Not Bioshocked Enough

So I bought Bioshock now that it's cheap. I wasn't expecting it to be my cup of tea, and I'm disappointed to say that my instinct seems to have been pretty spot on. Compared to its predecessor, System Shock 2 - which I have never played beyond the beginning, to my great chagrin - the set up just seems weak.

I don't understand why everyone I meet wants to kill me. I don't understand why when they do kill me I just respawn in a vita-chamber, but when I kill them they stay dead. I don't understand how you can hack a computer using little squares to re-route water. And most criminally of all: this game just isn't scaring me.

There was one bit that did give me chills, where you know there's someone or something around the corner, and when you turn around the corner the lights go out. But that's it. System Shock 2 didn't even need set pieces to frighten you. Just surviving was scary, crouching in a shadowed corner with a half broken pistol, waiting for one of the Many to pass you by while it lamented pathetically about its lost humanity.

By contrast, I can't help but think that Bioshock is just another shooter. Especially in the sense that you spend most of the time shooting bad guys, with very little tension or suspense. And where in System Shock 2 the absence of character interaction nurtured a desperate sense of isolation, here - where there are plenty of people around, and they just all want to kill me - it makes me think that Bioshock is something of a step backwards.


Thursday Comic

Whiteout - Greg Rucka, Steve Lieber et al.

Whiteout begins with a chunk of hard-boiled monologue from our heroine Carrie Stetko - the sole representative of American law enforcement on the entire continent of Antarctica - about 'knowing the ice' and whether or not she trusts her gut. It's a slight misfire, I think, for a book where the best aspects are the veracity of its setting and its ambiguous characterisations.

Rucka's clearly put a lot of effort into researching Antarctic conditions and politics, and he tells a plausible, well motivated mystery thriller that happens to be set in the most inhospitable and least populated region of the planet. Lieber's art fits the tone, with sparse, sketchy drawings that make good use of the white page.

Whiteout is a low-key, offbeat book that's worth looking into if you enjoy quirky stories of suspense.


Plan 9 from Planning Even More

Everything's kind of stuck in the planning stages at the moment, and I'm not making as much headway as I'd like. I guess part of that is just that planning doesn't feel like progress, even though it's still necessary work that needs to get done. And it's even worse when you're halfway through something and have to stop to make sure you know where you're headed.

But the funny thing is, I find finishing things really disheartening, and I always find myself worrying that maybe I've actually lost the ability to make something complete. But when I think about it, this feeling has always been the strongest with those projects that I did complete, since, after all, if I hadn't finished them, I'd have lost so much more.

If you know what I mean.


Paprika + The Matrix + Nolan = ???

I don't know the answer to that sum, but whatever it is - yes please!

Hat tip Twitch, as ever.


Friday Videogame Babe Blogging

So I finally got around to fixing my install of Steam and playing Portal. GLaDOS totally won me over, especially in the final sequence, and with that fantastic song.

Definitely my kind of murderous AI.


Thursday Book

House of Suns - Alistair Reynolds

Six million years ago, Abigail Gentian split her personality and memories into a thousand clones and launched them into deep space. Now, two such Gentians - Campion and Purslane - are in trouble. They've broken Abigail's rules by falling in love, and they're decades late for the latest reunion. They hope that their amnesiac robot guest will curry them some favour - but little do they know that they've become mixed up in posthuman mysteries that, after all this time, could finally bring an end to the Gentian line.

Alistair Reynold's stories typically have as their underpinning a strong sense that civilisations are probably ephemeral, and that the clock is ticking for humanity. In House of Suns, however, he explores the other side of the question: how might humanity survive for longer than an astronomical sneeze? If it does, how might it change? And how (through long lived individuals and time dilation) might it stay the same?

Although I think Revelation Space and Chasm City are two of Reynold's strongest works, I also think that House of Suns - like Century Rain and Pushing Ice - is yet more proof that he's currently doing his best work outside the Revelation Space series. Reynolds benefits from being able to shape the entire Universe around his ideas like the vastest of all storytelling tools. He does this here to perhaps a greater extent than he's ever done, combining the astronomical and personal scales with a dash of that Gothic, anachronistic style that will be familiar to fans.



After all these years, I finally got pictures of him doing this. Usually he stops in the time it takes me to grab the camera.


Monday Movie: The Insider

Jeffrey Wigand used to be a top scientist in a big tobacco company, and now he wants to spill the beans on how cigarette manufacturers are manipulating the nicotine in their products - even if everything he has is ruined in the process. But when his interview is finally on tape, the corporate lawyers of CBS refuse to allow its broadcast, worrying about their culpability (and the effect of controversy on their share prices). It's up to dedicated newsman Lowell Bergman to get Wigand's story out into the open before a smear campaign destroys the man's credibility - and his life.

When I've not seen one of his films for a while, I tend to just think of Michael Mann as the one working American director who seems to still have an aptitude for action scenes, but The Insider stands as a fantastic reminder that Mann's true strengths are his ability to convey intense dialogue and evocative ambience. Words fly like machinegun bullets throughout this dramatisation of a true story, but there's also great care taken to convey emotion and atmosphere.


Thursday Book

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

An interesting one, this. Wilde's wit is evident from the first page, with the decadent Lord Henry espousing his callous views on why one should live a shallow life of opulence and beauty. And although the plot of the book seems to be told from the perspective of a more conventional morality, the central conceit of the story - that the incomparably beautiful Dorian Gray is able to hide his predilection for sin and vice because the inherent ugliness of such a life affects his supernatural portrait instead of his own flawless face - arguably assumes that goodness and good looks are one and the same.

But regardless of what Wilde was actually trying to say with the book (Victorian society seemed to think that he was saying he should be sentenced to hard labour) something this well written, with luxurious sentences that flow right off the page, is an undeniable pleasure to read.


Edge on to the sun

Image source

So today's the day (perhaps not the Saturnian day, but close enough) that Saturn is at equinox. The gas giant's axis - and therefore also its ring plane - is neither tilted towards or away from the sun. With the sun's light striking them edge on, the Cassini imaging team's favourite frame of reference - the illuminated/unilluminated side of the rings - will be briefly meaningless, before turning on its head.

The Cassini homepage has a nice article on the event here, but as always, you're probably best off checking out Emily Lakdawalla's eloquent description at the Planetary Society blog here.

Disclaimer: the Hubble image above actually shows Saturn from 1996-2000, leaving an equinox and heading into the northern winter that would greet Cassini.


Monday Movie: Return of the Jedi

Return of Jedi has always been my favourite Star Wars film, mostly because of the stonking great space battle, and because Lando gets to be a hero. But then let's not forget Luke's attempts to redeem Darth Vader, the impossibly tear-jerking spectacle of dead Ewoks, and - yes, I'll admit that it figures as well - a certain golden bikini.

The best cut, in my opinion, is the only one that I don't actually own on DVD - the first Special Edition, after Lucas made the ending properly epic, but before Hayden Christensen's dull-eyed ghost was slipped in.


Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

I've not had the time or energy to get much done these past couple of weeks, but I've got some time off coming up, and the chance to get back at my creative projects. Hopefully I'll have some stuff to show you all before the end of the month...


Thursday Comic

Polly and the Pirates - Ted Naifeh

Polly Pringle is a prim and proper girl who aspires to be just like the prim and proper mother she never knew. Living in a maritime city where there's no clear distinction between the ships and the buildings, she's the one girl in her boarding school who never gets into trouble and always does as she's told. That is, until she's suddenly abducted by pirates who believe that she's actually the daughter of the courageous and honourable Pirate Queen - and their best bet at recovering a lost treasure map.

These Thursday posts are supposed to be part of my impetus to read through the stack of books and comics on my bedside table, but I haven't had any time at all for reading over this past week, and looking for something that I could re-read in one sitting and write a post about, this adorable little book immediately leapt out at me. Polly and the Pirates is funny and adventurous, it's full of memorable characters and it eventually manages to be quite touching as Polly grows to give a damn about a group of scurvy buccaneers who probably need her a lot more than she needs them.

I've sung Naifeh's praises as an artist before, and I think that his diverse cast of caricatures - from an impossibly petite schoolmistress to a razor-toothed, goblin-like pirate - manages to cultivate the perfect tone and feel for the story. His writing's on top form here as well, with plenty of swashbuckling action and piratical repartee. Pretty much the only the complaint I have with this book is that three years later there's still not been a sequel.


But did they earn them?

Image Credit: Jens Buurgaard Nielsen
Some rights reserved

The winged ants were taking flight when I walked home from work, swarms of them fluttering around for the last ten minutes of my journey. Hopefully they weren't trying to express resentment at my depiction of their culture in Dead Like Ants.


Monday Movie: Hana-Bi

Director, lead actor, writer, editor etc. etc. Takeshi Kitano reached widespread acclaim with this tale of a quiet, unassuming police officer trying to give his terminally ill wife a pleasant send-off - while dealing with the fallout of a bust gone wrong and the loan sharks who paid for her treatment.

Told in Kitano's inimitably static style, the relationship between husband Nishi and his unnamed wife at first seems reserved, even indifferent. But as the story progresses, the lengths that Nishi is prepared to go to for her become clear, and we're treated to touching insights into their understated love.

Hana-Bi is certainly a sober, softly spoken film, but it's by no means heavy. Kitano keeps things bittersweet and dryly humorous, interspersed with his trademark form of after-the-fact slapstick, and a moving score from Joe Hisaishi draws you into the gentle pace.