionally manipulative and stupid… yeah, I think if Freedom is going anywhere it’s along those lines.

And the writing style was good.  The semi-autobiographical tone of Patty’s story was interesting, with those flares of exposition into her own growth since the moment.  The opening was my favorite part – it was a bunch of snippets of the gossip of the neighborhood about Patty and Walter and their son Joey.  And Patty’s little breakdown and her evolution from “perfect mom” to “crazy neighbor” was well done in that format.

Overall, I have to give this a 2/5 for me – but I could see someone else really getting sucked in and enjoying it more than I did.  I don’t want a story that makes me cry…

Review: Villains by Necessity

Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward has been on my reading list for years.  I read Animist when I was in HS and am still disappointed there hasn’t been a sequel. But to be honest, VbN is the better book.  Ironic that her debut novel is better than her second book – but it’s true.  I am sad she hasn’t written more novels because I really like her writing.

So, let’s start with VbN being a book where the “heroes” are all villains – assassin, dark sorceress, thief.  But in a world be subsumed by “goodness” those who want to live outside the lines ARE heroes.  Those who stand up against someone’s vision of “good” to demand they should be allowed to make their own choices to be good or evil as they wish.

The irony that this book comes into my life at a time where I am struggling with ideas of “free speech” isn’t lost on me.  It also makes me chuckle that this damn lens on my face colors EVERYTHING.  But the message is pretty blunt – villains shouldn’t be forced to be good people; it should be a choice people are allowed to make.  And make again tomorrow. And motives matter.  Someone who kills to protect is different than someone who kills for “pleasure” (ew).

The characters ARE tropes – but it’s part of the story to say that Forward explores the fact that every “villain” in the trope might have a reason or a past that makes it make more sense.  Heroes might be villainous to the villains and villains might be heroes when they do something “good” even if they do it for “evil” (usually selfish) reasons.  By playing UP the tropes, she explores them beautifully. Especially to anyone who has played RPGs like Skyrim or D&D they will recognize the classes used.  I can’t say it will make as much sense to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but I think almost anyone can follow the story and enjoy the adventure.

The plot is clear and crisp and even when I thought it was a little predictable, Forward pulled it together by doing a few different tricks – like flipping to the “heroes” and exploring some of their motivation.  She also plays into the story itself everyone understanding the way stories are “supposed to” happen – good guys win and bad guys lose. Right?

Overall, this book took me a bit to get into – probably the full 100 pages I give a book.  It was a book I actually kept in my bathroom for close to six months and managed to pick-up-for-a-page and come back the next day for the next page.  Because of the strength of the tropes, this worked really well.  It isn’t like some “bathroom” books I’ve tried where I have to constantly go back three pages because I’m always “lost” – the plot holds throughout.  It’s simple and yet the twists and turns keep it fascinating.

Seriously, find a copy of this book – it’s out of print or I would absolutely put links up.  Eve Forward deserves every dollar for this book!

Review: Trigun

I took vacation and re-watched Trigun for the bazillionth time.  It’s less than 10 hrs once you skip intros and credits on the episodes (26 episodes which run ~20m each). But this time, as with many things in my life I’ve been seeing things through a lens colored by the current world.  Even trying to avoid the news while off work (staying out of touch!), it filtered in from a hundred small sources. So I watched Vash the Stampede struggle in his world and grieved.

If you’ve never seen this late-90’s anime, you should.  This is one of the series I’ve recommended as a good introduction to anime.  It is funny and dark and fun all intermixed. It is long enough to help someone figure out if they can stand a longer-than-2-hour story arc but not the 10,000 episodes of something like Inyuasha.   It seems like just a light-hearted twist and then it interweaves these little hints of something “bigger” going on.  Then another hint.  And then a much bigger hint.  And if you aren’t sucked in by the time the second bigger-hint hits, you will be from then on!

There have been viewings where I found Vash beyond idealistic and annoying.  When I watched this in the last few months of my last job – when I was frustrated and hated my management… Vash drove me crazy.  But this time as I watch him… I adore him for the exact same reasons.  It’s easy to love idealism when life is easy, it can be frustrating when someone else is idealistic and you aren’t.  I’m now in a place where my lens is so dark with bad news – hanging onto idealism and hope is all the more important.  Vash’s pain and sadness leak through occasionally, but overall he fights for the light and love answers to life. I want to hang onto that.

Because this is a tv show, I can only review the over-arching plot. Individual espisodes are better or worse.  There is one episode that makes me bawl like a baby every damn time. I love that episode.  Love it so hard. I always just want to cuddle Milly.  God, I love Milly.  She is such a flat character so often, but she occasionally dips into a deeper bit and when she does – DAMN the feels.

The over-arching plot is what makes me want to go back and watch it.  I know at least once where I tried to pick out the “five important episodes” and ended up essentially watching the entire series twice because I kept going, “oh, I should have watched that one.” So when I decide to watch it, I just start with Episode 1 and I don’t remember ever regretting that choice.

I know I should “critique” Trigun and it isn’t perfect.  It’s cheesy and the animation isn’t flashy and the characters are kind of flat.  But honestly, even each of those things I’m as likely to defend as turn negative.  It’s fun. It tells a great story in a clear way and if you like sci-fi/western (*cough* Firefly *cough*) you should watch this.

Review: Symphony of Ages

So there are good books and there are enjoyable books and there are books that are both.  RhapsodyProphecy, and Destiny by Elizabeth Hayden are enjoyable but I’m not sure they are good.  Their tone is something of a harlequin romance/adventure/mystery with all the flat characters and stereotypical character choices therein.  However, that doesn’t make them bad books.

Let’s put it this way, I’ve read these about once a decade since I was ~16 and this last time I devoured them as happily as I have in past consumptions.

The Bad:

These books are cheesy.  They are rife with outlandish “BEST” and “WORST” to describe things. If it’s big, it’s ginormous and if it’s small it’s the most minuscule ever. EVER. Reactions are strong enough for a mime to be making them. I get over this (usually) because apparently this world just lives in the extremes and they just get jerked around by magical MOSTESTS all the time and developed coping mechanisms.  Though it adds an interesting layer on “divine right” of rule…

Rhapsody (the titular character and protagonist) is blind when she needs to be obtuse and makes a bazillion assumptions because of course she must have all the facts – even when she knows she’s dealing with the most deceitful people in the world (literally).  She is deep when she needs to be and brilliant in music (apparently) and has special-shiny-powers we see no one else having any depth in.  We hear about her teacher, but it seems like pretty much everyone knows about this power but no one else ever uses it – much less with the blase power-level Rhapsody has.

There is only one question I had that the book never answered and it doesn’t impact the plot, but it kind of bothers me.  Supposedly, these people come to an uninhabited land (maybe? sort of?) but they “intermingle with the people already there.”  Wait – which one is it?  Is it people weren’t there and the refugees comprise the first population ever or is there a population there they intermingle with. Since it’s supposed to be semi-history/lore of the world I can’t decide if the author was being sloppy or purposefully messing with lore because that’s what happens to history (I am a little inclined to lean towards the former for once, but I try to convince myself it’s the latter).

The Good:

The plot is actually pretty tight.  I mean, I don’t think most adults would be shocked as things unfurl, there aren’t a lot of massive twists – but the plot is consistent and tight within itself.  The villains are evil and some of them are even evil for understandable reasons (even the villain who kind of is “evil to be evil” has a REASON – maybe not a brilliant one, but a real reason).

The description and world-building is fun if exaggerated.  There is some decent variety of locations and you can see where the different cultures might have veered. We get very select lore, so there are elements I would have liked more on, but overall the cultures feel “real” and consistent.

Magic is also pretty clear, consistent and tight.  It doesn’t 100% follow strict rules, but there is rare-to-never when characters do something that made me think they broke the rules of magic in this world.  Even the strangest character makes sense by the end of the third book because we had explanations to help understand his “uber powerfulness” that made me nod and go, “Ahhh, ok that’s a stretch but plausible. I get it.”

I love the musical references the author uses.  Not being musical myself, I have no idea of her accuracy or just how cheesy it might be to a musically minded person – I enjoyed the references she used.  I won’t try to sound smart about whether she actually made the series the “acts” of an opera, but there is an “overture” and “intermezzo” instead of books or sections.  I think it’s more like an opera (especially with the over-dramatic characters) and in that light even the over-dramatic doesn’t feel out of place.  I have no idea if Hayden intended that – but if she didn’t double-good-job ’cause it still ended up feeling musically-based to the non-musical.

Overall:

I enjoy this series despite imperfections.  It’s a jaunt in an interesting lore and although I don’t love the characters, if I pretend I’m watching the operatic interpretation of history – I enjoy it.  I doubt it will challenge anything in your world except your faith in deep writing, but it’s fantasy that was 1990’s-2000’s fantasy.  I can’t remember much that came out during that time that “challenged” people.  There are things I could gripe about in a modern context, but like I said I put on that operatic interpretation and a lot of those go out the window anyway.  It would be like asking why Rent doesn’t have cell phones (in my opinion).  If you need something that won’t challenge you and just entertains – this isn’t a bad 3 books to take on a long flight.

Review: Pride & Prejudice

I love this book.  I have it in at least 3 different forms and always have it loaded on my table and/or phone.  It’s one of the rare books I keep around to pick up and put down regularly.

It isn’t a great love story.  Damn, I get mad about the women in the book and their manipulation and the toxic society they lived in that led to those machinations.  But it it is one my favorites nonetheless.  I love Jane, the sister who loves everyone and lives in her own idealized version of the world.  I love Charlotte, the ultimate pragmatist.  I even love Lydia, the sister who you love and dread.  And of course I love Elizabeth.  The woman who doesn’t want to compromise her ideals for pragmatism.  She wants love; even at the cost of fortune.  She isn’t willing to give into her society that says material wealth is the only option for her.

I would love to see the book where she never met (or at least never married) Darcy.  Maybe Darcy didn’t come with Bingley.  Maybe he went to his aunt’s and ended up getting married to Ms. DeBourgh.   Either way, Jane ends up with Bingley and Elizabeth ends up without Darcy.  What would she have become?

Anyway.  That’s a different story (pun!). What I want to discuss is actually the different TV & Movie versions.  I rewatched the Kiera Knighly (2005) recently and it just made me want to want the 1995 version (Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth).  I don’t think I will ever watch the 1940 version (Greer Garson) again but… “never say never.”  It might make a good girl’s night of drinking and roasting sometime.

The biggest reason I like the 1995 version best is the time they give to developing the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.  In both of the theater-length versions it’s very forced when he proposes.  It feels out of the blue.  It feels weird and unnatural. I don’t think it’s just that Colin Firth is a good actor, but it’s also because he and Elizabeth had some good scenes where it was clear his attraction was building and she was missing all the clues.

It is rare a book modifies well to the big screen (adult books, kid books are easier) simply because of length.  Much less first-person-perspective books.  Thankfully, P&P isn’t first-person, BUT… it is dense.  The book is dense.  There is little description.  There is a lot of assumption about scene.  Almost everything is done through conversation.  It’s hard to condense that into a 2-ish-hour box.

The Ehle/Firth version is six hours and they still had to condense a few scenes from the book.

Hell, Lord of the Rings was over 9 hours long and still cut a LOT of shit out – and anyone who has READ LOTR knows it’s like 1/3 scene description.  Tolkien happily spent pages on trees.  Not even the talking/walking trees.

Just my opinion, but can we officially stop trying to turn books into crappy short versions?  We see tv series is a better medium.  Let’s do it right.

Review (SPOILERS) Ready Player One [Movie]

I can’t review Ready Player One without spoilers.  I might be able to, but I’d have to go watch the trailer a bunch to make sure what I talk about is only from the trailer.  Oh, but can I assume people HAVE read a book that’s been out for 7 years?  I generally have a ~1yr policy on not spoiling books so….  (1 year from when you learned about the book is my general rule.)

So you have fair warning: I will be spoiling both book and movie if you haven’t consumed them yet… well, stop reading or don’t complain. I’ve done what I can to make sure everything that might preview on Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere has given you time to go “noooo, no spoilers!”

I have been avoiding other reviews so everything I say is my own.

I suspected from the trailer, but I have to say I think it’s disappointing that they (a) left out the whole D&D part of the book and (b)if he was in any kind of formal school that was…. ignored? Edited out? It was world building I wished they had included.

know they had to trim things to make it into a viable move-length format but…. but since RPGs is my area of geekery (I loved how that played out in the book) I don’t like that it was completely cut out.  I feel like they managed to keep video games, movies & music – but roleplaying got cut completely.  I didn’t even see some good WOW references or EverQuest (and maybe I just missed them).  The closest was a troll but I didn’t see anything that screamed “RPGS” in it.

So putting that aside, I would say that as a movie inspired by the book; it’s good.  As a movie based on the book it lacks some of the depth the book had.  Not surprising, Ready Player One was told in first person and converting that to third person limited is damn difficult.  And on that front, I think this might be the best conversion from 1st person book to movie I’ve seen.

That said, it still loses some of the… urgency that Wade experienced in the book. I felt like he was less invested in hating IOI and more invested in his own comfort.  In the book it’s clear from page 3 or so that IOI is despised and even if Wade doesn’t feel he has the power to stop them; he would if he could. That was not evident in the movie.  I wish they would have minimized the romance with Art3mis rather than minimize the personality and motivations of the protagonist.

Which leads to the fact they minimized his role in general. I don’t know how I feel about this one. On the one hand I feel like Art3mis/Samantha was a much more interesting character and more plot-driving. I kind of love that she was the one to stick out the danger of IOI’s headquarters. BUT the romance element was… frankly, I felt like it was forced.  I just felt like they kept pushing the “kiss the girl” thing which wasn’t as true in the book.  At least my memory of the book it felt like they formed a friendship and he had a crush on her before he met her – but after meeting her he found the friendship as important as potential romance.

My other beef is minimizing the international nature of the world. I feel like it got set in OK and stayed there.  Everyone was just magically there; I kept wanting the scene where H comes to “rescue” him and I hated that WADE didn’t call H.  If I step away from the book, it’s fine and makes sense.  But definitely, the classic stands, “The book was better.”

I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD.  I will try to distance myself more so I can watch it without wanting to see the book on the screen.

Review: Subnautica

I have been watching this game for 2-3 years.  I watched JackSepticEye and NeebsGaming playing through the beta/early access versions.  I held off buying until it went live (ok, I got it like 2 days early, so technically I was an early access supporter…)

TL;DR: 5/5 review.

This game is NOT 100% perfect.  I had a few glitches, but since January I’ve played through the game 2.33 times. I am going to play through again ’cause I am determined to do a hardmode play through (one death, arg…); and I am not usually the person who does that.  But damnit, I am going to with this game!

So what draws me so strongly to this game? Well, I will be the first person to say I love survival games.  If you look at my steam hours played; Ark, Terraria, Starbound, Subnautica, Banished… survival & resource management. On my wishlist is games like “Surviving Mars”; “Y lands”; “Oxygen Not Included”; and “Eco” (though I’m waiting on that last one with more trepidation than some of the others).  Still, as far as survival goes – Subnautica is one of the better games I’ve played.  Although food and water are sometimes annoying, they rarely so demanding that it dominates game play (Banished is driven by food needs).  Oxygen (you know, ’cause you’re swimming a lot) is more difficult to manage and adds a great element of difficulty in general.

The story is definitely where this game shines.  Like diamonds in the sky shiny.  You spend a few days “surviving” and getting to know your controls and needs.  Then stuff starts to happen.  I’m not sure how the game determines it’s time to trigger specific events, but as they begin to play out the player is drawn to the mystery that is the core of this game.  I can’t talk much about the story because I do not want to give away spoilers.  You should play it if you want to see the story.

Difficulty progression is also something that these developers did an excellent job of.  In the beginning there aren’t a lot of super-dangerous creatures around you.  They are things you can avoid just by paying attention.  And that level stays pretty consistent throughout the game.  Through the entire game dangers can be avoided by just paying attention; listening to the environment and everything dangerous yells it’s location pretty regularly.  There isn’t a traditional weapon; all you have to “kill” things is a knife -and that’s the most lethal item in your arsenal.  So you have to  pay attention to the environment and keep alert for dangers – always.  Even after I had every upgrade available; avoidance was my most effective survival tool.

And none of this is touching on the graphics (which is where 90% of my glitches occurred) or the sounds & music.  Music isn’t constant, it has triggers and there were a few times where the music started and I started squirming in my seat “Oh, I hate when that music starts… but I have to keep going.”  It is one of the few games where I just play the game.  Much of my gaming I also like to watch YouTube or Netflix or something on our Plex (I’m very slowly working my way through Stargate SG-1).  Not with Subnautica.  I need those environmental triggers too much and want to be entirely immersed.

I give this a 5/5 because this is a: unless you refuse to ever play a video game or don’t have a computer – you should play this game; If you can bear survival games – you should play this game; If you like a good story with a mystery that you need to solve – you should play this game; When you need to immerse yourself into a fantasy world – you should play this game.

Seriously, even if survival isn’t your normal genre of gaming.  If you like RPGs or adventure or GTA or shooters.  Play this game; it’s worth it.