Feb 27, 2010

Video Game Reviews @ The Temple

Uncharted 2: Fuck me what a good game. I wasn’t sure, going in, I had heard so much good, it had to have been overhyped. And for a little while I thought, hey, this is a pretty good game, but what’s the big deal? Then I realized it was 3 in the morning. I know that’s not a lot to 18 year old me, it may not even be a lot to a random friend of mine. But for old ass me, playing for 4.5 hours like it was nothing is shocking. And I could barely drag myself away even then. Each of the subsequent 3 or 4 times I played until I beat it I almost didn’t want to play unless I could guarantee 3 hours of time, because I knew I wouldn’t want to stop. It helps that the game never stops, there is no loading, no waiting, no down time, even the cut scenes are so immaculately placed and integrated into the action you feel like you are playing all the way through. The game is so often described as a movie, or as cinematic, it sounds cliche, but it really is true. The game is just structured so amazingly well, it’s so exciting and interesting and fun and funny. There are a few scenes in this game, I’m thinking the train, the truck caravan, and especially the tank scene that are just so fucking cool. The tank scene was just flawless, the excitement of constantly running away, but things keep happening, but you always know how to keep it going. That is so amazingly hard to pull off, this should be a cut scene, or a movie scene, you should not be able to play that! It’s so fantastic! The mechanics of the game are good, not amazing, but they don’t get in the way, and that’s really all that matters in a game like this. The shooting is better than before, as is the cover, and the climbing. The acting is, of course, without equal. Batman was pretty amazing, I’ll see what Assassin’s Creed 2 has to offer next. But this is the best in game acting ever, period. Drake is as likable as ever, and the game is really funny. The character models are actually slightly disappointing, in parts. Drake looks amazing, he must have 3 times the polygons as anyone else. The men, in general, look pretty good. Chloe looks kinda shitty, though. Her facial proportions are wrong, and her eyes are creepy doll land. Elena is better, but something is still slightly wrong. The rest of the game is gorgeous, with a surprising variety of scenery for a game like this. The game went pretty quick, but it didn’t overstay its welcome, which is good given its relatively limited game mechanics. They added in some new enemies, but they are just beefier, really. There are interesting “boss” events, but its still mostly shooting. Overall the game is just so damn fantastic, it’s so good you almost don’t give it credit for how good it is. It is so smooth and enjoyable you don’t take time to sit back and appreciate it until it’s over. Update: I’ve played this freaking game 3 times now! I even beat it on “crushing”! Christ, what happened to me? First I get all the riddler things and stealth trophies in batman (the fighting trophies were plainly beyond me), now I’m getting all the uncharted trophies (except all the treasures, fuck them) and I’m even up to level 15 on the online thing! Playing through a couple more times does tend to point out all the flaws, though. The charm is largely gone, and the awe. It’s still fun gameplay, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it, but the little irks are a bit more substantial. Nothing big, but sometimes I roll and instead I jump off a cliff. Or I dodge and instead I hug an exposed wall at the perfect firing distance. And the matchmaking system is kinda stupid, how the hell is level 3 me with 10 level 30 – 50 other people, and 1 level 20 guy, matchmaking? So the learning curve was a bit steep, but I caught on. Now I can at least hold my own, though the level 50s still do unnatural things to me routinely. Hey, look at me, reviewing the online aspect of a game! Crazy!

Assassin’s Creed 2 – Last game of the christmas present trilogy! I have LBP too, but that will take me longer to get to due to a preference for cooperation. This game was pretty damn good as well. Granted, I really liked the first game. Everyone’s problems with it were 100% valid, but it was worth it to me. Boring, repetitive, limiting, but fuck you got to jump off of buildings and stab dudes in the throat! This game is more of that, but the wrinkles have been largely smoothed out. The story is much better, rather than just kill guy 1, 2, 3 … 7, there’s an actual plot, reasons to kill this guy or that. Granted, it boils down to exactly the same gameplay. Climb buildings, jump around, hide in bushes, jump out, stabby stabby. But its framed in a way that makes doing those over and over again much more tolerable for everyone, I think. The game is assembled very well, the architecture and art and history is just such an awesome touch. I’ve never seen so many damn nerds so excited about renaissance history when it didn’t involve huge turkey legs, the ded bob show, and chicks with their titties poppin’ out. Playing the game next to someone who has actually seen these things was super cool, it gave it such a feeling of validity. And it’s the first time I’ve had more than an idle desire to see any parts of italy besides rome. The meta-story, outside of the history, is still kind of dumb, but I guess it’s cool. At the end it suddenly has an urgency and a real danger, and I am pretty interested to know what comes in the next game. I’ll forget it all in a month, and certainly in a year or two when 3 comes out, but still, credit to them. Voice acting is pretty good, facial animation is decent (what’s with chicks? both this and uncharted have the most effed up looking lead female characters). All in all, a very fun game. I made an effort to get all the glyphs, treasures, and vantages. But fuck the statues, and double fuck the feathers, I have definitely not got that kind of patience. Best part of the game though, a character actually said this: “It’s a me, Mario!” Hahaha, fucking awesome.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – This was a pretty fun game. I had heard it was like, the most amazing game evar. It’s not quite that. It is a gorgeous looking game, certainly. The models are all fantastic. The action is very fun, but I don’t really think it’s that deep. As far as I can tell, you got yer attack, yer stun, yer counter, yer ranged, and sort of finishing moves. Jump kick if you count that. That’s not really that big a variety. There’s not even more than one form of attack, so there’s no combos. But, it is fun to do. And to beat these crazy challenge modes you have to be good at combining that few number of things. The animations are probably the star. Those few # of combos can produces a number of different attacking animations, especially the finishing moves. It’s all super cool and makes you feel like batman. The tools you get (zelda style) are cool and feel super batman-ey. And the manner in which you accumulate them is remarkably sensible for a game like this. The voice acting is all really good too. Overall, the game didn’t blow me away. I didn’t have any of those moments that make a game truly amazing. But it’s not really an insult, it’s only a very good game. Small update – this is one of the few games in the history of ever I made any effort to get collectables in. Tracking down the Riddler’s things is both fun and easy enough to hold my attention. It’s not stupid easy, but once you get the maps its not impossible, but you still have to search. That’s thumbs up. I looked at the trophy list, I’m not good enough to get all of them, because I can’t fight well enough to string together uber combos in the challenge modes. But 70% is probably higher than I’ve gotten in a game in years!

Jade Empire – God dammit. Is the PC gaming industry determined to drive me away? First I have controller issues with PoP, frame rate issues with all the games, and now I get bug-stuck 1/3 of the way through this. Granted, I wasn’t having the best time, but what the hell. I am just stuck, I can’t progress in the game cuz some stupid guy gets stuck on the stupid ground. Forever! As to the game. It’s a bioware RPG, except with a crappy combat system. It would probably be a bit better with a controller and a good frame rate, but not much, it’s just structured clumsily. I don’t really like it. The story is a chinese setting, which I should be in to. I love the dynasty warrior stuff so much, this isn’t that far away. But it didn’t catch me, I’m not all that interested in the water dragon or the lotus assassins. It’s too bad. I don’t feel like bioware should have to making fucking scifi games till the end of time. I should love they did something different here! It’s not elves and dwarves, and it’s not robots and lasers. That is so great, in principle. But in practice I was skipping through the dialogue as quickly as I could click my little mouse. So, I’m not crying that I can’t finish the game, just kinda pissed.  [some time passes] Okay okay, I came back. The bug wasn’t game ending. I, ridiculously, had to flee an area and never return so that I didn’t trigger the game ending bug. Fortunately I never had to go back for the main story. I continued to play, having largely the same experience. Another game ending bug, you can only do a quest one way, not the other, or you will stare, forevermore, at a closed door. Then some stuttery problems. I thought my computer was having a hard time of the game, but turning down resolution didn’t help. It literally made the game impossible in the little flier sections (they were basically any random vertically scrolling plane shooting arcade game, a fairly useless addition) because the frame rate dropped to such a low speed that my gun only fired once a second. After a remarkably long time (days) it finally occurred to me to reset, and that fixed it. The game wraps up very quickly. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are about as long as any one of the first four. Which was fine as I was getting kind of sick of it. My opinions are the same as before, I ought to like this game more, but it didn’t register with me. I didn’t care about my companions stories, the only reason I did side quests was the semi-completionist in me, but even that fell away by the end of the game. It’s an okay game, but it just didn’t quite work for me.

Osmosis – Interesting little indie game here. I played the demo once and decided it wasn’t worth much time. But then Steam had it for $2, and jeez, almost anything is worth 2 bucks. It’s kind of like Katamari Damacy, but you are a bubble, and you shoot around absorbing smaller bubbles. Moving sacrifices some of your volume, so you have to be smart. Larger things absorb you and you die, of course. Other mechanics are thrown in – gravity, repelling bubbles, etc. It’s actually a really fun game. It can be damn frustrating, especially the gravity levels, but it’s pretty fun.

Quantz – Random puzzle game, barely worth the $2 it cost. You have a 3D structure and colored balls on it. Balls drop from the sky and you rotate the structure to make it match colors and make the balls all disappear. I’ve only played a few worlds (7 stages each), and it’s alright. It’s not really that innovative, just a different form of the same function, but it’s alright.

Feb 18, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

(500) Days of Summer – This movie would have fucking destroyed me exactly 2 years ago. Fortunately, I just now saw it. It’s “not a love story” according to itself. Mostly because it’s about a failure of love. It’s still a love story, just mostly an unhappy one. This movie has a lot of hindrances to being good. My “not love” affair with Zooey Deschanel continues unabated. I just can’t stand her and it baffles me that people think she’s good. To her credit, she did learn a second expression for this movie, she can smile now. Up until now it’s just been that bland, distant, I’m so cool/quirky/aloof stare and monotone voice. She was more of the same in this movie. Joseph Gordon Levitt I would be fine with, but any time someone wants to extol his virtues, they mention Brick, and I fucking hated Brick, so I tend to associate him with that. Narrators are rarely a good idea. It’s also yet another indie love story. You know, I realized this week that in 20 years we are going to look back on the era of indie teen movies the same way we currently look back on 80s teen movies. Now-teens will cherish them, the rest will say “jesus fuck, we watched that?” But, as they are the cool thing to do, and they are filled with generally decent music and quirky dialog, they are hard to dislike, even as they are being obnoxious. But, I eventually have to explain that first sentence. The movie expresses a side of heartbreak I didn’t know was common. As a rule, one should never consider their experience unique, if you’ve done it, I promise you many many other people have done it, and if you think you’ve cornered the market on sadness, or shame, or getting a raw deal, you are mistaken. Nonetheless, I didn’t realize this was common enough to make a movie that is supposed to resonate with people. This is spoilers here, so run away if you haven’t seen it and care, not that any of it is oh em gee shocking, it’s mostly spelled out to start with, but it’s the story, so I don’t want to ruin anything. The story is a “not love” story because he doesn’t get his girl of his dreams. That’s not so uncommon. He is kind of a hopeless romantic who, even with all that happens, never gets over his hope. The very end will have some people, I think, saying that it ruins the thrust of the movie, that it takes away the sting. I would say that if you feel like this guy feels, if your experience is like his, that it makes sense. But that story is familiar to a lot of people, even those outwardly non-emotional folks like me. There’s a good deal of this movie that’s annoying because it’s cliche – how he thinks they connect because of their love for some stupid indie band, how he acts to get her, and when he loses her, and when he tries to get her back. Kind of standard, and so I start to roll my eyes, but it all has a kernel of pathetic truth most of us can recognize, I think. The parallel fantasy vs. reality scene in particular is wonderfully well done. We have all done that, fo sho. The real knife twist comes when she can’t commit to him, yet shortly thereafter marries someone else. I had an astoundingly word-for-word reflection of this story in my own life, and that kind of floored me. And, in as much as I don’t like Zooey’s coldness, or Joseph’s stillness, they came together in that moment to hit me like a ton of bricks. The look on his face when he is desperately grasping for some glimmer of an explanation for how she can possibly have left him broken because she couldn’t give that, and then can have turned around and given it to someone else. Yikes. And the matter-of-factness with which she shatters him, and then trots off seemingly without a care is beautifully devastating. This movie starts with text that tells you immediately that this girl is the villain. I assumed it would be trite and she’s just a bitch. Or enraging because she cheats on him. Or simple because she’s just an ugly person. But these are not the things she does to him. It is an indescribably painful thing to be told you aren’t good enough. And yeah I know we’re all “good enough” for some set of people. Hell, in the end, that was the best thing that could have happened to get me where (and with whom) I am now. Moreover, I know that one’s worth has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else. I’m not starting a pity party here. I am, however, saying that that indescribable pain was described in that moment. And I don’t think I ever expected to see that.

The Hurt Locker – I’m not totally sure why this movie was gotten such praise. There are parts of it that are very good. The slow stressful demonstration of what it is like to do that job (which, if you aren’t familiar, is bomb-squad in iraq). We are left to assume that this is a very accurate description of that job. Of course, I’ve heard from The Internet in the past few months both that it is totally spot on, and that it’s total bullshit. So, that’s what the internet has to offer here. But assuming it’s correct, it certainly puts you on the edge of your seat. But besides that, the movie isn’t very good. In the first place, the hero is this hotshot douchebag who we are supposed to hate, then love, then hate, then understand deeply. Mine went more like hate, hate less, hate more, then call bullshit. So, that’s no good. But hey, maybe that’s what guys who do this job have to be. You can’t pay some athelete M$20 a year to beat the shit out of guys weekly on the field, and then be shocked when he beats the shit out of a guy off it. Maybe I can’t expect a guy who works next to something that can blow him into unrecognizable bits to not be a hotshot or thrillseeker or to love his job more than anything or anyone else. But my second big problem with the movie is it insists on becoming an action hero war movie. This is a movie about the bomb squad. It is not GI Joe, so why the holy fuck are they off doing other shit? I know, it’s Iraq, stuff happens even if you don’t choose it. Any guy, from soldier to medic to bomb squad to mechanic can be caught in an ambush or an attack. Nonetheless, these guys are taking out snipers, going on rambo missions killing bad guys left and right, getting kidnapped, etc etc. They try to play it off, they even at one point say that there are infantry right behind them ready to do this job, and we are left to chalk it up to the hubris of the main character. But come on, I thought this movie was a sobering look at the unbelievable demands of working inches from death with a whole city block’s lives in your hands. I didn’t need this action hero crap. It’s not a poorly made movie, it looks good, people act well, dialogue is solid. It just misses the mark by a mile, kinda sad.

Zombieland – Pretty fun movie. I was really worried at first, it just seemed like Scream for zombie movies. A really meta self-aware pomo movie with its head up its own ass. Fortunately it’s not, usually. Which isn’t to say it’s not unbearably standard. Just like Scream, even though it mocks its own conventions, it still adheres to them. There still has to be a love story that starts contentious and a wild hero and a big battle and all that. But the overriding impression is a pretty fun ride. Crazy zombie kills, funny dialogue, ridiculous set pieces, all fun. It’s not Shaun of the Dead good, that was meta and pomo and all that, but it had a sardonic layer that was essentially never peeled away. This movie is more about the sort of over the top violence and idiotic (but funny) humor. I don’t necessarily need to see this one again, while I’d certainly watch Shaun just for fun.

Spellbound – Documentary about kids in spelling bees. I’m not sure what it’s going for, in the end. On the one hand it’s interesting, the behind the scenes. Not super interesting, but interesting. But it’s also kinda really sad. One parent goes out of their way to tell a story about another parent telling them that this stuff amounts to child abuse. The parent laughs it off and says not her kid. But some of these kids are really messed up about the competition. The losers all say “well at least I don’t have to do this anymore.” Granted, a whole assortment of adult losers say that too, but it’s odd coming from these kids, to see that weight lifted. And in any case, just because adults regularly experience something doesn’t mean a kid ever should. They are all weird kids too, of course. And this only serves to increase their weirdness. Sure, it’s charming that for these nerdy kids this is the one place where they are cool and respected. But I can’t imagine this doesn’t serve to increase their isolation. Then again, I was a band nerd, I was in academic decathlon. Then again again, I spent most of my life isolated. Then again again again, plenty of my peers managed to be very social while doing those things. But, these kids are weirdos, and they will continue to be weirdos doing this, and I can’t see that the spelling bee champs end up ruling the world. And the pressure, jeeeeeez. I mean, that Indian kid, I don’t know if he knew this, but everyone else knew, and told us, that if he won some relative in India was giving some bunch of money to some bunch of people. C’mon! You can’t put a whole village on a 10 year old’s shoulders! Anyway, the movie is worth watching, I guess, but it isn’t exactly uplifting, even though one of the kid’s wins. Kinda weird.

The Weather Underground – Documentary about, as you might imagine, The Weather Underground. What you might not imagine, however, is wtf TWU is, cuz I didn’t know either. Apparently, we had a serious case of the domestic assholes blowing shit up in the decade preceding my birth. Somehow this completely escaped my historic knowledge. But these guys, an offshoot of an offshoot, didn’t so much like that vietnam war thing, so they decided to blow the crap out of bits of america until it gave in. Didn’t work, obviously, but wow I can’t imagine living then. The actual threat of every few months something exploding, that’s crazy. The people were basically overzealous hippy anarchist douches who thought that a nonviolent response to violence is violence. The documentary is pretty well done, it is largely lead by interviews with the actual people, so you have some faith that it’s telling the truth. Hearing about these things i had no idea happened was a little mind blowing. It’s not an amazing movie, I don’t know why it won awards, necessarily, but it’s certainly good. It also explains the origin of the scene in Across The Universe where the hippy douche blows himself up trying to make a bomb to kill a bunch of army people. Cuz that actually happened. Christ.

Goodfellas – I’m pretty sure I saw this once, but I watched it again just in case. I won’t say much about it, because it’s all been said and because I think I’ve seen it. But I at least have to write down that I saw it so I don’t watch it again. Not that I shouldn’t, it’s a good movie, worthy of its praise. I still need to see the Godfather movies, but presumably besides those, this is probably the best mob movie around, unless you count the modern ones (The Departed is better, for instance). Anyway, good movie, good De Niro, good Pesci, good Liota (aww, remember when that was true?).

Transsiberian – Kinda random movie. A couple is on a train (I’ll leave it to you to guess which) and some crazy shit happens. It’s not really a good movie. Its almost a classed up version of Hostel. Bad guys, blood, horrible situation, blah blah. At the same time, it is better than it has any right to be with that premise. I still wouldn’t say it’s a good movie, necessarily, but I couldn’t bear to give it 2 stars on Netflix, because it’s just not that offensive.

Land of the Blind – I love what this movie was trying to do. It’s essentially a farce, which I find myself distinguishing from a parody. I’m sure there’s a real definition, but it feels to me like a farce. It’s not making fun of something, it’s kind of exaggerating a situation to make a point. The thrust of the movie is that revolutionaries who overthrow a tyrant inevitable turn into tyrants themselves. Which is an awesome subject matter. I don’t think it’s a super original subject, but it’s not like it’s been done to death. And certainly all the revolutionaries of the world have not internalized this message. I’m looking at you, ron paul supporters. The movie is, as I say, exaggerated, it’s not exactly a subtle transition from revolution to dominion, for time reasons if nothing else. The movie is a bit too farcical for my tastes, whoever. it seemed a little to loose with the jokey jokes, and the exaggeration instead of heightening the point, seemed to take away from it. I can’t say anyone did a bad job, necessarily, but somehow the movie doesn’t come together for me. It doesn’t resonate, it certainly didn’t shock me (I hope that wasn’t the intent). I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. Intellectually I love the concept of the movie. But as a movie watcher, I had a persistent feeling of disappointment.

King of California – Weird little movie. Michael Douglas is this sort of crazy modern treasure hunter. His daughter is the girl from across the universe with three names. It’s a pretty simple movie, and honestly if told about it I wouldn’t really think it sounded that great. But the movie does get you, a little. It’s pretty cute, Douglas is pretty charming as this cooky old guy. The girl is tolerant and sweet. I can certainly imagine not liking this movie. If you told me you thought it was too quirky, trying too hard, or just plain annoying, I would believe you. But for whatever reason, it struck me kindly, and I thought it was nice.

Planet B-Boy – Wow. I did not expect the quality of dance in this movie. Honestly (and in retrospect, arrogantly) I figured I had seen breaking, and it wasn’t really going to shock me. I’ve seen so you think you can dance, I’ve seen america’s best dance crew. This is the best there is, so I must have seen the best, yeah? Nooooo. They have a lot of clips of the history of breaking in the intro section of the movie, and it’s really amazing. Every single bit as good as the best moves I’ve ever seen before, and some things I never had. The rest of the movie is about a the big yearly competition (though “big” is defined as like $4k, split amongst all winners, kind of sad). It follows two korean teams, a japanese, french, and american team. The stories are pretty interesting, the contest is interesting. I wish they showed the whole damn routines. This is so often the problem with these dance things, they forget that you are here to watch dance, not clips of dance! My personal preference for breaking is always the group work. Individual moves can be mind blowing on a trick by trick basis. But the flow of a solo performance doesn’t do it for me, I don’t like the happy feet in between sections. This movie shows a lot more of the solo than the group, because of the edited performances. Nonetheless, really fantastic moves, I don’t know why all the breakers on TV aren’t pirating this stuff, it’s really fantastic. But for the group performances, I think I’ve seen better. There were some cool concepts, but nothing that blew my shit away like JabbaWockeeZ or something.

Feb 16, 2010

Old Spice Commercial

Idiotically hilarious. Hilariously idiotic. One of those.

G-speak by Oblong

I hate to get excited about this, every 6 months someone comes out with an amazing interaction environment and I get all excited and then nothing happens. But wouldn’t this be so cool????

Feb 14, 2010

Robot Unicorn Attack

This game is fucking awesome. It’s basically just Canabalt, but you get double jump, a dash attach, and the worst music ever created by a human being ever. Either it is truly amazing, or I want other people to be incessantly singing “Always, I want to be with you, and make believe with you, and live in harmony, harmony, oh love” with me.

Feb 13, 2010

Feb 8, 2010

Death Metal Rooster

I forgot to post this last week, so it’s probably old news. I know it shouldn’t be funny, but god damn I laugh my ass off every time.

Feb 3, 2010

Embrace Life PSA

Kinda overly artsy, but kinda awesome too.

Book Reviews @ The Temple

Dune – Here I’m embarking on what is going to be a long ass journey. In deciding to reread some books I haven’t read in 15 years, Dune was an obvious choice. I read the whole series once upon a time, and I remember my interest waning as the books went on, but that’s pretty much all I remember. I’m going to do them in audiobook so I can keep reading nonfiction in real life. As expected, this book is basically fantastic. You get wrapped into this awesome world with its political, social, and economic realities very quickly. It does something with the Houses that is different than what Zelazney did with people in Amber, but it still is a political story that is extremely cool and not at all boring. I think the front of the book is the stronger half. What he does setting up immediately that there is a traitor and you know who it is, but then just letting that drag out. You are half convinced it will never actually happen. Then all of a sudden it happens, shit hits the fan, and you are almost surprised even though you were told it was coming. All the interaction with the fremen is wonderful, he imagines a culture that feels real and purposeful. The obvious connections to real life and islam are there, but I don’t think I fully understand the reflections he’s trying to make. The last bit of the book is good, but it all of a sudden gets very rushed. They jump in time a lot, I thought maybe I actually got an abridged version, but I don’t think I did. It seems like it’s the right amount of time. So in the end they just jump through time really quickly. It’s not that it’s bad, I just would like to see more of Paul & Jessica’s time with the fremen, not just jumping months or years at a time. It’s all good enough that I want to see it, not just jump to what feels like an extremely rushed ending. But that doesn’t really take away from the book as a whole, it’s great. I’m very interested to see how the rest go, is the 6th book as bad as I remember? And then I will surely read his son’s reworking of his notes into a 7th (and 8th?) book, and I’ll probably go for all those damn prequels too. So, like I say, long ass journey comin’.

Dune Messiah / Children of Dune – So I never got to writing down my thoughts about Messiah before I finished Chlidren, so I’ll do them together, which is a pretty natural way to do it anyway. These books are both really great and kinda weird. What is great is what is great about the first book, the politics, the relationships, the house feuds, and generally the drama and intrigue of this fantastic universe Herbert created. The weird is the spooky shit. I never liked the prophesy stuff of the first book. Much like time travel, future sight is an extraordinarily limiting plot device. And if it doesn’t limit the author, then it’s because it’s full of holes and stupidity. Herbert handles it as well as anyone ever has, but it still puts me off a little. Messiah bring the prophesy stuff to the forefront with Paul desperately trying to avoid the only future he can see. This aspect of him is fairly fascinating. I did not at all remember this aspect of the books, but the jihad that Paul starts by emboldening the Fremen causes 60 billion deaths across the Dune universe. BILLION! Jesus christ! They actually talk, dismissively, about other mass murderers throughout history. They talk, almost with a casual paronizing tone, about Hitler and how he only killed 5 million. I mean, holy fuck. And this is the hero! the trajectory of Messiah is a plot to overthrow him. Nominally we are not on their side, but, how can we not be? His empire caused 60 billion deaths, I mean wow. Supposedly he has guided it as best he can to accomplish this minimum of deaths. But if he had just killed himself in the desert, none of it would have ever happened. That’s a pretty amazing conflict, for Paul and for the reader. Anyway the book progresses with him trying to steer this horrible machine he’s created, and trying to avoid a worse future he can’t face and we don’t understand until the 3rd book (or the 4th, really). Dealing with a character who knows what’s coming is hard, it makes me feel trapped as a reader, which I suppose is the intent, but it’s not very fun to me. But the plot of the book is great, it is written great, and the choices are sad. For someone who can see the future, he can’t seem to make it right, which I like. These books are not uplifting, even when people win they ruin it, or they get what they want and it’s not good. This is all the more apparent in the next book, Paul’s choice was either very long-sighted, or just as horrible, because things get worse. In Children we as readers have to face the idea of a “good guy” character, Alia, turning into his horrible despot. I felt it even more through Duncan Idaho, a fantastic character, who loves her and loses her to her madness. I felt like I could have had more of this, more of Alia’s decay, but it was really good, as was the end of her story. The story with the kids is kind of odd, it’s a lot of the spooky stuff. In the first place, everyone has a god damn plan in this book, everyone knows exactly what is going to happen and it’d be nice to have one freaking character feel confused, cuz I sure as hell was. And then there’s this crazy shit of Leto communing with sand trout and becoming a different creature. What the eff? It gets so weird. And I don’t think this story, all the good things about it, require the weirdness. It’s Herbert’s book, he can do it how he likes, it’s just so weird to me, I could have done without that entire aspect of the books.  So now at the end we are stuck again. Another all powerful ruler, but even more so. Knows everything that is going to happen and is theoretically making the hard choices, the choices Paul couldn’t make, to provide the best possible future, perhaps the only possible future. Besides the freaky ass turn-into-a-sandworm thing, which I know I’m not going to like, I remember precisely 0% of the following books, so it’ll be an adventure to see what’s next!

God Emperor of Dune – Okay, we’re starting to go off the rails here. I think the key thing to remmeber here, which I’m sure I didn’t appreciate as a teenager, and I barely appreciate now, is that these latter books aren’t so much about the story. They are complicated and continue the universe and all that. But jeez, this book is 3000 years after the last one! And I thought the 12 year gap between the first two was a lot. This book is not fan service, telling more stories of our favorite characters. It’s not Harry Potter or Twilight or Wheel of Time, it’s sometime wholly different. This book has a plot, and it’s fine, but it’s not really about that. It’s more this analysis of despotism and power and human history. Quite literally, it’s not subtle, Leto II knows all of humanity’s past and attempts to forge a course that will avoid our persistent pitfalls. Now, this doesn’t necessarily make a good book. I would say the book is long and kind of boring and not very cool. But, for what it is, it is somewhat fascinating. It’s a bit of a bullshit argument. Leto can see the future so one big moral question of the book is whether it’s acceptable that he does all these horrible things in order to save humanity. Now, of course, no one can know that in real life. And anyone who present you with some bullshit hypothetical of “would you kill a baby to save 5 babies” is more often than not trying to justify their own moral fragility by forcing you to compromise yours. That situation will never happen, it’s a false dilemma. But, for the sake of argument, this book surmises that you can, and explores what happens next. It is interesting, overwrought, not very fun, but interesting. Leto does turn into a pre-worm, which is crazy ass weird. Surprisingly I’m not as put off by that in this book, there’s too much else to be wierded out by. The perpetual Duncan gholas is extremely weird, apparently a decision that only makes sense to someone prescient, which the reader isn’t, so that’s weird. It’s also extraordinarily hard to buy that in 3000 years no one invented a way to travel without spice. C’mon, even omniscient dudes can’t control every scientist in every corner of the universe. And you simply can’t tell me that in the amount of time we’ve gone from rocks to rockets, these dudes can’t get something better than arakkis dirt. But after finishing it I’m not mostly left with those feelings, I’m mostly left with “huh, crazy, if you knew everything, how might you try to create a better future?” Kind of a bullshit stoner question, but kind of interesting. I’m on to Heretics now, and I predict travelling ever further afield, we’ll see how it goes. Audiobook performers were the same as in Children, pretty good. I got used to this guy as the voice of Leto, which was nice. Next book is someone different, but that’s okay, I’m sure it will jump 8.3 million years and have different people entirely anyway. Except Duncan, I’m sure there will always be a Duncan.

The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Wow what a disappointment. I loved Infidel so much, it was one of my two favorite books of 2008. This doesn’t even make the radar for 2009.  It was actually written first, which I didn’t know I thought it was a newer book from her. And it has all the same ideas and intent, but none of the cohesiveness, structure, or captivation. The story of her life was such a better way to express her problems with Islam. This book wanders far too much, she makes the same point many times. And not because any particular point isn’t important (they absolutely are) but just because the book feels thrown together. Like each chapter was an article in a magazine, and then they were all smashed into a book. She has interesting things to say, but almost all she said better in Infidel, and what extra she has to say isn’t given well. She does provide some proposed solutions to the problems, but they are presented in a more political and defensive way. Again giving the feeling of a magazine article instead of a book. I’m pretty shocked, I never would have read Infidel if I had read this first, I’m glad I did it the other way around.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein – Pretty cool book!  Sort of in the young adult scifi category, but totally suitable for adults. The book can be broken into sections, it follows a young slave Thorby who is purchased by a homeless beggar on some shitty outworld planet. His life begins anew with Baslim, the beggar. Later he has completely different experiences with the Free Traders, the military, and back on earth in a rich business family. The story is very much about cultures and the differences. These four places he live couldn’t be more different – criminal underworld, frontier tradesmen, the military, and the business elite. Each has its own rules, etiquette, language, etc. With the Traders there is an anthropologist character who is studying them (from the outside, as they are a very introverted culture). But really Heinlein is the anthropologist here, showing us these different peoples, all with prejudices against the other people, who aren’t human, aren’t proper, aren’t real. It’s really quite well done. He can get bogged down – with the minutiae of Trader familial relationships, or the law of a business. But in general you see such a sweeping perspective in a relatively short book, it’s very good. The audiobook side of it was okay. The narrator does pretty well. My only complaint is that he can only do voices by doing impressions. A good audiobook performer will give each main character recognizable voices that you know immediately, but are unique. This guy does this via impressions, seriously! Baslim is Sean Connery, the military colonel is Clint Eastwood, there’s a whole planet of Australians. I can’t remember the rest, but it was kind of weird. But anyway, ignoring that, all very good.

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert Heinlein – Another good book. It’s a different book, for certain. It feels younger, not as suited for adults. On the other hand, it is very educational, and I imagine if you haven’t taken the fuckload of physics I took, it would be educational to an adult. There are whole sections that are just math and physics and equations. It’s kind of awesome! But I don’t think most people would think so. The rest is a cute story of a boy on a space adventure. It’s not as interesting as the last book, it’s just a story, it doesn’t go much deeper. But it is fun. It has this 50s innocence to it that’s nice. It also has a 50s perspective that’s kind of ridiculous. The book is set in the future, of course, and yet there are still soda jerks, and people say gosh gee wiliky (well, maybe not that, but essentially). No matter how far an author can look into the future for technology, it’s hard to break out of his present cultural framework. Nonetheless, it’s a fun read. Or, as the case may be, listen on the way back from CO. The audibook aspect is a little bit of a radio play. Many many different actors for all the characters, sound effects, even a little music. It all made the book seem even more like a fun diversion, though nothing serious.