A Word

Hello, internet. It’s been a while. I know periods of radio-silence are not unusual for me, but I’ve been quiet longer than usual, and I feel it’s about time to just write something just to explain what’s been going on to both you guys and myself.

So, here goes.

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My Initial Thoughts on Frostpunk

Frostpunk-Cover-Art

By the skin of its teeth, New London had weathered the storm. In no small part this was not due to my leadership, but in spite of it. While I had build infrastructure and homes, I had neglected to fully exploit my coal resources, and I had disbanded my outposts far earlier than I should have. By the fourth day of the blizzard, the generator was running on coal dust, and was desperately trying to keep the great machine running while I held services, delivered sermons, and organized public displays of penance to keep the people from losing all hope. Though conditions were awful and many died, the city and most of her people survived. The people rose to greet the day, rebuild, and turn their eyes to the future once more. Overall, a happy ending.

The game, however, had different ideas. As the ending title cards played, the game painted a picture of New London as a theocratic society, viewing everything through a religious prism, and worried the people had “gone too far” in adapting themselves to this new world. Given all of what had happened, I couldn’t help but feel a touch let down by this pronouncement from on high.

I suppose that sums up my current feelings towards Frostpunk, the new game by independent Polish developer 11 Bit Studios. While the game is quite enjoyable on the mechanical level, its thematic concerns don’t seem to be quite in line with my own interpretation of the game.

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Comedy Without Tears: The Death of Stalin

Death of Stalin - Poster

From left to right: Vasily Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Georgi Malenkov, Nikita Khrushchev, and Marshal Georgi Zhukov. Yeah, I know.

I must admit that I approached this movie with a great deal of trepidation. As someone with a serious interest in the history of the Soviet Union, I confess I have a touch of humorlessness on the subject. Rather than getting into the spirit of things when people poke fun at it or take it lightly, I dig in my heels, affect a pretentious tone, and go “well, actually…” On top of that, years spent listening to Russian reactions has made me increasingly wary of how many popular Western depictions of Russia and Russian culture lean on caricature and straight-up bigotry. There’s even a word for it in Russian – klyukva – which gives an indication of how widespread the problem is (and how unaware of it we in the West seem to be).

Still, it was a setting I was interested in, and I had quite enjoyed the original French bandes dessinée the movie was based on, so yesterday I suited up and took the plunge.

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I Should Have Saved That Pun For This: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Book One: Deus lo Vult

The Saga of Tanya the Evil - LN1 Cover

When I said I wanted to start reading alternate history stories again back in January, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. About a month ago, I was browsing a small hole-in-the-wall forum and was intrigued by a few scattered mentions of a recent animé series set in a magically-charged version of the Great War. Since I’ve always been a sucker for alternate histories centered around the First World War, I threw the title into Google and was surprised to find a show from the Winter 2017 season that somehow managed to combine about a half-dozen of my interests into one package.

That said, this rambling post is not a review of that show. The Saga of Tanya the Evil, henceforth abbreviated to Tanya, started life in 2013 as a web serial written by the pseudonymous “Carlo Zen” with illustrations by Shinobu Shinotsuki. Since then, it has been republished as ongoing light novel series, and has been adapted into an ongoing manga and a limited-run animé series. While the animé is far and away the most popular version of the three in the West, I have decided to tackle the first light novel instead. There have been plenty of reviews and discussions of the animé in the past year, so I was more interested in approaching the material from a different angle, one that sticks closer to the (tidied-up and translated version of the) original text. I also find it much more comfortable and enjoyable to dig through a book than a television series, and judging from my daily statistics it seems like the feeling among all you guys in Internet Land is mutual.

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All Kawaii on the Western Front: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered

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I couldn’t find any box art I was happy with, so please enjoy this action shot of Alicia and Welkin.

(As a prelude, I would like to sincerely apologize for that pun. It’s dreadful, even by my low standards.)

Valkyria Chronicles, Sega’s critically acclaimed 2008 release, was a departure from my usual gaming habits. While I’ve played my fair share of real-time strategy games and turn-based 4X games in the past, I’d never really tried my hand at a turn at a “tactical roleplaying game” before, much less a Japanese one. Despite this, the setting of the game, a fantasy Europe undergoing its own version of the Second World War, tickled both my love of industrial fantasy and occidentalism, and I grabbed the PC remaster during a Steam sale late last November. I’ve spent the past week burning through the game’s campaign, and while I have greatly enjoyed the time I spent with it, in a certain sense the game is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls that occur when translating historical events between cultures.

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A Very Brief Note on 2017 and the Road Ahead

2017 was a very bad year for me. While my new drug regimen did improve my overall well-being, they also left me with sleep and anxiety issues that I have yet to fully overcome. I was also met with a great tragedy in early August when Catherine Brunelle, a local writer and  good friend, passed away. Catherine was a wonderful, upbeat woman, and she helped me a great deal while I was struggling to get through a dark patch; in fact, she was the one who persuaded me to start this blog. She worked tirelessly to support and brighten the lives of her family, friends, and community, and she left us far too soon. I am glad for what little time we had together, and I miss her terribly.

Given the circumstances, I haven’t done as much as usual this past year. The major entertainment highlights I experienced in 2017 have been covered either in this blog or in my year-end wrap-up on Strange Horizons. The biggest writing project I embarked on was the massive collaborative review I did with Michal Wojcik over at One Last Sketch on Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy, which was a great piece of work for both of us. As for the blog, it was much to my surprise that my review of Valsalia’s webcomic The Out-Of-Placers became one of the most popular posts on this blog in the space of a few months. (Kuvira is still the Supreme Commander of this blog, as well she should be.)

As for the year ahead, very little is set in stone, but right now I have two major goals for this blog. The first, which will be coming slowly over the new few months, is to start writing about alternate history again. I was a great fan of the sub-subgenre back in my high school and university days, but I’ve long since drifted away and I think it’s high time I reconnected with my roots. Secondly, with my resurgent interest in horror over the last month or two, I intend to celebrate Spooktober properly by banking up a few posts rather than trying to write everything during the month. They’re small goals, but from small beginnings great things can grow.

To end both the year and this post on a happier note, please enjoy this delightful prologue video for “The United Empire,” a playable race from the 4X space strategy game Endless Space 2. I’ve never played the game, but something about this video fills me with confidence. Confidence…and a desire to know more…

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The Girl In The Iceberg: Anna Kavan’s Ice

Ice - Cover

While the concept was based on dodgy science from the 1960s that was later disproven, I have a special place in my heart for stories about apocalyptic ice ages. A large part of it is simply due to my own ambivalent feelings about winter. I love seeing snow and ice cover the world like a muffling blanket while I huddle for warmth in a blanket of my own, but at the same time the short days and grey skies wreak havoc on my mood. At least for myself, depictions of the world ending in ice have a terrible finality that most apocalyptic scenarios don’t possess. Only a few plants and animals can survive the cold, and humans must sequester themselves into enclosed habitats just to survive. With global warming, plagues, and zombies, human life can go on, but an ice age is the cessation of life, one even more complete that the worst nuclear war scenario. Nothing can outlast the cold, and once they are gone there is no way for them to come back. Perhaps the most powerful apocalyptic image I have ever seen is from Stephen Spielberg’s insufficiently appreciated A. I. Artificial Intelligence. Near the end of the movie, the human race goes extinct as ecological degradation has led to the Earth becoming engulfed in ice sheets hundreds of meters thick. We are introduced to this world by a glimpse of a dead New York where only a few skyscrapers poke up above the ice, and where a robotic civilization has razored out perfect canyons out of the planetary glacier to explore the ruins of their former creators. While such a scene could never occur in real life, it is still the most memorable and haunting image I have seen depicting the death of our species.

It is for these reasons that I decided to pick up Ice, a short novel from 1967 written by the British modernist Anna Kavan. I first encountered the novel while reading some favorable comments sf author Brian Aldiss made of it in his genre history Trillion Year Spree, but I had forgotten about it until just a few weeks ago when I discovered a 50th anniversary republication in a local bookstore. The premise alone was enough to get me to try the novel, but Ice ended up taking me on a very strange journey all its own.

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