From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

Book review #1: Wildwood – The rawest forest — May 29, 2016

Book review #1: Wildwood – The rawest forest

I don’t read fiction much, at least not anymore. Oh, I read plenty of it when I was younger; I was one of those kids who would routinely check out 30+ books from the library at a time. And I would certainly like to read more of it these days. But I have been burned far too many times by authors, so now every book that doesn’t have a Dewey Decimal associated with it—and probably some that do—I regard with suspicion, guilty until proven innocent. Every now and then, however, I find something that is at least worth trying, which was the case with Wildwood, recommended to me by a friend. (Back in February, no less, and I didn’t finish it until today. I’m not a slow reader; it only took me three sittings to read, and I could have finished it in one if I’d been a bit more invested in the story and not had things to interrupt it. Just be glad I didn’t procrastinate on this review as much as I did on reading the book.) And I guess there might be some minor unmarked spoilers here, but I tried to at least mark the major ones.

So…Wildwood. It’s a book primarily about a girl. While she is at the park with her baby brother, he gets kidnapped by crows (it makes sense in context) and taken deep into a nearby forest known by the locals as The Impassable Forest. She goes into there to rescue him, one of her classmates follows her, and they get split up, only to find that the forest is populated not only by humans but also talking animals, who live together in relative harmony. From there, they meet a villain who pretends to be friendly, wacky hijinks ensue (at least, if by “wacky hijinks” you mean “a bunch of battles where many unnamed characters die”), they rescue the girl’s brother from being used for a gruesome, destructive ritual by the resident antagonist, and everything turns out more or less fine from there. I’ll spare you the details in this case.

Now that you know the basic plot, we’ll discuss my thoughts. First of all, who names their kid “Prue”? Is that even a real first name? I guess it could be short for “Prudence”, but that’s not a lot better. Beyond that, the forest formerly known as the Impassable Wood is a pretty decent fantasy world, I guess, even if not much in the way of actual magic ever showed up in the book. Actually, for all that the author (Colin Meloy) tried to establish this different world, I feel like he didn’t really spend as much time on the worldbuilding as he could have. Conversely, he spent too much time on the numerous battles between factions, if you ask me. I feel like after the first few chapters, there weren’t enough breaks between scenes where no one had to fight anyone, escape from confinement, or sneak around but could just kind of relax and take it all in. And on that note, assuming that the characters’ ages are supposed to correspond roughly to the reader’s, this book seems awfully violent for something aimed at the pre-teen crowd. They never really go into the implications of having hundreds of nameless soldiers die, beyond explicitly mentioning that at least some of them had families. It sucks to be the spouse or child of any of those coyotes, bandits, farmers, or birds. Meanwhile, I might have liked to know more about what happened during the coup at the end, which barely got three pages’ worth of description to it. I also feel like Prue and Curtis didn’t spend enough time being present simultaneously; they were together at the beginning and the end but separated for most of the book.

Also, I totally called the main bad guy being evil despite her initial amiable countenance. I’ve read too many fantasy novels to trust a character in that situation, the Narnia books in particular (or at least The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Though I’ll admit she kind of had a point about “keeping her end of the bargain”, even if she did have some Rumpelstiltskin-esque ulterior motives (not to mention being an omnicidal psychopath). And that in turn brings up the question of why Prue’s parents didn’t just adopt a child instead of making that kind of deal with someone that suspicious. Speaking of families, that thing Curtis did at the end of the book was a real jerk move. I can understand leaving the Outside and joining the bandits for good if his life in the mundane world had been miserable, but unless I forgot something, there’s nothing in the book to suggest that it was, meaning that he left his parents and at least one sibling thinking that he’d died for no real reason. What the heck, dude?! For that matter, even if the bandits are the honorable sort, they’re still bandits and they still rob people, and maybe instead of joining them, he should have, I don’t know, convinced them to get actual jobs or something. This all is compounded by the fact that he’s freaking 12. I know I wasn’t mature enough for something like that when I was 12 years old, nor was anyone I knew when they were that age. But then, I could say the same for Prue and going to a park in the city essentially alone to take care of a baby. And whatever happened to the mailman by the end of the book? He pretty much disappeared by the time the story was starting to slope up to the climax. We never found out why Curtis was a half-blood either.

Summary:

Plot: Decent

I feel like the ratio of action to adventure to exploration to worldbuilding could have been better. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad.

Characters: Passable

Both of the protagonists are…a bit on the flat side, to be honest, and I don’t mean the story suggests they have latent anorexic tendencies. Prue wants to find her brother, but about the only other thing we find out about her is that she likes birds and drawing, and her personality doesn’t really stand out from any other young fantasy novel protagonist I could think of. Curtis has even less going for him in that regard. At least neither of them annoyed me.

Setting: Good

Mysterious, dangerous forest separated into three parts, where humans live alongside talking animals? Not a bad setting for a fantasy story at all, but I do feel like it’s been done before, and it’s probably been done better (the aforementioned Narnia comes to mind). And this is just me, but I think it would have been improved by adding some mythological creatures such as dragons, griffins, centaurs, etc. Just sayin’.

Writing: Good

The author seemed to do a decent job with his descriptions and imagery, and I have no real complaints about any of the dialogue. *shrug*

Positives: Both the world and the writing were decent enough.

Negatives: See my comments about there being too many battle scenes relative to the amount of world building and about Curtis’s role at the end. Also, this story just didn’t seem like it really needed 541 pages to be told. I’m not sure what would be compressed or cut out, but I feel like not that many things actually happened relative to its length.

Final score: 5

Despite some of the problems I had with this book, I guess I enjoyed it overall. It won’t go down in my list of eternal favorites or anything, but it didn’t make me want to punch the author in the face either. I’d say it’s worth reading. (On a few postscript side notes, I noticed the font in this book is the same one used in The Seventh Tower series, though I couldn’t tell you what it’s called. And this is one of those books with pages that are deliberately rough and uneven on the right side, so it was a bit of a challenge to turn the pages on occasion.)

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Video game review #1: Mega Man X – Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) — May 27, 2016

Video game review #1: Mega Man X – Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)

Well, I’m finally reviewing something for the first time. And since I recently replayed the original Mega Man X on my SNES, I figured why not start with that? (And for anyone confused about my rating system, please see the info page for a breakdown of possible scores.)

Mega Man X, if you didn’t know, is the first of a series that is the successor to the Mega Man series that began on the NES (often referred to as “Mega Man Classic”), released in late 1993 in Japan, early 1994 in America, and mid-1994 in Europe. They are sidescrolling action games, though I wouldn’t quite call them platformers (the classic series, I would, though). They take a lot of ideas from the classic series, though the X series tends to give you noticeably more powerups and different moves, and the plot is a good deal more angsty. The robotic protagonist, known as “X”, is tasked with destroying all the robots that have gone rogue, including our local stage bosses (known as “Mavericks”, though I think the term might also have been used to apply to normal enemies?) and the main villain, Sigma, who was actually one of the good guys before being infected by a virus that turned him evil. Not that the game tells you this. After finishing the introductory stage, or “intro stage”, you are taken to a screen where you may select any one of 8 possible stages. You can’t progress to the end of the game without beating all 8 of these, but you can do them in any order, which is a theme common to Mega Man games in general. Another common theme is that beating a stage gives you a special weapon based on the stage boss, either their powers or one of their attacks (for instance, you get Fire Wave from Flame Mammoth and Storm Tornado from Storm Eagle), and each of these weapons does extra damage to one of the other bosses. Upon beating all 8 main stages, you can progress to the fortress, which consists of 4 stages (in this case) and culminates in a battle with Sigma. This is the general formula for the Mega Man X series, with games occasionally varying it up a bit by, for instance, having more or fewer fortress stages, or ways to skip some of the main 8.

mmximg1

OMG NONLINEARITY!!1!

Now, what does all this mean for this particular game? Well, since it is the first, it maybe isn’t quite as fine-tuned in some areas as the later games; for instance, in this game, there is an upgrade that allows you to dash, but every other game in the series lets you do that from the start anyway, and since not being able to dash can make some parts of the game much more difficult, it pretty much goes without saying that anyone who knows about this will want to do the stage that contains that powerup first. It helps that the stage in question also has probably the easiest boss to defeat. I also don’t find the difficulty curve in this one to be very even; while certain stages out of the main 8 being far harder or easier than others is nothing new (it’s a phenomenon that has existed since the very first Mega Man game and continues to show up to this day…or at least, to the most recent time when Mega Man games were actually being made *shakes fist at Capcom*), the fortress stages in this one, in my opinion, are some of the most annoying in the series, especially the first one. They might not be quite as bad as, say, Mega Man X6’s, but they’re definitely up there, especially considering the main 8 stages are generally on the easy side.

mmximg2

Moving platforms over a bottomless pit with homing flying enemies? Yeah, that’s never made anyone tear their hair out before…

Also, the final boss is crap. The first two forms are easy once you know how to deal with them, but the third form is just obnoxious, not fun no matter how good or bad you are at dodging its attacks. I will admit, however, that final bosses have never been a strong point of Mega Man games, either in the X or classic series. Overall, while Mega Man X does suffer a bit from being the first in a series, it isn’t nearly as bad in that regard as its predecessor, and it’s still a pretty good game, though not my favorite in the series.

Summary:

Gameplay: Good

I would consider later games in the series better in that regard, but yes, it’s up there.

Story: Minimal

The Mega Man games in general tend to just have excuse plots, though the X series at least puts more into them than the classic series. You don’t really need much of a story for a game like this, though, so it works.

Graphics: Good

The graphics are fine, pretty standard for the SNES, though I will say that there might be too many stages that kind of just look generically metallic (Flame Mammoth’s comes to mind). Still, it’s not as bad in this regard as X3 was, really.

Music: Good

I don’t really have any complaints about the music. Particularly good tracks are the themes from the first fortress stage, Spark Mandrill’s stage, Armored Armadillo’s stage, and Storm Eagle’s stage. A few of the stage themes seem overly similar in style (though again, X3 was worse). There are definitely games in the series with better soundtracks, though.

Positives: One nice thing about this game is that it doesn’t go for all the extra waffle that some of the others do. There are no randomly-appearing bosses to worry about, for instance.

Negatives: The fortress stages suck, and so does the final boss. Also, the sole purpose of the helmet upgrade in this game is to obtain more hidden powerups.

Final score: 6

Mega Man X is a pretty fun game and a worthy successor to the classic series, even if it doesn’t play quite the same and, in my opinion, is outclassed by at least some of its sequels. To anyone who likes sidescrolling action games, especially if they have a SNES, I would recommend checking it out.

Minor status update 9: Being sick sucks — May 6, 2016

Minor status update 9: Being sick sucks

In case you weren’t already aware…yeah. I picked up something either on Wednesday night or Thursday afternoon that’s pretty much taken me out of commission for a day and a half. This isn’t the cold kind of sickness where your nose turns into Snotagara Falls but rather more of the flu kind where you get so weak that trying to stand up is like trying to support a cinder block with marshmallows and you’re hot and cold at the same time (then again, that might not be so unusual in Montana), along with a grab bag of possible other symptoms, as if Mother Nature’s troublemaking 3-year-old got into the biology lab and slammed a few random buttons on the Ailment-O-Matic 2000. In my case, it’s mostly coughing and possibly a slight bit of diarrhea, though the diarrhea may have been from some turkey bacon I ate a few days ago. (It was only about 4 days past the “sell by” date, but it’s possible that it sat in the car for too long or something.) I suppose from what I remember, it’s been a while since I’ve caught some horrible disease, so maybe I was about due for it. It’s a jolly time for everyone.

Now, all that makes it pretty difficult to accomplish much of anything or fulfill any goals, unless your goals consist solely of lying on a bed like a dead fish. I mean, I’m already far too good at spending a day doing basically nothing, but the nothing I’m forced to do today is even more “nothing-er” than usual. I can’t work on much of any projects; I don’t have enough mental power for things like making puzzles or writing, and Let’s Playing is right out. Though I did play a bit of Bravely Second and managed to work on a bit of stuff in FamiTracker when I was a bit more alert earlier (and watched a couple YouTube videos, but they weren’t nearly enough). And what’s almost as bad as the illness symptoms is the awful loneliness. However bad it can be to be at home alone most of the day, it’s so much worse when you can’t do much of anything. There are no parents or siblings around to make me a nice warm cup of tea and piece of toast (of course, they know I’d do the same for them). There is only me, a room, a lamp, and a clock that slowly ticks down the seconds until it’s late enough that I’ll actually stay asleep if I try to go to bed (ideally, anyway). It’s about 9:25 PM at the time of this writing…only an hour or two more to go. Even a conversation with slurred speech is still a conversation, but it is something denied me right now.

Overall, I really don’t know what to do, either for activities or to help myself get better. (The situation reminds me a bit of Weird Al’s “Callin’ In Sick”, but that’s little comfort.) I’ve heard that where food is concerned, the “BRAT diet”, for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast, is recommended when you’re sick. So far, just based on what I can actually handle making, I’ve been on the CGRCACTMSLH diet, for Cereal, Granola, and a Random Carton of Animal Crackers That My Sister Left Here. I’m half tempted to try the raw garlic thing. It would be painful and smelly, but hey, it’s not like I’m going out in public in this condition. I wonder if pickled garlic works as well?

In any case…I guess this post might seem pointless to some people, but I felt like saying something. To everyone reading…whatever. I just hope you’re feeling better than I am. I guess if nothing else, flu symptoms for me at least tend to last for a mercifully short time, only a few days, as opposed to cold symptoms, which can easily last for 2 weeks or more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to either chug 3 mugs of echinacea tea, eat half a gallon of chicken noodle soup, or sleep for 18 hours straight, whichever is the most feasible right now.

Millennials, intergenerational friendships, and why you’re never too young to be a cantankerous old fart — May 4, 2016

Millennials, intergenerational friendships, and why you’re never too young to be a cantankerous old fart

Young people. Old people. The constant cycle of aging and raising the next generation of sapient hairless apes to do it all over again. It’s the ciiiircle of liiiife, and it moves us aaaalll~ Wait, no, it really doesn’t. What it does for at least some people is create intergenerational conflict. The old people grumble how disrespectful and foolish the youngsters are, the young people grumble that their elders are a bunch of curmudgeonly sticks-in-the-mud who don’t know how to have fun, everyone has a wretched time and neither group manages to convince the other of anything, you know how it goes. It’s not exactly a new thing. Supposedly, there is archaeological evidence of people even before 2000 BC complaining about disobedient youths. (Sadly, despite all my language studies, I do not know how to say “Get off my lawn, you gol-darned punks” in ancient Sumerian.)

Then, of course, you have the lifestyle comparisons. We know how it goes…nobody ever drove you to school when it was 90 degrees below, you had to walk butt naked through forty miles of snow, you worked in the coal mine 22 hours a day for just half a cent, and all that. I guess I’ve been fortunate enough never to hear the old “back in my day, blahdeeblahdeeblargh!” rant. (Well, there was that one time my dad insisted that they had to sit on cactuses when he was a kid due to not having such luxuries as inverted buckets to sit on, but that was an obvious jest.) And modern stuff sucks, too. The thing is, it sometimes goes both ways. Sure, maybe not everyone over 50 knows how to use a smartphone (and I can’t say I blame them too much; I don’t use one either, and frankly, screw touchscreens in general), but how many people born in the ’90s or later are intricately familiar with a sewing machine or a manual typewriter? And those aren’t even that old. Besides, I’m not sure how well the argument about how easy these kids have it nowadays quite works at the time of this writing either…we don’t know how good we have it? In this economy? I’m pretty sure that back when candy bars were only a nickel, people also did not frequently have enough college debt to buy a small house. Not to mention I’d be willing to bet most of the people responsible for the financial crisis in the first place were no spring chickens either. Though if nothing else, that might give my generation some pretty bang-up fuel for our own rants when we get old.

That now brings me to the main point here…eventually. Apparently, I’m one of the millennials, or generation Y, if you will. And as I said, I’ve never really been the target of much, if any, grouchy old man/woman ire myself (grouchy teenager ire, on the other hand…); pretty much all the people I know who are 3 to 6 decades older than me are actually pretty cool. (And if any of them are reading this, you guys know who you are. Keep being great.) I’d at least like to think that I can get along and converse reasonably well with people of basically any age. Oh, you’re a retired teacher and grandmother who feels like chatting about your family, projects, and life in general? Indeed, that’s a pretty cute knitted shawl you have there, and isn’t it really a shame how few people are learning cursive nowadays? You’re a little boy who would like me to read you a story about underpants-wearing superheroes? Sure, may I make up voices for the characters? You’re a person around my age who’s stressed out by college, is in a shaky financial situation, and plays a few video games on the side? Yeah, getting textbooks directly from the school is a rip-off, but I’ve found some pretty decent places for buying them online. Best of luck on finals! Oh, and don’t forget about that upcoming Steam sale after the semester is over.

At the same time, though, I already feel like a grouchy old man in some ways, and I’m only 25. I may not be old enough to have lived before most modern technology existed, but my generation might be the last to know a time when nobody had a cell phone, home console video games came on cartridges, dial-up Internet service was a thing (dial-up? heck, I didn’t even have the Internet until I was about 11), and the only books you could get were the kind made out of slices of processed dead trees. Yes, some millennials definitely have problems, such as entitlement, irresponsibility, or wearing their pants too low. But that’s true for literally every generation, even if the specific problems faced were not the same. Every decade had its weird fashion statements and dumb lifestyle choices, whether the people of the time were wearing bell bottoms or emo outfits, smoking pot or tripping on LSD, dealing with a recession or a draft. I think people of widely different ages are more alike than we often realize, and that rather than dismissing another generation offhand, what we really need is a sense of solidarity and mutual respect.