Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Final Fantasy III Players Guide (1995)

Author: Peter Olafson | Page Count: 164

“They’re a good bunch of people, in a real story, full of twists and turns, and you can put your heart into them. Many of them have something in their past that’s holding them back, and you’ll have to help them come to grips with their inner demons.”

In the days before Squeenix was hiding things behind otherwise unremarkable endless walls of textures, and denying you an ultimate weapon for doing something as natural as opening chests at the beginning of a game, Square Soft was in the business of providing players with far more innocent secrets. The type that you could actually stumble onto yourself, if you were thorough enough in your explorations. Back then, your parents may have bought you a strategy guide out of the kindness of their hearts, because they saw them on the rack, not because they were harangued by an employee who counterintuitively wants to remain in the employ of a vampiric and entirely disreputable mega-chain.

Times heartbreakingly change.

My original copy of this went missing, sadly, and I will wholeheartedly admit that this is an endeavor of nostalgia. However, as a matter of personal principle, I do not allow things to remain solely in its softening and heralding glow. I’m here to be (as) completely objective (as a human can be) about its advice, given my twenty plus years of experience with the game. There is no disrespect intended to Mr. Olafson, regardless of the outcome, not the least of which is because of a passage of the introduction that has stuck with me all this time, completely in the absence of the book itself:

“Finally, if possible, hook your machine up to stereo speakers and a nice big TV. The music is superb, and the graphics shine whether you’re looking at something as simple as a section of wall, or whipping across the landscape in Super NES’s special ‘Mode 7.’”

Even the walls in FF VI are works of art, and he acknowledges that, the same as I do, to this very day. Graphics and filmmaking, and honestly anything created by mankind, are all a product of the realities of the world and the technology available at the time that they were birthed. Yes, sometimes we’re able to eventually do some things ‘better,’ but the age of a piece of media shouldn’t be held against it, as a matter of course. There are people out there who disregard things because of such circumstances and I pity them. I won’t say ‘limitations,’ because in some cases they are actually strengths. Technological Zeitgeist can be very powerful and I unquestionably believe it to be in regards to FF VI. Sprites are beautiful and these are the best I’ve seen.

Unlike with Chrono Trigger, where I adore the sprites, but cannot stomach the original Dragon Ball Z-esque artwork, I do in fact like Yoshitaka Amano’s foundational character artwork for VI. It is deliberately peppered throughout this book, to my utter joy. It is joined by a number of boundary-less charts detailing things such as the Magicite available in the game and the characters’ unique skills. However, there are some rather grave omissions on that particular front, and a few others. Olafson fails to list the majority of Strago’s Lores, or what monsters he can learn them from. Only a small few are mentioned in passing, which is unfortunate because many require special techniques to even be elicited at all. He does not touch on the Dances that Mog can miss out on permanently. I cannot hold the lack of coverage on Gau’s Rages against him, however, as the list is extensive and intensely daunting, which in turns makes it unlikely that he, or any casual fan, would know that it’s actually not completable at all, without a cheat device. Especially as a Westerner in 1994-95!!!

He also somewhat inaccurately describes the mechanics for maximizing one’s score in one specific mini-game and neglects the specifics of a boss with an unorthodox gimmick. I suppose he simply got lucky on all of his playthroughs? He seemingly missed seeing three essential flashbacks on all of those runs, as well.

I realize that the immediately preceding paragraphs are very punitive in nature. However, outside of the final bullet-point, Olafson repeatedly demonstrates that he possesses not only a chronic sense of humor about the proceedings, but also a deep abiding reverence for the STORY. One that I have always shared. Even though he does not deliver a few important pieces of information, he will not lead a player astray in terms of the timeless and shining narrative. In fact, he basically retells it, here, and when I read this straight through, I felt the same emotional stings as I do when playing the game. He conveys so eloquently that he understands the value of it. He kids about it because he loves it, the same as I do.

I had completely forgotten that he outright states to the Western audience that this is actually FF VI, and not really III. I clearly forgot early on, as I was befuddled when VII was released, like many others were. He was ahead of the curve in many regards, including his passion. And, in this day and age, that’s really the only reason to buy this: if you want something that accurately embodies your feelings about the game. To know that you’re not alone, much the same as what is conveyed by the game itself.

3 Startlingly On-Point Beatles References out of 5

Nutted by NEGIf you'd like to hear me fill in the gaps, go here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tomie: Deluxe Edition (2016)

Author: Junji Ito | Illustrator: Junji Ito | Page Count: 745

'Her only real interest is herself. She wants to be desired. To see how far she can lead men. It's not that she wants their love. Just a boost to her ego. That's all she cares about. Men, of course, will take it all wrong and fall for her. Strange thing is, when a man falls too far, too hard, he wants to cut her to pieces.'

In the horror world the true icons are the ones who contain that indefinable mystique, that allure which ensnares your attention and draws out your fears. Tomie Kawakami is one such icon. Her outside complexion may be her greatest killer quality. She's the it girl with the highest standards who's on every man's mind. To even set eyes upon her is a death sentence. Tomie doesn't simply inspire great adulation in her suitors, but awakens a sickening and jealous bloodlust which endangers not only others but Tomie herself. They love her to pieces, literally. 

Junji Ito truly created the perfect monster in Tomie. She's that seemingly immortal sci-fi creature who keeps coming back to life. She's that beautiful, out-of-reach sex symbol. You want her so bad you'll kill your friends to be with her. Unfortunately, you'll kill her too...again and again. 

Included are the 20 Tomie manga stories (originally three volumes) into one hardcover. The book's aesthetic follows Viz Media's previous releases of Uzumaki & Gyo with cover and interior art sprinkled throughout the opening and closing pages. 

Tomie was the first manga Junji Ito ever produced. In terms of artwork, he is still honing his craft in the first few stories. He makes good use of POV and obviously grasps the importance of creatively utilizing B&W, but some movement is awkward and there is a lack of refinement in the lines. By the fourth story Ito is near the top of his game. 

The first third of the collection encompasses one Tomie tale. Each chapter has its own plot and some are direct continuations but certain subsequent stories are linked only by either a location or a significant supporting character. It starts with "Tomie" and ends in chapter six with the fantastic yet bizarre climax "Mansion." After that the most important chapter is "Waterfall Basin", which helps disperse the seeds of Tomie into the world as the stories become more sporadic, stand-alone and in my opinion, lesser. Strength lies in a grand storyline as in Ito's successful epics Uzumaki and Gyo. The concepts for many of the remaining chapters are still strong, but a number of them have abrupt and perplexing endings which lead nowhere. Not every single detail must be explained for a satisfying conclusion, but certain ideas are incomplete at best.

That being said, Viz Media's Tomie: Deluxe Edition is a horror manga fan's dream come true and belongs in every Junji Ito follower's collection. It satisfies a number of different genres including science fiction, horror and guro. Ito's mastery of shock is ever evident in his use of burst climaxes throughout Tomie. The sense of dread and excitement is there as you turn each beautifully drawn page.

3½ beauty marks below the left eye out of 5

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999)

Author: Ray Kurzweil | Page Count: 400

"I have been accused of that..."

This text is a complicated and multi-layered mountain to climb. The question is of course whether or not it’s worth it. That depends at least somewhat on you, as a reader and a human being. The gigantic prism-hued elephant in the room is that this is a book built upon a foundation of predictions of the future as viewed from the late 90s. If you are a person who understands and does not lie to yourself about the world as it currently stands (read: teeters on the brink) in this second decade of the twenty-first century, you will find yourself laughing at Kurzweil’s VERY rose-tinted reading of the then-future. These predictions are wondrous to ponder, but the simple truth is that we won’t see them come to pass given how incapable we are at overcoming our petty and bellicose nature, as a species.

Is there value in reading it as (partly) a work of fiction, though? I would argue yes, if you’re able to set the narrative and speculative parts into the proper context. I say ‘partly,’ because roughly half of this text is comprised of facts, figures, real-world technological timelines, and treatises on certain aspects of quantum physics. Get ready to have a finger planted in the Notes appendix at all times. And, those notes can get to be quite lengthy. Are you up for reading what equates to a college (or graduate-level) textbook? That’s what you can look forward to for a significant portion of this venture.

I realize I’m being excessively negative and dismissive (Hello, my name IS Neg, if you weren’t already aware.), but being the person I am, and in order to be honest with anyone who would potentially be reading this, it is nothing more than a necessity born of truth. Again, if you can make yourself read the speculative portions of this as a piece of fiction, then I do believe there is merit in making the large amount of time it will take to digest this work. These works. Plural. This is because of the dual nature of the book itself and the concept album that was created as a result: Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines.

As a consumer of media, whether you realize it or not, you are fishing for hope, both real and entirely fictional. The beautiful thing is that the verity of a piece of media matters little to those of us who rest our mental (and for some, spiritual) well-being upon them. Not just hope, but strength, resolve, comfort, stimulation, and countless other things essential to the human experience can all be legitimately garnered from works that derive entirely from the minds of humanity itself. Raine Maida did a spectacular job of examining some of the very human concerns springing from the technological trends discussed herein. Albeit (at least partially) from the other end of the telescope.

Indeed, while many of the basic quantum and computational concepts discussed have stuck with me, what has haunted me the most, ever since I first read this, are the philosophical ramifications that Kurzweil subtly mentions in passing by having the reader character he creates simply dismiss outright. This is clearly 1.) intentional, 2.) accurate for her arc, and 3.) presented such that they’re meant to ceaselessly be splinters in your mind, even if most of what is predicted is never able to come to pass.

To Kurzweil’s credit, perhaps he teased that aspect of it because he knew he wasn’t personally capable of fully going down that side of the path on his own. I think it really works because of that, with the value being found in the intersection of his expertise, Raine’s pathos, and the reader/listener’s willingness to engage with what’s poking out of the shadows found there.

I also like it for how it consistently gives me pause. I like that it ultimately scares me in subtle ways the Matrix trilogy simply doesn’t, no matter how hard it tries.

4 Virtual Mollies For Every Man (and Woman) out of 5

Nutted by NEG

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)

Author: Frank Herbert  |  Page Count: 476

'Some never participate. Life happens to them. They get by on little more than dumb persistence and resist with anger or violence all things that might lift them out of resentment-filled illusions of security.'
-Alma Mavis Taraza

The last of the original Dune books wasn't planned to be the last. Frank had hoped to finish the second trilogy (Books V + VI + VII) but sadly he died before it could be written, less than one year after the publication of Chapterhouse. For the reader that means some things are left unresolved at the end of the book. The new directions hinted at don't come to pass as Frank would have directed them.*

Does that mean you shouldn't bother to read it? That's entirely up to you, but if you've read Book V: Heretics of Dune (1984) then I feel it would be folly to stop thereafter because Book VI is an improvement upon its predecessor, bringing the quality back up to a level almost equal that of the first trilogy (I + II + III).

In Chapterhouse: Dune the Honoured Matres of the Scattering are hunting and killing the Bene Gesserit. The Sisterhood is large and spread across many planets but the Honoured Matres are erasing them from the universe on a mass scale.

To ensure the survival of both their Order and homeworld they have the option of setting something in motion that'll change everything, from the very small to the very large, like an interdependent ecology. The book explores the decision making process, among other more personal decisions, some of which are calculable to a certain degree but still dangerous.

The women have a small number of human subjects in their care, under deep scrutiny. Likewise, thanks to Frank's reveals, we're able to watch the watchers in the same manner. The Bene Gesserit view of themselves reveals much about the truth of themselves to an observer. The reader is also gifted a deeper insight into what the Spice Agony is and how it affects anyone brave enough to undergo the trial. (Like the aphorism says, change is the only constant.)

I was left wondering if, like in previous books, some of the passages/testimonials that introduce each chapter (in a sense presented as histories acting as a kind of prescient commentary when placed out of their original time) were from someone who would go on to play a key role in the next book? And if so, would their actions change how I view the things they said in this one?

4½ specialised complexities out of 5

*Brian Herbert (Frank's son) and Kevin J Anderson took up the mantle and attempted to write Dune VII, but rather than one book they did a Peter Jackson and split it into multiple parts (well, two). The books are called Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007). I've not read either of them because I read two-thirds of their Prelude to Dune Trilogy and found them to be a mere shadow of what Frank achieved, padded out with filler and lacking the multitudinous layers of what Dune should be. If I ever do give their Dune VII a try I'll link to them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Heretics of Dune (1984)

Author: Frank Herbert  |  Page Count: 508

'When things change, your absolute universe vanishes, no longer accesible for your self-limiting perceptions. The universe has moved beyond you.'
-First Draft, Atreides Manifesto, Bene Gesserit Archives

Fifteen-hundred years have passed since the God Emperor's extended reign came to an end. Previously we witnessed Leto II musing upon the role his religion had to play in the great work and the sacrifices he had to pay to ensure it was carried out. Now we're privy to how the various factions that endure respond to that legacy and how they choose to act within its various interpretations.

Each group dreams of dominance while attempting to make the best of what the Tyrant left them. They strive to elevate their place in the universe's new shape. They're hopeful elements adrift in the human current believing their order worthy of filling the impossible gap left by his absence. They even begin to believe the whispering assurances of their own ego.

HoD explores the 'myth of the Messiah' after he's passed, mostly by reference to, and direct experience of, movements within the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood.

The labels we give to things in some ways define and influence them, so it's fascinating to see how place names change over time. Frank incorporated that phenomenon into the book's structure and explores the question of whether or not the new names also change the people that reside there, or do old prejudices remain, hidden, diluted but still potent in the right hands?

Concepts and belief systems can also change and grow in the same manner. The Tyrant, for example, in some circles has become known as the Divided God, referencing the belief that he exists still as separate pearls of awareness in an endless dream. His Golden Path rolls onward.

Many different dependency infrastructures exist within the novel. Much of your reading will require you to recognise them and weigh their importance with regards to the bigger picture. I believe that's the best way to approach it, because those seeking a quick fix or a standalone resolution will be left wanting - the Divided God's story is split across more than one book. (Book VI is HERE.)

4 wordless understandings out of 5

NOTE: I'm aware that the picture on the cover is the same as on God Emperor of Dune (1981). It depicts a scene from Book IV, so was obviously an error on the publishers part (New English Library), but that's how my editions are.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Moon Over Manifest (2010)

Author: Clare Vanderpool  |  Page Count: 351

"Who would dare think the outcast and abandoned can find a home? Who would dream that one can love without being crushed under the weight of it? A miracle cure to heal the sick? Pah. What makes us think any of this could be true? And yet all of us, we participate in this myth, we create it, perpetuate it."

Staged in the desolate years of America’s Great Depression, Clare Vanderpool’s first novel sets out to be a work of historical fiction but flies past such categorization almost instantaneously, instead choosing to consistently dwell pleasingly deep in a pool of careful and subtle characterization. As it opens, Abilene Tucker is on her way to Manifest, Kansas, a town her father Gideon has always colorfully spoken of during their life on the road.

Though the color palette and physical reality of the town may initially seem far more drab than she had envisioned, the intrigue and mystery that almost instantly manifests itself draws her and the reader into a vibrant, intricate, and sometimes foreboding yarn.

The rub is that as an adult reader the twists and turns are almost always easy to see coming. However, this is in actuality a non-issue as 1.) it’s children’s literature, 2.) a focus of the narrative is the power of seeing a story unfold even if you know the ending, and 3.) it had me so focused on what I assumed was the biggest reveal that I didn't see the ending coming at all.

It’s really quite an exquisite work in that it can show young readers how effectively plot threads, events, and objects can be woven together into a dense, satisfying reading experience. It does this with great delicate care much more akin to Watchmen (1987) than John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (2006), which I personally feel was unreadable because of its hammer-fisted attempts to guide readers into understanding the use and value of metaphors.

I randomly chose this from the shelf when I found myself in a library in need of mental stimulation and it pleases me to think that those in its intended audience can do much the same and be equally as surprised and fulfilled.

4½ Tracks to Here and Back out of 5

Nutted by NEG

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gyo: 2-in-1 Deluxe Edition (2015)

Author: Junji Ito | Illustrator: Junji Ito | Page Count: 400

What the hell is this?

Tadashi loves his girlfriend Kaori, though the reader may find it difficult to feel similarly because her inner-bitch rises to the surface often. One of Kaori's defining features is that she has an acute sense of smell. When the ‘death stench’ first hits Okinawa it’s Kaori that's most affected. What’s causing the stench makes its presence known shortly afterwards, and that’s when things go full Junji Ito. You'll be thanking the olfactory gods that the book isn't a scratch 'n' sniff.

The creatures that live in the sea have evolved in weird ways. Their peculiarities make sense when viewed in their own environment, but on land they're so alien looking that they can be terrifying. Even the ones we're familiar with, such as sharks, would take on a whole new level of terror when making a beeline for some poor sap on a street full of cars.

The full horror of Gyo reveals slowly but the story isn't slow. It gets increasingly bizarre and ridiculous, though, helped along by some black humour and hindered by some school-yard humour. The two things are an odd pairing that for me just didn't fit together comfortably, but the artwork is always spectacular.

The Gyo storyline ends on page 358. It's followed by two shorts. The first is The Sad Tale of the Principal Post, a four-page story that's well-drawn but not very good otherwise. It's followed by what's without a doubt the best thing in the whole book, the thirty-two-page The Enigma Of Amigara Fault. Coincidently. it's one of the first Ito stories I ever read; it hasn't lost any of it's creepy power.

The book collects together both volumes of the Gyo manga into one beautifully bound HB edition. It's the same format and size as Viz's Uzumaki: 3-in-1 Deluxe Edition (2013); I tip all my hats to Viz for that. Uzumaki is the better story, so if you can only afford one book it's perhaps the better choice.

4 gashunks out of 5