Books

Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku – Yuji Kaku

Shonen Manga has become fairly predictable, most taken on the tropes that popular stalwarts such as Bleach and Naruto tackle in their initial issues and then building from there. You often get the hero that the reader is supposed to identify with, they’re usually either forced into having some excellent powers that they have to learn to harness or they’re desperate to become all-powerful and show the world just how good they are at whatever it is that everyone else in the Manga is really, really good at.

That’s not to knock those titles, and its certainly simplifying Bleach and Naruto an awful lot, and initially I was worried that Hell’s Paradise was going to be more of the same. Here we follow Gabimaru the Hollow, a Ninja that has been captured whilst on an assassination mission. He’s given the punishment of being executed, except any time the authorities try to do so their attempts are thwarted. A master swordswoman, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri,  interviews Gabimaru and ultimately comes to the conclusion that despite his claims that he wants to do, he actually doesn’t and wants to return home to his wife, contradicting the legend surrounding him that he has no emotional connection to this world (and thus is “Hollow”).

From here the authorities decide to send him, along with other criminals, to an island. Each criminal is accompanied by an executioner, with Gabimaru being paired with Sagiri. Typically all of the criminals are violent in specific ways, one Kunoichi has the ability to kill via a kiss (or that is what I think she does as it’s only shown in one panel). It’s clear from the very beginning that Gabimaru is a highly skilled ninja (let’s just ignore the fact he was captured), that’s not the point of this Manga. What we have here is a Battle Royale scenario as the criminals all search the island for the Elixer of Life, many of them deciding that the way to ensure that they’re the ones who find it, and thus are awarded with a pardon for their crimes, is to turn on the rest whilst there will be others that decide to team up (though that hasn’t happened as yet).

This first volume is mostly predictable and there’s little character development, we get to establish some kind of relationship between Gabimaru and Sagiri and learn of their motives (Gabimaru wants to return home, Sagiri is a stickler for the rules and as she is a minority in a very male-led profession, has a point to prove), but it does set up the premise nicely and zips along at a decent pace, hopefully leaving further volumes to really expand on these foundations.

What stood out to me though is the amount of action within the panels, fights break out easily and we really get to see the level of skill that Gabimaru has developed. There’s a lot of gore too and in some moments it goes full-on Swamp Thing body horror as the fauna and flora of the island attempts to take over its new visitors. With that in mind, this is definitely a book created with a mature audience in mind, and squeamish readers are better off looking elsewhere. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on future volumes.

An advanced PDF was provided for review purposes from Viz Media and NetGalley.

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Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Feast For Crows – George R R Martin

As mentioned in my Asterix post, Book Club is on hiatus at the moment until things begin to look brighter here in the UK and it’s safer to meet as a group and socialise again. That being said, I’m still actually playing catch up from February when things were tough for me personally (I still have Akira vol 2 to go, not that there’s pressure to read everything, it’s my choice to do so), but I began A Feast For Crows shortly before the last time we actually met up, sat and listened to everyone discuss a book I’d only read about 200 odd pages of and then continued to grind my way through it.

And what a grind it’s been. If this book was a game, it’d be the tedious bit in a JRPG where you’re just doing random battle after random battle for what feels like forever as you try and get strong enough to actually finish the damned thing.

To say I struggled through it would be an understatement, but I’m here now, it’s done and it can be checked off. Now, I know this book divides fans, some think its the best, others think its the worst. I think I fall on the side of the latter, and if it’s not the worst, then it’s definitely my least favourite, and there are a few problems I have with it.

It’s biggest issue is the pacing, at over 700 pages long the reader knows they’re going to be spending a long time with these characters, and that’s not an issue. I wasn’t expecting things to zip about and lots to happen, this is A Song of Ice and Fire, after all, it’s famed for a lot of not a lot happening, but here, it feels like literally, nothing happens until the final few chapters of the book. That’s not to say that everything beforehand is pointless, but it feels like padding and like it belongs as part of something bigger. Of course, Martin admits this at the very end of the book, he wrote too much and rather than split the story in half (which I think kind of worked in the paperback publication of A Storm of Swords’ favour), he decided to pick a few characters and tell their stories with the following book telling the other characters stories. Why he chose this particular chain of events I’m not sure, there’s probably an interview out there somewhere, and this isn’t a case of me preferring other characters (I love Sam, Brienne and here Cersei is at her venomous best) but their arcs here mostly feel drawn out.

Whilst we’re on the subject of characters. I know most people regard this as Martin’s feminist book, maybe that’s the wrong term, but I’m putting all this down after only having about five hours sleep on the third Sunday of the British Governments so-called “Lockdown”. But the core of the cast here are his key female characters (aside from Danaerys), which when I heard that before starting, I was genuinely excited by. What I didn’t expect though was just how much oppression they’re all put through and that they all are imprisoned in some way or another.

Brienne, we all know how devoted she is to being honourable and servitude, but here she’s held captive by her own moral compass, spending far, far too long searching for Sansa Stark and doing so in a naive manner. It’s only when she has to begin to use her training as a knight that we begin to see her break free of these trappings and begin to see her question other peoples motives. Through Sam, we also get to learn more of Gilly, who herself is imprisoned by the orders placed upon her by Jon Snow as she travels with the Slayer to the Citadel.

Both Arya and Sansa are imprisoned by their identity, Sansa is in hiding, pretending to be someone totally different and has to be cautious all the time, her new persona is for her own protection, and whilst Arya shares some of these issues, her challenges with her identity are for a totally different reason, she’s trying to break free of her family name. Sansa actually surprises me here, I’ve complained about her before, but of all the characters she’s been subjected to the most horrific of things throughout all the books so far and if anything this book gives her a little respite, even if it’s not the world she dreamed of for so long, and despite Creepy Petyr being Creepy Petyr, she’s possibly in the best place she’s been in since she left Winterfell.

However, as I alluded to earlier, out of the female cast it’s Cersei that gets the vast majority of the good stuff, though its not good stuff that happens to her. We begin to see how her mind really works here, but we also see her dive headfirst into madness and paranoia, the more she tries to control everything around her the more things fall apart and slip through her fingers and this is best shown in her relationship with Jaime (who’s chapters are also brilliant I might add). Both constantly think of the bond between them, but whereas Jaime seemed to genuinely love his sister, Cersei’s thoughts on their relationship appear to be purely about having him under her control and being of use to her, with his sword hand now gone and her brother going through a lot of personal change (overall for the better I might add) he no longer provides the same uses as he once did.

I think, also, that the tone of the book is the series at its worst and that’s possibly situational, Westeros is in a bad place, its people have suffered due to the war, winter is definitely on its way and we get to see first hand that nobody is prepared for it, crops are burned, corpses hang from trees and nearly everyone (maybe aside from those at Highgarden?) are suffering, and in these troubled times we are all currently living through, its a tough pill to swallow. Still, its read and done now and there’s going to be a bit of a break where I can maybe read something a little more positive over the coming weeks.

Books

The Kingdom of the Gods – In-wan You, Eun-hee Kim & Kyung-il Yang

It seems a bit, well, off, to be discussing a zombie apocalypse story amongst the current COVID-19 pandemic, where over a third of the worlds population (at the time of writing) are in some kind of lockdown. But hey, thats where we’re at. The Kingdom of the Gods is the Manwha (Korean Manga) that the Netflix show Kingdom is based up. For clarities sake, I’ve not yet watched Kingdom, though it is on my watchlist, so I’ve gone into this totally blind.

The blurb for The Kingdom of the Gods tells us that Joseon has been plunged into a war, a young prince, Yi Moon, see’s all of his bodyguards slaughtered and has to rely on a hired mountain mercenary, Jae-Ha, to help him return home to Jiyulheon. The period feels like a feudal Japan era, but the mention of Joseon places that in a period of time prior to the formation of Korea, somewhere between the 14th and 19th Centuries, though bits all still in a fantasy setting.

The tale does some interesting things within the zombie genre, now these have all probably done elsewhere before, but In-Wan youn, Eun-hee Kim and Kyung-Il Yang have realised them exceptionally and made the whole thing highly coherent but to lay everything down here would spoil both the Manwha and (possibly) the TV show, but if you’re a fan of the genre, certainly give one or the other a chance.

It’s the artwork that really gives the setting life and led me down the path of trying to track down the history of this book, which seems to have been wrapped up in a webcomic (that’s also vanished so I’m not sure if this is the webcomic printed in a book) before the writer of that went on to write the Netflix show, even so, the artist Kyung-Il Yang has done some phenominal work here. Jae-Ha in particular is a stunninly realised character that looks and feels dangerous in the coolest way possible. Action sequences play out over several pages at times and it mixes the horror with gore and the pacing of something like the fights in the anime adaptation of Bleach absolutely perfectly.

What is unfortunate, however, is that it feels unfinished. The four chapters collected here absolutely fly by, especially with all the multi-page action sequences, and I’m not entirely sure if the story was ever continued after these four chapters were concluded but its left me wanting more and definetly now itching to watch the Netflix show. If it was indeed abandoned in favour of that I do hope that Viz can tempt the trio to return to it. Especially as, in order to flesh the book out, Viz have included an additional, slightly shorter story at the back of the book thats also pretty entertaining, but the main feature is worth picking this up for in itself.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Asterix in Britain – René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

When Close Encounters posted on the Books With Pictures Facebook group page that we were going to be reading an Asterix book, I’m not going to lie, I had two thoughts, the first was “but isn’t that a kids book”, then it was “wow, I’ve not read one of those since Year 8” and it was at that point I became genuinely excited to read it. You see I loved Asterix as a kid. I was never big into comics back then, but on visits to the library I’d always check if any Asterix books had been added to their kids section, usually though it was the same three or four titles, but it was those plus comic adaptations of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and Stingray that were my introduction to comic books. Friends would by the Dandy and Beano and I’d had a read of those, I’d also flick through them whilst waiting for my Dad to make his picks on library visits, but they never really grabbed me.

Then in Year 7 and 8 my form tutor, who happened to look like a cross between Henry VIII and Obelix, was also my languages teacher and in order to help us learn sentence structure for French he’d often photocopy pages from his French language editions of Asterix comics and give us panels to translate (as best as we could for students in one of the worst schools in that area), funnily enough, during that time, French was one of my strongest subjects. However I changed schools (to a much better school) for year 9, found myself behind on everything and I struggled with my French teachers teaching methods from then on, plus hormones intervened and she happened to be a very attractive blonde woman who had a preference for fitted blouses (hell, on a fundraising day she wore a French Maid’s outfit). My marks should have gone up, in hindsight, but, well, I was 13…

As you can imagine, once I picked up my copy of Asterix in Britain, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, all of the above came flooding back to me. If I’d actually read this volume before then it didn’t feel like it, but my immediate reaction was delight at just how colourful and detailed each and every panel was. When compared to something from the big American comic houses in the 60s and even its competitors in the form of the Beano and Dandy, every panel is lovingly created and doesn’t feel like Albert Uderzo has skimped at all.

Characters are full of life, colour and detail, and I’m not just talking the key cast here, but side characters too are given plenty of attention. Of course these being caricatures there are things that tie them all together, every Englishman here has an extravagant moustache and prominent nose, but these make the artwork endearing more than anything else.

The story is full of amusing moments, culminating in a rather violent game of Rugby, though my favourite moment takes part towards the end of the book when the potion Asterix and Obelix had supposed to have provided for the British to help them fight off the Roman’s, actually ends up in a river, an unsuspecting angler thinks he’s caught a big fish, only for it to pull him off the banks of the river due to the added strength it has received from the Gaul’s special potion.

 

Books, Uncategorized

The Colony – Nicolas Debon

When we think of Anarchism in the world of comics (or graphic novels, whichever you prefer), we often turn to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and tales of attempts to overthrow those in power due to corruption, however, theres actually alot more to the ideals behind anarchism than explosions, aggression and sticking ones finger up at politicians and its this other side that Nicolas Debon tries to teach us as he tells of the true story of Fortune Henry and the colony of L’Essai he founded, for a brief period of time, in the early 1900’s before the world fell into chaos as the Great War fell upon us.

The book opens with a man taking ownership of a plot of land, thought to be inhabitable and unworkable, he begins to transform it. The locals treat him with suspicion, often talking of the devil or wild man in the woods. But before long a small handful of people begin to take an interest in what he is doing and ultimately join him, as the colony grows, the workload also increases, they build settlements, work the land and sell produce at local markets.

However, its not enough for Henry, he strives for change, people believe in what they feel he is trying to do and his ideals of breaking down social constructs, promoting communism (or socialism, though its definetly the former that he says he is trying to bring to fruition, even to the extent of his first born having “no known parents” on his birth certificate as he “belongs to the colony”). He sets up a printing press, first selling flyers to promote the colony and the ideals it was founded upon, though as ever with such things he begins to take ownership, of his responsibility within the colony and also of his partner, acting jealous when she is around other men and resorting to violence when she questions his motives.

As his message spreads, his views become more damaging to the establishment and he is ultimately imprisoned, once free he finds that, without him, L’Essai has fallen apart and the colonists have moved on.

At around 80 pages, this is a short tale, covering the basics, additional information about Fortune Henry is provided at the back of the book, but you’re given a sort of one sided, almost diary like telling of the foundation and falling of L’Essai, albeit told alongside some beautiful art work that looks hand-painted, the earthy tones used give the impression of the book being hand-crafted and fit in perfectly with both the tale being told and the time period it is taken from and Debon does a wonderful job of just allowing the story to work towards its natural end, picking the exact moments to tell, be it the work and turmoil the colonists go through as the seasons and years progress, or the emotional challenges Henry faces. We’re never forced to endure anything particularly long, instead being given a snippet of the tale of L’Essai told in simple panels, though when Debon does give us a full page panel its always a wonderful piece of art work.

That said, this isn’t for every one. I can easily see people wanting some real history feeling like there’s not enough here, likewise, there’s not alot of incident or action to speak of to excite, its not that kind of tale. But if you want to read something that tells a true story that you hadn’t known of, The Colony will fit that brief absolutely perfectly.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Handmaids Tale

A few months ago I picked up a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale from a charity shop, it cost me 50p, it went on the bookshelf with the intent to read it “one day”, that day came sooner than expected when during our previous meet to discuss A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold, it was suggested that we read The Handmaids Tale next, and so my dear readers here are my thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale.

I’ll start by saying that, unlike A Game of Thrones, I’ve not seen the television show that was adapted from this book, my partner began watching it but she said it was too difficult to watch based upon the experiences she had when she had our three children, each of them had some difficulty, be it physical, emotional or mental, attached to her pregnancy and labour and so she was unable to keep watching. After reading the book I can totally understand the difficulty this presented her and there were certainly moments where some difficult memories came back for me.

Thats not the only difficulty I had with the book however, I had to read it in short bursts as its just so incredibly oppressive throughout, which is obviously its intention.

Firstly, its setting, for me anyway, felt very vague. Some of this was definitely intentional, as shown by the closing “Historical Notes” chapter wherein the reader is taken even further into the future to an academic discussing the Gilean rule, but I struggled with understanding the location and how the world was able to change so quickly with seemingly little to no conflict, Offred seemed either unable or unwilling to provide the reader with details that would help.

I think the reason I felt like this is that we are given glimpses into Offred’s previous life, we learn about relationships she’s had, that she was a mother and that she was successful in her career, and yet that is all. I struggled to understand just how there was such a quick turn about in events that Offred’s prior life was still so fresh in her memory, though the point is made that the woman suffering under the new rule will be the ones to suffer the most as they all remember the lives they had.

I did find it very interesting though, especially taking into account the time in which it was written, where women were first beginning to really start to carve out powerful careers for themselves (though, not too powerful, the patriarchy couldn’t’ possibly let a woman have too much control, after all, who will cook their dinner and fetch their slippers?), it definitely feels like it was written with this in mind, and in a contradiction to my prior comments, I can see how Atwood could see the world change so drastically and quickly in order to place women back into their “proper places” and being reduced to oppressive serving roles: child bearers, domestic maids, concubines, teachers and wives. As a father of three daughters, and having been the stay at home parent whilst my partner studied at University, not to mention having to put up with the likes of Gamergate and seeing our own worlds politics change so drastically in the past decade, both at home and abroad, it has me worried for my own families future.

It raises a question of if every teenage boy and grown man was given this to read, would there be a huge shift in feminist politics? I’m not entirely sure it would, those who are likely to try and understand the books message are the ones that are likely to have feminist leanings in the first place whilst the others will no doubt take the mindset of “well, the Republic of Gilead doesn’t sound all bad actually”, no doubt thinking that they’d be amongst the elite alongside the so-called “Commanders” rather than the ordinary man who himself is oppressed and forced into servitude.

The core message of a woman’s body becoming a political weapon is probably The Handmaid’s Tale strongest one, in Gilead a woman’s only worth is if she is able to provide the Republic with children. Higher born women who happen to be unable to do so (because its forbidden to state that the man is infertile) are placed in a position where the only control they have is over their own household, and whilst there are other elements of use for women, it’s all designed to provide the Commanders with a concubine with other female members of the household being there to keep the concubine under control. This is done by turning each individual against each other, the Wife has nothing but distain for those who serve her (especially the Handmaids) and all parties see the Handmaids as being loose of morals.

Like a few of the books we’ve read as part of the book club, I don’t think The Handmaid’s Tale is one that is supposed to be enjoyed, I think that it’s something that has a core message that should be listened to, but I also think it’s world building is a little vague and tied up to much in that worlds own language, it took a while for me to link titles such as Sons of Jacob to Jewish people and Sons of Ham to people of colour, for example and I couldn’t help thinking afterward that due to being a white male some of its commentary wasn’t obvious enough, though the fault there lays with me and not with Atwood.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

We3 – Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely

This month’s Books WITH Pictures pick was We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely through Vertigo. It’s a book I’ll honestly admit I’ve never even heard of so my expectations going in were all over the place, especially as I flicked through it on the bus home before I sat down to read through it properly.

First off, its not a very long book and there’s not a lot of text to absorb, instead Morrison provides the script to allow Quitely’s art to tell the story. A picture tells a thousand words and all that. That tale is one of three animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, that have been given cybernetic suits of armour that turn them into military weapons. After a senator visits the research facility that holds them and reveals to the staff there that the future for creatures is to have them decommissioned, one of the scientists (who happens to have closer bonds to animals than she does humans) engineers their escape and what follows is an ultra-violent version of Homeward Bound.

I mean there is dialogue, the humans obviously talk and the three animals have some very basic speech thanks to implants (the dog, referred to as 1, uses behaviour based commands that you and I would use to interact with him if he were our pet, so he responds to things like “good dog” and “home”), and its this sparse use of dialogue that really drives home the emotional aspect of the book, especially when 2 (the cat) asks “?HOME IS?” and 1 responds “HOME? IS RUN NO MORE”. This is driven home by the use of the original 3 issue run using Lost Pet posters as each of the three covers, all of which are replicated at the proper interval here, giving the 3 companions they’re true names whilst giving weight to the senators command that future projects will need to use animals specially bred for such purpose, so not only is “Bandit” (1, the dog) looking for a home, he already had one, as did  “Tinker” (2, the cat) and “Pirate” (3, the rabbit).

It’s not just the art itself that tells the story, throughout they use panels intelligently, this is most notable, in my opinion, in two particular sequences. The first is a 4 page series of panels where, rather than use the standard 9-panel format, the duo cram 12 panels onto each page, showing a variety of CCTV images that reveal the means of “Weapon 3″‘s escape. In another moment Tinker is on the offensive (and when that cat begins an attack there’s definitely only ever going to be one outcome, it’s one bad kitty) and the panels skew and contort giving the impression of a flicker book. There are other moments throughout that really play with the medium in this way and gives the action the kinetic energy that I’ve not often seen in western comics but certainly know from Manga (especially Shonen Manga). This point also applies to the level of gore on show, which at times reaches similar levels to that of Akira.

We3, as a whole, is something I’ve had to really think on, I’ve actually now read it twice and will probably read it again as I think the work that Quitely has put into the action element of the book is more likely to stand out as I return to it again and again and it’s for that reason I think I’d say I enjoyed it. The story itself is, I think, fairly easy to get to grips with and as I’ve mentioned, its hardly dialogue-heavy, but its definitely worth a go.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold – George R R Martin

Somehow, over a busy and stressful Christmas period, I managed to read the second part of George R R Martin’s A Storm of Swords. I came away from the first part feeling deflated, I liked the “ending” with all the stuff surrounding Bran and Jon, though the two didn’t meet, Jon seemed to feel something was going on. However, the book as a whole certainly did feel like it was building up to something more, however I fully admit reading these two books as the single volume they were originally released as would have been far too daunting for me.

This is the book where everybody dies, or it feels like that anyway, we lose Joffrey, Robb (and pretty much his entire army), Catelyn, Shae and Tywin. By the end of the book we only have Stannis and Danaerys left who have been vocal about their claim to the Iron Throne, Tommen is to be crowned as King but now theres no Hand to take control of things whilst he matures.

One of my favourite moments in this book is the passage that takes us from Jaime trying to redeem himself to his brother Tyrion, though his revelation surrounding the truth of Tyrion’s marriage to Tysha, where we find out that Tyrion’s relationship was genuine and that Jaime had been forced by his father to make Tyrion believe she was a whore. Jaime was obviously hoping that his confession would heal some of Tyrion’s pain and hopefully heal and bitterness between the two of them, though there has always been some warmness in their relationship, this particular event has always been an (understandable) sticking point for Tyrion. It doesn’t have the required effect though, in fact its the total opposite, which again, I find perfectly understandable when Jaime had defied his father by joining the Kingsguard in order to try and (secretly) be with Cersei, Tyrion, having kind of kept his siblings secret, evidently feels betrayed. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Tywin is killed whilst trying to deal with a rather stubborn bowel movement. The guy was so up himself that his shit was packed in there too.

I’ve said in previous A Song of Ice and Fire posts that I’m not much of a fan of Sansa, I think I began to warm to her in the first half of A Storm of Swords, but I do think we see so much more growth here. She’s still a typical princess, but she’s also beginning to become far less trustful than those around her, and with good reason. There’s a genuine sense of caution in her dealings with Ser Dontos during her escape from Kings Landing, particularly prior to her having to climb down the cliff face. But she’s also wary of Littlefinger, there’s no obvious signs, but I always felt she seemed uncomfortable when in his company. You could argue she’s silly in trusting Lysa, but despite not knowing her aunt, she’s always been raised to believe that bloodties matter, and she isn’t really aware quite how mad her mothers sister has become.

There are two things I want to address before I finish up. The handling of Jon becoming Commander of the Night Watch was well handled but fairly predictable, I’d say it was predictable even if you hadn’t watched the show. However, we definetly get to see the reason why so many people look up to him and why the old guard fear him so much when he’s handled control of the Wall during the battle with the Wildlings. Every single man commits to his instructions, but not only does he apply sound commands that work, he seems to have a natural flair for looking after his men, allowing them to make wagers that keep morale up but keeping himself seperate enough that there cant be any sense of betrayal (and that part in particular reminds me of the Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers). He also acknowledges when certain men, and indeed himself, need to step away from the action for a while.

Lastly, onto the Epilogue, I had to Google this after reading, its the first time that I’m certainly aware of that something that happened in these books wasn’t translated to the screen. I understand there’s fan theories around whether Catelyn does indeed come back in the TV show, but its only rumour and speculation and I’m not getting into that. Do I like the idea? Why not, if they can bring Gregor Clegayne back (in the show, thats not happened in the books yet) as a giant zombie, then Thoros bringing Catelyn back and the repercussions for the Frey’s from that is definetly something I’m looking forward to.

In a way, its a shame that there’s going to be a months break between this book and the next one in the series, I genuinely really enjoyed this one, I’d say it was my favourite so far and I’m itching to see where it goes next (especially as alot of what happened in the show is foggy in my mind). I’m also happy for the break and reading whatever is nominated next as I don’t want to burn myself out on them when there’s still a few (three?) books to go.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson

Novembers “Books Without Pictures” book was I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I originally read this book years ago, not long before the Will Smith movie, so its been I’ve enjoyed going back to it, particularly as I’d somehow managed to blur the lines between some of the events of the book and the film, though, I must point out, that doesn’t include either ending, which I won’t discuss here.

I’m going to go out on one here and say that I Am Legend isn’t a book that an individual enjoys. That’s not so say it’s not an excellent read, but to enjoy it would, in my mind, kind of miss its point? Well, I think so.

The reason I say this is that it’s so unbelievably bleak, which you’d expect as post-apocalyptic vampire filled piece of literature. But its not just these elements that contribute to its bleakness, as many other authors have had fun with such concepts over the years.

No, what makes it so bleak is its leading character, Robert Neville, and his utterly white aggressive attitude towards pretty much everything. Throughout the story, its driven home that Neville lives in Compton in the 1970s (though the book itself was written in the 50s) and the impression is given is that Neville is a typical blue-collared White American male just trying to go about his daily routines but is afraid to go out after dark because of the number of vampires in his neighbourhood, many of whom gather on his lawn at night trying to goad him into leaving his house, a former colleague calls out his name constantly whilst “the females” all try and gain his attention via their sexuality.

Neville’s actions really drive home the Nuclear Family father figure element, pre-outbreak, he goes to work and comes home to his wife and child, the feeling is there that when he gets home he puts on his slippers and his dutiful wife brings him his evening meal. Post-outbreak, he’s reluctant to really do any standard household chores, these things are a distraction from the “Man in his shed” system of him throwing himself at his hobbies (researching how he can rid the world of the so-called vampires), there’s absolutely no change in his behaviours throughout the book and he is shown to be an absolute dinosaur right to the end.

But that’s not why it’s so bleak.

Why then, do I keep saying its bleak? Well, because the world that Matheson has created seems to revel in being consistently cruel to Neville from the very beginning. Each and every time there’s the hope that something will happen that may help change him, that may help allow the character to grow, its ripped out from under the feet of both Robert and the reader, every bit of research he does leads to a dead-end, each time you think he’s finally got someone to offer him companionship, be it the dog he tries to befriend or Ruth, its literally torn away by the end of the chapter that Matheson introduces it, and yet somehow, after a period of drinking himself stupid, Robert Neville gets back up again, dusts himself off and goes for yet another round.

It’s like a Rocky movie, but without the knowing that despite being absolutely beaten up, the lead characters going to turn out okay, he’ll learn along the way and defeat the mountain in front of him, instead, he relents, he decides to try and fit in with the new world presented to him by Ruth, and guess, what… that’s ripped away from him too.

It’s an absolute car crash of a book, and by that I’m not criticising the writing at all, you find yourself reading to find out just what will happen next to this character, this sole individual who, lets be honest, doesn’t really have any redeeming features, I’m definitely not of the mind that we’re supposed to like him. But at the same time, we don’t really want him to be floored over and again before the referee awards the victory to his opponent, that’s not how we consume our media, certainly not in 2019 where even the anti-hero (such as the Joker in Todd Phillip’s recent film) gets their day, Richard Matheson’s Robert Neville never gets his moment (unless you watch the movie).

Books, Gaming, General, Movies

On Review Scores

I’ve seen two people writing about review scores on games recently, its not an uncommon discussion. Brad at Mental Health Gaming (whom you should all keep an eye on) recently wrote about why he will never have review scores on his website. Whilst Lottie Bevan in issue 27 of Wireframe Magazine discussed the correlation between boobs being a prominent feature in a games design and that game having a higher than expected score on Steam. (Wireframe should also be a must-read, in my opinion, I subscribe to the magazine and get it through the door every fortnight, but they also allow anyone to download pdf’s of the magazine absolutely free, so there’s not much of an excuse to not check it out!).

It got me thinking, they’re an odd thing review scores, and they often lead to a lot of debate. They were one of the biggest stressors I had when I was writing reviews regularly on bitparade, because really, what makes a game a 7 out of 10 and not an 8? I did go through a spell where I tried to have them dropped from the site, and regular readers of this page may have noticed I don’t apply a score to anything. When people debate these things it can easily lead down the road of abuse, just as was mentioned by Brad on Mental Health Gaming, and this happens even more so when the game in question is from a much-loved series.

Then there’s the pressure of the writer feeling like they should maybe score higher than they were considering doing, purely to appease a publisher. To me, it always felt like something that went unsaid/unwritten, after all, no one really wants anything out there telling the world that their latest offering doesn’t cut it, but as writers we’d rather our opinion was valued more than an arbitrary number applied to the end of an 800+ word review where we go into reasons why we like or don’t like certain aspects of a game, sometimes things work, sometimes the ideas are genuinely forward-thinking but the application of those ideas just doesn’t quite cut the mustard and required more time to get them to a stage where they could have made more of a difference to the game overall.

Those things are all taken into account when writers write about games, take my review of Decay of Logos from back in September. Personally, I really, really enjoyed Amplify Creations take on the Soulslike style of action-adventure games, it had some glaring problems that more manpower, time and money could have fixed, but they tried to do things differently, they tried not to just clone FROM Software’s recipe, and apply a few other influences to boot. They didn’t quite pull everything off, there were bugs there that maybe shouldn’t have been and the game got ripped apart on social media, unfairly so in my opinion.

I’d rather talk about what I think the developer is trying to do and then whether I think they’ve succeeded in that or not, rather than write a bit about the game then go meh – 7/10 because no one gets anything from that. But if the writer has put some work into studying the games design and can get that across to the reader, who knows, it may surprise its publisher and the studio get the green light and an increased budget to make their next game more in line with what their original vision was.

When you factor in stuff surrounding bonuses based upon Metacritic scores, then that, again, puts pressure onto the reviewer to score a game favourably, because (and I’m sure I’m not speaking for myself here) the last thing any person who writes about games, be it for a professional publication or a hobbyist like myself, wants is for the creators of a game to be punished based upon a fucking number thrown at the end of a piece of writing.

Obviously, the counter to this is “well, people don’t read reviews”, well, then maybe they fucking should rather than sending death threats over Twitter because Endless Tale of Sorrow: The Word of Man only got an 89% when it clearly deserved a 90%.