Category: Reviews


Depression Quest

Posted 4 December, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 4 Comments

I’m trying to mostly keep my blog about books, since that was what I established it for, but sometimes I come across things I really want to share, and this is one of them. Depression Quest is a text-based game (with audio), based on living with depression. It isn’t an easy game to play, emotionally, though it’s very simple in style — basically choose your own adventure — but I think it’s an important one.

You play as an unnamed, ungendered person who has a girlfriend called Alex, and the world is peopled with a support network — Attic, an online friend; Sam, a co-worker; your mother; your brother Malcolm; a therapist who an old friend helps you find. All of these react in different ways if you turn to them for help with your depression, just like real people.

I played through on more or less the route I’ve been able to take in real life: seeing a counsellor, getting on medication, talking to my partner and family fairly openly about it. Even so, parts of the game made me cry. I don’t want to open it up again and play through a different route. It isn’t perfectly representative of all the possible problems you can have when you’re depressed, but it offers a little taste that does, to my mind, two important things. 1) It tells people with depression that they’re not alone, that that uselessness and darkness they feel is experienced by others, and 2) it can provide a way for them to demonstrate to other people both what it feels like and the obstacles that face you.

Depression Quest is a game, a story, and an important contribution to openly talking about depression. It really makes me wonder if I should offer to write a script for “Anxiety Quest”…

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Review – The Martian Chronicles

Posted 2 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 13 Comments

Cover of The Martian Chronicles, by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Another one read for my Coursera SF/F class. As usual when I’ve just finished a book, I have no idea what I’m going to write my essay about, but I have one day left to figure it out…

The thing that interests me most, I guess, is that Mars colonises the colonisers. In different ways in different vignettes, but it’s there — particularly in that last chapter/section. In a sense it feels like a recent book: the commentary on the spoiling of the world, and on colonisation; in others it feels so dated — the treatment of people of colour, women, the obsession with nuclear war (which is still an issue, but not the same kind of deep-seated fear, I think)…

The science itself (how long it might take to fly to Mars, being the obvious example) isn’t really important to the story/themes: it’s there as a backdrop, not at all used in the way H.G. Wells used science.

As with most of Bradbury’s work which I’ve come across so far, there are some gorgeous sections of prose here, and it’s all very well crafted and easy to read, as you’d expect.

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Review – White As Snow

Posted 27 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of White as Snow by Tanith LeeWhite As Snow, Tanith Lee

There are some beautiful aspects of this book, and then there’s the fact that nearly every female character is raped, often multiple times. The beauty is mostly in some of the writing and descriptions, though some of the ideas are also pretty interesting in theory — Lee blends the story of Snow White with the Greco-Roman myth of Hades and Persephone.

This isn’t either story as you know it, though, and for me it ultimately didn’t work. The two stories didn’t blend very well, because I was spending so much time drawing parallels, and because some of the parallels seemed a little laboured. Some of it is very sensual writing, while during a lot of it the heroines act like pieces of cardboard: I understand that is the reaction of some rape victims, some of whom may never “snap out of it”, but it does unfortunately cut out a lot of the potential feeling of the story.

I did enjoy the introduction, which goes into the background of the story, and introduced me to a glorious poem by Delia Sherman, “Snow White to the Prince”, which ends:

Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair.
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.

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Review – The Incredible Hulk

Posted 26 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Incredible HulkThe Incredible Hulk, Jason Aaron, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio

I haven’t read any Hulk comics before, and I haven’t even seen the MCU movie with Edward Norton. I’ve only seen him in the Avengers movie, and goodness, I love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Just the — the tortured look, and… Anyway.

This is an interesting view of Bruce Banner and Hulk, with Hulk as the calm one and Bruce being the one who is insane. I hope MCU canon doesn’t go this way, but it’s a very interesting look at the character. It does turn into a bit of a smash fest, because it’s the Hulk, and the character of Amanda von Doom is just… I don’t know if she’s elsewhere in the canon or what, but she didn’t work as a character for me. She seemed to be just there for sex appeal and witty one-liners.

It’s a bit of a weird one, really, and I feel very, very sorry for Bruce, but I’m interested to read more when/if the girlfriend picks ’em up.

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Review – Troika

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Troika, by Alastair ReynoldsTroika, Alastair Reynolds

I love the “Big Dumb Object” trope that Reynolds uses here. It just seems so… possible. That something we don’t understand is out there, waiting for us to find it. Some almost unfathomable relic of an alien civilisation. I think Reynolds uses that trope pretty well in Troika: it’s a neatly executed little novella, with a good twist at the end. It may not seem much to look at — it’s quite a slim volume — but Alastair Reynolds writes well, and the structure is well-executed (much as I usually dislike stories where you go back and forth between past and present).

I’m not sure why Reynolds chose the idea of a Second Soviet to frame the story, but it worked well for me. It was a bit of a shock to go from the vague idea that this was Soviet Russia — the first Soviet Russia — to realising that this is a later Russia, post-internet, post-freedom.

I didn’t get the strongly pro-space travel vibes from this that other reviewers seem to have done. To me, the situation in Russia overshadowed the possible touches of commentary on that. If anything, there was maybe a criticism of using space as a means to an end (political, to show superiority, etc) rather than as an end in itself.

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Review – A Princess of Mars

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Who did I see describing this as “old school, pulpy goodness”? I think that works pretty well. I’m not sure how I’m going to relate this to Herland in my SF/F essay, but I’m thinking on it… Obviously there’s a ton of colonial, North American stuff going on here, wherein a white man from Earth comes and suspiciously saves a red-skinned princess and reforms the Martian societies to good American values…

But it’s still sort of fun, and not a chore to read: the prose is straight-forward and not too crammed with infodumps, and I did get sort of fond of one or two characters, mostly Sola (perhaps because she was “civilised” and relateable before the Great White Man’s intervention).

No real surprises here, and I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to read other Barsoom books, but it’s enjoyable in its way.

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Review – Herland

Posted 23 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Herland, by Charlotte Perkins GilmanHerland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Herland is… hm. Unfortunately bland, really. Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems to have set out to portray a utopian, perfect society of women that shows up all the faults and contradictions of the contemporary world. Unfortunately, that society seems so flat and lacking in individuality that I wouldn’t want to be there. It also makes motherhood the pinnacle of a woman’s being, something to long for.

I’m female-bodied and apparently possessed of the various bits you’d expect given that. I really, really don’t want children, and I’m not interested in motherhood in any way, let alone some sanctified, deified version of it.

It is, of course, very much of its time. For when she lived, Gilman was pretty liberal, with anti-racist views and so on. But her vision of what could be was limited by that and ends up seeming rather pathetic.

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Review: Ultimate Spider-man vol.1: Power and Responsibility

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ultimate Spider-manUltimate Spider-man vol.1: Power and Responsibility, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley

I think I used to watch Spider-man cartoons, or certainly I had Spider-man somewhere in my consciousness, but I haven’t seen the films (although I got a free download of the latest one for my PS Vita when I bought it, I should look into that) and I wasn’t entirely clear on Spider-man lore. So the Ultimates collection seems to be a good choice for me, given that they update and clarify the origin stories as a start. And lucky me, my girlfriend has a whole stack of them.

(I hear Ultimate Cap is a dick, though. Bluh.)

Peter is a fun hero — snarky and sassy, but not cocksure. He’s sassy because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he doesn’t know what’s happening. This volume establishes the way he gets his powers, and why he becomes a superhero. Definitely enjoyed it, and I recommend it. It’s not bogged down by extraneous details, there are no other heroes muddying the waters (i.e. Young Avengers style: they’re somewhat hampered by nursemaid!Cap and Iron Man), and the art is clear with all characters easily distinguishable. Peter’s an adorable dork, and I’d like to see a lot more of Mary Jane.

I won’t post reviews of all twenty-two volumes here, but I might post reviews of my favourites as I go along.

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Review – Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

Posted 19 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Avengers: The Children's Crusade, a Marvel comicAvengers: The Children’s Crusade, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Olivier Coipel, Alan Davis

Children’s Crusade is pretty awesome. It’s not exactly a pure Young Avengers comic — it’s definitely a crossover comic — but it does feature quite a lot of Billy being awesome, supported by the other Young Avengers, and a fair bit of Teddy being awesome. It also features their first (I think) on-page kiss, and is generally more blatant about their relationship than the other comics so far. There’s some awesome dialogue, and some lovely funny geeky bits about Billy and Teddy.

It also pulls in the X-Men, the Avengers, backlash from House of M, and features quite a few characters we know and love (or hate).

It’s also not without consequences, as even the Young Avengers lose people from their line-up.

On the other hand, I can see some other people’s problems with it: it seems to go back on some previous Marvel events and erase their consequences, and it really is one gigantic squabble between various superhero groups, with the teenage Young Avengers coming out as maybe the most mature.

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Review – Fun Home

Posted 15 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison BechdelFun Home, Alison Bechdel

I first heard of Alison Bechdel through fandom and the Bechdel test. This is a simple way of evaluating the gender bias of a film:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

Because it’s simple, it’s not always true. (Do Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill talk to each other in Avengers? No. Are they all female characters worth watching and identifying with? Yes.) But quite often, it is. (Sorry, Supernatural, but really. Really.)

I actually came round to reading anything of Alison Bechdel’s — beyond that simple strip that gave us those rules — through my comics and graphic novels course. I was only very vaguely aware that Alison Bechdel identifies as a lesbian, and not at all aware of her family story. Fun Home is essentially a memoir in comic form, though.

I enjoyed the literary allusions quite a lot, and I liked the art style as well. It’s not immensely ornate or anything like that, but it has feeling and personality. To say it has warmth is a bit of a stretch when you’re talking something that deals with such heavy topics and which has such an emotionally distant family at its heart, but you can feel for the characters. Fun Home feels like it was a catharsis for Bechdel, putting into words and images things she’d always felt and not voiced, making parallels that were helpful for her, figuring out links — even engaging in a bit of wishful thinking.

It’s interesting how, in my experience of reading this book, there were three levels of acceptance of gay people: not at all (Bruce Bechdel), as part of the women’s movement (Alison Bechdel) and as part of life (me). It opens a little window on what might have been my life. Not everything that Bruce Bechdel did could be excused, and I don’t want to assume too much about Alison Bechdel’s feelings, but I do feel lucky not to be trapped like Bruce and even Alison.

My coming out experiences with my parents…

ME: Mum, I’m bisexual and I’m dating Lisa.
MUM: Don’t cut your hair! You know sexuality is a continuum, right? I don’t want you to label yourself just because of something you’re feeling right now.

[Some years later]

ME: Dad, if you haven’t noticed that me and Lisa are dating, you’re possibly a bit stupid.
DAD: I didn’t.
ME: Oh. Well, we are.
DAD: Okay.

I do still needle my mum about the stereotyping behind “don’t cut your hair” (it was my pride and joy at the time, waist length and thick and a little bit curly — and I’ve since cut my hair pretty short, and she likes it), but… thank goodness for my family and the fact that there was no one walking in front of a bread truck.

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