Stephen Baxter is one of the few writers who manages to publish collections with a 100% hit rate and Vacuum Diagrams is no exception. It’s a companion volume to his early Xeelee sequence (Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux, Ring) and covers stories from the first time humanity ventures beyond the Earth up to the farthest future where the sad remnants of humanity try to escape a Xeelee-build pocket universe. The breadth of Baxter’s future history is truly astonishing and makes for some fascinating reading material. Each story is a little gem: engaging characters, marvelous settings and neat explorations of hard SFnal ideas.
Baxter isn’t for everyone, typically for British writers this is a far cry from the gung-ho optimism of American science fiction. His stories can be rather depressing at times (no wonder when you have a government that understands 1984 as a How To Guide), but at least there’s always a glimmer of hope. There are no Hollywood endings, but mere survival in the face of death or worse never felt sweeter.
The worst of the three Punisher movies. The movie manages to completely miss what makes the Punisher who he is and transforms the murder of his family from collateral damage to a targeted hit. The movie amounts to nothing more than just another revenge flick. And not even in that regards it’s very good. The family of the Punisher gets killed and he enacts his revenge without ever getting into trouble. There’s no tension, no moment when you think he could get stopped by the mobsters.
Also, the movie is too gimmicky. I mean, his family has been killed and all Frank Castle can think off is killing the mob boss with an explosion that forms a skull when seen from the sky. What did he want, getting an A+ for style?
This felt like a rewrite of Baxter’s first novel, in more than one way. I already tried reading this some years back, but stopped because the first pages were so dreary. Why a rewrite of Raft? Well, its a marvelous physical setting (artificially designed microscopic humans who have colonized parts of a neutron star), a generic Baxter typical social order (a repressive society with strong class lines like in Raft) and nearly the same plot as in Raft (outsiders enter the repressive society, have to overcome hardships only to save it later). It’s also part of the Xeelee sequence, but like Raft it’s more of a side story.
That said, the physical setting really compensates for the start of the book. Especially the biology of the humans and the general ecology of the neutron star is fascinating. And while the first part – the first hundred pages of the novel – are rather dreary, once the outside threat intervenes the story and the pacing becomes much better. While I already knew the purpose of the neutron star, for those who don’t know it’s a neat revelation. And finding out the relationship between the microscopic humans and the colonists and the nature of the core wars was also quite satisfying.
Overall one of the weaker novels by Baxter, but still worth reading if one can stomach the beginning.
While done on a much smaller budget than the 2004 and the 2008 movie incarnation, this version of the Punisher is the one I like the most of all three. Mind you, it’s not perfect, there’s an annoying sidekick and the Japanese in the movie are horribly cliched, embodying the fear of the East that was all to prevalent at that time, but the rest is a good 80ies actionfest.
Due the tight budget the movie looks cheap in places, but that only adds to the down and dirty style. But the best thing about the movie is Dolph Lundgren. While far from being a good character actor, he possesses exact the qualities to make the Punisher convincing: he looks the part and he plays him tone-perfect, cold and unforgiving when needed with a bit humanity when that is called for. But most of all, you don’t get the feeling that you get when seeing main characters in more recent action movies, who look hard on the outside but are all pussy inside.
What looks initially like a cheap gimmick movie turns out to be a, well, a gimmick movie with a well done story and engaging characters. It takes the stereotypical attitude toward women from the first half of the last century and monster designs that hail from a similar time frame and gives it a modern spin. The alien(s) that turn up have a similar retro vibe.
The POV with whom the watcher is expected to sympathize is Susan, who is ready to marry, only to get turned into a gigantic women on her wedding day. Promptly this leads to her arrest and imprisonment in a secret military base where other monsters (a human turned cockroach, a blob, an amphibian and a gigantic insect) are already being held, indefinitely.
When an alien robot invades, the monsters are let free to bring it down and Susan takes a vital role in its destruction. Still trying to reconnect to her old environment she finds out that her original husband is unable to cope with her change, not only with her becoming gigantic also with her being the center of attention.
Very enjoyable movie. Sure, the old-fashioned attitude towards women from Susan’s husband-to-be seems like a straw men attack. Not because women don’t get the shirt shrift anymore, but because the ways how they do have changed and are much more subtle these days. Still, the story of Susan’s empowerment through aliens powers works, since it’s rooted in the even older narrative template of finding your full potential. And that kind of story won’t get old anytime soon.
I had long planned to play Ys, but wasn’t sure which was the best version to go. From the older versions the PCEngine one seemed to get the most praise, so thats what I settled on finally. So, how does the game holds up these days?
Well, there are a few nice aspects to the game. A rather unique fighting system where you have to ram enemy sprites. How much damage you’ve inflicted on the enemies or they on you depends on your level and gear. It’s a bit simple, but rather fast and a nice break from the random encounter battle system that plagues so many other jRPGs from the time. The graphics are well done and there’s good music. These are the good points.
Searching on the net one finds nearly unanimous praise for the Ys games, especially for the first two. Consider my surprise when the games turned out to be awful. The story is rather generic and even the few animated video sequences and the extensive voice acting can’t hide the fact that it’s just another generic evil haunting your generic fantasy kingdom story. So, with the story not that impressive, lets turn toward gameplay. Here’s where the game completely falters. Sure, the fighting can be fun initially, but with the endlessly re-spawning enemies turns out to be just another sort of grind. Then there are the mazes.
The first one has three mazes, the second one a bit more, all of them are badly designed. Confusing, needlessly big without much content or variety to make it fun playing through them. If that weren’t enough, the gameplay is dominated by countless fetch quests that force you to traverse the same badly designed mazes again and again. The worst offender in that regard is the last dungeon of the second Ys, which cranks the annoying fetch quest gameplay to the max. Made me nearly give up.
I can understand why people who played the Ys games when they came out can enjoy them, there’s the nostalgia factor involved, but I doubt anyone else will get much out of them today. I rather watch paint dry than play Ys 1&2 again.
This is a stunning kinda vertical shoot’em up for Sega’s ill conceived CD update for the Genesis. It has a rather unique style, dynamic polygon ships and enemy sprites over pre-rendered backgrounds, also done with polygons. This creates the illusion of very advanced graphics for such an old system. The gameplay itself is rather conventional: avoid obstacles, destroy all enemies, chose different kinds of weapons before each stage and confront bosses at the end of each stage. The difficulty is rather high but, with the exception of the final boss, always manageable.
The last boss is the only annoyance the game offers, he’s night impossible to beat. There’s a fine line between hard and unfair, and the final boss crosses that line. He imposes a time limit that even when you know how to beat him (chose anti-matter bombs some levels earlier and never use them so that you have enough to beat the final boss) is far too tight. I’ve tried countless times and never managed it (here’s the ending for those who had similar problems).
Despite that, it’s a great game that offers some impressive visuals: battle fleets engaging each other in the background, gigantic battleships exploding besides you, big meteors hurtling towards you and so on.
More of the stuff I was talking about. The pieces about parenthood make me wonder how much came from the characters and how much came from Asprin himself. Aahz and Skeeve were talking about parenting and how kids turn out and some of those words really hit home. Not a comforting thought that you’ll never have completely control over how your kids turn out, but if they turn out bad you’ll blame yourself anyway. Sometimes you can only try and hope for the best.
The sixth Myth part see Skeeve playing for high stakes, literally, as he has to win a game of dragon poker to save most of his savings and his reputation. At the end of the novel Asprin sets up a new status quo with Skeeve and Aahz forming a company where all their other chums have an equal share. And as in previous novels, Asprin manages to flesh out the characters even more, something I really appreciate.
In the process some of the lightweight fun of the early three novels has made place for a more considerate and at times brooding atmosphere, but I like the direction the series is going. Also, while the humor isn’t completely dominating the series anymore, there’s still a good balance between the fun and the more serious aspects.
The fifth myth book sees a dangling plot point from the last book taken up (a door in their new home that led into an unchartered dimension). This time Aahz goes in alone and promptly gets framed for murder. When Skeeves follows, he discovers a dimension full of vampires who are afraid of humans (MONSTERS!!!), a dimension where magic is quite rare.
There are times when the Myth books feel like fluff, well written and entertaining to be sure, but basically nothing too deep. But then there’s the character work by Asprin that strikes me as extremely, hmm, inspired. You feel like he tried to write Skeeve as the guy we all wanted to be when we where young: a honest guy, one of those who get older and somehow manage to remain one of the good guys.
Most people – when they grow older and look into the mirror – see at best a much harsher and less forgiving self looking back, at worst a total egomaniac asshole, but Asprin convinces you for the time you’re reading the book that Skeeve is the true thing. That there’s someone decent and nice who manages to grow without becoming somehow twisted. That’s the magic of the book. Sort of a fairy tale for grown-ups.
Like the scene when Skeeve’s confronts the bad guy and, well takes a look into a sort of mirror and does the right thing.
I really find it fascinating how Asprin managed to make Skeeve grow as a character, still maintaining part of the green kid from the first book but also making him look wiser through the things he had gone through.
Whenever I read I classic I don’t really care for, I tend to analyze elements that have nothing to do with me liking it or not. So, in this case, it’s interesting to see how bloody the book is compared to the disneyfied Peter Pan version in the movie of the same name. Death is fast and swift in Neverland. There’s also an ominous line about Peter Pan weeding out the boys that grow too old, which makes you wonder just what is meant by that.
But the most disturbing element of the book is the depiction of Peter Pan and the others kids as forever forgetful of things beyond their short term memory. To me there doesn’t seem much difference between the kids in Neverland and old people with Alzheimer’s disease, which to me is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. And the end of the book implies that Peter is locked into this cycle of memory loss and never growing up, which makes this in my eyes more a tragedy than anything else, even if the book itself doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with that. Probably one of the reasons why I didn’t like this very much.