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- Sören Heim on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 11:39 on 16-04-2018 - link There are surely better Pratchett novels, I chose the first because you could nicely compare the way a new world is presented. Basu too makes fun of much more than classic fantasy, he comments on the groth of cities, gamification, filmindustry, draws from indian, european & other mythologies & much more. In writing style he is much more modern and show-don't telly than every pratchett I know, which is still only a small part of his - what is it, 100? - novels (counting not only discworld). As I said: therein lies Basus stregth - and weakness. His aim at presenting a living, breathing society while also delivering jokes and social satire undercut each other sometimes...
- Cheriola on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 03:08 on 11-04-2018 - link Case in point about different frames of reference regarding Pratchett: I had to look it up to believe that by "the little pub" you really were refering to The (not yet) Mended Drum, of all places. But when you say "gloomy drinking hole" and "barfights that are evaluated according to levels of violence", I think: Shamelessly cribbed from Pratchett's Mended Drum (or Biers, if we're talking really gloomy.)
Cheriola on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced.
at 02:25 on 11-04-2018 - link
This does sound interesting.
One little question, though, just to make sure we have the same frame of reference: Have you actually read any relatively recent Pratchett novels?
I ask because your assessment of his style and narrative intentions sounds like you only know the first few books of the Discworld series, which were just basic fantasy genre parodies and therefore quite different from the main bulk of the series, which I consider to be far more typical of his style. What's appealing to me about Pratchett is not primarily the jokes or the mockery of traditional genre tropes, but the gentle satire of real world cultural / social institutions not relating to fantasy (Academia, banks, Hollywood, the British Army, football clubs, politics, etc.), as well as the humanist ethics and his general assumption that his readers are pretty broadly educated and will catch allusions to e.g. modern astrophysics or ancient Greek history or various Shakespeare plays.
Is this book comparable to Pratchett in this regard as well, or is it just a funny fantasy parody?
- Robinson L on Kickstopper: Turning the Lights Out On Those Who Most Need Them at 22:02 on 19-01-2018 - link Okay. In the article you tossed that information out as if it was already established, but then the way you talked about it later made it clear this mandate to play up be endings was specific to the Cthulhu Dark module (though I'm aware the baseline for Lovecraftian storytelling is to have downbeat endings), so I was confused.
Arthur B on Kickstopper: Turning the Lights Out On Those Who Most Need Them
at 22:18 on 18-01-2018 - link
In terms of there being no way to be a good ending - it's basically Walmlsey playing up to a very specific vision of how cosmic horror works.
To be fair, in baseline Call or Trail it's often stated that whatever victories the player characters accomplish may only be a temporary respite for humanity, rather than permanently ensuring its safety, but the way Cthulhu Dark reads it genuinely seems like Walmsley is advocating that for true full-bore cosmic horror you need to confront the characters with something terrible which ultimately they can't do anything about.
Thing is, whilst that works in a prose story - Thomas Ligotti does that a lot, and Lovecraft would write plenty of stories like that himself - that both ignores the occasional story like The Dunwich Horror where a victory against encroaching forces of chaos and dissolution is won and also feels like a frustrating way to run a game, unless it were going to be a one-off thing where everyone was going into it buying into the "no win condition" thing.
It's also another thing which isn't in the original 4-page pamphlet version of Cthulhu Dark, which I remain convinced is the best version of this game.
Arthur B on Kickstopper: Turning the Lights Out On Those Who Most Need Them
at 21:59 on 18-01-2018 - link
Without wanting to kick off a long political digression, I’d argue the age of austerity constitutes constant interventions by those in power which either create or magnify much of said bad shit, which they insulate themselves from with their power and push onto those who lack it.
True that, though the upshot of this is that if you happen to hail from a privileged background you have the option of just not caring or paying attention to politics at all - and ultimately it's hard to tell the difference between conscious neglect and unthinking ignorance if it's your local infrastructure crumbling because of it.
Robinson L on Kickstopper: Turning the Lights Out On Those Who Most Need Them
at 20:36 on 18-01-2018 - link
It feels to me that in the age of austerity “Bad shit happens to those not in power because those in power don’t give a shit and aren’t paying attention” is an important and useful premise for this sort of social commentary horror
Hmm, I dunno, Arthur. Without wanting to kick off a long political digression, I’d argue the age of austerity constitutes constant interventions by those in power which either create or magnify much of said bad shit, which they insulate themselves from with their power and push onto those who lack it. In effect, they’re actively manufacturing the circumstances which allows the bad shit to arise and thrive.
From what I know, a better comparison might be the AIDS crisis in the 80s.
by mandating that there is no way to get a good ending
You toss this point out as if it’s a minor detail, but you keep coming back to it throughout the article, and from later remarks I gather that it’s not a standard feature of Lovecraftian tabletop games like Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. Does Walmsley ever explain the rationale behind this particular mechanic?
By definition, in Cthulhu Dark Insight is not merely an understanding of the immediate mystery in front of you - you can learn all sorts of stuff about it without necessarily raising your Insight, after all - but your appreciation of the ultimate cosmic nihilism underpinning everything. In other words, it represents a change in your worldview, and it seems strange that your worldview would have snapped back to what it originally was between investigations.
This whole thing reminds me of the trope in videogames where the main characters’ levels, equipment, and spells or abilities are reset to their starting point in between games.
Ashimbabbar: say what you want about Masks of Nyarlathotep, but IMO joining a raid of Chinese anarchists against one of the bad guys' main bases just rocks
Now that sounds like my kind of campaign.
Robinson L on Cakes on a Train
at 20:00 on 18-01-2018 - link
Great to see you back in action, Sonia. I’d like to comment on the article, but I haven’t seen the movie, and while I wouldn’t be against it, I have no particular desire to see it.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of the stories that would be plausibly easy to have an all-white cast for, so it's good to see Leslie Odom Jr, a black man, playing one of the central characters. The opening scenes, too, feature a predominantly non-white Jerusalem which is by no means a given in these types of adaptations.
I’m sure I heard somewhere Brannagh has a history of hiring racially diverse casts. He was the director who gave us Idris Elba as Heimdall after all, and I think we can all agree the Thor films a stronger for it (despite some … questionable incidents towards the end of Ragnarok).
As long as we’re talking, Murder on the Orient Express, there’s an awesome in-joke in one of the later “Thursday Next” books by Jasper Fforde, where the main character is in the realm of fiction where all the characters from novels past and present live, and has to interrogate a yeti. Upon learning the main character’s a cop, the yeti exclaims, “I swear, I was nowhere near the Orient Express that night, and even if I was, I had nothing against Mr. Casetti (sp?)!” (paraphrased). Which if you’ve read the book is absolutely priceless.
Sonia Mitchell on Cakes on a Train
at 20:10 on 10-01-2018 - link
Thanks, Arthur. It’s been far too long.
The Johnny Depp think did occur to me. It’s a good performance but yeah.I think you’re right about the structure of the mystery, although I first read the book so long ago it’s hard to evaluate it objectively. Christie was very good at hiding pertinent facts in plain sight, which is wisely not something Brannagh attempts. It’s much easier to hide things in text.
There were a few rumbles of surprise in the cinema, memorably when Mrs Hubbard revealed herself to be the avenging mother, but overall I think most of us were there to see a story we already knew.
Your Chandler quote reminds me of the end of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (spoiler):
”In the end I asked a child. I told him the story of the trick and asked him how he thought it had been done, and he said, and I quote, ‘It’s bleedin’ obvious, innit, he must’ve ‘ad a bleedin’ time machine.’”
It’s a very hard frame of mind to get into.
- Robinson L on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 15:30 on 09-01-2018 - link Sounds like more than good enough for me. I'll be sure to make a report once I've read it, though but that'll probably take a while.
Arthur B on Cakes on a Train
at 10:02 on 09-01-2018 - link
Woo, welcome back Sonia! It's good to see you (er, read you) again.
Johnny Depp makes a suitably crawly businessman that it's easy to wish bad things upon.
Which, given what Amber Heard has told us over the past couple years, I suppose makes it an inspired casting choice in a deeply unfortunate way. :(
On the spoilery bits - spoiler-tagged for the benefit of folk who get comments via RSS:I think part of the problem of contracting the first section of the story is that once it's become clear that there's an outright weird number of people with connections to the murder-kidnap on the train, the second mystery you identify stops being that mysterious. Maybe the actual process involved was obscured, but "group vigilante action" becomes the most plausible prospect at that point.
In the original book Christie had the advantage that readers had very specific expectations of this sort of detective story, which included the idea that there was one specific individual who did the deed. Raymond Chandler rages against the solution in The Simple Art of Murder precisely because he seems to feel that Christie has cheated in some respect; when he says "Only a halfwit could guess it" I think part of what he means is that the solution breaks the rules of the genre sufficiently seriously that it could only be guessed by someone who simply didn't grasp those rules in the first place.
Thing is, modern audiences are a bit more used to genre pieces which break major axioms of the genre in one way or another, so I suspect that these days if you give the audience time to think about it they'd arrive at the "collective effort" solution sooner or later. The only way to conserve the surprise at that point is to make sure the solution to part B comes hot on the heels of part A, so the audience either doesn't have time to arrive at the logical conclusion or the solution is provided soon enough after they've guess that they don't feel like the movie is taking them for fools.
So on that basis it's probably for the best that the movie is largely aimed at being a cozy piece for people who already have familiarity with the story, because structurally Brannagh's done the opposite of what he needed to do to make the whodunnit bits pop.
- Sören Heim on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 09:03 on 09-01-2018 - link No, not off-putting at all. As I said, party brilliant, partly not as brilliant, still within the top 20-25% of all Fantasy I read (this is a rough estimate of course, I don't actually keep lists and calculate percentiles... ;) ) Hope you'll enjoy.
Robinson L on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced.
at 22:00 on 08-01-2018 - link
in its worst it is just another adventure plot wanting to have its glory and deconstruct it at the same time
To me, personally, that doesn’t sound like an actively off-putting read; and not necessarily all that annoying. I’ve probably read through worse for a story I enjoy. So, yeah, if I ever get the chance and have some spare reading time, I’ll probably check it out, and enjoy it.
Sören Heim on The Greatest Empire That (maybe) Never Was a Novel
at 13:24 on 06-01-2018 - link
Sure - Novel-like works composed from several shorter stories have been around for quite a while (Bocaccio, Goethe). What makes Kalpa special is obviously the large periods of time between the stories - but it develops a convincing type of "unitiy".
"The Source" I havent read yet.
Robjec on The Greatest Empire That (maybe) Never Was a Novel
at 14:46 on 02-01-2018 - link
I think this may be the first book in your series ofnreveiws I'm interested in. I was wondering if you'd ever read "the Source" by James A. Michener, I feel that it's similar enough to give credence to the idea that this is a novle.
The only thing missing from it compared to other nobles told through short stories is a framing story right? ( I may be off here, but thats just the impression I was getting)And if it can stand alone without one it feels like a silly reason to not call it a novel. I don't feel like a book should be dinged for not including extra literary devices it didn't need.
- Sören Heim on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 12:45 on 02-01-2018 - link This is really one of those books I loved at times and hated it at others. In its better moments it shows what Fantasy can be if an author really engages with modern literary techniques. And in its worst it is just another adventure plot wanting to have its glory and deconstruct it at the same time... Which can be really annoying. But I had fun reading it, so you might to, since I am very picky ;) And it's written in a way that you can really fly through it.
Robinson L on Ferretnibble 3 - Two Different Frontiers, One Class, and Four Text Adventures
at 20:36 on 01-01-2018 - link
Extremely belated, but I feel I should point out that Class was not renewed for a second season, and at this point, it looks like the program is finished.
I admit to being mildly disappointed, as the first series ended on a couple cliffhangers whose resolution I was somewhat interested in seeing, and I did like the characters and would’ve enjoyed following their stories through more adventures. But the show wasn’t so good that I’m particularly distraught to see it go.
Now, on the subject of shows I am crushed to see shut down early, Cheriola, I’ve seen the second season of Sense8 now. Like the first season, it had several cringe and eye-roll moments – and I’m afraid your reading of Caphaeus being asexual doesn’t seem to be supported – but on the whole, I thought it was f*ckin’ amazing, and I was very, very, very happy with it. Even the cliffhanger ending I think I could’ve been okay with, personally, although I’m extremely glad we’re getting a two-hour special sometime later this year to give the series more closure.
On the other hand, my sister recently linked me an article attacking the show’s progressive cred* (spoiler alert for season two), citing pervasive racism and occasionally dodgy gender and sexual politics. While I quibble with some of the points**, I can’t dispute the central arguments. I still think the show gets several things right which the article doesn’t address, and I still kinda admire it for the lengths it went trying to be inclusive, even if it fell badly short. (Also, while I see the point in highlighting the Wachowskis’ highly problematic baggage, I’m a little confused at the article attributing Sense8 exclusively to the two of them, and failing to address the role of J. Michael Straczynski, who co-created and co-wrote the show.)
*Apart from its’ depiction of Nomi and her character arc.
**I don’t interpret the group sex scenes to mean the main characters have all turned pansexual—because it’s all mental, I think those encounters exist sort of apart from their regular sexuality. Also, I basically agree with the criticism of some pretty screwed up dimensions to Daniela’s dynamic with Lito and Hernando—and the article doesn’t even bring up the whole sexual assault angle—but it implies her relationship with the two of them is entirely toxic and exploitative, whereas I see a lot of positive aspects to their dynamic along with the awful parts.
- Robinson L on Funny, Complex, Imbalanced. at 20:30 on 01-01-2018 - link You know, your description does make the book sound awfully appealing, even if it isn’t as good as it could’ve been. I probably will try to check it out someday, although it looks like it’s not available through my standard book-acquiring outlets, so I won’t be in a huge hurry to get my hands on it.
Robinson L on The Sequel of Shannara
at 20:00 on 01-01-2018 - link
On the strength of Cheriola’s recommendation, I introduced the show to my mom and my sister Noria recently when we were casting about for something to watch. My sister quickly moved away from it, but my mom and I finished the first season on Netflix and enjoyed it pretty well.
I think it would be a stretch to call this show “good.” Maybe in comparison to the source material, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t say. It’s a little too inane and a little too silly and still a little too cliché* a little too often to be good. (Also, what the hell is Cephalo’s motivation after he joins the party? It feels very uneven and inconsistent.) And the overall quality is a little too mediocre … It feels like the writing team are taking a little too many lazy creative shortcuts and not bringing their A game.
*Exhibit A: Wil’s introduction to Amberle.
But that said, I can’t really call it a bad show. I’d say it’s a decently executed, mostly paint by numbers fantasy show with a few genuinely good ideas and pretty good acting for the material. I really dug the way it it incorporated the whole “postapocalyptic” part of the setting in the last few episodes, rather than being a thing that’s just sort of there; and it was cute the way the human cult waswatching clips from the original Star Trek.
The show actually managed to surprise me a few times, such as in, I think, the 5th episode whenBandon (Brandon?) managed to save Catania from the Changeling, after seeing a vision of her death. That is decidedly not how prophecies usually work out on these types of show – not when the subject is a minor character who hasn’t even made an appearance since the first episode. Wil’s whole “oh, you have got to be kidding me” attitude toward all the stuff they encounter is about as entertaining as Cheriola describes, and thankfully, he mostly goes along with the way the story is moving and rarely attempts to ditch the plot. Those rare occasions are also over quickly, thank goodness, about which more in a minute. His well-adjusted attitude and indifference to traditional male archetypes are likewise as refreshing as advertised, and his and Allanon’s mutual aggrieved resignation at having to work together is pretty entertaining.
I can also confirm Cheriola’s praise for the production values. It’s obvious the show doesn’t have anything close to a Peter Jackson budget, but it mostly manages to write around any scenarios where the story scope clashes with the fiscal restrictions (unlike, to take a tangential example, the “epic” second season climax of Lost Girl). And they do, indeed, do an excellent job with the designs they need for the story – my favorite being the demon who’s introduced after it slaughtered the elf fort, and chases the party for a couple episodes, which I’m guessing is the Reaper.
The show is also helped enormously by the pacing, whose default mode appears to be “break-neck.” I assume this is a result of the need to condense a full length fantasy novel into 10 episodes of ~40 minutes’ length, but it means most of the annoying parts breeze by before they can become aggravating, and even the more central stuff (like drama between the three leads over not trusting each other or whatever) is refreshingly brief and handled with surprising maturity (which is not to say it’s good, just that I expected much worse).
My sister’s assessment is that it’s obviously targeted at a pre-teen audience, which I guess I don’t have any additional commentary on, so I’m just going to put that out there.
Incidentally, Noria missed the second episode, and therefore the introduction of the Changeling in its sexy naked woman form, in a sequence which must have put a strain on the show’s TV-14 US rating. Neither my mother nor I were at all prepared for that, and there are a few other sequences like that one, which for me cross the line from “forgivable pandering” (into which category I’d sort Amberle checking out Wil while he strips down to swim in the lake) into “kinda creepy.”
But yeah, overall, while I can’t call The Shannara Chronicles good, so far it’s mostly harmless, mindless fun, with occasional wince-inducing moments and a few moments of genuinely quality storytelling, or close to it.
Cheriola: As far as I remember, the only instances of sex coming up are in the context of romance.
I dunno; when Eretria first sleeps with Wil, while I’m sure it’s partly because she’s into him, it’s mostly so she can steal the elf stones from him again. His motivation isn’t clear, but he still doesn’t trust her at this point, and is clever enough to have guessed that she’s playing him to get the stones – just not clever enough to realize that seducing him when he sees through the initial ruse is also part of her con. It’s a very specific level of clever.
I don't remember any twin witches.
Me neither. They must’ve been written out, which it sounds like is for the best.
The girls are much more competent fighters than Will is, which leads to the impression that the story is really Amberle's hero's journey, with Will having the usually female role of moral support (he's surprisingly kind and gentle for a young male character) with a magic superpower that's only useful in very specific circumstances.
Yeah, that’s about right. They’re both more skilled with swords and knives, certainly. And I don’t know about the book, but the show starts with Amberle preparing for and then participating in the trial to become a Chosen. Speaking of which:
Amberle has to sneak into the competition for new candidates for the Chosen, since women aren't traditionally allowed. And she definitely doesn't know that she will have to sacrifice herself. She runs away from her duties in the beginning because she has visions of killing one of her fellow Chosen.
She’s completely ignorant, but the reason for her running away makes sense in the context of show, so good job there. The previous Ellcrys is still a woman though, so I don’t know how that squares with the candidates traditionally being male in the show.
Not having read the books though, I have to wonder about one major plot hole from the show. Unless I’m forgetting a tidbit somewhere—which is possible—they never explain how people become Chosen other than running the blindfold race and being accepted by the Ellcrys. Nothing says they can’t have the trial again and whip up a new batch of Chosen after the other six are all slaughtered by the Changeling. Does the book explain that it can only be done once every so many years, or something like that?
From the way they were depicted in the show, I didn't make the connection between the Rovers and Romani at all. They seemed more like the typical scavenger gangs you get in post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max. And they were not Eretria's family - just guys who bought her as a slave and raised her with lots of emotional abuse - and whom she desperately wants to get away from.
Yeah, “scavenger gang out of Mad Max” is pretty much how I read them. And Cephalo is not, indeed, Eretria’s biological father, although depending on the scene he acts as though he genuinely thinks of her as an adoptive daughter.
there's actually a character (an ex-lover bitter about being abandoned) who outright calls Allanon a "puppet master who's manipulating innocent lives as he sees fit" (to his face) in the pilot, just to make clear to the audience not to fully trust the guy.
Yeah, Pyria was cool, and written off way too soon. And yes, Allanon’s manipulative nature and the other characters’ distrust of him for it are major aspects of his character on the show. He definitely comes across as his own character and not a lazy Gandalf knock-off.
he's otherwise presented as almost the Only Sane Man in a world where the entire younger generation irrationally refuses to believe magic is real / still existant, the whole Ellcrys-protecting-the-world-from-demons thing is more than "folklore"
I found it pretty hilarious to an actual freaking elf character refer derisively to “fairy tales.”
Will and the other young characters also talk mostly like modern people, with Will in particular frequently using irony / snark to cope with his crappy destiny … which makes Allanon and his straight-out-of-LotR, portentous and purple language and almost total lack of humor stand out like some sort of fossil. (Which makes sense in the setting, but not really very much. He's only been in magical cryo-sleep for 30 years. It feels more like 300.)
The extent to which the other characters—not just Wil’s generation, but Amberle’s uncles and the like—use 21st century slang and idioms actually gets distracting at times, but in an amusing way.
Canonically, I think Allanon is stated to be around 350 years old in the show; my presumption is that this wasn’t his first cryo-sleep, and he speaks the same way he did when he was growing up being taught by Bremen many years ago.
As you say, it’s worth watching if this kind of slightly schlocky high fantasy appeals to you.
Sören Heim on The Greatest Empire That (maybe) Never Was a Novel
at 19:46 on 26-12-2017 - link
Oh, didn't see yours before, Arthur. And I really thought I knew every single article on this site due to a binge-read some years ago.
Seems, at least two new translations of works of Gorodischer's have been published since 2008. So: Progress, yeah!
- Arthur B on The Greatest Empire That (maybe) Never Was a Novel at 15:53 on 26-12-2017 - link Readers wanting to compare and contrast our impressions can find my review of this here.
Arthur B on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 3: You Never Forget Your First Dunsany
at 22:38 on 24-12-2017 - link
Oh, I definitely think he was working through some stuff there, though whether it was an immediate crisis or whether it was stuff he'd struggled with during his long bout of inactivity which he finally felt he had the writing chops to capture I'm less sure.
I am particularly put in mind of the way his mother would openly talk about him like he was a grotesque creature who only a mother could love. That plus the way his father went would have certainly given him a personal purity/body horror complex. It's just unfortunate that it cross-fertilised with the pervasive racism of American culture at the time.
Ashimbabbar on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 3: You Never Forget Your First Dunsany
at 20:49 on 24-12-2017 - link
You're right to point this out and "sideline" isn't the right word, just the one I came up with. What I meant is that it's a mean to an end.
Basically, HPL is saying "look at Arthur Jermyn*, his great-great-granny was a degenerate white ape from Africa, so he soaked himself in oil and burnt himself to a cinder. That was the right thing to do, wasn't it ? Well you're no better ! And I'm no better ! We all should go soak our clothes in oil and burn ! But you'll find it easier to pretend nothing ever happened and my story is a mere work of fiction ( and I'll manage to bear by writing this story )"
In short I believe this story documents a crisis in HPL's life. Had he been devoid of those racist notions, he would have expressed the same anguish through a different story.
* of course Arthur Jermyn is a painfully obvious stand-in for HPL himself, that's only one of the story's layers.
- Arthur B on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 3: You Never Forget Your First Dunsany at 16:55 on 24-12-2017 - link It isn't really a sideline though, is it? It's the immediacy of Jermyn's ape ancestry which takes it from being an intellectual theory to an immediate reality. And it's regularly emphasised that it's this ancestry which has blighted the fortune of his line ever since his forefather banged an African gorilla.