Book #125: The Hanging Tree (2016)

hangingtreeauthor: Ben Aaronovitch
language: English and a bit of Krio (Sierra Leone creole)
length: 618 minutes (10 hours 18 minutes) including an interview with the author and narrator
finished listening on: 16 Dec 2016
Rivers of London/Peter Grant series 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I’ve pretty much blazed through this series now, and this book was released only a month ago in late November. Yeah, I’m liking it a lot.

I don’t have much to add to this review that I didn’t already touch on in the last few books. I love the exquisite description that goes into this book, and although this one actually got a bit too fast-paced, I like the storylines. I love the one-liners – I think this time there was a sarcastic quip about the Shard early on that I’d like to have written down, but unfortunately my memory doesn’t last so long.

I like the casual realistic diversity in the cast of characters – in this one, Peter’s sidekick is a Somalian Muslim woman that was introduced in one of the earlier books, and one of the side characters is mentioned to be trans when the police do a background check on her. Or that he always introduces white characters with the adjective white, which a lot of books would unconsciously neglect to do. I don’t want that to be the only redeeming feature, or the only reason that people would read this, but it’s indicative of a book and author that knows where things are at in the world.

I mentioned in the last review that I have a strong suspicion that Aaronovitch writes down the accents of several of the characters just to make the narrator (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) read in that accent, which he’s generally good at, and when I heard the little podcast-style interview at the end of the audiobook with both men (a welcome surprise, I hope more books include stuff like that), I was pleased to hear that that’s exactly what’s happening – and that what’s more, he also gave more specific notes about some of the characters’ exact origins, and gave Holdbrook-Smith a recording of Krio for the short conversation in the middle with the main character’s mother, so that he could get it accurate. I still found this bit difficult to understand – I’m gonna guess that it would be easier to catch if I was reading it in print, like maybe the words would be more recognizable.

Unlike the last story, this one actually advances the plot of the series. But similar to some of the others, it’s not always clear what direction it’s headed in (this can be a good and bad thing). It doesn’t waste time introducing the main police case that the characters are to be interested in, but it switches a couple of times to following another strand. But it gets dramatic later on and there are a few major twists. So it’s a welcome addition to the series.

But now I’m caught up, and it’s like with TV shows when I get into them late: I don’t like the sudden existential dread of knowing I’ll have to wait a year (or probably more) in order to read the next in the series. Perhaps that’s good, though – I can go away from it and come back later. Looking forward to it, whenever it comes!

Film #246: Alkali, Iowa (1995)

alkaliiowadirector: Mark Christopher
language: English
length: 17 minutes
watched on: 2 December 2016

I was linked to this on Tumblr or something, I guess, and it found its way onto my hard-drive. Not sure if I ripped it from Vimeo or from a torrent file. Anyway, you can watch it on Vimeo if you google the title. I got round to watching it when my boyfriend asked to watch something, but I had to go to work the next day, so something short was best.

It’s about a guy growing up on corn farms in Iowa and realizing he’s gay. Then through a roundabout series of events he discovers that his late dad was also secretly gay, and the blonde guy that sometimes comes to a nice picnic spot near the farm was his father’s lover once upon a time. Unfortunately, granddad is homophobic and draws a gun on the blonde guy.

It was a nice little movie. The corn fields are shot very nicely, although bleakly. The various family relationships portrayed were realistic.

It’s not the most interesting, however. Not much happens in the movie except that the granddad gets angry at the son for prying. But it’s short and it’s a curious watch, so if you’re at all interested I’d go for it! Let me know what you think!

Book #124: A Closed and Common Orbit (2016)

acacoauthor: Becky Chambers
language: English and some invented languages
length: 789 minutes (13 hours, 9 minutes)
finished listening on: 2 December 2016

This is the second book in the series of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. When I finished that book back in September, the sequel hadn’t been released yet. I think it came out in October. Like its predecessor, it’s coincided with an uptick in the amount of cycling I’ve been doing (during which time I generally have it on), as I’m finally getting over various muscle injuries I’ve had during this year. Indeed, I had injured my elbows back in September because of bad posture on my bike, so I’ve now been able to fix the bike position and other stuff.

So I say it’s a sequel, and that’s only kind of true. It’s following two minor characters from the previous book – Pepper, a techie with a mysterious past, and the AI Lovelace, known as Sidra from about the second or third chapter, who was rebooted at the end of the last book with a scrubbed memory, much to the despair of all the other characters. Basically, Pepper convinces the AI to be reinstalled into a body-kit, like a hyper-realistic android, and then this story is about her journey as she settles into her new body, and the people she meets. In alternate chapters, it also looks into Pepper’s origin story as Jane 23 – a slave clone on a decadent world, sorting through junk in a scrap yard in a world populated by “Enhanced” humans. Sounds like something out of the Hunger Games.

Both characters’ arcs are about finding identity, similar to some of the themes of the first book, finding friendship, and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. It’s coming-of-age, essentially. Sidra’s story is often about being the “ghost in the machine” – she never feels connected to her body, doesn’t feel ownership of it, until really the end of the book. Part of her journey is literally hacking into her programming to be able to tell lies, and this seems to be one of the keys to her feeling in control of her body. Jane/Pepper’s story is more about finding one’s purpose in life, which is reflected to an extent in Sidra’s story, with a hefty dollop of PTSD and the other effects of an abusive childhood – especially at first, as not having a task to do would lead to punishment in her factory.

Compared to the last book, it’s less of a space opera and more of an interpersonal drama set nominally in space. There are maybe five characters we need to care about throughout, which is a lot less taxing to keep track of, and they don’t really go off-world – no journeying through hyperspace like before. But Chambers uses the opportunity to explore the cultures of her invented universe a lot more, and various cultures are mentioned and expanded that weren’t before. It’s like a warm embrace welcoming me back into her world – it’s only been a few months since the last one, and even then it’s nice to come back into it, with all the unique words and expressions that her future people use.

If I’m to give any outright criticism of the book, as I did before with The Long Way…, it’s going to be mostly nitpicking. Perhaps I wasn’t fully satisfied with the genders again (and the narrator is still awkward saying the epicene pronoun xe) – this time we see that the Aeluons have four genders, but I’d prefer to say four physiological sexes or phenotypes. The extra two genders are basically bigender and agender in our modern context, but they’re actually physically different from males and females.

Anyway, one character Tak switches between male and female every other scene, similar to the character Corey/Kory in The Art of Breathing, which I listened to last year. But unlike that, where the male and female represent different sides of the character and their psyche, I didn’t perceive any significant difference in the way that Tak is presented or the way other characters react to them in one gender or the other. It’s more a game of working out which pronoun the character is using in each chapter. Basically I think I’d have liked a more in-depth look at how this affects the society and the characters.

But those are pretty minor points, and they’re not the main thrust of the story. Just like The Long Way…, it’s a great female-driven sci-fi-esque story about friendship and found family, and that alone should be enough to recommend it. It’s also funny and sweet in equal measures, and towards the end I couldn’t stop listening (some other audiobooks, I can only withstand about an hour at a time before I start tuning out). OK, perhaps a bit saccharine at times, but nonetheless a great listen. The two books are standalone, and one can really read them in any order, but I think the previous book is a better starting point overall. It will fill in a lot of background that’s missing from this book, and it’s a more conventional sci-fi story. But this is a really good book.

Film #245: The Lady of Musashino (1951)

musashinodirector: Kenji Mizoguchi
language: Japanese
length: 84 minutes
watched on: 25 November 2016

My friend and I were going through some DVDs that I had in my little collection – I think this one originated with my sister. It’s been a while since I’ve watched any classic/old Japanese cinema – I’ve found that I’ve tended to avoid going to the cinema to watch Japanese movies in Japan (the lack of subtitles doesn’t encourage me, basically). So it’s probably been since Seven Samurai, one of the first movies I reviewed on here – and ironically, it was on in my local cinema recently. But that’s by the by.

This movie is about postwar Japan, and it depicts a rich family living in a traditional style house, just outside Tokyo in Musashino… which is now just part of Tokyo and pretty much where I used to live. It’s now completely built up, never mind the Japanese people who still lazily characterize it as “countryside”.

By today’s standards it’s totally PG and doesn’t depict any kissing, but by the standards of the day I’m guessing it was a bit risqué – the main plot is basically a sex comedy, as the main characters’ allegiances shift from one person to the next, and the titular “Lady of Musashino” has an affair with her cousin. At the same time, her husband is preaching in his university classes that adultery should be morally allowed within society, and acts accordingly, sleeping with the other main female character, but has rather the opposite reaction when he finds out his wife has also reacted in kind.

I found it difficult to follow at times – the setup is almost lightning fast, as a dying mother and father in one scene are completely gone after a quick fade-out. At other times too, scenes and plot points were set up with one sentence, meaning that I had to keep paying attention. There are also too many characters at the beginning, pared down to five main players by the end, once I’d got the hang of who was who.

Anyway, after a while the distracted looks of despair started to grate on me. I’d like to say this is a trope of older Japanese drama, but it’s still alive and kicking in modern drama, which in this aspect at least take its cue from theatre – characters look away from each other a lot when they want to be melodramatic. The other thing was the overly formal language, even to lovers, which I found (in the modern context at least) was unrealistic.

Anyway, the film seems to dislike all its protagonists, and it seems to be an attack and lament on the state of post-war morals in Japan. Basically the main character has to kill herself honorably so that she can one-up her husband in the war of attrition (he’s trying to swindle her out of property). At some point I became annoyed by this too, and I didn’t agree with the message that the director was apparently trying to put across about the morals. I wasn’t around then, yes, but this situation also doesn’t ring true to life. There’s also the very final shot of the movie, in which we see that development of the city is encroaching on Musashino, obviously also lamenting that the poor morals of the inner city are corrupting the minds of the country folk.

I’d like to find out where that shot, and the shots of the lake featured in the movie a few times, were filmed. Were they Inokashira park, Jindaiji, or somewhere like that? In which case they’d be familiar to me, yet completely changed. It’s very interesting to me how that kind of stuff has changed into the modern day.

Anyway, the film wasn’t what we’d expected at all from an older Japanese movie, what with all the sex comedy and the melodramatic intrigue, but we got emotionally invested in it, and started cursing out certain characters near the end. So in that sense it was a fun romp and set out to do what it wanted. But I don’t agree with the underlying message.

Film #244: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fbawtftdirector: David Yates
language: English
length: 133 minutes
watched on: 23 November 2016

I was a bit apprehensive before going into this movie, but I’m not sure why. I think I just was worried that it wouldn’t live up to Harry Potter, or that I was worried about how Eddie Redmayne would act in the movie. But I hadn’t really seen anything about the story except a brief trailer once. As many have noted, this is in stark contrast to the Harry Potter movies – almost everyone had read the book and could tell exactly what was going to happen next.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, fictitious author of the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released as a Comic Relief fundraiser by J.K. Rowling at the height of Harry Potter mania, in the hiatus between Books 4 and 5. I actually had a flick through it again after I got home, to see if I could recognize any of the fantastic beasts featured in the movie – but in the book, they’re pithy little paragraphs, greatly expanded for the sake of the movie.

In the story, Redmayne’s character heads to 1920s New York, ravaged by an unseen eldritch nightmare, ostensibly to find a dragon breeder, but he finds that the magical agency in charge is much stricter about segregation from muggles, or no-majes, than the UK would be. At the same time, Colin Farrell’s magical invigilator is investigating the eldritch nightmare thing, and targeting the New Salemers, an anti-magic league, viz. a scary Christian woman who beats her children. But Scamander’s magic beasts escape his special bottomless suitcase and start rampaging around New York.

Compared to real segregation, I was interested to see that they already had a black woman president a century before the real America is even looking at the possibility of a white woman. Perhaps there’s no room for racial discrimination when you’re busy discriminating against muggles. I liked the depiction of the American magical world, but I felt like a lot of it was a repackaged version of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter. Renaming muggles No-majes doesn’t really do much when you also don’t rename Aurors and Squibs – the latter in particular is also very British-sounding.

The mise-en-scène was generally good, too – including both the vistas of New York that we see in various scenes, but also magic idly working in the background. It’s also the stuff that made the later Harry Potter movies great to watch and the biggest welcome addition to the books. The CGI animals also work very well, and they’re totally cute.

I also really like the juxtaposition between the magic and non-magic worlds, which in Harry Potter, ne’er the twain should mix, but here, the characters head into a muggle bank, take ships across the Atlantic with muggles, and go on a rampage through muggle New York. My favourite character was Jacob Kowalski, whose reaction to pretty much anything is the antithesis of a magic person’s reaction – to punch it in the face, leaving several of the magic characters temporarily stunned, because they’re not used to physical confrontation. Tellingly, there’s a bit later on when a witch character tries to open a door with a spell, fails because the security on the door is too strong, but he can easily just kick it down, leaving me to wonder what kind of security they even had on it. It’s like how people make jokes that Harry Potter would have been over a lot quicker if someone had just shot Voldemort in the head when they had a chance. He wouldn’t have known what was coming.

I couldn’t really tell where the movie was going for a lot of its run, though. It’s not clear yet, until the final act, what the central conflict of the movie is. Redmayne’s strand of the story is more of a romp, and Ezra Miller’s side of the story is not clearly connected to the other strands. This annoyed me – I thought it could have had a clearer sense of direction.

Speaking of Ezra Miller, he doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie except snivel in a corner and cower away from Colin Farrell. And Redmayne overacts throughout, self-consciously Awkward with people. I understand this is through Rowling’s explicit direction, but at the same time, it’d be nice to see him not looking like he’s about to cry.

Now I kind of have to talk about the ending, so … spoilers!

The obvious theme of the ending is that oppression is bad – Miller’s character is oppressed and beaten by his mother, and this causes him to mutate into the eldritch horror and play havoc on New York. I think we can all agree with that.

And yet, when we find out that Farrell was Grindelwald all along, he is saying things like, they shouldn’t hide away their true selves from the world. He’s just like Magneto in that sense – why are these people the bad guys again? This theme resonates with me a lot as an LGBT person: we’ve fought hard-won battles for our rights, and we’re not about to give up those rights and go into hiding. OK, so Grindelwald and Magneto are also advocating to take over the world and establish a new social order where they are at the top of the pecking order, but the denouncement of Grindelwald’s views directly contravenes the lesson we just learned from Ezra Miller.

And as for Grindelwald, why the fuck is he played by Johnny Depp doing a stupid voice? I thought that ship had sailed long ago – not to mention the recent furore with his ex-wife’s rape and abuse allegations. I think Ken Branagh would have done a better job of it – too bad he’s already been used in the second Harry Potter movie.

Finally, the last scene was totally deus ex machina. Everything is sorted out in one fell swoop. Boring!

I liked the movie as a whole, though. It’s not as strong as Harry Potter, but it lives comfortably within the same universe, and it has a lot of pleasing elements. I’m looking forward to the next one, whenever it comes out, but I’m praying slightly that Johnny Depp loses the stupid voice if he’s going to be a prominent part of the new franchise, and that the story progression can be a bit clearer.

So how about you? What did you think of it?

Book #123: Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013)

jodtaaauthor: Jodi Taylor
language: English
length: 570 minutes (9 hours, 30 minutes)
finished listening on: 16 November 2016

This book is another one that kept coming up in the sci-fi section of Audible, and eventually I got around to listening to it. It’s about time travel, and some historians who go back to investigate real life events and get a better insight into what actually happened.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s one that is obviously carried out lovingly by someone who’s well into her history, as a lot of things are described in great and accurate detail. Linguistic and cultural matters are not glossed over, so the characters take a great deal of training to be ready for their travels.

The book’s sense of humour very obviously takes after Terry Pratchett, especially with the idea of a very disorganized band of misfits saying “bloody hell” a lot. It works well, but I think it’s Taylor’s first book, and I think she needs to find a bit more of her own style.

One thing I found, though, was the book was so full of ideas it was often spilling over. One the one side, there are the sci-fi aspects with time travel paradoxes and the like, and the intrigue plot with the breakaway characters from the future timeline, but it’s also trying to depict a bunch of disparate time periods, and the present-day characters’ relationships and interpersonal drama – and there are also a lot of characters to juggle. There’s also frank discussion of issues such as sexual assault (which is dealt with sensibly and sensitively), but it often comes as a bit of a shock after the romping nature of a lot of the rest of the book.

I felt when listening to the audiobook that I could often miss key points due to the fast pace – the time travel paradoxes were often explained in an almost throwaway sentence, or five years suddenly pass in the middle of the book when it glosses over their years-long training period, or a character seems to go missing and I had presumed her dead until she arrives back in the story later on. I think a slower pace would work well for this. I also had a bit of trouble distinguishing minor characters, or even major characters like the “chief” and “boss”, who were different, although the narrator had a good voice for accents and could mitigate this a lot.

But the story was well-told, overall, and it left enough mystery at the end that I might like to continue with the series. I’ll see, though – it’s pretty long at about nine books already. I don’t know if I have the stamina!

Anyone else read this?

Film #243: Toast (2010)

toastdirector: S.J. Clarkson
language: English
length: 96 minutes
watched on: 9 November 2016

I didn’t know anything about this movie before watching it, except that my boyfriend had recorded it using a DVR device thing and it had a few famous actors in it – Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter among them. It turns out it’s a TV movie from the BBC and it’s about a famous chef Nigel Slater, who I’ve never heard of. OK, I exaggerate, I think I’ve heard his name a few times, but I certainly know nothing about him.

So I went into the movie knowing nothing about the life and times of the real-life man, nor the book it’s apparently based on, and the whole thing was a pleasant surprise for me.

It starts with the young Nigel, played by Oscar Kennedy, in the picture above, in the 1960s. He’s already obsessed with food and wants to be adventurous in the kitchen and learn how to make nice things, but his mum is unable to cook, and resorts to toast when she can’t cook something properly, hence the title. But she soon passes away from at-the-time-incurable asthma, and after a brief mourning period, his emotionally-distant dad shacks up with the maid, played by Helena Bonham Carter. He doesn’t really connect with his son, and the boy is constantly left in the dark. They move out to the country, which the boy obviously hates, but the dad doesn’t care, and the stepmother sees it as an opportunity to swipe any semblance of control from the boy. Then the boy grows up into Freddie Highmore in his late teens, and it becomes a full-on war between him and the evil stepmother, who’s actually good at cooking, and he feels that she’s stealing his dad from him.

It’s a foodie movie through and through – of course – and food is depicted very lovingly throughout. It’s also highly stylized, and reminded me of the stylized supermarket in High-Rise, still fresh in my mind. The tins of food in the shop at the beginning of the movie especially reminded me of this, stacked in impossibly neat columns. The 60s kids are dressed stereotypically, very prim, and the colour palette of the entire movie uses a lot of green and brown.

It’s also got a gay bent to it, right from the beginning when the ten-year-old Nigel eyes up his hot gardener changing clothes in the shed (it comes across more innocently than I’m describing it, honest!). He also gets bullied in school when he’s older. I didn’t think they’d follow through with it, so I was pleasantly surprised when the older Nigel finally meets a nice young man with whom he shares a kiss in the woods (it’s very PG, though), towards the end of the movie.

Obviously there are questions about the authenticity, as always happens with these types of movies, from the character cast in a conflicting role, in this case Helena Bonham Carter hamming it up as Nigel’s stepmother. Apparently in real life she also had two daughters, who complained about unfair representation. But in the movie there’s a war between her and Nigel for the dad’s heart through food, a stand-in for class conflict as I see it.

For all that, it’s a nice movie to watch, and I enjoyed it a lot. But it has one gaping structural flaw, one weak link, and that is Freddie Highmore. You see, the kid in the picture above, Oscar Kennedy, really carried the whole movie in the first two acts, and his acting skill is really high for someone that young. He is literally the hook that got me interested, as his depiction of the character was really poignant and well-measured. Usually in biopics when you have a kid actor growing up into a more well-known adult actor, the movie doesn’t wait until the third act to make the switch like in this one. Usually the kid does a few establishing scenes and the adult actor puts in the legwork. But here, once we’d spent two thirds of the movie with Kennedy, he suddenly grows up into Highmore. Highmore, by contrast, is completely wooden, and really lends no emotion to key scenes late in the movie. Helena Bonham Carter is left to chew the scenery by herself, trying to make up for Highmore’s emotional void.

So just for that ending, I was a bit disappointed. But I liked many aspects of this production – the visual design, the storyline, the foodie bits, the gay bits. It’s an interesting little movie, and I enjoyed it for what it was.

Book #122: Like & Subscribe (2013)

likesubscribeauthor: Jay Bell
language: English
length: 54 pages
finished reading on: 5 November 2016

This is the second short story that Jay Bell (author of the Something Like Summer series) has written, after Language Lessons, which I read the same week as this.

It’s the story of a guy who is crushing on a Youtube celebrity, who happened to go to high school at the same time, although they were not friends. He gets the chance to hook up with the Youtube guy, but doesn’t follow through because it feels weird, and then afterwards he realizes that the man behind the mask is actually Youtube guy’s boyfriend – he’s the one that tells Youtube guy what to say. Eventually the main character falls for him instead. I say eventually… it’s a short story, it doesn’t take that long.

I sympathized with these characters a lot more than the ones in Language Lessons, who I found conceited. These ones fit more closely with my own life, except that their situation is a bit nicer. Bell also shows that their lives are fuller than we know from just the story, and that their characters are more than one-dimensional – there are hints of a failed relationship with, or one-way crush from, a girl who is still living with the main character, for instance, but the book doesn’t have the space to develop her character. I think it’s a massive improvement on the earlier short story.

I’ve noticed that Bell’s stories seem to follow a set arc, where the main character has one relationship first which doesn’t work out, and then falls for a completely different character. This follows that pattern, Language Lessons follows it in a more striking way, Something Like Summer follows it, but has a disappointing ending in order to make the original relationship work instead. Spring and Lightning also followed this pattern. I like the guy’s writing – I like his characterization and I always identify a lot with them and the stories – but he does really like to stick to a particular trope. I must have already commented that most of the Something Like books are revisiting the same story from different characters’ viewpoints, and there’s only so many times you can do that (maybe once) before it gets trite. Just saying, like, maybe he could try another genre or something, to refresh a bit.

Anyway, it’s a free Kindle book, and it’s pretty easy to read, so of course I recommend it. I think it’s also a cheap Audible download if you’d prefer something to listen to. No idea of the quality of the recording, though.

Game #36: Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty! (2014)

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-17-43-19creator: Lorne Lanning, et al.
language: English
length: 15 levels
finished playing on: 4 November 2016

This is an updated version of Abe’s Oddysee, but I didn’t even know of its existence until recently. It’s a modernized and revamped version – the levels and story are all taken from the original game, but the graphics and style of the game have changed – it’s now a 2.5D game (3D graphics, 2D gameplay), with a side-scrolling window, instead of walking from one screen to the next as in the original.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Abe is an alien Mudokon, working in a meat factory, but he realizes that the evil corporate Glukkons have decided to cook him and his kind into a new kind of meat popsicle, so he has to save all the other Mudokons. He mostly has to sneak past the Slig guard with their guns, but he can also possess and blow them up in various ways.

Overall it’s not a bad update, especially as it allows me to play through the game again, which I haven’t done since that time five years ago. I’ve been more familiar with the sequel Abe’s Exoddus, in the past, but I’ve only played through Oddysee twice, and the levels still aren’t familiar to me, meaning that I’m going into the game almost blind.

Not quite, though. I know about secret areas and stuff that the game tries to hide from you near the beginning – unlike Exoddus, Oddysee didn’t reveal that you can possess Sligs until more than halfway through the game, for one thing. I imagine for a first-time player this would be a funny surprise, and something that would encourage you to play through the game again. As for the secret areas, I remember having a lot of trouble with these in Oddysee because of the lack of Quick-save feature, introduced in Exoddus and mercifully added into this game. But I still actually missed an embarrassing number of them, even having tried to use a guide to make sure I hadn’t.

The game and levels (this applies to the original too) progress nicely and naturally, compared to Exoddus. There’s a long and convoluted opening area, with multiple secret areas, which requires a lot of backtracking to complete fully – that’s a bit annoying, but it works well. But I also found myself thinking that the original games’ designers couldn’t help kind of repeating the same kind of structure in Exoddus – he gets out of the factory and then goes to two temples in order to gain the mysterious power that will allow him to rip the factory apart, and this is repeated in the sequel.

As for this updated version, the graphics are the main updated thing, but there is also a set of difficulty levels, meaning you can play a more lenient version where Abe isn’t killed in one shot (this was too weird for me, and I set it to Hard). Graphically it’s brighter, but less textured, unless you switch to the higher graphic level, which my contemporary Mac couldn’t handle, which is ridiculous (I mean I know it’s designed for PCs and Playstations actually, but come on). I actually had to quit and restart the game about once an hour if I set the graphics higher, but if I set them too low I sometimes couldn’t make out important details.

Changing to a scrolling platformer works pretty well, although they apparently had to make a few design changes along the way, like having sleeping baddies’ ZZZs come right into the next screen, which wasn’t required before. But there are enough places where it’s obvious where the break in the screens would have been in the original, and that grated a bit. I had similar problems with the updated Avernum and Avernum 2 – you can see where previous hardware or programming limitations had forced a design decision that wasn’t necessary any longer.

I had to use Steam, which also annoyed me because it is bloated and has a draconian password-change process (I haven’t used it in five or six years), and because it keeps trying to advertise at me when I load it up to play a game. A small annoyance overall. Changing from a Playstation controller to keyboard controls was the final slight hurdle for me, but I managed to get used to that eventually. I kept pressing the wrong buttons, though. I could reset the controls how I wanted, but the defaults were fine, just pretty left-handed and sometimes with keys arranged differently than I naturally expected.

It was a good replaying experience, and I’m just hoping they’re going to revamp Abe’s Exoddus soon. It also has original DLC, but I haven’t bought it yet. I hope it’s interesting and takes advantage of the new features better. I have a few more things I’d like to say, but that should do for now. Anyone else played this? Or the original?

Book #121: Foxglove Summer (2014)

foxgloveauthor: Ben Aaronovitch
language: English
length: 645 minutes (10 hours, 45 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 November 2016
Rivers of London series 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

This is the fifth book in the Rivers of London series about magical constable Peter Grant, and it’s the first one that’s not actually set in London – it’s now been transposed to Herefordshire, where he goes first on a routine investigation of a magician who lives there, and then gets embroiled in the investigation of two missing children.

It’s a welcome change of pace from the other books in this series, and allows the author to do something different with the characters, but it basically doesn’t advance the overarching plot much, if at all. At the end of the last book (big spoilers!) the character of Lesley defects to the other side, tempted over by the big baddie. Here she texts a bit with the main character, implying that she’s spying on him, but doesn’t show up.

I did enjoy a lot of things about this book – I liked seeing how magic fits into the countryside setting, and I enjoyed finding out new things about Aaronovitch’s brand of magic, as usual. I liked the weirdos the main character meets, and I liked that people kept asking him about aliens, as if it’s more of a country thing to believe in.

Similar to before, I liked how Aaronovitch kept naming accents in the book, because it meant Holdbrook-Smith (the narrator of the audiobook) had to do the character in that accent. His Scottish is slipping a bit, but his Scouse sounded alright to me.

Also similar to before, I like that the book has gay side characters. I’m like a broken record with this – but it’s very important to me that this happens more. I like characters who nonchalantly refer to their boyfriends even when I’m not actually setting out to read a gay story, which tend to be niche and not popular.

With the ending of the book (you should probably look away if you don’t want to read any spoilers…), I thought there was going to be a bigger cliffhanger than there ultimately was – the main character gets saved at literally the last minute from having to stay in Faerie Land for ever. I was interested that such a place existed in this fictional universe.

But ultimately this book is filler. It’s good stuff, but I’m waiting for the story to continue properly with the next book, which I think has just come out this month.