Sandman Slim is the story of James Stark, a practicing magician who was sent to Hell alive by six of his peers. Stark became a gladiator, fighting for the amusement of the infernal hierarchy. Then he was tapped as an assassin and after 11 years he escaped from Hell. He's now seeking revenge on the people who betrayed him.
It's magic noir, for lack of a better term, like the Lucifer of graphic novels and television Stark lives in Los Angeles. But he sticks to the seedier side of town. When I first read this book in 2012 it didn't click with me for some reason. It should of, it really should and I always intended to reread it. Six years later that's what I'm doing. And after, if I'm really feeling dangerous, I may reread Altered Carbon. That was a book Donna recommended and that didn't click either. But with the Neflix series coming up I figure I owe it another try.
January 16, 2018
I'm thinking of using this as this year's log but it might start annoying me. So I'll leave this here for the next week or so and decide later.
January 15, 2018
The Mirror Universe
Remember evil Spock? In theStar Trek episode Mirror, Mirror a transporter accident switches Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura with their counterparts from a parallel universe. That universe was savage and so everybody had to fake being bastards until they could find a way home.
The mirror universe was used several times in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and twice in Star Trek: Enterprise but never to the same effect. But recently several crew members of the USS Discovery have been stranded in the mirror universe and for the first time in 51 years that universe is genuinely unsettling.
You'd think that wouldn't be the case, after all there have only been 11 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery and I'm not really invested in any of the characters yet. But there's a sense of genuine evil aboard the ISS Shenzhou.
On another note, I'm wondering what CBS is planning to do after Star Trek: Discovery runs its course. There are only four more episodes left and CBS All Access is an incredibly shitty service. I can't imagine that too many of the folks plonking down $5.99 a month for Trek are going to sick around for MacGyver and CSI: Miami reruns, Come February 12th most of us are gone. But then again, that's CBS' problem.
January 15, 2018
Two things happened in 1993, I got dial up access to the internet and I downloaded Doomfrom Washington University's wuarchive. Back in the day that's where you went for software and other stuff.
Now that FTP server was as robust as they came and when Doom was released it crashed because of the heavy volume of traffic. You see Doom was something different.
It doesn't look like much today but 25 years ago Doom was a revelation.
And I'm embarrassed to say that I only finished that game in 2015. You'd think that 37 year old me would have been a lot better at the game then 59 year old me but that's not how it went down. And yeah, this is going somewhere.
I was bad at first person shooters but I loved playing them. And while I was casting about yesterday feeling sorry for myself, I stumbled across a game in early access called Dusk. Dusk is a love letter to 90s games like Doom and Quake:
The game defaults to 1024x768 resolution and while you can change it I recommend keeping it there. Here's a minute of me playing it:
The first thing you'll notice is that I still suck. The second is they've got the whole 90s aesthetic down cold. And the third thing is that Dusk is emulating Quake on a machine without a 3d accelerator card.
A 10 year old who played Quake back in 1996 would be turning 32 this year. Those folks are the target audience for Dusk. You start getting nostalgic in your 30s. At 61 that seems ridiculous but I remember starting to feel old in my 30s.
But before I go off on a tangent, the game is in early access and costs $20. You'll get the first two episodes and you'll get the third episode in a couple of months when the full game is released. Or you can wait, the full game will cost the same. And avoid it if you've no love for 90s shooters.
January 14, 2018
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
Now I've just kvetched about Divinity Original Sin 2 below and not having a game to play at the moment. But relatively shortly Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire comes out and I'm excited for it.
Pillars of Eternity was released in 2015 but I didn't play it until 2016. I don't remember too much about that play through because I was in pain from my back injury, but I played it a second time in 2017 and really started enjoying the world Obsidian created. Both play throughs had something in common though, my NPC companion Durance ends up killing himself.
The NPC companions you can recruit have their own quest lines. Some I completed and some I didn't. Durance is a priest of Magran and the goddess no longer speaks to him causing Durance a great deal of angst. But he's also a complete and total asshole and after awhile I just stopped talking to the guy. And so in 2016 after the game ends you learn that Durance kills himself by setting himself on fire.
In 2016 I had an excuse, I was hurting. But I had no excuse in 2017 other then after a certain amount of time he just started annoying the shit out of me and I stopped talking to him. And yet if you keep talking to him you can eventually convince him that he's not o blame for Margran's silence and he gets to live.
But he really is, or was, a douche.
Meanwhile I've got saved games from 2016 and 2017 on my hard. I just deleted the games from 2016 because I like the way things turned out in 2017 a lot better. In theory Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire find those games and use them for the state of the world.
January 14, 2018
Divinity Original Sin 2
You know, I really feel kind of guilty for not liking this game, it does so many things right. But in the end I really, really dislike it.
And I'm one of those folks who feel that it's rude to dump on a work of art if you don't like it. After all, not liking a thing doesn't mean it's bad. And Divinity Original Sin 2 is indeed a work of art. But on the other hand, it's my page and I've given Larian Studios $120 between Divinity Original Sin and Divinity Original Sin 2 so I feel entitled to kvetch. And at this point I feel compelled to list some of the RPGs I really did like:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Vampire: The Masquerade
The Bard's Tale (original)
And really, if you like extremely strategic combat then Divinity Original Sin 2 is your game, it excels at that. And God, I'd give a lot for another Knights of the Old Republic game. Is that to fucking much to ask universe?
January 13, 2018
Kids and Technology
"But though the empire dissolved, the worlds were a long time dying. At first, so that the things they were returning to humans would not be rejected again, the machines conceived of pageants and phantasmagoria, whose performances inspired those who watched them to think on fortune or revenge or the invisible world. Later they gave each man and woman a companion, unseen by all other eyes, as an advisor. The children had such companions, long before." - Gene Wolfe
"I said, "But we endure the dark each night, and the treasures carried up from the mines are brought to us. Why haven't we changed too?"
Jonas did not answer, and I remembered my promise to ask him nothing more. Still, when he turned to face me there was something in his eyes that told me I was being a fool, that we had changed. - Gene Wolfe
Last year I met my old friend Betty at the Applebees in the Cumberland Mall. At one time that would have been a trip involving maps, a sheet of directions and agita for I am not good at finding my way. But I too have been given a companion as an advisor and it told me where to go turn by turn. And so there's a good chance I'll never be lost again, provided I stick to places where my phone can get a signal. And to tell the truth, I can't see myself going to a place where I couldn't get a signal willingly.
And so I've given up a a little bit of my self reliance, but it's what technology does to us. I just finished reading The Written Word by Martin Puchner. He writes that Socrates mistrusted writing, that it weakened the memory. He also felt that if his own words were written down and read by someone who misinterpreted their meaning, he wouldn't be able to correct them.
But he was already too late. By the 5th century BCE writing had too strong a hold. The art of memory was destined to decline and wither away.
The NY Times had an article about kids and technology. People who worked on and invested in things like Facebook and Twitter are concerned about the way they're changing us. They want companies like Apple to study the way we're changing:
Mr. Palihapitiya said as Facebook was rapidly growing, “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen.”
Mr. Fadell said that at the time Apple was designing the iPhone, “we had no idea this was going to happen.” But, he added, people today are simply spending too much time looking at their phones.
“Now it needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s been 10 years in the making.”
No, it's been a lot longer then 10 years. The first BBS was the Computerized Bulletin Board System in Chicago and it came online 40 years ago. That's how long this sort of tech has been working its way into our heads. And if I, who was born before smart phones, the internet and personal computers have been rewired, how are you going to convince a 20 year old to give up their companions.
There is no going back, there's just going forward, same as it ever way.
January 10, 2018
Viktoria amd Lohse
Last night I was playing Divinity and went on a quest to release an imprisoned ice dragon named Slane. I'd played this section before and knew that if I freed the dragon he'd help me when I had to get inside Bishop Alexander's sanctuary. So I go off to kill Radeka, the witch who imprisoned him. Radeka has undead servants and three giant insects that act as guards. The fight kept ending badly because I couldn't get to the insects, I had to go down steps to talk to Radeka and the insects had the high ground, that matters in this game. Then I went to the net and read about a strategy that looked like it could work.
Instead of moving my entire party down the steps to where Redeka was, I just sent my mage, Lohse, to trash talk Radeka and start the fight. Of course this meant Lohse would die pretty quickly but I had 16 resurrection scrolls so that wasn't a problem. Besides, Lohse has her own spells and can summon an elemental, she'd do some damage to Radeka before she died.
With Lohse occupying Radeka the rest of my party, alChandler, the Red Prince and Ifan ben-Mezed could deal with the flying insects. Because they no longer had the advantage of hight, the fight went much better. I was able to kill them and whittle down the undead before Radeka got in range. In the end, the Red Prince died too but I was able to rez him and Loshe. I picked up Radeka's wand, gave it to Slane and won the dragon's gratitude.
I've only participated in a few D&D games but Divinity captures the spirit of the table top game, right down to allowing characters to die as part of a battle plan. And that's fine, that's what Divinity's creators were trying to capture. But while I'm having fun on my second playthrough, I prefer games where death has meaning. To give you an example, let me talk about Viktoria from the Thief series.
In Thief the Dark Project you play Garrett a master thief. You're recruited by a woman named Viktoria and her employer, Constantine to steal The Eye, a valuable gem. You get the gem, give it to Constantine only to discover that he's the Trickster, a god, and Viktoria is a wood nymph. They plan to use The Eye to return the City to a primeval state, but first they have to power The Eye, so Viktoria removes one of yours.
In the end you stop the Trickster and get a mechanical eye as a replacement. I'm bringing this up to show you that Garrett and Viktoria have no great love for each other. Viktoria mutilated Garrett and Garrett ended up killing Viktoria's divine patron.
In Thief 2: The Metal Age an inventor named Karras gave the aristocracy of the City (it's just called the City) robotic steam punk servants. Viktoria contacts you and together you find out that Karrass is mad, he plans to use the robots to release a gas that will kill all organic life in the City, issuing in a new age of robots. So you and Viktoria decide to do something about that:
You see, in the course of the game Garrett and Viktoria came to respect each other and Viktoria's death mattered. And 19 years after I saw her die in the game I still remember it.
I'm not blaming Divinity for being what it is. In fact Steam tells me that since putting it back on Kosh last week I've played it for 21 hours so it's definitely scratching an itch. It just feels a little weird to use the death of one of your characters as a tactical advantage, knowing that you can fix that. On the other hand, after dealing with the shit Bayek had to go through for 82 hours, angst free deaths aren't looking too bad right now.
January 10, 2018
Fire and Fury
Yep, I'm reading that book. Let's be honest, the book isn't going to tell any reasonably well informed person anything they don't already know. And op-ed writers have been harping on Trump's idiocy for some time now. But Wolff, for all his failings, is the first journalist, as opposed to pundit, willing to go on record with this stuff. The men and women who cover Washington aren't going to do it because if they did they'd have to find a new beat to cover. Wolff doesn't give a shit about continued access to the White House.
And he did burn Steve Bannon, for that alone he should get some kind of award.
January 10, 2018
Lucifer and David Bowie
There's a television show about Lucifer called Lucifer. I enjoy it and the former ruler of Hell is played by Tom Ellis. But that version of Lucifer was descended from the version created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg in the comic book The Sandman way back in 1989. In Issue 4 Dream of the Endless goes to Hell to retrieve his helm. Dream had been imprisoned for a time and the helm was stolen by a demon named Choronzon. In the course of the issue Dream encounters Lucifer who was still ruling Hell at the time. Later in The Sandman Lucifer gives up his office and his wings and leaves Hell, but that's another story.
And I'm bringing this up because yesterday was David Bowie's birthday and when Gaiman was writing issue 4 he told Sam Kieth to draw Lucifer like Bowie. In an interview Gaiman said:
Q: Was he the inspiration for the Lucifer character in "Sandman"?
A: He was. Definitely. But, by the time Lucifer got his own comic, that was rejigged a little. … But yes, the young, folk singer-period Bowie was the inspiration. I imagined Lucifer as a junkie angel, and young Bowie was the closest we got.
And I had forgotten all that until someone posted the picture of Bowie as Lucifer in honor of Bowie's birthday. And for the record, while Gaiman mentions the early Bowie, there's a lot of Jareth the Goblin King in Lucifer's first appearance too, not so much visually but in his patterns of speech.
January 9, 2018
The dead thing is a voidwalker and it took me forever to figure out how to take it and its five undead henchmen on and win. I'm not a strategic kind of guy.
I used to fancy myself one when I was kid, I'd play chess and I had a subscription to Chess Life and Review but the truth is I sucked at it, I just can't sustain the concentration. And that's why I had such problems with Divinity: Original Sin 2 last year. DOS 2 is pretty close to actual D&D and like table top gaming the fights tend to require careful planing. And that's sort of why I bailed on it last October. But a couple of days ago I decided to give it another chance. Hell, PC Gamer declared it the game of the year.
True story, at one time in World of Warcraft Lunariia, Marie's mage, challenged me to a duel. She was in a pugnacious mood and I was easy meat. alChandler was a paladin but he never used healing spells or potions. The truth was I'd always forget about them in combat and that led to many needless deaths. But during the duel I remembered I had potions, I made liberal use of them and won the match.
So that leads to today's picture. My party has escaped from Fort Joy and is now trudging through the swamps. My way led into an ambush. Three undead mages on raised platforms and two undead warriors on the ground attacked and then a voidwalker teleported in, long story short, I got massacred. I could handle the warriors and the voidwalker but the mages reigned down terrible spells from above and by the time I'd get one of my fighters, alChandler or the Red Prince, over to them it was too late.
He who has the high ground generally wins, in games and in real life.
So I finally decided to try something different. I snuck around behind the battle area and climbed up one of the platforms from the rear. When I made it to the top of the platform the fight triggered and the undead mage showed up but with all four of my guys I took her down easily. The mage across the the battle field from me was able to do some damage but it was survivable. The third mage was out of sight and had to climb down from his platform and try to climb up mine. But I held the high ground. So the only real danger was that mage across from me. Eventually I used my gloves of teleportation to bring her over to my platform and that was that.
And I don't usually recount fights but I actually forced myself to thing strategically and I'm slightly proud of myself.
January 8, 2018
Over the years my avatars have aged with me. This is alChandler from Kingpin way back in 1999:
A beefy mercenary type in his mid 40s, roughly my age when I was playing the game. Now here's alChandler in 2018:
A dwarf, about my age but in much better shape. By the way, there were shoes available but since I snapped up the metal armor for myself I let the other members of my party keep the boots we looted from the corpses of our enemies.
January 6, 2018
The Verge has an editorial on the subject of abusive fans and as far as I'm concerned it's required reading.
January 4, 2018
The Invention of the Wheel
Via Metafilter I was led to a posting on Katja Grace’s blog. Grace runs the AI Impact project at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley. And she had a post called Why did everything take so long?. Modern humans have been around for about 300,000 years but it took 290,500 years before we got around to stuff like agriculture. Among other things she wrote:
Inventions are usually more ingenious than they seem. LiveScience argues that it took so long to invent the wheel because “The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It’s figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.” I feel like that would explain why it took a month rather than a day. But a couple of thousand lifetimes?
As it happens, I know this one. The wheel developed once humans tamed large animals to act as power sources for vehicles. In North and South America the only real beast of burden was the llama and they weren't strong enough to pull carts laden with stuff, so Native Americans didn't have wheeled transportation, although they did have wheeled toys.
In Eurasia they had horses and oxen and once you've got them tamed then wheeled vehicles become practical. Cattle weren't domesticated until 8500 BCE. Horses weren't domesticated until 3500 BCE. And wheeled vehicles started turning up after 3500 BCE. So it appears that just as you're not going to get a smart phone without the invention of the digital computer, you're not going to get a wheeled cart until you have a horse or ox to pull it.
And while 6,100 years seems a long time between agriculture and wheels, keep in mind that we didn't get around to inventing writing until 3100 BCE, that's when things really took off.
As far as agriculture itself, I've read that climate change in the Middle East post ice age (after 11000 BCE) encouraged hunter gatherers to try to secure a more stable food source. But that's another story.
January 4, 2018
The AV Club
The Onion owns The AV Club and The AV Club functions as The Onion's review site, covering movies, games, music, television and, until recently, books. But they've dropped their book reviews, perhaps because they weren't a popular feature or perhaps it has something to do with Univision Communications acquiring a controlling stake in Onion Inc.
It's really not that big a deal, their book coverage wasn't that great to begin with. For the record the two review sites I use the most are the NY Time's and the Guardian's. With them I am content.
But before the net, before computers and games there were books in my life. And so I'm a little sad about the lack of book coverage over at The AV Club, but just a little.
January 2, 2018
I probably mentioned Titan Quest here back in 2006 when I was playing it. Years ago Mrs. Silverman suggested I start archiving all the stuff I posted here and I dismissed that suggestion but every now and then I wish I had.
Anyway, I finished it, barely. I hadn't played an action RPG since Diablo 2 and that was in 2000 so I was probably a little rusty. I'm not sure if I'll finish it this time but it will occupy a place in my gaming life until the games of 2018 start coming out.
January 2, 2018
The R.A. Lafferty Mystery Solved
And they also tell the story of Papadiabolous the Devil and his company, and of two of the hidden lives of Finnegan; and how it is not always serious to die, the first time it happens.
That's the first sentence from The Devil Is Dead by Raphael Aloysius Lafferty and that book is one of the best books that I ever read. It's also currently out of print. For a long time I cursed the general public for that. I've no grudge against Dan Brown but I felt it's a poor sort of world that keeps his stuff in print while Lafferty's stuff is so hard to find. But as it turns out, I've done Mr. Brown and the world an injustice, there's a reason Lafferty's stuff is out of print and it's sort of Lafferty's fault.
He started writing in the 50s, the same time he quit drinking. He started getting noticed in the late 60s, a result of the New Wave movement in science fiction. Authors like Norman Spinrad, Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison and Roger Zelazny were taking a more literary and experimental approach to science fiction. And while Lafferty was of the same generation as Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke his writing style was experimental, at least by the stodgy standard of the big three writers.
So Lafferty wrote, got published, got noticed and then in 1980 he had a stroke. His output slowed and eventually it stopped. In 1994 he had another, more severe stroke and he died in 2002 at the age of 87.
So here's the thing, I don't know if Lafferty had a will but I learned that he left no instructions about what to do about his copyrights and unpublished manuscripts. So all his relatives have a kind of group ownership of them and they all have different ideas about what should be done. And that's the reason why Lafferty is out of print. The Virginia Kidd Agency, which handled Lafferty's work, would like to see it in print again but there's nothing they can do.
In 2006 Neil Gaiman wrote about the importance of having a literary will in his blog. Meanwhile I think I'll reread some of Lafferty in 2018. I'm lucky enough to have a bit of his work here in the southern branch of the Meehan/Silverman Library.
December 31, 2017
The return of Weeping Flame
This year I played 15 games and completed 12 of them, a very good record for me. But there was a price, my reading fell off some, this year I read 64 books, a lower number then usual.
I finally decided to leave ancient Egypt. But I did pick up a few things in end of the year sales from Blizzard and Steam. From Blizzard I picked up the necromancer expansion for Diablo 3. It doesn't add any areas to the game, you just get to replay everything as a necromancer. So far Weeping Flame is a bit over powered but I'm not complaining.
From Steam I picked up the 10th anniversary edition of Titan Quest. That's a game I bought in 2006, I could have sworn it was earlier then that but no, it came out in 2006. In 2007 it was released on Steam and for $3 I picked up the 10th anniversary edition. Weeping Flame is in that one too. In fact, 2018 could be her year.
At any rate, the necromancer and Titan Quest may carry me over until Pillars of Eternity 2 comes out in the next couple of months. I'm glad I replayed it last summer. I really had very little memory of the game from my first run through in 2016.
December 30, 2017
Have I mentioned Happy? The show follows Nick Sax, a disgraced cop turned hitman. His daughter is kidnapped by an evil Santa and she sends her imaginary friend, a blue unicorn named Happy, to get help from Nick. At first Nick thinks Happy is an illusion, then he denies having a daughter, but he's soon trying to rescue his kid. The show is violent and demented and a lot of fun.
Christopher Meloni plays Nick. I never saw him before but he plays a wonderfully deranged, violent, alcoholic father/hitman. Patton Oswalt is the voice of Happy the Unicorn. The whole thing is abased on a comic book by Grant Morrison, which goes a long way towards explaining the show's insanity. Recommended so long as you're not expecting The Wire.
December 28, 2017
The Holiday Season
I always liked that guy sleeping among his books but he didn't stick around very long, did he? Maybe 2018 will be his year.
I hope you all had a good Christmas, or alternate solstice holiday. Perhaps you don't celebrate anything around the end of December, and that's fine too.
Among other things, we watched Bright over the holidays. I know it got terrible reviews but it wasn't so bad. It's a cop movie with elves, orcs and Will Smith. Tolkien always pretended that his books were taken from historical records, Bright runs with that. Actually, you know the drill, check your brain at the door and try not to worry.
I also got to eat bacon dipped in chocolate.
Normal service should resume shortly, if not sooner.
December 28, 2017
The Scratching Post
I got Newton when he was 6 months old. There was one spot on the carpet outside my office door where he started scratching, so I bought him a scratching post. As it turned out it was too small for him but he used it anyway and he continued to use it as an adult.
Today I got him a bigger scratching post. I put it in the same spot as the smaller post and he took to it right away. Newton is many things but it turns out that he's not sentimental over the things from his childhood. Although since I got him at 6 months, perhaps I should say the things from his adolescence.
December 24, 2017
Here's the thing, the chair of the FCC has every right to defend his views on net neutrality. I disagree with them but that's beside the point. What troubles me about Pai's video is the obvious contempt he's showing for people who disagree with him.
It's like this, I'm not Pai's employer, the federal government is, but I am his customer. And just like I had to be polite back in the day to the people who called me a crook when I told them the casino was right not to back up that ace, Pai has to be polite to people who thinks his views on net neutrality are at best mistaken and at worst corrupt. And if that sort of thing really gets under his skin, to the point where he feels compelled to make a video showing his contempt for his detractors, perhaps it's time to rethink the whole career in public service thing.
December 17, 2017
And the Winner for Most Depressing Christmas Song Is
But wait, it gets better. The song was written by John Denver about the effect his alcoholism had on his own family. And you ask why I don't listen to country and western.
December 17, 2017
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