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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ICO: Castle in the Mist (2008)

Author:  Miyuki Miyabe  |  Translator:  Alexander O. Smith  |  Page Count: 370

'Whatever it was that dripped from the cage, it was blacker than pitch,
the colour of melted shadow.'

The story as presented in the ICO video game (2001) was purposefully vague. It encouraged players to speculate about the backstory of the characters. The act of filling in the blanks created a more personal experience, making us not just the protagonist but also the teller, the narrator of the story as it was being lived in real time. Reading someone else's version of those events is interesting, but when put into context, isn't a published version of such simply fan-fiction sold at RRP?

Regardless of whether or not that's a fair assessment, I made sure while reading to judge the work for what it did well (or otherwise) with regards world-building, characterisation, etc, and not for being different to my own interpretation of the game's story; to have did otherwise would be a disservice to everyone involved.

I was wholly ignorant of Miyuki Miyabe's reputation in Japan. She has a huge catalogue of titles available. Castle in the Mist is her seventh novel to be translated into English. In all honesty I thought it was a first novel, period. The stiffness of the dialogue and the formulaic spoon-feeding of conventions that make the majority of fantasy novels so bland is adhered to from the very first page. The stiffness may in part be explained by it being a translation—there's a definite lack of love and flair inherent in that aspect—so I can't say with any certainty if a poetic sensibility is inherently absent from the work or just missing from the English language version. I'm not able to read Japanese.

Things pick up a little when the story delves into Yorda's past. The author is more comfortable and thus more successful exploring things from a female perspective, which makes sense, but even then the story never dares to break away from a safety zone or a trite, established way of genre thinking. It's a typical fantasy about a Princess in a castle, a cruel and overbearing guardian that stifles her, and a male saviour with selflessness and innocence in his arsenal.

Kudos to the publisher, Haikasoru, for being brave and taking a chance on it. The game didn't sell in huge numbers in the West, so I can't imagine the target audience for the novel was projected as groundbreaking, but, even so, they didn't opt for cheap paper to cut costs. It's a beautifully presented book.

1½ misshapen shades out of 5

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Physics of Star Trek (1995)

Author: Lawrence Krauss  |  Page Count: 188

'Thanks to Albert Einstein and those who have followed in his footsteps, the very fabric of spacetime is filled with drama.'

It's common knowledge that Star Trek not only 'boldly' ignored the laws of grammar, but that it wilfully ignored the laws of physics, too,  However, in some instances the real-world science behind the fictional quick-fixes is surprisingly close to the TV show technobabble.  Most fans will know why transporters were introduced, but not how they would theoretically work.  TPoST provides answers.

It doesn't set out to debunk or discredit TV writers—it’s not trying to achieve credibility by standing on the ashes of others—instead it aims to inform and explore the reality of what would be needed to achieve the life-changing physics used in the show.  It’s not just another boring cash-in / tie-in / stick-the-arm-in book designed to milk the wallets of every weak-willed Trek fan ever.

Thankfully, you won’t need a degree in quantum mechanics to make sense of the text, but some basic high school science knowledge will help.  If you know why Newton owes a debt to an apple, or why Einstein is more than a black and white poster in a student dig, then you’re all set.  I don’t know if true physicists or mathematicians would agree, but for an average Joe like me the structure of the book is a credit to the author.  Complex theories are built bit by bit atop a foundation of easier concepts, making it very easy to follow.

Not everything pertaining to a hobby or interest need pander to its target audience.  Often the best additions are the ones that teach us something of value at the same time, whether it be academic or emotional.  I think a large percentage of Trek fans would agree with that statement because even if Paramount weren't in it to challenge norms and teach by example, Gene was, and the people he reached keep that vision alive.  Ultimately, TPoST is perfect for Trek fans who possess a passion for learning and have an interest in the wonder of science.

4 cosmic poker games out of 5

Monday, December 1, 2014

Batman: Arkham Unhinged: Vol. 2 (2014)

Author: Derek Fridolfs  |  Artists: Various  |  Page Count: 168 

Penguin’s been hiring people to kill you.”
“That old crow’s wasting his money. I’m already dying… of boredom.”

The second volume of video game tie-in Batman manages to outdo the first, but unfortunately it's on the scale of tedium that it excels. Being tied to a game plot limits the freedom an author has, and at the end of the day any changes made must be reset so that everyone is returned to their game setting. In a situation like that the dialogue becomes even more important than normal, so extra effort should've been made to spice it up as much as possible, but—no disrespect to Fridolfs, perhaps he was busy with other, more important projects—the majority of it could've been written hastily over a light breakfast.

Robin pops in and out of the walled city as if it's a twenty-four hour supermarket, making a mockery of the idea that it's supposed to be near impossible to escape from. Whilst there he becomes an ineffectual bit player in what amounts to an extended fight scene that goes nowhere interesting.

The Arkham City Sirens story fills in some of what happened to the trio of women after the events in the first game, but mostly it feels like an excuse to have ladies with back-breaking breasts jumping around. The three women are at least largely faithful in personality to their game counterparts, which is to say they lack any kind of warmth or likeability; even the colourful Harley, who's admittedly a love-her-or-hate-her character ordinarily, never escapes two-dimensionality.

The only part of the text that I enjoyed was a flashback to a time years before the walled city was in existence, a time that deeply affected one of the villains and set him on the path he's currently on. It's not in-depth enough to be called an origin story, but it's an insightful glimpse into what spurred him to take the first steps into his current career. It was a clichĂ©d moment but because it dared to be dramatic it still managed to feel superior to anything else. Repeated use of flashbacks would eventually draw too much attention to the technique, but the distance it provides from the walled city seemed to have given Fridolfs the space he needed to better express himself creatively.

The book collects together Batman: Arkham Unhinged issues 6–10.

2 punch bag thugs for hire out of 5