Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thoughts on “Ready Player One”

April 23, 2018

So, I finished reading “Ready Player One”, and overall found it … okay. I’m going to talk about it in detail, and even though the book isn’t that recent the movie is so I’ll continue below the fold:

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If not for you …

March 28, 2018

In “Nine Princes in Amber”, the first book in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny, Eric of Amber says this to his brother Corwin: “I might have pardoned him, save for your present recommendation”. He goes on to say that because Corwin wanted their brother Random spared, it had to be for some ulterior motive, so Eric couldn’t trust that recommendation.

I now feel the same way about “Ready Player One”.

I heard about the book from numerous sources. Despite being in the age range to get the nostalgia hit, it didn’t seem to me like a book that I’d want to read. And after giving up on popular sci-fi — and pretty much any sci-fi — after the whole Hugo Awards thing and my assessment that the winners in 2016 were at best mediocre, I certainly wasn’t inclined to try out something else that some people liked and some people griped about.

But P.Z. Myers hates it.

Now, this is not the first time Myers has griped about it, and it’s not the case that I’d do anything or seek out something just because Myers hates it, because if you look up the word “curmudgeon” in the dictionary you’ll probably see his picture (or Jerry Coyne’s, which makes it all the more ironic that they even dislike each other). If I tried everything he hated I’d never get done. But in the latest post he linked to another post talking about other people disliking it:

Let’s not beat around the bush: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a circle jerk of male geek culture sustained over a grueling 400 pages.

Well, now I’m interested, just to see what it did to tick them off so much (despite her later commenting that there’s nothing wrong with a movie about that, despite the harsh response). So, I bought it, and I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it with the same attitude as I read all of those Hugo nominees from 2016, and attempt to give an objective assessment of how good or bad it is. I could think it terrible. I could think it great. I’m expecting to find it “Meh”. But we’ll see. And it’s filling up the Amazon free shipping for the Infinity War TPB, which I’m looking forward to reading after really enjoying Infinity Gauntlet. So, there’s that.

But let me talk about the rest of Jess Joho’s article above, because her main point is indeed less that “Ready Player One”‘s focus is bad, and more that it leaves out all of the girl pop culture from the same time periods, and goes on to suggest things that could be done to make up the gap:

That why everything from Transformers to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can get reimagined with CGI reverence — but the idea of a blockbuster live-action American Girl Dolls or The Powerpuff Girls franchise sounds laughable.

So, why did those two specific things get their movies? Well, let’s start with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. See, the reason it got reimagined might have something to do with the fact that in 1990 it actually had a live action movie, that was successful enough to spawn two sequels. If you were looking for something from that era to reboot as a live action movie, that one was a pretty good bet, especially after Transformers worked. And for Transformers, it was actually still running incarnations of the cartoons up until 2006 (the first movie was made in 2007). Oh, and it had a theatrical movie, too, which was poorly received at the time but has gone on to be a cult classic. So if you were going to try out a couple of old cartoons to turn them into modern movies, these were pretty good bets for having, you know, actually been movies at some point.

But it’s far more enlightening to look at what she left out. She left out the G.I. Joe movies, and since Transformers and G.I. Joe were both Hasbro products, it only makes sense that they’d try those two, and also explains what she finds inexplicable that the “Battleship” board game would get a movie before the “girl” movies she wants. And given that Hasbro is involved, we might want to ask about a Jem and the Holograms movie … except that it had one, which was poorly received, and so didn’t get a second movie even though they clearly planned for a sequel and even planned for a potential crossover with G.I. Joe and the Transformers, which was killed by how poorly the Jem movie did. Wonder why she left that one out. And she could have asked about “My Little Pony” … except that it got a theatrical release in 2017. Again, wonder why she left that one out. So far, her post is more noteworthy for what she ignores than for what she says.

So let’s look at her seven suggestions:

1. An HBO The Baby-Sitters Club mini-series

The original #girlbosses, Baby-Sitters Club is lowkey one of the most enduring feminist staples of girlhood. Long before Time’s Up made pay equity a central cultural conversation, these young entrepreneurs were making business plans and getting ****ing paid. Yes, there was a 1995 movie, but the time is ripe for a reboot (Hollywood loves those!). So we propose HBO takes this on to deliver a Big Little Lies for the younger generation.

I’ve heard of this series. I’m not sure how it would work on HBO, given that it’s not likely to be a deep or complicated story, and if they made it that way it would probably end up a lot like the Jem movie. And it also had a movie. Still, it’s hard to see this one working in the same way as Transformers or TMNT did, because Michael Bay took the source material and built a somewhat credible set of action movies out of it, which meant it had an audience beyond those who wanted to watch it out of nostalgia (and good thing, because Transformers, at least, for the most part ignored what made the original shows so interesting and so killed most people’s nostalgia anyway).

2. A live-action Sailor Moon franchise

Sailor Moon was the ’90s kid Saturday morning cartoon blast in the face of lady power. Aside from being a radical school girl who could turn into a magical goddamn moon princess, she also taught us about the enduring power of female friendship. We’re envisioning something that’s Sucker Punch levels of extra — only without all the gross male gaze-y bullshit.

I watched this show. I liked it (Sailor Mercury was my favourite). I think it would make a crap live action movie. First, because it was an anime, and unlike cartoons anime tends to stretch their storylines out over an entire season and so it’s hard to isolate a storyline that can fit nicely into one movie (and a planned trilogy can fall apart if it isn’t done right, like Jem and the Holograms) and second because it’s a magical girl story and I think that would be hard to pull off credibly in live action. I suspect that such a movie would turn into some kind of action movie a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I don’t think would please any audience that might be inclined to see it.

3. Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy

This Victorian-era fantasy trilogy is not only beautifully written, but one of the starkest YA portrayals of how girls must navigate complicated relationships to power, patriarchy, and friendship. We got pretty close to seeing them made into movies when Icon Productions licensed it in 2006. Then nothing happened… until the company recently relinquished the rights — leaving it totally open for grabs (are you listening, Warner Bros.?!)

The what now? I’ve never heard of this, and if you’re looking to get comparisons to Transformers and the like you’d think I’d have heard of it, having heard of the first two and Powerpuff Girls …

4. A feminist reboot of Life-Size

Who could forget Trya Banks’ acting debut in 2000 as a Barbie brought to life. But while the original Disney movie played Eve’s inability to perform Barbie’s many jobs (doctor, astronaut, lawyer, etc) for laughs, there’s a real metaphor there. There are endless possibilities in a feminist reboot that actually critiques the cultural messages we send young girls through marketing and toys. And, yeah, we know: a sequel was actually announced. But we want less made-for-TV Life-Size 2, and more of a wide theatrical release for Life-Size: The Reckoning.

Well, at least it being from 2000 explains why I’ve never heard of it … but it also doesn’t make it fit the sort of nostalgia narrative that the other series hit.

5. The Song of the Lioness series, or anything from the Tortall Universe

Wouldn’t you know it — here’s another beloved, classic female-oriented YA series that almost got made into a movie, and then didn’t. But for the love of god, if we can get an Eragon movie and two Percy Jackson movies made, then I think we can spare one measly Hollywood adaptation to Tamora Pierce. This book follows the story of Alanna of Trebond, a noble girl that disguises herself as a boy so she can train to become a knight.

Seriously: everyone wants this adapted, for too many reasons to count. Just call Maisie Williams and tell her to clear her schedule already.

I guess I’m not everyone, because I could care less. Mostly because I have no idea what it is or was. Then again, the same could be said for Eragon or Percy Jackson … but then I didn’t watch those either and they clearly don’t have the same cultural cache as the things she originally talked about.

6. A Daria movie that isn’t a joke

Do we even need to defend this? The fake College Humor trailer for a live-action Daria starring Aubrey Plaza basically did the work for us. And it feels like a sin that no one’s taken up the task of turning that dream into a reality. I mean, we can all agree that Daria is an icon for apathetic millennials everywhere, regardless of gender — right?

I’ve heard of Daria, watched it, liked it. Am not convinced that you can turn it into a movie, although a live action series could work. Still, it might be worth someone taking a stab at it, but on the other hand it’s not like anyone tried to do a reboot movie of Beavis and Butthead yet, either.

7. Skip the Bright sequel, and make Tithe instead

Bright already felt pretty much like a really bad, racist knock-off of Tithe, a well-respected YA novel that brought fairies into cityscapes. Holly Black’s Tithe didn’t originate the gritty urban fairytale genre, but it grounded it in girlhood experiences through protagonist Kaye Fierch. You can find Kaye struggling to reconcile with her musician mother’s unconventional lifestyle, while also dealing with hangovers from a night out partying with the faery folk in their (literal) underground bars. Think Lord of the Rings if it was dropped into the Gossip Girl universe (and a lot less reductive.)

The what now? I haven’t heard of either … and I’ve heard of “Sweet Valley High”.

Okay, what’s clear is that Joho is really simply posting a list of things she wants to see made into movies or TV series or whatever, but that don’t really have any kind of logical link to the male geek culture nostalgia movies and shows that have been made. While I think it intentional, the main reason to gripe about male geek culture being made is that she thinks that making arguments like that are more likely to get attention than simple arguments about how good this series would be if it was made into a movie. It also lets her hide behind the excuse of sexism if they don’t get made or if they are made and fail, without her ever having to admit that it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. So we can see that people are using the excuse of sexism to argue for personal preferences as opposed to things that really highlight sexism, ignoring things that would cast doubt on the sexism interpretation and hyping up the parts that neatly fit that narrative. This clutters the landscape and makes it hard for us to know when things are really sexist and when it’s just a result of personal preferences that aren’t shared by most people and so don’t have an audience. There’s no real consideration of who the audience might be or if that sort of thing can work. This results in people demanding that customers who are not interested in those things buy it anyway in the name of fighting sexism even though the intended audience itself won’t buy enough of it to make it work. This, of course, is very, very bad for any media that actually listens to them.

And remember, I liked some of these things, and still am wary about trying to find a way to give her what she wants (because I think we can’t). If she can’t appeal on the basis of there being enough of an intended audience to make that work, we should not let her get away with appealing to how important it is to women to do it.

Thoughts on Thrawn …

February 19, 2018

So, after watching and not being very impressed by “The Force Awakens” I was pretty much ignoring the new Star Wars canon, and haven’t even watched “Rogue One” or “The Last Jedi” yet. However, I was browsing in the local Chapters — picking up a slew of Pierre Berton books — and I went to look to see what they had for Star Wars books. I came across one written by Timothy Zahn, simply entitled “Thrawn”. Since I knew that Thrawn had been added to the new canon, and since I had already written that using him would have solved many of the problems with “The Force Awakens”, and since it was written by the person who created the character and who, you know, could actually write, I thought I’d give it a try.

And, overall, it’s a pretty good book, with one glaring error that drags it down. Since I’ll be going through that error — an entire character arc — in detail, I’ll continue below the fold:

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Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on amazon.ca, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

Thoughts on two books by Adrian Goldsworthy …

October 13, 2017

So, I recently somewhat read two books on Roman History by Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar and Pax Romana. I really liked Caesar, but couldn’t even manage to finish Pax Romana. I could have finished the latter if I had really tried, but I bought and was reading these books for entertainment and found at about the midway point that I wasn’t enjoying reading Pax Romana and wasn’t likely to start any time soon.

I think the main issue is that Pax Romana doesn’t really have a purpose, or at least one that the book supports. Goldworthy frames it as examining whether the Roman Empire could be considered peaceful and civilizing or aggressive and oppressive, but all he ends up doing is talking about how Rome gained its territories and how it governed them. While he generally slips in a comment or two about whether this made Rome oppressive or not, most of the time there’s no real direct relevance to the main thesis, and so if you are thinking about that premise you would be wondering how this all fits. However, most of the time you will have completely forgotten that that was what he was going for, and so simply be working through the details of how things worked in those areas or provinces. But he doesn’t go into enough detail on the everyday life of the people in those provinces or areas for it to work as just giving background history, and there’s no real chronological or even causal/narrative link between the sections to draw you along. Without a strong tie to the overall theme, the sections seem disconnected from each other, and the sections talk too shallowly about their specific topics to work as an interesting examination of those topics. At the end of the day, the topics examined were neither detailed enough to be enjoyed for their own sake or tied enough to a main thesis to work as establishing evidence for whatever conclusion Goldsworthy wanted us to draw.

Caesar works better — and is the one I read first — because it has an overarching framework to work with: Caesar. While there may be quibbles here and there, generally the book both has a reason for detailing what it does — telling us about Caesar — and has a chronological and causal chain carrying us from one chapter to the next, as we examine Caesar’s career. If we have to hop back into the past, it’s because what happened then is important — at least in the author’s mind — for understanding what happens to Caesar next. If we talk about political systems or historical events that don’t directly involve Caesar, it’s because it’s important to establish them in order to understand Caesar and how things got to that point. While the ending seemed a bit rushed, overall we get a pretty good narrative of Caesar and his life, as well as the cultural factors that made Rome what it was at the time and the systems that Caesar took advantage of and opposed.

Pax Romana had none of that, and so ended up seeming, at least to me, like a series of disconnected sections rather than any kind of comprehensive, unified work. And that, ultimately, bored me.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Tamuli”

August 30, 2017

In addition to the fact that “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” kept distracting me from reading this trilogy, it was very interesting reading this because I was reading not merely or perhaps even not mostly for fun, but instead was reading it to compare it to “The Elenium” and decide which of the two I liked better. So I would say that I found the series entertaining and would read it for fun, but the entertainment factor was muted a bit by comparing it to “The Elenium” and seeing which of the two I preferred.

And my overall assessment is this: “The Elenium” is more personal, while “The Tamuli” is more epic, which might also match the difference in scope between “The Belgariad” and “The Malloreon”. If you want to think of the works focusing on Sparhawk as Eddings redoing those first two series right, there’s plenty of evidence to consider that the case. I really liked the addition of the other races/kingdoms/civilizations, and the added focus on politics was welcome to me. And I think that Eddings does a good job of weaving the expanded cast into the work so that it doesn’t seem to be taking too much away from the purported main cast. However, I think it also risks making things a bit overly complicated at times, and I miss the more personal, focused story that we got in “The Elenium”.

And for some reason, Eddings’ emphasis on the female characters and their abilities grated on me for some reason. Part of this is likely the current context, where strong female characters showing up male characters is overly emphasized to the point of extreme annoyance. But a big part of it is indeed how they often break characterizations of both themselves and the men to make that point. Aphrael was always going to be a bit of a Mary Sue given that she’s a god, but the “little girl” act makes it more grating, especially when she does it in her Danae guise. Sephrenia ends up blaming Vanion for being too slow to make up with her even though it was her utterly irrational reactions that made him afraid in the first place. Her having to make the first move because of that works, but her having to essentially blame it on him didn’t. But the worst is probably Melidere’s pursuit of Stragen, where she lets him in on her criminal schemes and then says that either he has to marry her or else she’ll have him killed. This is despite the fact that he probably liked her and that earlier she was talking about what signals to send. “Marry me or die” is not a signal, but somehow we’re supposed to consider this the appropriate and reasonable approach. Yeah, right.

The Atans are also altogether far too impressive for the role they had in the story, and are talked up far too much for that to work. And since the most competent of them were women, it feeds back into that same dynamic. As does Xanetia. For too much of the work, Xanetia, Mirtai and Sephrenia run roughshod over everyone else, with Aphrael there to fall back on when they aren’t available for some reason.

Ultimately, however, this can be overlooked, as the rest of the work is pretty good. But at the end of the day, I think “The Elenium” is my favourite of these series.

Folding Ideas’ “Thermian Argument”

August 4, 2017

So, while reading the comments on a post about the new female Doctor, someone linked this video from “Folding Ideas” about the “Thermian Argument”, which is in its roughest form an argument against criticizing part of a work because it is consistent with the universe that it is in. As you might expect, the main examples are of typical Social Justice type situations. The specific example used in the beginning is that someone is watching an anime and finds the constant depictions of Orks raping and brutally murdering female characters disturbing, especially given the presumed frequency of those scenes and how long those scenes go on for. The reply is that the Orks were established as being like that, and so the work is just showing us what their established behaviour is, and I will go no more into what the typical response would be because the original video doesn’t really do that and it’ll be more important as a counter later.

So, let me go into the video’s actual argument. The argument is that things like consistency and purity aren’t relevant to fictional worlds because they are fictional, and thus don’t really exist. For all of the time he spends talking about it, what he never manages to do is, well, make this an actual argument that has any heft to it whatsoever. Yes, fictional worlds are not real worlds, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have rules and that it doesn’t establish any kind of “objective truth” that writers need to hew to. To take his example of how to kill a vampire, he at the start asks how to kill one, and then at the end insists that it is irrelevant because vampires are fictional and so there is no objective way to kill them. Which is in some sense true, as different works may use different means to kill them. However, what we are talking about is consistency in-universe, and in-universe there will be established means to kill vampires. If the writer wants to suddenly make one of those means not work on a particular vampire, they are going to need to explain why in this case it doesn’t even though it was established that it would, indeed, kill a vampire. If it doesn’t, then what we have is a hack writer who is essentially “breaking the rules” in order to tell the story they want to tell, but can’t either find a way to make that work given those constraints or isn’t willing to compromise their vision in order to be consistent with the universe they’re writing in.

But, the reply can go, does that even matter? Well, yes, it really, really does. In order to get engrossed into a work, we have to accept that the events in the universe are, in fact, really happening. Part of that is understanding how, in fact, the universe works, which means knowing what the rules are. Thus, the writer needs to set expectations for us so that we can, well, know what to expect and so don’t start questioning everything that happens. So if a writer wants to have magic, they need to establish that magic exists in the universe, and ideally wants to set up as much as possible — without boring the audience with technical explanations — what it can do so that the audience doesn’t spend their huge dramatic character moments wondering if magic can really do that. Once we understand the rules of magic, anything consistent with that will be just ignored, allowing for the writer to just presume that we accept it and then be able to use it to drive things like plot, drama, and characterization. This even — and perhaps especially — holds if there are no set rules. If that’s established, then we stop looking for rules and just accept that anything that needs to happen will happen, and that it won’t happen when it needs to not happen. Since this still tends to kill drama — because the audience will simply expect a solution to appear when it needs to and so won’t be wondering if the hero can get out of this jam — it has to be handled very carefully as well.

What this all means is that if a writer starts breaking the established rules of a universe, people will notice. This will break immersion and require the writer to have a good explanation for why the rule was broken before they can be re-immersed into the universe. What a writer really wants to avoid is for the audience to start evaluating their work from a third-person perspective and opposed to feeling like they are observing an actual world. And in order to do that, they need to establish expectations and avoid violating those expectations without proper reasons and set-up. To return to the Ork example, if the expectation is built up that they would act that way, showing them acting differently would break immersion. That being said, that reply wouldn’t work against an argument that stated that they don’t need to spend so much time showing that, since we aware of it and will write it in if it isn’t explicitly shown, and that time might be better spent establishing other things.

At any rate, the main issue here is that in his Ork example the initial and more reasonable response isn’t the one he cites here. It is instead a simple “The maybe this work isn’t for you and you shouldn’t watch it”. If a work wants to be brutal and so focus on brutality in many scenes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that some people are not going to want to watch that sort of thing. And that’s fine. But we see in the video that he describes the real criticism as being a criticism of the choices the writers made, and here we can see the real objection in his example: he thinks that showing this brutalization of women is really there for no other reason than to brutalize women, which is bad. But this, then, takes the counter-argument to a completely different place than he accepts and argues against. The counter-arguments, in general, for such things — if made properly — would be along the lines of arguing that either a) this is a brutal universe and brutalization is shown consistently (implying that his objection is only to the brutalization of women for out-of-context reasons and, likely, personal ideology) or b) that the scenes are necessary to establish and remind the audience of just how brutal the Orks actually are. Both of these can be debated, of course, but none of them can be debated by arguing “This is a fictional world so we don’t need to follow the rules of the universe!” All of them require looking at the work and what the writer was trying to do and show either that what the writer is trying to do is wrong, or that they are going about what they are trying to do the wrong way. So, yes, you can criticize the choices of the writer, but doing so isn’t as simple as the video makes it seem. You can indeed invalidly criticize the choices of the writer, and the video’s defense of doing so doesn’t work for any of those cases.

This is essentially Sarkeesian’s comment that the world is fictional and so the writer can do whatever they want, which is a really bad argument, because the writer can’t afford to violate expectations too often without ruining the work. If the writer is trying for historical accuracy, then criticizing them for not including minorities in roles they would never have had in that timeframe is criticizing their goal, which is almost always not valid. And this holds even if they add some fantastical elements to their work; just because some parts don’t conform doesn’t mean that the parts that do can be simply changed without consequence. While the video insists that talking about consistency shuts down discussion, the reply actually does that even more so, because it refuses to engage with the universe at all and instead puts all of the discussion outside of the work itself, allowing no arguments that it would hurt the work itself or wouldn’t fulfill the purpose of the work. That it’s actually at best incomplete and at worst invalid is just the icing on the cake.

Yes, a simple reply of “This is consistent with the universe” is not enough to invalidate a criticism of a problematic scene. But a reply of “Fictional works don’t have to be consistent” is not enough to invalidate that defense and is in fact entirely false.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Elenium”

July 31, 2017

So, working my way through the David Eddings series that I actually liked — I think I tried reading one of “The Dreamers” and disliked it — I’ve just finished re-reading “The Elenium”. Remember, this — possibly along with “The Tamuli” — was my favourite of the series when I first read them, and this time after reading them back-to-back I was deliberately trying to compare them. And after doing so, my conclusion is … “The Elenium” is indeed significantly better than “The Belgariad” and “The Malloreon”.

One of the reasons, I think, is because it’s three books instead of five. It’s a bit shorter — looking at the collected books themselves, I’m not sure it’s that much shorter than the Belgariad, although it is definitely shorter than the Malloreon — and being only three books means that he doesn’t need to have as many reasonable endings to build towards to end that book on a high note that can be picked up in the next one. So, overall, the story can flow more and doesn’t have as much extraneous content.

Another reason is that for the most part the main cast is small and pretty much stays together for the entire series. Yes, he uses the tired old excuses of “The Younger Gods like symmetry!” to explain it, but we don’t have as many characters moving in and out of the story as we saw in the other works. That lets us get more used to the characters and so feel more attached to them, as well as allows him to elevate them above being simple stereotypes and archetypes. Also, when the characters do move out of the story they usually aren’t doing anything that important, allowing us to remain focused on Sparhawk and the other more main characters and so develop their plots and characterization without undue interruption. This means that pretty much all of the characters are more interesting and more developed than they were in the previous series.

Additionally, they don’t have the super-powerful, god-like characters of the previous series. Sparhawk is the main character, but while skilled he isn’t really a super-powerful, chosen-by-destiny character. Yes, they hint here that he is Anakha and so is outside of destiny, but in this series that’s mostly meaningless, other than that essentially he’s destined to be the guy who wields Bhelliom and probably because of that no one can tell what he will do with it. But Bhelliom here is a tool, not a presence. Sparhawk is skilled but no more overwhelming than any other magic-using knight would. The most powerful “normal” character is Sephrenia, and while she is very knowledgeable and very skilled at magic — and, again, very long-lived — she doesn’t know a lot of things and in general needs protection from physical attacks, unlike Belgarath and Polgara. Sparhawk is the person who is doing most of the investigation, and he doesn’t have a lot of advantages to make that all that much easier. The most powerful regular character is Aphrael, but she doesn’t do that much and really tends to act a lot like a Deus ex Machina most of the time. What this does is allow us to relate more to the characters because they are far more like normal people than most of those in the previous series.

This characterization also carries over to the villains. All of them are far better characterized than the villains in any of the previous series. As I’ve commented before, in “The Belgariad” Torak is the main villain and his henchmen mostly asides, but Torak isn’t developed enough for us to feel any pity for him at all, even though at the end we’re clearly supposed to. Ghwerig is only a minor villain, and yet in one short scene Eddings does more to get us to feel pity for his loneliness than he managed for Torak. While Azash is the god stand-in for Torak, the main antagonist is Martel, and his ending where Sparhawk finally kills him but Martel comments that he dies in the company of the only two people he ever really cared about is both emotional and fitting for that character.

Also, the quest structure and the dropping of specific prophecies to follow actually allows Eddings to work in those little side events that he loves so much more naturally. He can easily divert Sparhawk to rescue a besieged patriarch because while restoring Ehlana is important to the world, it’s not seen as being the one thing that can save it, and so it is easy to convince Sparhawk that while he has strong personal reasons for putting Ehlana’s life first, sometimes the at least seemingly “greater good” is to put that aside for some time and so other things. And since for most of the first two books they have no idea what they need to do to save Ehlana, they can chase all sorts of dead ends that serve no real purpose other than to do things that Eddings wants to do. In the previous series, it seems like an irrelevant distraction. Here, it not only seems less like that, but we can definitely feel that Sparhawk feels the same way, but has very good reasons to stop and do it.

And it also gets far more into politics than the previous series do. Yes, this is one that definitely appeals more to me personally than it does to others — after all, I also really like the political scenes in the Star Wars EU — but I loved the politics around electing the head of the Church and how all of that played out, and even wish it could have been longer.

That being said, I can see how some people might prefer the previous series because this one is far less “fantastical” than they were. The main religion is pretty much some form of Christianity, with the Church politics being modeled, it seems, a lot on Catholicism. The realms are very similar to standard medieval realms that we are all familiar with. The Styrics and the prejudice against them remind me a lot of the Jews. Thus, all of this is very, very familiar, whereas the history and institutions of the previous series were quite different. This also means that the previous series had a much deeper and more interesting lore than “The Elenium” does. So I can totally understand if someone finds “The Elenium” to be a bit pedestrian when compared to the previous series.

Also, I had thought that “The Elenium” and “The Belgariad” were quite different in story structure, but on reflection they actually aren’t. The first part of both is going out and finding the super-powerful jewel that they had lost and the second part is taking that jewel and going out to destroy the menacing god who is invading to try to get it. But I still think “The Elenium” just handles that so much better overall than “The Belgariad” did, with more interesting characters and a more interesting path to doing those two things.

Next, I’m reading “The Tamuli”, which I will also compare to the other works.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “Polgara the Sorceress”

July 10, 2017

“Polgara the Sorceress” isn’t as good a book as “Belgarath the Sorcerer” was. And I think there are a number of reasons for why this is:

1) Most of the really big events were covered in at least historical detail in Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, all there really is for Polgara the Sorceress to do is fill in Polgara’s personal impressions and situation. But this means that we’re going over events that we’ve already gone over in detail again — and again, in some detail — just to add Polgara’s personal impressions to them. But unless you’re a huge Polgara fan, it doesn’t add that much to them. Things get a lot better when they start filling in the details of the things Polgara did while Belgarath wasn’t around — like what happened in Vo Wacune and Arendia — but those segments are too short and too few and far between to save the book. And this is a worse flaw because the two books aren’t really standalone. The framing of Polgara the Sorceress is that Polgara is filling in the details that Belgarath the Sorcerer left out — and often Polgara pokes at Belgarath for simply leaving details out. But despite having read the two books pretty much one right after the other I didn’t really notice any glaring omissions except for the things that Belgarath himself didn’t know. Thus, the framing is both underused and guarantees that everyone will remember the other book first and pretty much note that they should read it first before reading this one. I’m not certain, but I think that there will be places where a reader is confused or feels that something has been left out if they read Polgara the Sorceress before Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, you can’t just read Polgara the Sorceress, but reading Belgarath the Sorcerer first will make Polgara the Sorceress seem ponderous and repetitive.

2) The book actually damages Polgara’s character as described in Belgarath the Sorcerer, particularly with how it uses Poledra. In Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara was gifted and had a mind that worked in a certain way that allowed her to do certain great feats. In Polgara the Sorceress, much of the time that great skill came from Poledra tutoring her on it secretly. Thus, she didn’t pick it up quickly, but instead had already learned it by the time it came for her to be taught it. At the Battle of Vo Mimbre, the long-standing idea that Polgara had managed to resist Torak’s will which impacted him greatly had nothing to do with her, but was instead only Poledra. If it had been the case that Polgara herself screamed in defiance but that she needed the intimate connection with Poledra to buttress her will and allow her to not have to face Torak “alone”, that would be one thing, but instead Poledra shuffles Polgara out of the way and takes over herself. This makes Polgara a spectator in her most famous event and removes the strongest display of her character in the entire series. After the fall of Vo Wacune, Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that Polgara fell into a great and angry despondency, similar to that of Belgarath when Poledra “died”, which provided an interesting parallel and gave them something in common, a common experience that they could at least arguably build on. Instead, she was pretending to be that way while secretly planning her revenge an organizing the war back in Sendaria/Erat. This a major plot hole because if Belgarath and the others because she acts as if she had to hide that from them, but if they really cared they’d have almost certainly been able to detect her scheming or at least would have paid attention to what was happening back in Arendia and noted her influence. So either they didn’t really care — at which point she didn’t have to hide it — or they did care but then didn’t bother to keep track of her well-enough to catch her influence (and Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that their greatest concern was that she didn’t try to will herself out of existence). But on top of that, Polgara had lost a city that was very important to her and, as she thought at the time, the love of her life … and she’s able to plan an elaborate deception of her father and uncles while coordinating a brilliant battle plan to get revenge? Doesn’t seem like she cared all that much about them, did she? Over and over, events make Polgara less skilled, less complex and less interesting a character.

3) All that there really is to the book is Polgara’s personal impressions, but Polgara isn’t all that interesting a character. Most often, she’s an opinionated bully. Sure, Belgarath is a bully, too, but for him most of the time he bullies people to get the job done so that, mostly, he can get back to doing the things that he really, really wants to do. He admits that he’s lazy and unscrupulous and has numerous flaws, and in general is a more interesting and humourous character to follow. Polgara is often dreadfully serious and seems to have no actual serious flaws, and never really seemed to grasp the import of the Events except perhaps when she was raising the heirs … which is given fairly short shrift in the book. Polgara and Ce’Nedra are both always described as characters that the others make a strong effort to avoid offending, but lots of people are willing to offend Belgarath all the time. Thus, she comes across as a full-on bully: do what I want or else. That’s not an interesting character to follow, and especially when we already know most of the historical details and so there’s little new there to discover. ‘Grat is not nice, but he cops to it. Polgara doesn’t.

At the end of the day, the book wasn’t a waste to read, but reading it right after Belgarath the Sorcerer really, really hurts it, as it has nothing to offer but Polgara, who is not that interesting a character to start with and is undermined by the work itself. For the most part, you could stop after Belgarath the Sorcerer and not really miss much.

Next up: The Elenium and The Tamuli.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “Belgarath the Sorcerer”

July 3, 2017

So, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I plan on working through all of my David Eddings books, and while I’m doing that I might as well finish them. I’m concluding my re-reading of the Garion works with “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress” before moving on to the series that I liked the best, which are the Sparhawk works (The Elenium and the Tamuli).

Belgarath the Sorcerer is a “and now you know the rest of the story” work. It’s even explicitly set up as such as the framing of the work is that Ce’Nedra wants to know the rest of the story and manipulates Belgarath into telling it, with the help of various others. And as that sort of work, it really does work. It fills in a lot of the details and backstory around what happened, filling in a bit of the lore and giving it more life, while still keeping the style of the original works. Telling it from Belgarath’s perspective really adds to the work, as it allows for a more personal perspective on events that we had only previously heard about from a more dry historical perspective, and keeps it from being a dull recitation of things that happened. The book is long, but like pretty much everything Eddings has done in this series it moves along quickly so it never really seems like a drag.

The book would be absolutely meaningless and uninteresting if you haven’t already read the Belgariad and the Malloreon, but after having read them it does well to fill in some of the gaps in an interesting way.

Next up: Polgara the Sorceress.