If you’ve been following it, there’s a pretty intriguing twitch channel which streams a game of Pokemon. The catch? Anything entered in the chat will control the character. This leads to tens of thousands of players of one game, all with their own idea of what to do, and all offering stacking and conflicting commands. I wrote a short story about this game from the perspective of how it would look to people in that world. It was more of a fun exercise than a serious story, but I hope you enjoy it (especially if you’ve had a chance to watch TwitchPlaysPokemon.
Monthly Archives: February 2014
The Human Division, by John Scalzi
Usually by the time that I hit book five of a series, I need a break. I’ll feel a little tired of the author; I’ll have come to expect their turns of phrase, I’ll know some of the ways in which they think, and I often have some inkling of where the story will go before it ever gets there. Tired isn’t quite the right word, but you get the idea. It’s right around then that I start looking at other books longingly and prepare to binge my way through a different series.
But John Scalzi has completely avoided this predicament. I mean, sure, maybe I expected some of what was coming from Zoe’s Tale, but that’s mostly because it covered a lot of territory that I had already read in The Last Colony.
Where am I going with all of this? Here: The Human Division is great, and I want more. In fact, I want to see the next book in my hands as soon as possible. I accept that this might take some time, as I am certainly aware of the frustratingly slow pace at which stories are often written, but nevertheless. This series is exceptional, and reading it feels a bit like I imagine being sucked out of an airlock must feel. Except that the frigid void of space is actually a deeply engrossing series of story lines, and you don’t end up boiling your liquids out through your pores while freezing at the same time. Ok, look, the analogy was a bit forced, but these books will grab you and pull you along mercilessly with all the force of an explosive decompression, only freeing you once you’ve come out the other side.
Treat yourself to a good time and read this series, you won’t be disappointed. Would you like to know more?
Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi
We now return to our scheduled review of Scalzi’s book Zoe’s Tale, the “odd one out” in the series started by Old Man’s War.
Zoe’s Tale is the parallel novel that accompanies The Last Colony. I’m impressed that Scalzi even attempted to write a second book covering much of the same temporal territory, and I’m even more impressed that he was able to write something that stood on its own despite the fact that I already knew (almost) exactly what was going to happen.
I understand that some people (like my friend Ben) don’t like Zoe’s Tale as much as they like the other books in the Old Man’s War universe. And I can see why: if you were looking for a totally new story, Zoe’s Tale isn’t the place to go. On the other hand, if you are just looking for a good read and are ok with covering some ground that you’ve already been over before, Zoe’s Tale is perfectly solid and enjoyable. My opinion of the book may be influenced by the fact that I didn’t have to wait for it to come out and didn’t have to wait for the next book in the series; there are a number of failings which instant gratification will fix.
But I don’t think it’s fair to call the repetition in Zoe’s Tale a failing. Maybe I just feel this way because I’m impressed by Scalzi’s ability to weave a second story in behind all the elements that I already knew, but I really do think that Zoe’s Tale is quite excellent. Scalzi manages to take a story that I’ve already heard before (right down to many of the essential details, and occasionally even the conversations) and offers it back up in an exciting fashion, following a character that I’ve only ever seen moving around on the sidelines before. It’s great. Also, damn, what a climax.
Enough of generalities! Let’s get down to some specifics, shall we?
A Little Bit of Flash-Fic, in My Life
Simon had spent months running, planning, fighting to be free. His people had been feared, hunted, and enslaved for centuries. The deaths of so many were branded into his mind, for without his success, history would repeat their punishment for eternity. It was better for them to all die fighting for this cause than to return to the indignity that they had suffered under.
He remembered the small boy, but a child, hunted down and murdered for stealing bread for his family. He remembered the old man, driven out of his ancestral home and chased to exhaustion before being brutally stabbed to death. He remembered his mother as he had found her, lying in the crimson-stained dirt with a dozen jagged rents in her skin, slaughtered in her home in the dead of night. And he remembered the infant — his baby brother — who had lain beside her, his head bashed in. He had put his hand on his brother, to lift his body and cradle it, and had felt a heartbeat beneath his hand. And yet when he had turned the body over, glazed eyes stared up at him from within a mangled and crushed skull.
And so, while his brothers slept around him, Simon remembered the dead who had led him to this point, the living he fought with, and the yet unborn he fought for.
He had finally found a way around the weakness of his people, a way to fight back without living in fear. A wizard had promised him protection on this day, that he might overrun his enemies where they stand. It would be a small victory, to be sure, but it would be a victory nonetheless. As a sole victory, it would be a great one, to be sure. A fort to defend. A land to call their own. He whispered these words to himself, dreams he could not even fully comprehend. But beyond that, there was more.
His men would be inspired to greater deeds of glory. Those in oppression would hear news of the day he had dared to fight back, and they too would rise up. His people might someday be free, to live their lives without fear.
The sky began to lighten as night faded. But he trusted the wizard. First, the stars began to fade away as the sky changed from black to charcoal to an ominous grey. But he trusted the wizard. The sky slowly became saturated with tinges of blue. But he trusted the wizard. The blue warmed to a grey-purple. But still he trusted the wizard.
When dawn broke, he knew it was all over. He was caught by surprise, briefly, as he saw the beginnings of light from below the horizon. He had trusted the wizard. He had been wrong. The children of the Erutar could never be trusted. He spread his arms and faced the skies, howling in rage to the heavens, as the edge of the sun crested over the horizon. His grey-purple skin faded to grey, crusting over with dirt and then hardening to stone, leaving behind only a statue, a mere image, a symbol of the rage of a dying people.
Enthasar, the first wizard of the stars, the first of the Afterborn to aspire to be as the Ulmari and succeed, lay weakly on the ground, his back resting against the smooth, hewn rock of his greatest creation. Warmth seeped from his side, draining into the point of searing cold in his gut.
He closed his eyes slowly, then forced them open again. The shaft of the arrow still protruded from his gut, just below his ribs. He looked up weakly at the barely unfinished ritual and slowly lifted his hands, chanting in tongues long-since lost to the races of this world. And then the second arrow thudded into his chest, knocking the air from the lungs. He collapsed to the ground.
Rough hands grasped at his hair and jerked his head upwards. The shadow of pain lanced through his body, but his mind was too far away to notice. His head was pulled back and something dragged across his throat. He fell back and saw his blood spreading down his chest as his vision of this world faded away.
Robocop: Villains Are People Too
We interrupt our regular Scalzi-related review to bring you this important news bulletin: we have seen Robocop, and we have found it Good.
I went in having only seen a few trailers and otherwise knowing nothing about the movie. I’d expected to see a poor reboot of the original; I’d thought it would be a bad action movie that would try and fail to recapture the fun that I’d had before. What I got instead was a deeply critical commentary on the perils of the militarized police state and the inadequacy of force when it comes to establishing peace, with additional treatises on the dehumanizing influence of unrestrained and unethical corporate practices. Also, Samuel L. Jackson as an O’Reilly-esque opinion-show host.
I am very satisfied with this.
The short version without spoilers? It’s great, go watch the movie. If you want more, keep reading.
The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
I really should have written this review last week. I’ve been on a Scalzi kick, and finished The Last Colony last Wednesday. Then I started and finished Zoe’s Tale on Saturday, and started The Human Division Saturday evening. I’m afraid that things have gotten more than a little jumbled in my mind at this point. That said, I’ve still got enough details in order that I can tell you for certain that The Last Colony follows in the footsteps of its predecessors and offers up a fabulous read.
Also, I know that it shouldn’t matter to the book itself, but John Harris’ cover art for the book is just gorgeous.
Game Analysis: The Stanley Parable
Before I get into any discussion I must first say that the game is wonderful and you should play it. If you have already played it, don’t plan on playing it, or just don’t care about spoilers, then you should feel free to read on. Otherwise you should go and play The Stanley Parable and then come back. Go ahead and read Jim Sterling’s review as a way to motivate yourself.
If you’re still unmotivated to go and play before I go into my analysis, then consider this: How much choice do you really have when you play a game? Do your actions truly affect whatever narrative you are participating in? Does deviating from the defined path truly do anything? The Stanley Parable experiments with these questions in a fantastically intimate way.
The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi
I shouldn’t be surprised that I went through The Ghost Brigades in one day. After my experience of reading Old Man’s War I should have expected this compulsion, the need to rush headlong through the story as quickly as I could, even to the point of ignoring my friends and the rest of the world. All of the nice things that I said about John Scalzi’s writing last time still apply. This book is easy to read and hard to put down, and when I finished it I was left wanting more. Fortunately, my friend whom I’d been ignoring sympathized with my plight and had a copy of the next book in the series ready to loan to me. So, of course, I stayed up late reading more of that.
Right, series: in my review of Old Man’s War, I think I somehow failed to mention that it was the start of a series of books. The Ghost Brigades is the first of several sequels, but while it builds on the setting established in Old Man’s War and even features some of the same characters, its story builds off in an entirely new direction. It reads like a standalone story, but if you really want the full experience I strongly suggest that you read Old Man’s War first. There are interlocking complexities that become readily apparent as you continue the series, and you’ll benefit from reading the books in order.
My verdict, once again, is that you should get your hands on this book with all possible haste. Right after you get your hands on Old Man’s War, of course. For more of my thoughts on the story, read on below…
Everything is Awesome: The LEGO Movie
The entirely appropriate theme song.
The LEGO Movie is exceptional.
Watching it feels like watching a virtuoso performance; the people who made the movie clearly know their craft, and you can see them having fun playing around inside the boundaries set out for them, playing with the audience’s expectations even as they satisfy them. And they do it so skillfully that they are able to take a story that we’ve heard millions of times before and turn it into something wonderfully fresh and enjoyable.
You certainly have heard the story before, because The LEGO Movie is built around the monomyth. It also, by virtue of its medium and a few helpful hints, manages to tell a story outside of the story with which the film opens. I’ll talk more about that later, but that topic is full of spoilers.
I strongly recommend that you go and watch The LEGO Movie. As my friend Ben put it, “this could be the Toy Story of this generation.” If you want more of my thoughts on the movie’s virtuosity, read on…
Game Analysis: Broken Age: Act 1
Many apologies for my hiatus. But I’m still around and thinking about games! In a rare occurrence I also recently finished one! The game is Broken Age by the amazing Double Fine. I think Double Fine’s strength is their writing, so an adventure game like Monkey Island or their own work Grim Fandango seems like a perfect fit.