A Companion Named Desire

In the space of a few seconds–a handful of heartbeats, a few hundred meters covered, some hundreds of revolutions of an engine–the rumbling gray clouds made good on their promise of heavy rain. Even in that tranqulity induced by driving at cruising speed on spacious roads, the transition is difficult to miss: just roughly half an hour ago I marveled at how my car, just less than six months old, can’t be kept completely cool against an overbearing afternoon sun by its air conditioning. Now a sudden downpour drastically lessens the visibility and makes me turn my aircon down by a notch.

The rain puts me in an odd feeling of being neither here nor there. Earlier that day I was at UP, and I am currently in transit through a heavy downpour with Jason Mraz for a background music. The circumstances remind me strongly of a particular summer spent studying physics and yet…I am so far from being that student anymore. A car now is no longer an element of a kinematics word problem but is something I can name among my earthly possessions. And driving…heh, driving isn’t even something I wanted to learn back then.

The lookback is even more interesting once you consider the blog. I’ve been blogging far earlier than the summer mentioned in the last paragraph and I know I made a couple of posts during the summer concerned; posts about a budding photographer, beginning his observations of light and its drama, attending debut parties with the hefty University Physics for a date. But those posts are, unfortunately, among those I axed when I turned this blog over to WordPress. So I can’t link them.

I have vague recollections of the time I decided which posts stay, and which don’t. Up until then, the blog has been through a couple of (technical, not literary) rewrites where I painstakingly migrated each and every post. The decision to prune was, as far as I remember, based on the fact that the posts axed no longer reflect my views. And also to spare my blushes for my blunder years, where I tried to sound knowledgeable of the world–mostly by using long words like “knowledgeable” where vowels and consonants do not merely alternate–when I was, in fact, writing something worthy of Buzzfeed, minus the GIFs.

If I had to characterize the posts I hid from the public it would be that they are too emotional. “I write,” I would say back then, “to exorcise my demons”, all the while feeling like a tortured genius who has found reprieve and salvation through his muse, through his art. Maybe, a hundred years after my inevitable yet all the same tragic demise, that particular quote would find itself adorning a planner given for free by some book store, after a minimum-value purchase during the holiday season. And that’s if I’m lucky. If I’m really lucky it will even be attributed to me.

Because after all that, I have realized that the hardest part of talking about feelings isn’t about finding the courage to even be open about it. In some ways, that is the easy part. Human. What’s difficult when talking about feelings is in coming out with the maturity to handle them in all their nuance, and to not end up with a piece Buzzfeed would gladly put on their front page.

Or Thought Catalog. No one wants a mopey twenty something. Not even a mopey twenty something.

Which is maybe why projects like PostSecret and The Strangers Project move me so. Whereas tortured-genius Chad would overgeneralize and sweep his adolescent neural firings under a blanket of over optimism and flashes of wordplay, these revelations from people I have no idea who achieve authenticity despite their anonymity1. Raw and unfinished, you would not find them spouting a forced positive angle because sometimes, sometimes, there is just no good ending, at least not yet, and you could just barely keep it together.

Yet sometimes, life is not just good but also beautiful; a good ending would be unfortunate because, no matter how good, it is still the end of something as warm as hope.

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(At this point, it all ends rather abruptly, as this has been gathering dust for months inside my drafts. Back when I started this whole rambling, I guess I had a plan, an outline, of how and where this all leads to. But not anymore. It gets published by virtue of the fact that it has, nonetheless, achieved its primary purpose, which is to get things off my chest, regardless of whether or not it ends up read by the intended eyes. I guess, after all that’s said and written, I remain the same, seeing words as some sort of magic to trap demons with. Some things change and some things don’t. Thank you very much for reading through and I hope you have a good one.)

  1. PostSecret founder Frank Warren was once asked whether he worries that the secrets he receives are fabricated. To which he replies that the secret is not necessarily true for the person who wrote it; it is true for the person who reacts to it. []

Oh Witcher 3! Oh Witcher 3!

How lovely are thy (side/main) quests?

And warning: Here Be Spoilers!

At about the 186 hour mark–tracked with Steam–I finished The Witcher 3 including its two main DLCs. I’m a bit disappointed that it did not manage to beat Skyrim‘s 189 hours on record but considering that I started two games in Skyrim with one game getting like 20-30 hours, maybe I shouldn’t be so disappointed after all. Besides, I made a couple savepoints at times where The Witcher 3‘s story diverges so I could check out alternative story lines. We could still beat that record comfortably.

Honestly, I was not very sold into The Witcher 3 when I first started it a year ago. This is my first foray into the world of Geralt and I came there expecting to experience the ultimate male power fantasy but instead the intro gave me a bunch of cinematic cutscenes. What a way to be a wet blanket. It was nice the first few times but it wore its welcome fast. Please, I started thinking, more of those spinning sword sweeps and less talk! But, like many before me, I started to care. I found myself enamored with a faux-medieval world where the Conjunction of the Spheres happened and there are people with various stories all around.

And that on top of the fact that my computer could just barely run The Witcher 3. The experience isn’t horrible but the frame rate leaves much to be desired. Kinda leaves Geralt with a brooding stride especially when there are a lot of objects (wood splinters, people, etc.) to render in a scene. Also leaves most of the cutscenes with the sound going faster than the visuals. Gives it an almost pensive cinematic effect, like sometimes the characters take their time reflecting on what was just said rather than going for a quick retort. And at times when the scene calls for a bit more nonverbal language (like an impassioned movement of the arms during an argument) than a mutated witcher would typically be comfortable with, the delay makes it play out like a flashback, slowed down just enough so you can appreciate the details and featuring voiceless stretches of action. Times like this, the beautiful background music really saves the mood.

That is not to say that the brooding stride, the pensive mood, or the flashback feel is not at home with Geralt’s world. I like to think that this makes my Witcher 3 experience unique in a way.

The software engineer side of me, on the other hand, can’t help but marvel at how CD Projekt Red managed to make this game degrade gracefully. Even with a computer such as mine, the bugs I encountered are few and far between. Oh well there’s Roach…

Roach, you horse-demon, horses don't do that.

…but I’d like to think that CDPR left that on purpose as some kind of joke. Also, there’s the fact that Geralt’s hair remains model-worthy despite spending hours on end outdoors, exposed to the sun, with an occasional dose of water hag spit, drowner blood, and all sorts of unsavory things. And have I told you I’m using an AMD GPU so there’s no Nvidia HairWorks to help Geralt’s case?

My co-workers’ endorsement aside, what made me buy The Witcher 3 during a Steam sale is the fact that it is labeled as choices matter, and in how this aspect of the game is told to be a great factor into The Witcher 3‘s emotional impact. Now, something that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, is in how Bioshock Infinite‘s ending left me in such an emotionally-tattered state. This deserves another blog post of its own but, suffice it to say, if what elevates creative output into the hallowed realm of being art is in how it can elicit emotions you would not otherwise feel, then Bioshock Infinite gave me an overwhelming conviction that games can be art.

And, like an addict looking for his next fix, against reason, against logic, I’ve been looking for another game that could trigger the same reaction I had with Bioshock Infinite. And I try to keep my mind open but such is my conviction that games can be art that I am pretty sure only a game, or generally an interactive medium, can achieve the same.

I’ve tried a few, constrained by my free time. Would it bother you to hear that I felt delight when, in the title screen of Life is Strange, there is a link to help you find support groups should you feel you need it so after playing the game? I have, unfortunately, not found another game to rival Bioshock Infinite, The Witcher 3 included. I have begun to fear that Bioshock Infinite is a one-time braingasm you could never feel for a second time.

But that is not to take away anything from The Witcher 3. While it did not give me the mindfuck fix I bought it for, it gave me something else. Against odds, a video game with obviously fictitious characters, made me feel empathy. As the best of fiction should do.

“Do I have to know her to feel sorry for her? Can’t you just help her?”

~ The titular character of Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord

I would like to put it here on the record, before I rework through the choices I did not pick in my first playthrough. I got the good ending with Ciri, though I’ve had a few missteps along the way. I went with her to meet the sorceresses, not because I had no confidence in her but because I had no confidence our erstwhile allies against the Wild Hunt would play fair with her. Ciri’s fate had been pretty much sealed in my playthrough when I accidentally learned of my misstep and yet it bothered me. It bothered me that Ciri might think I had no confidence in her, that I did not recognize the strong spirit she undoubtedly has. I did not want her to think that she was just another damsel in distress I had to save. From what I heard, she is far stronger than that. I merely wanted to lend assistance because, by Lebioda, this is the fucking Wild Hunt we are up against. No one has a good chance against them, Elder Blood or no Elder Blood.

Triss, Ciri, Geralt, and Yen. All not smiling.
A family picture I managed to catch. Shame they can’t smile for it.

As Riley MacLeod quotes in his article about his Witcher 3 ending: “It’s bullshit arbitrary video game psychology”. I agree.

And yet…I find myself agreeing with CDPR at how this mechanic in their game actually reflects real life. No matter how contrived it may seem, The Witcher 3 asks you to empathize with its people. Actually treat them like people, not as NPCs that give off experience points. As with real life, it’s not your mere intentions which determine how people feel towards you. You put yourself in their shoes.

Another remarkable instance of this in The Witcher 3 is a very short interaction I had at Novigrad. It was so short, it did not even trigger a quest: So there I was, riding on Roach to complete the myriad of things required by the game’s derided Dandelion arc, when in my minimap I see that exclamation mark that is the game’s way of telling you, it’s Geralt-Jesus time! So I unmount from Roach in a manner just a little more impressive than Orlando Bloom doing Legolas fanservice and what do I find? A bunch of witch hunters harassing an Aen Seidhe woman because they are intolerant pricks. In Geralt’s rough tone, I manage to drive them away without a fight. I turn to the elven woman as a courtesy. It’s all fine now, I drove them away, I don’t like them either, you don’t have to pay me–when she cuts me off and berates me for stepping in uninvited. Tomorrow you won’t be here, she tells me, but they’ll be back, even harsher because of what you did today. I’d rather you didn’t make my problems worse as I can deal with them myself, thank you very much.

Short. Poignant. Powerful. Economy of storytelling right there from CDPR.

All these expressed and I feel I need to remind you that this is my very first foray into the world of Geralt. I had no idea who Ciri is until I got bored by the opening cinematics of The Witcher 3. And yet I cared about her, cared about how my choices affected her. And that elven woman? Game didn’t even give her a name and yet she did a damn good job making me feel sorry about my messiah complex.

I could maybe write a short book about everything I felt while playing The Witcher 3. Maybe in some other blog post I get to tell you about how enraged I was when Priscilla–yet another character I only knew recently–got attacked. So enraged I resolved not to sleep until I got to the bottom of it and solved it the witcher way. Or about the eerie beauty of Iris von Everec’s inner world. Or how I got the bittersweet ending for Blood and Wine because, despite having the hots for Syanna, I gave up on her at the last moment and called her a petty little viper. Or maybe, I like her precisely because she is a petty little viper and that clouded my better judgment.

In contrast, I do not like her sister Anarietta that much. Something about her accent and how she’s an uptight state ruler. And yet…that ending…she did not deserve that. I intend to make amends with the power of savepoints. Just wait for me, duquesa.

At this point, this blogpost has gone longer than I intended it to. It even kinda took the form of the usual review I do here. I just wanted to collect my thoughts (of which there are surprisingly many, and more!) before I wield the power of savepoints. All I want to say now is…

ciri

Damn it Witcher 3. Your quests have no business being that deep and good!

Disappointingly Not Spellbinding

There is a book I had back in high school whose title I have now forgotten. I only remember three things about it today: the first being that its cover is lavender, the next being that it is among the first books I actively despised, and the last one is the fact that I hated it largely due to the fact that I felt it shamelessly ripped off The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I have tried to search extensively for the said book in writing this post, maybe for old times, but mostly for plain writer’s diligence. But no luck. I don’t find it listed anywhere when I search for works inspired by Narnia although, admittedly, given the little that I remember about it, I only skim through the lists looking for a thumbnail that is mostly lavender and hoping that if I come across its title it will scream familiarity at me.

I no longer have it in my bookshelves. Aside from being (possibly) the first book I actively despised, I bet it is also the first book I actively let go. I remember trading it with my sister for G. P. Taylor’s Wormwood, a trade I do not regret at all. So unfortunately, if we really want that book named in here we are relying pretty much on chance, that I will come across (and recognize) the title, or maybe that I could get my hands across a working copy of the book inventory I assembled then, but I think we’ll have better luck reversing the damages of 2016 within the next month. But I am woolgathering too much. Just keep in mind that, going forward, we will just name the book I traded for Wormwood as The Lavender Chronicles.

Fast forward to today, I no longer read young adult novels as much as I used to. There is room for it in my reading list every now and then but I mostly find them not as satisfying as I had before, cliched and repetitive as they are. If I end up reading a YA novel, you can bet that I have been persuaded into reading it (heck, shelling out money and allocating precious shelf space) by a very good endorsement1. And so it is that, back in MIBF 2016, I found myself buying a copy of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

YA is not bad but if you can tell what's funny with this picture and take it with good humor, then you've matured as a reader. Image found from all over the internet.
YA is not bad but if you can tell what’s funny with this picture and take it with good humor, then you’ve matured as a reader. Image found from all over the internet.

First off, what endorsed the novel to me are the smattering of mentions it gets over at io9 which is largely thanks to the SyFy series that adopted the books. The impression I got with it is that it is a work which borrows elements from YA but is, ultimately, not afraid of tackling adult issues. Think Harry Potter if only it did not have to grow alongside its fan base, if it was written with the conscious maturity of the later books from the get go, and maybe even with more conscious maturity at that.

GRRM on The Magicians

The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. … Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this.”

George R. R. Martin as a featured review quoted in my copy of The Magicians.

See what I mean?

To get the mandatory plot overview out of the way, The Magicians tells the story of Quentin a boy who discovers he could do magic and so ends up studying in Brakebills, a boarding school for (surprise! surprise!) magic. In Brakebills he meets a group of upperclassmen who, after Brakebills, goes with him to Fillory, a place which they only knew as a fantasy land from a series of children’s novels which most, if not all, of them are familiar with.

The whole of The Magicians is divided into a handful of “books”, as marked within the novel2. It should be telling that I managed to distill its plot, all 400 pages of it, into two long sentences. By my estimate, the relatively-shorter Atonement got a better actual-words-to-Chad-summary ratio.

All this, is my very-long-winded way of saying that The Magicians is giving The Lavender Chronicles a good competition in terms of leaving me dissatisfied.

Grossman proudly wears his influences on his sleeves and, as such, comparisons to both Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia is impossible to avoid. So let me start outlining my criticism with what I think is the innate flaw of The Magicians and compare it with its obvious influences: its world building.

Tolkien purists3 might scoff that I am calling out someone’s constructed world by comparing it to Harry Potter, it in itself is quite flawed and would collapse under its own weight if you take the implications beyond a British (with a few other European additions) setting. But that would just tell you how unimpressed I am by The Magicians. Almost from the get-go, The Magicians hand-waves its magic (irony, not lost on me) and tells you to pay no attention to it:

“This is not to say that we understand magic…we do not and cannot understand what magic is, or where it comes from, any more than a carpenter understands why a tree grows. He doesn’t have to. He works with what he has.”

~Professor March, in a Brakebills lecture.

And yet, throughout the book, practice of magic is laced with references to Circumstances and other vague allusions to calculations a magician must take into account before performing a spell. The outcome is that The Magicians finds itself stuck in an awkward zone where it attempts to ignore how to do magic and yet giving just enough details about what Quentin is doing so as to lend its telling some plausibility. And it never–never–quite works out.

The fact that The Magicians tries to fast track Quentin’s magical education does not really help. Whereas details of magic in Harry Potter is subtly built up and reinforced across seven books, Grossman, instead, treats us to an exposition disguised as plot. For instance, we are no more than a few months into Quentin’s first year in Brakebills when he, with a couple other classmates, is chosen to advance to the second year. This leads us to a few chapters where all Quentin does is study for the advance placement exam, where our takeaway should be that gosh magic is really hard.

This is the show-don’t-tell rule abused. We are shown how Quentin studies hard night after night after night but the whole set-up lacked subtlety and foreshadowing in the first place that it does not work out. The fact that Quentin gets the possibility of breezing through several months of magical education feels like a cheap shot and we have not established enough rapport with his two other (lucky?) companions to even care if they pass or not.

(There are many more instances of The Magicians being inconsistent with its world building, which I would touch on when discussing other things. But just to give another example, much is made about the Circumstances a magician must take into account before performing spells but, under duress, people just cast spells with little regard to Circumstance and with little to no obvious consequence.)

Which leads me to my next grievance against The Magicians: its treatment of its characters. I am inclined to think that this is a side-effect of the fact that Quentin’s five-year education is compressed to what is barely just half of the book. But I am more inclined to believe that there is fast-tracking a period of a character’s life, and then there is lazy writing where you haphazardly throw characters into the narrative for one reason or another. The Magicians is full of the latter.

In one instance, one of Quentin’s classmates is named only so she can be killed off a few pages later, an event which Grossman tries to impress heavily on his readers. But having mentioned her only in passing a few pages back, I hope I do not appear callous if I say I just don’t give a damn. When she died she is just another name to me, sure a classmate of Quentin’s but other than that…what? Without spoiling anything, this death serves to add weight for the book’s twist but the banality of who died robs the twist of some of its gravity. No amount of telling me about Quentin’s remorse, or of toasts held for their fallen classmate, could give this name the actual character that would have made her death matter for the reader.

In another case which sticks out sorely, Quentin, for no other reason than just because, takes a walk with a couple other Brakebills students. In this walk Quentin is introduced to welters–Grossman’s version of Quidditch/gobstones/wizard chess, though given this scene’s allusion to broomsticks I think what he’s going for is pretty clear–but like magic in general the rules are not really spelled out only for welters to figure quite prominently in one of the later arcs.

But (not) introducing welters is not the point of this walk, no. Grossman made Quentin take this walk so that someone with a grievance against Quentin could burst out the door as they returned and engage Quentin in a good old fistfight. (And for the record, no allusion was made before that this character had a grudge against Quentin.) The purpose of this fistfight is so that the Brakebills Dean could inform Quentin (and the reader) that, had they used magic while fighting, it was quite possible for their magic to consume them, turning them into less-than-human sprites called niffins. The reader will be grateful for this information twice later in the book: once when an urban legend involving someone who became a niffin is discussed, and once more, near the end, when, for the first time, someone is punished for not double checking on their emotions as they did magic.

(In case you were wondering what happened to those two other Brakebills student…well, nothing. One was just there to give a non-explainer about welters while the other one was just there to say he hates welters and prompt them to go back inside, allowing the fistfight to ensue, so we could discuss niffins. Heck it would seem it was not even them who broke up the altercation. At least they were not killed shortly after being named.)

And what really frustrated me as I read through The Magicians is in how often Quentin finds himself aimless. Having tried writing a few novels myself, I understand that you will often run into a wall where you have no idea how to get the plot to achieve your plans. One way of hacking around these mental blocks is to make your character want something, anything. Be that a glass of water or the next horcrux. Just. Make. Them. Want. Now obviously, it is easy to produce something inelegant with this technique but you know what’s worse? Flat out admitting to your reader that you(r main character) do(es) not know what happens next, so you just wax whimsical about a book inside your world which the main character has read as a kid.

And that’s exactly what Quentin does when he feels stuck and aimless, which is often! Now, maybe you can argue that these times where Quentin feels stuck and aimless are the “adult” parts of The Magicians. Maybe. But whenever Quentin starts wishing he was in Fillory (recall: Grossman’s version of Narnia) instead of wherever the heck he currently is, I, in turn, end up wishing I was reading Narnia instead of this shit.

In the scant instances where Quentin actually has a goal in mind, the narrative manages to collapse in other ways, mostly due to the lack of inked limits in Grossman’s world. I already mentioned how not calculating Circumstances had little to no bearing. But even more crucial is in how we have no clear idea what magic can and can’t do. This lack of limits obscures the options and risks Quentin (or some other character) may have at the moment. Knowing a character can’t do something is part of the climax, adding glamour to their victory, and frustration to their failure. Grossman’s set-up, especially while the characters are in Brakebills, makes it difficult to attach glamour or frustration to either their victories or defeats.

All my points so far does not mean that all the praises which made me buy The Magicians in the first place, are false advertising. Post-Brakebills (aka, the latter half of the book) pits Quentin and company against issues of adulthood and they are, I’m relieved to say, sensible treatments at last. Grossman subverts the genre of magical adventurers discovering magical lands by showing us how his characters remain victims of daily inanity, victims of routine, despite the Grand Adventure thrust into them. Grossman even waddles into the muddy waters of adult relationships, showing them as the messy tangle of lines that they are. This is not Ron and Hermione playing jealous with each other, nor Harry failing absurdly with Cho Chang, nor Ginny in a wild schoolgirl crush on The Boy Who Lived. Quentin and company ends up in a game of who-slept-with-who, trapping them in a messy web of intrigue. Finally, Quentin and company feels strongly about something.

But alas, we are not reading a contemporary Great American Novel, addressing the issues of adulthood through the lens of its oft-derided millenials. Even at its peak, The Magicians is haunted by its poor world-building and haphazard character encounters if maybe at this point already forgivable. It is ultimately framed by its fantasy backdrop and, as such, would keep running as a fantasy novel. There is no running away from that, for better and for worse.

Setting aside the slight hand-waving of how Quentin and friends managed to keep up their easygoing lifestyle at the start of the book’s later half, their adventure to Fillory finally starts to distance The Magicians with its influences. Grossman’s allusions to The Chronicles of Narnia can’t be missed but, at the same time, Fillory is better-constructed as an analogue to Narnia, in contrast to how Brakebills is an analogue to Hogwarts. Fillory is what Narnia would be, were it not so biblical, for lack of better term. Freed from the burden of trying to get a Christian thought-experiment (or allegory, depending on how you want to look at it) across, Grossman can paint Fillory darkly and subvert more tropes of the magical land genre.

At this point, Grossman’s writing starts to tighten up, making it difficult to critique without giving away spoilers. Reading this latter half gives the impression that The Magicians is more a response to Narnia than it is to Harry Potter, that Brakebills was just one whole set-up for this book’s actual point. In Fillory, Grossman intrigues the cast with the mystery of the Chatwin children. No points for guessing they are this world’s version of the Pevensies. Finding Fillory to be more than fantasy after all, is it not then possible that the Chatwins are more than figments of an author’s imagination?

A controversial issue which people debate in Narnia is Susan Pevensie’s non-inclusion in the last book. One side would pontificate that this is misogynistic on Lewis’ part. She discovered lipsticks, they’d argue, and that makes her unsuited for your heaven now? After all this time, I still interpret it differently; that it is not sexual empowerment or glamour which left Susan behind but, quite simply, being a grown-up. You see, grown-ups were never welcome to Neverland, could never see the important things like the horror of an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

But I am going off-tangent. Grossman turns this controversial issue on its head by his portrayal of the Chatwin who won the lottery and managed to stay in Fillory. I do not think he is trying to put his two cents in the debate of Susan. He is merely showing a fresh perspective on magic lands being tantamount to paradise. Saying more would definitely spill over to spoiler territory so let me just say, boy, what a take. Makes it all the more irritating that this twist had to be entangled with the sloppily-written death earlier.

The Magicians winds down like most first books in a series. After a lengthy and tiring adventure, a damaged Quentin is left to deal with the aftermath and, for a time, returns to Brakebills, presumably giving its academe something of interest that may direct future magical research. The last handful of pages read oddly Campbellian, if subverted like Narnia. Whereas the hero with a thousand faces finds himself unable to appreciate the banality of his former, ordinary life, Quentin, on the other hand, craves it. Scarred physically and emotionally, Quentin whiles his days away as a suit doing vague leadership in some big corporation.

Until Fillory, and three of his friends, show up in his life once more, and in rather dramatic fashion too…

But in the end, this sequel set-up of a resolution is overshadowed by the problems the novel has, as I outlined earlier. There are a few more reveals after the twist which, in retrospect, do not make sense. Mysterious characters are finally unmasked, even if only partially, and yet their earlier appearance serve no purpose other than to lend an air of mystery around them. It feels like a misuse of Chekhov’s gun; yet another example of haphazard foreshadowing, as if this book needed another. Granted, an explanation might be awaiting me in the two other books of the series but if I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m buying those.

(Finally, if you feel pissed that I had to dedicate the first few paragraphs of this review reminiscing about a book that is ultimately just used to throw shade on Grossman’s writing, well, that’s kinda the point. I hope it serves to illustrate my points in this critique better.)
  1. Which, if you are paying attention, unfortunately does not convert to a good reading experience all the time. []
  2. I am sorely tempted to go into a tirade as to why authors/publishers would demarcate sections of an actual physical book further into “books”. Why not just call them something like “Part I”, “Part II”, etc.? Unless maybe you are publishing a compilation of books bound between a single pair of covers. []
  3. Or snobs at Quora. Hee hee. []

Thanks For Keeping Blogs Relevant

Alternatively titled, Blogging Like It’s Ten Years Ago.

Sherlock is back, and Sherlock is great again! After a largely fan-servicing third season, Sherlock season four is nothing short of amazing.

Um, okay, I’m speaking too soon. At this point I’ve only watched up to episode two.

Before I continue writing what I find so great about season four (or what I’ve watched of it so far), let me note something that breaks the show’s immersion for me. It’s there in episode two, repeated with irritating frequency for a span of…umm…ten minutes I guess? I think it was repeated thrice, the first two just within a few lines of dialogue of each other. And then again, just when the suspense was building up and the immersion is kicking back in for me.

People read (and like!) Sherlock’s blog. Blog, seriously, in this day and age of social media. For crying out loud, Sherlock’s got a Twitter feed!

Okay, I’m guessing there’s an out-of-universe explanation why that is so. Like, maybe, they didn’t get longform-compatible social networks to agree to a sponsorship deal to get mentioned. The product placements in the show aren’t lost to me, you know. But do you really need product placement deals to mention a website? Granted, websites/domains are brands now. I don’t know. Whatever.

In the spirit of open-source software, let me rewrite one of those irritating scenes.

Faith Smith: Oh my God, Sherlock Holmes! I loove your blog.

stillreadblogs

Or, more in-character, “Hah! I haven’t updated my blog in ages. That makes all other possibilities impossible, convincing me, beyond any shadow of doubt, improbable as it may be, that you, Faith Smith—and not your father—are the serial killer.”

Quit cooking meth, Sherlock.

Though, it is around this time when the story really gets going. That scene where Sherlock’s case built on a “foundation of miscalculation” comes crashing down on him heavily is one hell of a visual ride. Interspersed with John’s interview with Lestrade, and flash backs from the time when Sherlock started his “miscalculations”, it is the perfect visual realization of the unreliable narrator. Mind. Blown. Add Toby Jones’ acting where, one moment you want to punch his horrible teeth in if only you weren’t afraid those saws for teeth would deal your fist permanent damage. Next moment he is a startled goodie two-shoes schoolboy, a dog surprised at his owner’s sudden madness. Masterful.

I also like the development of the characters. I don’t get people who are disappointed because Sherlock is not about solving crimes anymore—a fair criticism, but if they had their way, Sherlock would’ve been stagnant. Other than the contemporary setting and the medium, this rendition will have nothing to set it apart from Doyle’s canon. Owing to its serial nature (and maybe even of Doyle’s disdain on the whole thing), the self-contained stories and novels have no sense of continuity; in one instance, it even contradicts itself on a matter regarding Moriarty.

If there’s anything the third season gave us, other than Amanda Abbington’s portrayal of Mary Watson, it’s that it provided a period of transition for Sherlock. It started showing his humanity, started showing him failing, miscalculating, fatally imperfect as the people he deems lesser.

And now we get him talking to John Watson about grief. Goodness, your fangirls are right. Just kiss already.

And when that happens, I have no doubt Mary’s projection would be in the scene, watching, a surrogate for the whole interwebs.

While the ladies are busy fainting from delight— “Johnlock! I knew it! Johnlock. John. Lock.” —allow me a moment of nostalgia for an age of the interwebs long past. Back then, blogs were personal, a sort of diary except you obviously hid just enough to keep your crush intrigued, in the slight chance they followed your online thoughts. The designs ranged from garish, like Molly Hooper’s, or very simple to the point of sterility, like John Watson’s.

But that was because blogs then were a form of self-expression. And if self-expression means #FF0000 Monotype Corsiva font on a black background complete with animated 256-pallet GIFs, then so be it. Back then, blogs weren’t a corporate thing—heck corporations did not do something as low as a “blog”—written to advertise


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(This is the part where I apologize that all those words I wrote is just one hell of a build-up for that shameless plug. I assure you my manager did not put me up for this.)

But really, thanks Sherlock for keeping blogs relevant, in a good way, if only for ten minutes in one episode.

And now for something considerably different…

Ever since I trained in Taekwondo in high school, I’ve been interested in how fights are portrayed in mainstream media. I’ve gone all the way from wondering why I don’t spar as beautifully as Jet Li fights to concluding that it is the movies (and anime!) who don’t spar as realistically as real life.

Nowadays, it is easier to find material on the subject. YouTube is full of videos detailing why Game of Thrones have such great battle scenes despite the fact that Jon Snow is a pretty shitty swordsman. That said, I don’t really watch Game of Thrones so my gold standard for swordplay eye-candy remains to be Peter Jackson’s work, for all its narrative faults.

So it is interesting to find an analysis of The Battle of Pelennor Fields from a real-life military perspective. Go give it a read—you don’t need to be acquainted with military literature to get the gist of it. If anything, it will give you an insight on modern military tactics.