The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘Literary’

Monster is just another name for life

Posted by Matt on October 2, 2011

It’s back to class, which means back to actually reading books on a regular basis. I like reading books, even if it’s for reasons other than my own curiosity or enjoyment. It’s good to be exposed to material that you might not have checked out otherwise, which is why I really do enjoy these English courses. I think I might take them for the rest of my life.

But here’s what I’m getting at:

One of my recent reads was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I had read Atwood’s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, so I have material for comparison, I guess. Oryx is certainly more sci-fi, in that old-fashioned sense where morals are explicit and technology dooms us all. That’s not to simplify the book, it’s certainly not another wailing lament of what a mess we’ve made. Atwood’s way too smart for that. It’s running with far sillier concepts than Handmaid’s Tale (it’s hard not to chortle at least once with names like Pigoon, Rakunk, Wolvog, and the like being constantly tossed about), but that is certainly a side-effect of the subject matter. You get silly names when you’re dealing with gene-slicing and corporate culture, but not when you’re talking about theocracy, you know?

It also amazes me that an 80-year-old woman can write material that reminds me of…well, me, and other people like me. You know, the kids of today. She’s pretty up with the youth culture.

It’s the aforementioned genetic science stuff that makes me a bit…apprehensive. I find the satire of corporate culture funny and fascinating, and it is often grappling with the same ideas I have found very interesting (the segregation between the ‘corporate citizens’ and the people in the cities is an idea I’ve had before, and it’s an idea that looks increasingly plausible). In a way, I want to simply dismiss the problems with the science aspect of the novel by saying it’s a byproduct of the corporate stuff. Essentially, that this is not so much a screed against genetic engineering entirely, but against the possibilities of genetic engineering under the control of for-profit entities. The relationship between science and commerce is a tricky thing. For every new thing we discover, there’s a capitalist asshole who’ll exploit it for money. As the novel itself points out, the scientists under the illusion that these discoveries help people will often ignore how the byproducts of their work are used to bilk the desperate. As a primary example, we know of many cases where advances in agriculture are almost immediately co-opted by evil corporations like Monsanto (and while the ‘evil corporation’ pejorative is a cliche for aimlessly angry youth and aging hippies, if you do any reading about what Monsanto has done in the past, you’d agree with me that those guys are fucked up) and turned into copyright so they can drain farmers for upkeep and sue if their hybrid seeds accidentally land on another’s guy land, if that guy actually owns his own land instead of tending official Monsanto Land.

Yes, that’s what I’d like to believe, just to make my brain happy. But I can’t. I know I need to face these criticisms head on.

I don’t think Atwood is anti-science. And make no mistake: the irrational fear of what can come about from genetic engineering is anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-discovery. The “Frankenfood” meme comes from people who seem to forget that all agriculture is based around altering plants and animals to our liking, with the only difference being that corn and dairy cows were bred into existence eons ago by simple farming folk, and the stuff today is being done by guys in lab coats, who they have been trained to dislike because they do…stuff. The creation of these animals are often based on real ideas being tossed around, but they are exaggerated. The thing is, things like man-animal hybrids aren’t real, and have no scientific reason to ever be real. Getting a skin graft from a pig is not the same thing.

A lot of people, including possibly Atwood, seem to have this invisible line between what is natural and what is artificial. Nature is sacred, even if you take spirituality out of the equation. You can learn and tinker with only so much in the ‘natural’ world before you’ve gone too far. Making life in a test tube is going too far.

Here’s the thing: those lines? They don’t exist. They’re made up. Because the brain we’ve evolved with lets us do stuff like that.

This is not to say that humans cannot fuck up with environment with their meddling. They most certainly can. But that shouldn’t be used against learning how the our biology and the biology of the things all around us works, and using that knowledge to benefit us. Nothing we do is entirely separate from the natural world, and testing out new ideas shouldn’t be seen in a negative light automatically. The same rational minds that genetically engineers corn will know that introducing a new species into the ecosystem can cause major damage if it’s not contained, and will attempt to connect it. We even see that in the novel, albeit it ends badly anyway.

I’m tired of the cliche of the cold, calculating scientist, screwing with shit in his or her lab, reveling in their god role. In the context of Oryx and Crake, this can be seen as a product of the corporate environment, where the goal in science is not for human advancement, but in creating products. This is an issue that we all have to deal with; but more often than not, it’s simply used as a justification for bludgeoning real science if it makes people uncomfortable. It switches the target, and let’s the real crooks get away. So while people hack away at the ethical/moral issues of genetic engineering, that issue of corporate control (which is brought up as an argument and subsequently dropped, or bundled into the case against the science itself, as if they will always be one and the same) gets away with minor cuts and bruises. Once again, one of the things I like about this novel is that it doesn’t immediately drop the criticisms of the corporate mindset just so we can gasp at how awful the very idea of genetically engineering animals is; both are targeted equally, each on their own terms.

But it doesn’t explain away all the attacks on genetic engineering. It seems to, what with the companies all mainly being about selling things like specially grown fried chicken (yes, that old urban legend), or creating vanity products and services. But as much as those are justly ridiculed, we are never presented with a positive alternative. The organ transplant pigs are not seen as any more beneficial, and the fact that they, as mentioned before, get out into the wild and wreck shit (alongside all the other silly names in the book), just seems to reinforce the idea that it’s all bad, even when it’s not immediately recognizable as a useless corporate product (even if it actually is, as it shows). I don’t think I should expect there to be a “well, that’s no good, but this is an okay application!” segment of the book, that would break up the narrative and muddy the point. But it brings that apprehensiveness back, because…well, I just don’t really think that genetically modifying plants and animals (human and non-human) is an inherently bad as this book seems to position it as.

The character of Crake interests me. Crake is, in my mind, a perfect example of a Aspergers supervillain. Now, “supervillain” may be a going a bit too far, even calling him a villain or antagonist in general is wrong, but the guy does kill everyone on earth except the protagonist, so we’re in the same ballpark at least. It’s a character type I myself have tried to work with, and both arise out of that previously mentioned scientist stereotype, but with less of the cold logic and Hollywood insanity, and more general social ineptitude and that very real kind of mania that this type of person can have. To a degree, both the protagonist and Crake share a lack of self-awareness that seem to come with the culture of the novel. They watch porn (including pedo stuff, which brings Oryx into the story) and what essentially amounts of to a combination of reality TV and shock sites, with little to no emotional impact, except at points where the mania seeps in. But the protagonist grows up to be rather petulant, idealistic in a sense but self-absorbed, Crake only goes further into the obsessiveness, eventually making his own race of humans, for no reason other than because he can. There are shines of other motivations in his character, an attempt to always be control being the main one, but it still seems to be simply part of that very specific, very modern-feeling kind of psychopathy. He’s not simply a mad scientist, he’s a guy who became a prodigy and can never stop doing what he’s good at. The urge to create overtakes everything else. It’s a condition that neatly fits into both scientific and corporate environments. I find it to be an interesting bit of characterization.

But that just leads back to the question of scientific ethics: if Crake is the best of the best in his field, what does that say about his field? As I said, I don’t think Atwood is trying to oversimplify things, “these guys are all bad!” or anything like that, but there’s not a whole lot of sympathy shown for them. All the geneticists are either entirely deluded and compromised (like the protagonist’s dad), scheming assholes, or genocidal nerds like Crake. The protagonist, who does not become a geneticist but is raised by them, ends up playing false prophet to a group of naive human spin-offs. In fact, about the only half-decent person in the book is Oryx, but she’s so fucked up mentally that you never really notice. All this seems to show that the view one could gleam from the book is a little more nuanced than simply “you guys are fucking with nature! stop it!”; there are people in the book, people whose actions and reactions are very human. It’s some musty old sensationalist story of science gone wrong. It does attempt to really get into these issues, not simply declare them off-limits.

But no matter how much I want to praise Atwood for her ideas, I just can’t shake the feeling that this delves into anti-science territory. I personally don’t think we should limit what we can learn about and how, even though we should be careful with it. So I have some trouble coming to terms with what this book might be trying to tell me. It’s one of those very difficult matters in art, where something seems to be on the razor’s edge between critical analysis and screeching propaganda. It’s definitely a good piece of dystopic fiction; but I still need to determine what people are taking from it, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

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Stuff Read

Posted by Matt on July 15, 2011

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World: A Short History of Modern Delusions,
by Francis Wheen

When I decided to read Francis Wheen’s polemic against irrationality, I made the (understandable) error in thinking the majority of the book would sock the major players in the world of quackery and supernatural bollocks, something that I read on a regular basis and quite enjoy. That’s not to say the gang wasn’t all there: Wheen went after homeopathy, UFO conspiracy theorists, creationism, astrology, motivational speakers, and false prophets both ancient and modern in good order. But all these things, all relatively easy targets as widespread as they are, were simply the symptoms of something greater, Wheen says, and repeatedly traces it back to one decade: the 1980s. I think you know where this is going.

The thesis of the book seems to be that the 1980s, and the election of the Iron Lady in Britain and the Gipper in the US, ushered in a new era, a “counter-enlightenment”, whose primary goal was to undo the scientific rationalism that began to spread with the work of the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, and the American founding fathers. The search for truth those great thinkers advocated was derided as the source of the world’s woes, and various forms of political and economic mysticism were invoked to get the world back on track. Wheen tracks the movement to every aspect of life: the massive deregulation of businesses and the subsequent overzealous businessmen who rose and fell in the manic trends (which we’ve seen even more of since the book was published), America’s search for a new post-Cold War archenemy (which was, apparently, Japan for a very short while), the takeover of academia by post-structuralist and postmodern thinkers who take healthy skepticism of authority to unheard levels by rejecting reality itself, and the massive outbreak of overemotional hysteria that reached its apex with the death of Princess Diana in 1997. What all these have in common, Wheen argues, is that they all derive from an ideology that rejects every advance made by Enlightenment 200 years earlier, putting emotion and belief ahead of thought and understanding. Even worse, he writes, the people who should be fighting back, the so-called progressive thinkers, have succumbed to the same illness, firmly planting themselves in their own opposition ideology of anti-Western fervor that they rarely see the forest for the trees.

It’s a powerful, eye-opening argument, and one that Wheen does an excellent job supporting. That the stories of dot-com era businessmen putting all their money in websites that literally make no money somehow end up being more damning of the deficiencies of the modern world than stories of fear-stricken dunderheads making preparations for California-destroying earthquakes caused by a rare planetary alignment is definitely a point in the book’s favour. Of course, we would all think to point and laugh at the latter and wonder what’s wrong with people, but to consider that the former and latter (and many more instances of both institutional and cultural insanity) derive from the same sweeping epidemic of anti-inquiry? That’s frightening.

So, a book that would initially seem to be an amusing look at snake-oil salesman and their marks (and Wheen’s style is definitely still quite amusing, even as he dives into the bleakness of the situation) turns into an examination of a world that has turned its back on critical thinking, and won’t stop it’s retreat to the dark ages even as it’s endeavors fail again and again. It was a bit of a surprise for me, but that only made the read more rewarding. The connections between all these irrational things hold up, and creates a disturbing realization of just how embedded these inanities are in our culture.

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Wizards and Goblins I Have Not Known

Posted by Matt on July 12, 2011

With all the noise being made about HBO’s A Game of Thrones, George R.R. “Fatboy” Martin’s newest book in the original series, and the incoming overextended Hobbit movie, we’ve all been getting a massive dose of high fantasy lately. Here’s a secret: a don’t really like high fantasy. At all. this and this will give you a good idea why. But there’s more.

I, for one, find the Medieval Euro-centric concepts of these stories to be pretty dull on their own. Being a white, middle class North American all my life, I’ve had the real and imaginative histories of Western Europe drilled into my brain pretty thoroughly. I’m tired of it, really, especially when the authors have no innovative takes on the hoary old cliches at all. And really, there’s so many neat histories and myths found around the world, I think it would be worth more time seeking those out than hearing about kings and dragons again.

Like O’Neil, I am also unceasingly skeptical of authority, especially arbitrary authority as represented by the monarchies and upper classes that have spent the better part of human existence oppressing 98% of the population. Once you exit adolescence, I think the fantasy of ‘good’ kings should be long gone. Most high fantasy is inherently nostalgic, whether it be for the times of kings and nobles, or for the uncomplicated country living idolized by Tolkein’s Hobbits. But nostalgia in both instances is ignorance of history, a callback to times that didn’t exist. We may pretend that the British Royals are anything other than vestigial entities in a political realm that completely ignores them in every way that counts. Yet, I still see a defence of the Royals in local newspaper columns almost every Victoria Day. “It’s a tradition!” they cry out, as if traditions have ever had a particularly good track record. “It’s what keeps us connected to our unique heritage!”, which only reminds us that our heritage different levels of inherited authority figures sending each other out to take and enslave. But reality is no deterrent to the nostalgic set, and therein lies an appealing factor in high fantasy, a reminder of simpler times that didn’t actually exist. Even the more complicated political worlds of Martin’s books can’t escape it, especially when little to no attention is paid to the people under the warring noble factions.

Then there’s the length. I have always considered brevity a virtue, so if you’re story requires several 500-1000 page books to tell in its entirety, I get the impression that it’s getting bogged down by something. Worldbuilding is probably my least favourite literary trend, as it attempts to wring out a sense of importance and ‘epicness’ from the blandest of tales, and usually hinders plot and characterization. You want a big fucking universe? Write a fucking encyclopedia for it; don’t distract me while I’m trying to enjoy your yarn.

And that’s why I don’t like high fantasy.

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Posted by Matt on May 25, 2011

You know the only reason I complain so much is because I’m not confident with my ability to write interesting things about the stuff I love. I love plenty of things, you know. It’s just, you know, what can I say about them that would be at all interesting? I have plenty of theory about the things that have been able to engage me in my head, but that doesn’t necessary mean (a) I can translate those ideas into a non-awkward essay, and (b) those theories are all that interesting.

I read The Filth recently, and I could talk about what a great, disturbing piece of fleshy dystopia it is. How Morrison can design all this horrible imagery (all brought brilliantly to vomitous life by Chris Weston), create a protagonist so pathetic, and tie it all into such a bleak world, yet still allow some semblance of hope to remain, because that guy just loves his fucking cat so much. But who wants to hear that from boring ol’ me? there’s much more interesting takes on it out there. I’m just the guy in the back going “Hey, cool!”.

I bought Nathan Rabin’s My Year of Flops a month or so back, partially because I knew it would be the kind of light thing I could read on the plane heading for Toronto. You know what? Rabin is pretty much what all of us nerds who like to write about entertainment in a jokey manner, speak in Simpsons, and hope that mockery will bring out our inner genius want to be. In the early days of the decade, when we could finally figure out this Internet thing, we then began to fill it with our spew about pop culture detritus. Oh, we are so clever, we thought, and we hyperbole’d and pointed out every piece of illogic in whatever wounded animal of a movie/cartoon/food product we could find. This is what attracted us to the ‘My Year of Flops’ column in the first place; we simply wanted to read Rabin viciously disembowel Howard the Duck or Waterworld or what have you, just like we did. Except he has a genuine love of film and all the trappings of the industry, so that no matter how absolutely abysmal some of these movies are, there’s a genuine interest in figuring out how they tick, and exactly why they were rejected. That is what separates the real minds from the simple hecklers. That is why I keep reading the column.

But who wants to hear that from me? I’m just an idiot on the Internet.

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Posted by Matt on August 4, 2010

Because I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’ve been doing in my free time for the past month or so, and I because I actually want to do something different on here:

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
I finished it a month ago, after starting it last year and stopping after 300 pages (it was for a class). I felt really bad about not getting any further into it sooner, because I really quite liked it. I’ve now read two Rushdie novels (this and The Satanic Verses, his two most famous books), and I really quite like his style; his combination of the dream-like and the real world, his blending of the modern day and the old eastern mythologies, and his depictions of real human tragedy.
I think, for the most part, Midnight’s Children surpasses Satanic Verses for the first 60% of the book: while I find the ideas in both intriguing, the former was able to grab me more. Maybe it’s because Saleem is just a more likable protagonist than the two in Verses , who are both…kind of jerks. I also think the fantasy and ‘real’ elements of MC blended a bit more seamlessly, and was just a bit more fun to read. I will say, however, that Children featured some real squirm-inducing moments for me, which weren’t really present in the other book, even if it went in a much darker direction.
Which brings me to the one point that I felt Verses exceeded Children: the latter part of the book worked a lot better. The ending of Verses really saddled the lines between being sad, poignant, and then ends on a note of pitch-black comedy. Children, in contrast, kind of loses itself, feeling a bit rushed (which is even acknowledged in the meta-story), and kind of getting a little cute in the end with its metaphors and imagery. I would recommend reading both, as from them you get a good picture of Rushdie’s idea of the ‘Indian experience’ (both in the west and east). Plus, despite their flaws, they’re just really enjoyable reads.

Tommy
Quadrophenia

by The Who

Yes, it took me this long to get to The Who’s two ultra-famous rock operas. But I did get to them. So screw you all, invisible detractors.
I don’t know how much I have to say about these two; despite me really liking individual songs from both, I think I need to give them both another listen-through in order to definitively say how they cohere as albums. As for initial impressions though: both manage to contain lots of good music, despite the pretense of trying to tell a story possibly getting in the way (Quadrophenia especially). They also generally manage to avoid the problems that plague most concept albums, where the music is interrupted by often very very dull non-music stuff (Tommy has a few ‘character’ songs that are kind of weak, though). Quadrophenia is definitely my favorite of the two, and I think comes pretty close to Who’s Next for the title of best Who album.

Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
One of the reasons I read the first Umbrella Academy was because all the comic sites I frequent repeatedly compared it to Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, which is possibly my favorite comics ever. And while there was clear influence from DP on it, it didn’t really ‘hit’ me as the true successor of that series. It was good; very entertaining and definitely something up my alley, but I didn’t really go as far with the comparison as others did.
Dallas changes that pretty quick. From the end of the first issue, with the introduction of the time-travelling ‘fixer’ group with its army of openly disposable minions and then Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction with cartoon animal heads, the comparison is now solidified. This entire story is real Grant Morrison territory stuff, bringing back a level of gleeful insanity that Morrison has sort of drifted away from recently while he fiddles around with Batman and other stuff I have no real interest in. But even though it really feels like a Doom Patrol extension it times, the book never feels like a rip-off; aside form Ba’s great art really getting at the profound weirdness of the entire world these characters inhabit, the tone of the book is entirely its own, as well, often feeling more in line with the kinetic hyperviolence of something like Scud: The Disposable Assassin than with the sort of creepy funhouse weirdness that one got from Doom Patrol.
So…yeah. If you like this sort of thing, and I most certainly do, this is probably your best bet. And it really is a worthwhile read, especially if you enjoy fun.

Pluto Volume 1 by Naoki Urasawa
This one’s been gnawing at me for a while, so I finally picked up the first volume. I’ve never been a big manga reader, so this was the first time I’ve ever sat down to read a full story in the format (I was able to pick up the whole right-to-left reading thing pretty quickly). But this one had an intriguing premise, and one that revolved around robots, one of my favorite things to read, write, watch, or think about. The fact that is a really good story about robots is a nice bonus.
First and foremost, Urasawa’s art really makes this book. There are a lot of quiet reactions, many of them from vaguely cartoonish-looking robots as well as humans, but the art really sells it. I also marveled at almost every depiction of the future world of the story; the design and detail are stunning.
The dialog, at first, seems a little melodramatic (it’s been a while since I’ve seen so many exclamation points in sentences), which I could easily chalk up either to the translation, or maybe just to the fact that it’s different from what I’m used to. The characters, however, are all interesting, especially as we delve deeper into their pasts; the history of the world and the interactions between the humans and robots is introduced slowly, but it constantly makes me want to know more; and finally, I really want to see the unraveling of the central mystery, not necessarily because I want to know about the thing itself, but because I want to see how all these things tie together in the end.
I think I’ll be sticking around for the other seven volumes; each one is a little decompressed, being serialized, so it actually doesn’t take very long to get through them.

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Posted by Matt on January 3, 2010

I finished The Simpsons: A Full, Complete Unauthorised History yesterday. There’s a lot of interesting things in the book, almost all of them revolving around the writers room. I really do get a kick out of reading about how the writing teams and showrunners worked together or didn’t; some of the behind-the-scenes stuff involving James Brooks and the executives was also enjoyable, but that’s pretty standard Hollywood stuff.

I think the main problem with the book is that Ortved is a little too eager to hammer us over the head with how much of an asshole Matt Groening supposedly is. Maybe he is an asshole, and some of the evidence seems to point to that, but he really should have let that evidence speak for itself. His little asides were completely unnecessary.

I could also complain about the lack of scope in the book, which really isn’t Ortved’s fault, seeing as though he did try to interview those closer to the show (and the fact that they refused probably led to the problem I spoke off in the last paragraph). It doesn’t bother me that much, as I found the information provided by the writers and others to be more interesting. I guess it could have benefited from the voice actors’ input, considering there’s a big chunk of a chapter all about them, with only Hank Azaria being quoted. But I think the book works well with its limits, and we get a really fascinating story nonetheless, even if it is slightly sensationalized.

******

I watched the two-part Doctor Who special last night. It was pretty fun overall, and with an epic feel that doesn’t wind down anti-climatically like most of the other ‘epic’ episodes do. Evil Timothy Dalton was able to out-evil The Master turning everyone on Earth into a cackling clone of himself, which is pretty impressive.

At points, some of the special effects were more iffy than normal. John Simm bouncing around and shooting lightning like a Dragon Ball retard was a little off, as were the effects where they had to CTRL-C/CTRL-V his head on everyone in a room. The show has never had spectacular special effects, but these seemed a bit off, and made those scenes look goofier than I think they were intended to be (maybe not The Master clones).

Good performances all around, though. And the saccharine ending didn’t come off so bad, really. Tennant and Davies get a good farewell show, overall. I had actually fallen out of watching the show more recently, only seeing new episodes sporadically. But this had got me really pumped for the next season, to see what Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat bring us. I’m really looking forward to the whole thing, is what I’m saying.

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Posted by Matt on November 23, 2009

Just finished reading The Road. Try to determine my demeanor after that!

No, I’m fine. Sometime next year I might get cocky and read Blood Meridian.

Also on the table: another major revision for one of my projects. This is in order to solve the following problems I have with it:
(1) Logical problems that have persisted (consisting mainly of ‘Why does this keep happening?’)
(2) Give me the opportunity to improve on characters who don’t seem to do much
(3) Make stories and set-up for stories easier and more interesting
(4) Remove most if not all introduction/background stories, or just move them to the background where they won’t bore people to their face

The one thing I want to do with it is essentially be a bunch of single, separate stories with a definite ending; essentially, covering a life (or lives). That presents some interesting challenges, because I’m trying to make something episodic but still coherent, without it feeling like ‘And now some random shit happens’. Although, to a degree, isn’t that what life is?

(Side note: I notice that I love surrealism/strange things, and I try my best to put in strange things. However, I think my strange things are not strange enough, or disturbing enough. I almost feel like all I’m doing is distilling Grant Morrison to Saturday morning levels. I hope I can fix that.)

I just need uniformity and cohesion. When things appear, when I introduce concepts, I need to make sure they matter, whether that is being significance to plot or theme, or just being entertaining. I also need to make sure there are no useless characters. I’ve cut back on stuff before, so it shouldn’t be that hard for me to do some revising.

First step: change to the setting, and some confirmation on major-minor details. How does this help the problems I listed above? Not one clue.

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herbaderp

Posted by Matt on October 13, 2009

Here’s a post that can explain the Canadian TV situation I am now involved in.

Instead of providing you with content of substance, here’s a list of things I have seen/read/heard/played recently:

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien
The Pump House Gang by Tom Wolfe
-Jamiroquai’s High Times: Singles 1992-2006
Wings of Desire
All-Star Superman Volume 2
Crecy (Warren Ellis & Raulo Caceres)

Posted in Comix, Idiot Box, In My Life, Leinks, Musiq, Nobody Cares | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Posts That Shouldn’t Be Made Because it’s Late and I have a test tomorrow but nevermind

Posted by Matt on September 30, 2009

The official website of the University paper is now up and running (BTW, is it as slow for the rest of you as it is for me?). The PDF download feature is really good, and now that I’ve got access to the site itself, I hope to be able to improve it so that it really becomes something cool. We’ve got a lot of features planned for the future, so even if you aren’t a student at the university or live within 1000 miles of Manitoba, visit and enjoy!

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THINGS I READ FOR SCHOOL: Plato was the first fan fiction writer…and also the first self-insert fan fiction writer. Socrates, who spouts Plato’s ideas in the same Mary Sue makes Captain Kirk confess his love of Spock, is always the center of attention, and everyone else always agrees with him (“Yes…That sounds about right…can’t argue with that”). There are more complex things in his work, but I could never get over the fact that it felt like I was reading Socrates Savez the Wrold!!1111

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Game Ideas #2

Posted by Matt on August 29, 2009

(Note: I originally wrote this in April. I’m reposting this so I can continue on with my game ideas posts without confusing the lot of ya’. Also because I like them.)

And just to show that I’m not totally lacking in original ideas, I will pitch an idea not based on a long-established game franchise…

Idea: Heart of Darkness: The Videogame

Now, I only said it wouldn’t based on a videogame franchise, not that it would be completely original.

I bet you’re wondering why I decided to go with the original Conrad novel rather than just make a game based on Apocalypse Now. It’s quite simple, really: there’s slightly less baggage in adapting the classic novel rather than the classic movie, and, much as Apocalypse Now changed the setting of the story, so too would I be able to change the setting in the game. In short, it frees up the game for ideas.

How would one translate this story into a game? The plot does give you one big concept to develop around: you’re tasked with finding Kurtz, somewhere in the massive jungle and river environment. The whole game, then, would be about you travelling around a well-developed world, filled with unique places and NPCs, trying to find information about where to find Kurtz. That is the primary thrust of the game, and it provides you plenty of opportunity to include some great game concepts around it.

The game world, for example, can be made into something really cool. Like I said, it’s large and populated by lots of unique characters. And stuff would always be going on, either on a random (more realistic) basis or on a scheduled (probably more fair) basis. For example, say you know of a guy upriver who has important information, and you want to track him down. However, the guy is also a rebel leader, and could be assassinated at any moment. Stuff like that. Suddenly, a new sense of urgency, and a far more organic world. Of course, you don’t need to find every single person with information to complete the game…in fact, if you are so inclined, you could probably just travel around for hours and you’d eventually stumble upon Kurtz’s whereabouts. Of course, then you’d have no idea what to do.

Just like in the book and movie, you’re not alone. Over the course of the game, some of the people you meet can be convinced to join your little boat crew, some for higher prices than others. There would a limit to the number of people you can take with you on your dinky little boat; it’s not a goddamn clown car. So this means you have to really think about which guys you will recruit. Each one has their own unique set of skills that may come in handy: some are better marksmen, some are better navigators (which will help you during some of the rougher moments on the river), some will help you better communicate with the locals, some provide you a stash of useful items…the list goes on. It’s all up to you to prioritize things on your boat. Of course, considering this is a Heart of Darkness game, you’re likely going to have plenty of…drop-outs…to make room for other guys if you need it.

It’s essentially a text-adventure/simulation hybrid with elements of survival horror (you never know when you’ll be attacked by rebel fighters or wild animals) and sandbox games. The final part of the game, when you finally track down demi-god Kurtz, will add one last bit of intrigue. What DO you do? Do you fulfill your orders and eliminate him? Do you leave him alive and go off? It’s up to you. Or maybe not. Who is to say that some of your crew members don’t have their own agendas in the situation?

The other good thing about this game? It doesn’t necessarily have to be based on Heart of Darkness, and is pretty free when it comes to settings. Of course, you could say that about my Mario game idea too, but I just like the idea of Mario teaming up with a robot.

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