Finished the main storyline of Ghost of Tsushima yesterday. Overall, the story was pretty disappointing. Given no real choices (except right at the very very end you are given one choice, though I'm not sure it would really make a difference), the protagonist is frustrating, and most of the major friendly NPCs are a bit obnoxious. A major conflict in the game involves the protagonist's use of dishonorable fighting methods (i.e. being all Assassin's Creed), and in arguing with his asshole uncle/noble he never is just outright like "dude, I'm one guy basically fighting a whole invasion, of course I'm not going to just run up to the enemy fort and try to kill them all with a sword." Many of his decisions in regard to the main confict with the noble uncle are just stupid and illogical.
The game also continues an annoying tradition of video games that are all about killing, badly attempting to address that issue. Various characters give lip service at different times to the idea of all the killing being bad, yet of course there are almost no missions (I do remember... two) that are even possible non-violently. And one of the major decisions the protagonist makes that is considered the most problematic with the worst repercussions, is not one you have any choice in. It would have been way more interesting if they offered a choice and differing outcomes.
And throughout, it never gives up on the idea that samurai were somehow there to protect the people, like some kind of moral superhero, when really they were there to protect the ruling classes, enact their laws, which included throwing down rebellions and taking food (in form of payment/tax/tribute) the peasants grew.
I have not been keeping up with this well at all. Mostly, though, due to working on my stories, the two currently in progress are at a rather good draft stage, which is somehow the hardest stage for me. I'm not sure where to go to make them better. I know there is tons of room to make them better, I'm just not sure how. Because in editing, for writing, is often where you start to get down to style. I can just write and not worry about style, and my natural (???) style will just come out, but when I'm editing, then I'm thinking about style and I'm less sure. It's almost the opposite of drawing, where almost immediately style is a question that needs answering. Though in both cases, perhaps the place where I have the most trouble. I never felt like my drawing style ever become my own or distinctive or interesting, and I'm not even totally sure how to think about writing style as opposed to things like narrative form which I'm more knowledgeable about.
But I'm not unhappy with either story, which is certainly a good place to be. I think both need a bit more specificity (which means either research or just making stuff up) and probably a lot of syntax and diction cleanup (I'm sure I'm repeating the same locutions repeatedly without thinking about it). I'm finding dialog is a hard thing for me to write, I'm not one for giving people voices and ways of talking, but also just narrating conversations can seem weird. I need to find a midground I can work with.
I read Brian Attebery's Strategies of Fantasy from 1992. It's an academic text, though not a really dense one, about fantasy, mostly working to justify fantasy as a valid source of study, much like the so many articles and books arguing that comics are art/literature. In the end, I'm not sure it told me much. I think his analyses of fantasy works (with a heavy emphasis on Tolkien) are often too divorced from comparison to non-fantasy works and why anything he says is any less appropriate to other types of literature. He posits a sliding scale between the mimetic and fantasy modes but then I felt like his analysis all just sit in one place without a lot of concrete comparison to others. Much of what he talks about could be relevant to non-realistic fiction that is still not fantasy by any real sense of the term. For instance, a lot of Queneau's novels are set in the contemporary (to him) world, but have events and plots that aren't exactly "things that would really happen". It's fiction and he's not stuck on the idea of only writing was is real/possible/probably, but it's definitely not fantasy.
Or maybe I just shouldn't read academic books before bed when I'm sleepy.
An excellent article on Setsuka Hara that I just read.
I read a bunch of comics in the past couple weeks that I did not write anything about, which breaks my routine of writing about all my reading. Some of it is just because I'm not sure what to say about them. Often that means I want/plan to reread them so I can form some kind of judgement. Sometimes a first read feels more like a trial run, an attempt to see if I might possible like the work. Sometimes I waver because I've read enough other people praising something that I feel like I missed something excellent in a work that I felt pretty meh about in a first read. I certainly felt this way about to recent manga reads The Swamp by Yoshiharu Tsuge and The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita. Neither really wowed me on a first read.
I finished the latest Berserk Deluxe volume (5) yesterday. It wraps the first big arc and then transitions to the next one with a longer story, a shifting of the environment and general situation of the protagonist. This one had another overly detailed sexual assault in it, which was meant to be horrific (and is) but also was still drawn in a way that was just too much. It also fell into too easy tropes for the both the (male) protagonist and the female (victim) that he loves. I'm hoping the woman's story turns around because she is up to that point one of the most interesting characters, but for now the story seems to step back from her, so it's hard to say. Rethinking how much I want to keep reading this series.
Nothing like being woken up in the middle of the night by server alerts and sitting in the dark looking at charts trying to figure out what happened.
Took a reread through The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita yesterday and I'm just going to say it's not working for me. There are interesting stories and elements to it, but most of it feels underdeveloped visually and narratively, which in many ways makes sense since a lot of the stories were done when she was very young, and then she died young.
I watched The Phantom Lady yesterday, an old Robert Siodmak noir from 1944, that I've watched before. It has a few plot holes about the actual crime/cover-up that never feel adequately explained to me, but it also has a lot going for it. Unusually for a noir, the real detective/investigator in those one is a woman (Ella Raines, who I quite like in this). She's the secretary of a man (who she of course is in love with) who is accused of murdering his wife. His only alibi is that he was out with a woman he met at a bar. She doesn't give her name, so all he knows is that she had a fancy hat. When the police interview different people no one claims to remember her being with him, but the secretary doesn't buy it, so she starts investigating herself to save the man. There's an excellent long scene where she stares down one the witnesses, a bartender, for a few days at his bar, and then trails him home to confront him. Later she dresses up as a "hep kitten" to try to question a drummer (the ever present Elisha Cook Jr) from the show the man was at when his wife was murdered. At one point the drummer takes her to this little back room where a few guys are wailing away on their instruments and the drummer joins them. At the end of a song all the other band members stop playing while he is just soloing away in a frenzy as he oggles her and she is dancing in front of him, eyes wild, egging him on. And he just keeps playing and playing until he almost passes out from exhaustion. Its just a intense visual of the erotic appeal at the time of a certain style of jazz that in so many of those old movies is all about danger and sex and youth. (You'd probably get a similar scene in a 90s movie at a rave.)
I started watching Chantal Akerman's La Captive this morning, on which I'll probably say more when I finish it, but early on the one character is in a sculpture museum and he passes these big stone hands, facing up, close together. There's a very similar sculpture at the end of The Phantom Lady, which was just a weird coincidence.
I get further and further behind as this writing becomes less of a regular habit. But I also got more of my stories written (even started a fifth one now), and it was code release week at work, so more early/long days too.
Started and gave up on a bunch of library books. I did read and enjoy Nocilla Dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo, the first of his Nocilla Trilogy. They are all (I'm onto the second one now) made of short fragmented chapters mixing narrative, quotation, history, science. At first it seems all disconnected, but as you read places, characters, objects, themes all begin to recur. It ends up being a kind of literary collage reminiscent of what David Bordwell in film calls a network narrative. Many of the characters connect less in person than via locations, especially in this case Carson City in Nevada and a tree outside the town that is festooned with shoes. Quotes and sources cover a fairly wide variety, and the characters and events are a mix of fiction and non. I didn't feel like anything was very dramatic, rather calming. The rhythm of the short chapters and the jumping around and returning was really pleasant. I'm already about 75 pages into the second book.
Been watching season 1 of Upload on Amazon in the mornings. Ostensible a sci-fi comedy (seem to be a lot of those lately) it works a lot better as near future satire and drama. I can't say I laugh out loud much at it, though there are a lot of clever aspects to the world building. Often the show goes for broader comedy and falls flat. It has a main storyline/plot which is much more of a drama, mystery/romance centered around the protagonist and how/why he died. The overall pacing has done a really good job in slowly revealing that there is a mystery (I feel that's not totally clear where the show is going in the first episode) and then spooling out bits of information to keep it from stagnating, but also rarely going too far in just focusing on that aspect of the show. Like most sci-fi it's very much of the time, where the near future world of the show reflects contemporary issues like corporatization of life and the increasing (already large) wealth gap. This was another case of a show (or series in other forms) where the first part was not too exciting to me, but I kept with it an extra episode or two and ended up realling enjoying it (it is from the Office/Parks & Rec guy, so that gives it some cache in my mind). Also really like the female lead Andy Allo.
I reread Yoshiharu Tsuge's The Swamp, a new volume 1 (of 7) of his complete "mature" works, by which they mean they skip the very early stories. This one though, like many first volumes of artist's chronological work, is still not exactly all work that feels mature and successful. It's telling that a review I read the other day only mentioned two of the stories by name, as those are also, to me, the ones that are most successful and interesting: "The Swamp" and "Chippy". Both, oddly, feature a couple, an animal, and the animal acting as a kind of intermediary and symbol. They are a bit mysterious and a bit ambiguous and for that allow a more open reading. The other stories in the book feel more straightforward and often a little goofy or too stuck in genre tropes. I'm looking forward to future volume as I think they will become more interesting as time goes on. Tsuge's The Man Without Talent, his later book-length comic is excellent enough that I know he will get much better.
I've been reading, well mostly looking at, a book of Francesca Woodman's photography I got used this past week, On Being an Angel. The not too long opening text pieces, one biographical and contextual, the other more impressionistic description, do good work in opening up the reader to looking at the photographs that follow. On first glass it can be easy to see a kind of cliche in Woodman's work because it feels so similar to tons of photographs made by young female photography students that I've seen, but I think that speaks more to her influence and daring in what she did, back in the late 70s (she died in the early 80s when she was still in her early 20s) and how much it carried forward to the 90s (when I was a student). A lot of her work seems to make use of limited materials and settings, tons of work in what appears to be rundown buildings, mostly self-portraits and limited objects. She worked in series a lot, often in ways that seem reminiscent of Duane Michals comics-like sequences, though Woodman's are less narratively clear. The introduction mentions Deborah Turbeville as an inspiration, which I think I should have realized on my own, as I am a big fan of her series/sequence work too.
Read an entertaining novella by Lois McMaster Bujold last night called Penric's Demon. It's a medieval style fantasy about a youngest son of a small noble who is accidentally (or fated depending) possessed by a demon. The world of the fantasy treats demon possession as a kind of cross between what one would first think of given such a term and something like the Trill in Star Trek, an entity that carries across knowledge and abilities from one host to the next. It's an interesting enough concept in a story that is light without being silly. McMaster Bujold is clearly a skillful plotter and writer, not particularly stylistically unusual, but also not prone to over description, excess (or maybe any) neologisms, or any of the things that often annoy me in fantasy novels. I've not read any of her work before, though I've certainly heard the name over the years, but I will be looking up more of this series (there are 7 or 8 novellas about these characters) as it was a quick enjoyable read.
On the other hand, I didn't even get through the first chapter of Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (another libary book), which I read a positive review of in one of the RPG blogs I read. Chabon writes with an excessive number of phrases and descriptions in way that I found completely and utterly annoying, something like: "Looking back slowly at his hat, black with a wide brim that, before it had been forcable removed by the knife thrown across the room, shadowed his face almost completely, the man stood unfurling all four of his sticklike limbs to stand like a stork on thin legs, dressed all in clothes of black silk that stood out more than not in the caravan of brightly colored travellers who were now watching the unfolding drama to see if they might expect some form of violence that would lead to the man's death as a result of the insult that was so recently hurled at the large African who had gone back to his bowl of chickpeas stewed in tomato and okra which he ate slowly with a wide wooden spoon that he must have brought with him from some far-off land he visited in his travels because that was not at all the type of spoon that was given out at the caravan's dining tent from which the bowl of stew had not 15 minutes earlier been carried." That's parody, but pretty much how it read to me.
On a whim, looking for something to look at over breakfast, I watched The Beastmaster the past couple days. Somehow I never saw that... classic... of 80s sword and sorcery. It is about what you expect from such a movie, though in many ways at least a bit more logically plotted than some. Limitations in special effects and fight scenes make it often pretty silly looking, though I couldn't help but be impressed by the use of trained ferrets in the movie, can't say I've ever seen that before. Surely a movie that plays better in the nostalgic tv of the mind for someone who watched it as a child.
I think I've given up on A.K. Larkwood's The Unspoken Name, a recent fantasy novel that sounded interesting, but, almost 200 pages in, I just don't care about any of it: the characters, the setting, the plot. None of it has gelled into something I am curious or excited to read more about. I'm also a little annoyed that, in looking into it online, this is listed as the first part of a trilogy yet nowhere on the actual book is that hinted at. So even if I did get to the end of the volume, it wouldn't really have been the end anyway. I don't like these publishers trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to trilogies. They know people like trilogies but they know people might be reluctant to buy a new book by an unknown author that is part 1 of maybe never to show up 3 books. But it's a real disservice to the reader.
With all the other library books I have piled up, I'm just moving on to the next thing, which in this case is Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, a translation of a German novel which takes places in the 17th century. Coincidentally, it's time period matches with some picaresques Johann Jakok Grimmelshausen that I was recommended the other day by Melan at Beyond Formalhaut. He was writing about the rpg he's going to be published that is based on picaresques, so I asked for some recommendations.
Started watching Carnival Row on Amazon, a pseudo Victorian-era fantasy series. While it is an imagined world setting, it is very much based on 19th century England/London mixed with fairies and Lovecraftian horror. Three episodes in, it is actually better than I was expecting. I'm not a huge fan of the things they are mashing together, but I think it helps that they did not just do "fairies in London" but rather created a world with elements that can be clearly mapped to reality (i.e. the religion references the "Martyr" in the same way Christian's would reference Jesus) but also leaves room to veer from it without squaring the difference.
Not sure I mentioned it, but I've been replaying the Witcher 3 on my PS4 and quite enjoying it, even when I know what the plot points are. It's just such a fully realized game, I continue to be impressed by the world building, detail, and writing of it.
Still working on my stories, the fifth one is few thousand words in as I just keep moving forward with it a little at a time.
This journal is really just becoming a recording of media consumption and nature sightings. In thinking about it going online, I tend to just not write about anything else. Perhaps because the easiest things to write are just about what I read or watch. And all my other thoughts go forgotten or unexplored.
Time marches on, and it is almost September. I'm not even sure where August went, but I'll be glad to see September. We're heading to the beach one week. Thankfully our beach trips tend to be as socially distanced (if not more) than our current home life, so we're not too concerned about the pandemic in that respect. I've been piling up some books to read there (as that's mostly what I do at the beach), and I have a few writing projects to work on (2 comics reviews and then more work on my stories). I've got some more Ancient Greek reading to do (Burkett's Greek Religion and Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess), so maybe I'll dive back into my Ancient Greek D&D work I did last beach trip (2 years ago now).
Gave up on Tyll after reading probably two-thirds or more of it. The longer I read it the less I could understand what it was all about. The sections jumped from character to character and setting to setting and they were all connected by place or people and all in the same time period, but I couldn't ever really grasp the purpose. It never felt coherent to me, which is funny considering the Nocilla Trilogy I've been reading is much more fragmented yet much more... coherent.
Also gave up about halfway through The Exhibition of Persephone Q, another recent novel, which I just didn't care about mostly, I think, because the progatonist narrator felt so distant and kind of incomprehensible.
Which leaves me on the prowl for what to read next. Perhaps I'll finish up my reread of The Book of the New Sun, or I'll dive into the B.S. Johnson Omnibus that recently arrived in the mail. I'm saving Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight for the beach, in it's new collected edition.
Finished up Carnival Row and am looking forward to season 2 (which apparently did finish filming). It's not a thematically rich show, in fact it is fairly consistent in its focus around the prejudice of the humans of this fantasy city/world against the refugee fairy folk. But it was well plotted, was not totally obvious in its plot twists (though some were very easy to see coming), and had excellent production design. By the end (which was pretty much a big downer), it seemed to be expanding the scope of the plot to a larger field, it will be interesting to see where it goes.
Had our now biweekly D&D game where Ian is running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist for 5e. The increased pace of sessions is a nice change from our old in person schedule every 4-6 weeks. It seems easier to keep the plot in mind which extensive reference to notes, which is extra helpful as this adventure is a lot of mystery and investigation and downtime and such.
We've been rewatching Mad Men in the evenings, after quite a few years. So far it is holding up really well, I remember some of the plot points, but not all of them, and in knowing some of where it goes, I feel I can get a little more of the subtlety out of the characters and dialogue. Surprisingly, it is a lot funnier than either of us remember, lots of good lines that make us laugh. The writers do at times (especially in the first season) play the "it's the early 60's" card a little too often and too blatantly, like they really didn't want us to miss the smoking and the (even worse than now) sexism and such. A few episodes into the second season it seems like they have toned it down and let it be more subtle, which is to say its still all there, but they are not jumping up and down and pointing at it to make sure we don't miss it.
I finished the draft of my fifth story the other day and now am at the harder part of figuring out what I need to changea and thinking about what should happen next. I have to keep moving forward, because I find if I stop, then it's harder to start again (kind of like with this journal and my decreasing pace).