This Week in Geek (24-30/01/21)

Gifts

We're never gonna get out of red/orange phase, so we decided to play Santa and drop off our annual Christmas gift exchange gifts at doorsteps. To explain the above, former roommate Clo took back our old needlepoint welcome thingie and rebooted it entirely. Neat, huh? While I gave out some of my short stories and Orient Express related gifts (because everyone is in my Rippers RPG and our Christmas game held that theme... it's been longer than I expected since then), here's my geeky load of goodies: Star Trek Panic (to retire my Castle Panic game), Blade Runner 2019 TPB, a little movie marquee, door signs to warn neighbors I'm podcasting, knives (not geeky but necessary), heated gloves (how am I supposed to write all these blogs in this cold?), Trek-themed tea (Earl Grey Hot, obviously), and Amelie made me a little playset where my three last cats are podcasting. Look at this homemade glory:

"Accomplishments"

 

At home: Pietro Germi's Divorce Italian-Style stars Marcello Mastroianni as a wealthy baron from a small Sicilian town who lusts after his cousin Angela, but strict Catholicism does not allow him to get a divorce. His wife must die, and from that springs an actually quite fun black comedy. As he will later do in Seduced and Abandoned - the other half of this diptych - Germi brings attention to a law on the books that a spouse can get as little as a 3-year sentence if they kill their partner in a righteous jealous fit. But more than that, the film criticizes the entire culture for not just permitting it, but encouraging it "for honor's sake". It's a comedy and not a thriller, so Mastroianni's character keeps getting cuck-blocked, the best laid plans and all that, and we both want him to succeed because of his charm, and fail because it's funnier that way (and besides, poor Rosalia doesn't deserve it in the least, even HE knows that). Germi is quite good at making ostensibly dark material amusing, in this case, with creative waking fantasies about the wife's murder and the flowery defense his attorney might use. It's formally inventive too. Farce with an edge.

 

At the crossroads of Duel and The Hitcher, we have Joy Ride, in which brothers played by Paul Walker and Steve Zhan piss off the wrong trucker who comes after them (and their love interest) with every psychotic impulse he's got. It's derivative - it's not exactly the car from Vanishing Point, but it might as well be - I have to stress that I'm pretty car blind, so you tell me), but not without its small pleasures. There's some directorial flare at times, and when it's tense, it's good and tense. However, the monster's motivations are at once one-dimensional and a bit haphazard, and my attention strayed as we sprang off one resolution into another complication. The tacked-on third act will make you ask questions as to Rusty Nail's powers that just can't be answered, so better to just set your brain to the OFF position at that point. I see they made a whole (barely connected) trilogy out of this, well good for them, but it's the end of the road for me.

 

Books: I was a big fan of Niven and Barnes's Dream Park trilogy - imagining the role-playing hobby, or really, LARPing, in the mid-21st Century - and the RPG based on it is probably the game I've most run since I finished high school. The last of those three books came out in 1992. And then surprise! The authors returned to Dream Park in 2018(!) with The Moon Maze Game! Set almost 30 years after the original, the novel stars a new cast of gamers set to play the first game on the Moon colony, one based on H.G. Wells's oeuvre (and if you know your RPG history, there is a nice thematic link there). But Dream Park novels are never really about the "game". Something is always happening "outside" that affects it. In this case, a terrorist threat turns the adventure into Die Hard in a Role-Playing Game. It kind of needs it because despite the Luna's physics adding a layer of interest, and this future having a lot of diversity (I do like the characters), Game Master Xavier is no Richard Lopez, if you know what I mean. (Well, I guess if you've read the other books, you might.) I do think the book needed another editorial pass to eliminate redundant dialog, weird mistakes like characters walking out of a room and then getting a line, and maybe some of the sex gaze stuff. But as a return to an old franchise I used to love, Moon Maze is a fun page-turner.

 

In The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes has digested Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich's biographical details and music, and turned it into a fascinating character study structured not unlike the music itself. Not that I know enough about music to really tell, you understand, but Barnes did make me listen to several key pieces and instructed me enough to see the parallels. There are, for examples, three movements, each a trip in which the famous composer reflects on events from a different decade, fragments of memory that gasp and fart in the same way his banned music was in those eras, the storytelling more stable in times where he wrote more in line with the Power's tastes. And it ends on an ironic triumph, like his Fifth Symphony, after much pessimism. Musicality allies with a wry wit that highlights the Kafkaesque absurdity of fascist regimes (especially so when wordless music can be termed unpatriotic). I find stories set in Stalin's Russia and other Orwellian societies to be very useful in today's climate; we have a lot to learn from history. And it's also the story about art vanquishing (or not) the "noise of time", i.e. the politics of the day, the prevalent tastes, the marketing and propaganda, even (ironically) authors themselves. It's actually perfect that Shostakovich had a particular interest in Shakespeare, because that's a great example of the man having become the Work, and it hardly matters who or what he was. Julian Barnes has long been one of my favorite authors, and he still dazzles me decades after I discovered him. I devoured this one.


Star Trek's Official Guide to the Animated Series takes its cue, visually, from the Filmation cartoon itself, and is bright, colorful, and filled with sketches and art straight from the show. Plainly put, it's a coffee table book and both looks and reads like one. It's not one of those bricks that goes into that much depth, though a lot of writers and production people did get interviewed (or quoted from past interviews) along the way. The Guide is book ended by a quick making of and the a piece on the series' legacy, the rest devoted to an "episode guide" that offers 4-6 pages on each story, giving us a synopsis and various tidbits as blurb-like articles, including what lesson was being taught to the kids (generally between 1 and 4 paragraphs per bit). You'll also find animation goofs, bullet-pointed trivia, who voiced what, memorable quotes, and an encyclopedia of concepts, worlds and people found in the episode. Sometimes it feels a bit spare, a chance for more art, but I can't argue it doesn't look real nice. I've read a lot of Trek non-fiction, so maybe I'm game deeper forays, but in terms of making the Guide feel like the series itself, the content and the container are in a pleasant enough lock-step.

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