July-August Summary

Hey! I have a new book out! Not The Teutonic Doctrine, even though I promised to have it out by this time. I’m having real trouble working my way through that. No, this is published by an actual honest-to-goodness (hybrid) publisher. It’s called The Machinist, and it was actually the first novel I ever completed. I’ve posted about it on here a few times. Go check it out!

The Federal Automated Postal Department!

One of the great machines that powers America, its influence stretches far and wide, sending letters across cities and even states in a matter of minutes. Maintained exclusively by specially trained and certified federal engineers, the Automated Postal Department is one of a thousand marvelous federal innovations that make America the efficient and complex hub of the modern world of the 1920s.

But now, someone is tampering with the mail—something that should be impossible—and it’s down to the Postal Enforcement Division and its new machinist, asthmatic sixteen-year-old Iosif Rudkus, to find out who and why. As they follow the trail through the highest seats of power and the most secret military bases in the country, the case begins to take ever-stranger twists that will lead the team to murky mysteries of America’s past and the origins of the Automated Postal Department itself.

So I was doing a weekly update, which then became a bi-weekly update, and then I took a summer job at a factory and had to camp out in a location with intermittent internet, and was exhausted and didn’t bother updating, and I know of course everyone must be horribly anxious wondering what possibly I must have been playing/watching/reading over the last month or so, so since I’m just getting into a new teaching job and am likely to no longer have time to give weekly responses on what I’m doing, I should give a quick summary to wrap up everything I did. But because there was a good lot, I’m going to just jump quickly through the games. And also a few musicals, not because I watched any, but because I was listening to them while working which basically got me thinking through their stories.

THINGS I PLAYED

Prodigal

What if Link from Legend of Zelda used to be an asshole?

Prodigal’s premise is not quite that simple. Your protagonist shares nothing directly with Link, apart from his aesthetic, world, and gameplay. He’s clearly meant to echo him, but there’s no princess, no Ganon, no kingdom that needs saving. Just you, coming back to the town you fled after you stole your parents’ life savings.

Yep.

It’s a weird story device, because it has very little impact on the actual plot. The dungeons you go through, the enemies you fight, the Big Bad, none of them have anything to do with what you did fifteen or so years ago. I kept waiting for some magic explanation and… no. Your character just legitimately was horrible for no reason years and years ago.

Hard to figure why this was the gamemaker’s decision. Maybe in deliberate contrast to Harvest Moon–the village contains various girls very reminiscent of the Nintendo farming sim, where the protagonist is again a good person, and has come back to his grandfather’s farm against his parents’ wishes (almost the reverse of Prodigal’s situation.

Maybe–as one review pointed out–it was just to give the overall game a sense of redemption and forgiveness. You start with no reputation. You deserve nothing. There’s no sense of moral indignation with you, because you literally cannot pretend to be better than anyone. People who insult you in the street are totally right to do so. It makes for an odd atmosphere.

It’d be interesting to see a game, perhaps, where you need to earn back people’s trust, but maybe it’s better without it. You can’t earn things back, any forgiveness you get is entirely dependent on the people themselves. So maybe the way they did it was better. But I do wish there’d be a game with this same conceit where it tied into the gameplay and plot a lot better.

Kingdom Two Crowns

I already talked about this one before. Why did I play it again? It’s simple, quick, and addictive. Apparently they’re making an 80’s version, which… just looking at it, that’s a bad idea. Kingdom works in part because it’s set in a primitive, survive-or-die setting. A summer camp is not equivalent and I’m not sure who thought it was.

Regency Solitaire

What? No, I’ve no idea what this is. Definitely never played it. Moving on.

Sonic Mania

Poor, poor, Sonic. One of the greatest icons of past gaming, who really had mostly three or four exemplary games, but has been coasting on them ever since, desperately trying to recapture the magic. Most other franchises would have died after such an array of reboots and failed sequels, but either those sequels were just good enough to keep the love alive, or the comic boook series and assorted grab-bag of tv shows based on the character are more powerful than we admit (although then, why have so few of the comics characters shown up in the games?)

Somehow, this show is weirder than I remember. “Hey, let’s make a nonsensical fantasy storyline for Sonic, give him two siblings, and have them all be rock musicians for some reason.” Why not?

Sonic Mania is a fan-made sequel, and it’s largely beloved by the fanbase for returning to the nonstop 2D racing that made the games so popular in the first place. Many of the zones, enemies, and even side games are copied nearly directly from the Sonic-n-Knuckles/Sonic 3 game.

Which for me was kind of the problem. After the third zone I began to feel a bit… bored. Sure the levels were laid out differently, but the mechanics were the same, the aesthetic was the same, the story was still nonexistent. And to a degree that was enough to keep me occupied, but… not really interested. There was just too much same-ness. If I wanted to play a game like that, I’d just dig up the old Sonic-n-Knuckles ports I have sitting around (although the last time I played them, I realized how much those games depend on constantly replaying the same levels and memorizing where everything is.)

Getting the ultimate ending was nearly impossible until you’d memorized where all these things were.

On a positive note, I got to play this with my nephew watching, and that was just a joy. I high-fived him after beating one of the bonus stages, and after that he’d high-five me when I completed any part of the game. So that was fun.

Regency Solitaire

Nope. Never seen this.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

This I only started once I got back to my desktop and had access to a more intense graphics card. I’d heard a lot about Spyro and was excited to play the games of this iconic franchise. Plus, it had dragons, which always makes everything better.

Pretty clearly, though, the game is made for kids much younger than I am now. If I’d played it when I was six, I think I’d have loved the whimsical characters and simple enemies, but playing it now, it was just too easy and simplistic for me to find interesting. I put it down and just never came back.

Regency Solitaire

Okay, okay, fine. This game is a shamelessly stupid and derivative card game interspersed by simple cutscenes of a completely unrelated and woefully stereotypical Regency romance, and I’ve played it three times. The beautiful but poor Bella hopes to gain the attentions of the rich and dashing Mr. Worthington, but her father wishes to marry her odious neighbor Mr. Bleakly, who has trapped her brother in gambling debts, but…

You get the idea.

My brother heard a talk by the game developer, incidently, who freely admitted it was a shameless bit of cynical playing to a particular demographic that I don’t even fit in. There was no dream of higher artistic ambition, it was quite simply a cookie-cutter game made to get money out of the pockets of hopeless Austenian fans.

I can’t even remember why I bought the game in the first place.

The thing is, though, it’s a wonderfully stupid game. Just challenging enough to make you think, but not so challenging that you don’t want to pick it up after a long day at the factory. The last time I got into it was when I was just starting at my first teaching job, and for a similar reason–it just works.

My brother tells me, too, that the dev approvingly noted that it earned him enough money to provide for his family and young daughters, too, so I guess I feel good about contributing to that.

What I Listened To

This is new, eh? The factory I was working at was basically one person working alone at each machine, doing the same task every day. So it was very boring, so they let employees listen to music. But really, listening to music gets pretty old too, until I hit on the idea of listening to Musicals, since they give you a story to think about as well.

Les Miserables

My parents got into the musical in a big way when I was in high school, which really surprised me, as my parents generally weren’t impressed by “modern” or mainstream media. Real compelling musical to listen to while you’re working (teared up a few times), though I hadn’t noticed before how some tunes repeat. For instance “Turning Through the Years,” about the dead students, re-uses the “Lovely Ladies” theme about prostitution, which maybe is a comment on how revolutionaries killing themselves is really just another rigged system.

I remember when I was a pompous teenager being very concerned about what the “political agenda” espoused by the students was, and whether the musical “endorses” the agenda. Listening to it now, it seems obvious the musical doesn’t care–the students’ actual goals don’t have much to do with the core story. The only point is that they’re naive idealists who get themselves killed.

Scarlet Pimpernel

You know, I’ve glanced through the book, but I don’t think I ever really read it cover to cover. The musical seems a bit pompous sometimes, but it is undeniably fun–“Madame Guillotine” is as chilling as ever, and “The Creation of Man” is a wonderfully goofy song.

The central dynamic of Scarlet Pimpernel, on reflection, is a surprisingly mature take on romance not often seen. A married couple, who had a passionate romance, but now find themselves estranged, no longer in love with the person they’re with, who seems completely different from when they married. And then, slowly, rediscovering new depths to that person, finding a newer, deeper love.

1934 Movie: “You were a man once, a man a woman could look up to.” “You could try trusting me, dear. As you once did.” “What is the use?! We don’t even speak the same language anymore!”

Too often romance stories just end at marriage, but as Tim Keller says, the marriage ceremony is just the beginning of something that takes a lot of work.

Phantom of the Opera

This book I’ve read, and honestly I like it better than the musical. But the musical is good too, especially when my little sister just starts randomly pounding out the theme for my older brother to start singing to. That theme is dang iconic, and thrilling just to listen to. And the finale switches gloriously between the earlier themes, with some delightfully malicious lines from the Phantom. Listening to the musical, it also occurred to me for the first time how perfectly most of the action takes place on a stage, meaning that probably a big chunk can be done in a way where the audience is almost being part of the performance. I really want to see it in performance, now.

Cats

How did anyone think this would work as a movie? Then again, I wouldn’t have thought it would work as a play, either, and it clearly did that well enough.

I’d never really heard the musical all the way through before and found a number of the songs very addictive (though that seems to happen with a lot of random songs I hear). But it unquestionably shouldn’t work. There’s no plot, no development, nothing, it’s just a random collection of songs about various cats and how they’re awesome. (I’d heard about how it was inspired by a TS Eliot collection of poems, but I hadn’t realized until I looked it up how some of the songs are literally word for word his poems).

But that’s kind of the point–each cat is celebrated precisely because of the specific sort of animal they are, and because of how confident they are in that identity. Obviously there’s problems with that mindset, but it makes for a very atypical and interesting play.

Cyrano

I wouldn’t have even known about the recent Peter Dinklage movie if my parents hadn’t keyed me into the trailer. I wasn’t familiar with the story (though I’d seen the Futurama homage episode), and I didn’t immediately recognize the premise. But I was curious, so I added it to the playlist.

I’m not a great judge of music, but Dinklage’s singing seemed really pretty decent, if not particularly challenging. The lyrics in places seemed a bit… lacking, and certainly the songs had a definite same-ness to them (which is interesting, since Les Miserables literally re-uses themes and yet manages to make everything sound different). It didn’t seem bad, and it caught my interest enough for me to listen to it on repeat for a three or four days. (but then, I tend to do that with songs.)

What I Watched

Cyrano

Me: “Hey sis, I tried watching that Cyrano movie…”

Sister: “It’s just so boring, right?”

Me: “It kind of is, really.”

(Technically this was just in September, and technically I never finished watching it, but I TOTALLY intend to finish it sometime.)

Dinklage seems both fitting and non-fitting. He acts well, and part of the point of the play is, after all, that people misjudge a person based on their physical appearance. So is it wrong to think that his size makes him a difficult fit for the part? It’s hard to believe, for instance, that such a short person could be such a magnificent swordfighter–but again, sort of the point. I think through the more awkward scenes and whether they’d work better if Cyrano were an average height, and yeah they would–but again, is that just me not getting the point? Apparently the movie wasn’t originally written with Dinklage (or anyone particularly short) in mind, so this might be a problem with switching the plan too much at the last minute

To be fair, going the route of earlier adaptations with “Oh she could never love someone with a big nose like me” is a less persuasive hang-up.

I think at least part of it is that Dinklage is too serious. I’m not familiar with the original story, but from what I understand Cyrano de Bergerac is usually portrayed as a bit more clownish, at least in his public persona. But Dinklage isn’t clownish. Arguably a clownish dwarf would feel very uncomfortable today, as it’d be clearly making fun off a person’s deformity (as even recent movies have done, and again, it feels uncomfortable.) But even if it could be done, Dinklage certainly isn’t the sort to play a clown. He’s charming, he’s charismatic, but he’s not a clown.

Watch Out, We’re Mad

Ah, the wonders of Youtube algorithims. Next time someone comes at me with how the monetization of private information and loss of privacy has made our world universally worse, I’ll come back at them with “Oh yeah? Well, without Youtube, my family would never have found out about Watch Out We’re Mad, so what do you say to that?”

Or more specifically, my brother, who years ago had this scene suggested to him by Youtube.

My visit with him got him thinking about it (I can’t remember why), and in my goodbye party (which sort of doubled as my sister’s house-warming party) we watched it for free, on Youtube.

See, the internet does good things too.

I don’t know how else we would have found out about this Italian movie from the 1970’s, a comedy film about two frenemies taking on the local mob boss to get a refund for the red buggy his goons smashed up. It’s sort of a fighting movie, with a lot of action sequences where the two take on large groups of men sent to beat them up, but mostly it’s comedy, with the two finding goofy ways to take out their assaillants.

The gem, perhaps, is the slightly antagonistic relationship between the two leads, who are constantly getting on each other’s nerves but also constantly backing each other up. Bud Spencer, particularly, is hilarious in his portrayal of a big man who just cannot be bothered to care about all this life-threatening mafia nonsense.

It’s good light-hearted fun, and if I knew more about Italian cinema I’d be interested in unpacking what it says about the Italian mindset, but I’m not so I won’t.

ALSO

I watched The Sandman and The Rings of Power and I want to talk about those, but they’d take up a whole blog page on their own. I hope to do that, but my workload is liable to be pretty intense coming up, so I may not be able to. Oh well, here’s hoping.


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