Friday, 27 March 2015

It just occurred to me I never talk about books that I find so bad I give up on them for the sake of saving my precious seconds left on this Earth. Mark Gattis' The Vesuvius Club is one such book, abandoned this morning for being so obnoxious it hurt my brain. That counts as a review, right?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Jim Thompson- The Getaway

The Getaway
Orion Crime Masterworks

Jim Thompson
1958

“He could be breaking apart inside and you'd never know it from the way he acted. He'd be just as pleasant and polite as if he didn't have a care in the world. You had to be careful with someone like that. You could never know what he was thinking.”

I seemed to be on an unfortunate run of feeling disappointed with supposed classics recently, so I hoped to buck that trend by picking off the shelf what appeared to be an easy option. Orion Publishing's Crime Masterworks series had so far introduced me to the sublime noir classic Double Indemnity by James M. Cain and Georges Simenon's very interesting (though not as good) The Blue Room, so I felt confident of finding something more engaging than the somewhat impenetrable international fiction of someone like Yvgeny Zamayatin. I find myself increasingly attached to the whole notion of crime fiction lately, and it's easy to recognise the similarities in that genre and that of Orion's other genre-collecting series, Sci-Fi Masterworks.

Jim Thompson
Both genres offer a universally-recognised set of story-structures that, while very malleable (especially in the hands of a genre-transcending master like Kurt Vonnegut), remain recognisable thanks to a hundred years of almost-unavoidable twentieth century literature and film, and so in theory half the work of establishing a recognisable narrative complete with relevant themes has already been done; a benefit to the author and the reader. With both genres though, the ease of access for both reader and writer naturally leads to a large number of unimaginative, poorly-written, all-in-all substandard attempts from unfortunately less-talented authors. I had hoped that the Masterworks series was also a short-cut to avoid wasting my time on those in general.

I'd been looking forward to reading something by Jim Thompson for a while now, having seen his name crop up plenty of times as a prominent writer of classic twentieth-century crime fiction. The Getaway is seemingly his most famous novel (though The Grifters is another title I see crop up often), perhaps due to Sam Peckinpah's 1972 film adaptation starring Steve McQueen. It was the obvious place to start, with the help of Orion. The break-neck plot seemed right up my alley; charismatic hardened criminal mastermind Doc McCoy and his devoted wife Carol stake their lives on a bank-job with some dicey allies, and wind-up in a gritty race for the safety of the border with the law and the underworld on their trail. Despite the usual double-crossing twists and turns, it's a fairly simple, cinematic action plot starring pulp-influenced over-the-top genre stereotypes. In short, something I've seen and read maybe too many times already, leaving it to live or die on the strength of the prose. 

This is where it all fell apart. A streamlined action-packed plot comprised of familiar stylish elements can only take a writer so far dependent on their ability to construct this world through interesting and consistent writing, neither of which are attributes I ascribe to Jim Thompson. That Thompson's goals in terms of style and impact are well-established is at least admirable, but from the very first pages of The Getaway I was immediately put off through what I perceived to be Thompson's amateurish style. The Getaway is written in the third person, giving Thompson the potential advantage of being able to describe his characters without the inherent bias of a narrating personality, but from the very beginning his establishment of characters and setting massively jarred.

My biggest stylistic hate came from Thompson's repeated habit of literally telling the reader directly what his characters are thinking, in the form of italicized quotes just lacking quotation marks, over and over again. It's a lazy technique that tries to claim the best of both worlds, but failed for me each time since every thought the characters have are just as cliched and superficial as their dialogue, leaving the marked effect of exposing them all as completely two-dimensional. I'm not expecting some sort of extended Dickensian character analysis, just a modicum of depth. In comparison to a classic crime noir character like Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, Doc McCoy is a hollow, uninteresting bore who's superficial coolness is made an unintentional mockery of through its very construction. Harsh criticism, perhaps, and I'm sure Thompson's work isn't any worse than your average run-of-the-mill thriller writer, but I expected far more from a supposed crime classic from the same publishing series as James M. Cain's Double Indemnity.

Whether I'd recommend it to anyone is an interesting question (well, to me anyway), because it really depends on what the reader expects and what they're willing to put up with. I absolutely do not recommend it to a reader looking for a classic crime noir on the literary level of the Hammett, Cain, or Raymond Chandler and the like, because it's bound to end in disappointment. For a reader who enjoys the comfort of quick, cliched thrillers that are easy to get through, then this might be a great option. Oh, and since we're at the end of the review, it's only appropriate to mention the end of the book; a final chapter that weirdly morphs in style to an ethereal, hallucinogenic-like dream-state that's not too badly written in comparison, actually, though I've no idea what he was trying to achieve with it.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Missing Review Catch-Up III- International Edition

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The Dragon and Other Stories (1913-1937)
Yevgeny Zamyatin

Penguin Modern Classics
After Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita failed to melt the solid wall of ice standing between myself and the great unexplored mass of classic Russian literature, I wasn't to be put off so quickly. Rather than run towards the possible safety of recommended heavyweights like Dostoyevsky and friends, I rebounded in the only way I know how- something completely random, that in this case just happens to also be pretty obscure. The Dragon and Other Stories stood out with its odd cover, and of course Penguin Modern Classics status. Everything I learned about Zamyatin (not much- Russian dissident who wrote a letter to Stalin so he could leave Russia) came from a quick scour of the internet, so I went in to the book mostly ignorant. Sometimes a random book read at a random time can be a game-changer.

But not this time. Again I totally failed to connect with a piece of Russian literature, to the point where it'd be stupid to even try to write a proper review, hence this short one appearing here just to sooth my obsessive compulsiveness. Zamyatin's various short (and less short) stories collected in this posthumous volume describe with authority seemingly-meaningful tales that drift between the harsh realities of Russia's past and then-present and some more fantastical parables that take on dark fairy-tale like scenarios. I think since my knowledge of Russian history is confined to... um, no, can't think of anything... nothing, then, I was probably the wrong person to appreciate the layered allegories that I'm sure permeate Zamyatin's dense stories.

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Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words (2005)
Jay Rubin


Vintage
This book, on the other hand, I was very tempted to write a full-length (by my standards, anyway) review for, only to decide at the last moment that its content and topic might just be too obscure to be interesting . Jay Rubin is a very familiar name for English language-reading Murakami fans, for being perhaps the most prominent of all yet to translate the author into our language (as well as translating Ryunosuke Akutagawa's Rashomon collection), and so it seemed only natural for Rubin to write a book about his life and works. Part biography, part critical interpretation, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words looks at the inspiration, creative process and public reaction to every Murakami novel, as well as his most important short stories.

I'd straight away recommend this to any serious Murakami fan looking to put his work into a greater context. The biographical information is interesting, though not particularly in depth- personally I prefer this to be the case, as Murakami's mystique works better without the obvious-in-hindsight revelations that he's actually a fairly normal man. As someone who pays little-to-no attention to the contemporary Western literary scene, let alone the Japanese one, it was also interesting to read more information about Japanese literary history, especially Murakami's influences and contemporary critics.

The one major criticism I found was that the book attempts to cover too much ground in too little space, particularly in regards to Rubin's interpretation of Murakami's fiction. I often found myself disagreeing with Rubin's ideas, but that made them no less interesting, and so the problem was that Murakami's longer works really need more space to accurately discuss. Rubin's reluctance to persist with spoilers also damaged his analysis for me, especially since I can't imagine there are many people who'd read this without already having devoured Murakami's own bibliography. Other than that, this was an enjoyable and informative take on an author very deserving of further public discussion. 

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The Immoralist (1902)
André Gide

  
Penguin Modern Classics
Man, French literature is just weird. Everything past the nineteenth century seems to have existentialism burnt in to its very core, and each author I read has an unstoppable fixation with looking at the worst parts of human nature in one way or another. Everything's constantly intense, everyone guilty of something, and nothing ever gets resolved neatly. Andre Gide's turn of the century novella The Immoralist was decried for years due to its homoerotic overtones, though reading it over a hundred years later it seems hard to see what the fuss was all about. Instead this novel to me, rather than focusing on the protagonist Michel's growing attraction to men was really all about his generally horrible treatment of his wife, Marceline.

The plot of the novella revolves around Michel recovering from a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis, on his Tunisian honeymoon with Marceline, who has lovingly nursed him back to health and attended to his every whim. Michel responds by re-discovering himself in the arms of young Arab men, and waxing lyrical on the new realizations he understands about life. I couldn't connect with him whatsoever, and thus the story was lost on me. Gide's work is well-written in translation at least, with an extensive vocabulary and poetical nature, but it's contents said little to me. Michel came across as such an unlikable character, with his over-bearing self-realizations clashing with his actual behaviour, that I was the most disappointed I have been by a piece of French literature.

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Saturday, 14 March 2015

Kingsley Amis- Lucky Jim

Lucky Jim
Penguin Modern Classics

Kingsley Amis
1954

“How wrong people always were when they said: 'It's better to know the worst than go on not knowing either way.' No; they had it exactly the wrong way round. Tell me the truth, doctor, I'd sooner know. But only if the truth is what I want to hear.”
  
Though Kingsley Amis is enough of a literary establishment in Britain that I'd been aware of his reputation as an author for some time, it took the knowledge of endorsements from my current favourite writer W. Somerset Maugham for me to pick up a copy of his most famous book. Lucky Jim has been lauded by the establishment as a classic piece of twentieth-century English fiction, portraying the turmoils of the life of a young teacher attempting to survive the political minefield of a chaotic new University campus. I was in the mood to enjoy a dry, sardonic comedy as a break from the typically direct doom and gloom I seem to always read, so I really wanted to enjoy my first experience reading Amis (random side-note- I did once read a Martin Amis novel once, it was horrible), but ultimately finished with mixed feelings.

Kingsley Amis
The eponymous Jim Dixon lectures in medieval history, but struggles to keep on the right side of academic politics amongst the faculty and so constantly worries for his job. His snide, pretentious colleagues patronise and irritate him, and his personal life is no better. Trapped in a volatile relationship with an emotionally insane woman he doesn't even actually like, his response is to get dangerously drunk at a party hosted by his senior professor, black out upstairs with a cigarette, and set fire to the bedsheets. When trying to conceal the crime in the morning, he meets Christine Callaghan, the beautiful girlfriend of the aforementioned professor's son. At this point the novel's true direction becomes abruptly clear, as the educational back-drop simply becomes the stage for a pained romantic conquest.

To a certain extent, this was actually something of a relief to me, since up to then I'd grown little-to-no attachment to the plot, setting or themes. I had no prior bias for or against them, but I couldn't get invested in Amis' portrayal of his comic surroundings. Amis' prose is technically excellent; flowing and consistent, but certain antiquated aspects of his style bored me; a real problem, since Amis emphasizes his main point of satire- that being the egotistical pretentiousness of those with power in academia- through his style, specifically character dialogue and Dixon's own critical trains of thought. As a result, I found the entire book to be overwritten, in the sense that each theme and subject of satire is over-laboured with a tone that itself became annoying eventually.

I won't deny that I did get a little invested in Jim and Christine's impossible relationship, and I also felt that Amis' eventual extrapolation of Margerat's (Jim's on-off girlfriend) psyche was by far his strongest writing; resembling Somerset Maugham's own fixation on the oft-disturbing motives of human obsession. Unfortunately the University setting fell almost completely flat for me, and there was so much more of it in comparison to the little I found engaging that the book became a chore. Perhaps my tastes in comedy have been irreversibly twisted by more contemporary things, but whatever the case was I just couldn't find any deeper meaning in the novel. It felt like a high-brow romantic comedy, harsh as that sounds.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

An author who literally changed my life. RIP. More thoughts to come when I'm feeling more coherent.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Not Books XII


TV Shows-

Red Dwarf III (1989)

Series three of Red Dwarf was integral in developing the structure of the show towards the style that people remember most fondly, though by itself it's perhaps not quite the best- as Rob Grant and Doug Naylor struggle a little in further involving the usual technobabble of more adventurous science fiction. From this point on, the mechanoid Kryten (introduced in the first episode of II) returns as a regular cast member, as both a lovable neurotic idiot android and a source of valuable exposition, necessary to explain details to his three idiotic crew members (ship's computer Holly's role is reduced and recast, Norman Lovett replaced by Hattie Hayridge).

The first episode of the series sums this all up perfectly; Backwards begins with Kryten and Rimmer falling through a time hole in space, arriving on the other side to find themselves back on Earth in the 20th century- only an Earth where time is running backwards. The logistics throughout the episode don't make any sense, but seeing the crew get off Red Dwarf to explore some whacky sci-fi is a welcome relief after the ship sets had become somewhat stagnant. The next episode, Marooned, goes back to the Rimmer/Lister divide in a slower-paced story, but the pace picks up again with Polymorph, where a genetically-engineered emotional vampire stows away on the Dwarf and turns them into radically different people, like a much funnier Alien.

Unfortunately the season goes downhill from there with Bodyswap. While the increased focus on sci-fi remains, the story of Rimmer 'borrowing' Lister's body is a decent idea that goes nowhere fast and quickly runs out of jokes. I much prefer Timeslides, an episode where Kryten discovers that three million years of stagnation has mutated the ships photo-developing fluid into what is essentially a form of limited time travel. The science makes less than no sense, but it's a great excuse to delve into both Rimmer's past and explore Lister's growing realisation that he's wasted his life.

The final episode, The Last Day, is another Kryten episode, where he learns he is to be replaced by an upgrade. The upgrade, Hudson, is another example of the writers exploiting popular sci-fi for laughs, this time The Terminator, and the episode- while not a classic- is a nice way to round off Kryten's first series as a regular. It's not the greatest series, but in terms of the development of the show and its balance of sci-fi and comedy it was essential testing for the future, with the prime of the show just on the horizon.


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Firefly (2002)

Thirteen years on from the cancellation of Mutant Enemy's beloved sci-fi western series, millions of fans over the world have written a million essays online about how much of a stupid waste of potential said cancellation was- so I'm going to try to resist from joining in, since it'll probably just get ugly. Before we move on though I will say that the facts of the matter were firmly on my mind during this recent re-watch, mostly thanks to how polished and entertaining the show became after barely a couple of episodes, and it feels as much of as a tragedy as cancelling a television show could possibly be. Not quite as bad as world hunger, but at least on the level of ebola.

Having said that, this was only the second time I'd ever watched through all of Firefly's meager fourteen episodes, despite being a huge fan of Mutant Enemy and the work of Tim Minear in particular, and it came perhaps two months after finishing a re-watch of every episode of Angel. As a result I couldn't help comparing the two shows (with Buffy the Vampire Slayer firmly in the back of my mind too), and came to the conclusion that Firefly's critical success was built not just on its clever mixing of genres, but from the now very-experienced writing staff cherry-picking from past successes. I don't mean any of this as a criticism, but many of the character arch-types are direct lifts- the most obvious example to me being the Simon and Kaylee courtship, which was like a heavily-condensed version of Wesley and Fred from Angel.

Anyway, after taking perhaps two episodes to get into stride, Firefly quickly becomes absolutely exceptional, thematically and visually. The visual choices, the music and the crafted dialogue drew me in completely, and like a typical Whedonite, made me dream of what this show could have been. I'm not going to delve any further than that because I'll come across bitter and sycophantic, but god damn. Thank god for Serenity.


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Films-


Serenity (2005)

The one random little fact I always remembered about Serenity in the years inbetween its release and my eventual viewing of it, was that in 2007 SciFi Magazine readers named it the very best science fiction film of all time. That's ahead of Star Wars, 2001, Blade Runner and The Matrix, to name just a few examples that popped into my head, and so that's some pretty god damned lofty praise. When I did eventually get around to watching all of Firefly and then this film for the first time (which typically took me a long time even though I love Mutant Enemy's stuff) I absolutely loved it, but I wasn't quite that big a fan as those SciFi readers. 

Now, having seen it a few more times since, including twice in quick succession over the last few weeks thanks to a random TV showing... it's not the best sci-fi film of all time. It might be the greatest TV-to-cinema jump of all time though, and it is fabulous. The cast jump back into their roles like they were never away, but it's the writers who deserve the most credit for solving the problem of just how to translate their original plans for Firefly as a TV series into a single two hour film. Though it does leave a few stones unturned (Shepard Book being the obvious example), generally the key storylines and character arcs of Firefly are followed up on if not completed, and each of the characters get a nice little send-off. There are legions of dedicated, loving Firefly/Serenity fans out there that have analysed it all in far more depth than I care about to imitate, so let's leave this one as simply a thumbs firmly up review.


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Death Race (2008)

I wasn't too keen on watching this recent remake, but it was my girlfriend's idea (presumably thanks to the chiseled jaw of Jason Statham). I've never seen the original, but a couple of facts about it always sticks out in my mind; firstly that original Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra based his original designs for the lawman of the future on the masked visage of Death Race 2000 lead Frankenstein- and secondly that it was the basis for the gleefully distasteful video game series Carmageddon. None of this convinced me that this remake would be any good whatsoever, since it stars Statham and was directed by Paul WS Anderson, who's not exactly known for his quality pieces of film.

The plot is simple, as a simple but potentially brilliant single concept idea; Statham's character is a former racing driver trying to make a life with his wife, when one day she's brutally murdered and he's framed for it. In prison, he is invited by the powerful warden (played by Joan Allen, who is dire) to play a part in the Death Race- an armoured racing extravaganza broadcast to the masses, where prisoners battle for the right to be released. Those two situations obviously aren't coincidence, but it takes Statham a while to work it out.

Basically the resulting film is obvious, brain-dead stuff, as Statham finally works it out, gets involved in some mediocre race battles, and pulls Megan Fox. The combination of Anderson directing and Statham starring forms a sort of black hole of blandness, where every piece of CGI action is somehow made as boring as possible, and every piece of dialogue mumbled into an uncharismatic nothingness. Although Ian McShane is in it and he's awesome, so there's that.


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Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) 


As a long-time follower of DC comics' animated straight-to-DVD films, it's been noticeable that the company have recently been focusing on adapting more recent comic book storylines; specifically from The New 52. That's the nickname for DC's current in-continuity universe, created afresh about two years ago. I was not a fan of this move when it happened, as I was perfectly content with the old DCU. Justice League: Fate of Atlantis is the sequel to 2014's Justice League: War, both of which were adapted from the Geoff Johns-written Justice League. As I've given up on keeping up with the New 52 that makes this the first DC animated movie of which I haven't read the source material.

The aforementioned JL: War was an entertaining if very unrefined movie that just about succeeded by being composed mostly of balls-to-the-wall action. It had the advantage of dealing with DC's most powerful, villainous villain in Darkseid, alien god of evil, and upped the violence quota to surprising levels. JL: Fate of Atlantis, however, is unfortunately not blessed with those same advantages, as rather than the featuring Jack Kirby's unstoppable fifth world demon and his planet of incalculable sin, it features Aquaman and the Atlanteans.

To be fair, I don't have the same issue with Aquaman that so many other comic book fans and Internet bandwagon-jumpers seem to have; he's a character like many others, requiring naught but a decent writer to become interesting (I particularly enjoyed Grant Morrison's late 90's JLA version of Aquaman the most). The Atlanteans, on the other hand, are among the most boring creations ever to have existed in this or any other potential universe, and their introduction automatically relegates this film to mediocrity.

And mediocre it is. Despite a few highlights among the under-featured regular Justice League crew (like Nathan Fillon's Green Lantern), this new Aquaman origin story is unimaginative trite. Cliched and predictable, Arthur Curry gains his rightful (but totally unearned) place on the throne of Atlantis after a political conspiracy almost causes war with the surface-dwellers, but not quite. Smug Aquaman then confidently promises to both rule his new underwater nation and serve on the Justice League as a superhero, despite having sod-all experience or expertise in either. None of the other characters feature enough to save it, making this the most miss-able of all of DC's effort.


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Thor- Tales of Asgard (2011)

Though DC's recent animated films haven't been particularly exciting, at least they get the benefit of the doubt considering the average high quality of their usual releases. Marvel's animated film department, on the other hand, have released precisely zero films of note. I think I've seen them all, but I can't remember anything about any of them except the titles. Pretty sure they did Planet Hulk, and some random Avengers of the future films, for some reason. With that in mind, I had very little expectations from the final entry in Marvel's animated line, and it also had the little matter of the whole concept of the film being stupid and pointless to deal with. 

Essentially to sum up the most generic of generic plots, Thor: Tales of Asgard is a film set in Asgard, obviously, during a time when Thor and Loki were but mere... younger teenage Gods with an attitude problem, who constantly find themselves at odds with their alpha-male father Odin. Disobeying his commands, they get into a beef with the frost giants, and hi-jinx ensue While the shine of the live action Marvel cinematic universe might seem to rub-off on lower-profile tie-ins like this, when actually viewed with any kind of critical though the whole thing is quickly revealed to be a very lazy tie in, void of original ideas. The troubled relationship between fathers and sons theme has been played out a million times and this offers nothing new, just a homogenous skeleton. In terms of writing, Tales of Asgard matches up only to the general quality of a lazy Saturday morning cartoon. The voice actors pathetic imitations of the voices of the Hollywood stars' was the final nail in the coffin of this boring cash-in, though I still watched it all for some reason.


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Donnie Darko- The Director's Cut (2001)

I'm very much an obsessive-compulsive person when it comes to my viewing and reading habits, as proven by the existence of this very blog, but I've always been bad at deciding on top ten lists of my favourite things. For years now, I've only been able to decide on the order of my top three favourite films (Jurassic Park, Blade Runner, 2001, that order), with the rest of the top ten comprised of some amorphous undefinable blob... until now, that is, thanks to a recent re-watch of Richard Kelly's feature-length directorial debut Donnie Darko (quality alliteration if I do say so myself). I've seen this film numerous times in the past, but I think this was only the second time I'd seen the director's cut edition, something which absolutely makes all the difference.

I don't want to go on a long tangent here about why I've come to now 'understand' Donnie Darko (though I do) because the explanation will just make me sound like a geek, but suffice to say the differences in this cut and the original are so strong that it does make the purpose of the film that much clearer, and once I figured it out the film became a masterpiece on a whole other level- specifically for me as an English student. I'll say no more other than it's both a literal and metaphorical deus ex machina of fantastic detail.

Other than the usual art student nonsense worship reasons, it's also a great film because it's quite funny, emotional, and has a wonderful soundtrack. Kelly captures the feel of his 1980's suburban American wonderfully, and Jake Gyllenhaal puts in as good as a performance as you'll ever see as the misunderstood teenage male outcast role. Looking back, it's no wonder so many of my film student friends were so enamoured with this film when we first saw it back in the early part of the millennium; it's also a wish fulfillment fantasy. I've been seriously thinking about getting a Frank the Bunny tattoo since watching this, though the desire may float away the further in time we get from that. Until I see it again, of course. Fourth favourite movie of all time.


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Video Games-

Ace Attorney Investigations- Miles Edgeworth (2009)
Capcom (Nintendo DS)

Got to love sprites
Having found great enjoyment in the original Phoenix Wright trilogy of adventure games, played on my trusty old stolen Nintendo DS (stolen from my sister, so it doesn't really count as theft), I've been raring to go at the spin-offs. First on the list came an adventure starring Phoenix Wright's chief rival-turned-ally Miles Edgeworth, given his own set of five brand-new murder cases. Though there's no Phoenix or his partner Mia in sight, prior fans of the franchise should be satisfied to discover that this game otherwise takes heavily from the cult franchise, with old favourites like Detective Gumshoe on hand for a sense of familiarity. Some of that was needed early on, I found, as Capcom have tweaked the original gameplay style enough to make things feel less familiar.

First of all, gone are the trademark courtroom battles of the series. Ace Attorney Investigations keeps Edgeworth out of the courtroom and exclusively on location at the crime scenes. Initially it seems odd for Capcom to have removed the series most popular feature, but in reality they haven't; the back-and-forth statements and rebuttals have simply moved to a less official capacity, with Edgeworth engaging in verbal sparring with his suspects elsewhere. The main gameplay difference, and something I had a little trouble with to start,  is that the game no longer exclusively relies on pre-rendered backgrounds combined with simple animations.

Instead, Capcom limit the pre-renders to conversations and close-up examinations, and have programmed isometric levels complete with 16-bit (maybe 32 at a push) sprites. The player must use a section of the touchscreen to direct Edgeworth's movements on the upper-screen, and this is somewhat awkward, though it's far from a game-breaker. After I'd overcome the awkwardness, it became clearer to me that the key development of the series was more apparent once I'd really delved into the game.

As becomes more and more glaringly obvious further into the game, AAI is the most linear of all the Ace Attorney games so far in relation to the amount of input the player gets. Obviously each of the AA games are ultimately very linear by their nature as adventure games, but it seemed to me that Capcom made that very obvious this time around. There is an extensive amount of dialogue, as there always is, but it seemed that this time there were less and less opportunities to investigate, and a far lesser selection of different scenes to investigate at any one time. By limiting the players' options the game becomes easier, and the rather convoluted over-arcing plot is simpler to figure out, but as a result there's a far less impressive sense of achievement.

The story is genuinely a good one, as Capcom learnt from the experiences crafting the three Phoenix Wright games to become rather good at crafting long-form overbearing plots. It's nowhere near as good Trials and Tribulations, sadly, but then it hadn't the advantage of being the third in a trilogy with plenty of story to conclude. Also (and I sort of hate to admit this), but Miles Edgeworth just isn't as compelling a character as Phoenix Wright to play as. Part of this I think comes from his past history as an arrogant rival turned good accomplice, to where his dialogue in this game varies between heroic and heelish, making it hard to grow a real attachment to him.

Though easily the weakest in the series so far, AAI was still fun for me, and I was most disappointed to find out that its sequel is yet to receive an official English translation. There are, however, unofficial translated ROMs out there, and I don't think I'd feel morally bad about playing one considering there's no other alternative, so that's been added to my future gaming plans. In the meantime, I think I'm going to go back to a bit of classic LucasArts...


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Friday, 6 March 2015

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 25- The Truth

The Truth
Victor Gollancz

Terry Pratchett
2000

Other Terry Pratchett Reviews- Colour of Magic - Light Fantastic - Equal Rites - Mort - Sourcery - Wyrd Sisters - Pyramids - Guards! Guards! - Eric - Moving Pictures - Reaper Man - Witches Abroad - Small GodsLords & Ladies - Men At Arms - Soul Music - Interesting Times - Maskerade - Feet of Clay - Hogfather - Jingo - Last Continent - Carpe Jugulum - Fifth Elephant - Truth - Raising Steam - Blink of the Screen - Sky Adaptations  - Video Game 1 - Pratchett Portfolio - Dodger - Long Earth

"WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL LURKS IN THE HEART OF MEN? The Death of Rats looked up from the feast of potato. SQUEAK, he said. Death waved a hand dismissively. WELL, YES, OBVIOUSLY ME, he said. I JUST WONDERED IF THERE WAS ANYONE ELSE."

After the personal disappointment of The Fifth Elephant, where the sinister political machinations of the dwarves conspired only to put me to sleep, we move on to the twenty-fifth book in the series and a novel which more successfully promotes a different type of world-building. Although I seem to be saying this with each review for various reasons, this is another personal landmark in my own journey through the Discworld series; marking the very first time I purchased one as a newly-released hardback- using my own hard-earned (well, sort of) cash from my first ever real job. I remember the pride and joy I felt as I added the luxurious, beautifully-covered tome to my collection (otherwise comprised of well-worn paperbacks), with the hope of many more to come. Now I look at the ridiculously over-sized damned things and think about somehow trading them in for paperback versions, lest my bookshelf collapse. The folly of youth, etc.

So then, as I was saying, The Truth is one of the most direct examples of Pratchett performing an important new piece of world building; creating his own version of an ubiquitous human standard to not only directly add a new feature to the daily lives of Ankh-Morpork's fair citizens but also to signify a permanent shift in his future portrayals of the Disc's chief city. Through the events of this novel and many more to follow, the city moves forward from its origins as a kind of mishmash of medieval-to-seventeenth century England, and hurtles towards a more progressive mish-mash of eighteenth century and Victorian England. This time out a young man named William de Worde takes the city by storm by unwittingly inventing the newspaper industry.

As has been mentioned before here, the key essence to the transformation is Pratchett's determination to add further order and stability to a previously chaotic environment, something he started doing as far back as Guards! Guards! with the rebirth of the city watch. The concept of a daily newspaper is an obvious one in hindsight, and offers Pratchett a number of ways to incorporate his typical satire and parody, the former emanating from his own experiences as a journalist. Pratchett comes up with an original core cast of characters (with supporting aid from some of the usual suspects, of course including Sam Vimes), led by de Worde, himself the bored and ingenious son of a nobleman looking to shake things up for himself.

de Worde seems most likely a prototype character for the more successful later creation of Moist von Lipvig (of Going Postal, Making Money and Raising Steam fame), but one who unfortunately lacks the interesting backstory and lovable roguishness of Moist, and therefore the overall charisma to go with it. His inevitable love-interest comes in the form of investigative reporter Sacharissa Crisplock, while the comic relief is supplied by vampire photographer Otto von Chieck, who has the unfortunate habit of disintegrating into dust every time he uses the flash function. Together they create The Ankh-Morpork Times, and a selection  of new enemies to go with it.

Though the characters seemingly didn't have enough interest in them to justify a reoccuring position in the Discworld series as Moist later did, they fit the story of this book well enough, as somewhat hapless idealists who stumble into more trouble than they'd anticipated when they discover a plot to frame the Patrician for murder. Switching back and forth neatly between the corrupt wealthy gentry of the city and their vicious musclemen on the street helps put the city in a nice new perspective, and lets Pratchett have a ton of fun with the gagnsters and hoodlums motiff, notable parodying Pulp Fiction on numerous occasions amongst other things. Against all odds William and co. manage to delve to the truth of the matter, uncover the sinister plot, then ride off into the background of the city, rarely to be mentioned again.

Perhaps The Truth looks that much better to me in direct comparison to The Fifth Elephant, where the condensed scale of the events and unassuming, sometimes idiotic characters were a pleasant relief. Pratchett's increasing tendency to  make far too many of his characters incessantly wise can sometimes go too far in hurting his books, and so I'm always more of a fan of his dumber characters (after all, the success of the Discworld series was based on the general idiocy of its most popular character in Rincewind). The fairly simple nature of the plot doesn't hurt it at all, since Pratchett's witty and evocative depictions of Ankh-Morpork from the viewpoint of a reporter make up for that.

Overall then, a funny, compelling page-turner with fresh characters that doesn't do anything ground-breaking by itself but does represent a further shift in scenery. It also sits nicely as a refreshing breather for Discworld fans, sat in-between the annoyingly concrete political shifting of Fifth Elephant and upcoming apocalyptic high-fantasy of The Thief of Time- of course the subject of our next Discworld review, and Death's final leading role.