Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Amazing Atheist: "NUANCE IS DEAD (AND SJWS PISS ON ITS GRAVE)" (Partial Transcript)

I don't agree with everything The Amazing Atheist says at all times, but in many ways, we're on the same side: the side of "nuance".  He covers this in the first part of the video, noting his increase in conservative, religious subscribers.  There are people on both sides who are interested in really exploring the issues, really digging into the truth of things, and there is an opposite side--mostly Social Justice Warriors and third-wave feminists--who simply is not, and wants to not disprove any opposing ideas but straight up silence them by virtue of the strength of accusations.

Feel free to watch the entire video here, which begins with an impassioned argument for the importance of nuance in any discussion:

But if you'd prefer text (as I do, and some of my friends; this was written up for their benefit, and I hope The Amazing Atheist doesn't mind!), the real meat of it begins below.  I attempted to transcribed it verbatim, omitting only filler words (um, uh, et cetera).  Added emphasis is mine.

Transcript begins at 13:51
...I can finally bring this video back to the subject of SJWs, this time in the form of third-wave feminists.

One of my most popular quotations on the subject of feminism is "Feminism attempts to make both sexes equal by focusing on the issues of only one of them." Now I might have butchered my own quote there, but this statement was originally a tweet, and a very popular one at that.

Now is it nuanced? Well, it was a tweet, so no, it wasn't. Not all feminists are the same. Not all feminists believe in equality. Some believe in female supremacy. It's just a fact. Not all, some. Not all feminists focus only on women's issues. Some do care about men's issues.

There isn't room to explain all of that in one little pithy statement on Twitter!

That doesn't make the statement invalid. That just means that it's incumbent on the audience to understand that statement in the context of the current debates between various incarnations of feminism and various incarnations of anti-feminism.

But here's a problem: there is one thing that almost all feminists share in common. That all SJWs in general share in common, and it's this: they put forth ideas but they do not care whether or not there ideas are understood. That's very strange. There's a reason though that Anita Sarkeesian disables comments on all of her videos.

And I speculate that is has nothing to do with harassment or bullying, as she claims, and upon further reflection, I think, perhaps, that it's not even to do with silencing dissent as I and others have claimed. I think that she disables comments because she doesn't want to answer critics. She knows that dissent against her opinions exists, and that it's actually quite popular. She knows that criticisms about her work and ideas abounds, and that she can never, ever stop it.

But she doesn't want to confront it. I think the reason is not even so much that she can't, but that she doesn't want to. The scariest thing about SJWs is that they don't lack nuance because they're too stupid to see nuance, but rather because they actively oppose it as a concept. Their worldview is such that nuance frightens them, because if they say there's a racist patriarchy that oppresses women and minorities, they don't just want you to not challenge that, they don't even want to permit the smallest caveat to that.

Lemme provide some evidence: just look at how they approach rape. The mantra is that men need to listen and believe. If Kesha accuses a man of raping her, it's automatically viewed as true by the SJWs, as evidenced by the recent #FreeKesha hashtag. If a girl says she was raped, that's good enough for Rolling Stone to print an article about it and to vilify an entire frat house and make it seem as if rape is part of their initiation rituals. Even when that story was demonstrated to be false, the SJW narrative was unfazed. Their primary concern was that such a prominent story about false rape would make people less likely to automatically accept rape claims.

In other words, they were scared of people becoming more skeptical. They were afraid of nuance.

For more on this subject, you can check out my videos: "Feminism & Rape: Belief without Evidence", and "Feminist Assumptions and the Great UVA Rape Hoax".

More evidence of the pathological aversion that SJWs have towards nuance is their abiding hatred of the phrase "not all men", which I explored in my video "'NOT ALL MEN!' - Three Words Feminists Hate (And Why They Should Be Said)".

The only reason they hate the phrase "not all men" is because it attempts to inject unwanted nuance into their worldview. For some reason, they think that if some men harass them on the street, then ALL men should be implicated in that. If some men rape, then we need to teach men not to rape.

They hate the phrase "not all men" because it subverts the narrative that all of the problems of sexism are systemic. The last piece of evidence that I will offer that most SJWs actively revile nuance (though certainly nowhere near the last piece of evidence I could offer to this effect), is this:

I've made extremely popular videos against SJWs of all types: feminists, race baiters, language police, et cetera, and it's clear that they hate my stinking, rotten, fucking guts. Any chance they get to attack my character they take it. They've called me a micro-dick, a misogynist, a shitlord, an edgelord, a dudebro, a mansplainer, a neckbeard, a fedora-wearer. They hate that hat for some reason!

A pedophile, a rapist, a rape-apologist, a rape-supporter. They took my comedic series of "Banned From" videos seriously, and some of them to this day think that I was literally banned from numerous restaurants. They're quick to cast on me any aspersions that they can muster, so you know they know about me. You know they hate me.

But you know what they never do, with only a very small handful of exceptions? They never address my arguments. Why?

Well, their spin is that my arguments are so self-evidently wrong and without merit that they don't even warrant a response. I don't agree with that narrative. It's my opinion that they abstain from actual responses to my criticism because by even replying to it, they're forced to confront nuance, and they truly have no argument against nuance.

How could they? Looking at the world without caring about details or context is completely indefensible as a position unless the argument is simply "ignorance is bliss". Maybe they should say... "ignorance is feminism". "Ignorance is politically-correct language-policing bullshit".

So, the reason I have conservatives following me, the reason liberals are getting their good-guy badges revoked from other liberals for being too offensive, the reason a flamboyant gay-man named Milo Yiannopoulos is a hero of the conservative new media, the reason why all of the battle-lines are in the process of being redrawn is because there are those who want nuance in the debate, and there are those who don't.

And due to the aforementioned human predilection for favoring easily-digestible, immediately-comprehensible information, the side that eschews nuance is winning. Make no mistake about it, there's a reason every mainstream media story about Anita Sarkeesian is positive. There's a reason why college campuses are overrun by political correctness and cry-bullying. There's a reason why almost all of social media (with the exception of YouTube) is overrun by SJW-types, and why Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn get to speak to the United Nations and get to help police Twitter.

And there's a reason why practically no mainstream voices rise up to challenge them: it's because eschewing nuance works. It's rewarded. So, to my audience, I say this: whether you are a believer or a non-believer, whether you are liberal or conservative or reject both of those terms, whatever your race, whatever your gender, whatever your sensibilities, let us all be united by this one thing: let us all be united by our willingness to explore ideas and to both give and receive legitimate critics. Let us be united in our ability to be persuaded by evidence and by argumentation, let us be united be our appreciation for nuance and our refusal to blindly accept dogma and to explore the issues and decide for ourselves.

I am The Amazing Atheist. Peace the fuck out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Love the Kickboxer Movies; TWO New Sequels Coming!

I'm stupidly excited for the new Kickboxer movies.  There are two coming, and they're, in some ways, coming full circle for the series.  Some spoilers for the originals below, and quite a bit of rambling.

My appreciation for 2-4 might be partly sentimental.  I first saw 2 and 3 when I was stationed on a tiny base in Cuba for 14+ months.  The job was rough, and we couldn't leave base (because, well, Cuba).  Maybe I just needed some of that simpler-time stuff from the 80s and 90s, some martial arts movies that made up a big part of my teen years, but I quite enjoyed them.

Kickboxer 4 was the first Kickboxer I saw, and it was on over-the-air TV somewhere in the mid or late 90s, late at night (12-2?  2-4?) in my old bedroom (which I sorely missed in GTMO, and sorely miss now!).  Something about it stuck with me.

I saw Kickboxer 1 in Leavenworth.  It was a somewhat happier time and my JCVD affinity was really kicking in.  I was surprised at how much more lighthearted it was than 4.  Between the name and that first experience (4 was dark and gritty), I just assumed...

Anyway, it's a western martial arts classic, and Van Damme at his prime (I absolutely love the similar-timeframe, similar-content Bloodsport [also in the process of being remade!] as well; Paul Hertzog did the soundtracks for both that and Kickboxer 1, and they're a fantastic blend of Asian influence and 80s synth.).

I picked up a collection GTMO, and then saw 2, 3, and 5.  I really liked 1-4.  I didn't care for Kurt and Eric being killed off, but David was a nice replacement, even if his introduction was a little silly: despite brotherhood being one of the main themes of Kickboxer 1, he was never mentioned!

I was also glad to see Xian reappear, at least for 2 and 3.  It was nice continuity.

5... well, it starts off with David being killed of, and we had just spent three movies getting to know him!  With all three Sloan brothers dead, it was a little disappointing.  I've always liked Mark Dacascos (probably partly nostalgia speaking again, because my brother and I were big fans of the Double Dragon games, and we were, at around 9 and 12, respectively, quite happy with the movie at the time), but I didn't like it being a Kickboxer movie.  No Sloans, no Tong Po... there's really no connection between 5 and the earlier four beyond David Sloan's death, so... you know... why bother killing him off?

Which brings us to the two upcoming ones: Kickboxer: City of Blood and Kickboxer: Vengeance.  Between the two of them, they bring the series full circle.

Kickboxer: Vengeance is a remake of the first one.  It brings back JCVD, but this time in the wise mentor role that Xian played the first time around.  It's neat just to see JCVD back in a Kickboxer movie, even if he's no longer the main player.  It looks to be the last out of the gate (somewhere in 2016), so the last Kickboxer movie we're going to get (as of this point) features the star of the original in a meta passing-the-torch sort of setting.

But in some ways, I'm more excited for City of Blood.  Not as much is known about the storyline right now, except that it's a spiritual Kickboxer 6.  The "Kickboxer" name may, or may not, be dropped, and David Sloan may, or may not, become "David Anderson" to avoid licensing issues.  Many sources reference it as Kickboxer: City of Blood, maybe as just City of Blood, so who knows?

As you can guess by the returning Sloan/Anderson, Kickboxer 5's story is ignored, making it more of a Kickboxer 5.  David is a UN peacekeeper tasked with protecting a young witness to some political murders, and, I'm guessing, will end up in a fighting tournament at some point.

Dennis Chan will return as Xian, and Sasha Mitchell as David, making another case of full-circle.  Xian appeared in the original, like JCVD, and will again appear in the latest.  This also means that between the two of them only Vengeance doesn't have either Chan or Mitchell, with both of them clocking four Kickboxer appearances each.  As a nod to 5, Mark Dacascos may appear, likely as the villain.

To tally it up in terms of appearances:
Dennis Chan: 1, 2, 3, City of Blood.
Sasha Mitchell: 2, 3, 4, City of Blood.
Albert Pyun (director): 2, 4, City of Blood.
JCVD: 1, Vengeance.
Mark Dacascos: 5, City of Blood.
Michel Qissi: 1, 2. (His character, Tong Po, also appeared in 4, but played by a different actor.)

Basically, between the two new movies, all the main players, save Tong Po, make returns in some fashion, either as their original characters/roles (David, Xian, Pyun), or as new players (Dacascos and JCVD).  If they could fit in Michel Qissi somewhere, it'd be almost perfect!

On that note, where's Haskell V. Anderson III?  He survived the original unscathed and was never written off as dead (even Mylee, the love interest from the first one, couldn't escape that fate, despite there being no particularly good reason for her to be killed off!).  So I take that back: bring back Michel Qissi AND Haskell V. Anderson III.  I think I'd like to see Anderson in City of Blood playing his Kickboxer 1 character (Winston), and seeing how Tong Po escaped yet again in 4, I think a final showdown with David would make it perfect!

Here's hopin'.  Stoked any way it's sliced (roundhoused?)!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Resident Evil Revelations Summary

(This is semi-incomplete.  I wrote this for my wife because I was excited when I beat the game, but wanted to keep it from getting too in-depth.  Maybe I'll go back later and add in some of the missing details.)

BSAA: Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance.  An international group specialized in fighting bioterrorism.  Currently lead by O'Brian.  Jill, Chris, Jessica, and Parker are all members.

FBC: Federal Bioterrorism Commission.  A US government group inexplicably given complete power and control, with no oversight, over any and all bioterrorism related events.  Currently lead by Morgan.  Raymond and Rachel are current members.  Jessica and Parker are former members.

Il Veltro: a terrorist organization that believes humans need to be wiped out to save the earth, lead by a guy named Norman and a “secret benefactor”.

Basically, the story jumps around, and doesn't reveal important information until later. For example, we don't know that Raymond is suspicious of Morgan until almost the end of the game: we're to assume he's an FBC agent and loyal to Morgan, but in the penultimate episode, we see he's doubtful of Morgan's intentions well before the events of the game.

So, I'm going in chronological order for clarity, which removes a lot of the “twists” that are revealed either by jumping around in the timeline or by revealing their motives as this goes along, rather than as the game revealed them over time.

There were three identical cruise liner ships decommissioned and handed over to Il Veltro by Morgan. Morgan felt the world didn't appreciate the dangers of bioterrorism since it had been quiet for several years, so he gave Il Veltro a bunch of vials of the T-Virus (the primary virus in the series, T-whatevers are all variants of it), and they gladly attacked an eco-friendly island city (because even being a purely solar-powered city, he felt humans still did too much damage and had to be eradicated).

With the city overrun, Morgan ordered it destroyed. FBC members Parker, Jessica, and Raymond manage to escape, with Parker saving Raymond' s life along the way. Raymond is suspicious of Morgan, but has no proof.

Morgan then had the cruise ship with Il Veltro's leader sunk to cover up the evidence, but not before Norman warns him that he has video recordings of all their dealings. Morgan then has the other two ships wiped of terrorists, then replaced with scientists working to weaponize the T-Abyss virus on the other two. When the virus was completed (along with a cure), Morgan had the scientists wiped out by their own creations.

(It's unclear why the other two ships were not destroyed. A possible theory—and this is just my conjecture—is that O'Brian was getting too close for comfort, and so Morgan had the scientists wiped out early. Jill finds a prototype T-Abyss vaccine; maybe Morgan was hoping to get his hands on it before sinking the Queen Zenobia.)

BSAA's O'Brian and Raymond (still employed by Morgan in the FBC, but working from within to bring him down) believe Morgan is responsible for the attacks, but don't have proof. With Il Veltro silent since the attack, O'Brian and Raymond formed an alliance and hatched a plan: to bring back Il Veltro to lure Morgan out. They set up a fake base and send Chris and Jessica to investigate, where they find the coordinates for one of the two remaining ships.

O'Brian then tells Jill and Parker that Chris and Jessica are lost, and gives them the coordinates to the other ship. Morgan, meanwhile, sends Rachel and Raymond to the ship Jill and Parker are on, and Rachel is killed not too far into it.

Parker and Jill stumble into an “Il Veltro” trap, set by Raymond and O'Brian (with Raymond dressed as an Il Veltro terrorist). Chris and Jessica then head to the other ship after Jill manages to make radio contact with them. Raymond, dressed as a terrorist, attempts to tell them everything, but Jessica shoots him.

Morgan, deciding the BSAA is getting too close for comfort, attempts to destroy the ships. The second ship is destroyed, but Jill and Parker save their ship. Jessica, acting as Morgan's fail-safe, attempts to activate the ship's self-destruct. O'Brian realizes there's a mole in the BSAA: Jessica, working for the FBC. Parker corners her, and Raymond arrives (bulletproof vest), telling Parker that Jessica is trying to destroy the ship to cover up evidence that could incriminate Morgan. Jessica fires a shot, Parker takes the bullet for Raymond, and Jessica escapes, Raymond chasing after her at Parker's behest (but letting her escape, unbeknowst to anyone else).

Chris and Jill manage to escape as well, after fighting a huge boss monster while the ship sinks. Raymond meanwhile goes back for Parker, and Jessica flees undetected. O'Brian admits that Il Veltro's return was all a ruse to lure out Morgan. The two ships are destroyed, but the BSAA learned that the sunken third ship may hold video proof of Morgan's dealings with Il Veltro.

Chris and Jill head into the sunken ship, where they find Il Veltro's leader still alive, having injected himself with the T-Abyss. They defeat him and secure the video recordings that incriminate Morgan. With Morgan arrested, O'Brian steps down for his part in the Il Veltro hoax, and the FBC is “dissolved, with the majority of its agents and resources transferred to the BSAA.”

In a final twist, after the credits, Raymond meets with Jessica and gives her a sample of the T-Abyss virus, having been working together all along for an organization that's neither the FBC, BSAA, or Il Veltro. According to semi-official information, they're both working for TRICELL, a conglomerate of “big pharm” (lol) companies who are behind the events of Resident Evil 5 (which takes place a few years after Revelations).

Where does that leave poor, dead Rachel, the only non-monster causality in the game? I have no clue. The only thing we know for certain is that she was (or felt) forced into the mission, and that she was pretty certain she wouldn't survive. She found the drone that had Il Veltro used to disperse the virus on the destroyed city, and was then heading toward the bilge with a pile of keys.

Apparently, she was alive when Jill left her for dead, because she had yet to turn into a zombie.  Yet, Rachel's last words are written down describing the process.  Perhaps she was indeed dead, but retained some of her humanity initially when the T-Abyss virus began to kick in?

Or poor Rachel just got the raw deal again, when Jill grabbed the key and forget all about the dead girl next to it.

What, specifically, was Rachel's mission? Was she knowingly part of Morgan's cover-up, and therefore a terrorist? What exactly was her mission? To merely “investigate the outbreak on the ship”, or to look for—and destroy or recover—evidence that might incriminate him?

Most of my internet searches have turned up nothing helpful regarding anything further into her backstory:

"(S)he was an incompetent child that had no business being there to begin with."
"Earlier this month, Capcom (introduced) a character who didn't really fit the aesthetic of the universe. And by that I mean she had a stupid haircut and ridiculous cleavage."
"Capcom Kills Off Resident Evil's Blind Bimbo"
"You have to admit, pretty good acting for a porn actress."
"Rachel, get a haircut."
"I think her TV Trope is 'Too Whorey to Live'."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Digiland Tablets and "Insufficient Space" (Fix)

This is specifically for the Digiland tablets that Best Buy has been selling for rather cheap (as low as $40 on the 7 inch and $70 on the 10 inch).

I'm a tablet/Android newbie, frustrated by how limited the amount of space for apps was on Best Buy's Digiland tablets, and it seems like a lot of people are.  After a little bit of searching and combining a few different sources, I managed to resolve the issue using a Windows PC (sorry Mac users! :( ), and thought I'd put it all together in one place (just parroting what I found, really).

I did this on a Digiland 10.1, but I imagine the 7-inch version would work the same.  And, of course, DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK!  I take no responsibility for what you decide to do with the words of an admitted Android newbie. :)

There are three parts total, and you'll need a micro SD card, probably of at least 2 GB for it to be worth it (I'm using a 32 GB card).  You'll probably want something that's faster too (look for a "Class 10" card).  You'll also need to download two free programs to your PC, and one free one to your Android.

On PC:
MiniTool Partition Wizard:

Link2SD from the Google Play store.

Part 1: Root your Digiland

1) On the tablet, go to Settings > Developer Options, and checked the box marked USB debugging.
(If Developer options isn't there:
Go to Settings > About and then click Build number seven times to unlock them.  It sounds weird, but it works!)

2) Run iRoot.

3) Connected the Digiland to your computer.
iRoot will automatically look for drivers.  It's a long process, and took a good ten or so minutes for me.

4) Once drivers are found, iRoot will display a button that says "Root".  Click it, and iRoot will run another long process.  During this time, the table may reboot.

Part 2: Partition your memory card
(In the examples below, I used a 1 GB micro SD card, because my 32 GB card is already in use. :) )

In this step, you're going to be creating two partitions on your micro SD card (basically, splitting it into two parts).  You'll need to decide how much memory to use, and this is up to you and the card you're using.  Some sources say to only leave 1-4 GB for the second partition and that the first partition needs to be bigger than the second (so, for example, if you had an 8 GB card, you could split it 6 GB and 2 GB).  I personally split my 32 GB card into 18GB for the first partition and 12 GB for the second partition (where the Android apps will go), and it seems to work fine.

1) Put the micro SD into the computer (you'll probably need an adapter, but most micro SD cards come with one) and fire up MiniTool Partition Wizard.

2) Find the listing for the SD card in the MiniTool Partition Wizard.  Be absolutely sure it's the memory card you want to use, because your other hard drives will be listed as well!  It will also erase everything on it, so back it up first!

3) Right click on it and select "Delete".

4) Right click on it and select "Create".  Choose "Primary" and set it to FAT 32 (for media files; readable by Windows), then choose the memory size for it depending on what you decided to go with/what card you're using.

5) Right click on the second "Unallocated' portion, click "Yes" on the pop-up, and set it to "Primary" and EXT4 (some sources said EXT2, but only EXT4 worked with my Digiland).  Set the memory to the remaining space on the card for this.

6) Click "Apply" in the upper-left corner and it will begin to format the card.  This process may take ten or fifteen minutes.

Part 3: Set up Link2SD

1) Open Link2SD on your Digiland.

2) Put in the SD card.  A window will pop up in Link2SD with several options.  Select EXT4.

3) Link2SD should briefly flash a message that says something like "mount script created", and then it should ask you to reboot the tablet.  Go ahead and click "reboot".

4) After rebooting, open Link2SD, click on the three dots in the upper-right corner, and then click Settings.  In the Settings menu, check "Auto Link" beneath the Auto Link heading.

5) If you have existing apps on the tablet, they won't be automatically linked to the SD card.  You'll need to click on each app within Link2SD and then click the "Link to SD card" button.

You're all set.  All applications should now install to the SD card!

As of this point, I have nearly 5 GB of applications on the SD card.  I have dozens of them now operational on my Digiland, including some games that are particularly big (Order and Chaos Online clocks in at nearly 2 GB in itself).

Apps will allegedly run slower off of the SD card than off the internal memory.  Even so, I can run fairly graphic heavy games (see below for a few screenshots; you'll just have to trust me that they were a solid framerate!) without much trouble.  I don't know if that's because it's a relatively fast card (Class 10), or if the slowdown was exaggerated. In my mind, being able to install way more apps is worth the speed trade off, but your mileage may vary if you actually see a difference.

You can always move particularly intensive or important applications to the internal memory, and leave lesser-used stuff on the SD card.

Sometimes the games on the SD card leave "obb" files on the internal memory, some pretty big.  When you're looking at an app in Link2SD, it will show you if there's an obb file, and give you an option to "Link to SD card".  I've been doing that, but I don't know the potential issues that might arise from that.

If you pay to unlock Link2SD, you can also move data files to the SD card.  I've been doing that as well, but again, I don't know the potential issues that might arise from it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reading Conan: Shadows in the Moonlight and Queen of the Black Coast

I've finally started reading my first Conan stories in a volume called "Conan the Barbarian: The Original Unabridged Adventures of the World's Greatest Fantasy Hero", published by Carlton Books/Metro Books in 2010. I had briefly glanced over the interesting but somewhat dry and exhaustive opening work, a long, textbook like account of the Hyborian Age (set in a fictional historical setting on Earth) before recorded human history) but never got beyond that.
This morning I sat down with it and took in the first couple stories in the compilation.  There are some spoilers below, beware!  I tried to keep them on the vague side (I don't think anything of note or too specific related to the stories are spoiled), but I take no responsibility for you here!

Shadows in the Moonlight
This seems like a fitting introduction for Conan. An enslaved noblewoman, sold off by her own family, is saved from a brutal tyrant king by the barbarian. They then flee to a dangerous island that appears to be haunted, only to find themselves trapped on land by pirates.
Most of the story is actually told from the perspective of Olivia, the noblewoman. She's unfortunately a painful stereotype of the old helpless princess, only slightly redeemed as the story goes on. Watching her bumble about in a pathetic daze is less than appealing, but through her we're introduced to the noble savage. Despite the brute strength, there's some genuine intelligence to Conan, as well as a warm humanity that stands in start contrast to the earlier “civilized” king, the petty pirates or the monsters on the island, perhaps an idealized medium between arrogant, soft civilization and outright animalistic barbarianism.
The writing itself is fantastic in terms of description. It's a very enjoyable prose that paints strong images. Even the slightly lacking story and uneven pace don't hinder the text once Howard gets into his groove.

Queen of the Black Coast
I'm not sure if the stories in this compilation are simply put in the wrong order, or if Conan stories are typically unrelated, but this makes for a jarring transition. No reference is made to Olivia, and Conan almost seems to be a slightly different character. Gone are the noble roots, and he quickly falls in with pirates, professing his love for the lifestyle and caring not who he fights as long as he's fighting.
The female lead in this one, Belit, the titular Queen of the Black Coast, is just as much of a cliché. Sporting only a girdle, she's described as particularly busty (titular indeed!) and attractive, and her personality is about what you'd expect of your typical femme fatale. Her crew see her as a goddess, she's above everyone and highly skilled, and only the equally smitten protagonist can compare with her. Whereas Olivia had a moment or two nearing the end that showed some potential for character growth, Belit never struck me as anything but a blasé pirate female fatale type.
Their meeting is even more embarrassing and downright laughable. While the pirates are slaughtering the crew on Conan's ship, he bounds over to their boat and begins returning the favor. The merchant sailors are killed to the last man while Conan is decimating the pirate crew. Then Belit bounds up to him, and they profess their love for each other.
No joke.
Thankfully, he doesn't describe in any significant detail their rough love shortly afterward right on the deck in front of her crew.
After that rocky start, things really pick up as they stumble across the ancient ruins of an old city. Howard describes in vivid detail the city, Conan's visions, and an inventive backstory to the race that once lived there long before humans came into existence. The second half of the story makes up for the first with wonderful prose that kept my interested and excited for the next.
Although I've written more bashing this story than complimenting it, I can't stress the above paragraph enough: even with the characters falling flat and the opening being utterly absurd, the writing picks up to an exception degree. The descriptions alone are worth reading, and Howard does a great job of taking a somewhat meandering story and giving it some tension and intrigue.  Overall, I probably did enjoy Queen of the Black Coast a bit more than the previous story, which I liked in itself.

Other Thoughts
The pacing of both stories seemed a little off. The setup struck me as disjointed, but once the stories arrived at their prime destinations (the island in the former and the ruins in the latter), things picked up nicely on two accounts. First, the stories began moving much smoother, and second, with more stationary locales, there was more time for Howard to work his magic describing situations, emotions and locations. Both ended on an intense, satisfying note, particularly Queen of the Black Coast.
After the odd transition between the two stories and the changes in Conan's demeaner, I had to look up the chronology. According to Wikipedia, there's no definitive one. After Howard, several writers (some of significant note, like Robert Jordan) picked up the mantle. As expected, between multiple writers, and with more Conan stories by the original author emerging after his death, there's quite a bit of debate and conflict. Writers piece stories before, around and in the middle of existing Howard works. Still, it did clarify that Shadows takes place after Queen, which may explain Conan's personality shift.
I do wonder why then they decided to order the stories in such a way. Perhaps they simply thought Shadows was a better introduction to the character, and in truth he did come off as more likable on the island than later gallivanting with pirates.
Is it a bit jarring to see race blatantly referred to throughout both stories. The term "negro" appears a time or two in Shadows, and "blacks" is used instead in Queen of the Black Coast. To Howard's credit, however, Conan treats every man the same. While explicit culture is often referred to (Conan's Cimmerian heritage, the description of the sailors as Argosean), skin color never seems to be anything more than a physical description. I'm not sure if it was an explicit message on the author's part or simply an aspect of the prehistory context of Hyborian that lacks the racial component we give to skin color, but it was refreshing to see from stories written in the 1920s and 30s after the jarring use of the language.
Apparently many Conan stories are already in the public domain, but it's just so much more appealing to read them in book form. I'm definitely going to keep reading from here (the volume includes seven other stories), if only for the stellar prose (It's really very cool, I'm fairly enthralled with his descriptions). My hopes for the rest: a bit more personality and consistent likability to Conan, female leads that aren't so vapid, and a smoother pace. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Patience is a Virtue

Yesterday reminded me why patience is such a practical virtue - quite the money-saver.

I've debated picking up Coldplay's album "Viva la Vida" for a while and never plunked down the cash. It wasn't terribly high on my album list, and I kept trying to remind myself not to be too impulsive. I hovered over it several times at the store, opting each time to not pick it up just yet.

Last night I popped over to Amazon's MP3 store to nab Junior Senior's wildly infectious "Move Your Feet" after hearing it on a buddy's inventive little flash video for it. There on the front page, at a special price of $2.99, was Viva la Vida. And not just Viva la Vida, it was the Deluxe Edition, which features the Prospekt's March EP: eight addition tracks consisting of two remixes and six songs dropped from the original album.

I got what I wanted and more, for about a fourth of the price, just by waiting several months. I need to use that as a reminder that I don't need the newest right now: that sixty-dollar 360 game will almost assuredly be rocking a twenty-dollar pricetag within a year, and that new album won't be more than a few bucks if I hold out a little bit.

Of course, any points I garnered for being practical are lost by admitting that I like Coldplay.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why destroy the magic?

I've long been a fan of fantasy author Terry Brooks, and his epic Sword of Shannara is still a personal favorite. In recent years my reading habits have moved away from his newer efforts towards more political, philosophical and classic writings, but something strange has come to my attention:

The Four Lands, with it's elves and dwarves, magic and high fantasy, is Earth, far in the future after a nuclear holocaust.

Seriously, was that necessary? Practically speaking, it doesn't add anything significant to the storyline, waving around in the air like some random, mutated appendage on an otherwise aesthetically pleasing creature.

It reminds me of George Lucas using the Phantom Menace to explain that the magical powers of the Force were the result of a high concentration of microorganisms in the blood stream. Nobody was screaming for a rationale behind the Force; It's the answer to a question only Lucas asked. It instead caused a backlash, because fans like the mystery and mysticism, the spirituality behind it.

This entry is a little bit disjointed, bore more out of frustration than any serious attempt at analyzing the trend of authors to turn their magic into the mundane. So it goes, I suppose - the Sword of Shannara remains my gold standard, even if I have to block the later absurdity out of my head.