Weekend Recap: Books, Debt, Pause

You ever have one of those weeks where you keep thinking that you have stuff to talk about, but then you start writing it down and none of it seems particularly interesting or important?  That’s where I was last week.  That’s sorta where I still am this week, but the day job is slow at the moment and I need to look busy.  So here we go.


I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to my almost-five-year-old (!) son last week.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and it’s one of the two books that I’d been looking forward to reading to him pretty much since he was born – every once in a while he’ll ask me to read “The Monster At The End Of This Book”, but Grover doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to me.  In any event, we made it through a chapter and a half before he started losing interest, and rather than force it on him, I figure it’s probably best if we put it to the side, and then he can get back to it when he’s ready.


Speaking of books, I’ve been on a tear of late.  The last book I’d mentioned in these pages was Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”.  Since then, I finally finished Zachary Mason’s “Void Star” (interesting premise, though the writing is almost too flowery and obtuse), Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” (which is as magnificent as everyone says, and which I vastly preferred over “The Goldfinch”), and now I’m catching up on some early George Saunders work – “In Persuasion Nation”, which is brilliant, and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”, which is equally brilliant.  I’d never particularly cared for short stories one way or the other – I generally always preferred getting sucked into a very very long novel rather than a short vignette – but what he does with the form is nothing short of revelatory.  And quite frankly, he’s a lot more sci-fi than most people tend to acknowledge – a lot of his stories read like Black Mirror episodes if they were allowed to be absurd, rather than just purely filled with technological dread.


I think I’d mentioned a few weeks back that the wife and I were determined to get back into our respective creative gears this year.  For me, this feels a bit more daunting than it should, because my laptop is running on fumes at this point and buying a new computer is just too goddamned much for me right now, what with credit card debt and the mortgage and car payments and day care and etc.  And yet, if I ever hope to make any money from making music, I need a new computer.  I did end up buying a new input box, but I’m so afraid of it not working that I haven’t yet attempted to hook it up.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.  Back in high school, I was writing music all day; I still have a notebook filled with at least 200+ songs with charts and lyrics and melodies and arrangements and such.  But I never recorded them, beyond sitting in front of a boombox and recording a sketch to show the band.  Eventually I bought a four-track, and that was also just used for sketches (and indeed I never had the proper means to mix them down, and so I ended up sending the mixes through my guitar amp and recording them with a hand-held dictaphone).  And so on and so forth.  The point being, I never needed to have professional equipment at home because there was always a band I could send this stuff to, and if we liked a song well enough to record it we’d just go into a studio and record it properly.  Now, of course, I don’t have a band, and I don’t have the money to pay for a studio (or to hire the musicians necessary to play this stuff), and so if I’m going to release this stuff I need to do it myself.  And so I need a new computer.  Anybody have a spare $2000 they’re not using so I can get an iMac?


If you’re looking for a good time on your mobile phone, you could do a lot worse than The Room: Old Sins.  The story is as obtuse is ever, but that’s hardly the point; this is the best game in the entire series, bar none, and it’s a pleasure to play through from start to finish.


Lastly:  I started playing Monster Hunter World this weekend, like most of the gaming world.  It’s my first foray into the franchise, and my understanding is that it’s the most accessible.  I can’t speak to that; I’m just coming to it as a newbie and hoping it makes sense.  Actually, let me rephrase that – I’m coming to it pretending I’m Geralt from the Witcher franchise, to the point where that’s what my character looks like.  I need to get out of that habit, of course, because the combat in Monster Hunter bears little to no relation to The Witcher, and that’s why I feel like I’m almost about to die quite often.

In any event, I finished the first 3 missions and am now at the point where I can explore without a time limit or without any particular objectives, and I think this is where I can see the game becoming quite awesome.

That being said, the game makes some puzzling design choices; the one that drives me the most insane is that you can’t truly pause the game.  While it’s true that this doesn’t always matter – like when you’re in the starting hub, or if you simply decline to press “A” during a cutscene – it most certainly matters if you’re in the middle of a quest.  My game-playing time is in the evening, after my son goes to bed, and I’m in the basement, two floors below him; if he needs something and my wife isn’t available – or if my dog needs something – or if I need a bathroom break or a snack – I’ve gotta put the controller down and deal with it, and not being able to pause means that meta-Geralt is most likely going to die.  Not being able to pause is a source of needless anxiety and I don’t know how to get around it.  (This is also why I never stuck with the Destiny franchise.)

Further Adventures in Adulting

1. Hey, so, we bought a new car over the weekend.  I feel like I’m finally an Adult.  Yes, we have a child; yes, we bought a house.  But now we bought a new car, from a dealership, by ourselves.  I’m so terrified it’s going to break!  It’s not going to break.  BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?

Anyway, yeah, that happened.  And I know this is a cliche, but still – that new car smell is no joke.  There’s something kinda awesome about that smell.  It… smells like victory.

101-Apocalypse-Now-quotes

2.  Because we bought a new car, I had to take a personal day yesterday and get our parking stickers sorted out, and also deal with some pet/vet stuff.  And in between all that, I finally got a chance to watch Blade Runner 2049.  My short version:  it is a beautifully shot film, and even with its slow pace it’s still more engaging than the original film (which, I’m sad to say, is a film that I respect more than I enjoy).  But it’s also a bit problematic with how it shows women (they are either robot love slaves, ball-busting bitches, or trapped in literal cages), and quite frankly I never need to see Jared Leto in anything ever again.

3.  Speaking of problematic media, we also finally watched the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror last night – the USS Callister episode.  I have a weird uncomfortable relationship with that series, specifically because of Season 1’s “The Entire History of You”, which affected me in an unexpectedly deep and emotionally unsettling way, especially as I was in the process of re-reading my college diaries at the time for an unrelated creative project.  (If you’re familiar with the episode, you might understand why a sudden influx of forgotten memories might be emotionally traumatic.)  In any event, this new episode was quite good – the twist was genuinely unexpected and the ending was, unusually for this series, quite satisfying.  I’m not 100% sure I’m going to watch the remaining episodes, because there’s only so much technological dread I can handle at any given point, but still – it was nice to be pleasantly diverted for a little while.

4. So I finished Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”, and even if it didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an excellent read; he’s a marvelous writer and this is a very smart book.  Now up – a 2nd attempt at reading Zachary Mason’s “Void Star”, which from the book’s description is right up my alley, but in practice is a bit difficult to follow.  I’m kinda just padding for time – what I really want to read is the new Brandon Sanderson volume in the Stormlight Archive, but I feel like I need to re-read the first 2 books and then the mini-story that connects them to this new one, and as much as I like reading big books, knowing that I’ve got at least 2500 pages in front of me before I start reading anything new is a bit daunting.

5.  Game-wise, I’m still in this weird limbo of having this fancy new TV but nothing new to play on it.  I’d been putting Forza 7 through its paces, and that’s a fun game in limited doses – and since the last game I’d played in earnest was probably Forza 3 or 4, it’s kind of a neat deja-vu effect to revisit the same courses in radically improved fidelity.  Likewise, I saw that Forza Horizon 3 got its own Xbox One X Enhanced patch yesterday, and that game is definitely more up my alley.  The graphical enhancements are nothing to sneeze at, either; it looks utterly amazing.  Beyond that, I’m kinda half-heartedly going through my backlog, not feeling particularly attached to anything.  (Indeed, I keep forgetting that I have a ton of shit to play on the Switch.)  The next big AAA release that I have my eyes on is Far Cry 5, which is still a ways off.

That’s what I’ve got, folks.  Hope you’re well.

Turning Anxiety into Anger

1. What a difference a year makes, or, rather, the arbitrary decision that, beginning January 1, things will be different than they were on December 31.  In the grand scheme of things, the Earth still continues to revolve around the Sun, and the solar system continues to revolve around the Milky Way, and we are all just tiny creatures on a tiny ball hurtling through space.  BUT!  I find that I am no longer anxious about the world the way I was last year.  I am, instead, angry.  Pissed off.  Done.  No tolerance for bullshit anymore.  And it would appear that the rest of the country is with me.  I just watched Don Lemon (!) say the word “shithole” on CNN, and imply (without actually saying it) that Trump supporters and apologists should go fuck themselves.

I can’t remember if I offered up my final review of “Fire and Fury” – it wouldn’t differ that much with my earlier impression, that it’s a scathing and trashy read and while it may be impossible to prove that everything quoted in the book actually happened, nothing about it is surprising.  But I do agree with Drew Magary’s analysis:

I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House “concerned” about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.

Trump ascended into power in part because he relied on other people being too nice. It’s fun to rampage through the china shop when the china shop owner is standing over there being like, “SIR, that is not how we do things here!” If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring this asshole down – whether it’s Mueller, or whether it’s Trump himself just blurting out the “n-word” during a State of the Union address, or whatever – but I can feel that something is gonna happen, and soon.  This nonsense has gone on long enough.  I’m sick and tired of being anxious; nonstop anxiety attacks are exhausting and draining and I’m done with it.

2. Well, now that that’s out of the way:  is there a word for the feeling when one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book, and it’s even better than you’d hoped it would be?  All I’ll say is that I’m a little over halfway through Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” and it is kicking all sorts of ass.  It is scratching the same itch that David Mitchell novels do, especially as it has several layers of narratives all nestled within each other, creating a puzzle to be solved within a plot that is forever unfurling.

Hmm.  I thought I’d have more to say – and I probably do – but today’s actually kinda busy and I’ve lost my train of thought.  Happy weekend, everyone.

My Year In Reading: 2015

Way back in January – another life ago, it seems – I wrote that I’d hoped to read 30 books by year’s end.  As it turns out, I made it to 35 – and I’m working on 36 at the moment.  I gotta say – my new commute makes reading a hell of a lot more convenient, but it also helps when you’re really enjoying what you’re reading.  I’d like to say I could make it to 40 next year (which would be neat, given that I’ll also be 40 years old), but one never knows how these things go.

Still and all, here’s what I read in 2015, in something approximating chronological order:

The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber  A-
Technically I started this in late December, but the book is long.  I found it rather beautiful, but also quite heartbreaking.

The Martian, Andy Weir  B-
I still haven’t seen the movie, and my initial impulse was to leave it that way, since I found the book rather dry, overly technical, and surprisingly devoid of tension given the circumstances.  But hey, people seem to love the movie, so maybe it’s worth checking out.

The Egyptologist, Arthur Phillips  A
One of the best books that I read this year – at once funny, mysterious, and moving, and featuring one of the most dark, twisted and unexpected endings I’ve ever come across.  The less said, the better.

Your Face Tomorrow (trilogy), Javier Marias  B+ (combined)
I’d wanted to read these for a long time, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Kindle versions were made available; I promptly devoured them, or at least attempted to devour them – as interesting as they are, they can be slow and tedious at times, and his endless sentences, while deliberately stylistic, can be exhausting.  Of all the books I’ve read this year, these probably got under my skin the most – even if, during the reading, I found them slow-moving.  Still, when I put up my Favorite Sentences post, a great many excerpts will appear from this series; even though the people and places of the book couldn’t be further removed from my own experience, there were whole sections that felt ripped out of my own life (for better and/or worse).

Silver Screen Fiend, Patton Oswalt  B+
Patton is a tremendous writer – his best stand-up routines succeed in large part because of his ability to pick the perfect words – and I found this memoir of his early stand-up years to be rather affecting.  That said, it didn’t get nearly as dark as he kept insisting it would, and the last third of the book is simply a list of all the movies he watched during the relevant time frame, without providing any additional insight beyond the specific few he talks about in the book proper.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler  B+
I’ve been a Poehler fan for, what, nearly 20 years now, back when the UCB was a cancelled Comedy Central series and a free weekly improv show instead of the all-powerful comedian factory of today.  I was going to enjoy this no matter what.  I think certain sections are a little phoned in – her Parks & Rec chapter might as well be a multiple-choice quiz – but other sections are deeply powerful and resonant.

Orfeo, Richard Powers  B
As with games, I keep a spreadsheet of the books I read; it helps tremendously for posts like this, but also just to better remind myself of what I read and what I was thinking about at the time.  My comment this year’s spreadsheet, alongside this entry, simply says “remarkable prose, & remarkable grasp of the act of listening, but what did I actually read?”  I suppose I expected more of a plot that was advertised as some sort of hybrid between a technological thriller and a study of avant-garde classical music of the 20th Century.

I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes  B
One thing I need to do for these spreadsheets going forward is to figure out why I bought certain books; I have no memory of buying this (or the next two books on this list, for that matter), or what might have made me get it.  It’s a solid thriller, very much the sort of thing you’d buy at an airport, and I seem to recall enjoying it because it wasn’t trying to be something that it wasn’t; it’s an espionage thriller and that’s all it wanted to be, and to that end it’s a fun read.

Submergence, J.M. Ledgard  C
My spreadsheet comment:  “Beautiful writing, but what is the point of this book?”  Even now I have trouble remembering what happened here.

Skinner, Charlie Huston  B-
“Fast-moving technobabble”, I wrote, though in retrospect I do seem to recall liking this more than the B- I gave it at the time.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell  A
I’d bought this when it first came out, but was reluctant to start it given that I’m not really a big fan of historical fiction, especially during a time and place that I know literally nothing about.  But I’m glad I finally got around to it, because it’s beautiful and absorbing and has one of the best and most satisfying endings I’ve ever read.  I wrote a little more about it here.

The Disaster Artist, Greg Sistero and Tom Bissell B-
I’m a “fan” of the “movie”, and I’m also a huge fan of Tom Bissell, and so this seemed like a slam dunk – an insider’s account of not only being a part of one of the most legendarily terrible movies ever made, but as a close confidant of Tommy Wiseau, the film’s star, writer, director, bankroller, and all-around weirdo.  Alas, it’s not as illuminating as one would hope; Wiseau remains as opaque as ever, and the behind-the-scenes stuff mostly ends up being depressing.

VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick —?
I’m not sure how it happened, but I realized I’d never read any PKD before.  I’ve seen a bunch of film adaptations, and one of my favorite books from the last few years is The Cardboard Universe (which is a fake encyclopedia about the fictitious Phoebus K. Dank), but I’d never gotten around to the genuine article.  A good friend gave me a copy of Timothy Archer a few years back, and then Amazon apparently had some sort of PKD bonanza because I bought, like, a whole bunch of his stuff on the cheap.  To that end, I decided – for some reason – to start with the Valis trilogy.  Maybe not the best choice?  It’s paranoid and angry and feverishly written – although I suppose it’s a better place to start than the Exegesis, which I must admit I did not finish, or even really start.)  In 2016 I’m gonna try to read …Palmer Eldritch and Ubik, which I also picked up in that Amazon sale.  (And if you have other recommendations, I’m all ears.)

The Song is You, Arthur Phillips B-
As noted above, I loved the hell out of The Egyptologist and felt compelled to check out Phillips’ back catalog, and when I read this book’s synopsis – an unrequited love story told through music – I felt like this book was literally made for me (especially as I was trying to write lyrics about the same subject matter).  I suppose my expectations were too high, then, because I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I’d hoped – even if the writing is still excellent.  There’s some unintentionally creepy bits to the story, and there’s also some very unnecessary and distracting side-plots that add the wrong sort of tension.  I will get around to the rest of his stuff next year.

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu B+
Having never read Chinese science fiction before, I didn’t really know what to expect from this highly acclaimed first volume of an award-winning trilogy.  The prose is a bit dry – and it’s hard to tell if that’s the translation or just the source material – but it’s certainly very fascinating, and it’s quite a treat to read a familiar genre from a radically different socio-economic perspective.  I learned a lot about Chinese history, too, which helped flesh out Susan Barker’s The Incarnations (which I’ll get to shortly).

The Rabbit Back Literature Society, Pasi Jaaskelainen C+
So one of my projects this year was to tackle my ever-increasing backlog, which is the sort of thing that happens when you own a Kindle and have poor impulse control; you buy stuff and then forget you have it, because you can’t physically see it.  I don’t remember buying this, or why I might’ve bought it, but I felt obliged to read it for some reason; I don’t remember reading it.  My Google notes say:  “a ghost story with no ghost and very little story.”  And yet I gave it a C+, so I guess it had something appealing in its atmosphere.

Going Clear…, Lawrence Wright A
This had already been on my to-do list even before the HBO documentary came out; the documentary was stunning, and the book is even more exhaustive in its story-telling.  It’s riveting, meticulously researched, objective, and scary as hell.

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson A-
I’d worried a bit about Neal, frankly.  His previous book, Reamde, was rather dull and disappointing – I recall hearing that he’d intended it to be the sort of thriller you’d pick up at an airport, but it was still dreary and unexciting – and his recent foray into videogame development ended on a sad note.  I might’ve been hedging my bets heading into this one, but I came out feeling like he’s on top of his game yet again.  It’s hard (and occasionally dry) sci-fi, but it’s also truly thought provoking and interesting, and the meticulous attention to detail in the first two thirds of the book results in a final third that is simply breathtaking.

The Ghost Network, Catie Disabato B-
This book had a bit of hype surrounding it, as well as an intriguing set up – a Lady Gaga-esque singer suddenly goes missing, and the quest to find her reveals a whole bunch of secret-society-ish stuff within a hidden underground train system – and as such this ought to have been in my wheelhouse.  It’s an entertaining enough read but it doesn’t quite go anywhere, although the ending is pleasingly enigmatic.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz A
So glad I finally got around to this one.  It’s magnificently written; Diaz is enormously talented and the prose nearly leaps off the page.  Enthralling and intoxicating.

The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway A
And here began my obsession with Nick Harkaway; if I hadn’t read this book, I probably would’ve continued on my Arthur Phillips spree.  A good friend had raved about him for years and I finally gave it a go, and I’m really glad I started here, because this one is the best of the bunch.  Without question, the most fun I’ve had with a book in years; my Year In Sentences post could easily have been twice as long if I’d elected to quote everything I’d highlighted.

Angelmaker / Edie Investigates!, Nick Harkaway B, B-
Angelmaker is another fun romp, though reading it immediately on the heels of Gone-Away World probably did it a disservice; Edie Investigates is a very short side-story with one of Angelmaker’s characters which I finished in about 30 minutes.  It’s fun, but didn’t feel necessary.

The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes B
A fabulously intriguing premise (surviving victim hunts her time-travelling serial killer), not quite as well executed as I’d like.

My Struggle part 1, Karl Ove Knausgard B+
I’m not sure if I’m going to get around to the other volumes – there’s only so much navel-gazing I can take, and I already take quite a bit, and it’s not quite the earth-shatteringly brilliant thing I’d been expecting.  But as far as memoirs go, it’s absorbing and his descriptive abilities are really quite stunning; I remember this book visually more than anything else.

A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay B
A creepy little ghost story with a dark and horrific twist of a tableau at the end; it had been brought to my attention as something that a fan of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves might enjoy, and that’s certainly true, though the book’s structure might get in its own way a little bit.

Tigerman, Nick Harkaway B+
As with Angelmaker, it’s fun and well-written and with a gut-punch of character reveal and a heartbreaking ending; also as with Angelmaker, it’s not quite as magical as Gone-Away World.

The Rook, Daniel O’Malley B-
As with most of the B-minuses on this list, The Rook is a really interesting premise (an amnesiac soon discovers she has supernatural abilities and is part of a secret organization that battles other supernatural monsters and such), which isn’t quite well-executed as it could be.  I might stick around for the inevitable sequels, though; the world is pretty neat.

The Incarnations, Susan Barker B+
A Chinese taxi driver receives a series of anonymous letters documenting his previous lives and how they intersected with the letter-writer.  It’s a bit more heavy and dark than I expected it to be – which is not a knock on it at all, I just wasn’t prepared for how fucked up it is, emotionally speaking.  As noted in the entry for The Three-Body Problem, there’s a lot about China’s history that is also pretty fucked up.  (I’m also learning a bit more about it at the present moment, as I’m reading David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, which talks a bit more about 20th Century Chinese history and how deeply, deeply fucked up it was.)

Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir, Terry Gilliam B-
Entertaining but also a bit scatterbrained – much like his films.  Not nearly as detailed as I’d have liked it to be – for instance, I might’ve blinked and missed the part where he joined Monty Python.

Slade House, David Mitchell A-
This is a short novella, which I believe may have started as a Twitter experiment before turning into a rather haunting series of interconnected stories.  Hard to say if it’s necessary to have read The Bone Clocks before starting this one, but I can’t imagine anyone reading this who hasn’t read Bone Clocks, so take that as you will.  If nothing else, this also inspired me to start reading Mitchell’s complete works, in chronological order, because it’s become apparent that every single one of his books is connected to the other.  And considering that almost all of his books contain interconnected stories inside of themselves, I feel compelled to see just how far the rabbit hole goes.  (As noted above, I’m already 3 or 4 stories into Ghostwritten, and I’ve already seen brief glimpses of characters I know.)

City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg A-
THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, screamed the advance hype, in addition to the gigantic advance the author received and the subsequent bidding war over the film rights.  I’m happy to say that it does live up to the hype; this is a 900+ pager that never feels self-indulgent or overly clever.  It’s vivid and memorable and extraordinarily well-paced (which I believe I’ve mentioned here several times over, but it’s worth mentioning again if only because making a 900+ page book move quickly is a rather impressive feat).  Maybe it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as it could, but I can’t hold that against it too much; the book itself is a wonder.

 

Some quick Battlefront Beta impressions

I am lucky enough to have both a PS4 and an Xbox One, which means I got to try out the Star Wars Battlefront Beta twice last night.  I didn’t have a ton of time last night to devote to it, so I just did the single-player mission on Tattooine.  My intention had always been to get this game for the Xbox One, since I know more people on that system who might potentially play it, but I figured I might as well compare the two systems just to see what’s what.

And, um.  The PS4 version kicks the shit out of the Xbox One version.  It’s a direct hit from a laser blaster to the nuts.  Digital Foundry will give you a more thorough examination of this if you’d like the hard data, but even my untrained eye could see drastic differences in image quality; the XB1 is jaggy all over the place, has an inconsistent frame rate, and makes far-off enemies much harder to spot since everything that’s far-off is somewhat jumbled together.  The PS4, on the other hand, is buttery smooth and looks absolutely gorgeous.  And I think I actually prefer the PS4’s controller over the XB1, which is not something I’m used to saying out loud.  So, there it is.  I’ll be playing Battlefront on the PS4.


I also got the new Xbox One dashboard last night, and, well… I kinda hate it?  It took me several minutes to figure out where my actual games are located, which is the whole point of the device – and when I finally found their location (which is below the main homepage stuff), I felt a bit stupid.  The rest of the redesign just seems unnecessary.  I’ve never really minded previous Xbox dashboard updates, because they at least made some sense.  This one seems to be there for the sake of being there, and it doesn’t have any coherent purpose as far as I can tell.  It’s also a bit sluggish, especially if you click the left menu from the main homepage; hopefully that will get fixed soon.


In other news, I’ve completed my 2015 Goodreads challenge, which was to read 30 books.  And it’s only the beginning of October!  Hell, at this rate, I might very well get past 40, unless I decide to only read gigantic stuff (like the forthcoming City on Fire and any further volumes of Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle memoirs).  I finished Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, which I liked very much; he’s a hell of a writer, and his dialogue is so good it makes me want to start acting again just so that I can adapt his books into screenplays and then say this stuff out loud.  I’m now about halfway through Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, which I can’t recall buying, but which is pretty good – sort of a supernatural James Bond sort of thing.  Apparently it’s book one of a larger series; the second one comes out in January, I think.


This weekend is primarily about recuperating from this relentless headcold/stomach thing I’ve had all week.  There may be some Uncharted, and there really ought to be some serious music stuff happening; I’ve got 5 songs that are, like, this close to being finished, and my buddy and I really want to get this stuff out before too long.  So that’s the plan.  Lay low, get healthy, get busy.

The First 33 Hours: MGS V

One of the reasons why it’s been so quiet around here lately is that I’ve been working on a gigantic freelance thing about Metal Gear Solid V.  I handed in my draft last night; it clocks in at a little over 3800 words, which makes it somewhat long-winded, but also appropriate given the subject matter.  The article is ostensibly about my long, sordid history of active loathing and befuddlement of the Metal Gear franchise, trying to figure out just what it is about these games that gets under my skin the way no other game seems to do.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been playing the shit out of MGS V, and I have lots of comments about it that weren’t particularly appropriate for the article I was writing.

Current status:

  • 33 hours
  • 23% overall completion
  • 31% mission completion (16 missions completed)
  • 19% Side Ops completion

One of the reasons why I was able to finish my draft yesterday is because I’ve hit a bit of a wall in the most recent story mission, one where I have to extract a moving vehicle out of a convoy of tanks.  The game’s checkpoint system kinda sucks, which is why I’m a bit frustrated at the moment.  The mission starts by putting you a short distance from a guard post; you take over the post and discover the convoy’s route.  At that point you can do whatever you want, and after some trial and error I decided to take a shortcut and head to a camp towards the end of the route, which would give me plenty of time to clear out the camp and prepare to lay siege to the convoy.  The problem is, I’m able to clear out the camp with no problem, but the convoy destroys me, and when I restart at the last checkpoint, it puts me all the way back at the beginning of that second camp’s stakeout – which means I’ve lost at least 30 minutes of progress, and which also means that I’ll be a bit more aggressive the second time around because I’ve lost patience.

As far as stealth games go, MGS V is remarkably free of the usual trial-and-error routine – except in situations like this one, where I’ve yet to figure out how to solve the convoy issue, and where I’ll continue to butt my head against the puzzle until I eventually figure it out.  It just becomes less fun the 5th or 6th time around, especially since the game doesn’t let you keep all the collectible stuff you’ve found if you restart.

Beyond that particular bit of frustration, I have to admit – I’m having a really good time with it.  I mean, 33 hours is nothing to sneeze at, and now that I’m done with the article I might actually be able to relax a bit more and stop hyper-analyzing every single pixel.  I’m grateful that the game makes the exposition stuff optional and relatively unobtrusive, especially since the few cassette tapes that I’ve bothered to listen to are dull and awful and absurd in all the usual Kojima-esque ways that normally drive me insane.

I suppose I should start mixing up the times of day a bit more; I usually do my sneaking around at night (because if the game’s going to give me that option, why the hell not), and so there’s only one dark gray color scheme that I get to see.  I’m sure the deserts of Afghanistan and the savanna plains of Africa would be a bit more vibrant in the day.

In any event – yes, I’m enjoying it.  Normally I get a little annoyed if the game isn’t clear about why I have to get from Point A to Point B, but in this case the instant objective is simple enough to understand, and since I don’t give a shit about the larger soap opera, I can stay focused on the task at hand.  And even though the general infiltration techniques that I use remain largely the same from mission to mission, the game still manages to feel quite fresh; each situation is just different enough that it keeps me on my toes.  In the early going I felt that the “open world” was a bit misleading, because while there is a gigantic open world, there’s almost nothing to actually do in between each mission area.  There’s a lot of running around over empty space, in other words, which can get tedious (until I remember that I can call for a vehicle via supply-drop).

I will never get over the stupid dialogue and the endless, meaningless acronyms; there’s no way around it for me.  I get that the melodrama is part of the attraction to fans of the game, and that this franchise wouldn’t be what it is if people didn’t find this sort of absurdity enormously entertaining.  It’s not my cup of tea, and it never will be; I’ve accepted that, and I’ve decided to move on.  (That’s the ultimate thesis of the other article – spoiler alert!)

In other news, I’m kinda heartbroken about how terrible the new Tony Hawk game appears to be.  I had little faith that it would be as good as the original games, but I really hoped that this new one wouldn’t be a giant piece of shit.  Alas, it’s a giant piece of shit, and I’m sending back my rental copy as soon as it arrives in the mail.

What else, what else… I finished Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, and promptly started Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman.  The Tremblay is… good, not great; everything happens so quickly that it’s hard to get absorbed in anything, but it is awfully creepy, and the ending is somewhat horrifying.  I’m still too early in Tigerman to give it any sort of impression, other than to say it seems a bit more serious and a lot less whimsical than his other two novels.  That said, once I finish it, I’ll have met my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books in one year, which is awesome.

And speaking of which:  this past weekend the family and I headed into Maplewood Village for an “Art Walk”, and we walked into the local bookstore, and before I could even blink, my 2.5 year old son found a Thomas the Train book, and so of course I had to buy it for him, and also a Team Umizoomi activity book, and then I found a bunch of books that I’d actually had my eye on, and suddenly I walked out of the store with a whole bunch o’ stuff under my arm.

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on managing expectations

In last week’s entry, I sounded pessimistic about the Fall 2015 videogame release schedule.  Not much has changed since then; unfortunately.  We had company on Saturday and I was laid up with a nasty head cold on Sunday, and so I only had a few hours of game time, and yet I was still kinda non-plussed at the end of it.  I played an hour or so of the remastered Dishonored; it looked fine – about on par with my PC – but I’d already played those first few missions a lot, and I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to play them once more, Achievements notwithstanding.  I also played an hour or so of the remastered Gears of War, and it looks very much like how I remember it looking, which is probably the best you can hope for in a remastered port; it’s just that, as with Dishonored, I’m not really sure I feel like playing through the rest of it.  Calvino Noir has gotten fair-to-middling reviews in the few outlets that have bothered to write anything about it, which is a bit disappointing, and Madden 16 simply isn’t my cup of tea.  So there’s that.

This week is Metal Gear Solid V and Mad Max.  I’m going to take a wild guess and presume that the release date review embargo for Mad Max probably means that it’s not going to score all that well, and also that launching it on the same day as MGSV probably means that its publisher isn’t expecting that much of a return.

Review scores are not necessarily the be-all end-all for me, of course; I have been mystified by the Metal Gear franchise at every turn and even though this latest installment has gotten impossibly high scores from nearly every outfit that’s looked at it, I can’t help but feel incredibly skeptical about it.  I didn’t particularly care for Ground Zeroes, and if this is simply a much larger version of that, with a plot even more ludicrous and ridiculous, well… let’s just say I’m glad I’m not buying it.

Here’s the thing, though, and it’s maybe a point that I should probably have emphasized a lot more during this last year or so of general gaming apathy; I’d love to be proven wrong.  I’d love to sit down with either one of these games and get sucked in and have a good time.  That’s why I still write here, that’s why this blog exists.  I have precious little time for gaming these days, and so I’d like the time I do get to play to be well spent.  I genuinely hope that I can sit down later this week and rip open my rental copy of MGSV and get sucked in – if not to the impossibly ridiculous story, then at least into the moment-to-moment experience of exploring the environment.


Not all is doom and gloom as far as games are concerned, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love towards some iPhone games that have been kicking serious ass of late.  To wit:

  • Lara Croft GO, which is a strategy-action-board-game hybrid that feels far more accessible and interesting than Hitman GO, the game that preceded it; I was able to finish the entire thing without needing any help, which was very rewarding.  I’d recommend playing it on an iPad as opposed to an iPhone (if only because the larger screen makes it considerably easier to find the hidden collectibles), though my iPad 3 did not run it particularly well.
  • PAC-MAN 256, which is a novel combination of both Pac-Man and Crossy Road, and which works far better than you might expect; and
  • Sage Solitaire, which is a poker-ish solitaire game built by the guy who made the excellent SpellTower, and which is fiendishly addictive and maddeningly frustrating.

While we’re on the topic of enjoying the moment-to-moment experience of a carefully crafted world, I want to pour one out for the dearly departed Hannibal, one of my all-time favorite television shows and which featured as thorough of a mic drop in its finale as one could’ve hoped for.  Nobody else watched this show, which is why it only lasted three seasons, but they were three of the most gorgeously photographed and exquisitely acted and straight-up BOLD seasons of network television I’ve ever seen in my life.  Not since Twin Peaks have I been so genuinely unnerved by something on a major network; there are images from nearly every episode of this show that I will never be able to get out of my head (the totem pole, the angel wings, the mushroom garden, the increasingly horrible fate of poor Dr. Chilton, etc.).  It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope they can secure financing for a filmed version of the 4th season’s arc.  If Wet Hot American Summer can come back as a serialized Netflix show, then anything’s possible.


I’m currently reading Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which I’m enjoying, though not nearly as much as I enjoyed his debut novel, The Gone-Away World, which is one of the most fun books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time.  I loved that book so much that I ended up buying the rest of his published output, and I suppose I should’ve expected a bit of a letdown after Gone-Away World’s brilliance; I’m not done yet, of course, and there’s still plenty of book left for me to get knocked out by – he has a remarkable way with words, of course, and even if the plot isn’t quite as riveting, his prose is still genuinely fun to absorb.