Space Opera: My Thoughts

Boy, someone REALLY wants to be Douglas Addams.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, you could do significantly worse than Douglas Addams (Elron Hubbard comes to mind almost immediately), but there’s showing influence, and then there’s outright ripping off.

The concept of influenced by Vs. ripping off has been a topic of debate on the internet forever.  There was a time when making game reviews on the internet meant thousands of idiots would accuse you of ripping off The Angry Video Game Nerd, even if your style was nowhere near the loud, profane, fecalphiliac style of AVGN.  If you wanted to be a ranting raving lunatic with his own website designed in the most basic HTML, you were accused by thousands of ripping off The Best Page in the Universe, even if you didn’t copy his misogynistic, egocentric style.  Those are just two examples of this debate that I’m VERY familiar with.  I’m sure it goes on to other platforms, other mediums, and other creaters.

And a book like Space Opera gets me thinking more or less two chapters in that the comparisons to Douglas Addams are inescapable at best.  So is Space Opera a ripoff, or is it just heavily inspired.

Honestly, I’d go with the heavily inspired route.  Largely because while Catherynne M. Valente clearly goes out of her way to incorporate Douglas Addams esque narration about outer space and its various residents, the plot doesn’t even come close.

Space Opera has been described in one of two ways to me:

A. Eurovision in space.

B. That episode of Rick and Morty with the giant head demanding “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”.

I’m not especially familiar with Eurovision, but I’m assured by friends within my book club that it’s a glorious trainwreck.  B was what ended up selling me on it.

Aliens gather far and wide to perform on the grandest stage of them all.  A stage so grand, Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania looks like a Podunk house show in a stinky old armory out in rural Kansas by comparison.  A stage so grand, various species have been known to convert entire planets into musical instruments just to stand a chance.  And every grand prix, new species are brought to the stage to determine whether or not they’re worth keeping around or not.  New contestants don’t have to win in order to avoid absolute annihilation, but survival depends entirely on avoiding last place.

Naturally, Earth eventually gets discovered, and is invited.  And after learning that all of Earth’s greatest musicians are dead (my favorite being The Insane Clown Possy ending up killing themselves as a result of something to do with magnets), Earth’s only hope ends up being Decibell Jones and The Absolute Zeroes.

Comparisons to Douglas Addams aside, this is an interesting challenge.  How the hell does one write about music?  Music is purely an audible experience, while reading is visual.  I’m going to take a wild guess and say Valente didn’t include sheet music in the print copy.

The story mentions several hybrid genres like barber shop quartet death metal, and symphonic dubstep just to name a possible few.  I would legitimately like to hear how all of these sound.  Even if dubstep is for pussies, integrating it into several other genres would be interesting to see.  The whole concept of mishmashing genres was really what made nu-metal so appealing to me.  True, every third band in the subgenre ended up being a collective of whiney bitches in hindsight, but that aside, combinations and mashups have always fascinated me, and I’d love to hear some of these genres.  It’s too bad that this is a BOOK, or else someone would probably try.

And no, there’s no attempt at replicating what these genres MIGHT sound like in the audiobook.  in fact, Valente really kind of just glances over the genres, or just mentions them off-handedly more than anything else.  Sure, they’re good for shits and giggles, but I’m that guy who has to actually ask out loud, “I wonder what that would sound like?”

Speaking of the audiobook, the audiobook is read by Heath Miller.  He does a pretty good job with the source material, reading it in that sort of dry style that makes British humor so great.

Any downsides to the story has less to do with the performance, and more to do with the source material itself.  I understand that it’s important to get a history of The Glactic Grand Prix, but this seemed to be the part of the book that got exceptionally old in a hurry for me.  There had to be a better way of emplamenting all this instead of making every even numbered chapter a brief history of this alien race or that alien race.  Surely!  It reached a point where these chapters felt like the single most elaborate form of padding I’d ever seen.  For all the impact the “knifeosaurus” people, or the 321, or ninety percent of the other aliens had on the overall story, I found myself wondering at the end just how necessary this information was.  Then I came to the conclusion that the book would’ve been, like, ten chapters if they weren’t in there.  Nothing necessarily wrong with ten chapter long books (Simon R. Green’s Nightside novellas almost never make it past ten from what I remember of them), but I remember trying to get for-real published means having to meet a very specific wordcount.

The book overall…  Is okay.  It had parts I liked, it had parts I could’ve done without.  The worst I can say about it is that it’s harmless.  The best thing I can say is that I’m glad I read it…  But I don’t see myself picking it up again in the distant future.  It killed about a week’s worth of boredom, but that’s about it.

That being said, I’d still recommend checking it out.

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The Summer of “Math Horror”?

It’s only been one month in what we normally consider “the summer months”, but as I look through all my favorite Let’s Players on YouTube, I see a fascinating trend.  A trend that I personally refer to as “Math horror”.  What is math horror, you ask?  Well, allow me to explain.

Somewhere around early June (possibly earlier), I became aware of a game known as Baldy’s Basics in Education and Learning.  It’s often abbreviated to simply Baldy’s Basics, and I plan on using that from this point onward.  It’s a game that has stolen the hearts, and the imaginations of countless people on YouTube, and it’s not necessarily hard to see why.

Baldy’s Basics, in short, is what you get when 1990s edutainment games and Slenderman have a baby.  You have the popular Slenderman trope of wandering around some random location, collecting seven things, all the while avoiding the big scary dude who wants to eat your face off or whatever.  Then you have the edutainment portion of the hybrid, where in Baldy makes you do math problems before you can truly collect the thing.  Not to mention everything in this game looks like it was drawn in Paintbrush (the drawing program that would eventually become MSpaint).

I myself am very familiar with the old edutainment games.  Being the son of a first grade teacher, my mom often used me as a test audience for videos she thought about showing to her class, or games she thought about putting on the computer (more so the first one).  I played with such forgettable “games” like Hanging Out at the Treehouse, Fatty Bear, and…  Well okay, I forgot the name of it, but it was basically a Busy Town game.  Some of these were adequate, although I never really felt like I was learning anything outside how the game itself worked.  Others…  Were dumb at best, and patronizing at worst.  But regardless, this is not unfamiliar territory for me.

Then we get to the Slenderman portion.  I’m just going to come out and say it: I never understood the appeal of Slenderman.  I mean yeah, the idea of being chased around by a big spooky scary guy who wants to murder me to pieces is fine, but why am I collecting these notes?  How the hell did I end up in this forest?  What did I do to make Slendy so god damn angry at me!?  Or is it more of a wrong place at the worst possible time sort of deal?  It’s one of those concepts where when you’re booting it up for the first time, it’s fun, it gives you a scare, and you’re willing to forgive things like the abstract nature and the udder lack of plot…  But when you decide to play it MORE than once, it kind of starts to unwravel.  Especially if you’re like me, and find yourself overthinking things.

Also, Slenderman has been around long enough to where the fan games and the spin-offs wore out their welcome a long time ago.

The first time I watched a Baldy’s Basics playthrough, I was suspecting it was going to be more of the same.  Collect seven notebooks while something spooky chases you.  And yes, that technically is what Baldy’s Basics does.  However, there’s so much more to Baldy’s Basics than just the standard Slenderman ripoff formula.

For starters, there’s other characters whose one goal in life is to inconvenience you EVEN MORE than the angry bald guy in the green sweater ominously slapping the ruler on his palm, reminding you that he’s going to “spank your rump” the moment he catches you.  You’ve got a principal who monitors the halls to make sure you can’t run, or use items like soda to repel Baldy, or food to regain stamina.  You’ve got a little girl who seems oblivious to the fact you’re about to get spanked into oblivion, and wants you to stop and play jump rope with her.  You’ve got a bully that swipes items from your inventory.  Recently, the developer added a…  Robot, thingy, that can either give you a speed boost, or smoosh you in a corner and leave you a prime target for Baldy.

Then, there’s the math problems.  You have to do math in order to collect the notebooks, and at least one out of every three problems is complete and total jibberish.  [INSERT ALGEBRA JOKE HERE.]  The more problems you get wrong, the angrier, and the faster Baldy gets.

The math problems are what have led to a lot of intrigue with Baldy’s basics.  I’ve heard people liken Baldy’s Basics as a whole as an allegory of American education.  IE, you don’t learn anything in school because it’s useful, but rather, because society beats you to the ground if you don’t.  Then you exit school, and realize you didn’t even NEED a generous chunk of what you learned there.  [INSERT ANOTHER ALGEBRA JOKE HERE.]

Another theory I’ve heard is that Baldy HIMSELF is an allegory for the frustrated teacher.  The teacher who wants his children to learn, but gets frustrated to death with the fact his kids are dumdums, or government keeps flopping down nonsensical standardized testing like No Child Left Behind or Common Core, etc.  So much so, in fact, that when a child can’t even do basic math, it sends him in a rage.

Whether these, and other theories are what the developer was going for, or if this is typical game theorist “seeking meaning where there is no meaning for that sweet sweet YouTube revenue” fair is something that either remains to be seen at the time I’m writing this, or has been explained and I just don’t know where to look.  Either way, it really says something about your game when people are trying to find meaning in a game mostly designed to be a cheap edutainment themed Slenderman clone.

In recent days, I’ve found that the fan community has begun the march towards Baldy fan games.  For the most part, these fan games focus more on concepts like “play the game as Baldy”, or “play the game as the principal”.  All novel ideas on paper, but they wear out their welcome within the first minute or so.

However, there are newer games that basically lift the concept of doing math and running from not-Slenderman popping up here and there.  The most well known of which being Advanced Learning with Victor Strobovski.

Strobovski takes the Baldy’s Basics formula of having to do math and running for your life, but cranks up the creepy factor even more by making the school look even more grotesque, and cranks up the difficulty even more by adding a SECOND antagonist who wants you to forget about running for your life and attending his cooking class.  Otherwise, he comes looking for you, drags you to the cafeteria, and kills you himself.  I think.  Also, the principal’s detention system comes with warnings now, and while nobody I’ve seen has maxed out their warnings, I’m about ninety-nine percent positive that three warnings results in you getting killed to death.

On top of the horrors of the school itself being ramped up to impossible levels, the math problems are significantly harder, too.  Not exactly algebra, of course, but definitely more advanced than Baldy’s 2+5 and 5-3.

While Victor Strobovski is the only other game like this I’ve found so far, I know trends.  And I have a really good feeling that the trend of math horror will only grow from here.  We will most certainly see other math horror games throughout the summer, and possibly even the rest of 2018.  A lot of them will suck, no doubt, but whether the game sucks or is actually halfway good is irrelevant.  Math horror is popular right now, and the likes of Markiplier, JackSepticEye, PewdiePie, and 2LesbiansPlay will probably be subjecting us to a lot of it in the oncoming weeks.

As it stands right now, though, I’m okay with that.  So far, the concept has held my attention, and I’ve liked what people have come up with so far.  Much like the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, I can guarantee immediately that these games will wear out their welcome just as quickly, but for now, I’m liking this concept a lot.  Probably because I’m not much of a math person.

 

Ballmastr: My Thoughts

I have no fucking clue what I’ve just watched.  It seems like I’ve been saying that about Adult Swimming since they had the audacity to give Tim Heidecker and Eric Wereheim their own show, except where as I wished Tim and Eric would hurry up and die already…  I’m more confused than anything else.

Ballmastrz is…  I guess a parody of anime.  Yeah, there’s an original topic for parody.  Sure you didn’t have any Star Wars gags you wanted to throw in for good measure?  Or maybe Family Guy bought the rights to those.

In any case, the show is built around “The Game”: a pseudo bloodsport that seems like a breeding ground for ADHD with all its quick cuts, flashing colors, and announcer who’s more than happy to tell you how you SHOULD be feeling so you don’t have to actually think.  There’s only two rules in “The Game”: use balls to score, and use balls to kill.  From there, the sky is the limit.

I saw the commercials for this back in March, and…  I won’t lie, it looked fucking horrendous if you went by the commercial.  The show…  Well…  It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  For sure, the commercial doesn’t do it justice.

It’s probably not the most original idea on the planet, even by parody standards.  Gaz Digzy is your stereotypical case of being a master at the sword, and an absolute fuck up at life.  I guess the fact it’s a GIRL character is progressive, if that sort of thing matters to you, but frankly, I get the feeling I’ve seen this before.

I really can’t make up my mind on this show.  Again, it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be…  But I definitely hesitate to say this show is GOOD.  Dana Snyder as Baby Ball is probably the high point, but that’s probably because Dana Snyder is a man of one voice, and every time Baby Ball is on screen, I immediately think Master Shake.

I think this show has potential.  At the same time, though, I’m keeping my expectations for the remainder of it VERY low.  Even by Adult Swim standards, I am so fucking confused right now.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits: My Thoughts

I love David Wong.  Admittedly, I wasn’t around for PWOT, and I don’t really follow Cracked all that much (I’m also guessing WISECRACKED is a completely different entity), but his books have entertained me over the many…  Four years.  I found out he existed around the time his second book, This Book is Full of Spiders, was new.  I ended up enjoying the shit out of it, and even picked up the legendary John Dies at the End right after I finished that one.

Apparently, I was significantly late to the party when it comes to his third book, but hey, the important thing is I got to it.  Eventually.  A year later.  STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!

Unlike his previous novels, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits doesn’t follow the demon hunting shinanigans of David and John.  Instead, it follows the story of Zoey: trailer trash turned millionaire.  And for the record, my spellchecker is thoroughly bitching me out over the spelling of the name ZOEY, but according to the page on Audible.com, I’m spelling it right.  So fuck you, spellchecker.  ALWAYS NAY-SAYING!  Dick.

The audio book is read by Christy Romano, and she is absolutely perfect.  She’s got a wide range of voices, her reading style never gets tedious, and her timing is on the mark.  I enjoyed this performance very much.  Which is good, because this book is a wee bit tedious in spots.So…  Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before, but a fat girl from the trailer park suddenly becomes an ultra-billionaire upon her father’s passing, and inherits a mansion the size of a small town.  She also finds herself in a town where there are no laws, no regulations, and no cops.  A libertarian dream come true…  Right up until you get to the part where everybody’s AWARE of the fact there’s no rules and regulations, and ultimately turn the city into a personal playground for killers, a safe haven for every illegal substance on the planet, and the battleground between the team of Zoey and “The Fancy Suits”, and one of the most psychotic people I’ve seen in fiction in quite a while.  I’ve literally seen Dragon Ball Z villains with more subtlety to them than the villain of this book…  But I guess when you don’t have to hide in the shadows, and your entire self worth is based on how many Twitter followers…  Excuse me, BLINKER followers you have, there’s probably no point in being subtle, is there?

I’ll give Wong this much: the world he’s built is fascinating.  There’s plenty of detail that has me thinking someone’s on the verge of writing a wiki.  Hell, if there’s more than one book in the series, that just might happen.  They made a wiki for Punch Out of all things, so why not?

While I know it’s played up for laughs, I actually don’t have a difficult time believing people would sooner switch on their blinker cameras on their glasses and stream a murder happening right in front of them in the name of subscribers than…  You know, actually helping the victim?  Or even running away in terror, for that matter.  The idea of a futuristic anarchy zone like Tabula Ra$a (I’m guessing on that spelling based on the few hints the audio book has given me) reminds me of similar settings I’ve encountered over the years.  It’s like a more futuristic Nightside, or a less demonic Midian.  But while the core concept sounds has a bit of a “SIMPSONS DID IT!” vibe to it, The city as a whole is original enough to where you don’t even think about it when you’re reading it.

If I have one problem with the book, it’s how Wong milks the suspense for everything it’s worth.  I go into this book knowing full well Zoey’s not a fighter.  She has no cybernetic parts like the villains, she has no martial arts training…  Hell, her only real skill is that she gives really good “massages”.  I went in knowing she was going to get taken hostage at least once.  I’m also aware the villain of the book is a bit of a drama queen, as is everyone in this universe.  I just wish the attempt at building suspense and tention didn’t go on FOR FUCKING EVER!

Look, I can appreciate good banter between hero and villain.  A villainous monologue can be pretty epic, and the hero’s moment of pure helplessness can be pretty intense when done right.  But man, I wish the punchline would hurry up and get here.  It’s one thing to know in your heart of hearts that the bad guys aren’t going to succeed in burying someone alive, and it’s another thing for it to drag on, and on, and on, and on.  All the while, you already know the punchline is coming, which ultimately kills the attempt at suspense dead.  Admittedly, I didn’t see the EXACT punchline coming, but I knew something was going to come along and save the day.

And it wouldn’t be an especially big problem if it didn’t happen over and over and over again.  By the time it got to the final battle, I felt absolutely no sense of urgency.  Hell, despite Romano’s performance, I actually wanted to hit fast forward just to get to the god damn punchline already!

The book is a whopping seventy chapters long, but much like Nax Barry’s Jennifer Government, it becomes significantly less intimidating when you realize the chapters are ridiculously short.  Half the time, chapters end in the middle of conversations, and the next chapter picks up right where the conversation left off!  I wouldn’t say it’s annoying, but it does make me wonder out loud why the author went that route.

These complaints aside, I actually enjoyed this story.  Admittedly, not as much as the David and John stories, but if Wong writes a sequel to this novel, I might consider giving it a read.

The Three Body Problem: My Thoughts

The Three Body Problem is a series of novels by Cixin Liu.  While I have a grasp of how Chinese works (not enough to speak it, but enough to pronounce most of the words I encounter), I honestly have no idea how to pronounce Cixin.  I’ve heard it pronounced SIX-IN, KEE-SHEEN, KEE-SHIN, and even CHEE-SHIN.  None of which appear to be correct.  But I digress.

As of this writing, there’s two novels in the series.  Also at the time of this writing, I’m still slogging my way through book 2 of the series.

Earlier in the month was actually the second time I tried reading book 1, and honestly, it’s a miracle I made it through in one piece the first time.  About this time a year ago, I’d commented that The Three Body Problem was kind of an ordeal to read through at best.

I’m willing to forgive a lot, considering this was originally a Chinese series being translated into English.  Believe me, I know a thing or two about terrible English translation.  Maybe I don’t speak a lot of Japanese, or any Asian languages, but when you watched anime as religiously as I used to, you kind of get used to a lot of it.  Somewhere around the mid 2000s, English dubs got a lot better than the stuff I had to endure, but I digress.

The Three Body Problem as well as The Dark Forest have pretty good English translations…  But sometimes, I get the feeling the plot might be a little too ambitious for its own good.

The plot, simply put, is that a race of aliens is coming to Earth with all the intention of destroying humanity.  Humanity is more than willing to fight back…  Except we’ve figured out that it’ll take about four-hundred years for the alien fleat to get here, and it’s up to us as a species to unite and stay united in the time left to us.  As you expect, humans are dicks, and this doesn’t end up being an easy feat.  It’s a pretty original approach to the clichéd alien invasion angle, but that’s where the positives come to an end, and a lot of the awkward “I don’t know, bruh” moments begin.

Maybe it’s because the audio version of The Dark Forest doesn’t feature Luke Daniels as the reader this time.  It’s always a little jarring to go from one reader to another where audio books are concerned.  My favorite example comes from one of my all time favorite series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The first Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book is read by Steven Fry, but then the other four books are read by Martin Friedman (I think that’s his name anyway).  Great, now I have to get used to some other guy’s interpretation of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s manner of speaking.  Hope you like New Yorker accents!

I want to cut the new guy (whose name escapes me at this very moment and I’m too lazy to look it up) some slack.  Luke Daniels is awesome.  He’s made the audio versions of The Iron Druid Chronicles truly some of the most memorable readings I’ve ever sat through.  It’s a pretty big act to follow…  And unfortunately, the new guy just isn’t doing it for me.   It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t tell you when it’s a new chapter.  Dude just keeps on reading as if everything’s one gigantic, continuous block.  For all I know, it might actually be, but not having the eye sight for print anymore, I can’t guarantee that one way or the other.

It could also be that Cixin Liu is getting a little too pretentious for his own good.  All I know is it’s usually a sign that the author is bouncing around in the background, bellowing “ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!  ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!” when the prologue is from the perspective of an ant.  Yeah, I get the reference.  Is it necessary?  I’d like to think no, but then again, I’m not the one writing the book.  Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not above being pretentious.  Hell, have you read HikikoMorey?

Compared to book 1 in the series, which focused primarily on two characters’ perspectives at absolute most, The Dark Forest seems to bounce all over the god damn place.  I don’t even remember anybody’s names half the time!  The only character that seems to be returning from book 1 is the chain-smoking detective, and I still can’t remember his name!

Also, I tend to have a real love-hate relationship with hard scifi.  I love that they’re going out of their way to try and keep it as real and down to Earth as possible, but at the same time, there are moments where the angry mob from Monty Python and the Holy Grail are screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” in my head, and I have to agree with them.  Sad to say, both books have this problem in spots, but especially book 2.

I really wanted to give this series a chance.  Really, the fact I could finish book 1 twice is nothing short of spectacular.  Unfortunately, by the time I get to book 2, I’m just not enjoying the ride.  I’m already finding myself checking the chapter count on my audible.com app, and groaning in annoyance when I see how much I have left.  I don’t even know why I bother continuing instead of doing the logical thing and abandon the book completely in favor of the next Hap and Leonard novel in my cue.  Oh well, at least I tried.