A New Spring


New Spring, the only Wheel of Time prequel of a planned three, deals chiefly with three (really two, but I’m including a third) of Jordan’s most well realized characters, but characters that do not drive the events of the main series, merely facilitate it. Moiraine and Lan are important characters, but not character that the main series really examines in depth. They are held away from the reader, sources of mystery and awe. Siuan starts that way, though she becomes much more prominent as the series goes along. New Spring gives the reader a completely different look at those characters, seeing them before they were the people they became by the time the series started.

Reading Siuan’s portions of New Spring are a different experience after reading A Memory of Light. (Spoilers for that book) Before knowing her final fate, Siuan’s naïve desire to have adventures and see the world was sadly ironic. Readers knew that she ended up stuck in the White Tower for most of the next two decades, her rise to power as the Amyrlin Seat directly preventing her from living out her youthful dreams. It highlighted how young she and Moiraine were when they fell into the hunt for the Dragon Reborn and their youthful naivety. Knowing that she dies at the end the quest makes it downright tragic. She wasn’t just stuck in the tower for a small portion of an Aes Sedai’s extended life; she was stuck there for the majority of hers. Just as the quest that had marked her entire adult life, to some extent, was coming to a close she was killed. Those adventures she dreamed of as a young woman were not simply put off, they were never to be. It hurts all the more because Siuan was a favorite of mine. In a world of stubborn, wrongheaded people, she was one of the smartest and most rational. To have it end the way it did, so close the finish line, is one of the most painful elements of the series. New Spring is not her first adventure, it was her only one and in it she only got to play sidekick to Moiraine. It’s not fair, but life is not fair.

Lan is the most like his latter incarnation. He is already a grown man. I’m not going to look it is to be sure, but I would guess he is somewhere around 30 years old in this book. He is already regarded as one of the most dangerous men in the world, but his personal war with the Shadow is less focused and more destructive. He still has the last vestige of his disturbed childhood around in Bukama, one of the men who were tasked with saving him in the fall of Malkier and who raised him. Of course, he was raised with the destructive idea that he will spend his life fighting and eventually dying in the Blight for a cause that is already lost. It is a great tragic hook for a character, but a horrible thing for him to have to live with his whole life. This book has him face his greatest hope and greatest fear: that someone would try to bring back Malkier. Lan wants nothing more than to have his home back. That desire is blunted by his knowledge that any attempt to reclaim it is doomed to failure and would cause the death of thousands. He is constantly faced with seeing the last remaining expatriates giving up on Malkieri customs to take on those of their adopted lands. It hurts him, but he realizes it is necessary. Malkier is dead. Meeting Moiraine, and seeing that last desperate hope for his homeland snuffed out, leads him to refocusing his war in the shadow in something less futile. There is little change for Lan here, just as chance to see him as one of the primary movers of the story for once.

Moiraine was always one of Jordan’s most intriguing characters. She is an example of how he didn’t really upset the tropes that many fantasy stories are built on, but he did like to give them a push and see them teeter. Moiraine plays the same role as characters like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings; she is the mentor, the “Wise Old Man.” Except, she is does not appear old, she is not a man and book questions exactly how wise she is. For the first book, and even up to the third, there are questions about just what her motives are. Following her is clearly a better choice for Rand and company than facing the Trollocs, but does she have their best interests at heart? The Eye of the World plays with this, never quite letting the reader trust her. Of course, in the end the true order is upheld, Moiraine is not just trustworthy, she is one of the few trustworthy Aes Sedai in the world. Coming long after her mysterious introduction, New Spring gives readers a new look at Moiraine. She is not the cool and collected mentor of the main series, but a young woman in over her head. She is not too different from the Wheel of Time’s protagonists, though with some training but lacking a mentor. While knowing that she survives to be in the rest of the series robs New Spring of some tension, it is still fun to see a young, less assured Moiraine in action. It is easy to see how she became the character she was by the start of the series.

That is what New Spring delivers to readers. Not an essential addition to the series, but an entertaining look at some characters whose roles in the main series means that they are somewhat remote. It is rarely clear exactly what Moiraine or Lan are thinking in the main series, but New Spring lest readers see inside. And while it is nothing revelatory, it is still fun to see. Of course, calling New Spring “fun” side steps just how dark a tale it is. There is plenty of levity, but the whole book is stained with blood and tragedy. Heading into the climax it is in many ways a romp, allowing for a handful of assassinations, but the end is bleak. Good times must end and adventures tend to be bloodier than Moiraine or Siuan suspect.

The Monsters Come out on Friday

Attack of the Friday Monsters is a game about what it is like to be a kid. Specifically, it is about being a kid in Japan in the 70’s, but while the some of the context is strictly Japanese, the underlying feel rings true for anyone who remembers being 10 years old. It is a sadly unique experience. It is a narrative driven game that is completely free of violence, at least in regards to the player. Attack of the Friday Monsters shows the intermingling of reality and fantasy that happens in the imaginative mind of a child. It is the closest a game has come to replicating watching a Studio Ghibli movie.


It is a simple game. The player mostly just walks around town, talking to people and picking up glowing rocks. Occasionally, you play a rock/paper/scissors card game with other kids. There really isn’t more to it than that. IT might seem lacking, but the context and the adventure is absolutely worth the three hour adventure. It is a tiny slice of life game and it does all it needs to.

I don’t want to give it all away, because everyone should really play this game, but you play a Sohta, the new kid in town. The town he just moved to also happens to be where they film a TV show about giant monsters. The line between the truth and Sohta’s fantasies about monsters and aliens are constantly blurred. At the start of the game, Sota is given a fairly simple task. His parents run the cleaners and he is tasked with delivering some clean uniforms to the bakery. Like a small child, he is quickly distracted. He runs into some other local kids, who induct him into their gang; he meets the director of monster TV and a mystery man named Frank, who may or may not be real and may or may not be an alien.


That is how the game goes, with 26 episodes to complete. Sohta talks to people, learning more about their problems and his unique interpretation of the world. While the completely accepting Sohta, and his friends, fully believe in the monsters that come out every Friday, the adults of the town tend to indulge them in this fantasy. They warn kids to come home early, before the monsters come out. It is just the sort of lie that parents tell young kids, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

There is just something perfect about Attack of the Friday Monsters. It feels authentic, filled with the mischievousness and wonder of youth; always sweet but never saccharine. For a game that last less than 3 hours, it manages to have more weight than the vast majority of supposedly important games. It also does it all with no violence, that most overused crutch of video games. It is a charming and heartwarming examination of childhood. I actually first beat it right after it came out, but this is the kind of game I can see myself beating once every year or so. While the details are nothing like what I my childhood was actually like, it so perfectly captures the feelings of running around with my brothers on summer afternoons as a child. There is sadly nothing else quite like Attack of the Friday Monsters.


Mass Effect 2

The jump in quality from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 is something remarkable. The original Mass Effect, while ambitious and largely satisfying, never played right. It looked like a shooter, but the mechanics underneath were still very much RPG. That was compounded by how poorly a lot of the encounters were designed. The story and world were all great, but the game they were in was largely a tedious bore. Mass Effect 2 fixes pretty much all the problems with the first game. ME1 was an RPG dressed like a shooter, ME2 is a shooter with a few RPG trappings. It also builds rather terrifically off the world building of the first game, thought its main plot is easily the simplest of the Bioware game’s I’ve played so far. That is forgivable thanks to the games unique and compelling structure. Mass Effect 2 is the Dirty Dozen in space. This time Shepard is tasked with assembling a team of talented mercenaries, criminals and oddballs to complete a dangerous mission. It is just a terrific structure to build a game around and Mass Effect 2 takes full advantage of it.


I am not that much of a shooter fan. I just tend not to enjoy them. Mass Effect 2 didn’t do a whole lot to change my mind about the genre, but it is still clear how tightly designed it is. Some of it gets repetitive, always using the same skills to deal with certain enemies, but for the most part is tense and inventive. While the shooting is just better, the biggest improvement comes from how missions work. The story missions in ME1 were fine, but there were only a handful of them. There are something more like 25 in ME2, though not all of them are required. Each one is quite a bit shorter, though. That shortness means that the missions don’t give the same sense of place that those did, where each gave the player a city or planet to explore. However, the events in them are more varied. In one you are breaking a character out of a prison space station, in the next you fight through a plague infested slum and after that you end up fighting a war with three different mercenary groups. Sticking with the game’s overall movie reminiscent theme, they all stick pretty solidly to genre movie subjects. It works really well.

The story is very simple. Shepard is apparently killed by an attack from an unknown ship, but she is revived by Cerberus, the group responsible for some reprehensible crap you found out if you wasted your time with the sidequests from the first game. They want her to help them deal with an alien race called the Collectors, who have been kidnapping entire human colonies. First she must prove that the Collectors are behind these disappearances, and then she has to follow them through the Omega 4 relay, a special relay that no ship has ever returned from, and stop them. This is not really spoiler stuff; it is all outlined within the first couple of hours of the game. Along the way she has to build a team capable of taking out the Collectors. That is where the game gets good. Each of Shepard’s 11 possible allies, making for the dozen when you add in here, have two missions associated with them. First is the recruitment mission, where Shepard has to do whatever possible to convince her target to join up. Later there is a second quest that earns the character’s loyalty. The player doesn’t have to recruit everybody and doesn’t have to any of the loyalty missions, but doing so changes the outcome of the final mission.


That means more than two thirds of the game is devoted to missions specific to individual members of Shepard’s crew. It really lets the player get to know the crew. Collectively, the characters who join up in Mass Effect 2 are some of the best I’ve encountered in a game. Sure, not all of them are likely to strike the player as interesting, but they cover such a wide variety of personalities that it is hard to imagine not finding at least a couple to the players liking. The two Cerberus operatives that join up to start are as close to vanilla as they get. Jacob can be bland, but Miranda has a very intriguing backstory and complicated loyalties. Tali and Garrus, two of the best characters from the first the game, return in this one. I loved Mordin, the scientist whose expertise and dubious history belies his oddly moral nature. He works in a field that requires him to make terrible choices, but he tries to minimize harm in making them. Also, he sings. The rest have their moments, except Jack, I really didn’t have a use for her.

You build this team as you get closer to the Collectors, and whether or not you recruit who you need and whether or not you build their loyalty changes how that final suicide mission plays out. There is no penalty for just doing all the possible missions, as long as they are done before the one that triggers the end game, so building that team is largely up to how much work the player wants to put into it. It all comes together for that supposed suicide mission, in which you must choose characters for various roles. Who to put where is largely obvious, but it can still be tricky. It is also a perfect culmination of the rest of the game. It has all of the player’s choices coming together for the big ending. Unlike many games that fall apart in the less tested back act, Mass Effect 2 finishes strong.


As far as gameplay goes, Mass Effect 2 seems like a pretty big shift from Bioware’s usual game. It follows an evolution from Knights of the Old Republic to Mass Effect to this, but it still seems odd to play a Bioware game that is not primarily an RPG. On the story telling side of things, it is firmly in Bioware’s style, though the loyalty thing is new. It is also really effective. Mass Effect was an interesting rough draft; Mass Effect 2 is a masterpiece built off of that structure. Despite still having some technical flaws (really, I would have spent more time with the crew if the game didn’t have 30 second loading times to move between decks) Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games I’ve played on my PS3.

An Adventure You Can’t Afford to Miss

The WiiU is a great system. I’m not trying to convince myself of some sort of turn around for sales or its long term viability, but merely stating a fact. It has nearly a dozen must play exclusive games. Most of them are from Nintendo themselves, but it still has a fat stack of great games. More than you can say about the PS4 or Xbox1 at this point. The tablet controller is simultaneously an albatross around Nintendo’s neck and the systems biggest selling point. Most games go the easy route with it, merely using it for off screen play or to display an inventory. Off screen play is amazing. It is the reason that Assassin’s Creed 3 is the only game in that series that I’ve completed. It makes it so easy to play without monopolizing the TV. Still, it is not an exciting use for that second screen. No one other than Nintendo has really leveraged that screen into something vital, and even they haven’t done that great a job of it. The recently released Affordable Space Adventures is the best use of tablet yet, a game that could only be possible on the WiiU.


Affordable Space Adventures is not an especially complex game. You play as a tiny space ship, deployed from a shady space tourism company to explore a supposedly safe alien world. Of course, the drop ship crashes and the player must fly their ship to one of the SOS pods set up around the world. It plays out in linear, puzzled based levels. As you go along, more of the ship’s damaged systems come back online and they must be used effectively to avoid being noticed by the hazards on the planet, usually leftover drones from a crashed alien ship.

The ship actually has a nice array of abilities. It has a powerful, but loud gas engine, a quieter electric one, a scanner and searchlight, and several types of landing gear. It is great to deploy them in interesting ways to get through the levels. Sometimes you have to get up to speed, kill the motor and drop the sled shaped landing gear to slide by unnoticed. What is great is that the first half of the game slowly builds up the players powers and then the second half slowly takes them away again. The ship doesn’t make it through the obstacles unscathed, and it systems start to malfunction. It makes for a really great puzzle platformer, all couched in the increasingly disturbing ads for UExplore, the shady company that sent you out there. The ending might be one of the darkest things I’ve encountered is such a charming game.


Affordable Space Adventures gets the most out of the WiiU’s tablet controller. While the sticks control the light and ship, but managing the various motors and the like is all done on the touch screen. Playing the game single player means you have to control all three parts simultaneously, making it a delicate juggling act of balancing everything. It uses the entirety of the tablet to keep the ship moving and out of trouble. Flicking switches on the small screen while darting the ship in and out of trouble is just so satisfying. It does a terrific job of making the player really feel like they are piloting a small spacecraft. The multiplayer is equally great. Up to three players can play at the same time, each controlling one part of the ship. One will be the pilot, moving the ship around, another the engineer, managing the engines and the last the science officer, manning the scanner and searchlight. It is frustrating, of course, but it is also a wonderful experience in forced teamwork.


No game has made the tablet more central to the experience than Affordable Space Adventures. It is all about doing things on the bottom screen while watching the top screen. It is also just a really well made game. It shows how great an experience is possible with the WiiU tablet, even if few are willing to try to find ways to make it work. Really, off screen play is enough to justify the tablet controller in my mind, but games like this are as beautiful as they are rare.

A Memory of Light


The years and years that people were waiting for the end of the Wheel of Time made it almost impossible that A Memory of Light could live up to expectations. Somehow, though, this book turned out to be almost everything readers could hope for. It is sometimes triumphant, sometimes tragic, but always riveting. Both times I’ve read it has grabbed me and forced me through it as fast as possible. A Memory of Light will never be counted among my favorite books in this series; in fact, I would put it somewhere near the bottom, but it is a great ending to this towering series.

This last volume highlights the differences in how Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson deal with magic. Jordan’s writing is very detailed on how magic is performed and what it takes from the user. Channeling in Wheel of Time is some combination of weaving and chemistry. Mix the right balance of elements and it makes something else. But what is done with magical power is usually pretty prosaic. People make fireballs and use wind like telekinesis. Sanderson’s style goes much more in depth with what people do with that power. For example, Androl Genhold, a character that had been around since Winter’s Heart but really seems to be a pet of Sanderson’s, is not especially strong in the power, but in A Memory of Light he finds a lot of was to use the power he does have. Androl has a special Talent with making gateways and he puts that to some rather creative use throughout the book. Like when he makes a gateway to let lava out of a volcano to flow into an army of Trollocs. The myriad of was he finds to use that power, while a perfectly logical extension of his skills, is completely unlike anything else in the series. It would feel right at home, however, in Sanderson’s Mistborn books. It isn’t really that I find either method here superior, though I do slightly prefer the way Jordan does things, but it is undeniably different. It really contributes to how much this book, with a couple of notable exceptions, feels more like Sanderson’s work than Jordan’s. Again, it is in a different way than the previous two books. The Gathering Storm was Sanderson struggling to get a feel for the characters and Towers of Midnight felt like a perfect synthesis of the two. A Memory of Light has Sanderson triumphant. These may be Robert Jordan’s characters and his world, but this is Sanderson’s book.

The points of view in this book are kind of oddly parceled out. After a brief opening where everyone gathers, the first big meeting of all the forces of the Light, they split up to fight the massive armies of Trollocs that are now swarming down from the Blight. That opening moves pretty quickly through the viewpoints of all the major characters in attendance, which is nearly everybody but Mat. Early on, Rand is the driving force, forging the good guys into something resembling a cohesive force. Once the fighting starts, Rand kind of disappears. And Mat has been largely a non-presence to that point. A lot of the book at that point rest on the shoulders of characters like Elayne and Androl. The main players, Rand, Mat and Perrin, are present but not central. Perrin is the first to have his chance to shine, again setting off into the Wolf Dream and clashing with Slayer. He has to be there, because the dream world is the best avenue to attack Rand that exists. While everyone else directly fights the Trollocs in the real world, he enters the dream and protects Rand from there. Soon, he disappears and Mat steps in, leading the forces of light in the actual last battle. Eventually, Rand comes back to have his prophesied fight with the Dark One. Really, though, those three get surprisingly few pages in this last volume.

Outside of the central characters, A Memory of Light also gives some very important characters very little to do. Characters like Siuan, Thom, and Faile, or most disappointing Moiraine and Nynaeve, end up with almost nothing to do. Moiraine’s return is one of the most disappointing parts of the whole series. It had been teased since before she even “died” and she comes back to have a bit role in the last book. Her actual role, being one of the two women to go with Rand to Shayol Ghul, is quite important, but it doesn’t really give her much to do. Rand is the big player there. That vital but passive role also catches Nynaeve, but it is a little more acceptable for her. She’s been around the whole series as one of the two most prominent women in the series. I knew I wasn’t going to get all that I wanted out of her return, to see her meet up with all the characters who thought her dead, like Siuan. Those five characters I mentioned were big parts of the series, most of them characters who had been around since the first or second book. To see them set aside at the end and newer characters take more prominent roles just didn’t feel right.

The thing is it still works, though it feels very different from what came before. This is a book the majority of which is spent in a handful of battles. Before this, fighting in the Wheel of Time has been messy and short. Battles didn’t tend to last for more than a chapter and the individual scenes tended to be quite short. They also tended to be caught up in the nitty gritty of the fighting, not tending to give a clear picture of the overall battle until the dust has settled. This worked great at Dumai’s Wells and in Crown of Swords. The nature and scope of the Last Battle almost assured that it would be handled differently. All of the politicking and maneuvering is over as well. This is just the good guys versus the bad guys. That is what the entire series had been building to, of course, but it is by necessity different that the previous dozen books. Still, it does manage to pay off nearly every characters own arc. Perrin finally, totally learns how to let go, to be himself and a leader, a man and a wolf. Mat’s luck and stolen battle skills save the day. Egwene leads the Aes Sedai, finally managing to effectively herd cats. Elayne gets to put her skills as a leader to use on a large scale. It is great to see these characters all grown up one last time, but it is bittersweet to know that this is the last time. That is what makes it really hard to call this book a favorite. Before this, every character had potential for future action. This is the culmination of that, but it also means that all of the potential is not spent. Everything is past now.

Rand’s fight with the Dark One manages to be exactly what I expected and completely surprising at the same time. Careful readers were able to guess exactly what was going on during part of it, but it was fitting that the showdown would be a philosophical one, not a physical one. How can anyone fight the personification of evil? What Rand had to do was gain understanding, which let him finally learn that it couldn’t be destroyed; only removed.

The ending [Spoilers, of course] was simultaneously perfect and completely disappointing. What is there is absolutely perfect. I would bet that the very last chapter is all Jordon. (or maybe I know that but forgot where I got that information) It does a pretty great job of closing out the stories for most of the main characters, especially Rand and his trio of women. Maybe Nynaeve’s is enough as well, and Perrin too. But anyone outside of the main characters is all but forgotten. I wanted some sort of final tally, or at least confirmation on the life or death of a great number of characters that, while minor in the grand scheme of this series, had been a peripheral part of the series for as many as a dozen books. For example, Mat’s scout/horse thief Chel Vanin. He had ridden with Mat’s Band since at least Lord of Chaos and while his role was never more than minor, he was a constant piece of window dressing. This book leaves him being chased by Trollocs in an attempt to save the Horn of Valere from falling into the hands of the Shadow. Whether he lives or dies is never made clear. One last point of contention, the last bit is also from the wrong POV. It should be Moiraine seeing Rand ride off into the sunset, not Cadsuane. Moiraine is the one with the connection to Rand; Cadsuane was never more than an obstacle.

While the finality of A Memory of Light will always make it a hard book to reread, at least for me, it is certainly a better ending than I ever expected after Jordan was unable to complete it. There are questions left unanswered, there were always going to be. It manages to wrap up all the important things in satisfying and frequently surprising ways. I did cry a little when reading this book, at the death of a certain character. Not the one people would likely expect, though. At the end, I am not eager to read this book again, but I am to get to about half of the dozen that came before it. As far as I’m concerned, the Wheel of Time is still the king of the fantasy genre.

More Mass Effect and A Year of Bioware

I was a little harsh when writing up Mass Effect, I think. It deserved a lot of that, it really isn’t that good of a game in a lot of ways, but the core of the game is actually pretty solid. It is just to find the good stuff you have to wade through a ton of cruft. Nearly all of the side quests should just be thrown in the trash, because that is all they are: garbage. The five or six story missions are actually really well designed and interesting. That plays into the game’s greatest strength, which is letting the player create their own Shepard. That is feature that only gets better as you move from ME1 to ME2.

That creating of the protagonist is nothing new to Bioware games; it has been a part of their output’s charm since Baldur’s Gate. But the protagonist of that series, while important to the plot, seemed like more of a bystander. The rest of the player’s party did the heavy lifting of the characterization. With Mass Effect, Bioware really nailed both letting the player control the personality of the protagonist and having that character actually play an active role in the story. Yes, the game forces the player onto essentially one of two paths, but there significant room for alteration

Being the rational, sane person I am, when I started up Mass Effect I made three separate characters. The first was a female Shepard, since I had been told that FemShep was the way to go. That was the character I ended up playing as. Then I made a Shepard that looked something like me. That was going to be my choice for doing a male Shepard run. After playing for a little while, I got the bright idea to try to make Zapp Brannigan Shepard. (If I ever am able to figure out streaming/doing an LP, it will definitely be as the Mass Effect Trilogy as Zapp Shepard) I only really played the first one of those, but as much as I didn’t really enjoy most of the game, the parts I did enjoy make me want to go back through it, just to see how the different choices work out.

Of course, they all work out largely the same. No matter what, all Shepards reach the same end and go on to the same Mass Effect 2. It gives the illusion of choice, but the story plays out with less freedom than a “choose you own adventure” book. It is the journey, not the destination that is important. There is a lot of space in the options given to the player to create their own version of the character, whether that character is a reckless badass or a by the books hero. My Shepard went largely along the Paragon route, but she had a bit of a temper, especially when dealing with slavers and racists. So far, I’ve continued that characterization into Mass Effect 2, where Shepard is really uncomfortable working with Cerebus after seeing the vile shit they got up to in the first game, but willing to try to put aside past differences o work towards a common goal.

After beating Mass Effect in March, I have now beat 1 Bioware game each month this year. If I continue on the pace I’m on, I will surely beat Mass Effect 2 by the end, hell, by the middle, of April. I had planned to lay off of ambitious but time consuming series of post on my blog after my attempt to replay the entire Zelda series over the course of a year or so took me more than three. Okay, I was planning a replay of the Final Fantasy series, but my plan there was to play the games at my leisure and hold back my blog posts about them until they were all done. It wasn’t going to be anything grand; I was just going to look at how the series evolved over the years and if my initial impressions of the games have held up. I really want to play the NES version of the first Final Fantasy for the first time on years. Looking through Bioware’s output, I realized that they have a little over 12 readily available games. I could beat the major part of Bioware’s library over the course of a year. Instead of just letting that be a happy accident, I am making it a goal.

Yes, Bioware has put out more than 12 games, especially if you count PC expansions as full games. But looking over it, it seems really easy to pare it down to a dozen. Going chronologically(mostly), they have Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1-3 and Dragon 1-3 & Awakenings. Yes, I am counting Awakenings even though it is an expansion, because I have it as its own retail game. And it rounds things out at 12. As for the others, I will play expansions if possible. They are included with my Enhanced Editions of the BG games, as well as with the version of NN I own. I am not sure about what to do about the DLC for the newer games. I was already thinking of grabbing the DA2 stuff, but buying even a fraction of the DLC for the handful of games that have it would take a significant investment. For just ME3 it would cost me more than I paid for the whole trilogy. And I am talking about actual gameplay add-ons, not pay $2 for special guns or extra costumes. I will likely take it on a game by game basis. If I want more of the game, like I do with Dragon Age 2, then I will pick it up. Otherwise, I don’t need it.

I am ignoring Sonic: The Dark Brotherhood. Maybe I shouldn’t. I own it and have played it some, but I really don’t have any desire to play it anymore. The Old Republic is out as well, because I don’t play MMOs. It is as simple as that. Lastly, I am leaving out MDK2. I don’t know much about it. Someone convince me to play it. As for the rest, I have already beaten Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect. I am currently working my way through Mass Effect 2. I don’t really have any plans for the order of the rest of them other than leaving Dragon Age Inquisition for later since I don’t actually own it as of yet. Unless I burn out, I’ll likely fire up Mass Effect 3 right after I beat ME2.

Furious Seven Review


There is something glorious about Furious 7. It has a surplus of energy, simply bursting off the screen with its patented formula of hyper-masculine melodrama. What really makes it work is the fact that its characters have emotions as oversized as their ludicrous automotive stunts. It isn’t just the action that is over the top. Furious 7 is a wonderful repudiation of the idea that realism, in and of itself, is somehow a virtue. Furious 7 does not reflect life, it amplifies it.

I have to say that I am not an expert on this series of films. I saw the first two in high school and more or less enjoyed them, though they were quite forgettable. When the third jettisoned the whole cast to jump to Japan, I tuned out completely. Even bringing in the The Rock, who I will gladly watch in just about anything, couldn’t really get my attention enough to get me to the theater. (After seeing Furious 7, I picked up a copy of Fast 5 and now know what a fool I’ve been.) On the back of conflicting buzz about this seventh installment, I heard some wildly differing opinions about its quality going in, I took a chance and caught Furious 7 on a slow Saturday afternoon and was blown away.

Furious 7 uses “over-the-top” as the starting place for its action scenes and goes from there. Co-protagonist Brian tells his young son early on that cars don’t fly and the movie spends the rest of its runtime proving this to be false. In the world of Furious 7 car do fly, or at least fall with style. Physics in this movie are not the same as they are in the real world. And why should they be? Why should film be constrained by life’s limits? At least twice does Dom (Vin Diesel) get into a head on collision only to get out of his car, unharmed, and get into a fistfight. A highway hijacking is old hat, here they parachute their cars down onto the road before getting down to business. Police chase? Forget that. Instead, a chase involving an attack drone tearing up the streets of Los Angeles? Somehow, the movie keeps finding ways to up the ante, even though they went all in right from the start. By the time The Rock flexes his broken arm out of its cast and pick up a fallen Gatling gun to shoot at a helicopter it seems positively routine.

Just doing spectacle well is not enough for a movie to stand out. Everyone does spectacle now, but it is rare to see it done with any sort of coherent base underneath it. It all works in Furious 7 because it is built off emotions that, while not complex, are all but universal. Furious 7 is about family and love and revenge. Not anything new to film, but holding any sort of theme together seems to be beyond the ability of most blockbuster franchises (this is my required middle finger to the highly profitable dreck that is Transformers). For seven movies now, with some stops and starts, this franchise has been building the idea that Dom and his gang are a family. Some of that is literal, with his sister Mia and her husband Brian, some is more metaphorical. For Dom, there is nothing he won’t do for his family. That is mirrored in the villain, Deckard Shaw, who is after them in revenge for what they did to his brother. What his brother might have done is immaterial, they are family and no one messes with his family. That leads him to starting a war with Dom and the rest of the good guys, who have no choice but to respond in turn. The motivations of the good guys does get a little muddled in the middle, going on a globetrotting adventure to get a computer program that will let them track Shaw so he can’t catch them by surprise, but it all comes down to them fighting for their families.

The thing it, Furious 7 knows how ridiculous it is. It wants to viewers to laugh as cars parachute out of airplane or Kurt Russell puts on a pair of night-vision sunglasses in the middle of gunfight and goes to town. It wants the viewers’ hearts in their throats as it does its slightly overused camera roll as the people flip during fights. It wants tears in the viewers’ eyes as Brian (the late Paul Walker) drives off to Valhalla at the end of the film. This is a movie with emotions as over the top as the action and if you let yourself get caught up just a little, it will take you for a ride. This is what spectacle driven films should strive to be.

What I Read in March 15

It was another big reading month for me. That doesn’t seem likely to change as long as I am working nights with little to do. In that case I will keep reading. This month’s books mostly come from the same author. I was talked into getting Gail Carriger’s young adult finishing school series during a Kindle sale and ended up getting the entirety of her previous series after I finished them. I complemented reading four of her books with a handful of fantasy books and another thing I picked up from amazon.


The Silmarillion

JRR Tolkien

The Silmarillion is many things. It is beautiful, majestic, dry, aloof and unfinished. It is not an easy book to read, especially if someone is expecting a novel of some kind. That is not what The Silmarillion is. It is a history, a detailed outline of the myths and history of the early days of Middle Earth. There are some great stories in there, but they are told in a very remote way. It doesn’t deal with characters, but with figures. The wondrous and tragic events that take place over the course of this book can make for great reading, but the reader is kept so far removed from the action that it is hard to form any sort of attachment to these characters. It is just a series of small episodes that kind of form a history. I think a lot of the chappy nature that that creates has to do with The Silmarillion not being finished when JRR Tolkien died. His son and Guy Gavriel Kay did an admirable job of pulling the various versions of these stories he left into a coherent whole, but it still feels incomplete. It is unlike any other fantasy book I’ve read, and it works really well at times. How much the reader is invested in the setting of Middle Earth probably has a lot to do with how much they will enjoy this book. I can’t say that I actually enjoyed it all that much, but I am certainly glad to have read it.


Curtsies and Conspiracies

Gail Garriger

I wasn’t overly impressed with the first book in this series. It wasn’t bad, but instead of making me want more it felt more like I didn’t get enough. That would have been a problem if I didn’t have another book to start on right after I finished the first one. Curtsies and Conspiracies isn’t really any better than Etiquette and Espionage, it is just more of it, which solves that books biggest problem.

It really builds off of the world that the first book only really began to set up. I know that these books are connected to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but the first book didn’t really help acclimate the reader to the world of this series. The second book only does about as much as the first on that front, but together it is enough to finally ground the reader. Sophriona remains an engaging protagonist. She is still exceptional, even among the students of this spy and assassin finishing school, but that strength is actually turned into a flaw for her. Her constantly putting her skills to use makes it harder for the others to trust her. She also has to learn to deal with the opposite sex and deal with the practical application of her skills. The supporting characters never really break out, but they are more fully fleshed this time.

For the most part the book does a great job of deftly mixing different genres, mixing adventure and comedy of manners-type stuff, but occasionally the humor is a little too cute for its own good. Giving character ridiculous names is only funny to a point, there has to be something else there. Mostly, though, it hits. Maybe it is just that I am not especially familiar with YA books, other than reading Harry Potter, but this book too feels like it is missing something. It just feels like something is missing.


Waistcoats and Weaponry

Gail Garriger

I continued this one straight from the next, and its quality is largely the same as the previous two books. It has the same strengths and the same flaws. This time Sophriona and friends end up on a stolen train that is somehow causing all the mechanicals, somewhat robotic helpers that exists in this steampunk world, to malfunction. It really focuses in on the handful of characters that matter, Sophriona, Dimity, Sidheag, Mersey and Soap. Sophriona’s love triangle between her, Lord Mersey and Soap comes to a head and the three “intelligencer” students put their skills to good use in a mission of their own. It still feels like something is missing, with storylines being played up before disappearing completely, but those are mostly easy to ignore. I don’t know when the fourth (and final?) book of this series is coming, but I am now really looking forward to it. The more I read of Carriger, the more I wanted to read from her. These three books may not be perfect, but they are incredibly charming.



Gail Carriger

I picked up the fairly cheap collected edition of this whole series as soon as I finished Waistcoats and Weaponry. This is a more fleshed out take on the same thing as the finishing school series.

This is a fun combination of a steampunk adventure and romance. Though it deals with vampires, werewolves and mad scientists, a significant portion of the books is about the romance between the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, and the werewolf Duke Maccon. Alexia is a “preternatural,” a person whose apparent lack of a soul causes nearby supernaturals to lose their powers. That power lets her fight off the advances of a starving vampire at a ball and gets her involved in a mystery involving suddenly appearing vampires and a mysterious group of mad scientists. She also has to deal with her flighty mother and sisters half-sisters as well as dealing with some unexpected romantic interest.

Other than just being a more complex work than her Finishing School series, Soulless really shines on its supporting cast. The leads, Alexia and Conall, are both well drawn and interesting, but the other characters elevate this. Professor Lyall, the second in command of the werewolf pack, is an intriguing mix of contradictions, an educated monster and a small but powerful fighter. He interesting enough to lead a book himself. The same goes for the flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama, who is independent from the vampires trying to kill Alexia. Her family might be a little too flighty, but her friend Ivy is just about right. The eclectic cast of characters really helps the humor, which can still be too precious for its own good at times, actually be funny. Writing humor is a hard thing to do and Carriger does it better than most that I’ve encountered.



Gail Carriger

With this book, the pieces all fell into place as to why I felt like I was missing something at time with the Finishing School books. Most of those dropped plots and subplots are actually call backs to this series. Which makes reading the two of them together more fulfilling, but it makes that sequel series feel like it is missing something. But that was only a small problem with those books and have nothing really to do with this one.

This time Alexia is investigating what is causing supernaturals, like werewolves and vampires, to suddenly lose their powers and become completely human. Since she can do the same thing with just a touch, it is first assumed that she is somehow behind it. Soon, it appears it has something to do with a returning regiment of Scottish werewolves, who had recently been overseas and lost their pack alpha. Since that is the pack that Alexia’s husband left twenty years ago under mysterious circumstances, he heads to Scotland to help them find a new leader. Alexia’s investigation sends her the same direction. With new friends and continual attempts on her life, Alexia has a lot of problems to deal with in her first official assignment as part of Queen Victoria’s Shadow Council.

My only real problem with this book has to do with the ending. While I am sure it will be resolved going forward in the series, the events at the end of Changeless feel kind of manufactured to me. They just don’t feel true to the characters as they have been presented for these first two books. It is not an unreasonable complication, just one that doesn’t feel all that earned. It kind of soured my feelings on the whole book.


A Regimental Murder

Ashley Gardner

I picked this up in a bundle with a couple of other books from this series about murder mysteries set in Victorian England. I really don’t have a lot to say about it. It isn’t a bad book, just one that didn’t really invite further thought. Captain Lacey, the former soldier turned investigator, sets out to help a woman whose husband apparently committed suicide but she believes was murdered after being forced to take the rap for some bad behavior during the war. So Lacey looks into the men who were truly responsible for that, while also forming a relationship with the widow. His investigation takes him to the hedonistic parties that those men throw, as well as forcing him to ally with his former mentor turned nemesis when more bodies start showing up. It is a reasonably entertaining mystery, but it didn’t do much to really excite me.


The King of the Murgos

David Eddings

I’m not sure why I am reading these. I didn’t like the first book, Guardians of the West, and this one did nothing to improve my opinion of Eddings as a writer. There are two problems that derail The King of the Murgos and the series so far. The first is that, while this book does say Book 2 on the cover, it is actually something like book 7. The Mallorean, the series, is a sequel to the Belgariad, it is building off the foundations that first series built. That is all well and good, but Eddings does nothing to endear new readers to these returning characters. More than half the book is just characters reminiscing about the last time they did this exact same thing. It is a part of the series, that the two sides of this prophesy will keep fighting until someone finishes things right. However, that doesn’t change the fact that large portions of the book mean nothing to people who haven’t read the previous books. Did this book not purport itself to be the second book of a series that wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t pick up book six of a series and expect to follow everything perfectly, but if I read books one and two I should be able to figure things out.

The other is that it is just the most bog standard, dullest of quest fantasies. Without giving the reader reason to care about the characters, which King of the Murgos does not, it is just a group of characters doing things that are themselves not that interesting. They travel a not too exciting fantasy world and make broad judgements about the people they meet. Like the first book, I think it is trying to be funny with the byplay between characters, especially along gender lines, and with the supposedly racial traits of the countries they visit but it mostly ends up feeling like a bad sitcom. Polgara is bossy, Belgarath is messy, Durnik wants to sneak away from his wife and go fishing. It all comes together to form an unappealing fantasy mush.


Towers of Midnight

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

See Here


A Memory of Light

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Coming Soon

What I Watched in March 15

After I put up last month’s post, I realized that I had actually watched just about the same number of movies and shows in February as January, despite thinking that I have seen significantly fewer. This month, however, I am sure that the number is down. Most of what I watched was The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt over and over. That show is so great. I also didn’t make it to the theater once in March. There were a few movies I wouldn’t have minded seeing, but I just didn’t make time to do so. Well, let’s get on with it.


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – This came back on Netflix just after I watched Snatch, so I gave it another viewing. It is better than Snatch, but only barely. Just like that movie, it is a whirlwind of poor decisions that just keep colliding with each other. It also has some enjoyable performances from Jason Statham and Vinny Jones. All in all just a great movie. *****

Barton Fink – It is a Coen Brothers film, so it is dark and kind of funny. I’m still not sure exactly what I watched, but I am glad I did it. ****1/2

To Be or Not To Be – Mel Brooks is a genius. This is yet another classic to his name. I don’t know that it is quite as good as Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, but it is still really good. Brooks really likes making fools of Nazis, and he does a good job playing the pompous actor with an absolutely excellent ensemble. *****

Blues Brothers 2000 – This movie might just be a bit too much of Dan Aykroyd. It is more strange than funny most of the time, but the musical numbers are all pretty great. It is just kind of an odd movie. The original Blues Brothers is a classic; this is just a strange shadow. Still, it isn’t unenjoyable, just weird. **

Rich Hill – This is a documentary about poverty in small town American that just so happens to be set in my small town. It is strange to watch something on Netflix and be able to recognize all the people and places in it. I know all three of the kids featured in this; I had them in class as a substitute teacher. That aside, it is a sobering look at how kids in situations can be stuck in a cycle of poverty. ****

Muppet Treasure Island – This is not the best Muppet movie, but even a “bad” Muppet movie is still pretty darn entertaining. The Muppets seem kind of haphazardly fitted into their roles in the story. Still, it has Kermit and Tim Curry, so it is far from bad, but a little weak when compared to some other Muppet outings. ***

Shaolin Soccer – This movie is just so out there I can’t help but love it. It deftly mixes kung fu movie tropes with sports movie tropes and is just all around hilarious. I think I’ve seen it a half dozen times now and it never gets old. *****


The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – wrote about it here. I’ve watched the show another time since then. It is just so much fun.

The Spoils of Babylon – I didn’t know I wanted something like this until I watched it. It is so cheesy and bad that I can’t help but find it hilarious. Seeing this over the top melodrama about a rags-to-riches family from the Great Depression through the Sixties just completely tickled my funny bone. It is simultaneously funny and off putting.

Malcolm in the Middle S7 – This show managed to go its full run without any real variation in quality. It was really good all the way through. It also has a pretty terrific ending.

The Office S6-7 – I don’t know why I decided to watch the doldrums of this show. These are a pair of the weakest seasons of this show, but there glimpses in quality all throughout. This is really good killing time viewing.

Mad Men S7 – The first half of season 7 showed up on Netflix and I jumped right on it. It is still really great. I wonder if I’ll be able to wait for the end starting next month or if I’ll have to find a place to stream it much sooner.

Trailer Park Boys S9 – It is not quite as good as Season 8, but it is still largely as fun as the rest of the series.

Now Playing In March 2015

I spent a lot of time with only a few games this month. I beat some small titles, Mario vs Dk, Tengami and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, but most of my time was spent plugging away at Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Mass Effect, with some leftover time spent with Tales of Graces f. In all, it was a good month, though I didn’t end up liking those latter two as much as I had hoped to.


Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate – wrote about it here. Yeah, I am still playing this. I haven’t put anything else in my 3DS for more than a month. I am really close to finishing up the single player quest and I am about halfway through the multiplayer High Rank ones. I’ll get sidetracked by Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but I’m going to keep plugging away at this. It is so great.

Tales of Graces f – wrote about it here. I am still picking away at this. I’m not sure I am going to finish it, but I haven’t yet given up on it.

Yakuza 4 – I made some progress in this. I want to savor it, but I think I am taking it a little too slow. I should have it finished before too much longer, and hopefully I can find something to say about it, other than saying it is great.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment – Still keeping up my glacial pace through this game. I like it, but it just keeps getting put aside for things that are a little more immediate.


Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars –


This is a pretty great little game from Nintendo. It uses the pretty standard MvDK formula here, which once you get past the disappointment that the series is not going to be a continuation of DK94 is pretty swell, but with an added focus on creating and sharing stages. I think some of it is a dry run for Mario Maker later in the year, with Nintendo testing the waters of created contend. I want to really get into creating stages with this, but I’m not very good at it. I will make some time for the foreseeable future to keeping toying around with this. Also, it is Nintendo testing the waters with cross buy, though I have yet to claim my 3DS copy because that would mean turning off Monster Hunter.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – I don’t think I’ll ever really like point and click adventure games, but I get just enough enjoyment out of them that I keep going back to the well. This game certainly deserves its reputation as one of the greats of the genre; it does a better job of getting what makes Indy work than any other game I’ve played with him in it. It really is a fine example of the genre; I just don’t seem able to fully enjoy them.

Mass Effect – wrote about it here. I never really grew to like playing this game, though I did like tooling around in the MAKO and goofing off. Also, the story is actually pretty good. The flow of the fights was just off throughout, though.

Tengami – This is another kind of point and click adventure, for the most part. It has a nice pop-up book art style and some generally pretty good puzzles. I liked it, but I don’t have much to say about it. It is good.


Mass Effect 2 – This or Dragon Age Origins or Knights of the Old Republic. I wasn’t really intending to play through the whole Bioware catalogue this year, but I’ve sort of stumbled into doing it so I am going to keep doing it.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon – I was on the fence about this, because I am not a particularly big fan of Mystery Dungeon games, but the more I saw of it, the more it looks like it took the things I don’t like about roguelikes and replaced them with stuff from the Etrian Odyssey style dungeon crawlers.

Pillars of Eternity – My computer can’t quite run this, but I might be able to borrow one to try to give it a go. I was really looking forward to this, so I can work something out. It is sure to be another time sink that I am more than happy to sink my time into.