February Medialogging
By Dwip February 28, 2015, 10:51 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

Another month, more stuff gone through. As these things go, this was a pretty good month. I’m starting to work back through some of the things I haven’t read and watched in a few years, and I think I’ve managed to say some things about some very important stuff in my life in ways I’m happy with. This pleases me.

Expect more of this in the coming months.

YTD stats:

January:: 5 books; 5 fiction (2,398 p.) / 2 videos; 2 movies (4.8 h.)
February:: 11 books; 7 graphic (1,411 p.); 3 fiction (1,079 p.); 1 non-fiction (12.7 h.) / 2 videos; 1 anime series (5.4 h.); 1 movies (2.0 h.)

Year to Date: 16 books; 7 graphic (1,411 p.); 8 fiction (3,477 p.); 1 non-fiction (12.7 h.) / 4 videos; 1 anime series (5.4 h.); 3 movies (6.8 h.)

Details for February after the jump.

02/01/2015 S.M. Stirling, Lord of Mountains (2012 Roc hardcover, 326 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

In which Our Heroes have a battle with the forces of Boise and the CUT. And that’s about it.

No, really. That’s what happens in this book. There’s some ancilliary stuff with character development and The Next Generation getting their start, but this is pretty much the book with the climactic throwdown between the forces of good and evil with no Minas Tirith in sight and not a Denethor to be found.

Which is kind of stirring and all I guess, but by this point in the thing there’s not much doubt that Rudi and friends are going to carry the day, and the narrative choice to split the main battle into its own book just gets downright weird. Stirling gets a lot of criticism in reviews for needing an editor, and I don’t entirely agree with that interpretation, but you do kind of wonder if maybe he couldn’t have trimmed off some fat here and there.

But, never mind. I’ve mostly enjoyed the thing and the end is almost here.

02/02/2015 S.M. Stirling, The Given Sacrifice (2013 Roc hardcover, 369 pages – Personal collection, 2014)

If Lord of Mountains was the Pelennor Fields of our little The Lord of the Rings retelling here, this book is those final bits of The Return of the King where Aragorn and company go face down the Black Gate of Mordor and go back to Bree and clean up Saruman and the whole thing.

Only, in this one Rudi and the gang knock into Boise, chase down the last of the CUT, and do for Sethaz in the most anticlimactic fight scene ever before settling down to that weird little time skippy denoumont thing straight out of The Return of the King. Yes, we’ve been set up for Orlaith and The Next Generation crowd to go fight fantasy medieval North Korea, and Rudi gets his reward.

Which, never mind there’s at least a book after this one, this is close enough to the end for me. And I’m not sure what I think about the last ten years of excursion here.

Stirling has always had a sort of historian’s eye for tales like these, by which I meant that the characters are almost always subservient to the larger narrative – the Protector’s War, the Quest, the Prophet’s War, and what have you. As an old history major I’m familiar enough with the trope, and I’m not even bothered by it – the really interesting stuff in this series isn’t so much about characters as much as watching the interactions between forces – the effects of founders upon societies, the scope of human ingenuity versus human despair in times of great trial, the power and nature of belief, our relationship with our collective past and our heroes and our myths.

With the exception of the belief bits, this has always been where Stirling’s strengths lay as a writer, which is why unlike some people I’m always down for another description of what life at Castle Todenangst is like. Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

As to the belief bits, well.

I confess that I’ve largely made my peace with the magic in this series after railing at it for most of the past several years and books. Stirling wanted The Lord of the Rings and a battle between good and evil and so he has written it and now that we’re at the end and I can see where he wanted to go with it I suppose I’m ok with it. And yet, I dunno. I’m not sure if he managed to say anything about it in quite the same way as he did all those other things. I never did quite buy all the conversions and things. Maybe I’m just too much the atheist to see it all.

In the end I really do think Island in the Sea of Time was a better ride though.

02/03/2015 Ryutaro Nakamura, et al., Serial Experiments: Lain (1998 Pioneer DVD, 325 minutes – Personal collection, 2007)

This one gets it own post. Man oh man does it get its own post.

02/04/2015 Myke Cole, Gemini Cell (2015 Penguin Kindle edition, 384 pages – Personal collection, 2015)

When I talked about Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series in the early days of this medialogging thing, the first thing I said was “not deep reading by any means” and while I thought it was pretty good for a new kind of military fantasy series, it didn’t really leave me with any deep ruminations on the nature of the world.

Cole himself talks better than I can about why this is a much deeper and I think much more interesting book than its predecessors, in that it uses the allegory of a Navy SEAL who becomes a zombie to examine certain things about the experience of A) being a warfighter; B) being in combat; C) coming back from combat and having to live with that experience; D) having people who care about you come to terms with all those things.

Now, I’m not military and not a combat veteran, but being who I am I’ve heard many of them talk about their experiences, including Cole himself. And it seems to me that there are a lot of truths in this book, little gestures and big things with the characters that ring quite true to what I’ve already heard about. And that absent the zombies bit, this could almost be a memoir of a combat veteran. Instead, it’s one of those fantasy books in the best traditions of the genre that actually really explores some themes.

Since I read my first Shadow Ops book and started checking out who this Myke Cole guy was, I’ve sort of been waiting for his fiction writing to catch up with how erudite he could be on his blog. I think maybe we’ve finally bridged the gap between the two, and I’m all the happier for it.

Also, can I just state for the record that the worst thing about Kindle is not getting awesome covers like this one.

02/06/2015 Fred Gallagher & Rodney Caston, Megatokyo: Volume 1 (2004 Dark Horse paperback, 156 pages – Personal collection, 2005)

In which two American otaku, Piro and Largo, fly to Japan on a whim and end up in one crazy situation after the other, with l33t ninjas, mecha, disaster management, Sega black ops, show business, and gaming. Oh, and girls.

One day in 2003, while reading a completely unrelated blog, I happened upon a link to the middle of this crazy-looking webcomic with the tagline “relax, we understand j00”. I had no idea what was going on except people talking crazy and playing “Mosh Mosh Revolution” but it sounded cool enough I decided to start from the beginning, which is here, Megatokyo’s so-called Chapter 0. As I’ll be discussing as we go on, this decision and its resulting fandom would later have some impact on my life.

This is pretty rough stuff by the standards of later MT. Most of it is in four panel format before Fred abandoned that for more typical manga format. Most of the jokes are now pretty dated early 2000s gaming humor – Baldur’s Gate 2 and John Romero are funny to me, but, well.

And yet there are inklings here of something a little more universal, something that will ultimately break away from its Penny Arcade-inspired roots and really mean something. We’ll get there soon.

In the meantime, a few of the strips that really resonated with me:

19 – Sim Life. I used to keep this on my wall in college and grad school as sort of an ironic reminder to myself about who I was and where I was going. Also I did not have a lot of fun with the Sims games.

74 – B4k4 Quake. Many times I have recited Largo’s little speech in panel 2 there, most notably here.

112 – Army of Largo. “Junpei cannot leave until NHL 2k season is finished” quickly became my go to line for “I can’t pay attention to you right now, hold on a sec” and may well be the most enduring line Megatokyo has given to me.

02/07/2015 Fred Gallagher & Rodney Caston, Megatokyo: Volume 2 (2004 Dark Horse paperback, 182 pages – Personal collection, 2005)

Chapters 1 and 2 of the Megatokyo webcomic, wherein Piro and Largo really meet Kimiko and Erika for real, Miho starts showing up for real, and we start getting into the guts of why I like this thing so much.

The heart of this story, Piro and Kimiko and the railcard, is of course a “boy and girl meet, boy somehow fucks it up with girl and has no idea why” story, and without going too much in detail here I think that’s something that most of us can relate to in one way or the other, and especially those of us on the geeky side of the spectrum.

This is where Megatokyo really starts earning that “relax, we understand j00” tagline. There will be a lot more strips past these, but this is the point where Megatokyo moves out of simple jokes into a very touching and humane examination of the relationships we have with people, the fantasies we build up in our heads about ourselves and each other, and what it’s like to be some fragile damaged person trying to make a go of it in a crazy world.

To put it shortly, I have been Piro. Piro understands me. This fact was extremely important to me and very much spoke to me for much of my 20s.

As such, here are a few more strips that have been important to me one way or the other:

153 – G.T.L. – Great Teacher Largo. I kept this one on my wall in grad school for a while, as sort of indicative of both my aborted attempt at teaching and my learning to be a librarian. Foundations were rocked, it is so.

173 – Power Problems. No real point here, except that this was the first MT strip I ever read in 2003.

284 – OSE – Sticky Boxes. Even the box is beautiful. I hated Neverwinter Nights, but I think this strip sums up the best what it’s like to actually lust after a game so hard it hurts. I’ve said the phrase a few times now. Although I don’t really buy games in boxes anymore…

290 – DPD: Waiting for the Show. I kept this one on my wall for a long, long time. Something about the closeness yet alienation of Piro and Kimiko here, what it says about their relationship at this point in the story really spoke to me and speaks to me still in ways I am unable to entirely describe. This is my favorite piece of Megatokyo-related art.

383 – DPD: b4k4.md4. I used to keep a ph34r teh cut3 ones poster on my wall for a while. Something about that concept has always resonated with me, if only in a general life advice sort of way.

02/08/2015 Fred Gallagher, Megatokyo: Volume 3 (2005 Dark Horse paperback, 223 pages – Personal collection, 2005)

Chapters 3 and 4 of Megatokyo, where we learn a lot of things about hordes, Erika gets a past, and Piro and Kimiko continue the dance.

The last half of Chapter 4 was the first set of Megatokyo strips I had to wait for in real time, and I’m a little befuddled to realize suddenly that we’re actually on Chapter 11 and that I’m not endlessly rereading MT in my dorm room. What even happened there.

This was a bit of a roller coaster at the time – Erik, yay! Weird conciences arc, less yay! Boo in tactical gear, still pretty cool! Lots of stuff going on here, but this is about the point in this latest readthrough where I realized a couple of things about this story that in 10+ years I don’t think I’d quite grokked to.

Maybe it was watching and trying to dissect Serial Experiments: Lain so recently, but all, like every single, conversation or mention of fantasies is super important to this story. In fact, I previously read this whole comic as about the relationship between Piro and Kimiko with some side characters because that’s what resonated with my life at the time, but I kind of realized this time around that what it’s really about is the interplay between fantasy and reality, our dreams versus the truth.

Yeah, I know. Seriously dude it took you like a decade of weekly reading to finally pick this up are you just that stupid. To be fair, I’ve been away from the story for a while, and you catch things when you come at it fresh.

Anyway, thus far it’s broken down like thus:

Chapter 0: Rocky start, lots of joke stuff, but primarily about Piro’s expectations of Japan versus the actual reality of being broke and stuck there.

Chapters 1/2: Kimiko’s (and Yuki’s) expectations of Piro meet Piro’s about them to general hilarity. This is also where all of Miho’s perceptions and misperceptions really take off.

Chapters 3/4: Lots of setting up perceptions of Erika, with some continued PxK, PxY, and Miho being Miho. We’re also really starting to delve into Ping’s perceptions by this point too.

And lastly a couple of my favorite strips.

383 – DPD: b4k4.md4. I used to keep a ph34r teh cut3 ones poster on my wall for a while, though I like this sketch more. Something about that concept has always resonated with me, if only in a general life advice sort of way.

450 – Meanwhile… pull here for cheer. For a long time the weekly Megatokyo reading was a pretty major part of my relationship, and lots of little relationship in-jokes popped up, as they do. I used to send this strip to Sarah whenever she was being particularly cranky or morose. It actually worked a lot of the time.

02/09/2015 Fred Gallagher, Megatokyo: Volume 4 (2006 CMX paperback, 233 pages – Personal collection, 2006)

Chapters 5 and 6, in which zombie hordes and radio shows.

The big thematic stuff here involves fan expectations of Erika versus reality (and Erika’s own misperceptions), the continued PxK dance, and Largo somehow being the sanest guy in the room half the time. This is also setting up Kimiko’s misperceptions of fans during the radio show that will come to the fore later.

This is also the point at which I stop doing the story justice – MT is pretty dense thematically, often with two or three really important moments going on in any given page.

A couple of important strips while we’re here.

614 – I wish I could start over. Without being too emo about it, though God knows I was plenty emo enough at the time, Piro’s little monologue here is something I have thought often enough. If we could each of us have save points, save scumming would be universal.

But we can’t. And sometimes we need to hear it. There was a time when I really needed to hear it.

645 – Meanwhile… A wish for rockets that work. This one is just funny. I love ph34rbots so much. I’d probably get a ph34rbot statuette or something if I could.

02/09/2015 Fred Gallagher, Megatokyo: Volume 5 (2007 CMX paperback, 225 pages – Personal collection, 2007)

Chapters 7 and 8, in which our four main cast members are finally starting to work past their misconceptions of each other and face the realities. This is also where Yuki starts learning the truth about herself.

I’m beginning to have progressively less to say about these, partly because I’ve already said most of it. That said, this is the period during which Fred starts gaining skill levels in art at a rapid pace. He was never bad, but he changes up during this period and it’s really noticable.

Running out of really important to me strips, too. I’m doing way less rereading by this point. Other stuff going on.

871 – Deserved. I’ve talked a bit about the dissolution of my relationship a bit, but this 2006 strip was important to me in the early days of 2011 and a few other times as well. I think we’ve all been at a point where we didn’t deserve that.

02/09/2015 Fred Gallagher, Megatokyo: Volume 6 (2010 DC Comics paperback, 268 pages – Personal collection, 2010)

And then shit went down in Tokyo. We’re now past the point where I can confidently point out individual plot threads, as the plot is now intertwined and moving at rapid pace. The art took another levelup here, too – this stuff is amazing.

All of that said, everybody in 2009-2010: HOLY SHIT MIHO

02/09/2015 Fred Gallagher, Megatokyo: Chapter 11 (2015 Megatokyo webcomic, 124 pages – Online)

And this one is all Miho. So much Miho.

So, here’s the thing, and anybody who follows MT already knows this, but the past few years have not been kind to the comic. The whole Gallagher family had shit going on, Fred was never exactly prolific to start with, and everything just sort of spiraled out of control into a single chapter that took 124 strips and almost five years to put out, and this after Chapter 10 took almost 3.

And, look, can’t lie here, MT was a big part of my relationship and that blew the hell up in 2011, so I pretty much stopped reading. I don’t think I’ve read the thing all the way through since 2011, maybe 2010. Had a lot of my own misperceptions about reality to work out.

So it’s been interesting, pulling my Megatokyo books off the shelf and coming at it with a fresh eye. I think I understand it a bit better now at a distance both in time and of burning fandom. Megatokyo’s always been a great read straight through, but it’s a hell of a frustrating experience 2-3 times per week. But when a chapter comes out, it’s worth a binge.

02/15/2015 David Kushner, Masters of Doom (2012 Audiobooks.com audiobook, 763 minutes – Personal collection, 2015)

If you were a gamer in the 90s, you may have some idea of who John Carmack, John Romero, and Id Software are, and you’ve probably heard of Doom. Spoiler here: I’ve never played Doom but I was a gamer in the 90s.

I’d heard this was a pretty good book, and the audio version is voiced by god of all geeks Wil Wheaton, so when I wanted something to read after all that Megatokyo I decided why the hell not, though the almost 13 hour running time was somewhat daunting.

I was not expecting to be this profoundly engrossed by a book (primarily) about two people and a game I’ve never played, but at its heart Masters of Doom isn’t really about Doom much at all, or Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, or any of a number of other games at all. It’s mostly about the nature of creative partnerships, how they come together, the people who make them, the desires that fuel them, the things that make and break them, and the ways in which partners can use their strengths in synergy to make something much greater than the sum of its parts. Carmack and Romero had a first rate partnership, and in the early 1990s pretty much single-handedly created first person shooters and internet gaming, which may still be going concerns.

And the whole thing is voiced by Wil Wheaton, who, like me, knows the subject enough to understand the really important stuff in here. At all the points where I’m like “Oh shit dude, that’s amazing!” you can hear Wheaton’s voice raising in that way that you know indicates he knows how cool this is and he’s pretty excited too. It’s special. Not many narrators of audiobooks can pull it off, especially for a nonfiction book. It’s part of what makes Wil Wheaton so good at the job.

And really, everything about this book is just special, in a good way. It’s well-written, well-narrated as I’ve said, and it goes into loving detail about the creative forces that made Id so great. I’ve been part of a team kind of like that (except we didn’t make anything quite as big as Doom), and when Kushner and Wheaton start talking about desks mounded with soda cans and pizza boxes all over and yelling at people to CHECK THIS OUT BECAUSE IT’S THE FUCKING COOLEST THING HOLY SHIT, I know what that’s like because I’ve been there and I’ve done that thing and I’ve been up at 4am writing code too. This is my tribe and these are the heroes of my people and in writing about those heroes and the games and the technology they created in the 90s, Kushner has written the epic of my people and my time.

Hell of a book. If I read another this good in 2015 I’ll be lucky.

02/21/2015 Roland Emmerich, et al., Stargate: Ultimate Edition (1994 Artisan DVD, 119 minutes – Personal collection, 2009)

A crank Egyptologist travels to a secret military base to decipher some ancient Egyptian heiroglyphs, and discovers a portal that can travel to another world. A mission is launched to investigate what’s on the other side…

It must be said of this film that the best parts are in the worldbuilding and the mythology it sets up for the later (and greater) Stargate SG-1, which we will be discussing in due course. And let’s be clear about it up front – this is some breathtaking stuff, enough to fuel a movie and a combined 17 odd seasons of television, taking us to other worlds and introducing us to some of the great sci-fi villains, along the way examining life, the universe, and everything. It’s a hell of a thing, and as Daniel Jackson pauses to dip his hands into the stargate in wonder, well, that’s kind of what I think about it too.

Perhaps unfortunately, the movie that spawned all of this isn’t quite up to what’s coming down the pike. As a movie that shows us the wonder and mystery of travel between worlds, it does a fine job, with just the right dash of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As a meet the quirky natives movie, it’s more than a little bit rote by the numbers stuff – team meets natives, they pantomime, somebody accidentally gets married, hijinks are had, they communicate, stuff. As an action movie it’s one part kind of cool (“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole”) and one part kind of hilariously awful – these guys are the worst Air Force commando team ever. It kind of drags a bit in the middle, and the epilogue is really sort of short as these things go.

Yet, I dunno. I kinda like it. Much like Highlander, another movie eclipsed by its television show, this is a B movie with big ideas, and those ideas are way bigger than one movie could ever manage to explore. We’re gonna need a TV show.

And maybe a haircut.

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