Far Cry 5

Picture this: an underground bunker, stuffed full of military-grade weaponry and bedecked with American flags. A middle-aged man with a beard sits at a table, pouring over maps. Red lines and circles criss-cross the maps; targets, avenues of attack. A radio mutters quietly in the corner.

How do you react to this scene? What kind of emotion does it instill? Fear? Uneasiness? Is the idea unsettling? Or do you identify with the bearded man and his bunker? Does this image fill you with patriotic fervor and resolve?

If your answer is “Who cares, let’s go WRECK SOME SHIT DAWG HELL YEAH” then congratulations on your new role as a Ubisoft employee.

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Historical accuracy in video games

The first trailer for Battlefield 5 (or V) released yesterday. In case you're not familiar with the series, it's considered to be the somewhat more complex, "realistic" counterpart to the Call of Duty games, emphasizing team and squad-based tactics over personal glory. The last installment in the series, Battlefield 1, went back to WWI. The sequel (Battlefield 5, are you confused yet?) is set in WWII, that conflict which is famously under-represented in video-game shooters.

Cue the trailer, which features four outlandishly-dressed super-soldiers leaping through windows, getting shot multiple times without apparent injury, blowing up a plane with an enemy grenade, and other ludicrous acts of cartoon violence. At the end, a British women with a Furiosa-style prosthetic arm clubs a Nazi to death with a cricket bat wrapped in barbed wire.

Can you guess which part of that has The Gamers all riled up?

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Avengers: Infinity War spoiler hootenanny

I saw it. I actually liked it! I'm ambivalent at best about a lot of Marvel movies, and I was extremely bored by the first half of the last big cross-over movie they did, but this one kept me entertained. When the end came, I was surprised because I thought there was another forty minutes left; for a movie that's over two and a half hours long, that's impressive.

Below, find some spoiler-filled discussions of specific parts of the movie.

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Movies That Annoyed Me: The Open House

We're quietly going through a sort of horror renaissance at the moment. It made big bucks at the box office, and there's horror projects and adaptations and TV series getting green-lit all over the place. You can barely swing a cat these days without hitting a new horror project. 

At the forefront of all of this are the major streaming platforms, who now have the cash and resources to fund or purchase horror projects that the big studios might have been too risk-averse to take on. At least, that's how it works sometimes. Other times, they just scoop up some pile of crap that the traditional movie world didn't want to touch.

Which brings us to The Open House.

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The State of Blog April 2018 (with bonus book recommendations)

You may have noticed that there's been a distinct lack of Kvothe posts here on ronan wills dot com. There's a reason for that.

That project was started during a down period in my current neurological woes (if you're just joining us, the short version is that minor car accidents can have not so minor effects), which I rather optimistically assumed represented the new normal, rather than a temporary reprieve. This turned out to be very much not the case.

As such, posts of that style are simply too much heavy lifting in terms of reading and writing, two activities that I can't do very much of at the moment. That does not, however, mean that I'm abandoning Kvothe and pals. It's just that instead of twenty to thirty more posts, there's going to be around, like, two. Possibly three. I'm just going to throw my thoughts on the books into large essays that can easily be shared, liked, faved and subscribed to, and then we're done with Kvothe until that third book comes out.

Those will appear whenever I'm able to do them, which means any time between now and my natural death. In the meantime, I will continue to sporadically post the melange of media reviews and rambling, long-winded diatribes that all of my blogging efforts inevitable devolve into.

While I've got your attention, I did manage to read some things over the last...four months? Is it actually April already? Jesus.

Anyway here are some books you should maybe consider checking out.

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Black and British by David Olusoga 

I'll Be Gone in The Dark by Michelle McNamara

Next up on my slow-reading pile is Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which landed with a fairly significant amount of hype. I'm quite eager to see if it deserves all the fuss.


Trash TV: Suits

I've been hopped up on Brain Drugs for the last week and unable to concentrate on anything remotely complex or engaging. In situations like this, there's only one thing to do: find the shallowest, trashiest television imaginable and imbibe it like a deep-sea jellyfish sucking up marine snow.

I found the perfect example in Suits, a lawyer show that features approximately five different sets and episodic stories that rarely get anywhere near as complicated as a CSI: Miami episode. More importantly, it's on Netflix and there's six seasons of it. But while staring slack-jawed at my tablet, my brain occasionally managed to engage a neuron or two correctly, and I found that I actually had opinions about the show. Most of them are negative, so I want to emphasise up front that I am in fact enjoying it so far.

The main character of the show is Mike Ross, a genius college dropout who's managed to achieve approximately nothing with his life despite an eidetic memory and other skills that smart people in TV shows have. Through a series of improbable shenanigans, he crosses paths with Harvey Spector, a partner at a high-powered law firm that recruits exclusively from recent Harvard graduates. Mike impresses Harvey with his intellect and quick thinking, and Harvey decides to hire Mike as the firm's newest associate...despite the small wrinkle that he's never set foot in Harvard (he has actually passed the New York bar exam though, as before their meeting he was making a living taking tests for people). 

The show kind of pulls a bait and switch with that premise. I assumed--and the pilot would lead you to believe--that this is going to be a House style affair about an insufferable genius impressing everyone with his brain powers. I assumed that Mike would swan into Harvey's firm and show everyone that all their fancy book-learnin' is meaningless compared to his inherent intelligence.  

But actually, no. Mike's lack of formal law education is a huge disadvantage: he has all the laws and statutes and trove of theoretical knowledge memorized better than even senior judges, but he doesn't actually know how to use any of it effectively. At least over the course of the first season, he repeatedly either makes mistakes or gets taken advantage of in ways that his non-genius colleagues never would, simply because he doesn't know any better. To really drive the point home, the show pairs him up in a will-they-won't-they relationship with a paralegal (played by Meghan Merkel, who according to the tabloids is due to become God-Queen of Brittania any day now) who has years of experience and is probably all-around better lawyer material, but who can't manage to pass the entrance exams to law school and actually become one. 

Rather than being about a genius doing genius things (Mike's genius superpowers are actually fairly believable by TV standards, and they don't really come up all that often), the show is much more about an experienced lawyer taking a younger newbie under his wing, and that's where we get to Harvey Spector. 

While Suits doesn't fawn over Mike's intelligence, it absolutely fawns over Harvey's awesome rich-guy masculinity. He dates hot women! And he lives in a big fancy apartment that looks like a glass cube! And he drives cool cars! In the first season alone, there are multiple scenes where Harvey engages in impromptu trivia contests with other men over classic cars, rock music and sports. They're about five nanoseconds away from whipping their dicks out to compare sizes.

Harvey's character arc revolves around the fact that his bosses at the firm are reluctant to promote him to the upper echelons of lawyer-dom because he lacks compassion and only cares about his work (at least, theoretically; it seems like the actual reason he isn't promoted is because he keeps doing shady things like hiring Mike behind his managing partner's back and refuses to co-operate with people). This leads to endless, repetitive scenes where Harvey does something that clearly shows he actually cares about his clients after all, then insists he was only doing it for the good of the firm. And then he gets in a cool car, delivers a pithy quip, and drives away while 90s-era cheese-rock plays. 

Oh yeah, the quips. The show's writers apparently attended the Joss Whedon School of Dialogue, with the result that a good third of every episode consists of characters making Sick Burns or literally stopping in their tracks to trade acidic barbs. Sometimes they do movie quotes. This show really likes movie quotes.

I'm not sure if I'm actually going to watch all six seasons of Suits. Watching it is kind of like eating fast food--it seems like a good idea up until you actually do it, and then you really need to let some time pass so you can trick yourself into doing it again. But if you're in the mood for a breezy, un-challenging dramedy that isn't completely stupid, there's worse things you could put on. 

Next up is another Kvothe post, y'all! Please be patient with me while I slowly adjust to my new medication.  


Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle pt. 14: The Story Of Your Life

One of the Kingkiller books ostensible strengths is the way they play around with the conventions of story-telling in desconstructive and meta ways. In practice, this amounts to two main themes that run through the novels: the creation of Kvothe's legend, and revealing the more mundane reality behind the events that gave birth to said legend. Today, we're going to mostly look at the former.

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Movies That Annoyed Me: Blair Witch

Apologies, y'all--I meant to write the next Kvothe post this week, but I'm lacking the energy at the moment. Please enjoy this horror movie rant instead.

I love 1999's The Blair Witch Project. I know it quickly became popular to dunk on it as an Actually Not Scary movie where nothing happens, but I watched it alone at night and it freaked me out like nobody's business.

If you're somehow unfamiliar with the movie, it's the popularizer (but not inventor) of the whole found footage thing, telling the story of three documentarians who venture into the woods, get spooked by a mysterious supernatural force, then disappear. The movie is semi-infamous for revealing absolutely nothing about the nature of whatever was menacing the characters ("you don't even see the witch" became a smirking complaint among people who don't get how horror works).

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Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle pt. 12: The Good Part

Just a quick scheduling note up front: the twice-weekly updates I was keeping to previously have turned out to be untenable given my current medical issues. As such, until further notice this series will update on a strict schedule of "whenever". Carry on.

I'm going to skip over several chapters where Kvothe gets a free pair of shoes, demonstrates his amazing linguistic abilities (which, of course, lets the book show off its wide variety of utterly fascinating invented languages), embarks on a long wagon ride away from Tarbean, and rediscovers his musical prowess. We meet an important character during the trip, but I'm saving her for later.

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Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle pt. 11: Mo' Money, Mo' Talents

It's finally time for Kvothe to leave Tarbean and get the real story (such as it is) rolling. After hearing Skarpi's tale of Haliax and the Chandrian, Kvothe's "sleeping mind" finally wakes up, and he resolves to track down stories of the Amyr to see if they might hold the key to defeating the Chandrian.

The Chandrian had enemies. If I could find them, they would help me. I had no idea who the singers or the Sithe were, but everyone knew that the Amyr were church knights, the strong right hand of the Aturan Empire. Unfortunately, everyone also knew that there had been no Amyr in three hundred years. They had been disbanded when the Aturan Empire collapsed.

I've harped on this multiple times already, but I'll say it once more: if you forget all this nonsense about Kvothe's mind being "asleep" and lift the Tarebean section out of the narrative entirely, this could easily be taking place days after the attack on Kvothe's troupe, rather than years. You'd have to explain an alternate means of Kvothe hearing the Haliax stories, but we've already been given a suitable candidate: Kvothe's father was a story-teller, and he was collecting information about the Chandrian. This could have been the story that drew their attention.

The more I thought on it, the more questions arose. The Chandrian obviously didn’t kill everyone who gathered stories or sang songs about them. Everyone knew a story or two about them, and every child at one point has sung the silly rhyme about their signs. What made my parent’s song so different?

"And then Kvothe went to the University and lots of other places in search of answers, but he didn't find them."

I've just summarized the rest of the book and the entirety of The Wise Man's Fear.

Saltiness aside, the next part of the story is actually quite good. Kvothe decides to gain admission to the University so he can search its great library, but this presents a number of challenges since he's penniless, dressed in rags and has no family or connections. Over the course of the next few chapters, he uses a combination of trickery, guile, street smarts and his natural intelligence to bluff and talk his way into a relatively secure position as a student, just barely overcoming every obstacle that the world throws in his way.

And it's all pretty fun! It's almost like--and stop me if this is too out there--having a protagonist with clearly-defined goals, who takes active measures to achieve them, makes your story more compelling and interesting.

Kvothe's first problem is a lack of cash, so he goes to a book shop to sell Ben's book of logic. The owner assumes he's illiterate and tries to trick him with a fake receipt, but our boy Kvothe is having none of that and manages to both get a good price for the book, and counter-trick the owner into giving him the option to buy it back for significantly less than he got for it. Classic Kvothe!

I know this is part of the book I'm quite positive about, but I want to go on a brief tangent about an element of qorld-building that really doesn't work: money.

Kvothe receives two silver talents for Ben's book. Over the course of the story, "a silver talent" is frequently given as the value of various goods and services, but the actual value of a talent seems to fluctuate wildly from chapter to chapter. For example, later on Kvothe's accommodation and meals for a whole term at the University costs a talent, but here he got two talents for selling a single book. Either it's an incredibly valuable book, or the cost of University accommodation is ridiculously cheap.

And then later still, Kvothe auditions for semi-professional status at a famous music venue, and has to pay a talent for the privilege of doing so. If a second-hand book costs two talents, then this isn't all that expensive; if University room and board for a whole term costs one talent, then it seems like a much more extravagant fee. Since both of those facts are apparently true, this leaves us with no objective comparison to determine how cheap or expensive anything actually is.

This becomes a big problem, because huge whacks of both books are taken up with Kvothe running out of money and engaging in various zany schemes to get more. But since we can't determine how much a talent is actually worth, that makes it nearly impossible to tell how dire Kvothe's situation really is, or how much he's pulled himself out of a hole with his latest money-making endeavour.

(In the next chapter, a pair of good shoes also costs a talent; most of the things Kvothe buys seem to cost that much, or close to it)

I decided that he was not an altogether bad fellow. I smiled back at him and for a second I almost felt guilty about how I’d written the receipt.

I also felt guilty about the three pens I’d stolen, but only for a second. And since there was no convenient way to give them back, I stole a bottle of ink before I left.

That's pretty funny. I enjoy fun-adventure-Rothfuss a lot more than angsty-grimdark-Rothfuss. 

Kvothe's next problem is that he needs clean clothes. He does some chores at an inn in return for a bath, and an idea occurs to him:

I wiped the fog from the makeshift mirror and was surprised. I looked old, older at any rate. Not only that, I looked like some young noble’s son. My face was lean and fair. My hair needed a bit of a trim, but was shoulder-length and straight, as was the current fashion. The only thing missing was a noble’s clothes.

I find this kind of hard to believe. Malnourishment and illness should have taken a toll on him, not to mention all those times he got beaten around the head--he'd probably have scars, if not a broken nose. People who've been living rough for a long time often look visibly unhealthy and worse for wear, but here Kvothe just has to wash himself and he can suddenly pass for a member of the rich aristocracy.

That said, the way he finagles some clothes out of a shop is pretty good: by marching down the street wearing nothing but a towel, and then feeding the shop-keeper a story about his buddies playing a prank on him. Kvothe's narration claims that he uses his acting chops to make himself seem like a spoiled, entitled little ass, but that probably just comes to him naturally.

I lowered my voice menacingly, “If you don’t bring me something to wear-” I stood up and shouted, “-I’ll tear this place apart! I’ll ask my father for your stones as a Midwinter gift. I’ll have his dogs mount your dead corpse. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?”

Our hero is now clothed, fed and has a small amount of money, so it's off to the University. First he has to get there, and during the journey he meets a very important character...but I'm going to skip over that for now, because I want to discuss that character entirely in one long post rather than tackle every appearance she makes in chronological order (the reason for this will become apparent in due course). Next time, we'll pick up with Kvothe's arrival at the University.

Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle pt. 10: The Villains Who Don't Do Anything

We're almost at the end of Kvothe's Tarbean adventures, having skipped over a lot of filler in order to save time (as I've already mentioned, this part of the book contains three, fairly lengthy myths, in their entirety). But before we see how Kvothe gets his arcanist groove back and escapes to the university, I want to spend some time reiterating just how ridiculously Gritty this whole sequence is.

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How's everyone liking the new Kingkiller posts? 

I wrote most of what's gone up on the blog so far over the course of a few days, when the neurological problems I've discussed before were at a low ebb and my energy was particularly high. I did this on the assumption that another period like this would come along again before the buffer of content ran out.

That...didn't quite happen for various reasons, so: I've got two more posts lined up for Thursday and next Monday, and then I'm probably going to need a short break--maybe two weeks--to get things rolling again. I may put out something else during that time, if I'm up to it (I had a post going about anime, everyone's favourite topic, that petered out due to lack of energy).

This will likely be a regular occurance going forward, so we may as well get used to it now.


(that was meant to be a joke at the expense of Youtubers, but I actually did get too tired to finish the sentence or correct the spelling mistake)