Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

There’s Just Too Much

May 10, 2022

So, after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I wanted to get back into playing other video games.  I mused about it for a while, as is my wont, and then decided that I’d be clever and schedule in finishing off that run of Dragon Age Origins with all of the expansions and playing as Spencer from “Pretty Little Liars”.  And, well, so far I’ve booted the game up once to see where I was.  Now, one of the issues with my picking that up again is that it’s the PC version and I have a subconscious — and probably invalid, since it wasn’t an issue when I started playing the game — paranoia that I won’t remember how the controls work and so won’t be able to do well in the fights (this is also the reason that I never returned to a character in VTM:  Bloodlines, although in that game that fear is more valid).  But another issue that I was having was that there still were a lot of options that I was musing about to fill my rather limited video gaming time even after I had supposedly made up my mind.  I keep thinking about playing “Star Wars:  Rebellion” again as the Rebel Alliance.  I’ve mused about picking up “Wizardry 8” again, since I was having fun with my last run.  I’ve thought about picking up some of my PS2/PS3/PS4 games again.  I’ve thought about picking up games like “Icewind Dale”, or Might and Magic, or the Gold Box games, or other older RPGs (I’ve been reading the CRPG Addict again, which makes me think of that).  I’ve also pondered hooking up one of those classic consoles and playing some of those games. Thus, one of the things that’s stopping me from committing myself to Dragon Age Origins is all of the other games that I have in the back in my mind that I could be doing instead.

So the only game that I’ve been playing regularly is “The Old Republic”, and the only reason that works is because it slots into a specific time slot that I have set aside specifically for it and almost nothing else (occasionally, errands).  It’s not that it’s an MMO because I haven’t been playing “Dark Age of Camelot” for a while despite having a semi-set time slot for it.  No, the main reason I can play it is because I have a specific set of characters I want to get through and I have a time set aside for it and nothing else.  But when I have time slots that cover more a specific hobby rather than a specific instance of that hobby I often can find myself not doing any of them because I can’t decide which of them to do.  In fact, my scheduling things exist because of this, because when I left time slots open I found that I spent so much time deciding what to do that I didn’t do anything that I wanted to do.  At least here this only happens for specific hobbies or things to do.

This hits video games the worst — I mean, I’ve even managed to have specific “Wizardry 8” runs shortcircuited by my coming up with another party that I want to try instead — but, yeah, it can in theory hit anything.  The main reason that I haven’t hit it with DVDs for the past while is that I create a specific time slot and a specific stack to watch them, and so all I do is proceed through the stack.  And since I in general want to finish a series to talk about it, I have another incentive to stick with it and not switch to anything else.  And yet when I switched to rewatching Babylon 5 in December the urge to pick something else, even while watching it, from the stacks of things I wanted to watch again rose.  For books, again right now I have a stack of historical books to read in my general reading time and a set commitment to Shakespeare in a specific time set aside to read those sorts of things (while doing laundry) and so far that’s working, but at one point not so long ago I ditched finally reading the “Heroes in Hell” books because, if I recall correctly, I wanted to re-read the “X-Wing” series more.  Right now, I have shelves of books that I want to read in that time and hope that when the time comes to get around to them the stack and commitment to the stack will help me stick to them (again, there are some book series that I started and wanted to finish but never got around to finishing).

But, yeah, video games are the worst.  I was busy this week and used my video gaming time for other things, but I hope that when it starts up again I’ll finally be able to commit to something.  Otherwise, I may not be playing games for a while.

Final Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft

May 3, 2022

So, a while ago I had bought and started reading the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft.  And by a while ago I mean about six years.  I had been reading a little at a time and got about halfway through before getting distracted by other things and dropping it.  I had always intended to come back to it, and when I put a push on reading and watching some of the classics it started gnawing at me again.  So when I bailed on doing any kind of programming or writing projects in January, I decided to pick it up and slot it into that timeslot.  And then when I reshuffled things in preparation for returning to working from the office in September I found a lot to read it and other things like that in (while I was going to be doing laundry, specifically).  And doing that, I managed to get all the way through it and figured I should comment on it to wrap it up.

The second half of the collection tended to be more novels and novellas and longer short stories than the first half was, and I’m someone who likes longer works better than shorter ones most of the time, so this did work better for me.  And what really struck me in these works is how evocative Lovecraft can be.  He describes the places and situations and even people in a lot of detail making it clear just how odd and creepy these things are.  The plots tend to be less involved — and when they are, they can drag — but a lot of his works really are just people going around and discovering horrors that they couldn’t even imagine existed.  This makes them really work, as I noted in the discussion of the first third linked above, as documentary-style works, which are the sorts of things that I really love, and his attention to detail really pays off in works of that style.  About the biggest complaint I can make about that is that he often even tries to “transcribe the accents” of some of the people who relate stories, even to the extent of doing it while noting it in their letters, which can make those things difficult to read, especially since the rest of the work isn’t in that style and so we can’t get used to reading that style.  Since most of his stories are first-person accounts, he could easily have that be summarized instead of directly quoted, and I don’t think that the added verisimilitude adds enough to the story to be worth the effort, especially since struggling to parse the Old English or accented text can break someone out of the setting and story and ruin the effect that Lovecraft’s evocative text can evoke.

I also noted that stylistically the novels and novellas share a lot in common with Bram Stoker’s non-Dracula novels, and so they seem to definitely fit into the same sort of horror style, at least broadly.  However, Lovecraft is a lot better at doing the sorts of descriptions and relating the events than Stoker is, and his plots seem to fit better and work to get across what he wants to get across than was true for Stoker.

I will briefly touch on potential issues with racism and sexism that people have complained about in Lovecraft.  I may perhaps be the wrong person to talk about this, but it doesn’t seem to me to be all that much of an issue.  There may be some elements that seem off — one notable case was that one of the villains complained about being in a female body instead of a superior man’s — but in most cases those things are not argued for or even considered right and proper, but are just there.  Discussions of slavery and the like in general don’t claim that it is right that black people be enslaved, just that they are or were at the time, and even cases where someone is advocating for it — like the “woman” mentioned above — it is ultimately revealed that they are not reliable sources for that information, and nothing in the work actually ever advocates for that or proves that view to be correct.  So I think that most people should be able to get through the works without being particularly bothered by any racist or sexist elements in it.

And, ultimately, I found the works pretty entertaining.  They in general know what they want to do and do it quite well, and mix in at least some horror with the far more prevalent insanity that the works seem to be more striving for.  And, as noted, I really like the documentary/testimony style, and Lovecraft has the ability to describe things in such a way to make that sort of style interesting.  While I may have a hard time finding time to fit in another 1000 pages to read, I will likely attempt to read this again at some point.

Next on my list is the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I’ve already started.  However, in my first attempt at it I read one play in an hour and a half of reading, which is probably reasonable for a play but means that it will take me a long time to get through it (close to a year, by my estimate, based on my existing schedule).

Shallow Thoughts on “The Divine Comedy”

March 9, 2022

I’ll talk more about the process in my next “Accomplishments Update” post — there are a number of interesting things to say about my thought processes in that one — but suffice it to say I ended up setting time aside to read some of the classic works that I’d had lying around for a while, including the complete works of Lovecraft that I was reading about five or six years ago and the complete works of Shakespeare that I bought at the same time, but I thought I’d start with trying to get through “The Divine Comedy”, especially since I was reminded of it while reading the “Heroes in Hell” series.  Now, the problem that I had always had with it was that it was poetry, and I’m not a huge fan of poetry, and also find it hard to follow a narrative in poetry.  So I had tried reading it once, didn’t care for the stanza structure, and stopped reading it.  I was determined this time to get through it, and succeeded.

I actually found it to be fairly easy to get through.  The structure, at least in the translation, was less poetic than it could have been, and so it didn’t trigger my issues with poetry.  However, given its nature in order to really get the most out of it I would have had to pay far more attention to it than I did, because there are a lot of weighty ideas in it and a lot of things that you need to know or read the notes about to really get.  I was reading it to get through and get the sense of it, but it’s a work that it would be better to study and reference instead of just read for the heck of it (which was not the case for “War and Peace”, for example).  Still, it flowed well enough that I did enjoy reading it and didn’t struggle with it much at all.

However, one of the big problems it has is that Dante focuses far too much on people he knew in Italy.  This is understandable and is likely his intent (he seems to be making some political points with the work, especially given the notes).  However, it means that it doesn’t really have the staying power that it could have had given the universal — at least for Christians — elements of Heaven and Hell that it is exploring.  The work stops far too often for Dante to interrogate and reference people that would be known to Italians which would probably appeal to his audience but who are mostly unknowns to a modern audience, and he often seems to give a bit of a short shrift to more famous people like Caesar.  We don’t really get any real feelings for finding out that some of those people are in Hell or in Purgatory or what level of Heaven they’re in because we have no idea who they are, while people who know them would be interested in finding out where they ended up.

As such, I think I enjoyed Purgatorio the best.  Inferno spends too much time identifying these people and coming up with ironic punishments for them, but people ending up in Purgatory is far less something to feel schadenfreude about and so more time needs to be spent explaining why they ended up there and what that means for the nature of humans and of sin itself.  Paradiso has similar ideas, but Heaven is good no matter what, and good people end up there no matter what, so there are far less philosophical issues to be explored and so it can be difficult to wrap one’s head around why it all matters.  Purgatorio is closer to what most people will experience and yet raises philosophical issues that it is interesting to address.

Still, all of them work in their own way, and were interesting enough and easy enough to get through that I wasn’t bored or annoyed reading it.  I probably should read it more carefully at some point, but I have no idea when I’d get the time to do that.

Re-reading some books, and Heroes in Hell

February 8, 2022

So, over my vacation, I had decided to re-read some of my old books that I had been meaning to re-read for a while and I had been looking forward to doing so, because I remembered a lot of them rather fondly.  And, as it turned out … I was disappointed by them.  I re-read a bunch of Ravenloft books and while some of them were still not bad a lot of them were a lot less entertaining than I remembered, so much so that I was tempted to go through and comment on all of them and denote all of their flaws, but I ran out of time so I didn’t.  I also re-read the “Azure Bonds” books I had and again found them a bit disappointing, although none of them were as bad as the worst of the Ravenloft books.  This actually ended up convincing me to stuff all of my other Forgotten Realms books into boxes and fill the bookshelves back in with other books (although moving my graphic novels around and leaving a bit honkin’ empty shelf there spawned that as well, and I moved more books than merely those).

But another series that I was looking forward to re-reading and, in fact, reading some books for the first time — I used to, at least, have a tendency to buy a bunch of books from a used bookstore but at times never get around to reading them, which is now also true but mostly for history and classic works — was the “Heroes in Hell” series.  Now, I really, really like the premise of this series, which talks about how various people — including people who died before Christianity — are faring in Hell.  Now that I’m reading “The Divine Comedy”, I find the people represented there a bit less original, but the idea that these people would be living a life similar to what they lived while they were alive but that the “Hell” part is mostly them trying to live the way they did and not being able to do that, which can frustrate them, while the Powers-That-Be mess with them on a regular basis.  If you have Julius Caesar competing with Ramses for power, someone is going to lose, and if you multiply that by hundreds of more or less capable dictators, tyrants and emperors you have a recipe for almost constant conflict that you could only ever settle by having all of them give up power, or else having one of them give up power and run away and hide, and almost all of these people will never, ever actually manage to do that.  Thus, it was disappointing to me that later on the series moved towards commenting that Hell itself wasn’t as good, where things would fail on a regular basis and food didn’t taste as good and stuff like that.  Putting on my “philosophy of religion” hat, I think that you could solve a lot of issues with the concept of Hell from the perspective of Christianity by noting that the Hell part is produced mostly by their own behaviour and if they could overcome the flaws that got them sent to Hell in the first place they could move on to Heaven (or Purgatory) … but they won’t.  And ultimately, even Satan himself is bound by his own choices, damned to try to wrangle these incredibly ambitious individuals into some sense of order only because he really does still want to rule in Hell rather than serve in Heaven, and needs to bend most of his effort towards keeping his rule in Hell rather than ending up serving there was well.  Given that, adding more direct issues with Hell seems like overkill.  So I was a bit more disappointed in the later works than I was before.

However, I wanted to talk specifically about the last novel I read “Explorers in Hell”, and its major failing.  The problem is that it focuses on the character of Mithridates, who was an opponent of Caesar and his household in the earlier novels and was revealed there to be an utterly duplicitous and untrustworthy character.  So we won’t have that much sympathy for him because he was the opponent of more sympathetic characters in the earlier novels, and we won’t have much sympathy for him because he’s not a sympathetic character in his own right, so we aren’t going to be likely to want to follow along with his story.

Now, this could work if the book set out to redeem him, or instead to show him failing to redeem himself.  And there are elements of that in the book.  For the most part, the book is him and Amelia Earhart travelling through Hell, finding odd things, and reacting to it, but Mithridates fails at a number of challenges and has the opportunity to show at least a modicum of loyalty to his people, which could make him more sympathetic.  But the issue here is that the focus is on the events, not on the redemptive aspects, and he constantly shows that he isn’t all that loyal or in any way redeemable even at those stages, so we never see him building towards a change in character.  He does end up, towards the end, being miserable and seeing at least briefly that the problem was with him, but then he quickly rejects that and focuses on petty revenge again.  So we don’t see him working to redeem himself and ending up with circumstances causing him to fail again (think of Londo Mollari being dragged back to the Shadows by the murder of his love) nor do we see him really change.  And yet at the end it implies that he might have been redeemed in some way (or it might be a deeper Hell, as that’s not clear) and it feels that that kind of redemption, even of accepting Hell, is unearned.

So it focuses on a character that we are predisposed to dislike, doesn’t give us any reason to like him, at the end gives us more reasons to dislike him, and then seems to imply that we should be happy for him at the end of it all.  Surely we could have done something similar with someone like Achilles or Diogenes who had their flaws and yet were somewhat sympathetic.  Someone coming to understand the real nature of Hell as Mithridates did should be more sympathetic than he was.  Heck, they could have used Earhart and show that her amorality about just wanting to fly no matter for what reason caused her issues and that she fit in Hell until she let go of that, since both to the audience and in the book itself she’s flawed but more sympathetic.  Ultimately, the book left a bad taste in my mouth because it moved away from the characters I liked — Caesar’s lot — to a character that liking them gave me a predisposition to dislike and then, ultimately, the book didn’t do anything with the character.  We end up with what seems to be a unique view of Hell told from the perspective of a character that didn’t earn and should not have come to that viewpoint, which ruins that a bit.

So that was the book that I hadn’t read before and I found it greatly disappointing, which pretty much puts the kibosh on buying any more of them, at least directly.  Not the outcome I was hoping for when I read them.

I’ve moved on to history now, re-reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” for the fourth time, I think.  With all the history books I have out — most of which I’ve read — I estimate that I have enough reading material to take me to about May.

Judging by its Cover

November 24, 2021

I had to run an errand a little while ago, and decided that while I was out there I’d take in a short shopping run, hitting stores that I hadn’t hit in a long time for things that I had only been buying from Amazon.  So I hit a bookstore, the video game store, and a store to look for DVDs.  Now, as it turns out I wasn’t really in the mood for shopping, and so only ended up getting one thing, which was the one thing that I pretty much knew that I was going to get, which was a copy of “Persona 5:  Strikers”.  Of course, I have no idea when I’ll actually play it, but it’s a Persona game so of course I was going to buy it at some point when I didn’t have to drag someone to unlock a case to get it out for me.

Anyway, despite my not actually buying much the browsing was pretty revealing.

So I started at the book store, and was browsing around in the science fiction and especially in the history sections.  What I’d do is look at the cover of a book whose title and cover image appealed to me, and then pick it up and look at the back cover for a description of what the book was about to see if I would be interested in it.  There were a couple of books — especially in the history section — where I was somewhat interested in them but wasn’t interested enough in them for the price I’d have to pay.  But in general I could get a good idea what the book was about from reading the back cover (or sometimes the inner flap).  So the pretty pictures and interesting titles of the books were drawing me in and the back cover was giving me enough information to see if I really wanted to buy it or not.

Contrast that to the video game store.  I was browsing the Switch and Playstation 4 sections, and especially in the Playstation 4 section there were a number of games where the title and cover seemed interesting, and I’d go and look at the back cover and … end up having no idea whatsoever of what the game was actually about.  I might get a few short sentences talking about the plot, and a few blurbs highlight the wonderful things it does, but I had no idea what the gameplay was even like (ie whether it was turn-based or real-time combat, for example) or what the story was about.  This was despite the fact that the base price for console games is much, much higher than that for books.  They start above the price I was rejected the books at.  I noted to myself that in order to actually feel comfortable buying one of them, I’d have to go away and do research first to get an idea of what the game was like.  That can’t really be what they’d want because if I leave a store, even if I remember which of them was interesting and look them up later, I’m not that likely to go back to the store to buy it immediately, and am not likely to remember which of them I liked when I finally do manage to get back to the store.  The point of the cool covers and titles on a store shelf is to draw the interest and tap into a desire to buy the game then and there.  If there isn’t enough information on the back cover to fan that desire into the flame of purchase, then that cover is itself utterly wasted.

Things didn’t used to be like that.  You used to be able to look at the back cover of a game — even a console game — and get a general idea of what the gameplay was like so you could decide if it was a game you wanted to play and therefore was a game you wanted to buy.  While the information was often not as detailed as you’d get on a book or DVD, you’d still get enough information to make a purcahse most of the time.  The way things are now, covers are pretty much sabotaging the storefronts, because unless you know what you want to buy you can’t find out enough information while browsing to buy anything, but if you know what you want to buy you might as well buy it online.  This doesn’t seem ideal.

(As a final aside, I did buy “Conception II” from a storefront after doing research on it in-store.  But there was enough information on the cover to get me thinking that it was a Persona-style game, and I had to do the research because of the information it gave me, as I wanted to find out what the combat was like since it advertised it as a kind of turn-based/real-time hybrid and I wasn’t sure I’d like it).

Thoughts on “The Lair of the White Worn”

November 16, 2021

So the last of the Bram Stoker novels is “The Lair of the White Worm”, which is the one I had heard of when I bought the collection.  Unfortunately, I heard of it from the movie, which is mostly inspired by rather than an adaptation of the novel.  Still, a number of the elements are, at least, similar, with a white worm — meaning dragon — requiring sacrifices and a seductive woman who seems to be the person who represents or is the white worm itself and so is the main villain.  But the movie is far more salacious than the novel was, which probably explains why the movie is remembered and the book isn’t.

The main plot is that a young man is brought to a place in Derbyshire to apparently eventually inherit it from a long lost relative, and gets embroiled in the supernatural machinations of the woman, another landholder who has his own designs separate from the worm, and in a romance with a woman whose sister is an object of desire for the landholder and so is a competitor for the worm woman.  He needs to try to end the worm while protecting the woman he loves (he ends up failing to protect the sister).

From the introduction, it seems like the versions we have are quite abridged from what Stoker originally wrote, to Stoker’s great displeasure.  I will say that the motivations and machinations of the two main villains and how they all relate to each other are a bit vague, and that the novel itself seems a bit rushed, so Stoker might have a point here.  Then again, I remember “The Lady of the Shroud” and know that when Stoker adds length he doesn’t necessarily add clarity.  And while one of the big problems with the novel for me is how rushed it seems, it also seems like the two villains and their plots are the biggest flaw, and I’m not convinced that giving Stoker more room would do more than give him the time to indulge himself as he does at times in this work as opposed to working all of that out.  So the real issue is that while I can definitely see how a longer treatment could have made it better, I’m just not convinced that Stoker giving it a longer treatment would have worked out that way.  So I won’t be reading this one again either.

Ultimately, it seems, Stoker hit lightning in a bottle with “Dracula” and ended up as a bit of a one-hit wonder, as these other works may well be and likely are the most famous of his other works and none of them are all that great.  One of the biggest flaws in Stoker is his tendency to have his characters talk each other up in incredibly exuberant ways at almost any opportunity, which gets really, really grating and takes up time that could have been spent doing other things.  While Stoker seems to be interested in the supernatural, he also tends to avoid explaining or focusing on it, except in “Dracula”.  This is a shame, because focusing on relating a really great supernatural story could have allowed his works to at least stand out and maybe then garner some interest.  As it is, unless the relationships work the novels can be a bit boring.  In “Dracula”, both the supernatural story and the relationships work.  That can’t be said for these three works.

Thoughts on “The Lady of the Shroud”

November 9, 2021

So, the second book in that three book set of Bram Stoker novels is “The Lady of the Shroud”.  Normally, I’d summarize the plot first and then get into criticizing it, but the main issue here is that the work doesn’t seem to know what plot it’s trying for, so instead I’ll just dive into the criticism.

The book returns to the style that works for Stoker, which is to use journal entries and letters instead of using a narrative style.  However, he starts by introducing a character that will not play a large role in the work and who only exists to talk about how bad a person the eventual protagonist is.  However, soon after that everyone else we see is effusive in their praise of him.  This could have been used to make a point about how different people see things differently, but from this point on everyone talks about how great he is and most of the book is from his perspective, which shows him as being a decent person.  Also, the person from the beginning shows up at his place later and acts like an ass, and so we know that he wasn’t a reliable narrator at the beginning.  Which is fine, but that character is an absolutely unnecessary character who does nothing for most of the book and isn’t even mentioned, so nothing is done with that at all.  So it’s completely extraneous.

The plot starts off as a supernatural one, with the protagonist being visited by a strange woman in a funeral shroud after he moves to a small European country due to an inheritance.  There’s also, at this point, a subplot about preparing the country to fight off attacks from the surrounding countries, Turkey in particular.  However, quite soon it is revealed that the woman is the daughter of the leader of the country who is pretending to be dead after falling into a coma that she recovered from, and the original subplot takes over as she and her father are abducted and have to be retrieved.  They then have to face down the Turks, which they do, and with radium mines and the like the country becomes prosperous, and he marries the woman and becomes the leader of the country.

So, what is the plot?  The supernatural one?  It’s resolved quite early and has a rather dull and uninteresting resolution, which is used more to further the Turk plot than anything else.  The Turk plot?  They’re a complication, not a plot.  The development of the country itself?  That the focus is mostly on the protagonist makes that a side plot for him to follow, not the main plot.  The development of the main protagonist from a more selfish and immature man into a proper and worthy man?  Aside from the introduction, there’s no indication that he wasn’t a proper and worthy man from the start, and he doesn’t seem to develop at all, so that can’t be it.  So what’s it about?  I still have no idea.

It’s also quite long, at over 300 pages, which makes the lack of any kind of real plot all the more annoying.

Ultimately, the book lacks a clear and coherent focus and is too long to lack something for us to focus on.  As such, I will not be reading this book again.

Thoughts on “The Jewel of Seven Stars”

October 26, 2021

After re-reading “Dracula”, I decided to finally read a collection of three Bram Stoker novels tagged as “Lost Novels”.  “The Jewel of Seven Stars” is the first of these.  As noted by the editor, Stoker had had a long fascination with the supernatural and had spent a fair amount of time at least later in life trying to be a writer.  “Dracula”, however, was the only work that really took.  From my experience with this one, there’s probably a reason for that.

While “Dracula” focused on the vampire legends, this one focuses on mummies and those legends.  In this work, he doesn’t use the journal approach of “Dracula”, but instead focuses on a first-person account from a solicitor who is also in love with the daughter of someone who is obsessed with Egyptian artifacts, and who brings him into the story when the father is attacked and left in a coma.  The first part of the book is all about trying to figure out what happened to him, especially when a nurse also falls into a coma and the father is attacked again.  He outlined a bunch of conditions in case something happened to him, which are bizarre and involve keeping him in that room and under watch at all times (which doesn’t prevent him from being attacked again).  The detective and doctor are baffled by the case, but then an associate arrives with information and items that were to be used by the father, and soon after the father recovers and the detective fades out of the case.  In turns out that his goal was to participate in a Great Experiment to raise the mummy of a remarkable woman to life again, as she seemed to set things up for that, and the next step is to actually perform it in some out of the way place.  After a lot of exposition and delay and a suspicion that the daughter was somehow possessed by the spirit of the mummy, they try the experiment.

I’ll talk more about how that turns out later — as that’s the ending of the book — but let me start by talking about how uneven the plot actually is.  It starts as more of a supernatural mystery, but halfway through that changes to the experiment angle for no real reason, and all of the events in the first one are mostly forgotten and not particularly explained.  Especially since the father was purportedly put in a coma by the mummy herself in an attempt to get the titular “Jewel of Seven Stars” back for some reason, but then they seem to think that she’s on their side in the matter and she doesn’t really seem to attack them or try to get that back again. So the two parts don’t mesh well together, and the work seems to change style right in the middle but, again, for no real reason.

I noted in talking about “Dracula” that Stoker had a tendency to waste time expounding on how wonderful the characters are, especially the female ones.  Here, it’s even worse.  Stoker has the protagonist wax eloquently about how wonderful the daughter is — which makes sense since he’s in love with her — but also takes time to have the father wax eloquently about how great the mummy was in life, and then the daughter to opine on the mummy’s psychology and desire for love despite her having no real way to know any of that (which is lampshaded).  The worst part of this is that none of this actually matters, as we never actually get to meet the mummy.

Which leads into the ending, which is hugely problematic.  There are two endings, both of which are incredibly abrupt and neither of which is at all satisfying.  The original ending — at least according to the editor of the book — implies that the experiment succeeded, the mummy recovered and left, and everyone except the protagonist ends up in comas that they never recover from (perhaps because he managed to get his respirator on and they didn’t).  The alternate ending implies that the experiment failed and that the mummy turned to ash.  The problem with both is that there is so much time spent on the experiment and talking about the implications if it succeeded or if it failed that to end it this way makes it seem perfunctory.  We also never find out in either case what the mummy’s real goals were, which matters more in the original one where she ends up back in the world.  Both endings also pretty much ignore the love story that was so prominent, with the original ending ending it and the alternate ending not referring to it but instead only referring to the experiment failing.  So on all counts the endings are totally unsatisfying because they end without exploring any of the implications and without resolving any of the plots and character arcs that the book spent so much time talking about throughout the book.  It is odd that a book that spends so much time on exposition can’t take a few more pages to explore the ramifications of what it had set up.

Overall, this wasn’t a very good book.  It shifts plots in the middle for no real reason despite spending a lot of pages on the first one, spends a lot of time on exposition that is boring and even somewhat repetitive, and then doesn’t have a satisfying ending because the endings don’t resolve any of the arcs and both end quite abruptly.  I won’t be reading this book again.

Thoughts On Re-Reading “Dracula”

October 19, 2021

I had read “Dracula” at least once a while ago, but wasn’t entirely thrilled with it.  It was okay, but wasn’t a book that I was anxious to re-read.  But I recently watched the original Universal movie of “Dracula”, and was sure that the movie changed some things from the book.  I had also rewatched “Dracula:  Dead and Loving It” before that, and felt after watching the Universal movie that it was parodying the movie and not the book, given how many things — even how the castle looks — were pretty much identical to the movie.  So this made me want to re-read the book to see if the differences I remembered were there or not.  And it turns out they are.

The big one is that as I wondered in the book it’s Jonathan Harker that travels to Transylvania to arrange Dracula’s affairs in England, while in the movie it’s Renfield who does that.  I remember a made-for-TV movie that actually stayed true to the book and had it be Harker, as I remembered the “hitting Dracula with a shovel” scene, but in the Universal movie that’s changed.  And to be fair, it’s actually not an unreasonable move.  An issue with the way the book does it is that it isn’t clear what Renfield’s role is in the work.  Was he someone who was already insane that Dracula tried to use as a servant, or was he a servant that was eventually committed to the asylum?  He doesn’t really seem to do anything but does seem to know a lot about Dracula.  So if he was the person sent to handle Dracula’s affairs and then was turned into his servant while he was there, but his strange behaviour as a thrall got him committed, all of this is explained.  On the other hand, Harker’s speculation about Dracula wanting to kill off the link to his houses and his nature makes a lot of sense, and Renfield in the movies does not do a good job at all of hiding Dracula’s nature.  So Harker’s harrowing escape from Dracula is both more dramatic and more in line with the character of Dracula.  So it isn’t clear which way is best.

The other more minor change, as I noted, is that they manage to defeat Dracula in England in the movie, while in the book they have to pursue him into Europe.  I can’t approve of the movie approach here because the book approach led directly to the board game “Fury of Dracula”, which I played a few times PBF and which is an excellent concept for a game.  So the chase into Europe is more exciting — if contrived at times — and again leads to an interesting interpretation in the game.

What I also noticed, though, is that the book is told almost entirely through journal entries, which actually really works for it.  Dracula is ultimately a very personal story and the journal entries really do make things personal.  It also makes it more difficult for movie adaptations because they either have to follow each perspective or try to amalgamate them all into one overall perspective.  The first option would break the flow of a movie quite a bit, while the latter would lose the personal perspective that makes Dracula the book interesting.  The movie goes for the latter, and while it does work it tends to capture the exposition — which is also a highlight of the book — but not the personal nature of the story.

I enjoyed the book a bit more this time, although I found it dragged towards the end and stopped too often for the characters to talk about what fine specimens of manhood and womanhood they were.  I’ve started reading three of Stoker’s “Lost Novels”, and have to say that in the first one, at least, this does not change and in fact only gets worse.

Summary of the Deep Dive of Fate of the Jedi

October 13, 2021

So, I managed to get through taking a bit of a deeper look — and not as deep as I would have liked, as it turns out — at the Star Wars Megaseries that I like the least, “Fate of the Jedi”.  In fact, I’m not really being hard enough on it to say that I like it the least.  I dislike it.  I have read it twice and really, really don’t want to re-read it again.  It was the last big series of “Legends” and was a huge disappointment to me.  And while I didn’t go into it in as much detail as I was hoping, I do think doing this revealed to me more precisely what the issues with that series really were.

One thing that you’ll note that I kept saying throughout those posts is that they had way too many subplots going on.  I think that is the biggest flaw of the series:  there are too many big subplots that don’t play well together in this series.  They both interfere with each other but each focus too much on specific aspects of the Star Wars universe so that pretty much all of the fans aren’t going to like at least one of them, but have no reasonable way to avoid them if they didn’t like them.

For me, I don’t think there was any way I was going to like the Abeloth subplot.  That sort of Lovecraftian entity as an opponent doesn’t really fit with the Star Wars that I knew and enjoyed.  But on top of that, in general it forced delving into esoteric Force traditions and spiritualism that many fans wouldn’t be all that interested in.  And because of the inherently mystic nature of such an entity, they’d have to go beyond simple Force traditions and rituals and powers and make the conflict itself importantly spiritual.  And, to be fair, that can work in Star Wars.  Other works have delved into the more mystical side of the Force and focused their conflict in that realm.  But this work also had to include a political clash between Daala and the Jedi, as well as Sith attempts to gain power and influence the galaxy.  In a work that could really focus on the mystical, at a minimum the audience would know what they were getting into and could enjoy it for what it is.  Moreover, it wouldn’t have to link up to anything in the political world.  Abeloth could have goals that are completely disconnected from the practical world and only make sense on the mystical plane.  Instead, here they needed to find reasons for Abeloth to want to gain political power and mortal followers, and mortal followers as something more than mere mind slaves.  Except when she didn’t.  There was an undercurrent of her wanting or needing to devour her followers, but this aspect that could have bridged the two and left Abeloth mysterious was ultimately dropped in favour of an overarching idea of chaos and the like, but Abeloth was too grounded in the world — even in the backstory — for that to really work.  Linking her to the political situation both took away her incomprehensible mystic mystery and introduced her as an overwhelming and out-of-place force in the political situation.  The political situation suffered because of her interference, and her plot suffered by being grounded in it.  The two plots didn’t work well together.

The Sith plot could have worked with the political plot, but it was handled poorly from the start.  The Sith started out completely disconnected from the events in the larger galaxy, but in a shockingly short amount of time were able to infiltrate and gain political power nevertheless.  Yes, at times they could piggyback on Abeloth’s moves, but she herself gained the power too quickly to be credited.  And their success ended up putting the conspiracy plot into the background, when it was the plot that would have made more sense to have gained that much power.  A very simple solution to all of this would have been to have the conspiracy be the way the Sith infiltrated the government, and have been them manipulating the conspiracy from the start.  This would have made it more credible that it could have succeeded and could have been used to explain Daala’s failings — as the new Head of State constantly being manipulated by a more experienced conspiracy — and why the conflict generated was between the government and the Jedi.  All that was needed to highlight and hint at this would be someone commenting on an example where if they were really trying to get Daala only they would try to build the Jedi up instead of discrediting them as well, which could be explained later as the Sith trying to both gain political power and neutralize their greatest enemies.  This, then, would have allowed them to focus on the conspiracy and maintain the mystery of Vestara a bit more instead of starting out the second book telling us that there’s a Sith planet and that she’s a part of it before we know why we should care about any of them.  Them arranging a way to get Luke out of the way for a while would also easily fit with their goals and model here.  You could have had a really good trilogy based around this premise if you dropped Abeloth and combined the Sith and the conspiracy, with room to fit in some of the smaller subplots as things developed.

Because another flaw in the series is that the authors often seemed to give too much time to the more minor subplots.  Golden spent a lot of time building up the Sith planet, again at a time when we had no reason to think that we should care about it.  There are long, interminable sections of Luke’s explorations that might have been somewhat interesting but both went on too long and happened at times when what was happening in the rest of the galaxy was clearly more important than what was happening there.  While I generally liked Allana’s sections, the same complaint can be raised that there were more important things going on, and I can easily imagine that some readers really wouldn’t like her adventures.  Trimming things down would have allowed for them to take more time to develop the main threads while still leaving time for the more minor subplots to be developed or even to just be distractions from the main plot.

But alas, that wasn’t done, and so perhaps the biggest issue with the series is its lack of focus.  It’s hard to say what the main plot is — although given the attention it gets it’s probably Abeloth — but the more interesting and arguably more directly important plot — the Daala vs the Jedi plot — gets rushed to accommodate the other plots, despite it resulting the death of a Jedi Master and ultimately being responsible for the takeover of Coruscant.  We spend way too much time reading about minor subplots and adventures given the fact that the plot that starts everything off is both underdeveloped and inadequately linked to the other plots and to the ending.  The series really did need to figure out what it actually wanted to do and focus on that.  Instead, it seems to focus more on telling stories that the writers wanted to tell instead of on telling one big coherent story.

So, that’s it for Fate of the Jedi.  If I never read that series again, it will be too soon for me.