Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review of Report on Probability A by Brian Aldiss

I suppose that after more than a thousand reviews, it's fairly obvious this blog has a soft spot for literary novels which utilize the devices of fantastika. A full course meal with spice, most do not appear so profound on the surface, yet the more one unpacks the details, the deeper they become—a depth made more engaging for the touches of the impossible or not-yet-possible. Thus, while Brian Aldiss' 1968 Report on Probability A would seem a dull voyeurism, the more one seeks out the connections between its pieces, the broader is potential meaning spreads, and becomes a highly engaging thought piece.

Plot subtle and fragmented, Report on Probability A is not rip-roaring, space-faring, alien-shootin' science fiction. But I would say it writes the book (har-har) on parallel universe stories. Ostensibly about a group of people on one planet watching the lives of a handful of people living on one British street, it digs into another layer: the handful of residents likewise peer into the lives of those around them—reality through a fractured lens.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review of Infinite Fantastika by Paul Di Filippo

There is, or at least once was, a lot humming and hawing about the differences between science fiction and fantasy. One is about the “impossible” and the other the “yet possible” I can even hear myself saying. But the subjective truth takes over: there is not always a clear line between the two. Sometimes it's just fantastika. But Paul Di Filippo already knew that. Enter his eighteenth collection of short—fantastikal—fiction, Infinite Fantastika (2018).

In a kind of self-rediscovery, the story kicking off the collection is one of the first Di Filippo had published and thought he'd lost forever after the manuscript disappeared, it wasn't until a scanned fanzine later appeared online that “Before and After Science” saw the virtual light of day, again. Lacking a compass, the story (if it can be called such) has a kind of inchoate brilliance that floats in interesting fashion. Seeming personal, it tells, as the title states, of a man’s life transformed by science, but in less than scientific fashion. Turning the dial up to eleven, “The Trail of the Creator, The Trial of Creation” by the below-the-genre-radar Paul di Filippo is the story of a motley crue of post humans who hunt the god that seeded the universe with their perverse variety. Add a mad scientist with a barrel of urschleim to the mix, and they’re off.

Console Corner: Review of Shadow of the Tomb Raider

While not a return to the original Playstation’s Lara Croft, 2013’s reboot Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition did bring the archeologist cum gunslinger cum puzzler onto the modern generation of consoles with a splash. Focusing more on action and platforming than puzzles, the game was a rush of shooting and scrambling that kept the story’s pedal to the metal all the way to its fantastical ending. The follow up title, Rise of the Tomb Raider, looked to expand itself and slow things down a little. Upping the ante on environmental puzzles, the game likewise added a lot of geography by moving from linear to semi-open world, something which was ill-considered in my opinion. Caught on the fence, it couldn’t offer everything of what each form is good at. Players who enjoy open worlds and collectibles had a heyday, while those who wanted a pure story experience were often forced to participate in spurious activities and retrace ground they’d already covered (items a person could spend hours collecting in the world could just as easily be looted from dead bodies while pushing the main storyline forward). And this is all not to mention the facts that the game’s bad guys, Trinity, were as vanilla as can be, and the Siberia portrayed in the game rarely convinced of being a home to ancient, fantastical magic just waiting to be discovered. The Tomb Raider reboot originally conceived of as a trilogy, 2018’s third and final game in the series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, looks to complete Lara’s character arc: how the tomb raider became the tomb raider. Let’s take a look.

Shortly after the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider opens with Lara on the heels of Trinity, this time in Cozumel, Mexico, where she and her partner Jonah believe they have pieced together enough of Lara’s father’s journals to be able to locate a special Mayan artifact. Finding the artifact just before Trinity, Lara is caught while escaping, and is forced to confront Dr. Dominguez, an archeologist working for Trinity who has dire warnings given that Lara has disturbed the artifact. A supernatural occurrence intervening, Lara has no choice but to continue her search for Mayan artifacts in the jungles of Peru, still on the heels of Trinity…

Console Corner: Review of Overcooked

My wife is a gamer—not a gamer-gamer whose life revolves around our console, but there are no problems picking up the controller if she has a couple free hours in the evening. (She’s been playing Witcher 3 for about a year.) For Christmas this past year we got a second controller, which means our house has new options. Looking through the lists of worthwhile couch co-op games (not a lot, it seems), I came across a few that were universally recommended. Among them was Overcooked, and seeing it on sale for dirt-cheap on the Playstation store one day, I picked it up. All I can say is: marriage therapy.

I have not checked, but I would guess Overcooked can be played single-player. But who would want to? All the game’s fun in interaction and team play, in Overcooked players play as chefs in various kitchens who must prepare and combine ingredients to meet customer’s orders, all against a clock. The first kitchen is pretty straight forward: players chop vegetables to prepare salads and serve the plates—typical restaurant kitchen activity. But after, things get wonky. The kitchens which follow change things up. Some feature moving counters, some split in half every minute, some are located on moving cars, some feature rats who steal ingredients, and so on. If working together to coordinate and prepare orders under the pressure of time is not enough, then the wacko-kitchens add a layer of complexity. On top of this, the orders become more complicated (salads are much easier to prepare than burgers or soups), all of which pushes the game toward that bouncy ball of chaos and fun “I need one more onion!” “Take the pot from the stove, it’s burning!” “Wait until I serve this meal!” “Wash some plates! I have nothing to put the burger on!” It’s when players reach flow state, moving in and out of each other’s paths with purpose, working in sync, and preparing orders at speed (i.e. they know where the bouncy ball will bounce next), that the game becomes extremely satisfying. Yes, marriage therapy.