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.
- Sierra Leone a war zone.
- US willingly sends troops into Somalia.
Based on the above I'd say that, according to Call of Duty, "modern warfare" was something which took place in the 1990s.
* "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" is nowhere near as catchy as my preferred titles, "Studies in Slav Hatred 3: And By The Way, Fuck You, Ukraine!" and "Call of Cutie: Modern Warmare 3" (Yes, I like the ponies.)
* The whole series seems to run on melodrama. One of the key objectives of the game, I shit you not, is to rescue the [Russian] president's daughter. Curiously, there's no clichéd romance with her; as a matter of fact I think the only other woman in the game is the voice of an A-130 pilot. Even stranger, after realizing this, I started wondering how much Pierce/Soap (two long-standing Brit characters from the series you play as/with) slashfic is floating around online.
* I still can't believe games are pushing this "Russian ultranationalist" angle for their villains. That shit was played out back in 1998, and to be honest I think it overstates the impact of nationalist thought in post-Soviet space. To me, the nationalisms of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact seem less like expressions of confidence and more like desperate attempts at reconsolidation. With glasnost basically killing the socetial basis on which Marxism-Leninism was based (to put it crudely) in the late 1980s, the nationalisms we saw emerge were semiconsciously cynical attempts to salvage some new type of national unity out of the suddenly unviable Soviet state. There's no imperial project here; just a whole lotta little cruelties.
* CoD still knows how to keep it classy. You get to shoot the crap out of Westminster Station on the Tube, and there's a lovely cutscene where you get to see a guy on vacation in London tape his family as they're blown up by an exploding truck full of nerve gas. You also get to run around Sierra Leone and Somalia and shoot a whole lotta black people. (Oh, and apparently there's a genocide going on in Sierra Leone while you're there, because I guess there's nothing else to do in Sierra Leone after 4 PM.)
* If this video is something to judge society as a whole by (and why not? That's Slavoj Zisek's whoe schtick, isn't it?), there seems to be a subconscious desire among a lot of people to fight WWII again. This seems kind of weird to me, considering a) that was 66 years ago, and b) we are not the people our grandfathers were, and our societies are not their societies. If something like a war of that scale actually happened, I imagine it would go vaguely like that WWII H.G. Wells imagined in The Shape of Things to Come: no one fighting it has any enthusiasm for it, our precision-instrument modern militaries find themselves taking sacrifices they're not built for, our fancy technology starts to disappear once we lose the ability to maintain and reproduce it, and the whole thing just sputters out as the planetary economy fails and civilization crumbles back into another dark age.
* I'm finding CoD's habit of switching your viewpoint character around every level or two rather fascinating. Unlike most games, which allow you to slowly inhabit your character and either engender some small amount of empathy or allow you to buy into the world being presented around you, CoD seems to prefer to keep you as alienated as possible, even going so far as to have every NPC yell at you to do something every three seconds. By contrast, the game seems to take great pleasure in allowing you to mete out a fairly cruel death for the main baddie.
And finally, I think the funniest part of the game is right at the end, when you and a guy who was you earlier in the game decide to take out the big bad in his hiding spot by storming an Arabian casino in what appears to be modern-day Big Daddy armor.
There's no incentive for writers producing such things to write well; the editors don't appreciate it, the fans don't appreciate it, and the goal is to milk money from a franchise, not experiment with narrative styles, delve into thoughtful themes, or play with language. They can excrete utter dreck and will be paid handsomely for it, so why put in any effort? And the really good writers realize that if they go into this they will be greatly limited by having to keep continuity with other writers' dreck, the source material (generally also dreck), and possibly commercial concerns like "keep this at a middle-grade reading level please."
Yeah, that's something I've noticed in Trek novelizations too. I remember coming across a review of one of Diane Duane's TNG books that complained that her writing was "too poetical". Just reading that made me very sad. Then there's the DS9 novel Warped, which K. W. Jeter wrote as a sort of Dickian story involving technology that generates addictive illusions set in the Trek universe which Trek fans seem to universally hate. (To be honest, when I first read it, I had never heard of PKD, so I just reacted to the rather disturbing violence and declared Warped "Stephen King's Star Trek novel".) Ironically, now that I think about it, DS9 is the only Trek setting where you could try something like Jeter did and actually have a hope of making it work.
I think the last tie-in I read was for the Resistance series of FPSes. I admit, I have a soft spot for this series; I like the concept and art design of the series, and it appears the developers actually read a history book before they started making it. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that Resistance: Fall of Man is the best adaptation of War of the Worlds of the past decade (Not much competition there, I know). The tie-in, on the other hand...
I suppose it was my fault, really. I came into it expecting a gripping portrayal of an alternate America in the grip of apocalyptic anxiety as it sacrificed everything to fight an enemy it could not hope to defeat, and all I got was machismo and plot contrivances. Oh, and the image of one of these things (which in the games basically come across as angry carpenter ants with guns) driving a truck. Sigh.
Apparently I didn't read the e-mail carefully enough, though. He's not writing a pep talk, he's going to be on NaNoVideo where, according to the notification I got:
Author Jonathan Lethem will also be sharing his approach to keeping it interesting in novel town.
Rock, Paper Shotgun had a review of Skyrim there which seems promising. I hope it's something to write something positive about when I do get around to playing it(Estimation: 2013).
According to the official NaNoWriMo official website, in a little while I'm going to receive an e-mail pep talk from Jonathan Lethem. I can't decide whether to be bemused our discouraged.
And now the old business:
valse: I've read Zahn. The one where Admiral Whatshisface deduces all military tactics and everything about a culture ever from viewing art pieces. That's never stopped being funny to me and unfortunately it's the only thing that stuck with me years after having read it.
Yeah, that is pretty silly. Zahn does a lot of other things which I really like, but I can see why he wouldn't appeal to everybody, and it sounds like he doesn't appeal to you. Fair enough.
Ibmiller: But the general idea of a military scifi author who likes twisty plots and writes workmanlike and not spectacular prose is the point, I think.
I wouldn't call Zahn a "military scifi" author - more a "hard scifi" author, though of course he does deal in some decidedly non-"hard" scifi concepts. His plotting as an author is consistently well ahead of my speculating as a reader - a rare trait which I prize highly when I discover it. I also find his characterization deeply enthralling. He's extremely white-centric, heterocentric, and often pretty male-centric, too, and he's not much into experimenting with styles or making profound statements or the like - his stuff isn't Great Writing, but it's what I would consider good writing. Which is to say that it may be essentially fluff, but by the gods, it's well-written fluff.
(I've never read Clancy, but I've read a couple of Crichton's works, and I agree he's not a very good comparison. Nowhere near Zahn's league.)
Janne: As it is, I've been considering the Star Wars EU for a while, because Grand Admiral Thrawn seems to crop up everywhere as some special class of awesome villain. I believe it's written by this Zahn person
Yeah, Zahn wrote the Thrawn trilogy and the Hand of Thrawn duology. The great thing about the former is that it doesn't rely on any source material other than the original trilogy. (Thrawn is definitely a special class of awesome villain as far as the Star Wars franchise goes, even with the silliness. He's a pretty good villain anyway, but "a special class of awesome" may be over-hyping him - it's been too long since I've read the books for me to tell for sure.)
I'd be a little more hesitant to recommend Hand of Thrawn and Aaron Allston's stuff, because they rely more heavily on a lot of other Expanded Universe material, and I'm not sure how accessible they'll be to people who aren't familiar with that material.
Ibmiller: Stover is, depending on taste, possibly the most "literary" of the Star Wars authors...though in my reading he's more pretentious and "dark, man, dark," not to mention a bit hypermasculine and sadistic
Stover does like to experiment with narrative style, which (in my view) sometimes works very well. Bizarrely enough, I'd say his most successful use of narrative experimentation is in the Revenge of the Sith novelization. He also tries to engage with some pretty interesting/complex ideas, but I dunno how well he succeeds there. (He also doesn't have much to brag about when it comes to his depiction of women, people of color, queer people, etc.)
You can probably appreciate, though, that the metrics of fun vary widely and--there's the false dichotomy again--that fun isn't something diametrically opposed to depth and substance.
Absolutely, and I'm sorry if I came across as perpetuating the false dichotomy. What I meant was that a lot of the books which I recognize to be deep and substantial, or are generally perceived to be deep and substantial (including The Tombs of Atuan, I'm sorry to say) struck me as quite dull; the ones which I did enjoy I would still rank considerably lower on my own personal fun/engaging scale than a good number of tie-in works and other "superficial" stuff.
So as I said earlier, I guess I either haven't read enough genuinely deep and substantial literature, or I'm just severely lacking in taste.
Dragonlance had an achingly unoriginal (and largely uninteresting) setting, as most role-playing properties do: sure, it's fun to to role-play in a mashup environment gleefully ripped from a bunch of earlier sources, but actually reading about it as it's own thing was never all that appealing, since now you're stuck in an achingingly unoriginal world and you don't get to fuck it up by derailing the GM's campaign or doing something "OMG Awesome!" and feeling all proud of yourself.
Very much so. Tie-ins tend to be for properties that are already, themselves, derivative. Or mediocre. Or shit. Or all three. Star Wars I've always never thought much of, Dragon Age is beneath contempt, just about every D&D setting is copypasta of Moorcock and Tolkien, Warcraft and Starcraft are derived from derivatives. It's not much surprise that any fiction based on them is going to be firmly at fanfic-level, barely publishable. The likes of Karpyshyn and Gaider would likely never have seen print if they weren't writing ME/SW:TOR/DA fiction.
@Ibmiller: took a look at Doc Sidhe. It seems entertaining enough. :)
Then again, I've never read the Warhammer material that Arthur keeps reviewing (I couldn't afford those figures back in the day, so I never did do the Warhams thing, and thus have remained essentially uninterested in it) or various other books recommended/mentioned here, so my prejudices could very well be ill-founded. But I'm just not a really big fan of Michael "I can write a novel in 20 days!" Stackpole (Dude, Michael Moorcock could write faster than that when he was really in the mood to produce some crap, but I don't think it's something to aspire to) or Matt Stover's original work, so I'd be disinclined to seek out their Star Wars stuff. What little I've read of R.A. Salvadore hasn't been all that encouraging, either.
However, I would certainly read a Gene Wolfe Warhammer tie-in (as suggested by Arthur), if ever such a thing were to occur. And Thief is one of those few cases where I'm actually intrigued what writers would do with the setting.
Yeah, have to agree on the whole themes vs. fun false dichotomy: there's no reason a book can't have well-rounded characters and explore interesting ideas/important issues and not also be fun and exciting. I mean, The Tombs of Atuan, people!
There was a thing on N. K. Jemisin and David Anthony Durham in Salon today. Perhaps I'll read Jemisin instead seeing as she's nominated for an award and I can get contemporariness points reading that.
Here's the Allston story: http://www.baen.com/library/0671876627/0671876627.htm Hopefully the fact that it's published by Baen won't put you off.
"interesting/complex ideas" sounds good - though to me, it's the characters who sell it or not.
Silk's the one I have been reading in fits, actually. It's ridiculously gothtastic but much more promising than The Red Tree, which I read halfway through but didn't much like. Her work with The Dreaming was remarkable too (and even in a comic, her language does stand out, though again she seems to have this thing for goths and fringe subcultures). Probably worth noting that within the first few pages Silk gives you a lesbian couple and two boys making out. Inclusivity and quality of prose may be separate issues, but tie-ins do desperately lack both.
I've been talking to a friend and I'd like to revise "thoughtful themes" and exchange it for "interesting and/or complex ideas." That gets across what I look for in fiction I read for fun better.
In the meantime, have you read any tie-in work by Timothy Zahn (Star Wars, Terminator, etc) or any of his original work? Or Aaron Allston (also Star Wars and Terminator, though his original work is a bit harder to find, and I've not read it - his "Doc Sidhe" is free online, but I haven't gotten sucked in yet). I would say that Zahn provides a fun, Clancy/Crichton-esque ride, while Allston writes humorous military scifi along the lines of a more self-aware Heinlein juvie. I don't claim them as "great" literature, but I do think there's some quite good character work done in both of them, and both of them think carefully about the worldbuilding, character, and moral implications of what they write. And I think both of them avoid the worst extremes of beige and purple prose. (Also note that Allston's last six Star Wars books were, I believe, ruined for any chance of being solidly entertaining by editorial decisions, so I would go back to his X-Wing books instead).
I've read a lot of tie-in fiction, and a lot of original fiction, and when evaluating books, I start with whether I find them fun/engrossing and worry about depth (or lack thereof) second.
Awesome. So do I! You can probably appreciate, though, that the metrics of fun vary widely and--there's the false dichotomy again--that fun isn't something diametrically opposed to depth and substance.
As for themes, Harry Potter has themes. They just happen to be terrible, terribly executed, and some of them kind of repulsive. Ditto for Twilight. "Has themes" isn't some nebulous quality that confers great literary pedigree upon a work. I think I said something like "thoughtful themes" down a few posts back but the qualifier seems to have been lost.
It's also true that some works of original fiction have blown me away in a manner tie-in novels have not - but I've always figured that was because those were examples of exceptionally good writing as opposed to just good writing.
That's the thing though. Fervent, defensive SF/F fans can go "but look at Ursula le Guin, even Harold Bloom likes her!" when slighted by non-genre readers. I don't think tie-ins offer much you can point to as evidence of intelligence, literary merit or even anything that can be more than "amusing fluff."
Caitlin Kiernan writes what I consider good prose, even if I don't find anything else in her stuff that I've read so far very engaging. Angela Carter is pretty swell all around, but it's perhaps not fair to compare her to published Mass Effect fanfiction. I'm not sure what you are after, really.
I would also like to moot the issue of "what is derivative fiction," if anyone's interested. I mean, tie-in work is pretty clearly a commercially driven property, but there are a lot of professionally published Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austen, King Arthur, and the occasionally more difficult to find Narnia, Shakespeare, and Virgil fanfic. Okay, yes, I consider the Inferno fanfiction (to some extent...but then, I think the Aeneid is kind of Homeric fanfiction, so I'm clearly beyond all reason).
Goodness...when was there tent sleeping? Why do our lovers need something as sheltering of a tent. SLEEP AND CUDDLE IN THE OPEN! Let those wild animals run right over you! You're level 20, darnit!
I have to admit, though, my "Star Wars does have good books" argument is kinda flimsy if I restate it as "Star Wars has good books from the past ten years." The last book I would consider rereading/fun to read is from the New Jedi Order, circa 1998/2002. Wow, it's really been that long.
I see a lot of "Stop liking what I don't like" in here. The whole "hurr durr Gaming is art" is ridiculous, I'll admit, but come on.
Real people, not the kind of mouth-breathers on the Bioware forums, where even the Bioware *employees* put their weight on characters having sex, will tell you that videogames is something that they play because is fun. End of the story.