Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Evaluation: The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson (Author's Definitive Edition) (1984) (Re-released in 2004)

I previously reviewed the original version of F. Paul Wilson's start of the Repairman Jack series back in 2011. I have been into these books, reading them and enjoying them for a good long while, but about two years ago, I started having less time and had a good amount of trouble getting through the last four or so books of the series. I had forgotten some details and generally felt frustrated that I couldn't easily get back into the mindset I needed to read these books. So, back in November or so I started reading this book. But again I ran into time troubles which have only recently begun to resolve themselves. And thus, I started reading through the series again, almost as if it were new to me.

I really enjoy the series, and must again express my surprise that very few other people I know (most of whom are into this type of fiction) have ever even heard of the author before much less the series. But I've certainly expressed my love of the series to them in the interim. Anyway, since I've already reviewed this particular book in an earlier form, I'm basically just going to go over some of the changes I noticed and give a bit more critical look at the book itself. Reading through it a third time has left me much more enthused to read the rest of the series, but a little less high on this particular book. It seems like a strange this to me, so maybe I should explain.

The story and the players in the story: Jack, Gia, Vicky, Kusum, Kolobati, Abe, and the rest, they all work really well here. They work well as rounded character in well-rounded situations. There was never a moment when I was wondering if a character were evil or good. Honestly, evil and good don't seem to exist in this universe. There seems to be something else at work, in my opinion something more realistic. The villains are never cackling and twisting mustaches. They are conflicted antivillains most of the time, ready to do horrible things, but only because they feel they need to for the greater good. Kusum, the main antagonist of the novel, sums up that thought perfectly. A religious zealot who polluted his own karma, Kusum is trying to "save" both himself and his beloved India, but the means he uses is both extreme and terrifying. It's also very much an extreme we as people living in the world today can both understand and abhor for it goes on all the time. We see it in the news and maybe even in our daily lives.

I don't remember reading the book last time and feeling such sadness for Kusum and such loathing for his sister, Kolobati. In the book it's pointed out many times that there is a sincerity and will in Kusum that makes him almost a hero, just on the wrong side of the protagonist. Kolobati though seems both spoiled and sickening, a twisted soul whose long life has etched a selfish and self-centered attitude within her. The rakoshi are removed from these judgments, being both animalistic and following orders. Less evil and more Other. But I guess this isn't the book to go into that yet.

Again, the plot is a simple mystery. Jack and his ex-girlfriend, Gia, are on the outs. She found out that he was stockpiling weapons in his apartment, confronted him, and lost it when she learned the truth. Most of Jack's motivation throughout the book is trying to win her back through trying to help her with finding her daughter, Vicky's, missing great-aunt. Jack does eventually discover what happened to the great-aunt, Grace, and then later to her sister, Nellie, but he cannot save them. He arrives too late and they are already dead, eaten by the rakoshi, demons from a different era.

The complaints I have are few, but the amount of sex in the book is kind of ridiculous. It worked well in the original novel, written and feeling very much like a product of the 1980s. But for a more modern retelling, it just doesn't feel right. Maybe that explanation is flimsy, coming down to the years between when I read the original and when I've read this revised edition. Maybe I've changed or my tastes have, but I doubt that. I think there is much less motivation there for Jack to be having sex with another woman when he claims to still love the one who won't take him back. Then again, perhaps I've been in a committed relationship too long and have forgotten what it feels like to be alone and longing for a connection. My point is that it felt a bit gratuitous, and F. Paul Wilson always seems to fall into the same trap or telling us how long the sex happened for. I don't need to know that, and it really doesn't matter to me. But there's always, when sex is mentioned, a time period attached. And those moments when the time is all night long or something- well, that just seems mildly ridiculous. It's an issue in the back of my head at least, and something that would repeatedly take me out of the book itself. This seems to fix itself, mostly, in subsequent novels, but feels wholly insane here, with no less than five or six circumstances of sex being described, timed, and spoken about in detail, in a novel where I mostly wanted to read about Jack killing monsters and fighting a one-armed Indian.

Beyond that, the revised edition doesn't have all that many changes that I noticed. There are DVDs mentioned instead of Betamax, and I believe a few more updates besides, but cell phones don't come into the plot, neither do computers, or really any technology used past the 1980s. I understand why this book was revised: so that it could fit into the mythology of the overarching series and fit in a modern world for ease of writing, but glaring omissions of use (but not mention) of technology seems to place this novel absolutely in the 1980s even if it were updated for a more modern consumption. It reads like a 1980s novel, being comparable to Stephen King's second Dark Tower novel which is heavily '80s: The Drawing of the Three. Both are set so fully in that decade that removing either of them from it would only make the change that much more obvious.

Maybe if I had never read the original before the change wouldn't feel so jarring, but it did. I still love the novel, but I think if I read it again, I'll stick with the original and just get over the continuity errors between this book and Legacies, the second Repairman Jack novel.

As for everything else, the book starts off as a slow-burning mystery, turning both historical and a bit mythical as the story goes on, and then turning into a full action-adventure story with an action hero as the lead for the end. I've called this story a modern male fantasy story before, and now I'll do it officially here. I think this is a perfect story for a man to read and put himself into the underdeveloped and closed off Jack. Much like Indiana Jones and that franchise, this one is also all about both magic and what a typical man might look for if he were wanting a more exciting and heroic life. Maybe that's just me though, but with all the sex and Jack always winning and coming out ahead, even just a little, it seems very plausible.

Anyway, that's about it. I recommend it a ton as well as the series as a whole. The climax on the ship is incredibly well played out, and I certainly enjoyed the ride.

As for upcoming reviews, I have a bunch planned. I have more of this series to talk about as I read through it for example, and some movies I've put aside to watch as well. It's only a matter of time and with the summer in full swing, I should have more time to write and review, even if that's less time of me working my official job. Anyway, I'll be back in not too long!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Video Game Assessment: Demon's Souls (2009)

Demon's Souls, developed by From Software with some assistance from SCE Japan Studio, is an interesting action-adventure-RPG-hack-and-slash-very-hard-game that looks like it helped kick off the "hard games" genre that seems to be pushing itself into video game culture today. Some people (mostly jerks) say that this game is easy. Other people (the jerks would call them "noobs" which is literally the dumbest thing a human being can possibly say with a straight face) think that this is a difficult and punishing game, designed to be both psychotically frustrating when you get angry enough to throw your PlayStation 3 controller through the game disc and incredibly rewarding once you defeat anything that has given you problems (for me it was Flamelurker, that wobbling flaming monkey moron).

This game was my first real foray into this genre. Sure, I like difficult games at times, hard to grow up on the NES and the SNES and not get used to difficult games. But this one, it's very different. And it's difficult in a different way. It's fair, sure, and can be easy through repetition and memorization. Mostly though, it punishes through lack of knowledge, lack of skill, and pulling out surprise after surprise. You need amazing control for this game. You have to have a knowledge base of what's coming, and you have to get used to the controls, which are, at the very least, difficult to figure out at first. There are also a great deal of hidden mechanics in the game, like leveling up (which I didn't find when I should have found it), what the stats mean, and what the symbols that are required to use a weapon actually mean. To be bluntly honest, this game confused me for a good long time, and I left it alone much of the time I owned it. But that changed early this year. Because that was when I decided I had enough of the namby-pamby games. I was a real gamer-boy, and I was going to game.

(And then hate myself for a long time afterward...)

Prepare to Cry
(in anger)
I had gotten this game not long after it had come out, played a little bit, and found it too frustrating to continue. I hadn't even beaten or even gotten to the first real boss in the game, but I found it too tiresome to proceed, and put it off for another two years or more. I came back to it, tried to show off just how hard the game was, proceeded to get frustrated and then put it off again.

Finally though, I'd had enough. With work a mounting priority and no time for anything else, I decided to dip my toes into the fires of self-hatred and punish myself directly. I started by playing about an hour each night, more or less, just seeing what I could do. The controls (which I barely knew trying it before) seemed to feel a bit better in my fingers this time around. I somehow beat the first level, 1-1, and I never died to the first boss Phalanx, something I didn't know I had in me. And from that moment, I was hooked. Sure, there were frustrations, times when I knew I wouldn't be able to continue and times that I simply told myself I was done. But I did continue; I wasn't done. The Tower Knight gave me problems. Because the character I had created four or five years previous had already beaten the tutorial, I didn't have the tutorial to fall back on. I forgot that I could run and therefore never ran once in the entirety of Demon's Souls. How I got past the red dragon in the second level of the first world, I have no idea. I dodge rolled a lot. I like dodge rolling. Maybe that saved me. Or maybe some incredibly dumb luck (with an emphasis on the dumb) was on my side. I was still struggling even throughout the first part of the game. The first four bosses (with the exception of Phalanx) gave me trouble. But I beat them all one by one, remembering their names in turn: Tower Knight, Fool's Idol, Armored Spider... and Flamelurker. How I loathe thee, Flamelurker.

Flamelurker was the boss that got me in this game. It was the hardest and most frustrating one. I was playing a melee character with extremely limited magic and no range. I subsequently had to change my build because of this boss, become nearly a pure bows and magic character. It was frustrating. I keep using that word, but it describes the experience so well. It captures the experience perfectly. Frustration. Rewarding frustration. I won, and after that nothing stood in my way. I was on a roll. The Maneater(s) gave me some issues, but I beat them too. I beat everything. After Flamelurker, everything clicked. The combat clicked. The game mechanics clicked. The ambushes and the difficulty and everything else. I simply understood it all. I got it. Is it a good game? Yes, absolutely. But there is a lot that needs to be slogged through before it really shows its true colors.

I don't have much to say about the other bosses. Most of them fell easily to my magic/bow combination. While some were designed exquisitely, very few actually stuck out to me. The Old Hero was a cool, albeit easy, concept. The Storm King was a cool boss fight once you get that awesome sword that's only really awesome in his arena. And the Old Monk was an interesting conceptual design that never worked for me.

The setting and level design in probably the high point of the game as well as the most memorable piece of it. The Tower of Latria's design in particular sticks out to me, being a prison and a collection of towers in this backdrop of a broken world. The settings almost feel like entirely different games put inside of one. None of them really look alike (besides the all-encompassing darkness present in one form or another in each every level. Other than that they do feel and play incredibly differently. The castle was neat with incredibly well-designed shortcuts and corridors. The tunnel felt far beneath the world and incredibly claustrophobic at times. The tower was both creepy and otherworldly, like something out of Lovecraft. The shrine was neat, a cliffside area that made me think of pictures of cool rocky coastlines. And the valley/swamp area was just terrible in every single way. The stories behind the areas were also interesting, although on a first playthrough I would be shocked if you even knew there was a story. I certainly didn't. I was just killing bosses and leveling up. Only after the endgame played out and I started new game+ did I finally stop and look some of the story and characters up, realizing that the game was much deeper than I had given it credit for.0

I talk about this game mostly as a game of visuals and fights because when I played it, that's exactly what I got out of it. While the lore is pretty solid, it's also fairly hidden unless you're willing to read literally everything, every description, every introduction, and, of course, reading into a lot of things too. I didn't do that when I played, opting to focus on the environments and getting better with the gameplay. Maybe it was my loss, although I enjoyed it as a game, and now I enjoy the lore as well.

As for everything else, let's see. I liked the Maiden in Black. Her design and character are incredibly interesting, verging on seriously awesome. I wish more characters would look and act like her. She's such an incredibly well-designed and thought-out central NPC. I can't really complain about her or the major merchants in the Nexus, (the central hub of the game). Oh, and I didn't even talk about how awesome the Nexus is, with its strange clockwork floor, changing music once you get late enough into the game and vertical levels.

The complaints I have are pretty small in general. The Valley of Defilement sucks to play. Some of the bosses are very easy. The early game really feels like it discourages new players. The lack of telling the player anything can be both incredibly rewarding and incredibly confusing. The world and character tendency things are literally incomprehensible for me. I have no idea what to do with any of that stuff and basically avoided it through lack of knowledge or understanding.

I will say that the dodge roll is my favorite feature in games though, and I wish it were in every game, because mastering a dodge roll is the only true way to play Demon's Souls.

Now, I do know that this game is not as played or as beloved as Dark Souls or other more well-known "hard games" out there, but it's also very good if it's given a chance. This game got me to try (and eventually fall in love with) the Dark Souls games, and its horrific atmosphere, gameplay that has to be mastered, and designs are something I will remember for many years to come. Compared to Dark Souls, I find Demon's Souls nearly its equal, with the only issues coming from lack of a "real/coherent" story and the ease of some of the boss fights if your character is built a certain way. But that's about it. When I get to reviewing Dark Souls, I'll talk more about comparisons and probably change my mind over which one I like more ten times over in the course of that review.

So, in summary, if you have a PS3 and like hard games, you should try this one out. I liked it a lot after the initial four years of annoyance and frustration. So... I think that's a recommendation? I give it a 'Salem's Lot out of Dracula.


Anyway, as some housekeeping for the blog, I'm back writing, as I mentioned last week. I'm probably going to be very inconsistent, really basing my writing and posting of reviews around when work and the fiancee aren't desperately seeking my time or attention. I'd love to say one review a week, but I doubt that pretty seriously. So, I won't say anything at all, and hopefully we'll all be surprised and shocked by whatever happens. I think I'm going to review a bunch of video games for a while, then some movies, and finally some books leading up to October, but anything could happen. And the October Nights 31 reviews will happen even if I have to never sleep. So no worries there.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I'M BACK!!! (A Saquarry Update)

Hey, anybody checking out this blog and wondering where the heck I've even been for the last three months or however long it's been! I have been on a hiatus for a variety of reasons, mostly because of real life paying work that I do for a living rather than this for-fun writing that I do when I get bored or excited about things. I've been itching to review things and rant and rave and have a good time in general. But when work and exhaustion get in the way, it becomes a very difficult prospect to focus on. But with my time opening up a bit, maybe some enjoyment can be had yet again.


It might take some time for me to stretch the old writing finger bones and such, but soon enough I will have some content to post. I have maybe three or four movies I'd like to talk about, American Mary being chief among them. So, I think a review of that film might be coming relatively shortly. I have a few video games I'd like to speak about, mostly the Souls series of games (Demon's Souls and the Dark Souls games) and Drakengard 3. I kind of powered through the Fringe television show as well. So, I might talk about that in a very deliberately casual way because that's 100 episodes of content, and there's no way I'm focusing on every single episode in depth. I've also been reading some books, mostly some oddball ones that nobody has probably ever heard of before. But they might also be on the schedule for review. Book titles: The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall, S. by Doug Dorst (and created by J. J. Abrams), and The Resurrectionist by E. B. Hudspeth. So, I definitely have THINGS and STUFF to talk about, I simply need the time and energy to write about them in depth to an actual reading audience.

The shocking thing is that so many people are still reading this blog even though I've been gone from it for months. If you've been checking periodically, waiting for the update to finally come, then you are a very cool person. I'm going to get content out. I think I hated not writing more than anybody. Being back in the review chair feels excellent. I'm glad to have so much to talk about.

I do apologize for taking so long to update or respond to messages, but the seventy hour work weeks have been slightly unpleasant. Only last week did my schedule finally abate, and I took those moments to calm down (relatively) and spend some time with my fiancee (who lives in another state right now sadly). But now I have calmed (again relatively) and am ready and willing to write. I can't wait to finally be back! Soon. Really soon now.