I just want to say that Iron Man 3 is a beautiful movie. Read more »
The Royal Trap is by Hanako Games, the same company that made Long Live the Queen. However, unlike Long Live the Queen, it is not at all stressful! It’s strictly a visual novel, for one thing. No mini-games and little risk of dying.
In The Royal Trap, you’re Prince Oscar’s companion, accompanying him on a trip to the ‘debut’ of one Princess Cassidy; Oscar is one of three princes hoping to marry Cassidy. (Inheritance runs through the female line, so men have to show off and put themselves on display: I really like the world-building in this game, the gender roles that don’t match ours.)
For his sake, and for her to be successful at her job, Madeleine needs Oscar to come off well. But over the course of the game, Madeleine becomes increasingly aware that once Oscar is married, she’s out of a job. That no matter how much affection Madeleine feels for Oscar, their relationship has an end date. And Madeleine needs to make a place for herself afterward.
To up the awkwardness further, Oscar has just given her a letter proclaiming his love for her (in a fairly undramatic, ‘it cannot be’ way.)
So that’s the set-up. The drama starts when Oscar gets hit over the head … and Cassidy gets kidnapped!
The mystery of who’s responsible is revealed halfway through; but when you return to the royal family, you end up with the blame. So the second mystery is why are you taking the fall, and what are they covering up.
I’ve got two of the endings thus far. The first was with Callum, Cassidy’s ignored brother. Callum is kind of callous and violent, but he cares about Cassidy. And I liked his relationship with Madeleine because he seemed to bring out her ruthlessness and pragmatism. And also it meant you got a happy lovey-dovey ending, where Madeleine has a place of her own and a hot husband. (Although I got the ‘normal’ ending, not the ‘good’ one, I think because I broke Oscar’s heart, ha ha ha.) And it feels like you’re more involved with Cassidy and their story.
The other ending I’ve got so far is with Nazagi, one of the other princes come to court Madeleine. I think the Callum ending felt more natural, but I really liked the Nazagi ending anyway. He marries Cassidy, but because Cassidy can’t have children, he ends up proposing that you be his mistress! And having their heirs! You don’t get to know Cassidy so well in this version of the game, but you do end up being her advisor, and this whole ending is basically rife with fic possibility!
At some point I’ll be playing this game again to experience the other endings – especially because they take you on such alternate routes through the second half of the game. I’m sure one of them will explain what’s going on with the assassination attempts!
The article Better Bite-sized appeared on Stuff today, inspired by the author David Haglund’s recent viewing of the TV mini-series The Top of the Lake. Noting that the series was imported, he asks ‘Why aren’t there more great American mini-series?’ (This confused me momentarily, until I remembered reading a New Zealand news site is no assurance of reading local content.)
I can understand his frustration with series that go on to long, or end up padded so that they can reach the requisite 22 episodes. I am all for series being allowed to reach their natural conclusions. I don’t agree that ‘the mini-series is probably the ideal form for creating great television art.’
It’s the ‘ideal form’ part that I take issue with. Just because longer series often outstay their welcome doesn’t mean that they have less potential for greatness. Haglund compares TV series to novels:
[Cable shows like The Sopranos] are often called novelistic, but even the serial novels of the Victorian era generally traced one central story from beginning to end in a way that The Sopranos and Mad Men don’t quite do.
He forgets that not all novels stand alone – he’d get a better equivalency with series than with serialised novels. Consider JD Robb’s In Death series, which is basically a procedural in novel form. Each book is its own arc and, with only a few exceptions, you could happily read them all as stand-alones. If you’re going to read them all though, it’s more satisfying to do it in order, just like it’s more satisfying to watch a TV show like Castle in order. The relationships and characters develop over the course of the series (Robb lets her characters get together more quickly though), but the basic structure is episodic.
This is not an uncommon structure for a novel series, especially in genres like crime and urban fantasy. But then, maybe Haglund would argue that genre series are never ‘great art’ …
Novels wouldn’t be my go-to comparison for TV narrative structures though. I’d go for another medium which is primarily delivered serially, and which is happy to embrace that. I’d go for comics.
You can have a fantastic, single-volume-narrative comic book. You can bundle that up as a ‘graphic novel’ and then the literati may even accept that a comic can be ‘great art’, because the structure is more like something they recognise, a novel or a mini-series.
You can just as easily have a fantastic comic book that runs past twenty volumes. Those twenty volumes may tell a complete, self-contained story. Or they may not!
Haglund seems to think this is a problem.
Characters interesting enough to serve as engaging companions week after week for years are wonderful creations, but their stories lack the meaningful shape found in the best novels and movies and plays. We may get glorious moments, and terrific episodes, and occasionally excellent multi-episode arcs. But the need to leave the door open, to keep the story going a little bit longer, and then a little bit longer, is an artistic impediment.
Sure, it’s frustrating when something that has a natural ending gets stretched out and padded and maybe never gets to end at all. But that’s when people are forcing their story into a different shape. It’s not because the shape of a long-form serial is less ‘meaningful’. It’s different, sure; it’s not less valuable.
Incidentally, this relates to why I don’t like ‘graphic novel’ as a synonym for ‘comic’ (asides from the cultural cringe). I don’t like the implication that a comic should be structured like a novel. It can be, but it’s not the only option, just like the novel isn’t the only option for telling a story in prose.
Call Blankets a graphic novel, fine. But something like Sandman doesn’t resemble a graphic novel just because it has an overall arc and an ending. It’s not trying to; it uses all the opportunities for side-stories, for multiple self-contained arcs that initially seem unconnected, that being a serial gives you (and that something like Blankets doesn’t.
(Which isn’t to say novels can’t use those things too. They just generally don’t. Or if you want to read the side-stories, you have to hunt down a bunch of random anthologies – you don’t get them as part of the core experience.)
And am I forbidden from calling Hellblazer a great comic, just because it doesn’t have an overriding arc? (I say, assuming Milligan didn’t pull one out his hat at the last minute.) Even though I’ve been attached to it for the last ten years? Even though it has great ‘mini-series’ arcs, and great single issue-length arcs, and great runs where several self-contained arcs build upon each other to a conclusion that is thrilling and inevitable? And then keeps on going?
Am I allowed to even though parts of it aren’t great, because hey, it’s a series, Azzarello’s arc doesn’t negate the brilliance of Delano’s? Am I allowed to even though it doesn’t stick with a single genre, and some parts are horror while others are only dark fantasy?
Is the serial aspect an ‘artistic impediment’? Or is it an opportunity for hundreds of issues of storytelling, by a variety of storytellers, that never would have happened if John Constantine had never been let out the pages of Swamp Thing?
Up till very recently, the Hellblazer door had been left open. That’s not an impediment, that’s opportunity.
John Ney Rieber ended his run on The Books of Magic after 50 issues. Because he’d reached the end of the stories he could tell there. And that’s valid. And maybe more TV series would be better if their show-runners could say, right, that’s it, we’ve reached the end of this story and that’s it.
But they don’t have to. Maybe one story isn’t all the stories they want to tell. Or maybe they can pass the batton on to someone else, like Rieber did – someone who does still have stories to tell.
A sequel isn’t always a cash-grab. Nor is an open-ended serial. And great art doesn’t have to be short and self-contained.
I started playing the Citadel DLC shortly after I moved into my new flat. Shepard’s apartment is cooler than mine. It was quite nice though; I opened up Anderson’s recordings and I unpacked my own things while they way were playing.
(I guess it says something about my priorities that my computer was set up and my internet and I still hadn’t unpacked everything.)
Anyway, Citadel is fun and silly. Your companions all have their own dance animations! (Traynor is the best dancer. Kaidan is even worse than Shepard.) Zaeed struggles with a claw machine! There’s fights and things! Miranda makes a dig about your fish-murdering habits! Shut up, Miranda, Shepard has a lot on her mind!
It’s fun and silly and then the party is over and everyone heads back to the Normandy. And Kaidan tells Shepard that she’ll find a way to win, and he’ll be waiting when she does … and there’s sad music playing …
Let’s just say it was very emotional.
I think I’m going to have to go back and actually play Omega now. Because it would be very sad if the only female Turian I ever saw was when I was trying to get Garrus laid!
Finally, I have bet Long Live the Queen! You play the game as Princess Elodie, whose mother has just died. This means Elodie has had to leave school to come home and learn to reign before her coronation next year. She has to learn quickly, because this game has almost as many deaths as Limbo.
I think I’ll wait a while before trying another run-through, because staying alive is exhausting. It’s a fun game though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other routes I can take. And making sure that printing press gets built! It’s quite frustrating when people come to you wanting money for awesome things and Elodie doesn’t know enough to realise those things are awesome. Dammit, Elodie. Or dammit, Elodie’s father for not giving her any actual advisors. Or poison-testers for that matter.
My Elodie ended up being quite warlike – I wasn’t nice enough to my nobles, I guess, to stop them rebelling. But putting down insurrections is quite satisfying. And I suppose I did prevent war with another nation. By forcing one of my nobles into marriage (no wonder the nobles hated me). I was forming alliances! And that’s what you get for sneaking troops into their country! Unwanted marriage!
And then said noble’s brother played the same trick on me. And not to prevent war: to get revenge for me marrying off his sister! And while I can see the political benefits … Elodie is going to be queen, after all … that really strikes me as the worst revenge ever.
It was kind of delightful – this is from the epilogue: ‘Attendees said that the ceremony was lovely, but the bride and the groom kept glaring at each other while taking their vows.’
Worst revenge ever :D
That’s basically all I’ve been doing these last two weeks – well, not just playing Long Live the Queen! but playing other games from Hanako as well. Life-sims are good stress relief. (Also, I tried being a ‘proper’ gamer and playing a first-person stealth game but it made me feel ill. Life-sims and visual novels never made anyone throw up, I bet.) I’ll probably post about the others later. First I have to frame a response to Magical Diary that isn’t just ‘fuck you, Damien’ …
I hadn’t thought Karen Healey’s latest was out till later this month, but I found it in Whitcoulls yesterday and pounced. I couldn’t read it last night on account of book club but I read it this evening. And I aren’t I glad now I flaked on going to the movies? Because it is extremely good.
As I finished it, my flatmate asked me if it was sad. ‘It’s a book about a girl who’s died and is brought back to life after a hundred years,’ I said. ‘What do you think?’ That scenario gives you the grief of someone who’s lost their whole world, their whole family, and thus also encompasses the grief of a parent who’s lost their child. You really cannot get a lot sadder.
Although possibly it was a little disingeneous of me to give that answer, because I was at the end, and at that point my tears were more just an expression of a lot of emotion than of any particular sadness. It’s not an especially sad book … except for the premise.
More than sadness, I am struck by the sincere sense of outrage, and of a desire for change. It is a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, you know? And that is not a bad thing.
Anyway, this isn’t a proper review, this is just me saying I really liked this book. (Also, that even though it is going to have a sequel, it is completely satisfying on its own, thank god.) Although I might have some thoughts later about how it does/does not fit into the dystopia model of YA fiction. (I don’t think it’s a dystopia – the world Tegan wakes up isn’t really any better or worse than our own. But the shape of the story is not dissimilar.)
Notes from last night’s movie night, which turned out to be ‘surprisingly competent movie’ themed, but only because we switched Mortal Kombat off after ten minutes. Spoilers ahead.
Also known as High Plains Invaders. Not to be confused with Cowboys and Aliens.
This might be a Western in its setting, but it’s more like a horror movie in its structure. Also it doesn’t have enough epic landscapes and, despite nearly all of the characters dying, it isn’t depressing enough to be a Western.
It delivers more on the aliens. Sometimes they even afford the CGI to have multiple aliens in shot at once! The aliens have come to earth to steal our uranium. Not to use it as a fuel source – they’re just addicted to it.
The best line in this movie comes after the scientist has declared uranium more valuable than diamonds, thus ensuring the shifty characters try to run off with it. He then says in exasperation that there isn’t yet an established market for uranium.
Alien Western is more competent a film than I expected, but it’s still a made-for-TV movie and it doesn’t have anything special to recommend it. I guess unless you really like James Marsters. I have never seen Buffy, so I’m Marsters-ambivalent.
This, apparently, was the movie that killed pirate movies (at least till Captain Jack Sparrow came along). It cost a lot to make, and made hardly any of it back.
The beautiful thing about the movie is that you can see exactly where all the money went. It went into crafting a lot of very detailed sets (including full-scale, working ships) … and then blowing them up.
Okay, they only blow up one of the ships. And it’s a thing of beauty – all the splintered wood raining down, the black billowing smoke. It’s always really satisfying to watch an action movie with real explosions. CGI just isn’t the same.
Other satisfying things include watching Geena Davis kick people in the head. She seems like she’s really enjoying it, too. She gets to rescue her love interest, Shaw, a lot (after she buys him), and the movie doesn’t seem too concerned about whether or not that ‘emasculates’ him. I guess because he’s positioned more as a charming thief than any kind of action hero. I also like that Morgan got to be sexy in a way that didn’t require her being prettied up.
L made an interesting comment which was that he felt like for the first two-thirds of the film, the POV would keep slipping whenever Shaw, the love interest, was on-screen. And he’d end up being the identification character in those scenes. But, in the last third, Morgan (Geena Davis’s character) was consistently the one we were meant to identify with. And he wondered if that was intentional or not.
I didn’t especially notice, but I’m probably inclined to latch strongly to my action heroines’ perspectives. You have to be pretty egregious to break that.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
This movie is about how boys have to learn courage and girls have to learn to appreciate boys.
It’s also about how if you beat something up and then treat it kindly, it will follow you forever.
Okay, the ‘it’, in this case, is an ant. And it doesn’t matter that they start by beating it up, because the experience teaches the snotty kid to have empathy for other creatures, and he’s totally sad when the ant sacrifices itself to save them.
I feel like I am being mean but if I’m forced to watch family movies what do you expect? At least it features real teenagers. I think they still existed in the eighties.
So, the latest episode of Revenge was good! I mean, I am still enjoying this season even if it’s not as good as the first, but we got:
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After being coopted into a Star Wars marathon for new year’s, I’ve started playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This is an older Bioware game (2003), which I had yet to get round to.
It’s interesting to see how things have evolved since KOTOR was released. For one thing, its D&D origins are much more transparent. I can play Dragon Age and not think about the numbers behind the scenes. I play KOTOR and I can see that, oh, this weapon is a 1d6, and it crits on 2×20. Or this is a cross-class skill, so it costs more than the others.
It’s only in the last year that I’ve played D&D. I wonder how much sense things like the crit number would have made to me before then?
The other thing that makes me aware of the game’s age is how frustratingly far apart the auto-saves are. I expect my games to save after a boss battle or similar sort of achievement! Especially if it’s going to lead almost immediately to something else I might die in. Because chances are I will.
But some things haven’t changed: the first companion you get is still voiced by Raphael Sbarge. He voiced Kaiden, who was my Shepard’s love interest in Mass Effect. And Carth in KOTOR sounds pretty much the same. Which means I keep calling him ‘Kaiden’ when I talk to my computer screen. And I put up with a lot more of his, ‘look, you can’t trust anyone’ angst than I otherwise might!
On the other hand, there’s another companion who has the same voice actor as Commander Shepard, and they sound completely different! I don’t think I would have realised if I hadn’t already known. (When I say the same VA as Shepard, I mean Jennifer Hale. The voice of the one true Shepard. Not that dude they have on the cover.)
Part of it is that Bastila, your KOTOR companion, has a British accent, and Shepard does not. But even aside from that, their voices are distinctive. Bastila has a softer, breathier voice. Shepard’s is stronger, more authoritative – maybe that second part is more how the dialogue is expressed, I don’t know. But I could never get the two of them confused.
Storywise, I’m enjoying the game thus far – certainly more than I enjoy the actual Star Wars movies /bad sci-fi nerd. My favourite companion at this point is Mission, who’s a teenage girl, with a convincingly teenaged view of things. She and Carth have some pretty entertaining conversations. I like it when my companions argue with one another, but I like it best when they end up getting along.
How many books read in 2012?
76 books. This includes novellas, so they were not all very long books. It doesn’t include comic books.
I read eight non-fiction books … that’s one for every 8.5 fiction books.
In other genre distinctions, 60% of the books I read were sci-fi/fantasy (not including JD Robb, as they’re primarily crime and the SF element is usually just the setting). I read four adult fiction books that weren’t SFF or crime stories! Which is … the same number I read every year.
I read 18 books by male authors (including half-marks for cowritten books or anthologies) and 58 by female authors.
I always find it weird when people challenge themselves to read more books by female authors, because my bias is so far the other way! Clearly it is my inner misandry showing through.
Favourite book read?
Michelle Sagara wins this year, because I would be hard-pressed to choose between her YA standalone novel, Silence, and the eighth book in ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’, Cast in Peril.
Silence is a book that, when described, sounds like your typical paranormal YA, complete with antagonistic love interest. But it’s not typical at all.
I really loved that the teenaged characters in it were so sensible and kind to one another. That no-one made stupid decisions to generate tension. There’s a lot of YA that goes the other way, and it always annoys me, because that’s not what my experience of being a teenager was like. I don’t mean to say that there’s no conflict between the characters – but it’s not showy, and it rings true.
This isn’t a complete summary of why I liked the book; just one of the things that made it for me.
Cast in Peril I wrote about at the time, in contrast to one of the books covered in the next question. I went through a period of avoiding series fiction; this book serves as an example of how well fantasy series can work. How you can really dig into the world-building, and discover new things. How a book can be the opposite of standalone and still be completely satisfying.
The part of me that still wants to avoid series fiction is freaking out a little – how on earth did I end up reading an 8+ book series? There weren’t that many when I started!
Cast in Peril was also the book that made me realise me and this e-books thing was going to work out, and that I didn’t need everything I loved in hardcopy.
Not sure whether to go with Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken (as discussed in ‘Where (not) to end a book‘) or Tanith Lee’s Piratica III: The Family Sea. The former I probably enjoyed more for the first two-thirds, so it was a greater disappointment when I turned out to hate it. But I might say Piratica III anyway – I think I’m quite glad I didn’t read it when it first came out, when I was more invested in the characters, because I would have been hugely disappointed. (skip) I think I can see what Tanith Lee was trying to do, having Art’s marriage fail, and her ending up alone and free. But I didn’t feel that freedom in the end – it just felt bleak to me.
Oldest book read?
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also the first book I read last year. I was quite bewildered afterwards – not about the stories, but about the Sherlock interpretation of Holmes being kind of an asshole. (I’ve never actually watched Sherlock; this is just the impression I’ve received.) Book!Holmes is not an asshole at all! He might not be that interested in people, but he’s still considerate to them.
Also, I was proud of myself because there were a couple of mysteries I figured out before they were revealed. I like to pretend that’s an achievement.
The Silvered, by Tanya Huff. Came out in November and I read it in December. I wrote a not-very-deep review at the time.
Longest book title?
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, by Nancy Kress. Long title, short book. This is such a pointless question I feel like I have to talk about the book, now. The three parts of the title refer to the three POVs the book switches between. ‘The fall’ refers to an apocalypse. I enjoyed this quite a bit at the start, but I think overall the pay-off wasn’t there. It had the sort of conclusion that could work for me in a short story, but doesn’t work for me in a longer work.
Silence or Mastiff. I’ve talked about Silence already, so … Mastiff was the third and final book in Tamora Pierce’s Provost’s Dog series. It was also the least memorable of the three. Enough so that I don’t know if I really have anything to say about it. The first book was my favourite, because it was the one that was most a ‘school story’, with a supporting cast I really enjoyed. And that doesn’t really get carried through into the later books. Which make sense re: the ‘school story’ aspect, but I miss Rosto and Kora and Aniki. (You will note I remember their names, but not the names of the supporting cast in Mastiff.)
I guess Pierce was more interested in the crime novel aspect for this series, but that’s not what I read her for, and it was at the expense of the elements I really love.
How many re-reads?
Only three, which seems low. But then, I guess this is the first year I’ve had a full-time job the whole time, so I’m more inclined to read new things.
Most books read by one author this year?
I read ten JD Robb books – I guess I used these as my comfort fiction, rather than re-reading things. Her ‘In Death’ books are basically a procedural in book form. Except the main couple got together in the first couple of books so there’s no ridiculous ‘will they, won’t they?’ (This shouldn’t necessarily be a procedural trope, but it seems to be.) Also, they’re set in the future! My favourite mysteries are probably the ones that have the most to do with technology – although I think Witness in Death has been my favourite overall, and that one does not, so.
They’re standalone books, and I’ve read them completely out of order. They do benefit from being read chronologically, because of the way the characters and relationships develop over the long-term. On the other hand, there’s more than forty of them. So I think picking the ones with the most interesting-sounding mysteries is probably the best route to reading them.
Any in translation?
Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake was the only translated book I read this year.
And how many of this year’s books were from the library?
About six. For which I accrued some ridiculous fines, so I’m avoiding the library at the moment.