Monkeys playing in Ruins

“The monkeys called the place their city, and pretended to despise the Jungle-People because they lived in the forest. And yet they never knew what the buildings were made for nor how to use them. They would sit in circles on the hall of the king’s council chamber, and scratch for fleas and pretend to be men; or they would run in and out of the roofless houses and collect pieces of plaster and old bricks in a corner, and forget where they had hidden them, and fight and cry in scuffling crowds, and then break off to play up and down the terraces of the king’s garden, where they would shake the rose trees and the oranges in sport to see the fruit and flowers fall. They explored all the passages and dark tunnels in the palace and the hundreds of little dark rooms, but they never remembered what they had seen and what they had not; and so drifted about in ones and twos or crowds telling each other that they were doing as men did. They drank at the tanks and made the water all muddy, and then they fought over it, and then they would all rush together in mobs and shout: “There is no one in the jungle so wise and good and clever and strong and gentle as the Bandar-log.” Then all would begin again till they grew tired of the city and went back to the tree-tops, hoping the Jungle-People would notice them.”

Kaa’s Hunting, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Growing up somewhere famous for wine, I went on a few wine tours as a young adult. Neither myself or any of the people I was with really knew anything about wine or wine tasting and the staff at the various wineries we visited seemed quite accustomed to this among their clientele. Essentially, we were getting driven around in a minivan as we slowly got drunk and perhaps bought a bottle or two that took our fancy. This was a lot of fun but I had some sense at the time — and certainly do now — that I was a phony. I had little appreciation for the wine outside its power to inebriate and I now look back at my young self as something of a savage trying to use a knife and fork for the first time.

I think the connection between the Bandar-log in Kipling’s beloved story and my own aping of the pass times of more sophisticated people must be obvious. I wanted to start with an anecdote about myself as I will be having a go at almost everyone and I don’t want to pretend I’m an exception — though I certainly try to be. This is also similar in theme to a post from last year around the same time. As I write, it is Ash Wednesday evening so it is unsurprising I had similar thoughts to these during Lent last year. Continue reading

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Excellence in a Sea of Mediocrity

It is no secret that Hollywood puts out an awful lot of terrible films and things have gotten considerably worse in the last few years. Even studios like Pixar (that once consistently put out great films), have had a string of disasters in recent years. What is amazing about this is that much of it is quite deliberate. With this in mind, one must be reminded that very little of what Hollywood puts out at any time is very good. Most film releases in any given year are quickly forgotten — as indeed are most new novels and video games. This includes many films that are financially and/or critically successful and even a lot of multi-award winners. 

Occasionally there is a film that only makes a minor splash on release but later comes to be much better appreciated. Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World from 2003, is one such film.

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The Games of 2023

The Games of 2022 were so mediocre that I found it necessary to write about two older games I played that year so I could fill out the post. One might point out that I didn’t play many new games in 2022 but I would respond simply that very few appealed to me. Just recently, I finally got to the one other game I mentioned from that post that I didn’t play: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. It was good! Great pixel art, an excellent soundtrack from Tee Lopes who also composed the amazing Sonic Mania soundtrack. It also really captured the feel of the golden age of brawlers while including some thoughtful innovations. It was probably the best overall game I played that saw release in 2022 which was still a very disappointing year overall. I could also mention Sonic Frontiers which released in 2022 but I didn’t play until last year. The linked review discusses the game at length and in short, it was far from what it could have been.

2023 however was something else entirely and is comparable to 2017  in terms of the quality and even quantity of releases. I can say this despite not having played a number of critically acclaimed releases including Baldur’s Gate 3 which seemed to be the general favourite overall — even the Game Awards got it right! The below games are all ones released in 2023 which I played then or shortly before publishing this post this month. As 2023 was also a big year for remakes and remasters, I have separated these from the genuinely new releases.

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The Quick Expiry of Transgression

This post will be somewhat similar in theme to two earlier posts I’ve made concerning music. One was from 2021 where I briefly commented on how entirely hollow the “rebellious” image of many bands are. The two examples were Twisted Sister and Rage Against the Machine, both of whom readily licked the proverbial boot when it was put forward and yet both fostered an image of youthful rebellion and rejection of social and political order. More recently you can add Green Day to the list for believing they are fighting “the man” by rejecting the most prominent public movement in opposition to him. All three members of this band are now in their 50s but still dress like they’re in their early 20s. They really look more like middle-aged lesbians than men at this point. At least Rage Against the Machine have had the good sense to break-up this month — hopefully permanently. The other more recent post was just a rant on how terrible I think boomer music is and I have nothing to add to that.

The subject of this post concerns just how fast what is considered transgressive can change with some examples from music popular when I was a teenager and young adult. Continue reading

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An Appetiser for Selenoth

Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy & Other Stories by Vox Day, Castalia House, January 10th, 2017
(originally published on October 1st, 2008)

It is a certainly pleasant to be able to cleanse my palette of the corked plonk that was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and switch to a far more pleasing vintage. Vox Day’s epic fantasy series began a decade ago with the release of A Throne of Bones which was an epic 800+ page beginning to the series which imagines the Roman Empire combined with an already ascendant Catholic Church existing parallel in a fantasy world of elves, dwarves and goblins — at the very least already a refreshing alternative to the usual heavily Medieval influence. Around half of the sequel was released digitally a few years later but it wasn’t until late last year that the full A Sea of Skulls was finally published. The physical release is still forthcoming as of writing so in preparation, I have been re-reading the earlier stories and am about to re-read A Throne of Bones for the first time since I read it a decade ago.

The series of course began more modestly with the subject of this post, Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy. This was originally released as a standalone book but subsequent releases include all the short stories the author wrote in the same setting — one which is actually even older. I describe the titular work and the short stories as an appetiser as they are certainly not a prerequisite for beginning the main course but are still worth trying before or even after for those that are still peckish. I actually didn’t read any of these until after finishing A Throne of Bones and I don’t think I’d read every one until very recently — though my memory may just be failing.

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Hollywood’s Classic Propaganda

As I’ve no doubt written before, I occasionally get the idea in my head that I need to read a certain novel, play a certain video game or see a certain film because of it is considered a “classic”. As one example for each you might include Moby-DickSuper Mario Bros. and Citizen Kane. These three titles are recognisable to the average person even though they may not be familiar beyond the title and vague references they’ve absorbed. Usually, I find the status is well-earned and I use the above three examples because I would agree they are all classics in their respective mediums though I admit I wasn’t as fond of Herman Melville’s classic as many are. I do still acknowledge its quality as I do with Citizen Kane though it isn’t my kind of film.

So it is with the two films pictured above which I watched late last year. I had borrowed The Sound of Music from the library once before but balked at the almost three hour run-time and returned it unwatched. Casablanca, I’d just never really paid much attention to but it did have a much more agreeable length. The New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s out-of-context comment on nobody remembering the director of Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) put me in mind to watch it and the surprise of a former colleague that I had not seen The Sound of Music prompted the other. It was also towards the end of the year where my work had mostly wrapped up and I had time to gamble.

In any case, what has compelled me to write about them is not the films themselves so much as the similarities they share as World War II propaganda.

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Caravan of the Damned Review

Caravan of the Damned by Chuck Dixon, Castalia House, October 4th, 2023

Caravan of the Damned is the second story by “The Legend” Chuck Dixon published by Castalia House. Earlier this year I reviewed his first The Siege of the Black Citadel which I enjoyed and thought compared favourably with Robert E. Howard’s original stories. This latest release also gets my recommendation but read on if you want to know why.

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Of Celebrities and Train-Wrecks

One of the interesting and frequently entertaining aspects of the Internet has been the rise of the e-celebrity. Or in other words, an otherwise “normal” person who becomes a minor or major public figure. Until very recently, the celebrity was confined to sports and entertainment which is tightly controlled by major corporations and government organisations. Someone had to have some degree of talent to be a celebrity but they more than anything needed the backing of powerful groups to make this happen. There are plenty of good looking people who can smile and act and very few of them ultimately become celebrities. The only exception to this was the “15 minutes of fame” when an otherwise normal person briefly rose to prominence for something personally heroic, amusing or just a novelty of some sort. Even this was tightly controlled by the mainstream media who would move on as soon as the public began to lose interest.

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Pikmin 4 Review

Pikmin 4 was officially announced late last year and released on July 21st which was almost a decade to the day after the release of Pikmin 3 in 2013. In between these two releases there was the mediocre spinoff for 3DS, Hey! Pikmin released in 2017, Pikmin 3: Deluxe a port for Switch in 2020 and the mobile exclusive Pikmin Bloom released in 2021. These releases aside, this was the largest gap in mainline releases since that between 2004’s Pikmin 2 and Pikmin 3 which came close to a decade. And within this period, the first two games were given enhanced releases on the Wii with the “New Play Control!” branding incorporating the Wii controls so well that they were retained as an option in Pikmin 3

As sparse as this release history may be, it is not at all surprising considering that the series has never been a big seller for Nintendo though it has always been modestly successful. All the mainline games were well-received critically and are fondly remembered by most people who played them — myself definitely included. I was actually one of the very first out the gate my my review of Pikmin 3 back in 2013, as it was released in Japan a few weeks earlier and saw the site I originally wrote for get a brief but noticeable jump in traffic. The game did little if anything to improve sales for the already struggling Wii U but then no subsequent game releases really did. Given the comparatively low sales with other Nintendo franchises, Pikmin 4 was never a sure thing but on release had the most successful launch in the series history as well as being critically well-received. My review is late but I think it contrasts enough with what has already been said to be worth writing. This review will assume some knowledge of the series which is basically a hybrid of real-time tactics and action/adventure genres.

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The Name of the Gamma

I have been curious about this book for quite a while. Not because of the praise it has received but quite the opposite. Vox Day has stated he was unable to finish it and has singled out Kvothe as the biggest gamma in fiction in one of his Darkstreams. Other writers have commented on the very slow progress of the series as well as the behaviour of the writer. So my curiosity is more akin to the kind that compels you to stare at a car crash. That is not to say the book is a disaster as it has been very successful with both it and its sequel selling many millions of copies. And though it is over fifteen years old, I still had to put one of the multiple copies at my library on reserve and wait almost a month before I could borrow it. Most authors would be happy to sell a few thousand and see one copy available in their local library. Especially in the genre of Epic Fantasy where even fewer authors find success.

I read the book while commuting over the last few weeks and it was a struggle at times though I wouldn’t say it is irredeemably awful. I came away thinking Rothfuss can write and there are some good ideas within the pages. The main problems are that Kvothe is an almost textbook Marty Stu, the novel is over six hundred pages and the plot goes nowhere. I don’t like this novel at all but I think Vox has given a good explanation of its appeal in the link above and I will add some more to this in what follows.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books, March 27th, 2007

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