I’ve been having issues lately when trying to read Young Adult books. I don’t love teenage protagonist, in books or movies. I find the range teenage characters have for drama, when written for a young adult audience, to be limiting or, more often than not, dull. It’s very relationship based, which I don’t mind a sampling of, but, when it’s the main course, I’d rather skip it all together. And the teenage introspection! The narration! I can’t do it! Not anymore! Adults writing teenagers think they’re so darn clever and relevant because they mention last years movies or say “legit” or something like that, I can’t do it anymore and I won’t!
This has been a quick review for John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.
Here’s the twist, though. Graphic novels fix this for me. There’s less inner monologues and more visual cues. Blankets or This One Summer nail the melancholy existentialism because they create mood in the art, not just through dated dialog. When we see how young a character is, they feel more real as a teenager because we’re not being told by a thirty-five year old how “legit” young they are. Also, I’m not sure if “legit” is something I’ve read people writing or just a new thing I’m doing now?
Also, I should stop judging, because the book I wrote has teenage protagonist and they’re mopey and monologuey and now I’m legit worried I can’t stop saying legit…
I Kill Giants is written by Joe Kelly, whose always been one of the better writers in the world of Marvel comics. It tells the story of a girl who doesn’t fit in at school, who’s going through some heavy stuff in her family life and who might also fight giants. The giants thing is up in the air, but there’s a good chance it’s real. Or maybe it’s all in her head. Or real.
This self-contained graphic novel is sneaky. You go in expecting a certain type of story, maybe similar to Anya’s Ghost or In Real Life and, while there’s fantastical elements, you get something more akin to This One Summer. I Kill Giants is lighter on it’s feet than Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s novel, all while dealing with loneliness and loss without bringing down the party. J. M. Ken Niimura’s art could be described as big, similar to Ed Mcguinness’ style of comic art, but the black and white illustrations stand without the need of bold colors. The lack of color even makes the beach seem more lonesome and magical. There’s a pacing in this book, with the writing and art, that matches superhero comics, but this is completely accessible to people who dislike capes and masks.
It’s hard to talk about I Kill Giants without giving away important moments. The ending is reliant on the book’s whole concept of truth vs. fiction, of dealing with problems or ignoring them. I could tell you about the book’s bullying or the friendship that forms, or the only guidance concealer that I’ve ever wished was real, but there’s too much that should be read without knowing the truth out the gate. I will say this book made me cry, and it might have been a while since a young adult title had that effect on me.
This seems to me like it’s been a badly written review. Take it as more of a recommendation wrapped in some rants. This book is great and should be considered essential reading for the young adult graphic medium. With a movie coming out this year, hopefully more will discover this book, because it shouldn’t be missed.
I had my wife read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and report back to me if it was worth reading before the movie is released. She loved the book and suggested I pick it up, as it would be a quick read. This was a fortunate turn of events, because had I read the book first, I would have told her that she wouldn’t enjoy it and to just wait for the movie.
The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition into Area X, a weird part of the country that’s been abandoned by civilization and taken over by plant life and bizarre new species of animals. The narrator, referred to only as the Biologist or Ghost Bird, records her findings and past experiences into her journal, which makes up the book.
Before the Biologist began her journey, her husband had been part of the previous expedition and he may or may not have returned. The Biologist is travelling, not just for scientific understanding of Area X, but to also discover the fate of her husband.
For a short read, this book took me a long time to finish after I started it. It was dense with descriptions of the bizarre Area X, in an almost Lovecraftian level of detail. There wasn’t much of a narrative push to keep me reading, as the story is moved along by one strange finding after the other. However, the odd environment is never explained, nor are many of the findings put into context, which means much of this book is the narrator saying, “Isn’t this weird” and me just nodding my head.
The book is written in a dreamy sort of way and none of the characters act like people. Everyone seems out to kill everyone, right from the beginning and we’re never allowed to grow attached to anyone. The dialog doesn’t read like real human speech but aggressive robots. The narrator freely admits to being aloof and preferring to be alone. However, in the context of the other members of the expedition, this doesn’t pack any punch as all the characters are eerie non-humans.
I think this is why I preferred the flashback scenes between the narrator and her husband. There was no science fiction in these chapters, but against an actual human, the narrator becomes more interesting. Her husband is more outgoing and a people-person and this shines a light on the narrator. She’s frustrating but not a cold monster, she’s solitary but has heart for nature. Watching her marriage strain against the clashing personalities, alongside the husband’s departure to Area X, makes for an interesting read that the science fiction parts of the book fail to replicate.
I think, when it comes to science fiction, I either need believable science or interesting characters. Annihilation had neither. VanderMeer’s writing is too abstract while also being too detail oriented, with descriptions down to the measurements but with zero context. The characters are like ghosts of people and maybe there’s artistic merit to that style that I’m missing. I’m sure I’ve read books with characters like this before that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the case with Annihilation. I’m still excited for the movie, but that’s more to do with Alex Garland directing it, as Ex Machina was great. My wife will continue this trilogy of novels and, maybe, she might convince me to keep reading as well. But, unless such prompting happens, I personally have no interest left.
Batman: Arkham Origins was a pleasant surprise. I had heard mixed things about the game, especially since it was made by a different developer. Some critiqued how scaled down it felt from Batman: Arkham City or the lack of marquee villains, like the Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. What I found, instead, is a game that was closer to what I liked about Batman: Arkham Asylum, both is size and tone.
Arkham Asylum had a focused story with a dark atmosphere, that also made the player feel claustrophobic. Batman wasn’t trapped per se, but he had to go deeper into the worst place in the world, sort of like the aggressively lonely catacombs found in Tomb Raider Anniversary. With it’s mixture of eclectic villains, crumbling architecture and plot twists, Arkham Asylum had all the makings of a classic Batman story, in any medium.
I found Batman: Arkham City to be bloated and nowhere near as intriguing as the first game and I thought I was done with the series. But, Arkham Origins brought the scale back and refocused the story, with villains that work well in the same plot. The smaller scale of Gotham City means less flapping around with no purpose. The streets themselves are emptier than in Arkham City, but the game is set during Christmas Eve and it helps contribute to the feeling of being alone on the holiday. In fact, I played it over the Christmas season for that reason, as the snow and frequent use of Christmas tunes makes this game one of the best holiday titles out there. Combine this with Batman Returns and you have a pretty great Christmas lined up!
The stealth, gadgets and combat all function as they have in previous games. Detective mode is a bit dull, as it has been throughout the series. But all the different gameplay elements work together to make something easy to play and enjoy. I’m not great at big fights in the game, but I can feel great with the mechanics. And, I’m left to wonder why Batman doesn’t have those electric gloves all the time.
I know not everyone enjoyed this entry in the series, but I found it to be my second favorite of the three I’ve played. It has real boss fights against villains I was happy to see, such as Firefly, Deathstroke and Deadshot. Heck, this game even reminded me of why Bane is such a great foe for Batman, as the character and his troupes are accurately translated from the comics, much better than in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, I’m a big sucker for a strong Batman/Joker conversation.
In fact, I enjoyed this prequel so much, I finally purchased Batman: Arkham Knight, a title I have been avoiding due to my lackluster response to Arkham City and the PC port in general. We’ll see how that fares to my disdain of large open worlds, as Arkham Origins reminds me of how much I prefer focused, story driven games. And the viewers that stopped by all seemed to have a soft spot for this title, many of them feeling this game get’s underrated. I’m right there with them now.
Second quick update as I try to get current with the episodes on the blog.
We talk about book clubs, the benefits and such. What books the library has on the schedule and what have been favorite reads in past clubs. Mine, personally, is Station Eleven. I was worried I wasn’t going to want to talk about that book, because I loved it and I didn’t want to hear any critiques. Luckily, the club was a great discussion and I think I like the book even more having done it. Join a book club!
See you next week, podcats!
Quick catch up post!
In which we really talk about the end of the year and books we read in 2017. Goodreads helps us see the longest books we tackled, the books we most enjoyed, disliked and if we’re ready to get reading in 2018!
See you next week, podcats!
Again, quick posting because I got behind with these postings.
We talk the end of year! 2017 is done! It’s over! Let’s hold hands and just get through 2018! But, first, a look back! We look at the best selling books of 2017! Did you read any of them? I’m never up-to-date on the current books, my reading list is too long!
See you next week, podcats!
Relatively spoiler free but you might as well not read this if you haven’t seen the film.
To say you have problems with Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is to say you don’t like it. That’s where geek culture is, and has been for as long as geeks have had a culture in the first place. That’s on me just as much as anyone. When it comes to the big series and franchises, I love or hate them. But, hear me, I didn’t love The Force Awakens but I still liked it. It’s possible to think that J.J. Abrams’ 2015 offering was entertaining but lacking and still be a Star Wars fan.
How you felt about The Force Awakens will definitely play into how you feel about The Last Jedi. I hope people who enjoyed that first film will like this new one, but the way the internet is drawing lines in the sand (or salt), I doubt there’s going to be lots of carry over. For myself, I can say that I found the movie exciting, emotional and satisfying.
Rian Johnson has a visual eye that I don’t think Star Wars has had since The Empire Strikes Back. The planet of Crait, with white salt covering the red dirt underneath, allows for stunning shots of ships dragging along the ground and gorgeous caverns. Snoke’s chamber, awash in red like it’s out of the film Kagemusha, is a highlight in simple but effective set design. That won’t be the last time Akira Kurosawa’s films are referenced, which in it’s own way is a reference to the original Star Wars films.
But, for the most part, people don’t come for the cinematography of Star Wars (the lighting change as Luke flies off from Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite shots in all of film). What people want is space battles and great characters. Luckily, The Last Jedi has them both, but you millage may vary on how satisfied you are with either.
The new characters introduced in the The Force Awakens are given more room to breathe this time around, with a longer run time and less death stars. The two that benefit the most are Rey and Poe Dameron. Rey’s journey of self-discovery and false father figures continues but she comes out being a bolder and stronger character, one that feels worthy of leading this franchise forward. Dameron gets much more to do this time around and I finally feel like I understand his character. He’s a hotshot, to a fault, but that’s because he’s relentless in the cause. He’s a true believer in the Resistance, but he has to learn that, sometimes, cooler heads prevail.
Finn is a different case. Plot-wise, his story has little impact. It’s a side-quest that doesn’t effect the main story, though that’s because of turns taken in the third act. But, character-wise, his story brings him into the Resistance proper. In The Force Awakens, Finn was looking to get far away from the First Order and only hung around to rescue Rey. In The Last Jedi, Finn’s story brings him to an understanding of why the galaxy needs the Resistance. It seems like he has a reason to stay now, outside of Rey.
Kylo Ren is still entertaining, but he has the least amount of growth as a character, staying more or less the same as when we first met him. His story is still interesting and I’m excited to see where his character goes from here, but it’s less of a revaluation as Rey or Poe.
Leia gets more screen time than the previous film, but, unfortunately, it’s easy to tell Lucasfilm had more plans for the character in the next movie. Her scenes here are great, but there’s a reservation with her character that most likely would have been released in the next film. There are some great moments with her, made bittersweet by Carrie Fisher’s passing.
Luke Skywalker is there as well. And luckily, the direction his character goes in isn’t proving to be controversial at all! I mean, outside of the internet and all of fandom, I guess. I can’t say how you’re going to feel about Luke in this film, as it seems like it will be one of the most subjective elements of all the Star Wars films. In my certain point of view, Mark Hamill is fantastic this time around, delivering some of my new favorite lines and carrying the emotions for the two of us.
There’s a cameo later on in the movie that I didn’t think I wanted, but proved to be a gut-punch nonetheless. Watching that scene, with music from The Empire Strikes Back, brought up emotions I didn’t know I had and I was happy to find them. And Luke’s “Everything you just said is wrong” tag later on was one hell of a delivery.
Another area where you might end up disagreeing with me is the resolutions of Rey’s parentage and Snoke’s identity. I didn’t realize how little I actually cared about Snoke until this movie, so I didn’t mind his reveal at all. And for Rey’s origins, all I can say is that I was relieved by it all. I didn’t realize how exhausting lore can be until this movie. While I don’t want the same tactics in every movie, Star Wars or otherwise, this time around, it was a welcomed change of pace.
Outside of the characters, The Last Jedi is an exciting ride. It’s a slow build, but when the film reaches the tipping point, it doesn’t stop. There’s the stressful ticking clock that reminded me of a certain Battlestar Galactica episode, some stressful lightsaber duels and a stressful last stand…you know, actually, this movie might be stressful! I found myself never knowing what was going to happen next, even if I was certain I knew how it would all play out. And what an opening.
I will say, since I made such a fuss when The Force Awakens went to the remake-side of the Force, that The Empire Strikes Back is all over this film as well. A perusing enemy fleet, a young hero looking for training from a reluctant teacher, trench warfare against giant, walking tanks on a white planet (salt, not snow, as the movie makes sure to point out). Star Wars, since the first movie, has been nothing if not referential. But, I found that tendency to be less annoying this time around. Maybe that’s because it subverted a lot of those references, or maybe I just think The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. Whatever the reason, seeing an X-Wing submerged in water made me laugh instead of rolling my eyes.
I don’t know where the series is heading or how this trilogy will conclude. I’m not thrilled with homage master J.J. Abrams back in the helm, as I’m worried he’ll undo a lot of the good done by this film. And where Rian Johnson is influenced by Rashomon and Casablanca, Abrams seems influenced by Star Wars alone. Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I don’t think surprise is in Abrams wheelhouse, no matter how fun or talented he is as a filmmaker.
For now and the next two years, I’ll take joy in the fact that The Last Jedi is an exciting, dark, interesting film that plays around with presumptions about Star Wars movies. I won’t rank it anytime soon, as it took Revenge of the Sith ten years to become my second favorite of the films and I spent most of my childhood preferring Return of the Jedi over The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll have to rewatch this movie a few times to see if it stands up with all it’s secrets laid bare but I’m confident it can handle the pressure. If the next movie can be as surprising and thrilling as this one, this new trilogy will be just as good, if not better, than the original films.
It’s been a while since the last Let’s Play post. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.
This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!
Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.
It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!
And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!
Back to game.
I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.
The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.
I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.
I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.
Maul: Lockdown, by Joe Schreiber, had me excited for a long time. I thought, originally, the concept was great. However, while reading the book, I realized I had misunderstood the summaries and dust jackets. I had thought the book was about Darth Maul trying to escape from the most dangerous prison in the galaxy. A Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, if you will. It’s not that at all.
Darth Maul is sent, by Darth Sidious, to Cog Hive Seven to find an elusive arms dealer. Maul must remain undercover, so he’s forbidden to use his lightsaber or force powers. The book follows Maul exploring the layout of the prison, participating in televised death matches and surviving gang politics.
Maul: Lockdown is entertaining…to a point. The death matches are well done with visceral action, some of the new characters are interesting and there’s general mystery to the identity of the arms dealer. It also helps that, like some of favorite Star Wars books, this is a standalone one-shot. However, the book has a few faults that kept it from being the thrilling and dark adventure it could have been.
For one, taking away Maul’s force powers and lightsaber, while an interesting challenge, means the book denies the reader what they might have come for in the first place. Taking away his weapons for a few chapters might have been exciting, but when it’s the whole book there’s a certain element of false advertisement. Maul, the character, still has that tiger-like cool, but is less interesting than your classic Darth Vader. Maul is all rage and hate and, after a while, that stops being interesting. He comes across as one note in this book and it doesn’t help that we learn nothing new about the character.
The book is dense, which isn’t always a problem, but I was coming in for something more akin to a thriller. The chapters are short and you can clear through pages easily, but it goes on for longer than necessary, reaching a climax weighed down by cameos and dull exposition. Near the end, I was trying to get to the finish line quickly not because I was interested, but because I was ready to be done. There’s not enough story, character or intrigue to carry this book.
I’m surprised by how critical I am of this book, because the concept seemed like a slam dunk. But, when compared to other Star Wars villain books, such as Darth Plagueis, Darth Bane, Dark Disciple and Lords of the Sith, it falls short. Maybe Darth Maul isn’t that intriguing of a character, or at least, not during this part of life. I still haven’t finished the Clone Wars show, so I haven’t seen the character resurrected and given robotic legs. Maybe then he has more depth, but here, there’s not enough.
Now, someone, please go write that Star Wars prison break I wanted.
I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.
Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.
Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.
What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.
The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.
The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.
I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.