Let’s Play A Guessing Game

September 23, 2008 at 8:07 am (Game Time) ()

Wrath of the Lich King has filled me with RAGE.

I’m glad to see that Jaina’s getting a role–and an important one–as peacekeeper between the Horde and the Alliance, and I’m glad to see that her peacekeeping role includes freezing a whole damn army and teleporting away from the battlefield. The shipper in me is glad to see that Jaina’s keeping ties with Thrall.

What I’m not glad to see is that Sylvanas gets overthrown. Blah blah Varimathras is a Dreadlord blah blah powerful demon BLAH BLAH BLAH. Sure, Jaina gets a bigger and more visible role in WotLK but even though she rules Theramore and is more or less one of the Alliance’s biggest ties to the Horde, she’s not a leader on the same scale that Tyrande and Sylvanas are–the only female racial leaders in the game.

Guess which two racial leaders are facing dire threats to their power as sovereigns? That’s right. The female ones. Guess which two racial leaders are facing dire threats to their power and sovereigns from <i>male</i> challengers? GUESS THE GENDER OF THE RACIAL LEADER WHO WAS OUTRIGHT OVERTHROWN BY HER MALE CHALLENGER.

Good fucking god, Blizzard. One point for giving Jaina a visible role which she deserved earlier, considering she was one of the main characters in Warcraft III. Negative fifty for overthrowing female rulers in favor of male rulers and halving the number of female racial leaders you have by 50%. Negative five hundred fucking million for the comic scan that has Jaina looking like a fucking whore.

EDIT: Okay, so Sylvanas retakes the Undercity and Varimathras gets killed. Fine. Fine!

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Uncanny Valley

September 20, 2008 at 11:00 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

So I recently read Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, which among other things (ie. mindblowing) asserts that violence occurs when things become the same and distinction is lost between individuals or concepts (or types of violence).

Is this the basis of the controversy surrounding things like the uncanny valley, cloning, etc.? As well all those sci-fi/fantasy conflicts about species or creatures that are almost, but not quite, human (ie. elves). Conflict arises over these things because things are becoming too similar to us, to human beings–but they’re not close enough. We’re sending mixed signals; we want to make things that imitate life, or more specifically imitate us, and we want that because we see it as the pinnacle of our scientific(/magical, for the fictional contexts) achievement. But when things start getting too similar, we panic, we feel that our identity as The Humans is being lost and the distinction between Us and Them is starting to erode. We want things to be different from us. Conflict arises because we’ve already designated to those other beings (or proponents of those other beings, as is the case with robots and computer characters) that being human-like is desirable, but now we’re saying don’t be too human. Conflict and violence breaks out. WE NEED SACRIFICE TO END IT!

Okay, maybe not that last bit. But still.

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Thoughts on Byron’s “Cain”

September 18, 2008 at 5:32 am (Books Galore) ()

Had to read it in class, didn’t get a chance to say all I wanted to, which is probably just as well.

1. Cain may be immature but in a way so is Abel. If you define maturity as having experienced much and benefitted and learned from those experience, then they are both in a sense immature. Look at Abel, who has a childlike faith that God is good and everything God says is correct; he trusts unconditionally the words of his parents Adam and Eve and of his “grandfather” the Lord. He has no desire to question because his parents and superiors are automatically correct; he does not believe or even consider that they might be false or that there might be things his elders are unaware of.

Cain on the other hand, is full of rebellion. He is belligerent towards his elders and refuses to go along with what they say; he’s a sullen teenager to Abel’s optimistic young child. Cain question and Cain seeks answers and he’s looking for them where his parents won’t allow (with spirits and Lucifer), because he’s in that anti-authoritarian stage where he’s beginning to realize and believe that his parents are flawed and unknowledgeable and is perhaps seeking a replacement for the paragon of virtue that his parents once were in his own “childhood.” Note that he has an independent streak; he won’t bow to Lucifer either.

Both are immature, in a sense, because they have yet to experience true loss and tragedy. Their parents have, and therefore their parents are in a sense more “adult” then their children. But Cain and Abel? They just have stories of Eden that filter down to them; they’ve never had Eden and so have never lost it. In the end Cain manages to graduate to adulthood when he experiences true regret, guilt, anger, and sorrow, when he kills Abel. Abel never grows out of his own immaturity; he is the price of Cain’s growing up.

2. Cain and Adah as an inverse Adam and Eve (or rather, Eve and Adam.)

3. The role and portrayal of Lucifer is rather interesting. Lucifer isn’t explicitly stated to be the serpent who tempted Eve; he’s just there, called by the prospect of power. Possibly he shares with Cain a desire and respect for the truth–I can’t recall if this is supported by the text, but it did seem to me that Lucifer rebelled because he was against God’s concealment of the past worlds from the present one. He wanted God to tell the truth to his creations, and so he fell. If this is correct then it’s an interesting look at Lucifer; he fell by trying to uphold a Christian tenet, that of never lying (lies by omission are still lies.).

3a. Doesn’t Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer refuse to lie?

3 cont’d. So Lucifer is presented as a figure who represents truth, truth at any cost, and he takes advantage of Cain’s doubt to try and win over a follower. He shows Cain what God has concealed and betrays his own bitterness at being cast out of heaven. Lucifer tries to attract Cain with the promise of being a more truthful god than God himself (having blown open a lie-by-omission to Cain what with the revelation of previous worlds). Cain refuses; Cain doesn’t want to bow to anyone. He doesn’t want to serve anyone that would require him to bow.

4. Cain’s refusal to yield to God or Lucifer betrays his pride; he doesn’t want to bow to anyone who would require him to give rid of his pride just for the honor of bowing before them. Abel is quite happy to do so, but then his job consists of watching and caring for sheep. Cain’s job requires of him hard work; he tills the soil of the earth and grows his own fruits and feeds his family with the labor of his own hands. From his point of view God is asking him to give thanks for the chance to work his ass off to feed his family, which pretty much renders the value of his work moot because the work Cain does wouldn’t be his, it would be God’s. And he won’t do that.

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Turtle Crash

September 10, 2008 at 8:40 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

The Mafia boss in Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash is named Enzo. Could Enzio be a corruption of Enzo?

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Book Report: The Languages of Pao & Gold and Iron by Jack Vance

September 6, 2008 at 10:04 am (Books Galore) (, )

So. Continuing my induction to science fiction literature…

The Languages of Pao was not what I was expecting. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; it was hard for me to connect with Beran’s fears. I don’t know when Jack Vance was writing; perhaps this is a generation gap or someting? I did note that the device of introducing concepts and then explaining later (or introducing concepts that can be explained through continual usage, such as Utter Black as the color of royalty) is a very effective way of hooking readers. It smooths the path to infodumps (ever the curse of stories set in radically new worlds) because the it makes the reader want to know about what concept is all about.

Here, another random note.

The society of Pao has the same eerie “same, everything’s okay because that’s just how things are” quality that Lois Lowry’s The Giver’s world does — when Jonas’ dad kills the baby and says “bye bye little guy”  in a goofy talking-to-baby voice? Yeah.

Gold and Iron was much the same. Well, I expected the ending–which totally twisted on me, how d’you like that. I’m not sure how I feel about that story. It left me unsettled; the mode of gratitude you’d expect to be owed to Branch is not there, suggesting that such a mode is a human construct, rather than an inherent characteristic of sapient life. It’s interesting, because my current class is about gift and sacrifice and dealt a little with gratitude–one of the views we’re studying is that gratitude is actually a burden; we resent in our gratitude because we are forever beholden and can never discharge that debt. Does their lack indicate that they live lives without the paradoxical voluntary/obligatory nature of gifts and reciprocation? Does that make the alien races more or less enlightened than humanity? Is pragmatism the same as wisdom and truth? Or do we need the little lies, as Terry Pratchett would say, of gratitude to believe in the larger lies of loyalty and faithfulness to friends, family, and state?

I did like how Branch got in the last word, though. His sarcastic little comments surrounding Ellen’s apology and their child (though when he would have been conceived I do not know) are true, which is perhaps why the normally composedly superior Lekthwan was pissed; she knew they were true. Despite her belief in Lekthwanian superiority she knew that she had proven herself baser and inferior to Branch’s humanity when she did not protest leaving him on Magarak. She knew her apology was not enough, would never be enough, and that without him she would have spent the rest of her life in the breeding pens. She knew. And Branch knew. And she knew that he knew.

Overall I seem to sense that Jack Vance’s writing delights in delivering endings that aren’t what you expect them to be, or are what you expect them to be in a weird way. In both stories, ordinary people (for their world) are forced to confront radically different world views with greater or lesser success as understanding or assimilating. Large time jumps seem to be the norm to. I found both stories vaguely unsettling, I don’t know if I want to read more–his worlds are fascinating, but his stories are disquieting. At any rate, he was still well worth checking out.

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Reaction Shots: KHR! 206 & 207

September 2, 2008 at 9:42 am (Animanga) (, , )

206: AHAHAHAHAHAHA wait this is canon!?

(pouty Hibari is pouty and does not like you!)

207: how the fuck did Tsuna put the goddamn contacts on?

(Spanner managed to look hot and not creepy! Curiously, he was also covered in blood. Hmm.)

I don’t think I can keep reading this manga and still retain my self-respect.

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Book Report: Neuromancer by William Gibson

September 1, 2008 at 7:23 am (Books Galore) (, )

I finished reading Neuromancer for the first time today. And my mind? Is totally blown.

(Minor spoilers abound.)

Reading it is a strange experience. Slang is dropped every which way, casual; sometimes explained, sometimes not, and it’s best not to go back and look for definitions — just keep rolling, man, keep moving forward, or the story will leave you behind. There’s no glossary; closing the book feels like closing the lid on an interdimensional peephole.

This is my first real taste of cyberpunk, so excuse me if I’m incoherent. I just–I don’t know how to summarize the experience of reading Neuromancer. It’s totally mindblowing. You can see the seeds of tropes we take for granted these days–AI, shared consciousness, city-of-light representations of the internet, sending your mind into the Net–but it feels as fresh as if it were the first time I’d read any of it, and when you think about how, when this book first came out, it really was the first of its kind…yeah.

The characters are protagonists only because we’re in their viewpoint; there are no actually good people in it, which I suppose makes it rather thrilling. They’re all in their own ways broken, heroic and villainous, and it’s just a joy to read them, to feel the dirt and grime and grit of them and their world in your bones as you go through the story.

I realized that the flip switch was a way of letting the reader see what was happening to Molly while maintaining Case as the only POV character and holy shit does it work. It’s a storytelling device of such seamless elegance, of allowing two POVs without actually allowing it, and I wish I’d thought of it first. I didn’t even realize until halfway through the book, and it was a little like rumbling an old magician’s trick–there’s beauty in seeing it work, but there’s also a thrill at see why it does.

The plot leaves me with a sense of “and then what?” but that’s okay because like I said. There’s a sense that the world moves on, that the reader has only seen through the smallest of lenses the tiniest of glimpses of this vast world that lives and breathes and dies behind the scenes; you’ve seen the puzzle piece and must infer the puzzle. It’s breathtaking. It’s just. Whoa.

I almost don’t want to read sequels, because I’m afraid of destroying this magic (it seems weird to speak of magic when talking about cyberpunk, but oh well) that the book has created, like a self-contained bubble. If I seek more, if I look for more information, more stories, more answers–the bubble with burst, the magic will unravel. It just won’t be the same.

All I can say is, if you haven’t read this book yet–do so as soon as possible. This is the book that spawned a genre, isn’t it? If you enjoy fantasy, if you like sci-fi, you owe it to yourself to read Neuromancer.

That is all.

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