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Archive for July, 2009

For some reason I haven’t been watching that many series or movies and am instead going through a reading spree. Going to Finncon is the major cause for this I suspect. At the moment I’m waiting for A Clash of Kings to arrive from Play.com and whitling away the time with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

The Dark Tower is a very entertaining piece of fantasy. The plot is very simple and can be summed up in one sentence: A man named Roland is trying to get to the Dark Tower. Of course that isn’t interesting in itself but what’s most important to me is that the story also hilarious. Stephen King has such a dark humor and imagination that at times I can’t help but laugh aloud, which doesn’t happen a lot, since I’m really a very boring person at heart. The first part, The Gunslinger, wasn’t very funny, but the second part brings in Eddie and Susannah as companions for Roland on the road to the Tower. I really don’t want to spoil anything once again, but you really should read the Dark Tower if you have any interest in fantasy. If you also like Stephen King, then why aren’t you reading this already.

The biggest problem I have with the series is the character of Roland. While he’s interesting in many ways, he doesn’t talk very much and doesn’t question why he’s searching for the Dark Tower in the first place. Also I would never call him funny in any way. Perhaps this is the reason why he has companions with him. Eddie is exactly the type of person needed to make the dialogue more interesting and also funnier. He seems to be talking almost constantly and is always cracking a joke. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which King has named as a big influence, did very similarly with Blondie and Tuco. Tuco does most of the talking and generates most of the laughs in the movie, of which there are surprisingly many. Perhaps the lack of funny side-characters was the biggest lack in the Gunslinger, which was a very serious novel.

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The Finnish review went up some time ago and now its turn for some musings in English. First off, I’ve only played the first chapter of the first Monkey Island and what’s more have never played a Telltale Games-game before. You might gasp and think that I’m uneducated when it comes to classics and newer adventure games, but think rather that you’ll be getting a different view of the game if you keep reading.

Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is a strong game and very enjoyable to play, if there is the occasional impossible-at-first-but-oh-so-simple-now-I-read-the-answer-from-a-faq-puzzle. I don’t like being stuck or feeling stupid so that subtracted from my experience somewhat. Another gripe I had was with the jokes. Most of them were thrown without too much context with the story. Threepwood, the mighty pirate antagonist, might joke at an ex-pirate glassblower who has a liking for unicorns, or a treasure hunter collecting porcelain action figures. Both of these characters are jokes themselves as well, who have a certain part to fill in the game and then cease to be amusing. There are a lot of potentially funny stuff if it was only built a bit more. Perhaps this will happen in the episodes to come and considering that Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is only the first perhaps a lower key beginning was to be expected. I hear Sam&Max got better as it progressed also.

The jokes were pretty much my biggest problem in the game, but I really liked the character design and the island(Flotsam) were the game takes place. All the characters were very memorable even if rather shallow. Threepwood himself was especially stunning. But the biggest exclamation mark, !, goes to Flotsam. As soon as Threepwood finds himself landed, this wind starts blowing and the sound transports you into the world of the game. Just this simple looping sound effect has such an amazing effect. I can’t imagine Flotsam without that wind, at points I looked out only to notice that the air was still and the sea had disappeared somewhere. The jungle surrounding the town has animal sounds that are also a part of the puzzle set there. The music is a traditional Monkey Island fare and does help create the atmosphere, but I felt the soundtrack was a bit too pronounced at times. Sometimes in the game the music did fade and you were left with the sounds of the jungle as company which set the mood a lot better.

The puzzles of course deserve a mention. Even if I dratted them for being too hard, most were just the right difficulty even for a landlubber like me. There was one pearl among them that stood out above all other puzzles in the game and I’m not going to spoil it for you. Let’s just say that an evil doctor is involved. An evil doctor dressed ridiculously, but rather evil still, if embarrassing. I’ve got nothing against dressing the way he did but I’d never wear his clothes, even if I was in a pirate parody video-game. Some bland jokes and a limited wardrobe aside Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is a strong beginning and I can’t wait to get back to cracking jokes and solving ridiculous puzzles(or looking them up from a walkthrough)

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Now that I’ve read A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, I can say that he more than fulfilled my high expectations, mostly formed after hearing a friend praise his books and of course seeing the author himself at Finncon. (picture is the Finnish book cover, because its a lot cooler in my opinion)

Perhaps what I most enjoy about A Game of Thrones is the unpredictability. Unlike most authors in the field of fantasy I’ve read Martin isn’t afraid to kill his characters or at least make them suffer greatly. This makes reading very exciting since you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next chapter. Usually in a book of fantasy you know that the main characters won’t die which takes a great amount of excitement away, for me at least. While reading A Game of Thrones I was holding my breath at the key moments in the book and gasping when something went horribly wrong. For me the book was quite an emotional exercise. Martin himself has said that this is exactly what he wants: the readers living the novel. When there’s a feast in the book he wants you to smell and taste the food, the same goes for sex scenes, of which there were a few. At this Martin succeeds superbly, I haven’t been this enthralled and held by a book since Harry Potter. Of course A Song of Ice and Fire is meant for a more mature audience and that makes reading him even more enjoyable.

Unlike Harry’s rather idealized fantasy world (if you erase Voldemort it seems to me that Potter’s world is quite without any problems, as the epilogue in the last of the Potter-books proves). In A Game of Thrones all of the main characters seem to walking on a knife’s edge most of the time. The main characters also have their own personal problems. One of them, Jon, is a bastard which isn’t a good thing in the Seven Kingdoms, a medieval-type kingdom with warring noble houses and another a dward, which is even worse of course. Certainly the book has its heroes but as in real life, nobody’s perfect. The good guys in the book are rather interesting but the catalogue of villains is rather more interesting. I won’t spoil anything so you can find out for yourselves. The characters and plot are wonderful and Martin certainly learned from his time in the television industry how to write cliffhangers, I can’t wait to read the second part. Luckily I found Martin so late so he’s written quite a few books into the series already.

Black and white, good and evil are such cliches in fantasy literature that they’ve become boring. Instead of telling an epic story about the battle between the aforementioned, A Game Of Thrones is a battle between selfish people working for an agenda of their own, be it revenge or love. The book does have a purely evil force, but it doesn’t play a very big role, at least this early in the series. If you enjoy fantasy and want to escape that happy and enjoyable life of yours, reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones is a fine way to do that.

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Stalls

I spent the weekend at Finncon the largest fantasy and sci-fi related convention in Finland. I went to a lot of interesting panels, writer interviews and even danced some para-para (a japanese dance). During the weekend I lost a lot of money, mostly on books and the con t-shirt. What I most liked though were the quests of honor at the con: Alastair Reynolds, George R.R. Martin and Adam Roberts. Each one was a very interesting speaker and Adam Roberts even managed to be funny, even though he was invited for being an academic, if I’m correct.  I thought I’d write shortly about these three and why you should read their books. All three were just names to me before the con, but managed to get me interested through their appearances.

Adam Robert's speech windows commercial totally unintentional

First Adam Roberts. He works at the University of London and does academic stuff there writing sci-fi on the side or whatever one might call his books. Probably not how he would describe his job but he did mention that being an academic isn’t a very hard job, or is atleast relaxed. It was occasionally hard to know when Roberts wasn’t making a joke since he was tongue in cheek most of the time. Perhaps because his books don’t sell that well he doesn’t have to worry about keeping his sales up. He mentioned himself that the reason for that is that he writes such depressing books. I quess putting the climax of his novel in the middle, making the rest of the novel a huge anti-climax doesn’t help either(I think this is in his newest book: Yellow Blue Tibia). Its rather hard to recommend the man’s books since I haven’t read any of them but he would likely answer even a critical email about his book gladly(he seemed nice and wondered himself why his books turn out so depressing). If you have the chance to see Adam Roberts live somewhere I wholeheartedly recommend doing so, he’s rather funny and charismatic as well( married and has kids though, just in case a woman might somehow read my blog, shudder).

Naruto

I quess Alastair Reynolds should go next. I only saw him at one panel, which didn’t last all that long what with the microphones being dead for the first 15 minutes. I did manage to catch his kaffeeklatch though and eagerly listened as he answered questions from people who had actually read his books. He was interesting to listen to as well. I gathered that he writes rather a lot of space-opera. There was a short story of his on the convention leaflet and I enjoyed that one very much. In the story a technician aboard a space ship has to wear his deceased friend’s space suit. Scientific stuff blended with interesting characters and thought provoking as well. Judging from the short story I’ll be checking his work out as well.

George R.R. Martin being the oldest of the three goes last, but not least. I’d heard of his series A Song of Ice and Fire before but hadn’t read a single one of his novels before going to the con. I bought the first part of the series: A Game of Thrones after hearing him talk at a number of places around Kaapelitehdas (where the con took place). I’m at page 149 now and took a break from reading to write this piece. One of the best scenes so far just took place. I’ve been reading with a lot of excitement since you really have an idea what’s going to happen next and Martin writes in a very holding fashion, its a page-turner alright. R.R. Martin was one of the most interesting talkers at Finncon as well. Especially hearing about his background as a writer for television was an eye-opener. A Song of Ice and Fire is for a television series by HBO, so that’s something to look forward as well. Think I’ll finish the books first though. I believe I’ll post something on Game of Thrones once I finish it. I know I haven’t been updating very regularly but this is merely because my weekends have been rather full and there’s been short vacations and stuff.

No doubt being a sharp reader who notices things you’re wondering about the Naruto above (not Alastair Reynolds cosplaying) and these pretty ladies from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are doing related to this post. Well, animecon was going on at the same time so Kaapelitehdas was pretty much taken over by creatures from all kinds of anime series. The girls below and especially the one cosplaying Midna deserve a mention though. Midna looked even better live and a lot of time must’ve went into making that suit.

That's what I call cosplay

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The Hangover

Not what I’ve been doing lately have no fear. Just happened to go watch a movie called The Hangover. I don’t watch that many American comedies, but Spill.com liked the movie a lot so I thought I’d give it a try.

The plot revolves around a bachelors party. Four guys: Phil, Stu, Alan and the groom Doug leave for Vegas two days before the wedding. Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in the morning in their suite and find that they don’t remember anything from the night before. To mix things up further they find a tiger and a baby from the room and have managed to misplace Doug. To go further would spoil a lot, since most of the charm in the movie comes from the three guys’ seeing what they’ve done the night before. As a viewer you’re in the same position as the three guys you follow for most of the movie. All the time you’re guessing what exactly happened.

chicken?

The characters are rather cliche. There’s the rather everyman Doug who is a meter of normality on which to mirror the rest of the characters. For most of the movie he isn’t around though. Phil is the cool guy who looks good and knows what to do in almost every situation. Stu is the nerd who’s going to propose to the terrible Melissa, a control freak who pretty much bullies Phil around (Melissa thinks they’re going winetasting instead of Vegas). Last we have the utterly insane Alan who throws the craziest jokes, yes, including miming a baby masturbating. The characters are different enough to make them interesting to follow.

One of the things that surprised me about The Hangover were the high production values. The makers clearly had enough money to spend on the movie. Of course it’s not Transformers Revenge of the Fallen but there’s car crashes and Mike Tyson makes a visit in the movie. I don’t know what the production values usually are for comedies but the movie was visually stunning at times.

Crowbar attack

Most important of course in movies like The Hangover is the humor. Luckily most of the jokes work very well and at no moment did I find myself bored. Perhaps the best thing in The Hangover is the way the story is told sort of in a flashback fashion. You’ve got the timeline of what’s happening after the guys wake up and then the characters get to know what happened through being told to, shown pictures and surveillance tapes or even getting hit by a crowbar. All reminders of the night before.

If you like your humor more sophisticated The Hangover is not for you. But for connoisseurs of crazy comedies this is your piece of cake. Its also maybe more a guy movie with guy jokes, okay, definitely a guy movie. But I walked out of the theatre with a smile on my face after laughing a lot in the theatre so comedy succesful.

Your car officers

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