Monday, March 29, 2010

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Title: The Grand Sophy
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1950)

After Cotillion kicked things off for me in the Heyer world I've been sneaking in Heyers between review books, my TBR pile and book club books. And, oh joy, I sure am glad I have been as The Grand Sophy is my fourth and favorite so far. Holy shitballs, this book is funny! I was snickering through most of it and laughing out loud quite a bit. So much fun! The set-up: Mr. Charles Rivenhall is an uptight elder son that has wrested control of his father's estate and keeps an officious eye on all his family does. Cousin Sophia Stanton-Lacy has been raised on the Continent by her widowed father, Sir Horace, but needs a place to stay for a while as dad is off to Brazil. And so it comes to pass that Sophy enters the Rivenhall household for an undetermined length of time. Sophy has got to be one of the most observant and mischievous characters I've come across in a while. She's also very thoughtful and uses her schemes to promote the happiness of those around her. Of course, she only does this if she thinks it's for the best. Otherwise, she'll leave well enough alone. ;) Naturally, the household is full of people who need her help so let's welcome some hijinks into our story.

Not surprisingly, the way that Sophy chooses to help the members of the household is not met with approval by Charles. However, no matter how much Sophy irritates him (and she really, really does) he never manages to get the better of her or prevent her scheming. The only person Sophy annoys more than Charles is his affianced, Eugenia. Eugenia is a self-important bitch and almost ruins the story at times. She drove me nuts. She's a great counter-point to Sophy and certainly served the purpose of helping the reader get to know Charles better but damn! She was overdone. It's pretty easy to get her number within the first few times she is on the scene so her relentless bitchery became trying. Thankfully, it's easy enough to skip over her crap and move on to the more fun and funny characters around her.

Sophy is quite a woman and pretty well able to handle any situation she comes by. Her father is not often in the book but his unfailing faith in her competency is well-deserved. Also, I bet she'd be fun to have as a friend - as long as she didn't decide you needed any 'help.' At that point, you're pretty much Sophy's puppet. I imagine that Charles' character is rather basic simply because Sophy's is so larger than life. Don't get me wrong, Charles is perfectly lovely but still pretty vanilla. The reader comes to know each character better almost exclusively through dialogue and Charles is particularly fun to watch interact with Sophy and then later with Eugenia since they are such different women. The story also features an extensive selection of secondary characters and they are riotous. The poet that Charles' younger sister wants to marry is so freaking hilarious. I'm giggling just sitting here thinking about him. I mostly laughed AT him but that wasn't the case with everyone. Everybody ends up having a part to play in Sophy's puppet show and their interactions with each other and easy banter are what end up being so much fun.

Like the other Heyer books I've read, this one is pretty light where plot is concerned but Sophy's scheming makes up for it by keeping the book moving along and the reader interested in how things are going to end up. Also, it's so damn funny at every turn that ya just want to keep reading for some more funny. Speaking of the funny, I'm flipping through the pages to find a few lines to share (quotes may be condensed):

Sophy: "But I never knew anyone...whose judgment I would rather trust when it comes to buying a horse. Sir Vincent, I want to purchase a pair for my phaeton!"
"Allow me a moment in which to recover my manhood! So that is all the use you have for me!"
"Don't be absurd!" said Sophy. "What better use could I have for anyone?"
"Dear Juno, I have told you a great many times, and I shall tell you no more!"

Eugenia: " is inclined not to be as careful as one should be, perhaps. I wonder if I might venture to put you a little on your guard? In Paris and Vienna I am sure you would be able to tell me how I should go on, but in London I must be more at home than you."
"Oh, I should never be so impertinent as to tell you how to go on anywhere!" Sophy declared.
"Well, perhaps it would not be necessary," acknowledged Miss Wraxton graciously. ... "Allow me to speak without reserve!" she begged.
"Short of overturning you [in the phaeton] I can hardly prevent you," Sophy replied. "But you had much better not, you know! I am very unbiddable, and if I were to lose my temper I might do what I should afterward be sorry for."

Sophy: "I suppose I could remove to Merton... But Sancia would not like that at all, I fear."
"She has my sympathy!"
Sophy looked at him. Under his amazed and horrified gaze, large tears slowly welled over her eyelids and rolled down her cheeks. She did not sniff, or gulp, or even sob; merely she allowed her tears to gather and fall.
"Sophy!" ejaculated Mr. Rivenhall, visibly shaken. He took an involuntary step toward her, checked himself, and said rather disjointedly, "Pray do not! I did not mean--I had no intention-- You know how it is with me! I say more than I mean, when-- Sophy, for God's sake do not cry!"
"Oh, do not stop me!" begged Sophy. "Sir Horace says it is my only accomplishment!"

The dialogue really is divine. It's got that subtle bite characteristic of English humor and it'll keep you laughing throughout. I'm starting to think any Heyer is worth picking up but certainly this one is so if you haven't already read it it must be added to your TBR pile.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


I've always thought of myself as a bit of a snob. Mr Musacha says that anyone who'll save 10 bucks by sleeping on a floor or bunking up with starving college students can't consider themselves a snob but so I always have. I do have some seriously snobby taste after all. But I've recently discovered that there are obviously several types of snobs. Here's an illustrative example and - hurrah - it includes books which is one of my favorite topics.

So my book club read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood last month. I thought it was very well written with great characters but boring. The book itself is irrelevant to my example other than its genre: science fiction. I love science fiction* so this wasn't the first scifi book I've brought home from the library. However, it was the first scifi book for one of the other members. She made several joking but serious comments about how she didn't even know where the scifi section in the library was, etc and made it pretty clear she found the whole genre sub-par as far as books go. She would never have picked up this book if not for book club and couldn't believe she liked it so much, blah, blah... In fact, I believe her exact words were "I never read scifi because it's all about rocket ships and people living on mars and I prefer books with characters." Oh holy fuck! How much is wrong with that statement????

(*actually I love pretty much everything. a good book is a good book and I certainly don't let something like categorization come between me and good books.)

Wrong the first: "I NEVER read scifi." Then, pray tell, how the shit do you know what the books are about?

Wrong the second: "I prefer books with characters." Please explain to me how you got the impression that a book would not feature characters? How would that even work? Even if the protags were all bacteria, dogs, robots or picnic baskets would they not still be characters?

Wrong the third: The absolute disregard for an entire genre without trying it and basing that disregard on willful ignorance. What the fuck?

So me being me I immediately worked to correct such a stupid description of science fiction explaining that there are many kinds of science fiction and you can find almost every type of story you might want within the genre. This, I fear, fell on deaf ears. But then, as the discussion of the book progressed, it just got worse. This very same member kept going on and on about all these wonderful parts of the book. So fine, that's lovely, that's the point of the book club. But almost all the things she brought up were hallmarks of scifi stories. I actually think she was looking at me a little squinty because I wasn't just all kinds of impressed with such things. I was like, sure I am, they're very nice but they're not new to me. This is science fiction. It's the whole point. Course I tried to sound nice and reasonable and explain why I thought she might like other scifi books because of what she liked in Oryx and Crake but, again, deaf ears. Apparently since it was Atwood it had special dispensation from being considered genuine scifi. whatever.

Ok, so what is that? I mean, whoa! Total snob, right? But it's different from my snobbery - I abhor willful ignorance in all its manifestations - so what kind of snobbery is it?

If she had said she didn't read scifi because she is not such a fan of futuristic environments as part of her stories or that many of the classics marginalize women or any number of other legitimate characteristics of scifi then I wouldn't think a thing of it. But really??? Forming an opinion with no base and then, in the face of information clearly to the contrary (not just my helpful info -heh- but the very book we just read), not even entertaining the idea that scifi might not be what she thinks it is? Grrr! Grrr!!!!!

My inadequate answer to my own question is that it's the prejudiced kind of snob which I am going to call a SNUB. Not only because it's already a fun word but I figure taking the 'u' out of prejudice and throwing it into snob can count as coming up with a new word for this type of person.

So do you know any snubs? How do they press your buttons?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Title: Wench
Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Publisher: HarperCollins (2010)

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is historical fiction but features Tawawa House, a resort that was situated in the Free Territory of Ohio in the 1850s. The resort catered to Southern white men who vacationed there with their enslaved mistresses in the summers. Three of the mistresses regularly accompanied their masters and became friends during their time together in the summer. The story is told predominantly from Lizzie's perspective but you also get to know her friends Reenie, Sweet, and newcomer Mawu. As the book progresses Perkins-Valdez allows readers to come to know the individual women better. For each of them, the possibility of escaping into Free Territory becomes more and more realistic as the summers pass, but each woman must come to terms with the family ties that bind them to their homes before they can make a decision to escape. I wish this short description did more justice to the women of this novel and the extraordinary writing talent of Perkins-Valdez. A few sentences are necessarily far too simplistic to convey the depth of emotion that is contained within the writing and the women in Wench.

The writing really is absolutely phenomenal. As I was reading my mind kept coming back to how sparse the prose felt while still conveying such power and presence. So I tried to look at it a bit more objectively and then the word sparse just seemed ridiculous. So instead I think the best way to describe the writing is apt. It's not sparse nor is it flowery and complex; it's simply perfect. The personalities of those involved are brought so readily to life as you're reading that you don't doubt their existence for even a moment. In fact, it was so real that I often had to put the book down so that I could calm down. I often read books in only one or two sittings but I couldn't do that with this book. I was emotionally involved at every point and that was very difficult at times. The subject matter is not easy.

Violence is a part of this story but what I found particularly striking was that it was not primarily the physical violence that made me such an emotional wreck. Perkins-Valdez portrayal of psychological control and manipulation was illuminating and heartbreaking. What becomes abundantly clear early is that Lizzie has an emotional bond with her master/lover that can be very hard to understand in this light. I don't mean this as a reflection on the craft of characterization but as a reflection on who Lizzie is and how her unique situation resulted in her conflicting loyalties.

As I said, I was pretty emotionally wrapped up in this book from the get-go but, along with the writing, I did notice another detail of craft that I quite liked. As the book opens you meet the women at the resort. Later in the book you learn Lizzie's back story and what her life is like back in Tennessee. I liked this a lot as I was already beginning to form an opinion of Lizzie but the shift in locale and events added layers to her decision-making and actions that forced me to rethink my response to her.

Wench is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. As a writer, Dolen Perkins-Valdez should not be missed but, more importantly, this is a story that shouldn't be missed. These are women that shouldn't be missed.

rating: 5 of 5 stars

For anyone that has read the book... did you happen to notice the ending of the jacket blurb? "...the moral complexities of slavery." Any thoughts on what that means? My first response was, "There are moral complexities to slavery?" I would think the obvious answer is no - wrong is wrong, nothing complex about that - but after reading the book I thought that maybe that statement was to be seen as coming from the perspective of the slaves. As in, the moral complexities of leaving your family behind in a bid for freedom in the pre-Civil War days. Any thoughts?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Title: Cotillion
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1953)

This is my first foray into Heyer's work and I'm glad I finally got round to her. Side note: have you ever noticed how much simpler the copyright page is in older books? Anyway, Cotillion is all kinds of fun so let me tell you a bit about it. Kitty Charing's eccentric guardian has made his will and hooray for Kitty she gets it all! There's just one pesky condition: she's got to marry one of his nephews in order to inherit. Lucky for her she's got a big ole crush on Nephew Jack. Unlucky for her, he doesn't show up to offer for her. Resourceful Kitty is undaunted; and convinced that all she needs to do to get Jack is to make him jealous. To that end she convinces Nephew Freddy to pose as her fiance so that she can go to London and start inciting the Green-eyed Monster in Jack. Hijinks ensue!

The book is a light romp that follows the characters from one social engagement to another while they work out their shit. It's not heavy on plot but I think the point is to enjoy the characters. And enjoy 'em I did! I'm really only interested in gabbing about the characters but I feel I must mention that the book's length works against it. It's light, it's fun, it's breezy, it's not got much of a plot - and because of all this it's a touch too long. I loves me some breezy fun but the book would have been even better had it been shorter. Breezy fun can only be stretched so far. And the exclamation points!!!! Boy howdy! I thought my excitement meter was going to explode!!! Be warned! But anyway, let's get to the fun stuff...

Nephew Freddy is a resolute bachelor more interested in clothes than wills (and just about everything else) and he's unfailingly polite, but before you start thinking he doesn't sound like much fun just wait til you start reading his dialogue. He kept me snickering for most of the book. I enjoyed him quite a bit but I probably liked Kitty even more. This might be because you spend more time with her so getting to know her is easier. Much like Nephew Freddy (don't worry, they don't use the Nephew title in the book, that's just me:), on the surface there doesn't appear to be much to Kitty. By her own admission her interests are mostly in frivolous (well, frivolous to me anyway) activities. But the cool thing about Kitty is that she really knows herself. I'm coming to find that that's one of my favorite qualities in a romance heroine. And by this I don't just mean that she knows what she wants but that she knows what she knows. She's led a sheltered life so she's not tops in street sense. She often makes mistakes but she realizes it right away, acknowledges it and then files away said lesson for future avoidance of mistakes. I can't stand it when something doesn't go right for a heroine and then she's like, "Well, heck, I just don't know what's going on." Well, dumb shit, use your critical thinking skills and work it out.

Nephew Freddy, who often seems even more frivolous than Kitty, turns out to be more resourceful than ya might think. He's especially good at helping people out of jambs. I assume it was all the times he helped his brother that prepared him for helping Kitty when she would forget some tiny detail in one of her random plans. It was fun to watch these two get to know each other, and get to know themselves even better through each other.

If you're looking for a breezy* good time then pick up Cotillion. If you're looking for a heavy-hitter than you might want to skip over this one. But before I go, my favorite scene/quote (condensed):

"I do think that Freddy is the most truly chivalrous person imaginable!"
"Do you, indeed?"
"Yes, and a great deal more to the purpose than all the people one was taught to revere, like Sir Lancelot, and Sir Galahad, and Young Lochinvar, and--and that kind of man! I daresay Freddy might not be a great hand at slaying dragons, but you may depend upon it none of those knight-errants would be able to rescue one from a social fix, and you must own, Meg, that one has not the smallest need of a man who can kill dragons!"

rating: 3 of 5 stars

*am I the only one that can't say breezy without remembering Monica (of Friends fame) negating her own breezy by mentioning it in a phone message?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dune by Frank Herbert

Title: Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
Publisher: Chilton Book Co (1965)

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a well-known sci-fi classic, and this is at least the third time I've read it and there’s an outside chance it’s the fourth. Obviously, this book has a quality that keeps me coming back for additional exploration. Interestingly, with each read I have become more critical of the book. This would explain the rating. The first time I read the book I would not have hesitated to give it 5 stars. But now I give it 4 stars. Am I getting too critical in my old age? Possibly.

Dune is a long book with an incredibly layered story. A simple summary can't do it justice so keep in mind that my description is necessarily inadequate. The book opens shortly after House Atreides has been awarded the dukedom of Arrakis. In fulfilling this appointment they will have to leave their home planet of Caladon and take over the spice rich planet of Arrakis from House Harkkennon. To complicate matters the Emporer actually supports House Harkkonnen (an ancient rival of the Atreides) and is using this appointment as a way of trying to eliminate House Atreides. And there’s the not inconsequential ecology of Arrakis: a desert planet with no open bodies of water. Throw in the Bene Gesserit schemes, the Spacing Guild’s monopoly and the Fremen belief in prophecies, not to mention the value of the spice, and the reader will find a very intriguing story of courage, power, manipulation, and destiny.

I like the way this book is written. There is a nice flow to the style and information is given in such a way as to continually pique your curiosity (well, almost continually - more on that in a bit). With as rich a sociological and ecological creation as Dune is, a reader could easily get frustrated with the layers of custom and history. However, the smooth style and presentation of said creation keep the reader engaged rather than alienating them.

The story gets a bit long in the telling. The layers of intrigue within intrigue within intrigue (within intrigue – I think you get my point) at first keep the reader on the edge of her seat. However, the end is a bit too far removed from the layers of intrigue and I found that the intrigues lost their edge. The next time there was a twist or a shift in character philosophy my response was not ‘what will this mean?’ but rather ‘oh another one?’ This is where I have become more critical. I don’t remember feeling this way at all the first time I read the book so it might be that this particular style does not lend itself well to multiples readings (the other reason for the decrease in rating can be found in the spoiler section).

Overall, I give the book a high recommendation; especially for the science fiction fans out there. The suspense is wonderfully built and, like the best sci-fi classics, this title is as much a psychological thriller as it is an action/sci-fi thriller. I should also mention that this book is the beginning of a series but I quickly lost interest in the subsequent titles. If you find that you absolutely love this book, it might be worth your time to try out the others (I have a friend that loves all of them), just be sure to read them ‘eyes wide open.’

I have a pretty specific critique for this book (and sci-fi authors in general) but it contains mild spoilers. It's also long so I didn't want to do the highlight thing. As such, anything under the big warning in caps might be spoilerish.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am a big sci-fi junkie, both in print and on the screen. I’ve found though that while I love the B (and C and D) sci-fi movies, I expect a lot more out of a sci-fi book; and it’s because of books like Dune and other great sci-fi classics. It’s all well and good to have silly costumes, crazy action, and movie physics that are so bad you don’t even accept them in a made up world in a movie - but I want more from a sci-fi novel. The genius of Science Fiction is that it gets to push the limits. There’s the obvious in that the genre can push the limits of technology and exploration but there’re the more subtle, and more interesting, limits of humanity to explore. Sci-fi presents the reader with extremely familiar characters in extremely unfamiliar settings. With this simple set-up there are endless possibilities for exploring humanity and the human condition. The best sci-fi novels will never miss a chance to do this.

The Achilles’ heel in this opportunity is that the author’s limitations become painfully obvious. I mean dump a big pile of shit on your good time obvious. In worlds where interstellar travel is possible - or telekinesis or speaking to animals or a man being raised on Mars- the sociological limits of the author’s imagination can prevent some very interesting social exercises. I often feel like the author’s core beliefs in the structure of society are screaming at me from between the lines of her/his fictional world. And this brings me to Dune and the female characters.

The female characters in Dune are incredibly well-written. They are integral to the story and not used as decoration or plot devices. They are bright, strong and extremely capable. All three of them. I’m sorry to report that in the future equality has not come far. Women are still subject to the whims of men, hereditary titles still go through the masculine side (which is just silly if you know anything about reproduction), and if you’re lucky you’ll be a loved concubine (unlucky means an unloved wife). I’m happy to report that this is not the case in most present-day societies so it’s stupefying to me that so many sci-fi authors do not have a better imagination in this regard. So if you’re disappointed that Jessica is marginalized by her son and Chani meekly steps back while the new Duke takes a ‘more acceptable’ wife, you’re not alone. There are plenty of us out there who are waiting for the written future of equality.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Truth in Advertising

This isn't a joke but I was laughing my ass off. Finally, the truth about politics!

"Best Drop Biscuit" Books

ETA: Updated 30th June, 2016

I was reminiscing over the first time I tasted Mr Musacha's Best Drop Biscuits and he asked me this: What are the books that you've read that were like eating your first Best Drop Biscuit?

Oh! Oh, what a fun question. The delectable, buttery, crispy outside; the slightly salty and perfectly textured inside; the combination of the two; the irresistible nature of the experience; the unexpected awesomeness in such a neat package. Ah, bliss.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
--this is my favorite book. of all time. if it was a word the word would be perfect. 

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz*
*Audiobook version is a must on this title

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

The City & the City by China Mieville

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott

Dark Alliance by Gary Webb

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy

El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (play)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde  (play)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Katherine by Anya Seton

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller

The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver 

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Roots by Alex Haley

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

Sympathy for the Devil by Kent Anderson 

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

Wench by Dolan Perkins-Valdez

The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman's Fight for Justice by Kathryn Bolkovac

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Without Remorse by Tom Clancy

Some of these titles I re-read often. Others were so emotionally trying I will probably never be able to read them again. All are alike in their ability to transport this reader beyond the page. Sometimes into tears, sometimes into giggles but always into the joy that only book lovers understand.

THERE is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away. 
Nor any coursers like a page of prancing poetry. 
This traverse may the poorest take 
Without oppress of toll; 
How frugal is the chariot 
That bears a human soul! 
         --Emily Dickinson

There are some books that were "best drop biscuits" when I read them but have not survived my "adult eyes." I'm listing some I can remember because it's interesting to me to see how tastes/interpretations/understanding change(s) as we grow.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw

Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
(I still enjoy reading ST though in a different way than I did when I was younger but I can't make it through SinaSL)

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I love suggestions so please feel free to comment with a pitch for your favorite books. 


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Scientists Gone Stabby: How Pissed is Ezio?, or What the Fuck, Part Two

Click here for how the collaboration started. Spoilers abound so check the Scientists' Stats for where we are in the game if you want to avoid them.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 19hrs 52min
Last Achievement Earned: In Memory of Petruccio

Last Significant Event: The game just fucking ended!

Jeff gave his final thoughts on ACII and he was impressively calm. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say he was adultly calm and I took it as impressive since I was so without any kind of calm or adultness during Part One of my final thoughts. But it's been a couple days now so I can look at the ACII ending with a bit more equanimity. In fact, with a little more thought I've come to the conclusion that it's Ezio that really deserves to feel short-changed.

So after more than a decade of chasing down the people (ostensibly) responsible for the death of his father and brothers the big reveal for Ezio is a weird message from a goddess or lady from an ancient civilization (it's unclear, but the experience is not unlike the end of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Whatever when you have to wrap your mind around what just became a part of the Indiana Jones mythology... for my part, I missed the simplicity of the Nazis)  that ends up being for Desmond Miles and the present-day Assassins. Wha???? Ezio goes to all this trouble and that's what he gets? Essentially nothing? I'd be pissed! Hell, I am pissed.

For what I assume is consolation, Ezio decides to collect all the feathers his mom wants in honor of his younger brother (read: Jeff must get all Achievements). I'm marginally interested in this as I liked the family dynamic in the game so I went trundling on in to the living room to see what would happen when Ezio brought the feathers back. For those of you not playing the game, Ezio's mom hasn't spoken since the execution. I'm thinking this is when she'll be able to get over her grief and enjoy the pimped out villa. Not so! Even a decade later all she can say is thanks (or somesuch) and then sink back onto the bed in despondency. *sigh*

And you know what else left me cold? The cool, non-Animus Altair flashback that Desmond had where Altair and Maria climbed a tower which was set-up to be this mysterious thing that was bad for Desmond as he shouldn't be having non-Animus flashbacks and then the game never went back to it. (phew, run-on much?) What the shit is up with that? Was that yet another teaser for the next installment? Do I get no conspiracy rewards for playing this installment?

So what's the big take home message here? Ubisoft is probably going to set the third installment in the Desmond Miles present. Yech! I am not a fan of this for multiple reasons. Bad, bad idea! But I do have one little glimmer of hope. Maybe that dangling plot line of non-Animus flashbacks means that ACIII will be set in the present but with flashbacks to both Altair and Ezio as Desmond progresses through whatever Ubisoft can come up with.

Oh, and that glyph video. Did Adam and Eve actually come from a high-tech facility from a pre-history culture? See what I mean about the monkeys-throwing-shit conspiracy arcs? I assume since ACIII will be the last one that we might finally have some answers.

Please, please let us have some answers.

And, Jeff, a quick question for you if you don't mind adding a comment here: Now that the game is finished what do you think the setting for ACIII will be?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Scientists Gone Stabby: SO MANY CURSE WORDS!, or What the Fuck, Part One

Click here for how the collaboration started. Spoilers abound so check the Scientists' Stats for where we are in the game if you want to avoid them.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 19hrs 52min
Last Achievement Earned: An Old Friend Returns

Last Significant Event: The game just fucking ended!

Jeff's most recent post addressed the questions I asked last time. He ended with: "This is where I ask some questions back at Rachel, but I think I'll just decline and cede the floor to my cohort. Then I'll flee the premises as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught in the cross-fire. Rachel, do you have any thoughts you'd like to share about our last play session? ;)"

Why yes, Jeff, I do! It's hard for me to think around my exploding head and the manic voice in my brain screaming, "Fuck you, Ubisoft!" but I'm going to try to focus. If at times is seems my keyboard has invented its own "insert expletives" feature please rest assured it's merely the after-effects of my seething anger.

It's hard to know where to start. While playing, I'm sitting on the couch, jotting down a few notes on what I'd like to post about, thinking whoa damn this is getting interesting!, and the fucking credits roll! I thought the meat of the story was finally getting started and the game just fucking ended! I think I went a little batguano crazy for a couple minutes and started shouting on the couch. Jeff was there, maybe he can remember more clearly. I think comments were made on the incredulous expression on my face. Not sure. Too stunned to remember clearly.

The blood is starting to boil a bit so let me take a step back and actually comment on what I meant to comment on before I got distracted by the shit event of the credits rolling. It's sort of a toss up but I think I prefer the 12th Century Homing Missiles from ACI (read: brain challenged beggars) to the Triplets. The Triplets are bizarrely aggressive stringed-instrument players. They are very keen on Ezio! So much so that they will chase him down the street shoving their instrument (heh) in his face. They do not, however, start whaling on Ezio for no reason and, frankly, I sort of missed the jizzwadian behavior of the ACI psychos.

What's with 10 years inexplicably passing in the blink of a cut scene? Was that really necessary? Were the events of the game so compelling that I couldn't believe they could all happen within a couple months? Answer: NO! Events were decidedly not compelling enough and there was no need to tack on a few more years. The only change was some facial hair on Ezio. The poor bastard didn't even get a new outfit. And, honestly, even if the guards can't remember that the raging psycho killer always wore that outfit the stench alone would eliminate any ability to sneak around.

Our dear Ezio had a birthday after the 10 year jump (well, he probably had some in between too but we missed those) and Rosa came by with a present. I thought after all that flirty behavior from before that they'd at least get some lip action going but no. What a tease Ezio turned out to be!

Jeff mentioned the mysterious lack of guards along the Venice canals but I've just got to mention it again. One of the assassinations takes place on the waterfront at a large celebration with lots of guards. The escape plan? Jump in the canal and swim (slowly, as Jeff pointed out) away! Really? Not one single guard thought to look in the canal? The city is riddled with them! Are they the safe zones? Criminals' bases in a very serious game of tag? Makes no fucking sense!

ACII did a much better job than ACI with incorporating local culture into the Animus memories. (for a game designed by a "multicultural group" it's pretty suspicious that they can manage a Western European culture but not a Middle Eastern one! why do media outlets continue to assume that Caucasians of West. Eur. descent can't sympathize with characters not of the same descent??? it's stupid and limiting and unfair to all the gamers, viewers and readers that do not fall under that category) I especially liked how Italian was incorporated into the dialogue. It was very natural, and even with my ridiculously limited Italian I was never at a loss for what was going on or what was being said.

But then the game just fucking ended!

We finally figure out that all Ezio's friends are actually assassins (he's not alone!), they get the Eden bits together, decipher the codex map, find the vault, find the baddie (who became pope during a cut scene), and start to actually learn what's what and then the game ends! IT ENDS!!!! No pay-off, no nothing. Oh, here you go, sgwordy (read: biggest sucker of all time!), here's some dangly tidbits of fun but don't get too attached because here are the credits! As my Grandma says, "shit-damn-hell shit-damn-hell shit-damn-hell! Fuck you, Ubisoft!" Ok, that last part was me and probably not something my Grandma has ever said.

So, a game, which was already embarrassingly short at ~20hrs, actually could have been half as long which would have tightened up the story. Look, I know these are games, I know it's the mechanics and the scenery that are the showcases but there should be a law against making a trilogy of a story that should be ONE SINGLE GAME! Or for fuck's sake put a few more details into the story and keep it relevant. Also, don't go monkeys-throwing-shit with your conspiracies: pick something and develop it! Don't throw something new at me after every cut scene because you can't be bothered to follow one line of thought.

Ok, I think it's time to go wipe the anger-spittle off my chin. Maybe my final SG Stabby post will be less insane but I make no promises. I do promise that the verdict will remain: Giant Letdown. (But, from the beginning, I fucking knew this was coming! And just as I predicted, I'm already thinking about the ACIII advertising campaign and GETTING EXCITED! Clearly I have jizz for brains but there it is. I am still Ubisoft's bitch.)

I will take my cue from Jeff and sign off with: do you have any thoughts you'd like to share about our last play session? ;)