Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Buried Pyramid

I'm not at all familiar with Jane Lindskold, I must confess, but she's apparently quite popular, as this book was a challenge to get from the local library, and moreover was impossible to renew. I was put on its trail by a very favourable description on Alan Robson's book reviews page, a site I thoroughly recommend for readers of scifi and other genre fiction.
And I can see why Robson enjoyed The Buried Pyramid. It's a very fun, exciting book. The first three quarters are a rip-roaring adventure in the Haggard or Burroughs (or, if you must, the Indiana Jones) style, a travelogue across exotic lands with dashes of adventure and intrigue along the way. Apart from some niggling editorial glitches like disappearing punctuation, this is a wonderful read. Well, there is another problem which soured my enjoyment of this part of the book, but we'll get to that in a bit.

The last quarter involves an audacious plot twist that changes the tone and the very concept of the book. This in itself, I don't have a problem with, and it is handled very well here, with the breakneck pace and sense of fun from earlier on left intact. It is the details that led to my frustration, with many questions left unanswered. Sadly these weren't questions of the "ooh, isn't this intriguing, I wonder what it means?" sort, but of the "why did this happen?", "what was the point of doing that?" and "how does that serve the story?" sort. The most frustrating thing about these problems is that a more careful proofreading could have caught them and led to them being sorted out.

This editorial blindness also perhaps accounts for the problem that distracts from the otherwise excellent first, pre-twist, part of the book. The heroes are occasionally sent messages by a mysterious ally who warns them about the perils that surround the party. Of course, as is the tradition of these things, the messages are written in code, and whenever the heroes receive one, we're treated to delicious passages of them sitting around with pencils and paper, trying to work out the key to unlocking the codes. The problem with this ongoing plot thread is that it's quite clear from the beginning who the mysterious benefactor is. It's certainly arguable that Lindskold is making no atempt to hide this person's identity, and that it's supposed to be obvious, but all evidence points to the contrary, especially the climax of the novel in which the revelation is treated as being one last, quite important, loose end that needs tying up. Adding to the frustration is the fact that editorial laxness leads to one character correctly working out the identity of the message writer both at the climax and earlier on, around the point at which the plot takes its interesting turn. I've read and re-read the bit in question, thinking perhaps I've missed or mininterpreted something, but it's quite clear that the hero discovers the identity of her ally 117 pages before she, er, discovers the identity of her ally...Surely that's something an editor should pick up?

All that said, The Buried Pyramid is a good fun read. I think it's perfect for the younger reader, who'd be sophisticated enough to follow the subtleties, but perhaps not so on-the-ball that they'd pick up on the klunky bits that led to me not enjoying it as much as I could have. Still, well worth a read, especially if your literary diet has been devoid of fun of late.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Religious Conflict

Think that monks are cuddly, benevolent fellows, who wouldn't hurt anyone? That's not true of these ascetics...

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Disappointing Side Of The Force

That title alone is going to earn nasty comments from some people, I'd imagine...
Well, I had no intention of buying the new Star Wars dvd set, but I did decide to rent my favourite of the films, (The?) Return Of The Jedi.
(Pause for more ridicule, as everyone knows that The Empire Strikes Back is the best one...)
Anyway, it was fun to see the film again. I don't think I've seen it since about 1999. But...

Much has been made of the changes and additions that Lucas and his cronies have made to these films for the dvd release. I have no real problem with changes generally, although I do think that Lucas should perhaps divert this creative energy to making the new Star Wars films watchable, rather than faffing about with films we already like.
My problem here was that the cleaning up seemed very half-hearted. I only rented the third (sixth?) film, so it may have been that the cgi boys at Lucasfilm got bored by the time they got to this one and just gave up. Who knows? The much-publicised enhancement of the lightsaber effects stumble because they're too enhanced, looking like the lightsabers are floating above the film, rather than being part of it. This is a common problem with Lucas' cgi effects, turning up in the new trilogy quite often too. A similarly big fuss was made over how Jabba's cgi model in Star Wars was tweaked and improved, and we didn't rent the first (fourth?) film, so I don't know how well it worked. The rest of the Special Edition additions seem to have been left as is, however, so there's a lot of 1997-era cgi in there, which hasn't aged well at all. The Sarlacc pit sequence looks especially bad when presented through dvd picture quality.
I was also informed that all the Stormtroopers in the original trilogy were going to have their voices dubbed over by the chap who played Jango Fett in Episode II: The Really Important (Honestly) Story Of Boba Fett, but if that's the case, they again didn't get as far as ROTJ. You could make an (unconvincing) argument that the oh-so-cool bike-riding troopers aren't clones like their rank-and-file cousins, but when the actual troopers turn up later, they sound exactly like they always did. Odd.
What's frustrating about this isn't that they were done, or not done, but that it seems entirely random as to which bits got touched up. Jabba gets improved. The Rancor pit sequence is tidied up considerably, and for the first time in twenty years the beast actually looks like it's in the same scene as Mark Hamill. The space battles look to have been improved a bit, too. But then there are other bits that look or sound really ropey, and you begin to wonder how they decided on what to improve, and whether anyone actually checked the product before it got released.
On that note, the sound quality is really badly screwed in places. Of course Lucasfilm deny a problem, because the recall would cost a bomb, but it's definitely there. Sound drops out or amplifies at apparently random moments. The opening titles are the worst offender in ROTJ, with the sound jumping about all over the place. What this means is that the dvds are a waste. Yes, the picture quality is much improved over the vhs versions, but the sound quality isn't even up to vhs standards. A terrible shame.
As I noted at the top, I had no intention of picking up the set anyway, but after seeing some of it, I'm even more convinced. Perhaps the (apparently) final set in 2007 wil fix these problems, and be a better purchase, but I'm not enough of a fan to pick this current set up.
Worth a rental, though, especially since there's a preview of the next (and hopefully final) film on there. It will most likely be a big pile of Bantha shit, but Vader's back for the first time ever (or is that introduced for the second time?), and that's got to be worth the ticket price...

Thursday, September 23, 2004


Proving that you can in fact find anything and everything on the internet (or perhaps just that there's a lot of strange people out there), behold The Infinite Cat Project, pictures of cats looking at pictures of cats looking at pictures of cats looking at pictures of cats looking at...

Well, That Was A Weird One

I dreamed last night that I was a member of the team on ITV's short-lived video games show Bad Influence, and oddly enough, the only one who actually was on friendly terms with Violet Berlin, rather than being a swooning sycophant at the feet of Andy Crane. Nam Rood was conspicuously absent.
Where does that come from? Surely I couldn't have been subconsciously, randomly, thinking about Bad Influence before I went to bed?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Good Point, Well Made/It's Tiny!!!

I've seen it made as a joke a number of times, but here's a semi serious argument for the rest of the world voting in America's elections.

Rare bit of video game commentary here. Apparently, just as there was a streamlined version of the original Playstation released some years after the original, so too will there be a mini PS2! It puts the X-Brick's exaggerated vastness to shame, doesn't it?
Of course, the downside is that this most likely means that it's about time to start saving up for the PS3...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Arboreal Confusion

The trees think it's autumn, so they're shedding their leaves with abandon, and yet it's 29°C/84°F outside and the sun is blazing away like a bastard. Weird. Still, strange as it is, it's at least safe. No hurricanes up here, luckily.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Avengers Assemble!

Taking my lead (i.e. nicking the idea) from Dan, here's the Micro Héros version of my ideal Avengers team.


Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bad Timing?

I can't tell whether it's bad timing or just sheer blind optimism, but there are an awful lot of adverts on TV here at the moment encouraging people to holiday in Florida...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

More On That "Liberal Bias In The Media"

Democratic Convention: Shown live on PBS.
Republican Convention: Shown live on NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, etc.