Mike’s Prattle


Far Cry Predator (Instincts/Evolution), Steven Brust – The Paths of the Dead, Ursula K. Le Guin – City of Illusions, Doom 2 Master Levels, Doom 3 – Resurrection of Evil, Bentley Little – The Revelation, Daevid Allen – Gong Dreaming 1, Quake 2 and 4

Posted by Mike on June 17, 2009

So I haven’t done one of these what am I reading/playing posts for a little while now, so this kind of dumps the backlog of several months. I’ve actually been catching up with music a bit more of late, which I’ll post to Tom’s Unencumbered Music Reviews blog if and when I get a moment (URL in last post) and am still busy with the incense site which seems to continue to grow. I’m still astonished by the generosity of the people who love incense, lately I’ve gotten more than I know what to do with. Reviews after cut.

Been a couple months since I was playing Far Cry Predator but amazingly it’s one game that I keep remembering in vivid detail. It was kind of an Xbox to Xbox 360 revamp and thus early on in the 360’s console history, so it shouldn’t have particularly amazing graphics, but there’s something about the tropical setting that I keep going back to. For one thing, it was frustrating as hell to play at times, somewhat unresponsive controls and a few very harrowing sections that almost had me quit. One in particular about halfway through the game is in the middle of some deep cave where you have to traverse wooden planks across gigantic chasms all while bad guys shoot at you, which took me forever to finally complete. But for some reason these parts aren’t as memorable as, say, taking a speed boat through river canyons of almost astonishing beauty, with big maps that let you take a number of different vehicles in all directions. I think even though it’s a South Pacific milieu, it reminds me a lot of the keys in Florida with rundown shacks, palm trees and heat. So despite that it didn’t play as well as most FPSs, I’m definitely hanging onto it just for the sheer beauty of the experience which take you through tropical islands, both day and night, deep mines and caves and, with Evolution, into much eerier territory. The more I think of it, the more impressed I am. In fact for me, so much of playing the Xbox are these graphic vistas which are gorgeous on the new Samsung.

To books. The problem with fantasies these days, that they’re often bloated and turgid, isn’t usually a problem that affects Steven Brust, who completely avoids this issue with his 200-300 pages a book Vlad Taltos series and makes fun of it hilariously with the adjunct series The Paths of the Dead is part of, but with this book he’s apparently run into the issue itself, due to the fact that what was supposedly one big book has been split into a trilogy. And in this case there’s no question that Dead is the first third of a book, and a meandering “let’s set everything up” sort of third that hops from group to group of a huge cast of characters, some familiar, some new, some the children of the family. It’s very tough going for the first 100 pages, in fact I barely penetrated it and once it passed this point, while interesting, it was more nostalgic and in love with itself. The problem with such a thing is that as a third of a book, it’s hard to judge it on its own merits except to guess that it’s terribly overlong, especially for a Brust work. Vlad Taltos himself has already taken a trip to the world’s Paths of the Dead, so in many ways the similar journey down in this book seems somewhat repetitive, all leaving me with the feeling that it’s the least of Brust’s work to date and that I won’t be in a rush to complete the series in the same way I am to read every new Taltos novel.

I decided to read Ursula Le Guin’s books in publishing order, which means I’ve had to read what were three very early and preliminary Ekumen-related novels that probably aren’t her best work and City of Illusions is the third of these three. The only thing I’d read previous to these was the first 100 pages or so of Left Hand of Darkness, which I hope to get back to relatively soon, I had originally read it during a long period where I had stopped reading so my not finishing it doesn’t reflect on its quality but my mood at the time. City is set in the far future on an Earth post civilization through the eyes of an offworlder who has lost his memory and is trying to regain it via a long trek through what is obviously a future North America. The title sums it up quite nicely, with almost everything about the voyage an illusion of some sort as the man searches to regain his heritage. It’s unsurprisingly very Campbell-ish in its dealing with the mind and psychism and the like, so fairly typical of much SF from the era and it hints at her future Lathe of Heaven (at least so much as I can tell via one of the movies of that novel). It starts out fairly tentative and somewhat tedious in the early parts of the novels but starts to draw your interest as he reaches his initial destination on Earth and has to make a difficult and perhaps personality shattering decision to reach his offworld home with larger repercussions. Anyway the next one up if my list is right is the first Earthsea novel, which I may have read as a youth, but with my stack of books it may be a while.

Back to games, I guess I more or less finally completed the Doom cycle as it exists to date, which includes a good 18 master levels on the Doom 2 Engine and a sequel/extension to Doom 3. Not really a lot to say here except that all were quite enjoyable and challenging enough, although as I went through them all I still find the whole cycle, as fun as it is, terribly short on story. ID do indeed love their Marines and it’s a set up that starts to get old (and got older as I went through both Quakes.

Bentley Little’s The Revelation won the Bram Stoker First Novel award, an amazing feat for a novel as pedestrian and Stephen King minor as this one is. Of course the good thing about most books like this is they’re quick reads. Anyway a small Arizonian town is the periodic showdown for a black and white/good and evil themed apocalypse, drawn in Christian colors for the lion’s share of the book, apparently to tug on those strings for their deeper effects, and a small cast of characters is drawn into the struggle which is basically a devil-run army of miscarriages and aborted babies. It was kind of difficult to get over the disgust of this, not just in the sense that it was horrific, but quite tacky as well. Very little of it was suspenseful or believable and I’m just happy it was relatively short. I’ll chalk most of it up first novel syndrome, but at the same time I won’t be in a hurry to read more from this guy. Maybe the horror field was a little thin that year.

Took me barely 24 hours to read Daevid Allen’s early history of the London underground, basically his years in the Soft Machine and leading up to the formation of Gong. I’d read some of this soon after it’s first edition came out on the way to my first Gong show in the late 90s and it, like the Trilogy era of Gong, had a HUGE impact on my psyche, in fact if one of Allen’s goals was to have a spiritual impact via music on a new generation, you can easily count me as one of the impactees in that it was these sown seeds that influenced me in the direction of the Western Esoteric Tradition via story perhaps too personal to recount on a blog (imagine that!) In fact I see the Gong trilogy story as something of an initiation metaphor, the journey of the everyman into a world of psychedelia and beyond, that is someone who went quite a ways past drug experiences into the malleable worlds of consciousness and the truths behind them but who inevitably found it all too much. Everything in Teapot and Angels Egg and You is a metaphor for concepts found in the works of Eliphas Levi, Manly Hall, Madame Blavatsky, William Westcott, Aleister Crowley and the like and once I even wrote an essay spelling this all out until I realized that, like Jimmy Page once mentioned in an interview, it would brand you as quite the eccentric, not to mention it’s really in an individual’s best interest to realize these things in their own time and on their own individual level. Not to mention there’s a large part of me who sees all this through the eyes of a diehard skeptic who, while allowing for these systems’ huge impacts on consciousness, isn’t as convinced that these impacts lead logically to the meanings they’re imbued with. But I digress, this book is just as much about Allen’s experiences meeting so many of the names behind the turbulent London (and Parisian) 60s, such as Jimi Hendrix (who you can tell he adored), Yoko Ono, Giorgio Gomelsky etc. It all leaves you waiting anxiously for Gong Dreaming 2 which has been pending for as long as I can remember, pushed off repeatedly despite Planet Gong having it up for preorder. Overall perhaps the biggest revelation is the connections between numerous esoteric societies and the music scene. Allen both tried and failed to unite all these fractious units under one umbrella, something I tried to do in a much lesser form with Gnosis and progressive rock, but that’s always the story, the eternal battle between unity and dispersion. As Allen says and sums up in his most inimitable manner, “It’s all too serious to get serious about.” Indeed.

Quake 2 comes with Quake 4 and 4 follows 2 (I guess 3 was more of a strategy game so I skipped it, for now) so I played through both. Both are fun FPSs although like Doom they both have the most basic of stories and by this point I think I’d had enough of being a Marine. They’re also a bit more monotone in terms of visual scenery, a lot of the same types of buildings and architecture, surely impressive enough in their own rights, but certainly not as arresting as the Halos and Far Cry. By this point I’d also felt my control over the usual FPS joystick set ups were getting more sure, meaning I’ve had less and less trouble with each successive game and very little about either Quake held me up (both Quakes have some of the easiest bosses to beat in any game). But I think this is particularly necessary when the load times are as long as they are, especially in #4. Besides, this whole milieu has been done to death both with Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Star Trek’s Borg, a great milieu for sure, but all too familiar.

Anyway now I’m reading Brooke Hansen’s The Chess Garden and must say I’m happy to be reading something as wonderfully written and challenging and deep as this book is, but more on that in the next installment of this sort.


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