Thirteen years and one year

This is not, objectively speaking, that great of a picture. Bek has pretty clearly just emerged from the shower, I don’t even look like I have showered– my beard is an utter Goddamned abomination– and none of us are looking at the camera for some reason, which is odd because I seem to be holding it, so you’d think I’d know where to look. I like it anyway.

Roughly thirteen years ago, I got married to that lady on the right there. Why roughly? Our anniversary is February 29, meaning that for three out of every four years I correctly celebrate our anniversary on the 28th of February and my wife incorrectly insists that our anniversary is March 1st. I finally won this argument free and clear this year, when she fucked up and accidentally advocated my position for a few minutes, forgetting that she has always been the March person. I will never, ever allow her to forget it, either.

At any rate, asking her to marry me remains the best decision I’ve ever made, as I Married Up in every conceivable fashion. The jury may still be out on her decision to marry me, but I’d like to think it’s worked out okay.

We aren’t doing anything for our anniversary this year. Last year we went to C2E2 on our anniversary. Covid-19 was a concern already, but at the time there were less than 60 cases nationwide and we figured it was as safe as it ever was. I tried my damnedest to keep my hands in my pockets as much as I possibly could and we washed our hands whenever we had a chance to. We had dinner with a friend at a Potbellies in Hyde Park and then came home.

And then I was sick for a month anyway, not quite “as sick as I’ve ever been” levels but I literally was trashed for the entire month of March, and by the time that was done we were in lockdown. That Potbellies dinner was the last time I had dinner in a restaurant. That dinner was the last time we made plans with anybody to do anything fun. And 500,000 people are dead in the United States alone, with another two million gone worldwide.

So, yeah, this year we’re staying home. We’re having Hamburger Helper for dinner. Why? Because Bek used to make it all the time and has stopped in the last couple of years for some reason, and I’m so Goddamn starved for novelty that having Hamburger Helper for the first time in probably seven or eight months seemed like something worth getting excited about. None of us have had shots yet; we’re too young to qualify yet, and Indiana is explicitly hoping at least a few more teachers die of this thing before they vaccinate any of us.

Maybe next year, if we’re able to, we’ll celebrate on the 28th and the 1st.

Unread Shelf: February 28, 2021

Technically I think this is an improvement over last month, at least in terms of number of books, it’s just that the books I’ve replaced the ones I’ve read with have been enormous.

#Review: Immortals: Fenyx Rising (PS5)

We bought Immortals: Fenyx Rising for the boy for Christmas; one of his more recent manias is Greek mythology, and the game seemed age-appropriate and up his alley. He played it for four hours, proclaiming it the best game he’d ever played, hit a minor bug, quit and has not touched it since then.

This is the Way, for this kid; everything is the best thing ever until the next thing comes along, and then the previous thing is abandoned. Well, we still paid $60 for the Goddamned thing, and it’s on my PS5, so once I finished up Demon’s Souls I decided to give it a try real quick and see how I liked it. Sixty hours later, I have a shiny new Platinum trophy on my … does PlayStation call it a Gamertag? No, right? That’s just Xbox? Fuck it, my account, and I just put it to bed an hour or so ago so I may as well review it.

So, the quick tl;dr verdict: Solid B+, at least for the way I play video games.

The biggest problems the game has are the stupid name and its penchant for constantly fading to white all the time. The fading to white wouldn’t have been such a big deal on my previous TV, but when the New Hotness fades to white it really fucking fades to white, and I found myself literally shutting my eyes or looking away from the TV when it happened after a while. Most of my more game-centered gripes are kind of standard for open-world games such as this; this is the first time I’ve really felt that there was too much shit to do, and while the game isn’t terribly demanding on either the platforming or the puzzle department (rarely was I stumped for more than five minutes or so on anything, other than one part where I hadn’t realized a new power could do something and the game hadn’t told me) there is so much of it that if you are a completist (and I very much am a completist) you will find yourself kind of tired of it from time to time.

The combat is a little button-mashy, but there are two primary weapons plus a bow and by the end of the game you’ve got a couple dozen additional moves and powers with everything that means that you don’t have to handle every fight the same way. That said, if you just pop a defense and an offense potion and hammer away you’ll get through anything pretty quickly even if all you’re doing is hammering a single button, and you won’t find enemies with immunities or anything that will force you to adapt your strategies. Some things can fly but by the end of the game you’re adept enough at aerial combat that it barely matters, and you can always throw rocks at them. There’s even an ability that hurts enemies when they damage you, and it does enough damage that smaller enemies could literally kill themselves by attacking you.

Graphics are cartoony but solid, and the draw distance is amazing– anytime you get up high you can see the entire damn map, which is required to uncover locations of the various challenges and such, and you can even see some of the enemies wandering around on the ground from a distance. Sound is acceptable (but see the bit on voice acting later) although Fenyx’s combat grunts and yells can get really repetitive. Fenyx can be male or female and you can change her (make her a girl) appearance anytime you want. For some reason I really got into that in this game, when it’s not something I usually care about, but my Fenyx changed her hair after every major boss fight. Dunno why, but it was fun. And while you can’t get away from the combo of sword-axe-bow, and your armor is basically a helmet and a body set, each piece of kit comes with its own extra bonuses or abilities and you can effectively apply any unlocked bonus to any weapon or armor, so you can pick the pieces you think look the best and still keep the abilities you want. You also get an actual phoenix that follows you around after a while, and horses.

Amazing, amazing gay horses.

No, seriously.

I discovered the pink unicorn first, and thought it was impressively flamboyant, and that was before any of the three rainbow horses, one apparently inspired by Adventure Time, the purple reindeer, or the zebra. Yes, zebras are gay. All of them. There are like 25 different mounts in the game, all of which must be found and tamed. Some of them run around in herds and some of them are literally a single animal in a tucked-away corner of the map. Then there are probably a couple hundred chests, dozens of challenges, dozens of Tartarus levels that are basically giant puzzle rooms, 25 or so “lieutenants” which are basically free-roaming boss battles that you could encounter at any time, and probably some stuff that I’m forgetting.

It’s a lot.

Ultimately, what you’re getting here is what would happen if Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Assassin’s Creed series had a gameplay baby (there are minor stealth elements; you won’t do a lot of sneaking around, and it’s never part of a mission, but you can creep up on enemies and sneak-attack them) and then dropped a Greek mythology skin on it. The whole story is told in retrospect by Prometheus, and there are some fun unreliable-narrator moments as well as an amazing quantity of semen and sex jokes from what is ostensibly a game pitched at younger gamers. Like, are you familiar with Aphrodite’s origin myth? There’s a mission that riffs on that, where you’re pushing a, um, “pearl” into the ocean, and it’s made real clear that it’s a damn euphemism, and … like, Kenny wouldn’t have gotten the innuendo? But holy shit, game. The voice acting isn’t wonderful (the pseudo-Greek accent everyone uses is kind of annoying) but the story is great and I felt like the actors were all having a great time with it. Zeus and Ares in particular are standouts. This won’t be Game of the Year or anything, but for a launch title, it’s impressively solid, and I think it was well worth the money even if the boy abandoned it.

I read books

My comic shop has been having a hell of a time lately. For those of you who aren’t comic geeks, Wednesday is New Comic Books Day. Every comic book shop I’ve ever frequented was closed on Tuesdays, because Wednesday is the day every week when new books come out and that meant that they needed to remerch everything in their damn store once a week. DC Comics recently decided they were going to take responsibility for shipping and fulfillment themselves, and they started shipping everything to be available for Tuesday. My comic shop shrugged and didn’t change anything, knowing that nobody was going to get pissed about having to wait that extra day, and if they’ve caught any grief from it I’m unaware of it.

The problem is that for the last several weeks all of their indie and Marvel books have been getting caught in weather nightmares and have been late. You can probably imagine that with this business model a comic shop makes a huge percentage of their weekly revenue– 75% or more– on Wednesday, and so if something prevents the books from being there on time it can cause serious cash flow problems. Last week’s Marvel books just got put on the shelf today, and last I heard they were hoping this week’s Marvel books would be available tomorrow. I popped in yesterday anyway because I had dinner plans with my dad and the comic shop is near his house, and since I’m not buying much DC stuff nowadays there really wasn’t much of anything available. So I picked up Nubia: Real One, a 208-page original graphic novel written by L.L. McKinney and drawn by Robyn Smith. You might recognize McKinney’s name from her books A Blade So Black and A Dream So Dark, both of which I have read and really enjoyed. This isn’t quite her first comics work, but it’s certainly her first major work– she’s done a story here and there, but debuting with a 200+ page OGN is … not a thing that’s really done, to be honest. I had a conversation with the owners about various prose authors who have made the transition into comics work recently– Daniel Jose Older, Saladin Ahmed, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jodi Picoult, of all people, all came up. Some authors have trouble with the transition, because in comics so much is handled visually.

LL McKinney is not one of those authors, and I’ll stop burying the lede: Nubia: Real One is one of the best comics I’ve read in quite some time, and to pull something like that off with a character I wasn’t terribly aware of or invested in is a hell of an accomplishment. I’m also completely unfamiliar with Robyn Smith’s work, and honestly a quick scan of the book didn’t initially impress me, as this is far from traditional superhero work. That’s not automatically bad, mind you, but Nubia is an Amazon. This is a DC book.

Well, all those concerns got blown to hell once I started reading the book. Smith’s art and in particular her character designs are just beautiful– it can be difficult to draw regular folks in a way that makes them instantly recognizable in a comic book (there’s a reason superheroes wear brightly colored costumes) and the characters are all distinct and clear without looking, other than Nubia’s towering height, disproportionate or exaggerated. And then there’s Nubia’s tooth gap. This may seem like a weird thing to fixate on, but she smiles a lot in this book, and she’s got this gap between her front teeth that just did an amazing amount of work in making her seem like a normal kid and a regular person. I have been reading comics for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character with a gap in their front teeth that wasn’t supposed to be a small child. She feels like a real person, with real problems, and so do her friends, and so do her parents for that matter, and while anyone who knows anything about the character already knows what the big twist is (this is an origin story) the story itself is great as well. I loved this book unconditionally, and if you’re even a little bit of a comic book person you owe yourself to check it out.

I can’t find a properly high-resolution version of this cover, unfortunately, but I also finished Tochi Onyebuchi’s Rebel Sisters this week. This is the second book in a series, the sequel to his War Girls, which ended up in fifth place on my Best New Books of 2019 list. The sequel has a very different feel to it from the first book. War Girls was, in the author’s words, “Gundam in Nigeria,” only it ended up being quite a bit more weighty than that description implies. That said, there were giant mechs and blowing shit up, but for all that it was a cool action book it also had a lot to say about revolution and civil war, and it was all-around a hell of a thing to read.

(I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it again: if you are not reading African and African diasporic science fiction and fantasy right now, and particularly Nigerian science fiction, you are missing out. This is a real movement and you need to get in on it.)

Rebel Sisters is set after the future civil war that takes up the bulk of War Girls, and stars Ify, who was one of the main characters of War Girls. Ify has left Nigeria and moved to a space station and is working as a doctor, when a mysterious illness takes over among the children of many of the refugee families who live at the station. She ends up returning to Earth in an attempt to find a cure for the disease, and finds out that the Nigerian government has … well, they’ve dealt with moving on from the war in a unique way, I’ll just say that. Rebel Sisters is a quieter and more contemplative book than War Girls was, and bounces back and forth between Ify’s perspective and that of one of the synths from the first book, a character I won’t spoil much about. You kind of get the feeling that Onyebuchi got the “big robots smash punch BOOM!” out of his system in the first book, and this one is more About What It Is About, if that makes any sense, although it’s no less an accomplishment for all that. One interesting detail from the author’s afterword that I’m going to make sure you know about going in, because I wish I had: the disease the kids come down with may strike you as … rather narratively convenient, for lack of a better word. It is– and this kind of blew my mind and made me read more into it– actually based on a real phenomenon that has happened among refugee children.

Check it out.

Finally, from the This Book Doesn’t Really Need My Help department, I’ve also read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I bought both of the other books in this post because of preexisting fandoms, but while I had heard of Coelho before ordering The Alchemist, I couldn’t have told you anything about him other than that he was an author. Well, I decided I wanted to find a book from Brazil for #Readaroundtheworld, and a search for Brazilian authors brought his name and this book up, and … well, if they’ve done a 25th Anniversary Edition of it it’s probably pretty good, right?

It is. It absolutely is.

If I had to compare The Alchemist to anything else I’ve read, two books come to mind immediately: Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There are a number of commonalities, but what stands out is the length of the books (Haroun is easily the shortest of Rushdie’s works, Jonathan is basically a novella, and Alchemist is around 230 pages) and the fairy-tale feel of the stories themselves. Jonathan and Alchemist come off as more didactic than Haroun does, but all three books have Feelings About How We Should Live, and, well, Jonathan and Haroun are both books that have been intensely rewarding rereads, and I suspect Alchemist is going to be as well.

I don’t speak a word of Portuguese other than where it overlaps with Spanish, but for what it’s worth this is also a pretty superb translation, good enough that I actually made sure it was originally written in Portuguese and not English. There can be a certain awkwardness to translated works from time to time, where you have to sort of wrap your head around the style of the language of the book before you can get into it, but either Portuguese translates very smoothly into English or Alan R. Clarke is very, very good at his job. He’s translated several of Coelho’s books, and I enjoyed this enough that I’ll definitely want to read more of Coelho’s books in the future, so I’m glad they seem to be in the right hands.

Oh, let’s see…

Can confirm: I will be pursuing National Board certification. So we will see how that goes.

I spent another nine hours staring at numbers today, then went to the comic shop and had dinner with my dad, and I actually do have stuff to talk about (short version: read Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist and Tochi Onyebuchi’s Rebel Sisters, full reviews probably coming, and there might be a video game review in the near future too) but right now all I want to do is put a wet rag over my eyes and sit in the dark for a while. Tomorrow will be another 8-9 hours of test watching plus avoiding spoilers for WandaVision.

I really do need to make “tired” one of my categories.