It's the second post of ten, and I really don't have anything else to say at the moment, so without any further ado, let's just continue reading Polychrome.
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Right then, time for me to snark, nitpick, second-guess and interpret. However this turns out, I'm almost positive this'll be better than Peter Pan's Neverworld.
First of all, since any good book experience beginse with the cover, let's take a look at Polychrome's:
Hmmm. Well, it's definitely Polychrome! She looks perhaps a little older and more serious than I'd imagined her, but that of course is up to the artist's interpretation. Seems like there's a storm going on around her, though the background is a little unclear. I'm in a bit of two minds about this cover; the artist's skill is obvious and I really like the brushwork and the use of color, but something is off... perhaps the composition; this looks more like a small segment of a larger picture than a full and complete picture on its own...
...No. Actually, I know the main problem with this cover: The title. That font just looks off. It's much too small and unimpressive, and the font itself jars with the style of the painting. Yeah, with a better font for the title, this cover would actually be pretty damn awesome. Interesting how you never think of a book title as an important part of the visual presentation, but it totally is.
Well, enough gawking at the cover; let's open this book and see what's inside!
(Okay, I'm reading the e-book version here, from the reader on the Amazon site; so technically I'm not opening the book so much as I'm opening the reader app... but let's not split hairs just yet.)
And here we go! Polychrome, A Romantic Fantasy ... wait. A romantic fantasy?! ...Ryk, I remember you saying Polychrome was your favorite character, is this going to be a self-insert... um. Well. Oh-kay. This was a bit of an unexpected twist. (Seriously; I didn't so much as glance at the insides of this book before I bought it off Amazon several months ago; I haven't read any reviews or exerpts... I'm completely unspoilered. And I genuinely had no idea about the "Romantic Fantasy" subtitle.)
Hmm... I won't lie, my enthusiasm dwindled a little here. I don't really like romance stories. I don't mind if a story has romance in it, but when it becomes the main point of a story I quickly lose interest. And "Romantic fantasy" doesn't sound like the kind of story I'd hoped for for Polychrome...
But that's a little harsh. I haven't even read beyond the title. It could very well be that positive surprises are around the corner. So let's just start.
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And this particular review has been a long time in the coming.
If you remember the introduction to my reaction-review of The Shepherd's Crown, I mentioned that I had been planning do reaction-review Ryk E. Spoor's Oz novel, Polychrome, but sort of got distracted by the fact that the last-ever Terry Pratchett book had come out and if I ever wanted to reaction-review Pratchett this was my last chance.
So Polychrome ended up shuffled to the side for a bit. And since there were so many other things I had to do and write and draw, before you knew it, several months had gone past.
Then, a few weeks ago, Ryk E. Spoor (with his LJ-handle, seawasp) actually commented on that first Shepherd's Crown post, asking me about the review. Well... always flattered to know that the author of a work is interested in my opinion!
So, now the wait is over. I'm going to do as I said those months ago, and properly reaction-review the book Polychrome.
But first... as is beginning to become standard for these, a little background, and some of my feelings and expectations for this book:
My interest in, and fondness for, the Land of Oz should have been well-documented by now (if you've missed it, check the "oz" tag for this blog!), as would my lament that the general population seem only to know about the pretty-good-all-things-considered-but-gh
The Oz books, back when they were written, were truly great examples of modern fairytales... modern American fairytales at that, which probably accounts for much of the reason why American children adored them so, and why the books were such a cash cow that the publisher kept the series going for forty books -- when original author L. Frank Baum only wrote the first fourteen.
Basically, the Oz series was the Harry Potter of its day. And while it's not as big as it once was, it still has a sizeable and devoted fanbase...
...and like any sizeable and devoted fanbase, this one has produced a lot of fanfiction. Some of it bad, some of it horrible, some of it pretty damn good.
So really, there are a lot more than just forty Oz books out there; there are hundreds, written by dozens of authors and with many different takes on Oz and its inhabitants. Some trying to stay as close in tone and spirit to L. Frank Baum as possible, some walking their own path... some of them trying to turn the colorful child-like place dark and horrifying and "adult" and what have you.
If you remember, I reviewed three of these sequels-by-other-hands at one time -- two of which (The Mysterious Caverns of Oz and A Refugee in Oz) were pretty much keeping to Baum, and one of which (Jellia Jamb, Maid of Oz) tried to evolve Oz and turn it more "adult" by including a lot of nudity and innuendo.
I liked all of them, though Jellia Jamb was also frustrating because so much of it seemed to revolve around author Dave Hardenbrook telling the audience all the reasons why the people who didn't like his previous Oz book suck. (Dave... you're a good writer, I ultimately liked your book, and I understand you wanting to try "broadening" the Oz stories a little. I even understand wanting to try and insert some more mature situations to Oz and the characters. I'm just saying that introducing an obvious self-insert character as Ozma's love interest maaaaaaaaay have been one reason why your book wasn't that well-received.)
Now the time has come to Ryk E. Spoor's story of Polychrome, the Rainbow's Daughter, whom I have earlier named my favorite Oz character altogether.
Sadly, after the death of Baum, Polychrome wasn't featured much in the series; the new authors didn't really seem what to do with her and as such they left her out of the stories or reduced her to brief cameo roles.
I've always thought, however, that she had the potential to carry a story of her own. Perhaps seeing more of her life up in the sky with her father and sisters (we know she has countless sisters, but none of them are as reckless or as lively as her), and letting her have an adventure of her own instead of just tagging along on other people's.
So, now comes Ryk E. Spoor, with a novel that has her as the titular character. I'll admit I've never read any of his books before this one, but from the few interactions I've had with him he seems like a nice enough guy.
So. Let's see... wow, this book has fifty-nine chapters?! Sixty-two, counting the two prologues and the epilogue) Looks like this'll be the longest reaction-review ever... For Peter Pan's Neverworld and The Shepherd's Crown I went through five chapters per blog post, but this time I think that since there are so many chapters here, I'll increase the chapters-per-post number to six. That way, I can fit the novel neatly into ten posts:
Post 1: Cover, Author's Note, Prologues 1-2, Chapters 1-6
That seems like it'll work, though this.... will probably take a few days to do. Oh well, let's see how I manage as I dive into the longest book I have reaction-reviewed yet...
See you in the next post!
The first one was the Norwegian-produced Knutsen & Ludvigsen Og Den Fæle Rasputin, an animated movie based on the vastly popular comedy/singing Trondheim duo "Knutsen & Ludvigsen." the English dub is titled Two Buddies And A Badger, and the main characters were renamed "Tootson" and "Ludiwood."
It's fairly clear that the producers are hoping that the movie will work as an international release as well, but to be perfectly honest I'm not so sure it does.
It's pretty much the same problem as you have with the Captain Sabertooth franchise, in that much of the charm of the movie comes from knowing the characters from beforehand, and Two Buddies And A Badger is a very Norwegian movie with a lot of inside-jokes that I doubt anyone who doesn't live in Norway will get. For instance, the movie's depiction of Bergen as the bad guy's stronghold, a perpetually gloomy city where it always rains and the inhabitants are only capable of speaking in harsh, gutteral sounds, is funny if you're Norwegian and aware of the Bergen sterotypes (and the good-natured if sometimes fierce rivalry between Bergen and Trondheim), but it has to be pretty incomprehensible for anyone else.
There's also the fact that Knutsen & Ludvigsen are a well-known and beloved act in Norway and have been around since 1970.They've performed and released about a hundred songs, several of which are insantly recognizable to just about any Norwegian. "Tootson and Ludiwood," however, do not have this recognition factor to stand on, and without it I'm not sure if the movie is strong enough to stand on its own legs.
The plot isn't particularly inspired -- in fact, scriptwriter Øystein Dolmen (the original Knutsen) has lifted much of it directly from his own book Knutsen & Ludvigsen Og Den Gale Bergenser ("Knutsen & Ludvigsen And The Mad Bergensian") from 1987 -- and in my opinion it worked better in book form; the movie comes across as more careful and with less of an edge, it's a lot more streamlined and has less weird absurdities. Not to mention, the bad guys who were actually sinister and threatening in the book, are far less so in the movie -- I get that they're supposed to be funny, but they really just come across as tiresome.
That's not to say there aren't inspired moments in the movie. The inside jokes are often hilarious if you know the background for them, and the married ghost couple who keep flirting with one another (an original addition to the movie) are surprisingly adorable. The badger is fun; his deadpan reactuins to most things reminds me a bit of Gromit the dog from Wallace & Gromit, and his sub-plot about rescuing a group of kidnapped sewer rats, which eventually culminates in him becoming the big hero of the movie, is satisfying. And the score deserves a special mention; many of the classic Knudsen & Ludvigsen songs are performed, and they're just as good as they always were; they really lift the mood and spirit of the movie. Even outside the musical numbers, several other familiar songs cleverly tend to sneak in on the instrumental background music; at notable moments the background music will suddenly play a few bars from a known song from their repertoire. It's a really great touch.
The true highlight of the movie, though, is the duo of Knutsen & Ludvigsen. Or, if you will, Tootson and Ludiwood. Neither is played by their original actor (Gustav Lorenzen, the original Ludvigsen passed away a few years ago and the movie is a bit of a tribute to him), but the new actors capture them so perfectly that it's almost impossible to tell the difference. They're a great buddy-act with tons of on-screen chemistry and charisma; they bicker and banter and burst into song at the drop of a hat, they swap insults, they cheer each other on, they work together and against each other -- and they get all the best dialogue in the movie. When they're on, they're on.
Uniquely, the funniest moment comes at the end credits; after another song has been sung, the two buddies appear in voice-overs and begin speculating about whether there'll be something funny at the very end of the credits, because many movies have that. They get all excited about what might happen, they complain that the credits take too long, and then when the credits end the screen cuts to black and nothing happens. Causing the pair to angrily declare their disappointment and leave. And then, after they've gone there's a twenty-second clip where the big multi-headed animal (a character who showed up in the franchise, frequently appeared in the songtexts and even got to sing a few songs himself, but who hasn't been in the movie at all) makes a cameo and does nothing but laugh. It's hilarious.
I would kinda like to know what people who haven't grown up with these characters think of the movie, though.
The second movie I watched this week is a lot more well-known internationally -- it's Disney's newest animated movie, Zootopia -- though here in Europe it's for some reason released under the name Zootropolis.
Zootopia/Zootropolis was one of those movies I went into fairly blank. I'd seen the teaser trailer and the "sloth" trailer, both of which were very promising, but beyond the "rookie rabbit policewoman and wily con-artist fox team up to solve a missing-person mystery" premise I really didn't know what to expect. After all, when Disney last tried their hands at an all-CGI funny-animal-world movie, the result was Chicken Little, quite possibly the single worst move in the Disney animated canon.
Thankfully, this movie is much better than Chicken Little. This movie is, dare I say it, good. I wouldn't call it the greatest Disney movie ever, but it's a solid and entertaining movie with a surprisingly well-crafted mystery at its core.
Okay, the identity of the bad guy isn't that hard to deduce -- about one minute after the character in question had appeared in the movie I was going "yep, that's going to be our mystery villain." And that was even before it was clear what the mystery was going to be! But like in most of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, the real mystery isn't so much "whodunnit" so much as it is "howdidtheydoit" -- and that part is pretty cleverly set up. In fact, this movie has one of the most solidly-constructed plots I've seen in an animated movie for quite some time, in how it collects all its seemingly-unrelated plot threads and ties them together in a very effective way.
The characters may not be the deepest or most standout animated characters ever, but they're likeable enough; especially the two protagonists. What really works here is how they take two constructed animal stereotypes -- the cute, innocent bunny rabbit and the tricky rascal fox -- and plays with them, showing how both the characters have struggled with stereotyping.
Judy Hopps, the bunny, is the most obvious one here; she has had to fight uphill all the way in order to be recognized as a cop because rabbits are supposed to be tiny, cute and cuddly, not tough law enforcers. Nick Wilde, the fox, at first seems to be playing the stereotype straight, as a cocky and fast-talking con man -- but it turns out that this is mostly a role he's playing; everyone expects a fox to be shifty and untrustworthy, so he's decided to own the stereotype and just be the small-time crook everyone thinks he is anyway.
And this might be where Zootopia shines the strongest, in its clever use and deliberate subversion of animal stereotypes, as an effective way of dealing with prejudices. Where the town of Zootopia is presented as a place where animals of all kinds live in harmony, the truth is that discrimination and intolerance is commonplace.
Judy feels this first-hand; being a newcomer to the city she starts out as believing the "in Zootopia everyone can be anything" propaganda but soon sees reality for what it is. Not only is she herself subject to the discrimination -- as the first law-officer that isn't a big, strong animal, she becomes the force's "token bunny" and gets assigned parking ticket duty -- but she also witnesses and tries to fight against other types of species-based discrimination under the "all animals are equal" type of thinking.
But, and I sort of appreciate that the movie goes there, despite being a victim of prejudism, Judy herself isn't immune to prejudist thinking. She does her best to overcome it, but deep down she struggles to overcome the mindset that society tries to enforce on her: She's afraid of predators and distrusts foxes even if she tells herself this isn't the case. In fact, there's a particularly effective scene in the latter half of the movie where she speaks against predators, and then tries to calm Nick by telling him that she didn't mean him, he's one of the good ones.
All in all, Zootopia is about discrimination -- the discrimination here can and is used as stand in for racism, sexism, ageism, ableism and just about any kind of "ism" you can imagine. A lot of people have found the movie's message to be heavy-handed, but personally I find it to work very well; it shows that even the best of us aren't above prejudist thinking, and not all discrimination is hateful -- while discrimination is unquestionably a bad thing, quite often it's based on fear and/or ignorance, not hate. And I can think of worse messages for a movie to have.
Oh... and the sloth? Yeah, he is the best part of the movie. Partially he is the best part of the movie because he's used so sparingly; he's only in a couple of scenes; enough that he makes an impact but not so many that he becomes tiresome. Kudos!!
Problem with it is that the processed foods are usually cheaper, quicker and easier to prepare. And really, quite often you just don't have the energy (or necessarily the skill...) to stand in the kitchen for ages and watch the food like a hawk to make certain that it doesn't go all burned and ruined.
It's a well-known fact that slow cooking usually gives you a better result, but who has the time to slow cook in this speed-obsessed day and age?
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a couple of people I know, and we broached on the subject of cooking; how it's hard to find the time/energy to cook decent meals from scratch. And one of them asked us if we'd ever tried sous vide.
No, we answered, we really hadn't. Wasn't that some ultra-fancy thing that professional chefs did that took five years and fifty thousand dollars in fancy equipment?
And so he explained the process a little: "Sous vide" is French and means "under vaccum." It's actually simpler than the fancy name suggests -- basically it involves sealing the ingredients in a plastic bag or canning jar, and then placing the bag/jar in a hot (but not boiling or scalding) water bath, and keeping the water at a steady temperature. It's like extreme slow cooking.
Yes, it takes a long time for it to get done... but the beauty of sous vide is that you don't have to watch your food like the above-mentioned hawk. You can leave it alone in the kitchen for hours, and because the temperature is low enough and kept regulated, it won't over-cook.
And so, as my friend explained, while the cooking took several hours, the neat thing was that you could use sous vide to cook your meal overnight while sleeping... then it's quick work to take it out of its bag and heat it up when dinnertime comes, and the food is cooked to perfection without the traditional "burned on the outside, raw on the inside" that you get with faster-and-hotter cooking. It was at this point he started to wax lyrical about the perfectly done, tender meats that he got this way, and we basically said "okay, okay, we get it, thank you!"
But he had managed to awaken my curiosity, so the next day I looked up "sous vide" online. I found out a lot of interesting things here; among other things that you really didn't need a lot of expensive equipment... well, the expensive equipment probably makes for better bragging rights, but still. I checked out equipments of various price ranges and types -- go for a water oven or an immersive circulator? Or just try the old "beer cooler" trick with a beer cooler and a thermometer?
In the end, I decided to try it. I found an immersive circulator named Sansaire, which was said to be a good sous vide machine and which happened to be on sale for relatively cheap at a store not too far away from me. So, this Monday, I brought home a brand new Sansaire circulator, some plastic freezer bags, and (because they had bragged that really cheap meant got tender and juicy when sous vide-cooked), some of the cheapest chicken filets I could find to start experimenting on.
There were a few hiccups at the start (one batch of chicken fillets got ruined because I hadn't vaccuum-packed the bag well enough, for instance), but when I got the hang of it things really started going well: Chicken filet, sous-vided on 65 degrees Celcius for approximately four hours before seared quickly in a hot skillet for that nice golden brown look -- I have never had a juicier chicken than that.
Already then I could safely say "Goodbye, barbecued chicken from the store! And for that matter, goodbye to all other ways of trying to do chicken from scratch!" This was so much better, and if I can get the seasoning just right (I tried with some marinade, which worked well!) it'll be perfect.
I tried out other things as well, with various success. Potato strips, vaccum-packed with olive oil, was pretty nice... though next time I'll drop the garlic powder. Beef striploin (again, bought the cheapest ones, five hours at fifty-four degrees) wasn't quite as good as the chicken, but still more than adequate: Nice and tender and juicy; it barely needed a knife. My attempts at doing creme brulet was pretty much a fiasco, though; I think that was a little too ambitious and I need to get more acquainted with the technique.
All in all, I was getting familiar with sous vide, and decided that now was the time to try out a slightly bigger thing -- Beef shank. To be cooked sloooowly, over 24 hours. (Everybody says 48-hour lamb shank is the ultimate sous vide experience, but I basically thought, let's build up to that via the beef.)
And despite a minor hiccup about twelve hours in -- this was when I realized that for long periods of sous-viding, you really should double-bag the meat, because the bags might start leaking -- the end result was nice. Tender meat and nicely juicy, it didn't seem to have taken too much damage from the brief water exposure, and I ended up having a very nice meal.
So yeah -- all in all, I think I'm onto a good thing here! Has sous vide changed my life? No, but it has certainly given me a new appreciation for chicken filet.And given that I already liked chicken filet, that can only be a good thing.
I'll be experimenting more with it in the future and see what I might end up with.
And yes, she is named for Princess Celestia. It was a bit of a joke from my side, since my GM has not seen My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and isn't likely to either -- she never watched the "toy commercial cartoons" as a child and said that she accepted the cartoon was probably good, but if she watched it, it would just ruin her memories of playing with the toys.
When I was to introduce a new character, I was stuck on what to call said character -- then the name "Celestia" fell into my head and I thought, well, why not?
Celestia, then, is not my main character, but she turned out to be fun to play -- and can be summed up in one sentence: She is almost as cool as she thinks she is.
Y'see, for some time now, it seemed like all the websites and online communities I visited were obsessed with Rick and Morty; references to the show was everywhere and people were constantly singing its praises. I wasn't too convinced it was for me; I'd caught Rick and Morty's guest appearance on that Simpsons couch gag and hadn't been terribly impressed. It had some good ideas but the art style was terrible and I didn't like the pacing; the entire thing just dragged too much and Rick very quickly got on my nerves.
But, far be it from me to judge an entire show solely based on a non-canon appearance on another show whose best days is behind it. Besides, I'd initially written off Adventure Time because I hated that art style too, and when I actually tried to sit down and watch that show it turned out I quite liked it. So I eventually decided that Rick and Morty at least deserved that I gave it a chance, and so I checked out a few episodes. And... well... I wasn't terribly impressed. It had some good ideas but the art style was terrible and I didn't like the pacing; the entire thing just dragged too much and if I'd thought Rick had got on my nerves for a cameo appearance that was nothing compared to 22 minutes of him.
Now, I can see why other people, with different senses of humor, would like this. It's a very "geeky" show with a lot of weird and thought-out sci-fi, and some very impressive creativity. I suspect if I'd actually liked Rick and Morty as characters, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
But this brings us to Community. While ultimately I did not like Rick and Morty, it had enough interesting ideas and enough potential that I became interested in checking out if it creator had done other things. As the show was credited as the brainchild of one Dan Harmon (who based on Internet article seems like a... deeply troubled, but very creative, individual), who had also had his hand in a lot of other TV shows, I decided to check out one of them. And the choice fell on Community.
For those not in the know, Community is an ensemble-cast sitcom about the misadventures of a study group at a community college. The show frequently plays with the expectations and tropes of the format, includes a ton of genre parodies and gleefully points out its own absurdities. It has some nice dialogue and some really creative moments, as well as an above-average willingness to experiment and subvert genres.
As I watched those first episodes, I had this weird feeling that this show reminded me of something else. And I don't mean all the parodies; there was something about the set-up and the execution of the show itself that just felt very familiar. It took about half the first season, but then I figured out just what Community reminded me of: It really, really reminded me of Coupling -- the quirky dialogue style, the experimentation with the format, the weirdly optimistic cynicism. Even some of the character types were similar.
That's not to say that Community was an American version of Coupling (they already tried producing an American version of Coupling, which was universally-panned), it just seemed more like a spiritual successor... with a few notable differences.
Community is not primarily, or even secondarily, about romantic entanglements -- and is better off for it. There's much less overt sexism and the comedy does not lean on offensive gender stereotypes: there's a total lack of "I'm a man, I can't help myself" rants, and the women of the show are not by default snooty, passive-agressive or marriage-obsessed. But perhaps the big difference is that the characters of Community are likeable, where the characters of Coupling were not.
And this last part is interesting to me, because the characters of Community are clearly just as terrible people overall as the characters of Coupling -- if not more so. They certainly have a lot more atrocious acts to their names (though to be fair, they've had more episodes -- 110 episodes of Community to 28 episodes of Coupling). So why, I asked myself, did I end up liking the characters of Community, while the Coupling crowd just made me want to smack them?
Quite frankly, I think it has to do with the fact that Community acknowledges that its characters are horrible people.
Compare Britta from Community to Susan from Coupling -- both of them are shallow and self-obsessed and don't really treat their friends with respect. Susan seems to have nothing but disdain for people who aren't her (especially if they're male), and Britta is a failed activist who rants, insults people and thinks she knows better than everyone else. And yet Susan in her series is met by nothing but approval and adoration and comments about what a good person she is (probably doesn't help that she's based on the show's producer and the writer's wife) -- while Britta in hers gets mockery, angry rebuttals and it even becomes a running gag that the othes use the expression "to Britta something up" as a euphemism for screwing up majorly. Any negative traits Susan possesses are excused with "she's a woman, she's supposed to be like that" while Britta, when displaying her negative traits, is often told "you're horrible."
I couldn't stand Susan, but I have a lot of sympathy for Britta.
And that's the difference. Coupling presents a group of terrible people, and then pretends that they are normal, decent, well-adjusted, even admirable. It shoves their horribleness under the rog and tries to explain away the problem by insisting that there is no problem; this is just natural behavior for men/women. (It's why the characters Jeff and Jane -- and to a lesser extent Jeff's replacement Oliver -- were the only characters on that show I didn't absolutely hate after a while; the writer actually seemed to realize that their personality problems were problems.)
Community, but contrast, present a group of terrible people (with the possible exception of Troy, who seems to be the sweetest and least malicious of the group) and then showcases their terribleness, pointing out that this sort of behavior isn't okay, letting them all feel the consequences of their terrible acts... and then shows that despite all this they still have good in them; for all their self-centeredness and spite, they are capable of compassion, kindness and even selflessness. It shows that even terrible people can still be decent human beings. The characters are aware of their flaws and try to overcome them. Often they fail, but sometimes they succeed.
Moral of the story: In order to overcome a problem, you need to be aware that there is a problem to begin with. Coupling refuses to acknowledge its problems and as a result is basically going to be stuck in the same rut, incapable of growth or change. Community knows it has problems, and at least occasionally tries to work on these problems, and thus it actually has a chance to grow and change for the better.
That's why Community, in my eyes, is the superior show. (And I'm going to refrain from drawing parallels to Steven Moffat and Dan Harmon; that'd just be crude.)
What did I think? Well... actually, it was pretty good. I'm not about to start jumping up and down and squeeing about how awesome it was or anything, but... well, let me put it this way: I stupidly went to a 3D showing of the movie without realizing it was a 3D showing and not realizing I should have bought a pair of those annoying 3D glasses until the movie began and the pre-movie text told me to put said glasses on. The result was that I watched the entire movie with weird blurs and doublings of images -- and still, I managed to follow the movie perfectly and for the two hours and fifteen minutes it lasted, my attention only drifted twice.
For Star Wars this is phenomenal -- compare The Phantom Menace, where my attention could barely stay on the movie whenever Jar-Jar Binks wasn't on screen (I still hold he was the only thing about that movie that was at least mildly entertaining), or even the original trilogy, where I stayed mildly engaged but would often glance at the time to see how much longer the movie was.
So what made this movie more engaging for me? Frankly, I think it was the acting. All in all, one thing taken with another, this is the best acted Star Wars movie I've seen. All the performances are solid and believable, which wasn't always the case for the original trilogy... and people actually act like people instead of wooden planks. which definitely wasn't the case for the prequel trilogy.
Plus, hey, Harrison Ford -- the best actor from the original trilogy, bar none -- is back as Han Solo, and he's still got the acting skills! In a smart move from the moviemakers, he's got a substantial role in this movie, easily the biggest role of the returning characters. Only Chewbacca, his constant companion, gets anywhere near as much screen-time, and the two kinda serve as a link between the "old guard" and the new characters.
Carrie Fisher, whose performance didn't really wow me in the originals, has seriously improved her game here and delivers a great performance as General Leia (I actually think Han and Leia have better chemistry in this movie than in the original trilogy). And even if Luke Skywalker is only in the movie for, like, twenty seconds and has no dialogue, we know from other projects that Mark Hamill is a much better actor now than he was back in the 'eighties.
As for the of the new characters:
To take up the mantle from the original two-guys-and-a-girl trio of Luke, Han and Leia, we now get Poe, Finn and Rey as the new guard. Okay, Poe is basically a glorified cameo in this movie; he kicks off the plot but afterwards spends most of the movie off-screen and for a long time presumed dead... but likely he'll have more of a role in following movies.
For this movie the real protagonists are Finn and Rey. They're the ones who go through the most development and seems to be on the biggest journey. A little simplified we could say that Rey's story is the most plot-centric one; since she is clearly going to become a Jedi and is the one who finally goes off to find Luke Skywalker, she is the character with the Big Destiny and I'll be very disappointed if she does not turn out to be the main hero of the planned trilogy. However, Finn is the one who goes through the biggest (and I'd argue most interesting) personal journey -- he goes from a semi-nameless Stormtrooper, to deflects ranks when he realizes he doesn't want to kill innocent people, to basically a scared kid on the run who just wants to stay alive, to a genuine heroic figure who risks his life for those he cares about. His main struggle in the movie is between his desire to Do The Right Thing and his deside to not be killed, thank you very much.
The Force Awakens is really the story of these two characters, the same way the original trilogy was Luke's story, and the interplay between the two is great, with solid performances by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
For much of the movie, Han Solo serves as the third member of the trio -- with Chewbacca and BB-8 rounding out the main cast as the token wookie and token droid. And this turns out to make for a really great character dynamic that sort of echoes, but does not copy, the engaging dynamic we found in the original trio and which was missing from the prequels because the main characters were all either extremely uninteresting, extremely unlikeable or extremely Jar-Jar Binks.
Here, we get Han as the slightly grouchy and cynical older guy who treats the other two with something approaching fatherly concern, Finn as the youngster just out and discovering the big world, and Rey as the in-between; more wordly than Finn but less experienced than Han. It works very well -- remains to see how/if Poe will fill out the role in the trio in the upcoming movies.
Also, special mention must go to BB-8, the new droid on the block. Cute, cuddly and very much a scene-stealer, he's clearly the R2-D2 for the new generation. The moments he shares with C-3PO just underlines this; they have a very similar dynamic even if 3PO seems more patient with BB-8, who in return doesn't seem to snark at the golden droid the way R2 does. In fact... in the two scenes that all three droids share together, BB-8 comes across as the youngest sibling who looks up to his two older brothers, and how they both accomplished so much before he was even born... okay, built. It's adorable.
So yeah. Great characters, great interplay between characters both old and new, and this is he biggest strength of the movie: It has heart. You really care about the protagonists.
The plot, however... isn't all that. Basically, it's a rehash of A New Hope; not scene-by-scene but the stories are more similar than they're different. The bad guys want a droid carrying important information, the heroes have to take said droid to the Rebels/Resistance, and afterwards play crucial roles in blowing up the bad guys' Big Bad New Weapon. And it seems like old Jedi Masters just give up and move to desolate faraway places whenever things go bad, because Luke's done that just like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. And there's still no such thing as a safety rail. Lots of other similarities, but we've gone waaaay past homage here and gone straigh onto re-treading. I'd have liked to see more originality here, because the movie is definitely at its best when it introduces new things to complement the old, rather than re-introducing old things in shiny new clothes and special effects.
Still... there's a hope (pun not really intended, but what the hey) that the next film will dare to go off in new directions. We'll just have to wait and see.
And of course, here are the lyrics:
There's a rhythm
There's a rising
There's a dream of green that needs to wake
And a promise
That the Earth will never ever break
Feel it humming
In the heart we share with rock and sky
So raise your voices high
(Deep beneath the stone)
(Seeds begin to grow)
(Sun shines through the rain)
(We will live again)
PS: Sarah, I might be on late tomorrow.
Asian Golden Cat
Nosk Skogkatt (Norwegian Forest Cat)
The Dragon Princes and Princesses function not only as Royalty, but as the dragons' police and law enforcers. They have the power to apprehend, prosecute and pass sentences over other dragons who break the laws of Kandrazaal -- a big responsibility that even the silliest of them take seriously.
As for a quick Who's Who:
And from oldest to youngest:
Lintila: Oldest of the siblings and potential Heir to the Throne if the King ever dies or steps down. Theoretically she has a certain authority over the others, but she seldom uses it unless she has to, preferring to let them do their own thing. Laid-back and generally reasonable, but has low tolerance for bigots and bullies.
Aldor: Without question the biggest and strongest of the siblings -- only Obayana even comes close. He's very gentle, though, perhaps the most soft-hearted of the siblings as well. Aldor is a Prince of simple tastes; good food, good drink and a nice campfire to tell stories around.
Rashak: A bit of a loner without much patience for other people.It seems like he's annoyed by everything and everyone, and he's not shy about letting them know exactly what's wrong with them.
Verena: Despite being the biggest of the Princesses, Verena doesn't really call a lot of attention to herself. She is quiet and unassuming, and prefers smaller gatherings of three or four people to larger crowds. She is very perceptive, though, and she has a strange ability to know exactly what the truth is, so when she does speak it's wise to listen.
Reneth: Reneth is both sweet, feminine and cuddly -- and a total hardcase. She's just as likely to give someone a warm hug as she is to threaten to knock them senseless.
Obayana: Loud, boisterous and fun. Obayana is almost as big and strong as Aldor, and much more excuberant and physical. It's impossible to bring him down; he never gives up and keeps on laughing and joking even when everything is at its bleakest.
Reet: She's a bit of a flirt and very touchy-feely -- sometimes she can appear as a little vain and she can be extremely silly. She is, however, very sweet and charming, and she has a knack for getting along with people.
Zelen: Zelen was actually born "Zel," a boy, but always felt like she was supposed to be a girl. Eager to get away from her male body, she mastered the dragon shapeshifting abilities at an early age, and ever since she learned how to take on female forms she never looked back. Zelen is the best shapeshifter of the siblings and can take on any form; she's also a good actor and can play any role you give her.
Elya: Quick-witted, artistic and a little temperamental, Elya would probably be happier dedicating herself completely to her hobby of drawing and painting than performing her Royal duties as a Princess.
Lynn: Lynn is an alchemist, tinkerer and inventor, which she tries to combine with her job as law enforcer. She has been known to cause an explosion or two, but a number of smaller invensions have been successes.
Darak: If any of the Dragon Royals is a Detective, it's Darak. He's got an incredible gift for spotting what others don't, and draw the conclusions that escape others. And if his deductive skills don't get results, his stubborn persistence often does.
Shayna: The only Sea Elf of the siblings, and without any doubt the laziest. For a very long time she was the youngest of them, and even now she's got a great ability for shirking work and letting her older siblings do the heavy lifting while she takes as much "light" work as she can. Her favorite thing to do is sleep.
Nilus: The oldest of the "young generation," Nilus is more cautious and hesitant than his siblings, not at all understanding how the dragon and Royal heritage seems to come so easy to them all, while he struggles with self-esteem issues and doubts of whether he's good enough. Quite uniquely for a young dragon, he's a bit of a coward and would rather avoid anything dangerous.
Ruzika: The second youngest, and possibly the spunkiest, of the siblings, Ruzika is Nilus's total opposite: She's not afraid of anything and will leap into any situation without thinking because she's convinced that she can handle anything. She's a bit of a goofball and she loves to talk, to anyone and about anything.
Kiriani. Kiriani is, at least for now, the youngest Princess. She's generally sweet-natured but can be a bit of a drama queen.
...I think he just wanted to gloat.
This time it's about fantasy stock plots/tropes that I've grown tired of. Now, in and of themselves, none of these are bad persay -- there have been many good stories where one or more of them played an important part. But they have been terribly over-used, and seeing them in a story now kinda fills me with an "oh no, not again" dread. These are the type of ideas that writers grab when they can't think of anything else; sometimes the result is something quite enjoyable while other times... it isn't.
In my writings, I'm hoping to avoid these things, so I'm making a promise to myself not to use any of these -- unless, and this is important, unless I find some twist on it that makes it more interesting.
So here's the...
FANTASY STOCK IDEAS
I'LL NEVER USE
(UNLESS I THINK OF A CLEVER WAY TO USE THEM, THAT IS)
5: TIME TRAVEL
Time travel is one of the stockiest of stock plots; just about every franchise features at least one instance of it, and a few, like Doctor Who and Back To The Future, are built up around it. (Sarah claims that there are also a whole slew of time travel romance novels out there, though I will admit I've never read any.) I suppose it's an easy way to get a "fish out of water" scenario, if it's either someone from modern times going to the past or the future, or someone from the past/future coming to our time...
But really, usually the plot is either "we're stuck in the past and can't get home" or "we go back to the past to fix our mistakes." It's not that either of these things can't be done well, and there have been good stories with both premises, but, well, it's so seldom that I see time travel used creatively in a story. It tends to be kind of the same thing over and over again. The protagonists either end up shaping history, or changing history, and they meet historical people who are either exactly as you think, or totally different... it's all been done.
(By the way, since it now is 2015, am I really the only one heartily sick of all the skits where Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown arrive in the "future" and are really disappointed at the lack of hoverboards and flying cars?)
Stock horror plot: Someone or something calls forth the characters' worst nightmares or greatest fears -- either physically bringing them into the real world or (if the wtiter is a little more psychological) just makes the characters think the nightmares have become real. Expect scary monsters, at least one monstrous clown, some kind of seclusion/loneliness thing, loss of power, rejection, total failure, that sort of thing.
These sort of things are just trite. It's always the same; the comic relief character has some suitably humorous or absurd fear, like killer clowns or talking breadsticks, or being naked in public, while the smart guy is afraid of becoming stupid, the heroic character is afraid of failure, and everyone falls prey to their own fears until one character -- usually the hero -- stands up to the fears, which breaks the spell or at least leads to the breaking of the spell, in an exceptionally ham-fisted moral about facing your fears. It's not that this is a bad moral (and it can lead to good stories; the Over The Garden Wall series was pretty much built around the concept of facing your fears, to very good effect), but this kind of delivery is just lazy and clunky. Often the story tries to use the fears as a character study thing, but having each character's fears say something about them... but usually the so-called "character study" is shallow and not very interesting. The goofy, joking character has silly nightmares? The tough guy is afraid of something seemingly small and harmless? The hero is afraid of letting everyone down? Yeeeeah, really ground-breaking stuff there.
I may have mentioned my dislike of this once or twice. The story ends with the protagonist waking up, and wouldn't you know it, it was all a dream! Or, for an extra twist, wait, there is some hint here that it wasn't a dream after all! I can count the number of stories that were better for such a revelation on one hand -- usually, the revelation is a cheap cop-out; the status quo is changed, but whew, it was just a dream.
It's a lot more tolerable if the story is clearly set up as a dream from the start, but still, most of these "dream" stories don't really take much advantage of it being a dream; either they end up as parodies of another story just with the familiar characters in the main roles (double bonus if it's the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, one of the worst "it was all a dream" endings to ever have been inserted to a story, or Alice In Wonderland, the original "it was all a dream" story) or they become vaguely dull nightmare stories.
But there's one twist and variant to this trope that's been done more often in recent years, and one that I absolutely detest: The opposite version. A character of an established fantastic franchise wakes up and finds out the entire life we've seen them lead was a dream or a delusional fantasy, they live in a totally mundane world and magic and monsters does not exist. Sometimes said character is depicted as institutionalized, with doctors and psychiatrists (and possibly mundane versions of their normal friends) try to convince them that their entire life was just a fantasy. Sometimes the character forgets the "fantastic" life and goes up into the mundane one while the audience is supposed to scream "what is going on?!"
But -- surprise!! It's the mundane life that's the dream/delusion! Some evil villain is tryng to trick the hero into believing s/he was never a hero at all, but some detail or contradiction clues our hero in to the diabolical plot, and at the end of the story, the hero is back in their regular fantastic life... but if the scriptwriters feel especially clever they might include a twist at the end that hints that maybe the mundane life was the real one after all and the hero has gone back to dreaming. No thanks.
For some reason, everyone but me seems to love this trope. In every franchise, the most popular villain alays seems to be the "evil counterpart." Maybe they find the "hero versus himself/his dark side" idea intriguing, or maybe they just get a kick out of seeing heroes act like villains for a while. I don't know. But I'll admit, I find these to be, well, kind of dull. It feels cheap to just take a character, duplicate him/her, and then make the duplicate evil. It's very seldom that the evil duplicate is a very interesting character in his/her own right anyway; the only real interest lies in the contrast with the "good" hero and the similarities.
It's not that I'm fundamentally against twins, dopplegangers or alternate universes, but you can use all of these without the tired "evil twin" trope.
Yep, this is the big one. Why did the villain want to kill the hero? Why is the hero the only one who can set something right? Why, there was a prophecy!
You might have caught on to my distaste for "Chosen One" stories; I find them lazy and often annoyingly elitist. This person is More Important Than Everyone Else, not out of any personal merits or actions, but simply Because Destiny Says So. The prophecy tends to be the author's attempt at showing that Something Big is going on and Fate and Destiny are Involved To Such A Degree That The Text Begins Capitalizing Every Word. It seldom works; and in some cases it just gets really bad, when the prophecy is pretty much introduced out of nowhere -- or, like in the awful movie Oz The Great And Powerful, is only there as an excuse for everyone to fawn over how special the protagonist is, and the prophecy itself is never even mentioned in any detail beyond "it says he will fix everything."
I once said, years ago, that I would like a story where the ancient prophecy turns out to be just a bunch of lies, but I've changed my mind about that: Now I just don't like prophecies at all. They're lazy, they're trite, and frankly, every single way of trying to subvert or twist them has been done a million times. Hah, the villain fulfilled the prophecy by trying to avoid it -- that one's been around since the old Greek tragedies. The prophecy didn't mean quite what you thought it meant, that's almost required as a twist. The prophecy wasn't actually true, but ends up fulfilled almost as an afterthought and only in a kindasorta way? Tolken used that one, as have several others.
Let's just skip the entire prophecy thing. Make the hero earn his important status for once, don't just have him as important Because Prophecy.
Well, this is it. The home stretch.
No matter how this ends up, Pratchett -- we've had a good run, and I wouldn't have missed a single moment of it.
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( Chapter EighteenCollapse )
( Chapter NineteenCollapse )
( EpilogueCollapse )
( Sum-up and ReviewCollapse )
Back onto the Star Turtle we go!!
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The Shepherd's Crown is the 41st Discworld novel... but not the 41st Discworld book. If we include books like the four Science of Discworld books, the two children's books Where's My Cow? and The World of Poo, and the short stories/writings all collected in A Blink of the Screen, the number of Discworld books is probably more like "somewhere between forty and fifty." I'm not 100% sure, but I think that would make the Discworld series the longest fantasy series ever, at least that was written by one single person. Or if not, it's at least up there. There have been series with more books, but they have usually been shorter and/or been written by more people.
It's also the sixth YA Discworld book, the fifth book in the Tiffany Aching series, and the eleventh book about the Discworld Witches and their undisputed not-a-leader-honestly, Granny Weatherwax. Twelfth if you include the The Sea And The Little Fishes story as a separate book.
But however else you want to put it, this is the last one.
Let's just start with the cover:
Now that's a nice cover. It's done, of course, by our old friend Paul Kidby, and while this probably isn't his best cover ever (The one for Night Watch beats most of them) it looks great. It's Tiffany Aching, as we've come to know her -- but no longer the little girl she was in the beginning; she's definitely an adult woman now. If I'm to guess, she's probably in her early twenties here, given that she was seventeen in the previous book, and there tends to pass a few years between books.
But she hasn't changed more than we've come to know her; she still wears pale green, and she's still accompanied by the irrepressible Nac Mac Feegle -- the main source of wild rowdiness and comedy relief of the books. Imagine a race of hard-drinking, violent Smurfs, who will fight anything bigger than them, steal anything that's not nailed down (and if it is nailed down, they'll steal the nails) and speak in Scottish accent. While Tiffany is the unquestioned central character in the book and the Nac Mac Feegle are usually there more for comedy relief than anything, they add a lot of energy and fun to the books.
There's also a white cat, probably Granny Weatherwax's cat "You" (as in "Stop that, You," or "Get down from there, You,"), which was given to her by Tiffany a few books back.
Let's open the book and see what waits us inside!
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( Chapter FiveCollapse )
Next post up soon....
Wow... I've neglected this journal for some time. I don't really have an excuse for it, except there's been so many other things to do lately, and, well, long story short, I forgot.
Now, I have for a couple of months been meaning to do a reaction review here of Ryk E. Spoor's novel Polychrome, which is all about my favorite character from the Oz books, Polychrome the Rainbow's Daughter. If you remember my drawing of my eleven favorite Oz characters, Spoor commented on its DeviantArt page, we got to exchanging a few comments about the development of Polychrome from book to book (she is probably the one Oz character who changes and develops the most, even if she remains fundamentally the same), and he mentioned that he had this novel coming out. I decided that I would check it out when it came out, and a couple of months ago I found that it was indeed on sale from Amazon.
So I bought the e-book and was about to read it when I thought: Wait! This novel feels like one I could have a Reaction Review to! I should do the same as I did for Peter Pan's Neverworld and read it little by little, and write down my thoughts as I read!
Problem with that was that I was in the middle of preparations for the summer LARP, and all sorts of other things were happening, so I put it off for a week, and then for another week, and... you get the picture.
And now, here I am with a Reaction Review at last... but, as you might have guessed from the title it's not for Polychrome.
Now, I will get to Polychrome later on, but I'm sure the Rainbow's Daughter (and her author) will forgive me for the delay when I say that the book I'm reaction-reviewing is Terry Pratchett's last-ever Discworld novel. The fifth and final Tiffany Aching book.
Now, for the last few Pratchett books, ever since Nation, really, I've bought the digital-download audiobooks rather than the print books; I really like audiobooks, and Stephen Briggs's magnificent vocal performance fits Pratchett like a glove. Plus, we know that Pratchett's last few books were written through dictation and speech-to-text programs, and this resulted in an altered writing style; less polished an more rambly, and just a lot more suited to be heard rather than read.
I was fully intending to buy the audiobook for Shepherd's Crown too... but wouldn't you know it, the ruddy thing hasn't been made available for my country yet. Or rather, the full, unabridged Stephen Briggs version hasn't -- it's possible to get the abridged Tony Robinson version. But though Tony Robinson is a great actor and I thoroughly enjoyed him as Baldrick in Blackadder and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Maid Marian and her Merry Men (watch that show! It's like a kids' version of Blackadder and a magnificent spoof of the Robin Hood mythos!), I don't really like abridged audiobooks. You get the basic story, but so much nuance, humor and character is lost when you cut out all the "unnecessary" parts. And Pratchett's work is so much about the nuance, humor and character.
So I had three options:
1: Get the abridged version anyway and at least get the story. (Could do, but would I want my first impression of the story to be a version with more than a third cut out?)
2: Wait until I could get the Stephen Briggs version, in some way. (But who knows when that could be; could be only a few days, could be ages! Could I stand the wait?!)
3: Buy the e-book version and read it as a text.
As you see, I went for option number 3.
And then it struck me: This book is special. It's the last ever trip to the Discworld, at least with Terry Pratchett as our guide. His daughter Rhianna, now the keeper of the world and its inhabitants has said there won't be any more books -- adaptations and supplementary material, yes, and there's that Ankh-Morpork City Watch TV series I keep hearing about, which I'll certainly follow with interest (CSI in the Discworld!), but this will be the final time we have a new, full and complete Discworld book. It deserves a bit of extra attention.
So I'll be doing a reaction-review to it. Same format as before; one chapter at a time, five chapters per post. I expect this will be a lot more positive than my review for Neverworld, though... hoo boy, that book was a mess.
The Shepherd's Crown is nineteen chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. So what I'll do is divide the review into four posts, five chapters for each... well, prologue plus five chapters in the first post, then five chapters each for the second and third post, and the fourth and final will have four chapters, an epilogue and a final review. That sound good? Okay.
Once more, then, onto the Disc, onto the back of Great A'Tuin the Star Turtle... once more to the Ramtops and to the witches.
And of course, this won't be a real goodbye. Because, to paraphrase A. A. Milne, the Discworld will always be there... and anybody who is Friendly with Witches, Wizards, Dwarfs, Trolls, Goblins, Nac MacFeegles, and Corporal Nobby Nobbs, can find it.
This year, I present my interpretation of Gilbert O'Sullivan's classic song Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day, once again trying my hand at recording an a capella song. Okay, it has nothing to do with Norway or constitutions, and it doesn't sound anywhere near as good as when Gilbert O'Sllivan sings it, but in my humble opinion it's not bad for something put together in what was probably six or seven hours (I worked on it a few hours last night, and a couple hours before I posted it, hence the "probably")... and besides, it was fun to dol
And here are the lyrics, if y'all want to sing along with me. I've made a couple of very minor changes to the original lyrics (I swapped out two words or something) just because I wanted it to rhyme a little better -- plus I repeat the final chorus because it just sounds like the sort of chorus that should be repeated -- but the credit for writing this glorious piece of vaguely surreal nonsense belongs to Mr. O' Sullivan.
(I might as well do),
And you should meet her
She's got a brother,
You wouldn't think to look at me that I was strong,
Now, up in Bradford,
Who's that lady I saw you with?
It's not surprising when you come to think of it,
Now if you love me,
You come to tea, then
You come to tea, then
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.
You just can't put it any better than that. See you later, Great A'Tuin.
...and just because it wouldn't be a proper tribute to Terry Pratchett if it didn't end on something silly, here is my drawing of Nobby Nobbs in civilian clothes: