A Thousand Words: Pokemon Silver

Pokemon Silver Version

It’s the 25th anniversary of Pokemon, the series of my childhood. And one generation stands out in particular for me-Generation II, more specifically the Silver Version. However, I also feel like this particular generation happened at exactly the right time, when I was young enough to be in total awe but old enough to appreciate it.

I’d say Gen II felt alive in ways that neither Gen I or III did. There’s a clock, and visible day-night progression. Certain events only happen on certain days of the week. There are two regions, both of which look and sound distinct. It feels impressive.

Of course, two regions also lead to something I did notice even at the time-its horrible difficulty progression. Most of the early game is an absolute cakewalk, to the point where I think Whitney’s infamous Miltank gets its memetic status purely because it’s the only even slight challenge in an otherwise effortless journey. Then the difficulty jumps big and stays there.

If I was to replay Gen II now, I’d say it almost certainly wouldn’t impress me nearly as much. But it will always have a place in my heart that none of the other (worthy and enjoyable) games did.

A Thousand Words: Two For The Money

Two For The Money

2005’s Two For The Money stars Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey. It is one of the few movies about sports betting, and perhaps the only movie in recent history about sports betting “handicappers” who sell pick advice, or, as they’re known more derogatorily, “touts”. As someone writing my own fiction about touts, I knew I had to watch this film. What did I think about it?

First the plot. McConaughey is an injured college quarterback who goes from playing football games to predicting them. Pacino is a super-tout who values in his skill. The movie chronicles their rise and fall. It’s a classic, predictable narrative. Al Pacino does the stereotypical “Al Pacino Hamfisted Role”, but he does it well. His co-star is more erratic, and not in a good way.

Beyond that, the biggest issue I had was how it misrepresented touts. Now, I was fully expecting and prepared for sports-movie exaggeration (for instance, the way the main character’s picks zoom from great to poor so quickly and consistently). But this goes beyond that, treating the handicappers as sincerely trying to get the right pick and sincerely caring about the outcomes of the games. In reality, nearly all touts don’t.

They make referral deals with sportsbooks, meaning they have a vested interest in their customers losing. They will either cherry-pick or outright lie about their records to make them seem more impressive. And, most notably, they will pull the infamous “give half the callers one team and half the other” trick so that 50% will be ‘winners’. You get the idea. Honestly admitting to the inevitable losing periods doesn’t attract business. Neither does advertising the highest realistic win rate, which less knowledgeable people (ie, the people who’d fall for touts at all) would not consider impressive compared with “79% WIN RATE IN THIS CFB SEASON!”

The thing is, this movie could be equally dramatic, equally exaggerated, and equally able to pull off the “man’s descent into sleaze” plot if it treated its “handicapping” service in this way. There are a few times when it does get the image right, like its spot-on reenactment of over the top sports betting shows/infomercials. But far more often, Two For The Money misses when it didn’t have to. Which is a shame.

Review: Persuader

Persuader

Lee Child’s Persuader was the first Jack Reacher novel I read. It was also one of the first real “action novels” that I read. This wasn’t an adventure novel, or a science fiction novel. No, this was contemporary red blooded action! Because of this, the book has a special place in my heart.

The actual book is still kind of “51%” in the full context-it doesn’t really stand out with hindsight after reading countless other books (including those following a similar formula). But I still think the success of it and the whole series is deserved. It promises action, and it delivers. Who knows how many people got into cheap thrillers after reading a Jack Reacher?

Review: Storied Independent Automakers

Storied Independent Automakers

Charles K. Hyde’s Storied Independent Automakers tells the tale of the American-owned car companies that were not the Big Three. It’s a story worth telling, because they illustrated just how ruthless and consolidating the car industry is. These car companies went under or were bought out at the height of the domestic auto industry’s success (one ironic silver lining was that many of their left-hanging dealers turned to import brands and proceeded to make a fortune from them).

They had one brief moment of popularity due to a completely artificial boom when World War II resulted in years of pent-up demand. And now and then they managed to pull an innovation out that gave them a temporary edge (like compacts for AMC) until the big three caught up. But that was mostly it, and other than that it was all uphill. Hyde rightly points out it was impressive that they lasted as long as they did, and gives credit where it was due.

Though written in a history book tone (ie, it’s not exciting for anyone other than me), Hyde’s book is light enough to be readable while still containing lots of well-researched statistics on cars. It tells the story of an overlooked but important part of the auto industry’s history. Any enthusiast should enjoy it.

Review: Strong Enough To Die

Strong Enough To Die

The debut book in the Caitlin Strong series of thrillers, Strong Enough to Die is the first Jon Land book I’ve read in some time. How does she fare compared to Blaine McCracken? Well, it’s a tough question. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s still a little lacking compared to his earlier thrillers.

The plot has a lot of Land’s signature elements, and it’s not quite as jarringly mundane as Dead Simple was. By the standards of other thrillers, it’s a competent, somewhat out-there action novel. But by Land’s own high, past standards it’s not their equal. While the central MacGuffin fits, the action around it is more conventional than the craziness of the early McCrackens. The literary fundamentals being a little bit off compared to Land at his height doesn’t help either. The book just jumps around too much, and it’s too fragmented.

In isolation, I’d like this book. But its author has done better, and I’d recommend reading the Blaine McCrackens over this.

Review: The Clone Republic

The Clone Republic

A (comparably) long time ago, before the rise in self-publishing, I read a novel called The Clone Republic, the first in a series of military science fiction books by Steven L. Kent. And in hindsight, it seems kind of impressive in how it nailed a type of story that would later appear in much greater numbers. It’s a strange kind of impressiveness, but impressive nonetheless.

Even at the time, I never thought this story of a futuristic clone army was never more than a merely satisfactory cheap thriller. But it really fits the niche of what I’d call a “spacesuit commando” novel because of its “genericness”, limited technology, and weird touches. For instance, the clones don’t know they’re clones, believe themselves to be genuine orphans, and all but the main character biologically self-destruct (!) if told they’re a clone.

So this book and its series is in the “weird nostalgia segment” for me. Then it may have stood out a little by being so generic (!). Now it wouldn’t diverge from the considerably bigger pack. Still, I had fun with it.

Review: Fire Ice

Fire Ice

The novel Fire Ice holds a great deal of importance to me. It was, without a doubt, the first real “cheap thriller” a young me read. This makes it hard to truly judge its literary quality. After all, young me saw the name Clive Cussler on the cover and didn’t know at the time about how the “co-author” system worked, so I assumed it was all him (which had the thankful effect of leading me to earlier Cussler books that were indeed all his own).

With its big locales, action, and high-stakes plot with a Russian oligarch and a supervillain scheme, this has all the ingredients a Cussler thriller and a cheap thriller in general needs. Certainly, for one’s first cheap thriller, you could do a whole lot worse than that. While my reading habits are such that another cheap thriller probably would have taken its place, I still owe Fire Ice a lot for getting me into them.

A Thousand Words: Shadow The Hedgehog

Shadow The Hedgehog

It’s time to recall a “fond” game from my childhood, the “classic” Shadow the Hedgehog, where a cussin’, gun-totin, “awesome” cartoon animal runs around. The 3D Sonic games have a bad reputation that I don’t think is entirely deserved. After all, for all the bad camera tricks, erratic controls, and other stuff I’ll get to, I managed to beat and unlock the Final True Canon Route on both this and Sonic Heroes. So they weren’t unplayable bad.

Just bad. Although there was the question of just why they were bad and how they got that way. I’m indebted to the Geek Critique series for finally offering a plausible answer-instead of just staying with the “run through the stage” levels and gradually ironing out the issues across games, Sega seemed insistent on adding all sorts of gameplay modes that just diluted them. They had the excuse to just ditch these here with only one playable character, but no. To get all but pretty much one route, you have to go through maze levels and search levels.

The second is that the game setting felt more and more and more like a bad fanfic of itself. Adventure 1 started the process by having it take place in a semi-realistic world, and the process just snowballed and snowballed until it finally (aided by a jump in graphics that only enhanced the uncanny valley) reached its “maximum” in the later Sonic 2006. For the subject of this review, come on. A have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too experience where you have cartoon animals but also GUNS and SOLDIERS and EXTREME ALIENS is exactly what an “edgy” fanfiction writer would make. (And I don’t know what it says or means, but Nintendo’s core games have almost never had this tonal problem).

This is made slightly worse by there not even being any attempt to smooth out the tone. Would it have been that hard to leave the cutesy-est characters like Amy and Charmy behind and try to make the enemies look at least a little “semi-realistic”? I mean, one of the final bosses in this “edgier” game is a giant slot machine.

The stages range from linear and somewhat fun to nightmares like the aptly-named “The Doom“. Even the better ones are made worse by the need to constantly replay them in order to get the true ending. As for having to redo the bad ones-well, that’s about as “fun” as you’d expect.

And, in conclusion, the silly tone is one of the few parts that actually made some internal sense. At least it had an intended purpose. Very little else does. Who thought a game series built on speed needed mazes? Who thought it needed to have every single franchise character, regardless of if they fit the tone or not? Who thought the padding needed to be this awkward? The 3D Sonic games were sometimes talked about as if they were total failures, which isn’t true or fair, especially for the earlier ones. But their bad reputation is deserved.

Review: Magestic Book 1

Magestic Book 1

Geoff Wolack’s Magestic (the spelling is deliberate-it’s a code phrase in universe) is a gargantuan work about a time traveler going back to hopefully change his own apocalyptic time. The first entry is split into 18 volumes, which is still enormous by normal standards, but looks a little less so to someone who’s read a 27 and 54 (and counting) volume series.

Anyway, this is extremely ambitious in concept but less effective in execution, at least as of now. The actual writing is a little crude and jumpy, but I’m willing to let it slide for the time being. The bigger problem is how it handles time travel. The main character keeps predicting events and benefiting from them without any butterflies as of yet. Thus it comes across as bland.

The concept-which reminds me a lot of Asimov’s Foundation- is good enough and the core writing adequate enough for me to continue with the series. If disruptions and challenges do emerge, it’ll look much better. But as of now, the series doesn’t feel like it started on a good note.

Review: No Mercy

No Mercy

John Gilstrap’s debut in the Jonathan Grave series, No Mercy, is very much a “grocery store book”. In fact, I first learned of this series after seeing a later book by him in-a grocery store. That being said, not all grocery store books are bad.

This is, in fact, one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. Sure, the plot and characters are nothing out of the ordinary for thriller novels, but the execution of Jonathan Grave and his adventure is fantastic. From the opening rescue sequence, I was impressed by the quality of the action. It’s not perfect. The middle drags just a bit. But it’s fantastic nonetheless.

The action is so good that, even though I saw some of my usual quibbles, I brushed them aside effortlessly. From the opening to some unconventional-yet-effective scenes in the middle to a gigantic battle ending, this was a tour de force. No Mercy was the kind of opening act that deserved to bring about a large book series.