Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
It is probably indicative of something, I think, that some of the most innovative game design ideas I've seen in a while have come out of a game jam inspired by tweets from a parody twitter account.
I've so far played The Spandex Parable and The Shadowlands Prophesy.
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And I thought the 100 people who pledged $1000 or more were, uhm, generous.
Oh dear. I just watched the Being Human season finale, and it was one of the worst offenders on the use of prophecy in a fantasy/sci-fi story I have ever seen.
We vaguely lost track of Being Human midway through season two but that does sound particularly stupid. The only thing worse than rigid adherence to stupid genre tropes is rigid adherence to stupid genre tropes that *thinks* it's deconstructing the tropes to which it is in fact rigidly adhering.
I do agree that the Hunger aspect of the books is rather absent (particularly in the nicely well-fed look of all the leads - the director seems to think that making everything desaturated and gray makes it sufficiently grim) - but to me, the worldbuilding aspect is one of the least satisfying elements of the series, so I wasn't too bothered.
Somewhat irrelevant, but I was quite pleased with the music - especially after the last two scores I've heard from James Newton Howard (Green Lantern and Green Hornet), which were both on the awful side of mediocre.
One of my gripes with the book was that Newman had set up this “vampire taint” theme with the book, with vampirism bringing madness, animalistic traits and a strange disease; and then broke it completely with the bloodlines thing, which seems to exist only so that Genevieve can avoid having any of those unappealing disadvantages.
Which is particularly odd because in the Warhams stories about her she's regularly wrestling with primal urges.
- Newman also did the "Genevieve is tangentially involved in the hunt for a serial killer in a bustling metropolis" thing in Beasts In Velvet, one of the Warhams novels featuring her (see review here).
- Newman also attempted to shoehorn a quasi-tolerated vampire subculture into a society which it really, really didn't fit into in his Warhams books - I know Warhammer Fantasy canon has evolved since then but even back in the day the idea of there being a pub which is a hub for the undead community in Altdorf which the Altdorf authorities are vaguely aware of but do nothing about was absurd and didn't fit the premises of the setting at all. Genevieve as a vampire who is just about considered acceptable in polite society due to obvious heroism in the past was a stretch but just about worked, injecting an entire community of the undead into the Imperial capital who exist as an open secret is barmy on the level of having an Ork Embassy on Earth in the 40K universe.
Basically it seems Newman is very very interested in writing novels about a world where vampires are an accepted part of society but isn't interested in doing the worldbuilding required to have that be the case from time immemorial - which I think you need if you want the opposition to the vampires to be as feeble as it is in his lesser Warhams stories (that being everything which isn't Drachenfels, which is great) and as it sounds like it is in Anno Dracula.
Genevieve actually originates in Newman’s Warhammer fiction, but he’s apparently started writing her into other series too. One of my gripes with the book was that Newman had set up this “vampire taint” theme with the book, with vampirism bringing madness, animalistic traits and a strange disease; and then broke it completely with the bloodlines thing, which seems to exist only so that Genevieve can avoid having any of those unappealing disadvantages. Dracula (and everyone else) has a nasty, corrupt Eastern European bloodline with all those problems, whereas Genevieve has a nice, clean bloodline from a French vampire that has no problems of any kind whatsoever, and indeed very few disadvantages. So she can be young, beautiful, strong, wise, clever, healthy and also immortal and powerful. I had no problem with Genevieve in the Warhams books, I just thought she was clumsily shoehorned in here.
Now to be fair I was expecting a somewhat tongue-in-cheek adventure story tied into vampire literature and with a Victorian novel feel. In my defence, that was based on the book’s premise and its blurb. As it turned out, it doesn’t really read much like a vampire novel to me, and the city didn’t feel much like Victorian London to me, even Dickensian dark gritty London; it just felt like a Warhammer city dressed up as London.
I have to say I found the portrayal of how vampirism was accepted deeply unconvincing, which was part of the problem. I really couldn’t see Victorian society, with all its firebrands and moralising, placidly accepting vampirism in such a short time and with so few problems. Newman explains it by having all the objectors killed or locked away, but that just moves the problem aside – why did they accept the sudden dictatorship and oppression by foreign soldiers? I don’t buy the upper classes accepting the vampires at all, let alone going for vampirism – they had their own ideological and religious views. And especially not if they’re going to make the place all squalid and disgusting. Similarly the sudden imposition of impaling as a punishment – no.
Jack Seward, as you say, was all right. The detective bloke was not especially interesting and I couldn’t see any reason why Gene would go for him (which seems to be a pattern in Gene stories).
Also for some reason it really cheesed me off that he mischaracterised Raffles :) No way would he join an evil cabal, let alone go vamp.
I thought they rather missed some opportunities.
I very much agree with this. My roommate is still bemoaning the fact that they never pulled out to give us a full shot of Katniss' dress, and that is just a small example of how ball was dropped a bit on visual things.
I haven't yet read the books so I suspect a lot of my enjoyment came from the exposure to the story. I do think though that the movie being able to move away from a first person narrative was likely helpful.
(Don't worry, it's clean, just...unexpected.)
This is actually the first book by Newman I've read, so I naturally came to it without any experience of his Warhammer work. Just on its own, I liked how it sketched out a social transformation that none of the parties entirely comprehend or are able to control (i.e. the dissemination of vampirism into the general British public) as well as how deeply uncomfortable the relationship between vampires and humans can get in a civilized context. Common themes, true, but Newman manages to elevate them to squirm-inducing levels at points, which is what you want in a story where the antagonists are symbols of corruption.
I also rather liked most of the characters. I didn't mind Genévieve, and I felt she did keep the vampires as a whole from being completely irredeemable. I kind of wish we'd got more time with dorky journaliste extraordinaire Kate Reed, but hopefully the next book will take care of that. I was also rather taken with Jack Seward, who Newman turned into a horrific serial killer but managed to built into such a self-tortured ball of misery that I was hoping he would die just so he could finally be free of all the pain. (I also thought it was rather clever that Newman managed to slyly suggest that even organizing a vampire-hunting posse is a pretty fucked-up thing to do if you live in a world where vampires supposedly don't exist.) Also, I was disappointed that Mina Harker only made a cameo, but then I suppose everyone else was. Finally, I loved Lord Ruthvern's Byronic bitchery, and I was disappointed that the cop Mackenzie was killed, since I sorely wanted him and Kostaki to team up and become PIs or something.
As for the ending, to reiterate I don't read Warhammer, and most of my own reading tends to shy away from hyperbole and grand guginol, so my reaction to
Now I did have some problems. The plot is ostensibly about finding Jack the Ripper, but it is rather unfocused, there seem to be more unconscious timeskips in the narrative than I'm comfortable with, and the ending seemed too pat for my taste. The references didn't bother me that much, but only because I was already familiar with the ones that were really important. Overall, I thought it was fun, and I'm definitely getting The Bloody Red Baron, though I'm probably going to stop after finishing it.
And that final chapter...holy fuck.
Or Antarctic geography, if he's set the story there.
Has Kim Stanley Robinson's prose improved any since the Mars trilogy? Because those were very zzzz-worthy. As was Antarctica.
The Years of Rice and Salt was the book where KSR got experimental. The basic premise of the book is that the Black Death managed to drive the human race in Europe to extinction, from the Atlantic to the Urals. The book itself is the story of how the world evolved without Europe, from the years 1400 to about 2050, as a series of ten novelettes, each dealing with some significant event and place. The stories are unified by having a troupe of characters who are reincarnated again and again in the Buddhist fashion and who tend to wander through each other's lives. The ones we get to see the most of are "K", the Revolutionary, "B", the Pious Conciliator, and "I", the Scientist. They change gender and race over and over, but they stick with each other and remain true to their respective archetype. KSR also tries to ape the literatures of the particular place and period for whatever novella he's writing, which I can't really comment on since I last read YRS back in high school (and even now my knowledge of non-Western literature is rudimentary), but it did get across the idea of eras changing, from material that happily mixed the material and spiritual world and had authors telling the story as an anecdote to modern material that reads as if it came out of a creative writing seminar.
Which is kind of the big conceptual problem with the book, really.
I mean, it has a wide range, and does try to thoughtfully consider what exactly drives history and how man fits into it, but once you step back and just look at the broad sweep of events, YRS is really just a copy of our world, even in places where it really shouldn't be. Technology advances at about the same pace, the Americas end up becoming the center of a major colonization effort only a century after it did in our world (though it does end with a Iroquois nation maintaining its independence). Industrialization starts at about the same time it did in our world, and modernization mostly proceeds in the same directions. There even expys of people from European history floating around, performing the same roles in different contexts (It's been a long-standing joke of mine that the most impressive part of YRS is that KSR was able to get a major publisher to buy his Civ III fanfic.)
Also, and this is probably more a personal taste, but I was disappointed that KSR decided to have the plague chew up everyone in the Slavic heartlands. I mean, you want to write a book that talks about how the world evolves without Europe, and you decide to kill off Russia, the society that has the most neurotic relationship with Europe of any society on the planet, the society whose history is always framed in Western schools and universities as the eternal struggle over becoming "more" or "less" European? You could write an entire book just on how Russia would evolve without Europe to use/obsess over as a model. (An interesting bit of speculation about this matter popped up in Robert Silverberg's The Gate of Worlds, which has Europe is damaged enough by the plague that it spent the rest of the millenium as an Ottoman backwater. Without a European model, Russia ends up displacing the Mongols as the hegemons of Asia, and the Emperor of China is a minister of the Tsar.)
Is it worth reading? Well, I liked it in high school, but even than I did feel it dragged in places. You can probably read it as a collection of stories in a shared universe and come off none the worse for wear. Some of them are actually pretty fun, particularly "The Age of Great Progress", which features an Indian prince seizing control of Constantinople with a two-pronged attack with ironclads on the Black Sea and a flotilla of bomb-throwing hot-air balloons, and "War of the Asuras", which is set in the middle of a 60-year long world war in the middle of the 20th century between Islam and the rest of the planet along a front line that bisects Central Asia, and features the adventures of two Chinese soldiers who try to figure out if they actually died halfway through the story. (Oh, and according to the little timeline in the beginning of the book, the war starts in year 1333 of the Islamic calendar, which translates into the Christian calendar as circa. 1914, because no man can escape the First World War, dammit.)
Has Kim Stanley Robinson's prose improved any since the Mars trilogy? Because those were very zzzz-worthy. As was Antarctica.
No, it hasn't. It's a brick of a novel written in Robinson's typical prose, including deviations into explaining why a natural feature looks gorgeous by painstakingly describing its molecular make-up. I've really tried to finish that one, because I like the idea, but it's far too much work and far too little fun to be worth it.
(By the way, I thought that Red Mars actually was a really good book, but after that his novels became ever longer and ever more boring. Finishing Blue Mars was a chore and the great ideas there - e.g. how to colonize Mercury - I could have read on Wikipedia and would have been better off for it.)