atolnon: (Default)
( Sep. 9th, 2013 10:23 am)
I finished Atwood's Oryx and Crake the other day, but I don't understand the hype. I know what Atwood was doing, because it was patently obvious and her pacing is okay. Her individual sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all very well, but sadly for me, they never come together in a narrative I care about at all. Very mild spoilers (in that I refer to what's basically the point of the book, obvious from the very beginning but, still) here...

I mean, she's got an unreliable narrator in Jimmy aka Snowman, and the book's basically Jimmy's life from childhood until middle age, when the book starts. He lives his life in proximity to Crake, who's the person who does things - Jimmy never really does. His purpose is to be a citizen who's just close enough to the major movers and shakers for you to get an idea of what life is like for a percentage of the population (and Atwood's somewhat lazy nomenclature for branding, which I found to be a combination of amusing and lazy - everything is literally named something like MissppelledCorpoBrand-DE-lux) as well as getting something of an inside look about why everything turned to shit. Crake's the guy that does things. Oryx is a beautiful plot-via-being sexually abused beautiful manic pixie dream sex slave, and she only shows up in the last 20% of the narrative as the bare-bones sexy lamp that she's presented as.

Just like Hunger Games, I read the book in good time and was mildly interested in it as it went by quickly, then when I put it down I just kind of felt, "Whelp, that was a book." Isn't that going to be most books, though? Even good books? I don't mind, I just don't have anything else to say about it besides that. It came initially well recommended and I read it for my book club, so.
atolnon: (Default)
( Sep. 1st, 2013 10:03 am)
Halfway through the workweek for me - I get a full 8 hours for Labor Day and because Labor Day's tomorrow and Sunday isn't the end of the week, I get an extra hour today, too. That's what Labor Day means, right? Out upper management doesn't understand the irony, so my amused chortling was lost on them.

I've gotten two letters in! It's a new month, so that's a good time to start writing back. I don't know how I feel about Syria, yet, [ profile] writer_lynn. I know I'm the kind of person who should have an informed opinion already for you, but I'm deeply burnt out these days on stuff like that. I'll read up a little bit and I'll give you the full scoop on paper. I don't feel obligated to get cool stationary for writing letters, I just think it'd be fun. On the scale of things that cost money, it's not especially high, anyhow.

I'm finishing up my list of stuff I'm supposed to do before I make another ambitious list of stuff I'm supposed to do, but it's going well. I've done most of the easy stuff, in any case, so now we're to the parts that have been a long time in the making - re-arranging several rooms of the house, finishing some writing bits. I once made a promise that I'd write fan fiction for Kay of all things to promise. It's for Scott Pilgrim, and the prompt I have is really not safe for work, and it's really likely it's never making it out of this house, but it's a writing project between 2k and 5k words depending on how I feel about it.

I finished up my old reading list except for Oryx and Crake which recently came back to the library here in Belleville. I'm reading the Euthanatos book for Mage, O&C, and just finished Good Omens. I have a lot of opinions about Mage, and I'm not going to do the WIR again, but if anyone wants to hear them, I'll post some (after I finish the splat book).

My notes for running a D&D/Pathfinder game are looking more positive. I have two people who might want to play, I promised a third way back that I'd talk to them if I was going to run one so I owe her a call (or message, as the case may be). I'd like between 4 and 6 people if I can get it going, but there's been some unpleasant drama lately. I've talked to Frank about gaming events, but he's said he's really busy. I know he's running at least one Exalted gaming session on occasion, and I don't know if he's playing, but I suppose that would do it. It's a shame, really. I was playing in two and suddenly they're not being run anymore, and I can't for the life of me think of why. Honestly, though, that level of gaming plus work is probably going to mean he doesn't have time for another sessions, and he's never been much for the whole rules suite, anyhow. Mikey, what do you think about you and Megan? I don't know if you're still reading these or how busy you two already are. I might have to buzz you about it, sometime.
I've been meaning to finish Persona 1 since I just had the Playstation 1 disk and was dating Violet seriously. I don't mean that I've been meaning to start Persona. I mean that I've been meaning to finish my playthrough. I've started twice. It's not that great a game. I  have it. I'm slogging through it now. I'm getting fairly close. I suppose I've clocked about 30-40 hours off and on over the last year or two. I guess there's probably about 30 to go. It doesn't take up time in a normal, meaningful way; I play it when I'm sipping coffee and scrolling down tumblr or when I'm checking to see if they have anything to say about WoD or Exalted (and that's about it, these days). I play it when I'm sitting on the toilet. Or I did. With the end approaching, I designate time, as if for a chore. It's on a list.

Persona's an interesting game that spawned an increasingly successful franchise almost despite itself. The characterization presented in the first game is weak, the graphics are uninspired (it's a fairly early Playstation title, so that's no surprise), and the plot is perfunctory - mostly a setup for random monster battles and dungeons that appear to be designed at random. The combats were initially weirdly balanced to the point that they appeared buggy. It was re-made as a PSP title with cleaned up graphics, fairly impressive video scenes, and cleaned up mechanics. It's a legacy title; it's what you buy to fill out your collection with the re-made Persona : IS and EP, which are significantly more worthwhile from a player's perspective. I'm slogging through the game to have beaten the entire collection (hopefully, at some point) and almost out of what I would consider respect for the series. But why respect, of all things?

Persona offered something that other games didn't offer and at a level of complexity that its future titles would not bother to model. It was one of the few games where it wasn't just possible to communicate with your enemies (simple as their AIs inevitably were), and not just expected, but mandatory. Talking to enemies convincingly renders their spell card unto you. When you have their spell card, you can either mash it up with another monster's spell card in order to create better personas (basically a spirit grafted to a character which renders bonuses, some weaknesses, higher stats, and a bevy of powers you can swap in and out) or, as long as you carry it and don't fuse it, they act as a get out of jail free card during fights. The monster you have a card for shows up, you talk to it and show it your card, and it recognizes your contract with it, then leaves - effectively allowing you to skip the fight.

Summoning new persona for new powers is complicated, involving a large chart full of signs for good matches, poor matches, normal and strange matches. There are a list of mythical beats and characters a mile long, each associated with one of the Major Arcana of the tarot. The personas have levels and improve with use, and at a max level you can trade them in for difficult to find items.

You can buy guns, bullets, melee weapons, and a whole set of armor (greaves, boots, helmets, and body pieces, and they're all expensive), spell items, healing items. You can gamble in a casino where you play the games your character sits at. People at diners will help you remember your objectives in the story. Your last two characters are recruited manually from a list of secret characters. There's an entire side quest that takes over from the main quest that you can undertake without ever touching the normal quest, with a totally different plot and character.

Basically, there's very little plot - it's the video game equivalent of a complicated RPG dungeon grind. People misunderstand what Persona is about - game one is hardly about the plot at all. It's literally a mashup of a ton of complicated, intermeshing mechanics where the goal of the game is actually to grind at a furious pace, building the biggest, most badass team you can while taking these brand-new, never seen before mechanics for a trial run. Once I realized the purpose - that the game is basically a huge Excel spreadsheet with graphics for people with a special brand of obsessive-compulsive focus, it made perfect sense to me. It's fun, just not the kind of fun you find in gaming much, anymore. It's practically a dead format that would have made much more sense on a PC during the early days of computer gaming.

It's close to both Persona 2 titles in how it plays where Persona 2 games are much more sophisticated in terms of plot and smoother mechanically (though they remain huge, intense grinds) and almost totally divorced from Personas 3 and 4. I find it to be a very interesting phenomenon.

Now. We're going to need to get to the grocery store, today and hopefully we'll manage to even see Pacific Rim. (I've heard good things from most people, I've heard reports that it was bad from friends of friends, but I'm ignoring that.) The upcoming days menu looks like steamed asparagus with poached egg and grated espresso-rind cheese served with either herbed roasted potatoes or buttered sweet corn, garlic hummus with rough-chopped parsley and roasted onions and pita chips, chicken and wild rice soup with parsley or kale, salad with tomato and half a turkey sandwich, and rajma masala served over jasmine rice.

I'm excited to let you know how the movie was. I also totally have to make it to the library. My books are a day over due.
Additionally, I'm killing time doing yard work until Katie gets home. Our mower is broken, so I'm literally weed whacking my overgrown backyard into submission foot by bloody foot. Wish me luck.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jul. 17th, 2013 12:24 pm)
It's the first time in quite a while I've posted twice in one day, even if the first time was public service announcement. I've been trying to clean up a lot of online profiles, do backups and virus checks, and keep all of my shit in order. My computer and online process is a lot like my physical processes, in that I'd rather be free of something than keep clutter around that I don't need, so I sometimes get overzealous. I've been tracking down personal possessions and trying to find places for a lot of them - the rest we're getting rid of - but in the process we discovered that there's a huge number of CD cases without disks and a fair number of CDs without cases anywhere to be found.

So, of course, we search for them. I won't be surprised if a lot of crap gets thrown out, though. Probably just CD case liners, using the cases themselves for burnt CDs when needed until they're all used up.

Katie's doing first-day stuff at the grocery store. The bank job, if offered, won't start until September so it's worthwhile to accept the work at minimum wage for the time being.

I need to get to the library in the days ahead, but I'm taking notes on the counter culture text. It had a series of essays, as I mentioned, on various bits from how technocratic government systems caused chafing with the youth of the day, the use (or, more appropriately, co-opting) of 'Eastern' religion, the use and abuse of psychedelics, and in at least one terribly misguided instance, why science kind of blows. I'm being a bit uncharitable, but just a bit.

They're all nominally useful, and I think I can use most of the information in a tangential way. I'm waiting until my notes are better to say much more, it's just that my thoughts are resting on them. Because I haven't made it out to get the book (haven't found our gift card and haven't made it to the library), I haven't started Gaiman even though I said I was going to. Instead, I've begun Slaughterhouse-Five. I wasn't nuts about the last Vonnegut I read, but I remember I liked Mother Night, so I'm not exactly holding a grudge. I'm not automatically excited about Vonnegut; his sound feels a little forced, but it's a littler different from what I see in a lot of books so I'm somewhat willing to accept that. The book's not long, so it's not like it'll put me out too much.  
atolnon: (Default)
( Jul. 16th, 2013 09:59 am)
Just a quick update to help me focus on what I'm doing today and this weeks highlights.

Last week was terrible. Everything on the news was bad and I had a hard time personally. I'm just working on moving forward and not getting fixated on shit I can't do anything about. Cantown was a success, Katie had fun at the convention, and Katie's currently going in for the job interview at US Bank for a position whose job description is basically "help people stop from getting foreclosed on", which pays something like 32k a year. I finished the books I was reading, but I didn't realize the library closed early on Mondays (of all days), so I'm a day late and I'm going to renew one to take notes with and turn in the other. I also finished my 6 books for the summer reading club, which means I'm entered 6 times for a drawing for 50 bucks, I guess? My next books are Gaiman's "Ocean at the End of the Lane" which promises to be fairly quick and Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse 5" which I have actually never read.

So, good.

I'm going to do the WIR for a combination of the WoD Core and "God-Machine" because it was asked of me and because I want to. I'm compulsive, so I feel the need to start from core before I get into Mage and Changeling which are the only two core books I actually own physically for WoD. There was a point when I felt the deal gained from buying pdf won out and it's fine for tablet readers, but because I want them on my bookshelf, I might eventually break down and buy them.

Other potential purchases include Dark Ages Vampire, Vampire: the Masquerade (1st Ed or Revised, I don't know), and Hunter : the Reckoning. Ostensibly for collection purposes, but also because I like reading them. Vampire: the Requiem might be a better game, but I don't actually know. I was never huge into Vampire, and I'm just now thinking of giving it a chance.

I found some notes for nWoD Exalted, so I'm going to take enter them onto the computer and try to tidy up my living situation which is getting better but, really, our house still looks like a huge wreck.   
atolnon: (Default)
( Jul. 12th, 2013 09:20 am)
The book I'm reading right now is called "The Making of a Counter Culture : Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition" by Theodore Roszak. Initially published in 1968, I'm reading a revised volume for a pretty specific purpose. My initial thoughts were to read something about the formation of counter cultures prior to 1980, or when cyberpunk took off. The book's a series of essays, going in fairly different directions, so it's not worth it to me right now to do any kind of summary, but I guess what I'll say for now is that it's marginally helpful in terms of thinking about my original goal (cyberpunk) and more interesting as a broad spectrum discussion of counter culture formations in the early 70's. I mean, it's due back to the library in 10 days, so I probably need to wrap it up, though.

Kay did get a job, by the way, just not the one we were thinking about before. The sure-thing is a minimum wage position as a stocker at the grocery store, which Katie was primarily interested in because it's not sedentary. Katie's interviewing for another position at US Bank on Tuesday, though, and that's kind of the one we're hoping for because it pays a real, living wage. We're literally down to our last couple of bucks (I get paid today, so I'm not immediately concerned), but if we didn't have this good news coming down the pipe, we'd be really incredibly stressed. As it is, we're just regular poor person stressed.

So, there's this game that's just called A Dark Room. If you google it, it comes right up; you don't have to download it. You just go to the page and you're already playing. It's delightfully simple to start playing and surprisingly soothing, while being just a little bit creepy. It reminds me of the old Commodore 64 games I played when I was younger (I'm really dating myself, here), like a cross between Wasteland and Roguelike map adventures.

The premise is really simple. You're in a dark room with a dying fire, and as you stoke it two things happen - a helpful stranger comes in from the cold and you realize you're out of wood. What follows is basically a tutorial; you quickly learn to build traps for game and expand your reach with the assistance of your new friend before striking out into a dying, post-apocalyptic world. There's a fun twist at the end, as well.

The writing is terse and moody, adding to what I would call a surprisingly well-created atmosphere. The game itself is quite short and saves automatically, though if you clear you cache, you'll have to begin again.

Games like A Dark Room add to the ever-growing list of games that are probably a little too small even to be considered 'indie'. Many are created by individuals using very basic tools bent to the ends of creating simple but atmospheric games which are short, but surprisingly sophisticated in their taste. Games like ".flow" are pretty representative of this, and are almost always free. (Some end up being a few dollars, at most.) They come at a time when huge games on expensive consoles are more entrenched in our cultural dialogue then ever. To me, it's almost like an act of rebellious creative expression that these games have come out. In the past, games were created by individuals and very small teams because the gaming industry was amazingly tiny. They were low-fi, but their expression was based on those individuals. This is an interesting return to that gaming ethos. I'm not saying that people should hang up their consoles and gaming rigs, but I would definitely give these games some time.

Edit : Also, I'm tempted to have someone print and bind my copy of God Machine updates. I hate reading pdfs, which is the only reason I haven't gotten to it besides an incredibly superficial overview. I'll either be talking about counter culture essays or doing the WIR thing pretty soon, I just haven't picked a book. 
I've moved on to Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, but I still stop to think about Cat's Cradle now and again. I just didn't say all that much about it last time, so I guess I'll elaborate on it a little bit here.

There are some spoilers, but everything I'm saying is basically the premise of the novel, so I don't think that they're too bad.

I think what frustrated me the most about it was that it really wasn't bad, but the finish was weak where the beginning was strong. It started with what appeared to be a series of vignettes, in a chronological order, from a disaffected journalist. The journalist is writing a book about a scientist, and then the end of the world happens, and that's the end. Bokononism is the deliberately fake religion chosen for the purposes of the story, and the story itself seems to be largely a meditation on religion, deliberate religious constructs, the nature of truth, the ethics of science, and the nature of fate. As themes, they're classics. Stated in the middle of the Cold War, they're probably very potent. Vonnegut's writing is cynical, wry, but not without humor, and what he has to say is interesting.

Since the story is short, and all of the above is true, I recommend reading Cat's Cradle on those premises alone. I guess I would probably call the book 'good', if that's useful to you, but it left me dissatisfied as a reader and I spent a little while trying to determine why. I felt like it was probably too long, that there were probably too many characters we simply didn't need (or that I didn't want), that the protagonist wasn't very interesting (or sympathetic, which is actually not that great an issue for me), and that the book read as almost intolerably smug, though that might simply be projection.

The protagonist is a novelist, and goes here and there looking for interviews for his upcoming work. I feel like, as he gets deeper into his research and discovers more interesting and odd individuals and phenomenon, then perhaps that could drive him. Whim and total coverage were enough for Hunter S. Thompson, after all, but despite the odd occurrences, he seems bored and a little put out. He possesses a deep and abiding lack of curiosity, and attributes his direction to the most paper thin other reasons. There's nothing explicitly wrong with this. It just felt a little weak. I could (and did) abide it as I continued towards the conclusion of the novel. Near towards the end, events look like they'll unfold one way - an interesting way, really - and suddenly go in a totally different direction. The protagonist has no agency in the development of the plot. I understand why, narratively, that Vonnegut did this, and I understand that this can (and does) happen in real life. But in a novel, I find it to be incredibly dull and, while there may be a point to it, when you're actually reading it, it feels extremely lazy. It is almost literally a Deus ex Machina ending.

In order to facilitate direction, Vonnegut fills his novel with a colorful cast of characters that do nothing, don't really say anything, and exist purely as window dressing. The revelations they enable are red herrings. Nothing in the first few hundred pages matters at all. Literally nothing. The book could easily be cut to 20 pages and half the cast banished to the oblivion of never-been-imagined, and the story would lose no punch. The story reads like Vonnegut has something in mind and gets rushed at the very end, finishing the story in a different way almost out of spite. I honestly can't tell if this is intentional or if it's just weak writing. If I can't tell, I don't care. If you've wasted my time for art, my time is still wasted. Thanks, Vonnegut.

It's smug. It reads like the guy who just declared he's an atheist, and filled with disdain for those who still cling to what he considers to be an outmoded system of belief, writes a tract that flirts with nihilism, but is too scared to follow through. It's a proud, but sad and fragile work from an excellent writer who, when I observe carefully, feels like he copped out right there at the very end, too scared to commit fully to the page. This isn't saying anything about Vonnegut himself, of course, since I don't know (and it doesn't matter). Perhaps I'll read it again sometime, but probably not. Whatever secrets I've missed in this novel aren't sufficiently compelling for me to indulge its bleak pages more than once.

Now, Murakami is personally one of my favorite writers. His own protagonists are known by some reviewers I've read for being especially languid and without momentum of their own, and in the past I've disputed that. (I feel like the direction they're trying to go is simply not the direction that events eventually lead them in, but that's a discussion for another time.)  I'll be reading Kafka on the Shore for the second time, though, and I'll be more critical this time than the first, so I'm interested to see what my new take is on the work. I've also been thumbing through the soft-cover version of Wraith lately, which I think I've mentioned, but I haven't gotten further than about page 30. I do have some things to say about it, though, so if you're interested in my analysis of older White Wolf products, you may have come to the right place.
atolnon: (Default)
( May. 4th, 2013 09:01 am)
I have mere minutes as I wait to shower but here's an update, I suppose.

I finished Cat's Cradle, and I'm not really that enthusiastic about it, to be quite honest with you. It seemed a little smug and shallow to me, where most of the book reads as something of a shaggy dog story. None of the characters actually did anything, and I know that's part of the theme, but I don't think it was particularly great. The technique was sound enough, and Vonnegut is clever enough with words and ideas, so it was easy enough to finish, though. One of those times where I actually feel like the book is less than the sum of its parts.

Still slogging through the programming manual - I haven't really had enough time to sit down and work at coding, so the reading and interaction with it is probably going to stretch past the wedding date. I picked up the paperback version of Wraith : the Oblivion which, after all this time, I realize has a very decent (if physically difficult to read) introduction. The book club is on to Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I've read before, but liked quite a bit at the time. I'm also currently about halfway through What if the Earth Had Two Moons - a pop-science astronomy book about the physical formation of earth-like planets in space under different construction scenarios. 

The house is an incredible mess. We've pulled many books and DVDs off the shelves, along with a CRT television, so that they sit on the floor awaiting their pickup. I had a chair break right out from under me, and it's quietly awaiting demolition on our living room floor, to mine and Katie's consternation. Yesterday, being particularly busy, we did not have time to deal with events quite like we would have wished. Wedding-related stress from my in-laws is driving both Katie and I to heavier drinking, but my suit recently came in and things are coming together very nicely. If I have time, perhaps on Monday I will take some pictures. I occasionally promise things like this, regardless of intent to follow through.  
I've finally gotten through Dark Souls and Focault's Pendulum. For the record, I enjoyed both, but they were pretty arduous experiences.

I've actually talked about Dark Souls before, and I'm not sure that I have a whole lot to add since I'm not typically in the business of doing full game reviews (though I think I'd be pretty good at it if I put my mind towards it). It was long, but I made it much longer than it had to be because I brought my past gaming experiences with me. I didn't need them, it turned out. Dark Souls is very much its own thing. I wasn't impressed with its much-vaunted difficulty level, either, but I grew up with Nintendo games. If you want the full review, leave a comment, otherwise I'll assume you're not concerned.

Pendulum's something like 530 pages, and for a rusty reader like myself, it was a little daunting. Like a lot of former students who took their education pretty seriously*, I got pretty good at reading and writing. A 10 page rough draft got done in a night, and 500+ pages is a weekend of serious reading. Not so, anymore, and it took me a pretty long time to get through it.

Umberto Eco's a professor of semiotics. I've read The Name of the Rose and a collection of his essays, and he's really quite interesting but, for better or worse, you can really see the effects of it in his fiction. I think that being in the middle of academia for so long eventually leads to a writing that's as cynical about the cyclical, self-feeding nature of some types of research, and Pendulum really reads to me as a deeply interested but cynical manuscript.

Three academics and researchers work for a publication company - one legitimate publisher and one that's basically a confidence game. They've got a lot of self-financed writers on their rolls for the scam company (whos' inner workings are explained in fairly good detail in the depths of the book), and in order to draw them back in, they begin to publish and re-publish documents relating to the Knights Templar and other occult shenanigans. The information released is ostensibly bullshit but the researchers, as a game, make a habit of tying one piece of bullshit to another to fabricate a whole cloth of occult history. For a certain reason (as pertinent to the plot), the story is released to the public, and it gets far, far ahead of the researchers themselves.

Dangerous shenanigans result.

If I want to be critical (but not particularly bright), I'd probably say that you could cut about 100-200 pages without too much difficulty in order to tighten up the plot and better the pacing, but I'm not really sure that's the type of text that Prof. Eco wanted to produce. For me, it was interesting but not snappy. I didn't fall in to the pages like I've done with other books I've been interested in. First, I don't speak French, Portugese, Spanish, Italian, or Latin, and my lack of education in the Romance languages hurt my ability to understand the nuances in certain passages, quotes, and chapter headers. Second, I must admit that the bulk of the pages scattered clues as trees shed autumn leaves; in the detritus of the protagonists' personal history, we have clues to his inner workings. Do we need them? Possibly not. I say that the book is larger than the sum of its plot points, but the beginning goes on too long.

Where The Name of the Rose reads like an excellently researched adventure game from the player's perspective, Focault's Pendulum reads like it were almost the narrative of the storytellers making the game. The protagonists enthusiastically pen a secret history full of sorcerers, thaumaturges, assassins, knights, and harlots fit for any World of Darkness campaign. When it's leaked, it's convincing to those who have already lost their grip on reality. Like Mulder, they want to believe, but unlike The X-Files, there never were any aliens. The conspiracy is a lie fabricated by three con artists who got too wrapped up in their games.

Once again, the plot is fair, but the book only becomes a page turner at the 300 pg. mark. The exposition is probably the key. Prof. Eco provides page after page of fake information for the reader to wade through, making one feel that there is a story-in-a-story that one is reading, as if the writer couldn't decide which story he would rather tell, and so he puts one in the other so he doesn't need to decide. At one point, I nearly lost patience  because the information provided wasn't of any real use to me, before I realized that neither was the book I had opened in the first place.

If books were Russian nesting dolls, I suppose. I can set Foucault's Pendulum next to House of Leaves.

Personally I liked it. It's a good book, but here's my suggestion; this is a book for someone who actually enjoys their academic reading and is willing to read an extensive and dense piece of fiction about someone doing a lot of academic reading and the effect of that on their personal lives. If I knew a little better, I'd say that it has a fair amount to do with the nasty politics of academia, but that's speculation. I can think of a few people who read this journal that this book is relevant to, but I think my warnings are the same as the warnings one receives upon asking if one ought to pursue graduate studies. The very thing designed to warn you away beckons you closer, providing you're into that kind of thing.

* for an 18-20 year old, which is really not 'adult' seriously like I've come to understand it.
atolnon: (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2013 10:05 am)
I'm still doing all of the things I said I'd do, vis a vis my personal goals. I don't have anything exciting to report, but I am doing stuff, so that's my progress report.

I'm still playing fucking Dark Souls. I guess I'm pretty miserable at it, because I'm 91 hours in and I'm just starting on the boss fight circuit. This shit is wicked difficult, but I think I'm doing one of the hardest ones first. I don't spend all that much time playing video games, so despite the large number of banked hours, that's literally every hour I've spent playing video games since December 26th. Don't get me wrong, though - I like the game. It's still fun, and I'm still enjoying my time with it, but right now it's a little like the meal that tastes really good, but it's too large and you're trying to finish the dessert which you know won't age well in your refrigerator so if you don't finish it now, you probably never will.

That analogy is a little clunky, but I guess I'm not really going back to fix it.

I'm still reading Foucault's Pendulum. My alternate read has moved over to D&D 3.0's version of Manual of the Planes. Pendulum probably should be done by now, but it's about 500+ pages and it's not really tough, but it's a little dense. When I get back from work, though, I'm physically tired, and at about 10 PM, my eyes start to get pretty heavy. On my days off, I'm pretty busy. So, the window of time that I can get into it is pretty small; I forgot how easily a full time job saps your energy. But, it's interesting and I'm still working on it. I'll talk more about it when it's finished. MotP is also interesting, from a gaming standpoint, because I've never gotten to play a D&D game that seriously hits the planes, and I've wanted to ever since I checked out the old 1st Ed. Manual of the Planes book from my local library as a kid. It's dry as hell and, in a lot of ways, it's not as engrossing as that first book was all that time ago, but it's still an interesting read.

I'm going to the zoo today to enjoy a friends birthday, so I hope your day is okay, too. 
Quick update on boring things : a friend of mine went to bat for me at his place of business, which is hiring, and I have another interview this Saturday. We made a strong pitch for Stand Alone on Wednesday, and we're waiting to hear back on if they'll sign the contract, and Katie is doing a lot of work on personal commissions and commissions for a Flash-based MMO called Glitch. 

Glitch went under a few days ago, leaving a bummed out community. Personally, we'll probably switch to Lord of the Rings Online because I already have an account, and I'll probably go back to writing and Minecrafting, but Kay already had contacted the owners of the game to determine if selling commissions based on their property was okay and got the go ahead. So, there's that. If you play Glitch and want a shrine of one or more giants, message me and we'll get you set up. We've mostly been asking for money to pay for materials, so they're not terribly pricey. 

In my down time, of which I continue to have surprisingly little (though I do tend to count social obligations as busy time; nature of the game for me, I suppose), I had made a decision to read every book in the house that I hadn't read yet. Of my own, there were pretty few. Just ones that tended to stack up when I was still buying things, but I had always tended to buy then read as quickly as possible. I mean, I think I still need to read my Sartre and I don't think I ever finished Ian Banks' Surface Detail, but that could be it. But, well, I did move in with someone who worked at a book store. Between the two of us, our house is almost literally floor to ceiling books on most available walls. 

My tendancy, when given no other marching orders, is usually to read in a line unless something particularly catches my eye. I mean, I'll get to all of it pretty soon, anyhow. Katie occasionally mentions that I should read something next, so there it goes. Some of the books are a little insipid; there was a 'geek logic' book that was a series of equations for determining your path of action that relied a little too heavily on weak steriotypes and slightly sexist humor, for example, that wasn't terrible but I felt pretty lucky that it was so easy to get through. 

Others were really thought-provoking. I read Toure's "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?" and he really gave me a lot of food for thought, reminding me heavily of the interesting, occasionally uncomfortable conversations and lessons of my college instructors Prof. Redmond and Prof. Rambsy. These guys deeply influenced my thoughts on race and especially America as a whole, so in that vein, I heartily recommend Toure, as well.

Finishing Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" was literally the last thing that I did before hitting the lights last night. My good friend in literary arms, The Jenna, did not find it particularly good. In fact, she reserved a special kind of venomous intolerance for its contents, and while I consider her a good judge of textual character, I felt like it was pretty alright. It tries to hit a few too many points in its 400 pages and it's a little mean-spirited. The protagonist isn't an especially great human being, though neither is he irredeemable. Epic things happened, but the scope of the text itself wasn't epic at all, it was narrow and personal.

I feel like there's a reasonable chance that I'm going to come back and talk about the books I read in greater depth. Probably not all of 'em, since there's really too much and not all of them really deserve it? But this is my original bag, so it's good to be picking it up again and testing its heft.
atolnon: (Default)
( Nov. 9th, 2012 03:10 pm)
I was tired when I first started counting and writing, and then there was abject stupidity, so my first two days were totally miscounted. Iost election night and the day after due to helping someone move i.e. kicking someone out of my house pretty much (We're on good terms! But they're permanently moving on to a new place.) so I'm only up to 5700 as of 3 PM, November 9th. It's not great! But it's coming along. 

Like I said earlier, though, that's what I'm up to. I can usually get 1k with a little over 30 minutes of writing, so putting a little more time in ought to do the trick, I think. 

I also forgot to log in and log words on the NaNo sight. All that boring shit is probably getting done today.

Also, doing some writing for the game, some additional apps, whatever. And things are looking okay for getting a job soon, but that's not very interesting. I just feel kind of good about it. 

I was observing a conversation (taking place online) the other day between Kay and some other chump on Plurk (which is a little like Twitter + Facebook, I guess) who was asserting that Tolkien and, indeed, most fantasy can't be considered literature because it doesn't meet the right criteria. And that we needed to respect her authority on this matter because she's in college for an English degree and she's spent an entire semester learning about this. 

Be still, my beating heart. 

That's pretty much like me sitting at a bar and having a nice pint of something and overhearing someone announce in no uncertain terms that my parentage is up for debate and that I likely wear last season's women's underwear.* I pretty much spent the rest of that morning pacing back and forth, ranting aloud. The person in question brought up issues of Tolkien not being suitable for the literary canon along with Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and then going over their criteria. 

I looked it up. Said chump deleted the thread, but here they were : 

1) Commentary on society at large or events at the time/in the past 2) Contributes to a literary movement IE. Romanticism, Realism, so on. 3) Significant impact on society at large

Personally, I think the whole thing is bunk. Canon is something that, afaict, allows cultural experts to dictate what someone needs to read in order to be considered cultured, ie, part of the educated mono-culture which has been in decline since it was discovered that subaltern groups can read and write.** Canon's just a tool like any other, really, just like genres are. Canon, the term 'literature', and genres are just things we use to help us talk about writing, and we shouldn't let them control us. I see people frequently forget that, though, and act like these things are divinely received wisdom. Whoops. You've got it backwards, friends. 

Even through those criteria, almost anything that you see written still falls under those criteria though, depending on how you want to interpret it. Hunger Games? Commentary. Contributes to a literary movement? Children's lit? A genre? Dystopian fiction? Too broad. I feel like she should have taken better notes, but this is what she gave us to work with. Significant impact on society at large! That's my favorite. Oh my. To say that Tolkien hasn't had an impact on society at large is laughable. But! Even terribly written work can do that. Don't make that a criteria for literature unless you want to let 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight in, since those are big in the White Person Accepted Media Sphere while other, terrifically written books by subaltern groups that have great impact on the readers and members of their attendant cultures, sub- and counter-cultures are neglected! 

The truth is, though, that words are literature. Anything written to have an effect is literature just like anything created to have an effect on people falls under the larger subheading of art. The terms and distinctions we make serve only to provide ways to meaningfully discuss the larger fields under certain headings. Using the terms like they've been used in the past to break away large parts of work from the collective and call them not worth studying loses us too much and disregards the efforts of too many trying to be heard, in my opinion, to be a moral act. 

* Is black not in anymore? It's difficult to keep up, these days. 
** After the Fact Trigger Warning : Snark.

I actually don't have all that long to type here, since we've got to get to a mechanic for Katie's car and then I gotta help with a food drive at a local convention. I'll have the evening free, but I'll probably forget by then, so I'm just going to post now, instead.

First, the link.

Second, why I'm posting the link.
That's the blog that I was working on a while ago and the resulting posts never materialized. There are good reasons for that, I assure you, but there's no ignoring the fact that I said I was gonna be doing a thing and then never actually got around to it. 

I'm extremely rusty on anything approaching academic writing, so once I had started, I had to go back and keep coming back to it, trying to figure out why what I had written wasn't quite right. Even now, I'm not really sure it's where it needs to be - in my opinion, it's probably reached the point where I'd be comfortable calling it a rough draft, but it's also a post made to Blogger (and, incidentally, Tumblr) and nobody is really going to comment on it, though I imagine I'll get at least a few people who bothered to read it. 

The premise is that genre writing is rarely taken seriously, and I feel that one of the hurdles of cyberpunk as a genre is that it's somewhat pigeonholed as universally dystopian literature, and that reading with that label stuck on it kind of flattens the world and makes critical reading that much more difficult. 

It's obviously not the only thing I'm going to write, either about cyberpunk or on media as a whole, but at least now that's off my desk and I can go on to work on the next thing. 
atolnon: (Default)
( Jun. 4th, 2012 03:43 pm)
I have a stack of notebooks on my desk, one book, several uncounted note cards, and 9 tabs in my browser baring the name of one William Gibson as I look for a very specific quote that I never seem to have added to my every increasing list of notes on the man and the subject of dystopian cyberpunk. 

Having re-read old notes and accidently stumbled upon ever newer things that should have been there in the first place, I took a look at what was currently in progress vis a vis my blog and realized that the post is going to take longer then I thought it probably would. My state of affairs is bordering on the ridiculous, but it's a situation I take seriously, so it needs to be remedied. 

In the mean time, let me assure you that my presence here is not mandatory. I genuinely kind of want to talk to you. I am aware that I am freeloading, but there is also time for this kind of business - especially when this kind of business frames my struggles with an amusing feeling of purpose. 

Did you know I specifically cleaned my desk so that I could mess it up with literature notes? It's true. That is a long way of saying, "Obviously, I am a nerd."

The quote I was looking for was when Gibson said that his writings were not really intended to by dystopian, but what I did find came close. The interview was with Scientific American*, and he was asked, "Your fiction has depicted wide class gulfs in which "lowlifes" co-exist with the rich and feudallike corporations that concentrate mind-boggling amounts of wealth... do you think that this disparity will continue to greater extremes as they develop further, and could they potentially restructure the current social order somehow?"

The printed answer, "I depict those socioeconomic gulfs because they exist and because most of the imagined futures I grew up with tended not to depict them. Migration to cities is now so powerful, so universal, that people will create cities, of sorts, simply through migration—cities that literally consist mainly of the people who inhabit them on a given day." is similar to what I assumed the reason had been, or what I remember saying, I forget which is which. Basically that this wide gulf already exists, and when you write it, it looks like a dystopia. 

What I'm writing doesn't hinge on that, but it's certainly part of it. There are lots of times, because Gibson repeats himself, where he says that most fiction, and especially his fiction, is about when it was written. 1984 is about 1948, The Sprawl trilogy is about the 80's, and The Bridge trilogy is about the 90's - regardless of original intentions. This is all in the writing, by the way, so you'll see it again with proper sourcing. If you want to ask about the relevance of cyberpunk, the thing to remember is that it almost can't help being social commentary no matter what the tropes are. Perhaps especially because of the tropes, but probably not.

I really had to take a break and write on this because my writing of this isn't done yet and I wanted to have something up, at the very least. We're still fucking around trying to get a 'yes' or 'no' out of the insurance company about the crawlspace, and when one's as good as another, it's time to fuck off and just find another way of dealing with it since there's very little chance that it's going to be over the deductible in the first place. I also know that I slipped the whole 'I'm getting married.' in kind of under the radar, like some kind of shitty test to see if you're paying attention. There's so much ridiculous shit going around at the moment that something simultaneously good and fun a year away seems akin to fiction and, even if it's on the level, is probably happening either to or for somebody else. 

Like I said before, I'm not sure on the details, so I guess you're likely to know whenever we do for sure if you're the type of person to whom these details are or become relevant and generally speaking, you know who you are.
Significant Hunger Games spoilers. 

Here. )
atolnon: (Default)
( Feb. 23rd, 2012 03:22 pm)
I'd finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy about a week ago and then just kind of sat on it. My first thoughts as I was going through it was that it was fun, and fairly tightly written, but not particularly sophisticated (and it's deliberetly YA, and it's generally an action oriented book, so I don't really deduct points for it). The subsequent books were progressively weaker until I honestly wished that Mockingjay hadn't actually been written. They'll get their own post complete with spoiler cuts for those of you who are interested.

I've moved on to doing a sparse amount of Exalted Charms for the Synodic splat I've been whiling away my spare slivers of time with when I have them. Mostly lunch hours, really, so it's certainly not going quickly. It is going, though, which is a bit of a surprise to be entirely frank with you. There are 24 Charm sets and 24 constellations and colleges, so I haven't had to strain myself too hard. Whenever something comes to mind, I spend a little time fleshing it out and when it seems passible, I post and do some perfuntory formatting so that I can actually read it on my Google doc.

The more glamorous sets like Martial Arts, Melee, and Archery haven't really appealed to me all that much so far. I've done some sparse work on the Synodic Hero Style, dubbed Inauspicious Fallen Maiden Style. I've written up some Medicine Charms and I've done a little work on the Larceny Charms. The constellation correllation for Medicine is The Maimed, so the abilities have taken on a quick and brutal, triage-like feel that unnaturally sustains life metaphorically or literally - including an alternate take on Smooth Transition. Larceny's correllation is The Judge, so the Charmset generally revolves around re-appropriation.

For your amusement, then, here are some of the Charm names for these trees.   
Larceny : Breath Confiscation Method, Inescapable Forclosure Style
Martial Arts : Realization of Inevitability, In Persuit of Fate, Passion of Remembered Virtues, Hand of the Red Maiden
Medicine : Easing the Transition, Fateful Amputation Method, Gauging the Lifeline
Occult : Terrestrial Circle Sorcery, Shadowlands Circle Necromancy, Labyrinth Circle Necromancy

I feel pretty creative even if I've been terribly exhausted lately. I get enough sleep, so it's really more emotional/situational. The product, I suppose, of feeling like I'm not really in control of my fate. An ironic thing to consider as I'm writing up the charms of those fate had initially put up for the chopping block.

Oh,  PS. Hey Brent, do you have the google doc for the Charms too? If you'd tell me what your opinions/mechanical considerations were, that'd be nice.
atolnon: (Default)
( Feb. 15th, 2012 02:34 pm)
I'm pretty close to wrapping up Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and so I guess I'll talk about it in conjunction with probably Battle Royale. That's a little tricky because Katie reads this sometimes and hasn't read BR yet, so I guess spoiler blocks are in my future. Either that, or I keep my big yap shut. There are things to spoil in Battle Royale even though the premise (class goes in, violence, then one person is supposed to come out) doesn't allow for too much variation.

Expectations in literature are another thing that I've been thinking about in conjunction with those above works.

I know that it would by stretching it to say that the people that are actually interested in the Exalted stuff I post number in more then the single digits, but as a mental excercise, it's a lot of fun for me and I suppose that there's always the chance that it results in something playable (as unlikely as that probably is). I know that Brent's interested, so I'll go ahead and keep putting it up. The document I'm working in right now is here :  Synodic Constellations
I've been banging my head against the wall trying to get a good update from work. I've been working on other stuff when I'm home and by the time I get in, I'm hamstrung by actually having to, well, work. Alternately, there's been some difficulty in translating what I'm actually up to into something that can be reasonable posted. The other week, I went to the library a few times. By the time I was done, I'd walked out with about eight or nine books; some of these I've already read and others are brand new tacks on a subject I felt I was well grounded in. I felt that my premise was too narrow - can cyberpunk still exist as a living genre? Initially I thought that it couldn't, but after some reading and thinking, I realized that it can and does - it simply looks different then it used to.

It's an argument that can be convincingly made in five pages, but it lacks breadth and depth. Cyberpunk is nomenclature that was accidentally but convincingly assigned. It's appropriate, in that like 'gothic', it was never intentional but spread memetically.*

In any case, looking too hard at the name of the genre can be misleading. As early as 1985, Bruce Stirling was comfortable with publishing an anthology of cyberpunk work in Mirrorshades, and when you're doing that, you're usually able to put your finger on distinct themes that are present in a literary movement but the borders of any literary group are fuzzy at best. Despite that warning, the name does give a clue as to how the movement started - the 1980's were a time of strong anti-government sentiment in the US, even within the government. The connections, for example, between the radical conservative anti-government sentiments and the direction the Republican party was making at the time have been demonstrated by others recently. David Sirota also lays out a case for the same from the voices of our popular culture in Back to Our Future.

If popular culture was a hotbed of anti-government (if strangely pro-military) sentiment, then the counter-culture eschewed respect for the military but retained its anti-government bent, while adding a certain amount of disdain for the culture at large. The direction towards willing privatization, the Gorden Gecko 'greed is good' mantra, and a growing conservative bent plus militarization lent a nihilistic air to counter-cultural groups like punks or goths. Meanwhile, research in computing was progressing at an astounding rate. This is pretty much the gestalt that a movement like cyberpunk requires, because much of the themes revolve around the volatile combination of technology that's cheap enough to reliably find its way to the streets while, simultaneously, featuring corporations as the most common symbol of authority. 

Interestingly, while some writers undoubtedly moved in the direction of the intentional dystopia, other writers like William Gibson have gone on the record as saying they were never intentionally aiming in that direction.* (If it seems like one, well, a combination of future shock and characters who are basically hired thugs or live in slums... well, that'll tend to do it.) Many of the settings, intentional or not, infer a world that many readers would consider a dystopia.

That's the tack the 80's started to take. It took a disregard for the direction the established order was taking and smashed it up with a near future where electronics were cheap and not just in the hands of some of the West's poorest citizens, but required for daily life. A world where corporations are our chief authority and all but own the process of governing, and where our world footprint rests casually but firmly on the throat of the environment. A world, basically, that none of us could imagine happening today.

* Please bare with me. I do have a citation for that, but I'd have to find it, and I really don't want to at the moment.
atolnon: (Default)
( Mar. 23rd, 2011 12:52 pm)
I've been spending a lot of time reading on a decrepit red couch in a dusty room situated in an apartment complex which can best be described as a series of rickety, identical boxes with some of the most technologically complicated marvels ever created by humans.

Incidentally, what I've been reading are cyberpunk novels.

If there's a weak link in Gibson's newer Blue Ant trilogy, then Zero History ain't it. It's a lot snappier then Spook Country, and ties in more smoothly to Pattern Recognition then Spook did. Gibson's a much more sophisticated writer now then he was over twenty years ago, and it's hard not to take that into account, so instead I'll just mention John Clute's note that Gibson has more or less stopped writing something that can be called traditional science fiction because traditional science fiction is no longer possible "in a world lacking coherent 'nows' to continue from..."*

I think it's probably stretching it to say that it's impossible. It's definitely more difficult.

Sci-fi, in any environment, is a reference to a future, though. That's different then cyberpunk which is more of a movement then it ever was a genre. And when you've got Stephenson writing something like Snow Crash in 1993, where he's pretty much lampooning the movement (at the same time he tells a pretty compelling story), well, I feel like the writing was already on the wall.** It's hard to write with the tropes we're familiar with being attached to cyberpunk in the modern age, because we've currently subsumed those very same tropes into our daily life.

We're a smart phone grafted to our skull away, and really, we've already got bluetooth, so fuck it. We generally don't like those guys anyhow, so I guess the question isn't 'how' but 'how much do we want it'? Followed shortly by 'and how much are you willing to pay?'

This cyberpunk shit is pretty much not what we envision it being anyhow. Seriously, it's not. We think chrome and mirrorshades and I guess whatever Lady Deathstrike crap the Molly Millions crammed into her fingernails, but on reading up, a lot of it was just sci-fi in a near future environment populated by people with poor personal skills. So, actually, the critical part of cyberpunk is probably the -punk suffix; something that we haven't been able to culturally nail since we sold it to Hot Topic for mass distribution, followed by sound mocking.

*^ Clute, John. "The Case of the World". Excessive Candour. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-14. Shameless stolen from Wikipedia.

** This is honestly a little disingenuous, because the lampooning seems to be rooted in how seriously some of the cyberpunk movement took the grimdark of their prospective 80's settings at a time when we were coming into the Clinton 90's. As a younger guy, I remember reading a Wired article speculating how the tech bubble might never burst, so how's that for your ridiculous optimism?


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