Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tears of a Clone by Brian Parker review

    I was a big fan of the Immorality Clause by Brian Parker last year. It was basically a variant on Blade Runner with the premise of a Louisiana Detective in the future doing his best to find out who was responsible for the deaths at a gynoid sex club. I was, thus, extremely interested in the follow-up book as far too many books are interested in the trappings of cyberpunk versus the more nuanced ways of examining how technology can be used to screw up people's lives. 'Technology is neutral in cyberpunk but people suck so it'll always be misused' being one way to explain it.

    So, what did I get? Well, I was thrown as the book opens with our protagonist hunting Batman. Well, actually, a guy who wears masked black body armor and hunts criminals called the Paladin. That, however, actually paid off in the end. Still, it's interesting the book shifts some elements from the first book that I was troubled by. Aside from these elements, though, I find Tears of a Clone to be an extremely enjoyable science fiction novel that has a more polished feel in several respects. I loved the original book and enjoyed this one a great deal, making me eager to see a third one in the series.

    The premise is Detective Zach Forrest is currently hunting the Paladin for the vigilante's murder of several criminals. Zach's a hardline "criminals deserve no mercy" sort of cop himself, so his distaste for the Paladin rings a bit hollow. Indeed, he's actually under investigation for charges of police brutality at the start of the story. However, all of this becomes a side story with the discovery of mutilated clones in the city. Apparently, someone has created "torture tourism" where individuals can mutilate and murder clones for pay. This disgusts Detective Forrest because he has met clones and know them to as human as anyone else.

    This element is the only part of the story which confuses me, along with Zach's belief Easytown is a kind of Fallujah of America given it's a major tourist destination in the city as well as popular Red Light District. Why are clones needed when they have androids and gynoids perfectly capable of mimicking human responses that Zach slept with one without being able to tell the difference?

    Likewise, how did it get to the point people became unable to tell the difference between clones and robots that the former have no legal rights? I get the metaphor Zach is trying to use but wonder why society would have both clones and humanoid robots versus one or the other. No adequate answer was given and it seems like there'd be a competition between them at the least.

    Despite this, I really enjoyed the dark and gritty story which unfolded. Zach is like a dog on a bone, constantly trying to find ways to getting justice for the clone victims who have no legal protections. The metaphor for various minorities and setting in the Deep South makes an appropriate homage even if the story is never heavy-handed. The reader can draw the parallels between the treatment of Blacks and clones but there's never a need by the author to point them out.

    The protagonist is an interesting study in contradiction. He's a borderline alcoholic who is extremely unpleasant to people he believes might potentially have committed a crime. For example, he is particularly awful to a sorority girl undergoing hazing because he believes she is in the wrong neighborhood. Despite this, he's also brave, honorable, and less prejudiced to the technologically created minorities around him while everyone else treats them as appliances. He reminds me of Karl Urban's character from the short-lived Almost Human series and that's a compliment.

    The key appeal of Brian Parker's writing is that while he may not, necessarily, make Easytown or the greater parish of New Orleans feel "realistic", it certainly feels "authentic." Little details about where Forrest prefers to work as well as his daily regime ground the story amid all of its science fiction elements as well as make you believe he's an actual person living on a working stiff's wage. It's a rare genre author who bothers to try to pull that off and we're all the poorer for it and luckier when someone does and can.

    While the best part of the book is the cutting away at the murder-porn ring, I also enjoyed the romance in the book as well. I'm not a shipper usually but Zachery's troubles reminded me of Harry Dresden's and that's always a good thing. I hope he doesn't get with Teagan, his much-younger admirer as he has chemistry with a lot of more interesting women. Hell, even his Siri stand-in, Andi, has better chemistry with him. Whatever the case, this is an excellent cyberpunk noir novel and I can't wait for the next one.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Resident Evil 7 review

    So, Resident Evil 7 is possibly my favorite horror video game. Well, after Silent Hill 2. Actually, I have far better feelings toward Resident Evil 7 than I do Silent Hill 2 but James Sunderland's' Bogus Journey wins out on the basis that the introduction to this game is clearly inspired by it. Also, Ethan Winters is more or less a cipher as a main character and I think those are cop-outs in writing. About the only games I think which rival Resident Evil 7 I've played are Alien: Isolation, the early Silent Hill games, and the remakes of the original Resident Evil games. It's really-really good and while it has a few speed bumps, I didn't realize these existed until my replay.

The family dinner scene is truly awesome and crazy.
    The premise is Ethan Winters, nondescript 1st person protagonist who drives old muscle cars, is heading to Louisiana in order to investigate a e-mail from his wife Mia. Mia has been missing for three years in an homage to James Sunderland and Ethan is determined to find out whether she's alive or this is a tasteless prank.

    Driving to the a seemingly abandoned plantation, he breaks into their guest house and finds his wife seemingly held prisoner in the basement. What happens next is a nightmarish game of cat and mouse with the murderous fungal-infested Baker family, murderers who literally cannot die. Can Ethan escape the mansion of horrors? Well, really, that depends on your playstyle doesn't it? This is a game where running and gunning won't keep you alive and I love it.

    Still, while Resident Evil 7 dials back the action from Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 levels but it's still an action horror game. Just a very light action heavy horror game. You have the option of shooting up the Baker family's Molded servants (basically fungus zombies)  plus several Boss fights spread throughout the game with the unkillable Southerners. The action is just extremely toned down outside of the boss fights and more personal with limited ammunition as well as health for our protagonist. On Easy, you can defeat your foes with enough head shots or at least stun them. On higher difficulties, they're nearly impossible to harm and stealth is often a better option.

Jack is an implacable man equivalent to Jason or Myers.
    Indeed, the tense moments in the game where you are unable to do anything to the Baker family but stay out of their sight are the best in the game. There's only two moments in the game, though, when you're genuinely helpless and have to rely on stealth to survive.

    These are terrifying and left me looking over my shoulder for much of the game before I acquired the shotgun, burner, and other weapons which made me feel like I could drive off the Bakers indefinitely. It's a bit like when you have the flame thrower in Alien: Isolation. There's also a lot more "safe" zones than I initially suspected as the Bakers are only rarely actively hunting you--which is a shame as you could easily have done this game as a pure stealth game with no weapons or enemies other than your opponents.

    Those who are expecting a pure survival horror experience should also note the game doesn't take itself entirely seriously the way, say, Silent Hill used to. There's a lot of schlocky over-the-top camp to the game which doesn't ruin the horror but underscore it. At one point there's a car fight where you're either the runner or the runneth over with Jack the family patriarch, another scene is a chainsaw fight inspired by the Evil Dead, and listening to the Bakers' mad ramblings is often hilarious. I'm reminded of Freddy Krueger at his best where the bad sense of humor causes the absurdity of the situation to become even more frightening. It's basically the opposite of comic relief and is very common in B-movie horror.

Mia is beautiful but not glamorous like other RE girls.
    The Bakers are easily the best villains in the franchise, even surpassing Wesker and Salazar. They're funny, terrifying, disturbing, and even tragic at various points in the story. They're probably some of the best developed bosses in video games as the game devotes itself to doing something simple, "A Leatherface-esque group of cannibals" rather than trying to do something grandiose and epic.

    The small scale nature of their threat, being a group of serial killers with thirty victims versus previous games' tens of thousands, makes it all more personal and terrifying versus video games habit of making everything Michael Bay levels of over-the-top. We don't get much insight into Ethan or Mia, which is a shame, but the villains almost make up for that. Why do they do what they do? Have they always been like this? Are they infected by something we've seen before like the T-Virus or is it something new like the Plagas in Resident Evil 4? All these questions are answered but it's really incidental to how it plays out. Tyrants have always been terrifying but they've got nothing on Jack Baker when he shrugs off several shotgun blasts to the face while mocking you for thinking they'd work.

Go tell Aunt Rhody everyone is dead.
    Another star of the game which deserves to be mentioned is the Baker Estate itself. It's wonderfully well-designed and reminiscent of the Spencer mansion with strange puzzles, locks, and traps throughout. Even so, it feels like the kind of place actual people could live. There's trailers, laundry rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms.

    A lot of people complained Fallout 3 lacked realism for the absence of crops and other materials to keep people alive. Here, the Baker family home feels genuinely lived in--by psychotic freaks but people who actually have garbage and human needs. That doesn't explain why they have a morgue, incinerators, and a WWE fighting cage but you take what you can get. Thankfully, even this breaking of immersion this is made up for by the VHS segments where you sit down to watch tapes you find around the house. While you watch, you get to roleplay as different characters in the game narrative and lose all your equipment. Those were legitimately terrifying even if I wonder why even a backwoods family would have a VHS player versus a DVD set nowadays.

Normal places like basements are terrifying.
    There's some flaws as the tension gradually starts to drain away from the game about halfway through and you develop the ability to start blasting your foes rather than running away from them or hiding as I mentioned. Despite this, I had an enjoyable time playing through the entire game. I also like the very subtle connections to the larger Resident Evil universe. I hope future games take this survival horror approach but also insert some stronger main characters.

    Elements I had mixed feelings about in the game were the myriad homages to horror movies which Resident Evil hasn't thoroughly covered. The Evil Dead, The Ring, The Grudge, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Cabin in the Woods, Saw, and The Blair Witch Project all get referenced. This actually broke my immersion momentarily and I think the game might have worked fine if they'd kept these moments more subtle. The game worked fine on its own and didn't need to have these Shout-Outs to be scary. It's kind of like Silent Hill: Homecoming when they have a moment straight from Hostel--it hurts the overall experience.

In the words of Ash, "You got real ugly."
    Be that as it may, I'm also going to say the game is surprisingly reactive. Depending on your actions, you can trigger special moments like Jack smashing through walls or crushing tables or getting your limbs cut off. These actions really add to the sense of this game being a living world. I also like the fact the protagonist is an every-man versus a super soldier. Mia and Zoe are pretty but they aren't beautiful the way Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, or Claire Redfield are either. The Boss Fights are all incredibly memorable, too, with challenge even on lower difficulties. It's hard to say whether I enjoyed them or fleeing from the Baker family more.

    Resident Evil 7 is probably the best game in the franchise. I was a fan of the original games back when they were on Playstation 2 and know they never got anywhere near this level of horror. I also know Resident Evil 4 is one of the best video games of all time according to a large portion of the game-playing public but it sacrificed horror for action. Here, this is horror which doesn't make you feel completely helpless but works wonders.

The VHS sections of the game are spectacular.
    Some might suggest the enemy variety in the game is lacking and they'd be right. The Baker family could have carried the entire game much like the xenomorph did in Alien: Isolation (Working Joes and looters aside) but the Molded feel like zombie substitutes. There's only three varieties of them and there's no reason the Baker family shouldn't have some mold-infested dogs or crows to add to the arsenal of creatures we deal with. You also are forced to deal with some bugs along the way but that's too little, too late.

    In conclusion, I should probably give it a 9/10 for the fact I see some areas for improvement and that things I thought were happening in certain areas weren't but that misses the fact I've enjoyed it over more polished games I've given higher ratings. It's very-very fun, possibly the most fun I've had with a horror game. The fact even the demo manages to work as a fully contained (albeit short) horror video game shows Capcom has something special here. I don't know if I'd like all future games in the franchise to be like this one (especially with how much of a wet blanket empty audience surrogate  Ethan is) but it's been an experience.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rise of the Tomb Raider review

    I've had this game for over a year and never got around to writing up a review for it because it is, ultimately, forgettable. This is kind of an impressive feat since I loved the new Lara Croft, gave the Tomb Raider reboot a 10 out of 10, and was anxiously awaiting the sequel. I was sure the plot would be amazing since I love Rhianna Pratchett's writing and consider Overlord one of my all-time favorite video game concepts along with said reboot.

    And the plot sucks.

The gameplay is fun but repetitive.
    I know what a lot of people are thinking: who plays Tomb Raider games for their plot? Well, it's weird but this game is just amazingly good at sucking all the energy, humor, and sympathy from the storyline. The original games are light-hearted enjoyable romps with no real care to the story while the reboot asked us to care about Lara Croft as the character. Rise of the Tomb Raider kind of makes Lara Croft a bit of a sociopath and sets her against a bunch of anti-Catholic stereotypes for a quest of dubious merit.

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the subtleties of the character is Indiana Jones has had almost (but not quite) all the idealism beaten out of him. He's become a grave robber and treasure hunter because of his desire to share stuff with museums as well as stay ahead of people like Belloq. Certainly, the Hovitos are the owners of their sacred relic and Indiana Jones is planning to turn over the Ark to the US government rather than any Jewish group. Here, the game presents Lara Croft in much the same way except her daddy issues are the excuse for her monstrous behavior and the game ignores it.  Then there's the fact much of the game seems influenced by the Angelina Jolie movies and we've opened a whole other can of worms.

    The premise is Lara Croft's father, unbeknownst to us from the first game in this timeline, has been disgraced for his belief in the Source. The Source is basically the Holy Grail except belonging to a not-Jesus figure from Byzantium. Eventually, he committed suicide (or was murdered by the evil Catholic conspiracy), and traumatized Lara forever.

The snow settings quick
    Lara uncovers some clues to prove him right and this puts her in conflict with Trinity, the Vatican's paramilitary army of evil who want the Source for themselves. Lara kills thousands of them and then goes to Russia in order to find the Source and steal it to show her father wasn't crazy. This persists even when she finds it belongs to a bunch of natives who are being slaughtered by Trinity to protect the Source's secret.

    While not Catholic myself, I find the whole premise of them being behind a murderous conspiracy of relic hunters the same way I'd feel about Muslims or Jews, especially as Trinity is shown to be responsible for all kinds of atrocities left and right. Lara was fighting for survival in the previous game and here is every bit willing to kill for the Prize without much easing into it. It doesn't help she's also here to steal the Source from the locals who, again, it belongs to. The sudden daddy issues don't help the plot as none of this was foreshadowed in the previous game as Lara seemed to be stuck in her dad's shadow then dealing with her father's then-recent suicide.

The tombs are, at least, plentiful and interestingly designed.
    The problem gets worse with the fact the supporting cast of the first game is wholesale ejected. This despite the fact the previous game did an excellent job of setting up Lara's interpersonal relationships with them. It's hard to care about any of the new characters since Lara is shown to be a loner who doesn't have much in the way of humanization. It's unfortunate because I really came to like Sam and the others.

    The gameplay is still good, though. It's basically unchanged from the previous game with some enhanced crafting elements. You don't have to do as much climbing as before. The majority of opponents you'll kill are mercenaries, who aren't as fun as the insane cultists of the first game. However, you will also get some fun missions like killing bears and other dangerous animals. The only area it really improves on the previous game is the abundance of tombs and locations to explore.

    Graphically, the game is superior and Lara's adventures are quite beautiful to look at.
Unfortunately, the game is primarily centered in snowy Siberian ruins which feel bland compared to the beautiful Syrian ruins you only briefly travel through. While the Siberian levels contain factories, an abandoned city, mines, and other spots--the simple fact was it reminded me of Dead Space 3 and that's not a compliment. They just didn't feel particularly Tomb Raider-ish and too restrictive for what I hoped would have been a more globe-trotting adventure.

Better luck next tomb, Lara.
     Overall, I'm going to say Rise of the Tomb Raider feels derivative of the original game but lacking in the character growth which was its centerpiece. The supporting cast is weaker, the danger less immediate, Lara less likable, the stakes lower, and the enemies inferior. Worse, while the tombs are awesome and the puzzles better, the setting is also boring. To that end, I think it's better to give this one a pass.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Writing Update February 2017

 Hey folks,

I have some great news for those who are interested in my writing. Which, hopefully, includes all of the readers here. The first is that THE SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY is almost ready for release. We've got the sketch for the cover available here which depicts Kerri Karkofsky and Mister Inventor.

Kerri Karkofsky is the brother of protagonist Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless: The Supervillain without MercyTM. She's been a real ensemble darkhorse and just about everyone loves her. Mister Inventor is a new character who will show just how fine the line between villainy and heroism really is.

The Science of Supervillainy follows up the plots established in the previous novel where Gary attempts his grandest feat yet in overthrowing the sinsister President Omega. Surprisingly, that works out well but the ramifications propel an even worse villain (or is it hero?) into power and Gary finds his worst enemy may be himself.

In addition to that bit of news, I should note I'm replacing the cover for THE SECRETS OF SUPERVILLAINY with a slightly altered one. Basically, I didn't think the current one quite reflected the way I wanted Ultragoddess to look so it's been updated with a different version. I think it will better fit with what is meant to my second favorite character.

Finally, I'm pleased to say I've finished AGENT G: SABOTEUR which is the second book in my Agent G series. The first book, AGENT G: INFILTRATOR, is already prepped and ready for release near simultaneously with THE SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY.

The Agent G series follows the titular cybernetic assassin as he serves the International Refugee Society, the front for the world's most technologically advanced criminal organization. Stripped of his memory and identity by his employers, he's been told he'll get it back after ten years of dutiful service--unfortunately, G just can't leave well enough alone and pokes a little too deeply into whether or not his employers on the level. Shock of shocks, they're not, and he soon finds himself facing off against people every bit as advance as himself.

I think fans will love them all.
I'm pleased to say that I'm working with Jeffrey Kafer to do a simultaneous release of the audiobook with the main book on both. Plans are for the release of The Science of Supervillainy in March and Agent G: Infiltrator in April.

Best of all, these two books will hopefully have sequels released this year as well with THE KINGDOM OF SUPERVILLAINY and AGENT G: SABOTEUR. Do I have any other projects planned this year? Yes, I'd like to get out audiobook versions of LUCIFER'S STAR, THE TOWER OF ZHAAL, and STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON.

I'm also trying to get back my books, ESOTERRORISM and WRAITH KNIGHT from Ragnarok Publications so I can re-publish them with edits as well as release their sequels. That's not happening any time soon, though.

CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON fans should note that THE TOWER OF ZHAAL is currently available in Kindle format as well as available on Kindle Unlimited. The sequel continues the adventures of John Henry Booth and Mercury Takahashi across a post-apocalypse monster-filled world. It also guest stars the most famous Great Old One of them all.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Resident Evil 4 review

    You may ask what the point of reviewing Resident Evil 4 may be. It's a game which generally stands up there with Super Marrio Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Streetfighter II, Halo, and a handful of others for "you know, that was really-really good." It's actually almost unheard of for people to have much in the way of criticisms about it. While hardcore survival horror fans may hate on the game for 'ruining' the series, generally people tend to think of it as the best of the RE series. So why should I bother making a review? Well, it's my blog so I can review whatever the hell I want.
Angry villagers are not dissuaded by guns.
    Resident Evil 4 is a great game even twelve years later and while the controls could stand to be improved, if you downloaded it for Xbox One or Playstation 4 then you'd probably still have a great time. About the only complaint I have is the combat is difficult but that's kind of the point, ya know? I can't hit anything with my pistol but that's as much on me as it is on the game. Likewise, I can run away from almost everything the game throws at me so there's no real point in staying to fight most creatures.

    Actually, that last bit is mostly me. When I discussed my playstyle with other gamers, they were stunned since the vast majority of them had elaborate strategies for eliminating every single enemy they encountered. They talked about shooting the legs to slow down opponents, making use of environmental weapons like exploding barrels, and maximizing the use of your knife after kicking. Indeed, I have it on good authority I made it one third of the game playing the game completely wrong. I didn't even pick up the shotgun in the village, which makes me a complete idiot and made later levels staggeringly difficult.

Kicks in the face will work, though.
    This is one of the games, though, I may be willing to play again, though because it's such a staggeringly fun game. It's a visual treat with the graphics holding up well today. The Count Dracula-esque villages, castles, and decaying empty houses are perfect B-movie horror with enough difference from "photo realism" to not become dated.

    Every level in the game is memorable and there's nothing boring so you're always looking at something interesting. It all hangs together too so even when you're facing giants in an arena, monsters in a lake, or a giant mechanical stone statue--you're feeling like this could plausibly all have been done by the same cult. Well, sort of. The rest, however, you can chalk up to Rule of CoolTM.

    The premise, for those few unfamiliar with the game, is the President's daughter has been kidnapped and Leon Kennedy is the only dude bad enough to get her back. Actually, it's because there's a traitor in the Secret Service with Leon the only trustworthy one the President can rely on. Sending him with some local backup to a Spanish village for reconnaissance, they soon find themselves with a reception reflecting the locals at Lovecraft's Innsmouth. In fact, the game is a decent adaptation of The Shadow over Innsmouth as it's about how a cult of alien parasite worshipers have taken over the area as well as converted everyone to their evil religion.

The quiet moments in the game are some of the scariest.
    It's difficult to say what makes Resident Evil 4 so much fun but I think it's one of those rare combinations of gameplay, scenery, storytelling, and characterization that works so well. Resident Evil's story never entirely takes itself seriously as it makes a lot of homages to things like Metal Gear Solid and Hammer horror while Leon badly quips every other sentence. Yet, that just makes things even more entertaining. Too many games try to make themselves grimdark without appreciating that's a genre founded on black humor.

    The characters' likability is a major draw for the game with Leon, Hunnigan, Ashley, Luis, and Ada all being characters you enjoy spending time with. Even the villains all have an amusing quality about them with Mendez, Salazar, and Saddler being scary as well as funny in different ways. Okay, Salazar is just annoying as hell but he's a character you enjoy stabbing versus one you just want gone. It's the difference between a villain you love to hate and a villain you just hate period

Ada is the Master of Showing Upping.
    There's a staggering variety of ways to fight enemies that encourages you to come up with new strategies to do battle with them. As mentioned, the game is very intelligent about the way creatures and the environment reacts to your battle. Ammo is still scarce in the game so you have to be intelligent about how you use it or, at least, make sure you always hit your targets. Despite this, it's actually a fairly forgiving game as it gets easier the more you die or harder only when you're doing really well.

     Gameplay wise, what was revolutionary a decade ago isn't quite the same as it is today. Moving Leon's perception around and his targeting laser is harder than it appears, at least for a beginner and his movement can take awhile to get used to. The game introduced the principles of "quick time events for action sequences" which is both a blessing as well as a curse. Likewise, you are forced to stand still during combat as Leon cannot shoot or stab while moving. Finally, your partner, Ashley, is less than useless for much of the game.

The fact much of the game is an escort mission is a drag.
    None of this matters, though, because the good drastically outweighs the bad. You can play this game as a shoot-em-up bang bang game or play more cautiously with Leon running away from fights as often as engaging in them. The fact Leon is a likable character with personality to burn and a flirtatious easy-going manner makes him probably the best Resident Evil protagonist, even if he's kind of a goofball.  Even Ashley is enjoyable despite the fact her, "Leoooooon!" gets annoying fast.

    There's some neat little additions to the game itself if you do manage to complete it. Ada Wong has her own set of stories, showing what she was doing the entire time you were fumbling about. There's also additional costumes, characters, and items that can allow you to tear through the game after a frustrating survival horror experience. Honestly, this strikes me as a game which would benefit from adding DLC to it even a decade later.

    In conclusion, Resident Evil 4 is a game which is well worth picking up the re-mastering for. It's funny, challenging, and enjoyable all the way through. The camera angles and movement can be somewhat challenging but is something it's still possible to master. Just, whatever you do, remember it is a combat game since you'll get spanked hard if you play it like I did until you can't run away anymore.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Villains Rule by M.K. Gibson review

    Have you ever wanted to reach into the reality of book or movie and shake the villain? Ever since Scott Evil pointed out he had a gun in his room and it would take just a few seconds to get it so they could kill Austin Powers, we have been in dire need of a villain consultant. This book seems to have been inspired by the Evil Overlord's List and that's fairly high praise by itself. We've all wanted a smarter more savvy villain in our fantasy and that's what the protagonist of this book provides as a service.
    Jackson Blackwell is a sociopathic geek from our world who, after discovering the ability to enter other realities Neverending Story style, has devoted himself to making sure the bad guys do not overlook all of the potential in being magnificent bastards. At the start of the book, he's already been at it several years and managed to acquire his own pocket-universe as well as demigod status plus all the other perks of being a miniature Sauron. Unfortunately, these only go so far and he's (despite his beliefs) a very clever small fish in a very big pond. Basically, he's Littlefinger if Littlefinger was the God of Paperclips in a universe full of Zeuses and Odins.
    Well, the problem with being a consultant to Dark Lords like Voldemort and the Umbrella Corporation is the fact they're really-really used to doing things their own way. Eventually, Jackson Blackwell's inability to hold his immense contempt in gets him in trouble and stripped of all his ill-gotten gains. Worse, it seems his layabout family may have been in on the deal. Exiled back to 1st level on a Dungeons and Dragons ruled world, he is left with the best motivation a villain could have: how do I get my stuff back? The answer, of course, is to get a bunch of heroes together so you can betray them later!

    The book is basically a Discworld-esque journey across a fantasy world with the heroes assembled by a would-be-Saruman instead of Gandalf. Surprisingly, after losing his consulting business, the Shadowmaster's adventures are played fairly straight. While he considers his companions little more than fictional characters brought to life, they are in a life and death struggle with evil. Even better, the Shadowmaster is there to point out some of the hypocrisies which come with the gods as well as elves of your traditional fantasy world.

    The supporting cast for the book is enjoyable with a variety of stock fantasy archetypes, some of which are turned on their head as the people involved are a good deal deeper than the role they choose to try and live up. I also have an affection for the villains who feel there's no point in being an evil doer if you can't actually be EVIL about it (Shadowmaster being of the "it is better to be feared than loved but if you cannot be both, try not to be hated" school of thought). I have to say, I kind of agree with them there. Those Towers of DarknessTM aren't going to build themselves.
    The humor is, of course, the primary reason you should check this book out. While taking apart the fantasy novel is nothing new, it's how you do it which matters. It's an excellent road trip from riches to rags to riches again with an ending I found quite amusing. I grew to like all of the main characters, despicable bastards some of them may be, and think you will too. There's even a hint of romance despite how much the characters involve despise the concept.

    In conclusion, this is definitely a book you should check out and pick up a copy of. It's full of humor, deconstruction, reconstruction, and deconstruction all over again. It's cynical and snarky with just the right amount of snide. Kudos, MK Gibson, I want more.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Blade Runner review

    It's cyberpunk month here, unofficially or otherwise, here at the United Federation of Charles and I can't help but talk about the classic which helped inspire the genre of cyberpunk. Aside from William Gibson's Neuromancer, the Ridley Scott adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep remains the definitive example of what people think of when they talk about the work. Well, that and Robocop. It is also one of the rare cases where I believe the movie improves on the original, though they're so different it's better to take a "inspired by the events of DADOES" rather than considering it
a straight adaptation.

    Most people know the general story of the film: Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a retired police officer who formerly worked for the Blade Runner unit. It is the job of Blade Runners to hunt down and execute ("retire") all androids ("Replicants") who live on Earth. In the future, despite the Earth's eco-system and economy having collapsed, we've created an entire race of cybernetic humans who exist as a slave labor cast to humanity.

Also known as LA today.
    Worse, we've restricted these androids to a mere four years of existence in what is said to be a control measure but I can't help but wonder was probably a built-in-obsolesce so people would always have to buy more. A group of Replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Haur) have escaped the off-world colonies and the police pull Deckard back in to find them. Deckard hates being a Blade Runner but he's supposedly very good at it, we don't actually see much of that to be honest, and sets out to sniff them out before accidentally meeting a beautiful Replicant raised to believe she was a human named Rachel (Sean Young). He must navigate his job as well as his increasing feelings of empathy for the Replicants to figure out where he stands on the issue.

Deckard is an awful human being. Part of the appeal, really.
    Blade Runner could have been a very stupid movie. It would be very easy to side with the Replicants and make it clear they're the good guys fighting against a horribly oppressive system. In fact, in the original DADOES, it's actually the Nazis who inspired the discussion of who and who isn't human. The thing is, both the book and movie are smart enough to make the story more complex. Oppression has not made the renegade Replicants any more noble or good, they're just oppressed and all of them are full of anger which makes them lash out at innocent as well as not so innocent parties.

    This kind of story could never be done without the metaphor of robots because who would want to watch a story about escaped slaves where the slaves were, well, evil? My sympathy is certainly with Roy Batty despite the fact he'd be labeled a terrorist today. However, the genius of Blade Runner is the fact our perspective is with an ambivalent slave overseer and bounty hunter. A man who sees the collateral damage they have to leave behind in order to get even a modicum of freedom as well as those they blame for being treated like animals. It's the perfect kind of noir story because everyone is awful because the system has made them that way.

Too bad she won't live but then again, who does?
    There's a lot of ambivalence and grays in the movie which benefit if you watch the version without narration. Characters' motivations are also a lot murkier and it makes the story better, in my opinion. For example: the character of Rachel is one which Deckard lusts after. She's intelligent, beautiful, and cold but also someone in need of rescue so it appeals to his desire not to feel like a monster for all the Replicants he's retired. He wants to believe she's attracted to him and that she's falling in love with him--but is she? Once revealed as a Replicant, Rachel is a marked woman and has nowhere to go so is Deckard the only port in a storm? Especially when he's a cop who might protect her from retirement?

    The Replicants themselves don't have much screen-time but all of them have little quirks which make their story work well. Roy Batty is a genius super-soldier who, if he'd been born human, probably would have been a Caesar or Washington. However, he's also an emotionally unstable four-year-old who has only a few social connections that are dying all around him. Leon is a dirt stupid construction worker who just wants to live and be with his friends but is capable of killing whoever stands in his way. Zora is a assassin turned stripper, which is the kind of lateral career move which usually only happens in tabletop RPGs but symbolizes the fact she just wants to live as a normal person. Priss, well, Priss is a mystery as a prostitute model is notably the most dangerous Replicant and also the most ingratiating.

Tyrell's office is befitting God. If God had awful taste in suits.
    Even the characters who are part of the awful system have their humanizing qualities. Tyrell is a trafficker in human life and mass murder via their shortened lifespans but one who marvels at his creations. In a horrifying way, he loves them, but business comes first. J.F. Sebastian is a teenage genius who is already well in middle-age due to a medical condition that makes him closer to his creations than his fellow humans. He played a roll in creating the horror of Replicant life but has nothing but sympathy for them once he meets them. Even the Blade Runners have a reason for why they are since the thinking machines routinely kill them out of hand.

    It's the rainy, dull, and neon vision of a multicultural Los Angeles which is remembered from most people's vision, though. A place where humankind has mostly fled from its dying home planet to the stars where life is probably every bit as bad. It's the look of cyberpunk for a reason, basically because everyone can imagine living in a city so technologically advanced but also miserable.

In fact, fashion has really gone to hell in the future.
    Regarding the classic question of whether Deckard is a Replicant or not, I'm squarely on the idea it should be unambiguously he's a human. The entire fan theory stems mostly from production errors and the fact Deckard thinks of the same things Replicants do which Gaff knows. For me, it undermines the point of the movie the Replicants are more vibrant, alive, and passionate about their existence than the humans who exist in a robotic state of depression. It also undermines the movie's ending where the point is a character discovering the value of all life. It's like revealing Hal and Dave are both machines in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

     There's some question which is the best version of Blade Runner but I have to say I prefer the Director's Cut. I think the voice overs, while film noir, kind of overexplain. There's no need to say, for example, that the Blade Runners are racist cops since they embody that with every breath. Likewise, the happy ending is unnecessary and kind of leaves the story in a artificially brighter place than it should be (especially since the environment shouldn't allow a pleasant country drive on Earth).

It's as if Superman and Harley Quinn were a couple.
    What are my favorite moments of this movie? That's a hard question to answer since there's so many which are just perfect and memorable. Zhora's reverse-strip tease and chase sequence, Deckard sitting in front of a photograph as he tries to get into the mind of his foe, the drunken decidedly non-consensual confrontation between Deckard and Rachel, or the final confrontation between Batty and our "hero." Batty confronted by the man who has murdered his loved ones, trying to convey just how much Deckard has cost him.

    In conclusion, everyone who hasn't seen Blade Runner probably should. If you are going in expecting a deep philosophical treatise on A.I. rights then you'll be disappointed. This is an action movie, a very good one, but you'll have to do a lot of the mental heavy lifting. For those who like thinking about that sort of stuff and debate on the internet then it's a classic for a reason.