Friday, July 26, 2013

New story published: The Patient Man

New story published on Solarcide. Check out The Patient Man.

I like the picture of the basement stairs they chose to go along with the story. Perfect image!

Enjoy my dark little slice of life and remember: patience is a liability.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

System Shock 2

How did I spend my birthday? Playing System Shock 2 for the first time!

I didn't hear about it when it first came out, but since Bioshock became popular I've heard a lot about how it's nothing more than a new version of System Shock 2. So I thought I'd try it. Now I see how it all began. I see the intent behind the design, and also the shortcomings of the execution.

It's a first person shooter, but with RPG elements. So you have stats, and you add experience points (cyber modules) to those stats to boost gun skill, hacking skill, strength, agility, psionic power, etc.

The game starts off giving you a choice of which career path you'll take: you can play as a gun-nut, a tech expert, or a psychic warrior using mind powers!

Yeah, they're called psionic abilities instead of plasmids. They're very lacking. I started off with the psionic career, but did little upgrading to my psionic stats over the 20 (freakin!) hours it took me to finish the game. There was no reason to. There are only two weapons on the psionic side. The rest are temporary effects like boost strength by two points for 2 minutes, or disable robots for 10 seconds and stuff. No real reason to spend points upgrading that, though the anti-atrophy psi is quite useful. Guns degrade and break after so many shots in this game, so it's nice to have a psi which halts that.

Instead I upgraded my weapons stats because that's how you kill things!

I think the developers were aiming for being able to play the game using either psionics, tech, or weaponry. Choosing a career at the beginning makes it feel like, ok, I chose the Marines, that means I'm going to be a gun-nut in this playthrough! Or, I chose a tech path, so that means I will get through the game hacking systems and I'll let the robots and security systems kill things for me. It doesn't work that way.

You don't have freedom to survive by either tech, weapons, or mind powers. There's really no other way to survive on this ship besides killing the enemies, which you can only do effectively with weapons, so you have no choice but to become a gun nut, with some hacking and mind-powering on the side.

The game wanted to have these different play styles, but it's still biased towards being a shooter. The other elements are merely useful, not paths by which to play the game.

The game never seems to end! It just keep going and going, and the starship Von Braun is a fucking maze! But I like how there are no levels, and you are free to go anywhere on the ship you like at any time.

The final boss is unfair, but I beat her! Most games have a recharge area before the final boss to prepare you for the fight, but not System Shock 2. It makes you go through a couple difficult levels and then rewards you by pushing you down a hole to the last battle! I was lucky I had any ammo or health packs left to survive it! I was probably lucky I upgraded all my stats high enough to beat the final boss, but I won! I ran through the maze that was the starship Von Braun and made it to the end of that game!

Actually it wasn't luck. I happened to manage and conserve the right resources, acquire and keep all the right weapons, and upgrade the appropriate stats to be able to win. I made right decisions, even if I didn't know they were right until the end. I can see how it would be possible to get stuck at the final boss for neglecting to upgrade certain traits, but I also think it's unlikely, as there's no shortage of cybernetic upgrades in the later levels, so no reason not to upgrade those stats.

What a game it was. Not perfect, but still quite good and very memorable. It makes you earn the privilege to use the weapons and equipment, and that changes everything. Never played a game where first you have to upgrade your weapon skills just to use the first gun!

In spite of the RPG system being biased and the story reminding me so much of Dead Space, the game is still pretty damn good. Well, ok, SS2 came before Dead Space, so Dead Space stole its entire plot from SS2! But I'm sure SS2 took its plot from some earlier game I don't know about.

Now I see how Bioshock evolved. It took everything that worked in System Shock 2 and left out the stuff that didn't. Including the story.

It's a bit too long, and I think it would've been cooler if you really could play the game three different ways, but in spite of those shortcomings, SS2 is challenging and engrossing. Beating it feels like a real accomplishment.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Search terms 3

This is a special message to everyone who found my blog via these search terms:

"jungle book steele"

"i am the game music"

"bagheera pull mowgli shorts"

"evil capitalist"

"amnesia dark descent star trek fanfic"

"kaa and mowgli fanfics"

"bagheera shere khan fanfiction"

"men who built america fanfiction"

Now that I know what's in demand, I'll get to writing it!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Repo Men

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

Repo Men
(book by Eric Garcia. Movie: 2010 by Miguel Sapochnik)

This was what inspired me to start doing Seek the Original, but my first stab at it was terrible. Try again.

The book is one hell of a trip. What if artificial organs could be repossessed after someone falls behind on their payments, leaving the people dead on the floor? This book is the stream of consciousness story of a bio-repo man who rose to the top of the bio-repossession business, only to fall victim to the same business.

It outlines his time in the military, his marriages, various repossession jobs, the works! The first half of the book is almost entirely back story, and it’s so random. One section our main character is talking about his second ex-wife; the next paragraph jumps back in time to his years in the military. The entire book reads this way; random jumps back and forth in time. Complete stream of consciousness. I’ll admit the first half of the book is a little hard to get through because the sheer amount of back story is overwhelming and I kinda wanted something to happen. It was easy to put down when the main character was just rambling on about his past, but soon enough, something did happen, and with a little front story to balance the back story, the book picked up the pace.

I love the nonchalant way he views cutting people up, taking their liver, spleen, lungs or heart and leaving them dead…with a yellow repossession receipt on the body. I especially like the passage when he describes a time when he repossessed an organ, only to find out that the guy actually did make the payment; a screwup with the paperwork resulted in a false repossession. It’s so ordinary to this guy that it’s funny. Eric Garcia has this sense of humor, and it’s so appropriate for a story like this.

The last half of the book kept me turning the pages; I had to know how the hell this situation could possibility wrap up. It’s a good ending, too. A much better ending than the movie adaptation delivered.

The movie pissed me off!

It ditches the back story, the main character's life, and trades it for gore. It turns the repossession of artificial organs from black comedy to slaughterhouse action. Instead of repo men, our main characters come across as hunters tracking down prey! There's a little of that in the book, but the movie takes it to the exclusion of everything else!

Our main character's love life is demoted from a series of exes to just one nagging bitch who whines about how she wishes her husband had a better job. Yeah, he's providing for her and the kid, and all she can do is bitch about it. Gruesome as his job is, she really has no reason to complain about it, but complain she does, and it doesn't make her into a sympathetic person. The wives in the book are much more interesting. They're real people. The movie turns her into "the nagging wife."

And then the ending. The book has a logical, meaningful conclusion that gives our unnamed protagonist a new beginning. The movie has a trick ending. The entire third act never happens. The protagonist is brain dead and doomed to live the rest of his life as a vegetable. It's like Dorothy waking up and it's all a dream. Instead of feeling like a shocking plot development, it just felt like the movie flipped me off right before the credits rolled.

The book is all about the main character's history. The idea is he thinks he could die at any moment, and he wants to leave something behind, so he writes his memoirs, reliving his past, putting his life in perspective trying to figure out how he got here. He has lived an interesting life. He's a fascinating person to get to know as he looks back on everything he's been through.

The movie turns this character study into a gory, shallow action flick. Hollywood has not been kind to Garcia's books. Not at all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Bambi

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

(book by Felix Salten / Movie: 1942 by Disney)

A deer is born into the world. He is happy and carefree, but quickly he is introduced to danger: Man hunts in these woods.

Over the course of the story, everyone Bambi knows and loves is touched by Man. Some are killed, some have their homes destroyed, others are trapped, snared, hunted and wounded. One of Bambi's childhood friends goes missing and comes back domesticated and naive. Even his own mother is taken away.

Man is always there. Always stalking them. As Bambi grows up, he learns how to survive the dangers that Man brings upon them, and just who Man is.

Very difficult to read. Something about the way it's written... It was originally written in German. This is a translated story, which could have something to do with it.

Though it was first published in 1923 in Austria (1928 in America), it's very much a Victorian story. The animals have been humanized into a Victorian society of sorts, with everyone being hyper-polite, judging based on appearances and first impressions, and everyone taking great care not to offend with so much as an ill-timed gesture of the hoof.

It imbues Victorian sensibilities onto animals to make them more human, but today those Victorian sensibilities make them seem even less human--less identifiable! Their way of life is even harder to understand because of this, and it makes the entire book very, very difficult to read. Little is described, the text is dodgy, the dialogue is so formal and indirect... I couldn't get into it at all.

It ends on a poignant note that is quite touching. In spite of everything Man puts Bambi through, he comes out wiser and stronger than anyone else. He doesn't just grow up. He learns the truth of who Man is, and he matures. I like that.

The rest of the book is very hard to get into. It is of course considered a children's story today (thanks to Disney), but it was meant for adults. The last few chapters are graphic and violent, and that's when the story began to grab me, when it dropped its Victorian pretense.

There's nothing wrong with the story, but I had a difficult time with it.

The movie? Half an hour of cute animals being cute, then POW! Bambi's mother is killed off-screen, then suddenly Bambi is grown up and finds true love. That's it.

His mother's death has no impact on him as an adult. In the book, however, it's just one of the horrors he witnesses as he grows up with Man stalking him and his friends day after day.

The book is about how Bambi grows up, drawing upon his years of watching Man murder, trap and take his friends away all his life to learn just who Man is, and how to survive when He is around.

It's only in the film's last ten minutes that Man is dealt with, but Bambi doesn't learn anything about Him. In the movie, being Prince of the Forest has no definition. The book, however, makes it very clear who the Prince of the Forest is: the solitary buck who knows all of Man's tricks, and his true identity.

Weird that the original trailer for the film calls it the world's greatest love story. No, there is no love in the book. Bambi seeks the solitary life to better understand He who hunts them.

It's landmark animation of course. No faulting that. It's beautiful and outstanding, but the story is insulting compared to the book. I didn't even like the book, but I still respect it for telling the story it did! The Disney movie is just cutsie critters hopping around on screen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Story Time: Prophetess

It seems Fiction and Verse is now defunct, so I will post this here now. Enjoy!

A Thursday prompt by James Steele
Originally published on "Fiction and Verse" (now defunct)

Her mother and father were standing at her bedroom door, watching their only daughter sitting on the bed, back to the wall. Most teenage girls were into boys by now, they silently reflected. Most watched TV or ran up huge bills texting their friends. The TV was on, but it was muted and Melinda wasn't watching it.

The snake was wrapped around her neck once, and one of her arms several times. The front half of the animal dangled from her raised hands before her eyes. She stared through it. Felt its body brush across her skin. The sensation made her drift. It took her away. She always knew it happened because she began to see expression on the reptile's face. Entire worlds in its eyes.

The snake crawled. She turned it arm over arm, always keeping the head at her eye level. Her lips moved as though she were giving a riotous speech, but no sound ever came out. Sometimes she visited the past, witnessed the rise and fall of Rome, the Olmec, the Ottomans and many others. She witnessed the Plague, the Russian Revolution, the industrial revolution. Other times she visited the future, saw the ebb and flow of technology. Empires that hadn't been born yet died in front of her, swallowed up by other nations who also built up and then faded away. Today she was in the present, catching visions of more down to earth matters.

It was an exercise. Melinda knew her companion was pushing her limits. Many could bear witness to the forest of history, but very few could see the trees. She had seen civilizations rise and fall, but never the reason. She had seen the effects of men's actions, but never the motivation. Until now.

Such is the gift of prophesy, the serpent had once told her. It hadn't actually said it, but Melinda had a feeling one day that the snake was leading her as it had led many others. It saw and knew everything, all the time, and it was able to share this ability with certain people who were able to receive this sight. Melinda thought they were myth, or something that existed only in the distant past. She was proof they were still around, but now there was an even greater price to pay for exercising this extra sense. Melinda already knew what the price was. The snake made it very clear, in this current vision. It was a taste of what she would become in the eyes of many.

She wasn't looking at them, but she felt her parents in the hallway. Her father was holding a phone to his ear right now. She sensed their pastor was on the other end. She didn't hear him talk into the mouthpiece, but she felt both of them thinking about witchcraft.

Her mother watched Melinda, using her own phone to record what their daughter had been doing in her bedroom alone for the last few months. Melinda saw herself as her mother did. A monster.

Melinda saw her own future. Disowned, impoverished, outcast from society--a good little girl lost to Satan. Melinda was ready for the persecution. She was on her way to knowing where mankind had been and why, where he was going and how to avoid a tragic end. In time, the right people would know. They would listen.

The serpent was not so optimistic.

 2013 James Steele. Do not reprint or alter.

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Timeline

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

(book by Michael Crichton. Movie: 2003 by Richard Donner)

Time travel is possible, and while excavating a medieval castle, a professor goes missing in the past. His students take a trip back to when the castle was new and in use and try to find him.

The narration describes NOTHING, leaving me blind the whole story, which is stupid characters making stupid mistakes. Example: Chris, a student along for the ride, is studying medieval technology and yet knows nothing about the customs of the time. I know the education system is over-specialized, but come on! And they just so happen to have a guy who speaks the Middle English of the time period fluently? Adding to the unbelievably, they go through with the joust instead of hiding and looking for the professor.

They were sent back there so they could blend in with the people and fetch the professor without incident. They sure do a good job of that, seeing as though they can’t breathe without getting into some kind of trouble that would be quite easy to avoid if they’d just stop drawing attention to themselves. I put the book down halfway through. Since I could not see or believe anything that was happening I had no reason to finish.

And the movie? All the same problems, but with no science to justify it! Stupid characters making stupid mistakes, and every problem they have would be solved if they would just stop drawing attention to themselves.

For example, why did they take the French guy with them? These people are supposed to be experts in the Medieval time period, and yet they don't know that the English HATE the French? Never crossed their minds his life would be in danger? Never? It's just one example of how stupid these people are, and it just keeps happening.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Gulliver's Travels

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

Gulliver's Travels
(book by Jonathan Swift. Movie: 1996 by The Jim Henson Co.)

What book dares to criticize the government, law, the concept of a nobility and why they’re running things, intellectuals, and human nature itself? Gulliver’s Travels, the most scathing satire ever written.

Gulliver sails to four different lands. The first land is Lilliput, where the people are only six inches tall, a parody of the English monarchy, petty war and the completely illogical way members of government are chosen. The second voyage is to Brobdingnag, a land of giants, is also a parody of England, but now the natives are the nearly perfect society and Gulliver instead represents everything that’s wrong with England. The third land takes a strange detour to the floating island of Laputa and criticizes the academics and intellectuals of the time. The fourth land is the land of the Houyhnhnms, a people of intelligent horses. This is my favorite because its criticism doesn’t focus on the timely subjects of England in the 1700’s so much as human nature itself and how the human social structure is organized.

Essentially in each land Gulliver tries to understand the natives and they try to understand him and his country. In two of the lands he explains his culture and country, only to be met with ridicule. In the other two, he never passes direct judgment, but he comes out looking like the more civilized human being.

We pride ourselves on things that are detestable to other people, such as war, government, wealth, etc. We’re proud of our society, but when you think about it, society makes no sense. Why does society organize itself so massive amounts of people end up earning their living by maintaining a select few noblemen’s extravagant way of life? We’re proud of our weapons and our wars and conquests, but doesn’t the fact that we need weapons and make war and are good at both betray our savage nature? Why do people write volumes of books on government, when government should be led by reason and virtue? Just the fact that books need to be written about it at all implies something is wrong with it. Why do all the achievements of mankind seem aimed at increasing our own natural wickedness? War and conquest to increase greed and envy. The pursuit of wealth and intelligence to increase sloth and gluttony.

This book asks those questions, points these things out, and gives the criticism from the point of view of other nations who do things the right way. They are appalled by our system of government and society because they don’t make sense at all. In two cases, when we see other people doing things just as illogical as we are, it looks ridiculous. The directness of the criticism is appealing.

The language takes some getting used to, and it’s not a very visual book, but oh man the text is dripping in sarcasm and asks the obvious questions: why is the nobility in charge when they know nothing about how to run things? Why are government offices filled by people with the most money and not by people who actually make good decisions that benefit everyone? Why isn’t the world a better place? We know what it should be, so why are things so different? Swift wanted everyone to ask these questions, too. We’re still asking them today.

As for the miniseries adaptation... The differences are nearly infinite! Instead of four separate voyages away from England, it's now essentially one, long voyage. It preserves much of the satire, but mostly it is an action adventure told as a frame story of Gulliver returning home and struggling to cope with everything he's witnessed over the last nine years. It's a very dynamic way of telling the whole story of Gulliver. Most film adaptations just do the Lilliput section and then fade to credits, but there is so much more to the story and it's wonderful to see all of it acted out.

The floating island of Laputa is an improvement over the book, showing more pointless academic endeavors. Gulliver wandering the halls of the college is surreal and hilarious, unlike the book, which is quite boring. Lilliput and Brobdingnag are well-done--the size difference effects are superbly pulled off. The land of the Houyhnhnms, however, is minimal. The book describes a society very similar to England's, but with horses as the gentlemen and Yahoos doing all the tasks horses perform in England. The movie doesn't do much of anything with this, but then again how could they? It would have cost a fortune! I would have liked to see more of their society, but the satire was kept in tact and it still works.

It's a great adaptation of Swift's story. It's not worth pointing out every little difference between the book and the movie because the changes were appropriate to make it exciting, fascinating, and funny! Still the only film adaption of the entire book, and the most definitive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): 2001: A Space Odyssey

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

2001: A Space Odyssey
(book by Arthur C. Clarke. Movie: 1968 by Stanley Kubrick)

After a great section about the ape-men, the rest of the first half is boring. HAL’s condition is introduced and then resolved so fast I barely understood that Bowman was in danger at all. HAL’s role begs to be longer and more exciting, and having it glazed over so quickly was a great injustice to the dynamic it could’ve been (at least the movie makes up for that). However, the last half of the book contains a breathtaking description of Bowman’s trip through the monolith. This makes the book worth reading, as breathtaking descriptions of space are what Clarke does best. The ending leaves a nice resonance in the brain, and that’s why I read books. I like that buzz.

The movie fits into the book like a puzzle piece. Everything that is strong in the book is weak in the movie, and everything that is weak in the book is strong as hell in the film. The movie does a much better job giving weight to HAL's attempt to murder Bowman, and boy is it suspenseful. However, the trip through the monolith is underexplained and cannot hope to equal the depth and grace Clarke pulled off in the book. The movie doesn't explain what happens to Bowman at all, so the end of the film is confusing, but it still leaves you with this vague feeling you've just witnessed something amazing. You haven't, but if you read Clarke's novel you'll understand what you missed.

I also greatly respect this movie for doing something very few sci-fi productions do: portray the silence of space! Yeah, there will be no lasers going pew-pew-pew, no rockets blasting, no ships groaning and blowing up in glorious dolby surround sound. Space has no air, thus there is no sound! Kubrick's movie is one of the few to put this fact front and center, and it makes for a very suspenseful experience because you feel like you're in deep space right along with Bowman. Thank you so much, Stanley, for being as accurate as possible.

The book and the movie complement each other perfectly. Read the book first and then watch the movie!