Month: February 2014

Book Talk: Fangirl

Posted February 27, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 1 Comment

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Fangirl by Rainbow RowellThe curse of the hype strikes again! Just once, just once I would like to pick up a book that my friends and reviewers whose opinions I really admire absolutely adored to pieces and adore it along with them. Just one book, world. All I ask is one book like that. Fangirl is, regrettably, not that book, although I did like it quite a lot (certainly far more than I was expecting to). For a wonderful and lovely review, I direct you to Memory’s review. Have fun! And the product description from Amazon will be here waiting for you if you come back. ^_^

 

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

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Serial Notes: Questions and Answers

Posted February 24, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 2 Comments

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A Promise Broken: A young girl looking at a stormcloud.

This week. I’d like to poke at some potential questions or comments I suspect might come up. They’re not terribly well-organised, apologies, but they’re here. Please don’t hesitate to throw more questions my way if you have any!

Before reading below the cut, I do have a small and important note to add: I am not good at non-fiction of any kind. I often have wording fail, and a lot of it. I expect to find I put my foot in my mouth in the questions below. If you want to point out where and how, please try to be gentle. I’d appreciate the chance to learn and improve. I’d also like to try and work up to discussing aspects of the writing process and what I’ve learned in separate posts at times and I’m already struggling to find the confidence and the courage to do so. Gentleness would be encouraging in discussing the specific issues in a wider context as the serial goes on.

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Game Talk: The Blackwell Bundle

Posted February 23, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Games, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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The Blackwell Bundle: Legacy, Unbound, Conversion, Deception

Covering The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence and Blackwell Deception, so there won’t be any spoilers unless you’ve bought any of the games without so much as looking at the cover art or reading the description.

The overall idea of the series is this: the women in the Blackwell family — or at least the latest three — are psychics who help dead spirits cross over to the next realm with the help of a spirit guide named Joey. Most of the games are set in the present day, featuring Rosangela (Rosa) Blackwell, but Blackwell Unbound features Lauren, Rosa’s aunt.

The games are all old-school styled adventure games, so they’ve all got a low resolution. If modern HD graphics are your thing… the Blackwell games probably aren’t really going to be that appealing visual-wise, but I love them just the way they are. I know part of it is nostalgia because this the look I grew up with (except updated), but there’s also something about the art that just… says “made with love and care” that modern graphics doesn’t. It’s a bit like the difference between a 2D animated movie and a 3D one. I know the latter isn’t necessarily less intensive — probably more, actually — but the computer rendering is far more visibly involved for me.

I love the commentary mode on Wadjet Eye Games. It’s a really fun way to replay the game and listening to the developer’s thoughts and some of the voice acting bloopers. You really, really want to play the games through without the commentary tracks at least once, though, because there’ll be spoilers aplenty. One of the things that stood out to me in the commentary was this one screen commentary on a puzzle.

It’s from Blackwell Deception and the main thrust of the commentary is this: this puzzle was really hard for players, even though the solution is how they’d (instinctually) solve the puzzle if it happened to them in real life. Yes, it’s something that could happen to you in real life and it was this bemusing moment where something that makes perfect sense in our daily lives became a really hard and almost illogical way to solve a puzzle in a game.

What stood out for me with that comment was that I’d been that player in my first playthrough. I was stumped how to solve the dratted puzzle until it was pointing out to me and then there was this “Well, d’uh!” moment. In my case, part of the issue was probably that I’d forgotten the part that clues you in on where to look for the puzzle in the first place, never mind that it needed solving, so it’s not quite the experience Gilbert was describing. It still resonated, though, and I’m curious to see whether that disconnect is something that affects all gamers equally or mostly just ones familiar with older games. It’s something I’ve noticed as a pattern in all four games as well as Primordia is that my brain just will not jump to something that, in hindsight, is probably the first thing I would’ve tried if I’d been the protagonist. I don’t always react that way, but often enough for me to notice that I do think about game situations differently.

Anyway, I’ve had a wonderful time playing all of the games. I initially picked them up because I absolutely loved Abe Goldfarb as Crispin in Primordia. (I seem to have officially become that person who plays games because of the actors in them. I’d say “Oh dear”, but I really enjoyed the acting in these games.) I did have some trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to hear Joey as anyone but Crispin, considering how close my playthroughs were timewise, but I had no trouble keeping the voice apart at all. (Although there’s been a couple of bloopers where my brain went “Crispin!” and I amused myself.)

Altogether, including replays, at the time of this writing, the game time I spent on each combined is… about 12-13 hours give or take. They’re not particularly long games to play unless you get really, really stuck. The worst I got stuck was during Blackwell Unbound, I think, because I’d forgotten a few things and didn’t realise asking about the same topic multiple times would yield new information. Probably not one of my brightest moments that, but I never claimed to have any, I think, so that’s all right. ^-~ I like how each of the games has been laid out storywise, even though they’ve been quite a bit shorter than I’d expected. I thought I’d spent longer on them. I think it’s a combination of the tight storytelling, the pacing and the way the puzzles are all divided into clear arcs or sections. You’ve got a real sense of progress as well as depth from them as everything you do follows from one to the other or offers overlapping gameplay. If you get stuck on one ghost/puzzle, you can move on to the other for a while.

I really liked the interaction between Rosa and Joey, as well as what we got to see of Lauren and Joey in Blackwell Unbound. That said, the first two games were definitely the weakest for me. I didn’t mind the infodumping in The Blackwell Legacy, though Dave Gilbert’s commentary suggests he’d write it differently if he made the game today, but it worked for me as I felt it suited the situation. I did find it a little too… straightforward, I think. I keep wanting to say ‘linear’, but that’s not what I’m going for at all. It starts off fairly game-y (which Gilbert recognises in the commentary; and have I mentioned yet how much I love the commentary?) and I wish we’d seen Rosa struggle a bit more with Joey’s appearance in her life. But the game itself is a really nice introduction to the series. Blackwell Unbound… I felt suffered a little from the way its plot was handled. It all comes together in the end and it works, but… it still felt a little clumsy and contrived to me. :/ It lacked a bit of cohesion before the final reveal for me. I haven’t replayed it yet, so hopefully that’ll change on a replay when I know how the story fits together.

Speaking of how the story fits together, I love Rosa’s emails and the way characters from previous games pop up briefly either as characters or as email notes. It’s a great way to add a little life to the world if you want to seek it out and it really ties the games together into a unit because there’s a tangible (if slightly spoilerish) connection between the latest game and the previous ones.

Blackwell Deception is my favourite, I think, though it’s a close tie with Convergence. Deception, for me, easily has the best story of the four, but I think Convergence has a bit more meat to its puzzles for me. It’s a tough call. Story probably wins out as I’m writing this and I did opt to replay Deception before Convergence and I picked my replays based on how badly I wanted to reacquaint myself with the game and its plot. I think it’s that, with Deception, we get a hint of a bigger plot as well as learning a little more about Joey. Keeping him all mysterious for three games is… Well, it’s mysterious, I’ll grant it that, but it does mean that it feels like we learn very little about Joey and it made the characters, who are a team, feel very unbalanced because we learn a fair bit about Rosa. (And, also, learning more about what made Joey the person/ghost he is helps him come alive more as a character.) And I really, really like that this comes paired with a change for Rosa too. It’s just a tiny, tiny detail and so far I’ve yet to actually notice it consciously when it happens, but I really like that Gilbert combined those two in one game. For me that was just really effective and the two enhanced each other to create a lot of momentum.

I’ll be looking forward to playing the next (and projected last) game in the series as I’ve enjoyed these games immensely.

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#Ukraine #EuroMaidan

Posted February 20, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Links. The text 'links' underneath a big, old-fashioned key. Links I felt were interesting.

I… have no words, so you all will have to settle for links. Also, be warned that some of the photos and video shots are graphic and may be triggering.

I Am Ukranian. (As per most YouTube videos, stay away from the comments.) If footage of violence triggers (or upsets) you, please open a different tab or scroll past it and listen.

Kyiv as of this afternoon. Or check out the English-language translations of the news.

Chronicle of Events, starting from January 28th. It’s in reverse chronological order so newest events are at the top.

Ways to support Euromaidan activists.

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Book Talk: Pukawiss the Outcast

Posted February 20, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan HawkeOne of the last books I let myself get last year was Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke. It’s a prequel to A Scout Is Brave, which I haven’t read, but which I’d definitely be interested in picking up at some point.

Summary time!

When family complications take Joshua away from his fundamentalist Christian mother and leave him with his grandfather, he finds himself immersed in a mysterious and magical world. Joshua’s grandfather is a Wisconsin Ojibwe Indian who, along with an array of quirky characters, runs a recreated sixteenth-century village for the tourists who visit the reservation. Joshua’s mother kept him from his Ojibwe heritage, so living on the reservation is liberating for him. The more he learns about Ojibwe traditions, the more he feels at home.

One Ojibwe legend in particular captivates him. Pukawiss was a powerful manitou known for introducing dance to his people, and his nontraditional lifestyle inspires Joshua to embrace both his burgeoning sexuality and his status as an outcast. Ultimately, Joshua summons the courage necessary to reject his strict upbringing and to accept the mysterious path set before him.

It is a lovely book. But, as I normally do, the bad before the good and the bad is that the prose draws a lot of attention to itself. Constantly. That moment where you want to scream at a book for pointing out the obvious or just not trusting you to understand without being told or that moment where the author repeats information as never-before-given information when it was just mentioned the previous chapter? There are a lot of those moments in this book.  I might have preferred a little more nuance in Hawke’s portrayal of Christians, as well. Not because I’m a Christian myself (I’m not), but because it would have helped bring home Gentle Eagle’s point that religion is complicated later on in the book. (There is, of course, a point to what Hawke is doing, and it’s a powerful one. I just still wish there’d been a little more nuance in the supporting cast.)

However, if you can look past that what you have is a lovely story. Hawke is dedicated to sharing Ojibwe culture with the reader as Joshua comes to learn more about that half of his heritage. The characters are engaging (when the prose isn’t getting in the way) and varied. It starts out sounding like it’ll be a gay teen romance, but it actually (and refreshingly) goes in an entirely different direction. It’s a great example of how relationships can change over time, even just a short time. Hawke fills his book with believable characters and attempts to create a setting that shows what modern life on a reservation is like for Native Americans.

There’s also an alcoholic tertiary character and I really appreciate that Hawke didn’t opt to make him an abusive alcoholic. It’s a small thing, but one that I appreciated a lot.

Pukawiss the Outcast is a contemporary novel. It has some supernatural elements in the form of Joshua’s dreams, but it’s not the SFF I normally read. The change was a lot of fun. I enjoyed spending time with Joshua and learning about Ojibwe culture. I enjoyed seeing Joshua come to terms with himself and embrace his heritage. I’d happily recommend it to people who are looking for a contemporary YA novel about discovering who you are and what matters to you.

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Book Mention: A Story As Sharp As A Knife

Posted February 17, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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This is not a book talk or a review as I have no real words to discuss it with.  There are reasons for this. I am not getting into those reasons. But I did want to mention the book. I think it’s very far from a perfect book (not least because I shouldn’t have to read around 400 pages to get a proper explanation of the damned methodology used; 400+ pages!!), but it’s well worth reading if you can track down a copy. When it’s not busy making me want to grab red pens or being annoyed — and I can see reason and logic behind writing it this way; I just don’t agree with it being the best way — it is busy being absolutely “I want to push a copy into the hands of everyone I know” fabulous.

It’s the first book in a set and it’s currently (and sadly) out of print, so finding a copy may be difficult, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. The book is at its best when its focus is concentrated on discussing Haida literature or the history of how what we have of it came to be preserved. At its worst it makes me grumpy and grab for red pens and it’s at its worst when it’s trying to discuss too many topics all at once.

I’ll leave you with Amazon’s description of it and a note that I recommend it to anyone interested in folktales, myths, non-Western literature, early 20th century North American history and/or linguistics. (Paragraph breaks are my own.)

The Haida world is a misty archipelago a hundred stormy miles off the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska. For a thousand years and more before the Europeans came, a great culture flourished in these islands. The masterworks of classical Haida sculpture, now enshrined in many of the world’s great museums, range from exquisite tiny amulets to magnificent huge housepoles. Classical Haida literature is every bit as various and fine. It extends from tiny jewels crafted by master songmakers to elaborate mythic cycles lasting many hours.

The linguist and ethnographer John Swanton took dictation from the last great Haida-speaking storytellers, poets and historians from the fall of 1900 through the summer of 1901. His Haida hosts and colleagues had been raised in a wholly oral world where the mythic and the personal interpenetrate completely. They joined forces with their visitor, consciously creating a great treasury of Haida oral literature in written form.

Poet and linguist Robert Bringhurst has worked for many years with these century-old manuscripts, which have waited until now for the broad recognition they deserve. Bringhurst brings these works to life in the English language and sets them in a context just as rich as the stories themselves–one that reaches out to dozens of Native American oral literatures, and to mythtelling traditions around the globe.

The world of classical Haida literature is a world as deep as the ocean, as close as the heart and as elusive as the Raven, whose unrepentant laugh persists within it all. This is a tradition brimming with profundity, hilarity and love. It belongs where Bringhurst sees it: among the great traditions of the world. Bringhurst, an acclaimed typographer and book designer, will be redesigning this edition in a beautiful new package.

There you are. Words. If you go forth and find yourself a copy, may you enjoy the journey. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking one.

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What games are on my replaying list?

Posted February 16, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Thoughts. The text 'rambling thoughts' underneath a burning lantern. For rambles, thoughts, and not-essays.

I’ve been talking about books quite a lot. Part of that is simply that I have a great interest in books and the stories they tell. Part of that is that when you’re moving in a bookish blogging world non-bookish things may get left a little to the wayside. Part of it is fear. Part of that is simply habit. So. This post around I thought I’d try something a little different and, instead of talking about books, I thought I’d talk about the games I come back to and replay. I’ll limit myself to a maximum of ten items, though if I get to that number, I’ll undoubtedly have mentioned a few more in passing. Some of these may be familiar to some of you because I’ve talked about them before. Some might not.

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Sight loss and access to reading over at The Bibliophibian

Posted February 13, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Links. The text 'links' underneath a big, old-fashioned key. Links I felt were interesting.

Over on the The Bibliophibian, Nikki is talking about volunteering for RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and what kind of aids are available to readers who are losing their eye sight. (I’m over there too, helping out by asking Nikki questions. ^-~) It’s a very informative post about Nikki’s experiences as a volunteer and it’s… disheartening and heartbreaking to see how little support is out there for readers who are losing (or have lost) their sight.

I hope you’ll hop on over and give the interview a read. It’s a topic that’s very dear to both of us, though for slightly different reasons.

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Serial Description: A Promise Broken

Posted February 10, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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A Promise Broken: A young girl looking at a stormcloud.

Not all promises can be kept. Four-year-old Eiryn doesn’t understand why her mother left her, but she knows things will never be the same again. When Eiryn tries to call for water during her mother’s funeral, everything starts to go wrong. Her uncle is always sad; her best friend is always getting himself into fights; some of the other children hate her… Sometimes Eiryn even struggles to get through the day. She’s determined to make everyone happy, though. Eiryn promised and even if her mother won’t keep her word Eiryn will keep hers. She’ll make everything right again.


One of the things that seems to be pretty universal among writers is a dislike of writing up blurbs, especially accurate ones. It’s an art form, and one that I don’t feel I’ve quite mastered. I do, of course, still hope that this description will give you an idea of what to expect of the story and catches your interest. I promise it’s not as sad a story as it sounds, but it does start on a very sad note.

I dithered about that, whether to change that. I may yet change my mind, but for now I want to keep it the way it is. I look forward to sharing the story with you all!

Toss questions my way if you have them! I’m composing a not-so-frequently-asked-questions list to address and discuss some things that I suspect will be cropping up, but having questions people have actually asked on the list too would be marvellous. (Overlap between what I think people will ask or want/need to know and what people actually ask is good too.)

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Game Talk: Long Live the Queen

Posted February 9, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Games, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Long Live the Queen

A long, long time ago I played a game called Princess Maker. It’s a life-sim. You’re tasked with raising a girl to adulthood and making sure she gets a happy ending (ideally as, well, a princess or a queen). Long Live the Queen is slightly in a similar vein, with both more options and vastly fewer.

It’s a linear game, with scripted events all occurring in the same order every time as you try to make sure Elodie survives until her coronation. Your choices and skills affect the outcomes of those scripted events. You select two classes for Elodie to practice that week and then you select what she’ll do on her weekends. These affect her mood which, in turn, affects the speed at which she learns certain skills.

It’s here that I have an issue with the game’s narrative and mechanics. Elodie is fourteen years old and she’s the crown princess. She’s been off at a school with the other noble children, but shes been called home to prepare for the coronation. So far, I’m good with that.

But she knows nothing. She’s a princess who would’ve taken over the kingdom. She’s fourteen. Even allowing her to have what we’d consider a normal childhood, she should’ve been learning what it takes to be a queen by now. Yet she knows nothing about her country’s politics, nothing about etiquette or elegance. And I just cannot buy it. I cannot believe that this girl who’ll be princess in a year has not been, in any way, prepared for the job. There’s no in-game explanation that I found and it’s a shame because it’s something that’d be really easy to fix.

She says as she knows nothing about the complexity of building a game. That may be really hard, but the emotional disconnect… That is something that is easy to fix in theory: choices that give Elodie some starting statistics and some personality to connect to. (This is something that other sims, in my experience, do offer.) Right now she’s just an entirely blank slate and there isn’t enough story to flesh it out satisfactorily for me.

So. That, to me, is a pretty big negative point, but I did enjoy the game and it does offer a lot of replay value. I wasn’t really expecting the game to have as much replay value as it does. There are a lot of ways to die and there are a lot of things to discover and the game is really, really hard. Well, it is assuming that you want to get to a ending, never mind the best ending. That’s because the stats are what they are. For all I gripe about them, it does seem to be a game balancing issue and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if the stat improvements were easier to get by. Because, really, this game is about the journey and the various ways in which you can screw that journey up (or the journey can screw itself up, either way).

And it is a lot of fun to see how the various choices you’ve got influence the game and trying to figure out the best order to learn your skills in to get past the (oh so many) ways to die. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I got sucked in spectacularly the first time I played it, staying up until about 4 am because I just wanted to try out new things and see how they affected the events.

In that sense, the scripted events are a good thing. They add to the challenge and they add to the storyline. There’s actually a fair bit to it, but you need to manage the game very carefully to get the most out of it. (Yes, you can play it three dozen times and piece the story together that way, but I found it a lot more fun to get as much of the story into one playthrough as I could.)

It’s a casual game and it’s got the limited play options and flimsy storyline to go with it, but it’s also just a lot of fun that threatens to take away your entire day if you’re not careful.

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