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Pure Nostalgia
2013-07-xx
by Darknut

Falco is at least as great as the Beatles

I've been to Germany a few times, and usually at some point I hear Falco playing on the normal, everyday radio. He's still popular there even today.

So this last time, I haven't heard of Falco yet, but we check in to a hotel, and the lobby looks like this:

Tributes to famous musicians.

I'm thinking... hmmm...! Who's the guy on the left?

So I ask the hotel clerk (in English), and he says, "Oh, it's... a famous Austrian musician," as if I wouldn't know.

And I'm like, "That's Falco, isn't it."

"Yes, it is Falco."

So once again, in Germany, Falco is placed on the same level as Michael Jackson and the Beatles.

It turns out these prints are used to decorate every single room and hallway in the hotel. Falco in every freakin' room, singing you to sleep. "Rock Me, Amadeus."

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Book Review
2013-07-02
by Darknut

Jurassic Park: The Book

1990 by Michael Crichton

Verdict: Not as good as the movie.

I've been having trouble evaluating this book, primarily because the movie is already so pronounced in my mind, but also because the book was published in 1990, and it's hard to remember whether various concepts in the book were genuinely novel at the time.

Many scenes were rearranged for the movie, and although the book creates a terrific suspense, the movie effectively streamlines everything for double the punch. But that's no biggie. Let me get straight to the main problem:

If you think about the "moral" being presented by the time you get to the end of the movie, it seems to go something like, "Dinosaurs are far more terrible than some people imagined while bringing them back to life." It's hard for the message to be more damning than that because the critical sequence of problems that occurred was incidentally caused by one villainous person. Underneath the thrills and excellent visuals, Jurassic Park could almost be considered a formulaic "disaster" movie that shows how things could go wrong.

But the book moreso emphasizes errors made by uncharacteristically sloppy engineers. While unlikely, it is entirely conceivable that the billionaire founder of Jurassic Park could have hired only impetuous "hotshots" without knowing how to really evaluate their skills. That kind of BS happens in real life way more often than you might expect. Yet, despite that all the mishaps and treacheries were avoidable, the book has a much more explicit message than the movie: "People can't handle bringing dinosaurs back to life, because things not only could go wrong in this situation, they always will go wrong, and 'math' can prove this is so. Not only that, but the arrogant practice of science itself is intrinsically flawed, because science has limits, and we've already reached them. It's downright foolish for science to try to explain some things."

I'm afraid the book's message is, well, stupid. The author plays with several scientific topics that were rather fresh at the time, yet doesn't seem to understand what "science" means. Science does not mean to contrive a means to an end. Science does not dictate a religion or a philosophy or a mindset perpetually prone to absent-minded mistakes. Science wouldn't still be around if it wasn't inherently useful. Why does the author think that fractals control people's fates? Why does the author think we're stupid?

I sure am glad the movie watered down the message! (Even if it did have that girl who thought she was a hacker...)

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Book Review
2013-08-05
by Darknut

Ender's Game

1985 by Orson Scott Card

Verdict: Outdated.

This is almost a pretty good book about the ethics of boot camp, but I have two problems with it that just totally break the whole thing for me.

First, Ender has been selected for super-soldier training because he's supposedly a genius. But a five-year-old human, no matter how intelligent, shouldn't have emotions and concerns and physical development belonging to a teenager. It's so hard to repeatedly ignore this anachronism when it's forced so frequently. Everything would have been just fine if the author made him oh maybe eleven instead of five. Or if the author gave him some other inhuman trait to show that he was a mutant. Like if he always had to wear a helmet to protect his gigantic cranium. That would have been fine.

Second, the story was unfortunately written before the invention of the Real-Time Strategy game. The author couldn't have predicted how underwhelming his description of the most advanced war simulators of the future would sound to an average kid playing the games of the year 2000. We now know that many of Ender's feats don't require genius to perform, just a lot of Mountain Dew.

In other words, the author bent too many common-knowledge truths to be believable, although perhaps they weren't common knowledge at the time.

On a side note, it's a bit telling of the times that Ender spends a lot of time playing this fantasy scenario exploration game having more in common with games of the 1980s than with today's tropes.

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Book Review
2013-08-12
by Darknut

Gabriel Knight: The Book

1996 by Jane Jensen

Verdict: Surprisingly good for a book based on a computer game.

Apparently this book closely follows the plot of the game, such that it's practically a walkthru, and some people thus found it a boring read. That seems only natural since playing an adventure game should always give a more interesting experience than reading a book.

But I didn't play the game, so I thought the book was pretty good. Maybe it was a little formulaic, in the style of a detective novel, but there was only one point when I felt the book was transcribing an adventure game. Actually, the style of writing was quite informal, vulgar, almost adolescent, but I thought the author handled it very well. It really sounds like the earnest perspective of someone from the year 1993, and I think that extra vitality, however crass, is what I enjoyed about it.

I guess this was like the time I found that the book of The Princess Bride was very similar to the movie, and just as enjoyable, and perhaps it was because same person was directly involved in each production.

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Book Review
2013-08-13
by Darknut

Elric of Melniboné

1972 by Michael Moorcock

Verdict: The father of all cheesy fantasy schlock?

"What the fuck am I reading?" That's the correct response to the first page of the book. It's the worst kind of homemade, D&D-inspired, Clinkenbeardian rhetoric. It's so bad, it's funny. It's even funnier if you can't help reading it out loud in a silly voice. No wonder Dave Sim saw it fit for parody.

But wait! This was published in 1972... Before Highlander and the Beastmaster and Hawk the Slayer and Heavy Metal and all the other cheesy 1980s movies it invokes. Before high school students were writing Lord of the Rings fan-fiction (mostly). Before D&D, and most importantly, before Drizzt. This book could very well have set the precedent for a whole generation of overwrought, pretentious cliché that can't be taken seriously!

Furthermore, after you read it for a while, it's actually better than all of those followers. Despite the endlessly pretentious handling of the protagonist, the story's actually not terrible. The lurid amount of description is actually under steady control such that it paints a pretty effective picture. It's even a little bit thoughtful. The first chapter is the best because the words are metered frugally so that it almost has a poetic rhythm, although that mood wears off in the rest of the book.

Also, I strongly suspect The Dark Crystal was influenced by this book. The descriptions of the important characters in the wanton empire, their roles and attitudes, and the slaves, are all very familiar to the portrayal of the Skeksis.

I guess I feel the same way about this writing of Moorcock as I felt about Lovecraft: I thought it was horribly cliché until I realized it was way, way ahead of its time.

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General Nerdocracy
2014-08-16
by Darknut

The Secret to Happiness

The secret to happiness is to always be expecting something in the mail. It doesn't matter what, as long as it's something you would look forward to receiving.
Tom Carlson, Obsolete Computer Museium

I think eBay has something to do with it.

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The Usual Spiel
2014-10-07
by Darknut

Desensitized

Regarding the latest world news, why hasn't anyone made any "Kurd Kobane" jokes?

Insert tasteless suicide bomber joke here.

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Irreverent Rants
2014-11-30
by Darknut

It's Official

A Wikipedia page says that Wikipedia is suitable for research by 8-year-olds. This fits in well with a conversation I had recently in which we asserted that Wikipedia seems to have been written by an 11-year-old.

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Book Review
2015-07-22
by Darknut

Neverwhere

1996 by Neil Gaiman

Verdict: Adolescent, but amusing.

Overall, I liked this book, and I'm glad I read it, and I would recommend it to anyone. But I want to say some unkind things about the writing style. (Because that's what this blog is for.)

I don't know anything about Neil Gaiman. Which is to say I never read Sandman or any of his other books before, so I don't know what I'm supposed to expect.

There are some parts of this book that really felt like they were the writing of a high school student. Or perhaps even myself as a 9th grader, which makes this even more damning. Does Neil Gaiman always write this way? I don't know.

It has to do with the main character's feigned ignorance. It's just not convincing, or perhaps more accurately, not conducive to familiarity. He's very proper and British at first, which may help explain his reactions to things, but only a little. When he enters a magical world that seems to defy his usual reality, he doesn't stop and question it like a normal person would; he just keeps going as if impossibilities are excuseable and will work themselves out eventually. In fact, even while reality gets weirder and weirder, he never stops to think about it. His reactions to things, things that are actually a bit predictable as fantasy goes, are not there at all. He should have at least looked up and asked God why He decided, in all of His omnipotence, to start fucking with him all of a sudden. But that would have spoiled the mood, I guess. It's as if the only way for the author to express the character's surprise is through numbness. It doesn't make sense because it's the 90s now, so the main character should have already worked out how he would react to a fantasy world when he was a child, especially with all those 80s movies available to him. It's silly for him to want to go back to his normal, boring life, and everybody knows that except for him somehow, both within the story and without.

It doesn't help that the author omits many small details from every scene. Even though most of the story takes place in caves or tunnels, there is rarely an explanation for where light is coming from. My imagination needs to know that! There's a scene where the characters find themselves standing on a board suspended across the middle of a cavernous chamber. What is holding the board up? My imagination needs to know! I guess I was supposed to be so carried off by the magic of the whole story to care about actually imagining it. There's one moment in which some other shadowy characters pass by in a tunnel, and later I realize that from that I was supposed to presume the underworld is populated primarily by murderous beings that could be encountered at any moment. Wait! That's so incongruous that my imagination needs to know more about that! I guess the author doesn't mind these little details, but there are just too many scenes left blank. Unlike some other fantasy worlds, this one has not been fully worked out, even by the author, it seems. If I'm supposed to assume to know the missing parts, doesn't that make the fantasy even more stereotypical? Either way, I see this as a failing.

The difference between the magical world in this book and the one in the movie Labyrinth is that in Labyrinth we know everything is ultimately the product of Sarah's imagination, so there's nothing wrong when Sarah eagerly accepts something that's meant to surprise the audience. There's one scene in which it's proposed that the whole book so far has been a hallucination or a dream, which would have explained everything, but the main character defies this feeble suggestion, leaving us with nothing. The character undergoes a magical transformation near the end of the book, which is meant to represent a sort of maturation, or embiggening of confidence, or something, and that's fine, but it just doesn't feel real. Maybe this is the one part of a magical story that ought to feel real. The problem is simply that the character wasn't believable in the first place.

I guess this is all just one form of the proverbial error of assuming the audience are a bunch of dumbcakes. Don't do it! It'll ruin your story!

Despite all of the above, there are some really well written lines and a few beautiful moments that aren't expected in the work of a 9th grader. Some parts are definitely written better than others. It's almost as if two people wrote different parts of this book when only one should have written it. Maybe Neil Gaiman himself changed over the course of writing it.

I do very much appreciate that the author explored what happened in the epilogue when the main character went back to the real world and finally decided it was boring. Maybe, even though the character was an idiot, there's more closure this way.

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Book Review
2015-07-23
by Darknut

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

1966 by Philip K. Dick

Verdict: Short, but educational.

This story was the basis for the movie Total Recall (which was more or less at the pinnacle of Schwarzenegger's career). But it's a short story; it's only about 10 pages. That means most of the movie was "adapted."

The movie and the written story start out almost the same way (whether or not you imagine the character in the book as Schwarzenegger is pretty much irrelevant). But the written story ends shortly after the protagonist's real memories are accidentally stirred up by initiating the Rekal procedure. He doesn't get in any firefights; he doesn't go back to Mars; there are no mutant hookers; he doesn't seek retribution for what's been done to him. Actually there's a "surprise twist" ending that prevents anything like what's in the movie from happening (I won't give it away). Anyway, the story is literally asking whether it's inevitable that someone would seek an adventure on Mars just because it's in his nature to do so regardless of having his memory erased, or perhaps that having some memories erased could not completely prevent someone from having thoughts similar to those erased. These are some of the questions you're left with.

So the movie turns out to be interesting because it interrupts the story right in the middle of the dangerous situation when the character is just starting to remember that he really is a spy, and before the situation can be nullified, it wonders out loud what else could happen instead. The questions and plot holes deliberately introduced by the movie are very much in the spirit of Philip K. Dick, but curiously, they aren't the same questions and plot holes deliberately introduced by the original story. Even though the movie was cheesy (and we liked it that way), I think it was pretty creative in working the ideas it started from.

The most annoying part of the 2012 movie is that it's a remake of the 1990 movie, not a reinterpretation of the original story at all. Why even bother. I guess they lied about this as part of the obligatory plan to trick people into seeing another bad movie.

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