Saturday, June 16, 2018

Detroit: Become Human review


    I've got mixed feelings toward David Cage's video games. I generally like that someone is creating adult based storytelling-focused adventure games. It's nice to have someone working to elevate the medium and I consider Heavy Rain to be a classic. I also liked Fahrenheit (a.k.a Indigo Prophecy). Unfortunately, his games are ones which suffer for the fact they're not at all that much fun to play. Still, I was interested in the subject matter of Detroit: Beyond Human since I'm a huge fan of robot-related fiction and social issues as related to them. So, is it any good? Well, yes, but it's not great.

    The premise is that in the year 2038, we've successfully created intelligent androids that have been mass-produced and sold in the United States. I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen but props to David Cage for thinking big. Unfortunately, the androids are receiving so much abuse at the hands of their creators that some awaken, become deviants, and attack their owners or attempt to flee to Canada.

Kara is an intensely likable character. Sadly, she's a guest star.
    Already, there's some uncomfortable confusion as to just how sentient the androids are supposed to be since if they're rebelling, you can put that off as malfunctioning, but if they're fleeing to Canada to live as refugees then that's a pretty clear sign they're sentient. One would think we'd see more signs of people advocating for android rights in that situation or, at least, acknowledging they're people.

    Become Human has three perspectives to follow with Kara, Connor, and Markus. Kara and Markus are domestic servants attached to humans who have polar-opposite views on how to treat them. Markus is an android police man very obviously inspired by Deckard and Joe from the Blade Runner movies. It is his job to deal with his kind's malfunctions. It seems like the game draws heavily from the TV series Humans, which focused on android domestics, as well as the aforementioned pair of movies. This isn't a bad thing but the influences can be a bit too spot on if you've seen both.

I like this guy is the only outright evil android in the game.
    The game does an excellent job of world-building, establishing how androids work with humans as well as their role in the universe. I like they are primarily helpers of the elderly and designed for supporting people rather than a pure slave labor force. I felt the game overdid the allusions to Nazis, slavery, and other real-life atrocities, though. It also feels very derivative as android-and-android-hating buddy cop duo (Almost Human), sex club murder (Humans), and meeting the creator of the androids who is obsessed with their potential (the Blade Runner films) have all been done in ways that David Cage doesn't add much of a spin on.

    There's a lot more choice and consequence in this game than normal with the benefits as well as drawbacks all clearly shown on a dialogue tree. This actually spoils things a bit but does allow you to explore all the various options available without difficulty. Are you a violent murderous robot revolutionary or a peaceful demonstrator? Do you beat up the drug dealer trying to hurt you or let yourself get beaten up? How do you respond to the pleas of other androids?

Shall you free Cortana or not?
    I feel like there's more that could have been done with this premise. I was very interested in the difference between androids who were "awoke" and those who were "asleep." Are the latter really nonsentient? If so, does that mean enslaving them isn't wrong? What is the diminished capacity of these machines really entail? Sadly, it seems to have gone very strongly with the idea the androids are an enslaved working class with them even forced to sit on the back of the bus.

    Gameplay-wise there's nothing really to write home about. David Cage games are all about people doing laundry, asking questions, and making choices. This isn't a bad thing but this isn't the kind of game which you enjoy for anything but the story. My favorite parts of the game were the Kara and Connor section with Marcus losing much of his appeal as soon as he was no longer with his benevolent "owner." The graphics are beautiful but that's to expected in the days of Triple A gaming's ascendance.

The faces genuinely confuse me.
    I should note I'm not averse to a sci-fi game about addressing civil rights, peaceful resistance, and disenfranchised working classes. The word "robot" comes from the Czec word  for "forced labor" just like the word slave comes from the "Slav." Robots have traditionally been used as representations for all minorities everywhere. I, myself, have used the metaphor in my Lucifer's Star books. I do think they could have done something a bit more original with it, though.

    In the end, Become Human is...okay. There's some stand-out performances like Lance Henriksen (the original helpful android in sci-fi) and Clancy Brown as the android-hating cop. However, the story I was most interested in with Kara was the least relevant to the main story. I think they could have easily had her as the messianic figure instead of Marcus and it would have been a more interesting story by far. This is also the first David Cage game without a shower scene! Shame!

8/10

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER on sale


 Hey folks,

Good news folks! If you haven't picked up a copy of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER, it is on sale for 2.99 on Kindle for the next three weeks. From June 5th to June 23rd. 

Jane Doe is a weredeer, the least-threatening shapechanger species in the world. Blessed with the ability to turn furry at will and psychically read objects, Jane has done her best to live a normal life working as a waitress at the Deerlightful Diner. She has big dreams of escaping life in the supernatural-filled town of Bright Falls, Michigan, and her eighteenth birthday promises the beginning of her teenage dreams coming true.

Unfortunately, her birthday is ruined by the sudden murder of her best friend's sister in an apparent occult killing. Oh, and her brother is the primary suspect. Allying with an eccentric FBI agent, the local crime lord, and a snarky werecrow, Jane has her work cut out for her in turning her big day around.

Thankfully, she's game.


Pick up your copy today

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Dresden Files: Brief Cases review


    BRIEF CASES is the second collection of short stories by Jim Butcher. The first one, SIDE JOBS was one I tremendously enjoyed because it was a nice mixture of Harry Dresden stories as well as his supporting cast. I also enjoyed seeing more of the Formor, who are my favorite of Jim Butcher's creations even if they mostly serve as cannon fodder and mooks following the destruction of the Red Court.

    Brief Cases is a very entertaining collection of short stories which include three stories introducing "Bigfoot" into the world of the Dresden Files, Anastasia Luccio in the Old West, Molly Carpenter versus the Formor, Gentleman Johnny Marcone versus a Formor wizard, Butters' first outing as a Knight of the Cross, and a story where Harry Dresden takes his daughter to the zoo.

    So, what did I think of Brief Cases? It's good. I actually was a beta-reader for some of the Big Foot stories back when I was still a super-fan of Jim Butcher's work versus writing my own urban fantasy. The Big Foot stories are easily the best in the collection and I kind of think it was a mistake to make three short stories about the premise versus one big novel called BIG SHOES TO FILL. There's certainly enough material to do a book and the characters are interesting enough to keep me interested.

    As for Harry Dresden becoming a dad like Kratos and other aging characters in genre fiction, I'm glad to see he's making an effort to get to know his daughter. Sadly, Maggie doesn't really make that much of an impression in her initial appearance. She's a brave and adorable little tyke but doesn't have much in the way of personality versus, say, Ivy the Archive. Maybe that will change once she ages up.

    Molly Carpenter is the character who gets the most development after Harry himself. We get to see her doing her best to fight the Formor threat in Chicago as well as forge alliances for the Paranet. I never much cared for Bat-Molly in GHOST STORY but prefer her being mostly the same Goth Girl she was before, just older and more mature. This book runs her through the ringer, though, especially when we discover what being the Winter Lady entails.

    Most of the stories follow the formula of, "X character meets Y monster, they fight" so I can't say it's quite as interesting as Side Jobs. I don't think we get as much insight into new characters as we did in that collection. I think Marcone's story remains the most interesting as we really get to see how prepared and dangerous he is for dealing with a supernatural threat like Harry Dresden.

    In any case, I think the best part of this book is it nicely puts me in the mood for a return of the Dresden Files after the long absence following Harry's adventures in SKIN GAME. My greatest regret is we didn't get an idea of what the White Council thought when Harry did his "doomsday hex" in Changes.

8.5/10

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tomb Raider (2018) review


    So, yeah, this wasn't very good. Lara Croft is one of the dominant female heroines in genre fiction at present with the problem of being one step forward, a backflip in place, and then a handstand. I absolutely loved Tomb Raider's 2013 reboot as a game franchise, even as it put our poor heroine through hell. I was less enthusiastic about the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which made her a somewhat unlikable plunderer of local Russian artifacts versus an anti-Catholic conspiracy theory. In effect, I have questions over whether people really know who they want Lara Croft to be.

She can't even get a job in academia?
    Is Lara Croft the female Indiana Jones? Is she more like Batman with a billion dollars and way too much free time on her hands but a desire to protect the world's cultural treasures? A free-wheeling adventuress? A hardened survivor? Well, she's all of these as the characterization of iconic characters like this varies tremendously. The version here, however, is not one I think very highly of.

    The premise is a fusion of the 2013 video game with the Rise of the Tomb Raider games (which were partially based on the Angelina Jolie movies). Lara Croft is a poor bike messenger who refuses to accept her billion dollar inheritance because she holds out hope her father is alive despite his disappearance. After finding a convoluted series of clues in Croft manor, she ends up journeying to the island of Yamatai where she finds her father is still alive but hunted by the mysterious Trinity organization.

She looks the part, at least.
    The problem with the movie is it's honestly just kind of boring. Lara loses an MMA fight, gets in an illegal bike race where she cheats, and fights some pick pockets in Hong Kong for the first hour of the movie. This is in comparison to the original movie which opens with Lara Croft having a fight with a robot, a bungie chord fight, and a fight with an enormous living stone statue. It's also a disappointment compared to the game where after a shipwreck, she's immediately thrust into a dangerous survival situation.

    Alicia Vidkander is perfectly fine as Lara Croft. She's a little on the waifish side but clearly worked hard to make herself tough enough for this role. I think her acting chops are certainly up to the role, too, but the movie doesn't give her much to do with. She's upset her dad is missing but doesn't seem to have any friends and there's no one for her to play off against like in the video game (where she had an entire crew to rescue) or the movies (where she had a butler as well as IT guy).

    Walton Goggins is wasted in his role as Mathias because he resembles neither the Mathias of the games nor Konstantine from the sequel. He plays a very subdued, almost stoic role that does not suit the story in the slightest. Really, it's hard to believe Lara should want to kill him whatsoever. We also don't get much use out of Anna, Lara's godmother and Richard Croft's ex-girlfriend. I didn't even know a character was Anna until the end of the movie.

There's some decent stunts at the end.
    The choice to remove the supernatural elements of Himiko from the story, presumably to appease China, didn't do the story any services either. Himiko is an undead monster after all and if they couldn't do that then they should have made her an alien or something. I'm not sure why Trinity felt like what they did do (Himiko was the carrier of a deadly virus who needed to be isolated for the rest of her life) was worthy of acquiring. I understand Drake's Fortune had a similar plot but I imagine it made more sense.

    There's a few good moments towards the end, when we have a recreation of the game's "waterfall" moment and Lara trying to deal with a massive derelict WW2 bomber. I also enjoyed when Lara actually went into the tombs (one might even say "raided" them). However, even those action sequences had some logic elements. They have Lara killing Trinity baddies with her bow and that's all well and good but she ignores taking their guns--why? The Lara in the game does steal guns from her enemies. Oiye.

    This feels like a movie where the producers didn't exactly know what to do with the material and they just made what they thought a Lara Croft movie should be about: daddy issues, shooting bows, and trying to make our heroine relatable through poverty. The problem is that it's a bit like making Bruce Wayne a dock worker or Tony Stark a IT guy. Lara Croft is iconically a member of the gentry and that's just part of her persona. It doesn't help Lara doesn't have anyone to emote off of either, which would have benefited the softer story they're trying to tell.

    In conclusion, I just don't see a reason to see this movie. It's not the worst thing to ever come out of the Tomb Raider franchise but it's far from the best. Basically, they didn't give either the action or characterization necessary to make this movie work. I feel like there's more I should say about the movie but there's just not much to say. It's not a bad movie but at least a bad movie would have felt like it tried.

4/10

Monday, June 4, 2018

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th review


    I have a confession to make: I absolutely love the Friday the 13th series. I was born a little too young to be part of when it was a mega-sensation (i.e. I was a teenager in the 90s rather than the 80s) but I came to lose Jason Voorhees through the magic of VHS. Which, for those of you who have no idea what those initials means, were magical boxes that contained images as well as the souls of dead unicorns.

    Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is a novel which contains collected anecdotes and a rough timeline for the creation of the original Friday the 13th to Freddy vs. Jason. We get to hear from virtually every single cast member, member of the production staff, and the writers. Their perspectives are almost uniformly positive and, honestly, include a bit of lying since poor Adrienne King (Annie in the 1st movie) quit show business due to a crazed F13-inspired stalker that goes completely unmentioned in the book.

    The anecdotes are quite candid in places and sometimes contradictory, which is good for the book's humor value. For example, one creator spends a long time explaining how ridiculous the concept of "if you have sex you die in a F13" movie is, only for the next to say, "Sex equaling death was clearly a major part of our idea for the movie." Plus, there's more than a few lurid innuendoes about how the actors tended to hook up during the long shootings.

    The biggest contribution this book may have made to F13 fandom is the fact it resulted in the creation of the identically-named documentary that's available for purchase on Amazon.com. That was hosted by Cory Feldman and, frankly, does the book's job a great deal better. The Kindle Edition may be much longer but the content tends to be a bit on the repetitive side with many actors somewhat embarrassed about their roles despite their pleasant memories. The lack of pictures also hurts it versus the coffee-table version that was at least visually stimulating. The book also lacks any coverage of 2009's reboot, perhaps because it's a bit harder to get in touch with Amanda Rhigetti and Jared Padalecki (but apparently not Kevin Bacon or Crispin Glover).

    In the end, the book is a little dry and on the technical side. It's amazing the author managed to get seemingly every single person involved in the production of the movies interviewed. However, the anecdotes dominate everything when I think the book could have benefited from maybe summarizing the films or adding some bits for the laymen. It's basically 11 or 12 ComicCon panels in text form.

8/10

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Song by Jesse Teller


    I read Song by Jesse Teller twice because I needed time to appreciate the book. It is an excellent fantasy novel which chronicles the adventures of Rayph Ivoryfist. Well, sort of. Rayph Ivoryfist is not the typical wet behind the ears farmboy or grizzled mercenary in these kind of stories. He is an archmage and in many respects, THE archmage of his home kingdom. Unfortunately, Rayph does not suffer fools gladly and this has gotten him trouble with the present king of his nations.

    As with all hereditary monarchs, eventually you run into one who is grossly unqualified for their position and Rayph has retired from being the kingdom's protector until the man is dead. Unfortunately, this allows a massive breakout at the magical prison where Rayph has collected the worst people he's ever fought. So, Rayph has to go out and try to deal with them even though he's got no backup from the public. He does, however, have the backup of his old friends who have since gone on to retire. Yes, Rayph needs to get the band back together. Oh wait, no, that's KINGS OF THE WYLD.

    I like the writing style of Jesse Teller even as it's sometimes a bit frustrating as he dumps you in the middle of the story without stopping to give you much in the way of exposition. You have to figure out who, what, when, where, and how purely by character's interactions. This is better than the alternative but confusing in places. Certainly, I would have appreciated just a wee bit more exposition to help me understand what was going on.

    My favorite story in the book is certainly the story of Manhunter Konnon, who has a daughter dying of what is probably cancer but something they don't really have the knowledge to deal (unless you're Rayph). Konnon is obsessed with saving his daughter and will do just about anything to make sure she survives. His story has the most poignancy and the fact it is running against a clock as well as the fact most people believe it's best to just let her die is helpful.

    I like the depiction of magic in The Manhunters novels as it is different from the more typical D&D version in books. It is powerful and altering so death is not something that is difficult to defeat. Indeed, many wizards swiftly become immortal and need to be locked away versus execution. It justifies the existence of Rayph's magical prison and means the escape is much more dangerous than it might have initially appeared.

    In conclusion, this is a fairly solid piece of high fantasy that could have used a bit more explanation as to what is going on. I enjoyed the humanizing conflict Konnon brought to the story as well as the central conflict between Rayph and the king. You can fight against evil archwizards but stupidity is another matter entirely.

8/10