Friday, December 20, 2013

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Adolescence by Nathan DiYorio

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Adolescence by Nathan DiYorio

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thoughts on (Books): Ghosts: The Story of a Reunion by Adrian Plass

Here's a thing I shouldn't be doing for quite a few reasons! Mainly because it'll probably wear me down before I can get into my daily dose of "Dead Kiss", and also because I finished this book like five weeks ago and really shouldn't be reviewing after the absurd stretches of time I had to put it down before even getting to that point. Regardless, I'm doing it, just to get it off my mind (pfahahaha, nothing ever leaves there).

Even while reading the book I had issue with the names of the characters, and by now I can't recall any of them whatsoever. I think there was an Agatha, I remember a Jenny. That's about it. Maybe a George? This is a pretty common problem I have with contemporary books--even in real life I have a hard time with names. Particularly oh-so-boring everday common names like George. I mean, how many Georges are there in the world, not even considering fiction (and definitely discounting chimps)? I have space for like, three Georges up there: Washington, Jetson, and Milton. Any other George? Just a shadow.

Thing is, I don't think it's exactly the names that made this happen. I think its the absolute lack of character within these characters. They don't have personality. I mean, Plass tried a couple times to give them some, but then they stopped having any. I distinctly remember the characteristics of two characters in this book: one was an atheist, and so was naturally portrayed as an uncultured manchild, and the other wise a short, nervous little man who reminded me somewhat of a turtle, and I chose to imagine him as such. The other characters all had somewhat memorable experiences or phrases, but they didn't have character. There was the gay guy, the girl with the one-time crush (Jenny), the woman who lived in an old house, and the main character. Also some pissed off guy who storms out after clinging around the narrative for about four pages. Pretty sure he left because the cast was already outrageously large for a personality so small.

Don't let the title, or even the intro, fool you. There is almost no horror in this book. Actually, much like the characters, there isn't a whole lot of anything in this book. There is little charm, little personality, zero wit (which is okay, you don't have to be witty to be engaging every contemporary author out there), nothing. Things happen, you're told they happen in extremely long-winded phrases, and that's about it. There is one genuinely creepy instance which is actually a short story framed by the rest of the novel, and later on a fairly creepy scene which mimics it. So it's like, there's two good emotional parts of this book, but one of them is just a repeat. Like, ten pages later.

The other thing that got me is just how incredibly rude everybody is. I get that they're trying to do some kind of honesty counselling thing, and a bit of rudeness is expected to come from that. This book, though, is like two-hundred pages of an Internet debate. It's like I stepped into any heavily-cliqued message board and read two-hundred pages of conversation, complete with shit-posts. Thing is, they aren't just directly rude during the little "share your feels" meetings, but just casually rude. At the end, for instance, the protagonist is ushered out of the mansion he was invited to stay at after hardly saying "good bye". I mean, the woman who invites him there basically says: "Oh, weekend's over. Get the fuck out of my house." Like, what?

Maybe this is some kind of American-reading-Brit-Lit disconnect, but, no really, what? This casual rudeness pervades the entire novel, and it makes me sick. Part of this is in the interactions between the cast (from now on I refuse to call them "characters") but most of it is within the narrative of the primary individual. It is claimed again and again, by himself and others, that the focal cast member is a good, honest, decent human being who gives everyone a chance, but this is only ever told and when it comes to show, we see nothing but a rude, judgmental, barely-passively aggressive person. I am frightened for any people who must spend time within any proximity of this man, he is a serial killer in the making.

The prose itself is okay. Sometimes enjoyable, I do remember coming across a couple passages which I thought were well-written. For the most part, I thought it was dry, overly wordy, and a bit full of itself.

Really, not an enjoyable read. Maybe it's because I'm agnostic, maybe it's because I'm American, who can say? I didn't like it. I don't think most people will like it. It was kind of a mind-numbing experience. I don't feel advanced as a person, I just feel like I lost some hours of my life and I want them back. Please, give them back to me. Three stars. You can have one more if I can have my hours back.

According to Science...

"According to science, gravity is responsible for human beings remaining on the ground and not having their eyeballs sucked from their sockets."

A pretty sound assertion. I don't think you'll find many advocates for the almighty Earth-Warden which chains you to the ground using the links of your mortal sins, but I'm sure they're out there. This post isn't about gravity, though. It's about science. Or rather, about what science has become to most people, particularly those he like to toss about the phrase "according to science" in Internet debates (and increasingly, in real life debate!). Cracked is notorious for using this phrase without actually knowing what it means, and they aren't the only one.

First, allow me to blow your mind: nothing is "according" to science. The phrase itself does science a disservice in that it treats it as a belief system. Thousands of atheists are up in arms now, but that's because they're the moronic kind of atheist who hasn't figured this shit out yet. Really, they're hipster atheists, so they don't count. Saying "according to science" or "science says" is absolutely baffling to me, even though I've done it! It's just an easy catch-all for telling the opposition to shut up. "Science agrees with me, so I must be right". It'll probably win you most debates if you have a link, provided you aren't debating with some kind of unflinching zealot which most people totally are.

Science is a method, it doesn't say anything. There are innumerable practitioners of science who say a vast array of things, but science itself does not say very much. What it does say is "be logical, be organized, and be damn sure you're applying me correctly". Science is nothing more than a series of steps in a process used to discover something about something. Science is literally a single word meaning: "use some fucking common sense before you go flapping your stupid, pink gums".

There are people who actively treat "science" like a gospel, claiming that gravity is not a theory, but an indisputable truth. Well, I wouldn't dispute them. I actively believe in gravity. In fact, I rather like gravity--keeps all my vertebrae where they belong. The thing is, it isn't science which suggests that gravity is an active force, it is (or was) a man who utilized science to reach a conclusion which suggested that gravity is a legitimate force. And I am actively choosing to participate in the beliefs generated by that man (and his intellectual descendants).

And that's the dangerous part of conflating "science" with "truth". Any individual can follow the scientific method and report on their findings. Those whose beliefs are accepted by the majority are called "scientists" and those whose beliefs are ostracized are called "whack jobs". This is the inherent issue of being human. Herd mentality is dictating what is and is not fact, and it always has and it always will. Much like how a person's core beliefs will impact what they choose to accept and what they choose not to accept.

It's true that believing in some of the purported findings made using science has led to great changes in our lives and made the world a whole lot easier to deal with. I think. It might have also brought us corporations, and that's kind of ruining everything else. But it cannot be argued that the acceptance of those findings was not, is not, simple belief. Belief in something which made, makes, logical sense to those who used it as their platform for creating new discoveries and new advancements.

Here's the problem: while I can experience the tangible results of supposed science, I cannot for myself verify that these findings are not the results of a self-perpetuating (and locked) belief system of a few individuals. When a scientist who specializes in quantum mechanics comes out and announces something to me, I take it that he knows what he's talking about. I choose to believe that he does. The issue is that he might very well not, and in fact there might not be any such thing as "quantum mechanics" and he could just be spouting nonsense and collecting grant money. I don't know about it, I don't know how right he is. I choose to believe he's right. But that's a choice, and a belief. It's a faith.

When it comes down to it, all understandings are a belief and a faith. Some can be shaken, some cannot. They are all chosen. Oh, but not a single one of those beliefs is "science". Because science is just a method of finding belief. Anyone can use it. Everyone should use it. Everyone should believe everything claimed by the practitioners of it?

Not so much.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Video Game Review: The King of Dragons (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)

Sorry, arcade purists, I've only played the SNES version of this title (although I'll be ordering Capcom Classics Collection, Vol. 2 soon enough, because the arcade copy looks ballin'). Arcade or not, though, The King of Dragons is one of the finest video games crafted in digital history. Not surprising, as it came out of classic Capcom... y'know, before they were Cashcom. This spiritual successor to Knights of the Round blends the common elements of an RPG with those of the popular Beat 'Em Up genre, and it succeeds beautifully.

To arcade veterans, King of Dragons might feel something like a "My First BUP", and that's true in a way, but coming from someone who doesn't really enjoy "hardcore" play, most BUP games need to chill the fuck out. King of Dragons is plenty difficult for most players, and it comes in three flavors of Easy through Hard. It also features customizable controls and the ability to designate the shield to a button as opposed to being automatic (which is a misleading label). I've had this game for about fifteen years now, it was one of the first games that I actually owned (as opposed to other childhood favorites, most of which belonged to my uncle), and I'm not quite sure where it came from. Despite having it for so long, and never passing on the opportunity to clap it down and give it a go, I never beat it the whole way through. Not until the other night. Oh glory!

The game opens by informing you that Gildiss, a fearsome dragon lord, has taken over the kingdom and now it's up to you and your fellowship to defeat him. It supports up to two players, unlike the arcade original, and does seem to be more difficult when items are split between them. Players may pick from one of five characters (none of which are females, all of which are rugged fantasy archetypes): the Wizard, who the intro assures us is only 28 despite quite clearly having arthritis and a beard to rival Gandalf, the Elf, the Dwarf, the Fighter, and the Cleric. Each character has different stats, and it really allows players to find who suits them best. When I was young it was the Wizard, whose spells can cause devastating damage to foes in later stages. Most recently the Fighter and I have become pals.

A variety of statistics (most of which go unseen) influence your player character: health, regeneration, speed, defense, strength, magic, and even height are all factors which vary from character to character. This doesn't even include non-statistical differences, such as attack range. The health, defense, and strength stats are all upgraded by level up--which occurs after defeating so many enemies or collecting so many items--or by finding equipment--which is usually handed to you at the beginning or end of a stage. By the end-game, most early-game enemies are defeated in one hit and do negligible damage to your character. Unless you're the Elf. But don't worry, you won't be the Elf.

Enemies come in multiple species and each have a number of races as well. Most commonly are the orcs, who are the first in a long line of melee-combatants which share the same programming with slightly varied stats and attacks. Their AI-brothers are the skeletons and the lizardmen, both of whom can be a legitimate threat if not handled with care. There are also wolven archers, brain-eating mummies, whispering wraiths, and a variety of other beautiful and terrifying mythological beasts, which will definitely inspire any player. This world is really interesting, and it's a shame it came to an end with only one title.

Each stage (of which there are sixteen) ends with a boss, most of which are the Big Bads of Greek mythology. You'll battle Cyclopes, Minotaurs, giant spiders, and Hydras alongside more Nordic and Tolkien-type creatures, like enormous orcs, mystical knights, wyverns, and (one of my personal favorites) a dragon knight. These bosses are quite distinctive in personality--even when a couple of them are repeated (usually as sub-bosses in later levels, but sometimes as end-stage antagonists), they leave a unique impression. Combat styles vary from the slow and staggering brutes to knights which act more like misplaced samurai (which is really flippin' cool). Of note is the dragon knight, who seems to have been the originally intended end-game character but instead serves as a sort of half-way marker, combining the attacks of most of previous bosses into one talented dynamo.

The ultimate villain responsible for the conquest of an entire nation is Gildiss, the red dragon. He doesn't seem like much of a king, though, because he just kind of sits in his treasure room being a typical mythological dragon. Really, you don't see him do anything antagonistic. Supposedly he kidnapped a princess (who I assume is the woman you rescue from the dragon knight, but none of the NPCs have visible names), but he really doesn't seem to care too much about doing anything but minding his own business. At some point the story explains that it's because of him that monsters can roam freely about the kingdom, but I don't know if I really buy that. There are no minions guarding his cave, and it just seems like he's all alone in the world, and these guys with pointy things decided to interrupt his nap with some inane nonsense about orcs and moose-men.

What I'm saying is that he has no apparent involvement with the game whatsoever. It's kind of like the Lord of the Rings situation where you know Sauron is bad because you're told he's bad, except Gildiss has even less of a hand in the events than Sauron did, because at least the eyeball created some baddies to menace our heroes. Gildiss is the typical end-plot big bad, because the story needed him.

He's also a cheap bastard with some creative game design to show off how gigantic he is. I'm really torn on the Gildiss fight. It's actually a rehash of the Hydra battle, but with only one head, which is kind of a shitty thing to do with your final boss. On the other hand, he is a truly formidable foe whose presence literally cannot be ignored, which leaves memories lingering on for days. That's kind of the hallmark of a successful villain, isn't it? You remember him, you fear him, you remember fearing him? In that regard, Gildiss is actually a pretty good bad guy. Maybe if there were more of him, he would have seemed less dangerous. I mean, the more we see of Bowser, the less scary he becomes. Gildiss should never be like that.

Despite the difficulty level this game presents even on its easiest setting (which will be moderate to high for most gamers who do not specialize in this genre), the game never feels enraging like a lot of other games do. Sure, the controls are a little slow and the choppy animations lead to some unfortunate happenings, but the game is generally fair. You're also going to get a lot better at it the more you try, so game overs aren't really a punishment. I mean, you learn something each time you turn it on. Some games without saves, ones that send you back to square one when you die, they can get annoying. I don't think I've ever perished at the final boss of a game like this and not get pissed off until King of Dragons. It's an overall positive experience which can excite and relax at the same time.

I think this is due in part to the mellow (but not bland) color palette and physical style, which is beautiful, mystifying, and subdued all at once. It is due also to the music and sounds, which have similarly incredible and yet subdued qualities. Every sound effect seems muffled, let's not mince words here. The sound is not Super Nintendo standard, which is weird because from what I've seen, the arcade version isn't like that. Despite it, and maybe even because of it, the sounds are all memorable and they will stick with you. You will be minding your business one day when your brain will randomly shout "Hoh!" into your ears, and you will be drawn back for the annual attempt. The music is also really outstanding, and should probably get a CD release or something. Now. Capcom. Cashcom. YOU WANT MY MONEY, DON'T YOU?!

Anyways, The King of Dragons joins the ranks of my elite video game crew with a perfect ten out of ten. I can't wait to play it again.


It's-a Me! Prince-a Mario!

A couple nights ago I talked about why Dr. Mario need not be our favorite plumber, but in that same post I also mentioned that a certain coastal king happens to share a number of distinctive characteristics with our man Mario.


That green-clad fellow isn't a stout Luigi, folks. That's the Seaside King, one of the Mushroom Kingdom's (more likely Mushroom Empire) seven governing kings. Looks familiar, doesn't he? Of course, plenty of people have look-alikes in the real world, so looks alone aren't really enough for me to go making connections now, is it? Are you joking? Of course it is! I'm a nerd, and as all nerds know, if someone looks like someone else in a work of fiction, they are intimately related. After all, how else would we know that Shadow is secretly Sonic's father? (Wait, we don't? Oh...)

I'll stick with the ocean and coincidental things for the moment before I blast ya with the finish. King Mario up there is the ruler of the Seaside Kingdom, which does admittedly appear to be in colder waters than most other sea-locked areas of the Kingdom. Still, the connection to water can't really be ignored when you realize that the Stork in Yoshi's Island was flying over and around the small dinosaur-infested locale, which is surrounded on all sides by, you guessed it, water.

This in itself might not mean too much, because as we've seen in Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island is an island very in very close proximity to the Dinosaur Land continent--so close that they may be the same location (as indicated by the sprawling terrain of the Yoshi titles themselves). It's quite possible that the Stork had a longer journey ahead of him, and was ambushed over Dinosaur Land partially by accident, and probably also because it is the birthplace of the Koopa Klan. Even more against my point? The ending of Yoshi's Island clearly shows that the Mario Bros. are deposited in the care of an average (read: poor) Mushroom family living somewhere in the mountains (the geography suggests a colony in Dinosaur Land, but this seems unlikely).

However, these are all misleading and also somewhat important factors in deducing the genealogical history of Mushroom's finest. Last year (whoa, I guess October is my Mushroom Month) I asked the age-old question: where do babies come from? I supposed that the Stork-carried children were issued to incompatible or infertile parents who made wishes to the Star Spirits. At the time, I was presuming that the children were magically manifested into existence for this purpose, by that might not be so. Most instances in which the Stars are shown to grant wishes, they rarely do so through magical means; more often, they are shown to encounter a mortal being who can build or create whatever has been wished for, or in some other physical manner do they impact the environment. The only magical properties the Stars have demonstrated are offensive and healing capabilities, both of which have natural explanations in the Mushroom world (Misstar's lipstick could be made with Super Shrooms, for example).

Isn't it possible that the babies delivered by the Stork are also acquired by the Stork? There are no orphanages ever seen in the Mushroom Kingdom, and the reason might be because there are no true orphans. Perhaps the Stork was flying so close to the ocean environments not because that was where the Mario's were to be delivered, but rather where they were picked up. From their birth palace in Seaside.

Why would King Mario give up his children? Well, the Mushroom Kings are never shown with queens, so it might be that he is unmarried and a child would harm his reputation or possibly cost him his position. That seems unlikely, though, as it seems that Mario's royal ancestry has become somewhat common knowledge in the Kingdom (more on that in a moment). It might be that Mario and Luigi were born from a mistress, but again, their public image makes that unlikely (granted, we haven't seen the Kings in quite a while, have we?). I think it more likely that the King of Seaside feared for the well-being of his children for whatever reason (perhaps during this time Seaside was not part of the Mushroom Kingdom and the two territories were at war with a looming victory on behalf of the Mushrooms). Making his wish to the Stars, the twin princes were whisked away to a safe locale where they could grow up in relatively peace.

Still think this hinges on coincidence? Wait a minute, Snivy, you remember the plot behind Super Mario Land 2? That's right, Mario's villainous cousin Wario steals his castle. Mario has a castle. Why would Mario have a castle? I mean, maybe it was a present from Princess Peach, but that's extraordinarily extravagant. Not to mention that it isn't his usual residence, which has been shown on multiple occasions to be a small cottage outside of Toad Town. Maybe he purchased the castle with his coinage as a summer retreat? Possibly, but Mario is more humble than that. He has no use for luxuries and performs most good deeds without a fee, I imagine he probably donates most of what he earns. Why then, would he have a castle?

A castle on its own small island with no other intelligent inhabitants other than those who are invading?

Oh.

That's right, I'm proposing that Mario's Castle, and the island it sits on, were gifts from his father (this might also explain why Luigi was so readily accepting of a mysterious mansion). They are probably located not far from Seaside (as the native inhabitants are more akin to Mushroom natives than Sarasalandians). This could also explain why Wario is jealous of Mario at all, and steals the castle to begin with. Think of it in a Lion King sort of way: Mario was missing in action for decades, and if he truly is the good doctor, the Seaside King has no other known sons. This would make Wario, the eldest cousin, next in line to rule the throne. Suddenly Mario returns and takes away everything Wario believes to be his. I can imagine that would make anybody a little green.

Before we part I have one last thing to mention. Super Mario Bros. seems to take place in a Disney-styled fantasy land, and it's pretty common knowledge that royalty can only wed royalty in such places. Why, then, does everybody seem fine with Mario's courtship of (and possible engagement to) Princess Peach? Oh, right, because he's a prince and it would only work to cement the ties between the Seaside and Mushroom Kingdoms.

Got it.