What do a riddlemaster on a quest, an undersea utopia gone wrong, and
sexual perversion in Sweden have in common? The answer: nothing! But I
don’t have a big thing to talk about this month, so I’ll have to make do
with a mishmash.
To take a step back: I was never one to write negative reviews – I’d
rather blab about the things that have gotten me excited, and let the subpar
stuff fall by the way. That leaves a bit of a hole in my critical
pose I guess, and if so, so be it. All the same, I’m in the lurch when
my week on the Gutter comes around and I don’t have an overwhelming/fun thing to talk about. So in lieu
of a book or movie burning a hole in my recommendation pocket, here are a few smaller items of note.
I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of McKillip’s
Riddlemaster trilogy. I revisited this series here on the Gutter a few
years ago, and I was curious to try it as a spoken narrative. I must say, it holds up fairly well.
Three things that I’ve noticed this time around: fate is an all-pervasive issue, the role for the heroine in
the second book isn’t quite as equal as I remembered, and wow, did
Rowling ever… what’s the polite way to put this… follow closely in McKillip’s tracks on this one! So there’s a young man with a peculiar marking on his face, and the very prophecy that says he will be the doom of the dark lord causes that dark lord to preemptively attack, which in turn causes that young man to become the hero of the tale… does that sound familiar? The two series couldn’t be more different in tone and intent, but the framework of Rowling’s tale is remarkably similar to McKillip’s.
Moving along. I just finished playing Bioshock 2, a videogame released about a year ago. It’s an impressive game, set in the leaky ruins of a underwater utopian city called Rapture; unfortunately, it’s also saturated with what I’ve come to
call the blah-blah-blah factor. Lots of people shouting about this and
that, important/philosophical jibber-jabber, and all of it resolves down to telling me to fetch this random doodad or
that random widget. No, I didn’t have to “go kill 10 rats” (the archetype of lame quests, for the non-gamers among us), but I was bored a lot during this game, despite the
awesome graphics and the fun weaponry. Bizarrely overloaded with plot
claptrap I didn’t care about.
That said, the ending is actually a clever moment. Generally
speaking, I’m pretty nice to everyone in videogames. Leaving aside all
those thousands of aliens, zombies and Nazis I’ve slaughtered in my
career as videogamer (all who probably deserved it), I always choose the
friendly/nice option if I’m presented with it in a story portion of a game. For some reason when I was playing Bioshock 2, I thought to myself, “Aw, screw it, let’s see what happens when I’m mean to people.”
Bioshock 2 is about family, and while it layers on the theme with a
trowel that’s a mile wide and inanely repetitious, the ending sneaks up on you. All along, you are trying to reunite with your daughter (who has grown up in the ten years since you last saw her – see image at right), and she is giving you psychic guidance through the dangerous halls of Rapture. Since there’s always someone giving you guidance, psychic or otherwise, in a videogame, I didn’t think too much about it. Spoiler warning! As you find out at the end, your daughter has been watching
you, and she learns from your choices, and acts on those learned choices in a direct (and gruesome) way. So my “whatever, I’ll just be an
evil dickwad” approach actually affected another character in the game. A
pretty good sting-in-the-tail actually. And as far as I can tell, something new for videogames. Not particularly subtle, but new. Ironically, I wouldn’t have found out about this had I played as a nice guy!
I’ll wrap up with the Millennium trilogy. From what I had heard about Stieg Larsson’s books, I was expecting
wall-to-wall sexual violence, corpses piled to the ceiling, weird sexual
stuff, with the author’s stand-in character as the one who saves the
day. I dunno… there was a pretty high quotient of lurid material, and
the heroic investigative journalist as heroic hero was laid on pretty
thick. But the stories were reasonably well-constructed genre pieces, done a huge favour by cutting them down to two hours of onscreen time apiece.
Oops! I’ve just revealed that I haven’t read the books themselves, only watched
the recent Swedish movies. I find that my iron constitution for reading
crap has almost completely disappeared, and I just can’t bear to wade
through books that strike me the wrong way. I find that my odds of getting into the current
reading craze are at about 1 in 4. I’m basing that on Larsson’s
Millennium (no thanks), Meyer’s Twilight (great books for the intended
audience, which doesn’t include me), Dan Brown (sorry, but I couldn’t
even get through two chapters of The Da Vinci Code, even with the audiobook), and Rowling (my
thoughts on Harry Potter here on the Gutter). I find that I don’t mind
getting my taste of these crazes through the inevitable movie version if
I’ve tried the book and can’t get very far. I get the gist, and I can save my reading time for something else!