Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale review

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale is an amazing movie. Before watching it, I read a review that said it did a good job of using the franchise's strengths and avoiding its weaknesses. I agree with that sentiment.

 
The interacting of physical existence and digital existence, for instance, is well executed in the movie's augmented reality. It has many different uses beyond games like "Ordinal Scale", such as working as a GPS, counting calories in food, and staying in contact with A.I. friends. The game itself is part of this by allowing the player to be conscious while playing. This combines the appeal of games such as Sword Art Online (adventure, fighting monsters, earning treasure etc.) with vigorous physical excercise, and helps the players to stay in shape in the open air.

 
People who dislike Kazuto/Kirito for being an overpowered solo player will rejoice at seeing him make a fool of himself the first time he plays Ordinal Scale. Being a VR nerd, he is absolutely unsuited for combat in AR, and he doesn't become effective until his little sister puts him through a training montage. Even after that, his victories are a team effort.

I was happy to see the focus on Kazuto and Asuna's relationship. Since the end of Mother's Rosario, she has been urging him to meet her mother and the primary subplot, their character arc, is about a promise they made to each other while in Aincrad. When tragedy strikes, the depth of their bond is on full display and there are many tender moments.

The new girl, Yuna, shows absolutely no interest in Kazuto. Her character arc is entirely separate from him. He's not even the only player she asks for help, just the only one who figured out her message.

The story's villain is a quite a contrast with the usual. He is much more sympathetic in his goal and his methods show multiple motivations instead of the For The Evulz that previous villains have held.

The battles are fantastic. Most of them are against bosses from SAO that were not seen in the original cannon so there is no reptition. We also get to see Klein's guild, Furinkazan, in action. This means we see the truth of their status as a front-line guild. Their coordination is flawless.

Beyond the battles themselves the film itself looks fantastic. It is crisp, clean, bright and overall stunning.

If I had to name a flaw in the film, it is the speed by which Kazuto climbs the ranks of Ordinal Scale and becomes skilled enough to challenge its best player. It is a montage of what appears to be several days but could be longer. It's a little jarring but frankly, I see it as a Necessary Weasel based on the time constraits of the film itself.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale" an A+


Click here for my review of the chronologically next story (or rather the start of it): Sword Art Online Volume 9 - Alicization Beginning




Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Answering review request: The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins

Susan Hamilton asked me to read her book "The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins". This is a vampire book that, as it title says, posits an origin of vampires. It has an interesting take on this that I will elaborate in this review. I will Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.


PLOT


The main thrust of this novel is an alien race called "the Vampri" struggling to survive on Earth after a natural disaster forced them to abandon their native planet. It's impressive how quickly Miss. Hamilton established the rudiments of their society while introducing her protagonist, Kevak. How their society is structured and stratified, how they live, what they eat, etc. is all established in a non-intrusive fashion. This is done via contrast with the current emergency and all within a couple pages.


As their exodus continues, one truly gets a sense of their desperation. They are starving and grieving and doing everything they can to establish a new normal. Not only do unexpected hazards keep unsettling them but unexpected positive events provide for sharp hope. This prevents their trauma conga line from getting stale and turning into a Deus Angst Machina.


There are other, minor, plot threads that appear at first to have nothing to do with this main narrative. There are a Welsh blacksmith that wants to emulate King Arthur by joining a crusade, a Turkish archer dragged into Ottoman court politics, and a herbalist from Wallachia preparing for a resurgence of a local monster. They are small digressions from the main narrative and eventually connect with it without distracting from or bloating it. Indeed, the blacksmith only has one or two solo scenes before he joins the main event. Then there's the historical Vlad the Impaler, who you KNOW is going to be important later.

 

There are lots of different kinds of vampires here. All of the usual myths and elements are accounted for but given a twist to fit the setting along with original stuff from Miss. Hamilton. Few stories that I have read provide such a fine in-universe explanation for both Our Vampires Are Different and Your Vampires Suck.
1. The Vampri are the original aliens. They look the most like humanoid monsters of the group but they don't drink blood because they're herbivores. They have no vampire weaknesses except sunlight because their bodies can't stand solar radiation.
2. Vampri who ingest human blood become vampri-human hybrids. They look human but have superhuman abilities. Human blood acts like a drug, explaining their traditional horror hunger. They act viciously because adrenaline helps them manage this addiction. The only way to kill them is a headshot.
3. Humans who ingest Vampire blood also turn into hybrids with the same skill set and weaknesses but are weaker as a whole than Vampri. This is why they are called "vampires" or "sub-Vampri".
4. All the other usual weaknesses, like garlic and crosses, are a result of Your Mind Makes It Real. These humans believe they have turned into a folk monster called "Stigoi" and so they also believe they have the same weaknesses. It is implied rather than stated that they are also the weakest of the lot because they were created by a human-vampri hybrid.

 

Despite the fact that crosses are only effective against monsters that think they are effective, there is a intriguing religious element. Kevak comes across a bible in his struggles (among other books such as the works of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and sees parallels between its contents and Vampri history. It helps him come to terms with his personal grief involving a tragedy that occurred during the evacuation of his planet and also his guilt about his involvement in oppression and murder.

The really interesting part about this religious element is that Vampri society is secular via Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions and even mentions that a similar belief about a deity that is friendly to the poor and downtrodden died out as technology made manual labor less necessary. Despite knowing this, Kevak converts to Christianity and is inspired to be "humanity's Good Samaritan". Furthermore, the staple of the Vampri diet, hemo-crops, are processed into two forms, a wafer for eating and a red liquid for drinking. They certainly provide a "salvation" of sorts.

Wow, that is long, isn't it? I totally didn't mean to do that. Anyway, I like the conclusion. It was surprisingly tense and gripping considering its parameters. It was this sense of "we're so close to making it but something could still go horribly wrong". It closes the book's conflict to provide for a sense of resolution while simultaneously planting seeds for future stories.

 

CHARACTERS

 

Kevak is the protagonist of this story and its hero as well. He is a Science Hero and a family man. As the story unfolds, a Real Men Love Jesus trait develops until he's basically a Good Shepherd. There is lots of personal conflict with him because he is an introspective sort. He grieves and has moments of doubt but it is not wangst.


Mazja is the closest the book has to a Big Bad, yet she's not really evil. I'd saw Lawful Evil at worst. She's basically dragged into villainy through a combination of anger, grief, accidental (and really quick) drug addiction and starvation. One can see how well-intentioned and reasonable she is at the start of things and see her morality erode as time goes on. Indeed, the Token Good Teammate considers her draconian disciplinary measures a Necessary Evil at one point.


Chaluxi presents an interesting question: how does a good man stay moral when only immoral options are available? How he copes with the events of the plot make him an exemplary foil for Kevak.


Vlad the Impaler is multi-faceted here. He is ruthless to his enemies and strict with his soldiers. He is  a caring husband, but also has a number of mistresses. He is chivalrous but is also more severe with his punishments on "fallen" women than men. I did a little research and much of his life here is accurate to real life, aside from the vampire bits, of course.


POLISH


A couple errors here and there. I don't penalize for this unless it is more common.

There was an event that struck me as such a narrative weakness that I was going to mark down a full grade for it. This is because it was a coincidental and foolish behavior with so many points of failure that it broke my willing suspension of disbelief. However, I thought about it and realized that lots of moments, for and against this character, as well as other characters, occurred. This was not a one-time device to heavy-handily shift the plot but a theme of the story. Mistakes happen and random chance events occur; that's life. Or God working in mysterious ways, as Kevak would put it. From that perspective, it was not a narrative weakness at all.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins" an A+


This has been a free review request. Susan Hamilton wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Player's Manual V3.5


Click here for my previous book review (also a request): The Adventures of Sir Edric

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Answering Review Request: The Adventures of Sir Edric

Thaddeus White asked me to read his novel "The Adventures of Sir Edric". It is about a knight who is far from chivalrous going on adventures similar to such a knight. I want to say it is a parody of epic adventures. It is certainly a comedy. It is also the third book by Mr.White that I have reviewed and I have thus gained a high opinion of his ability as an author. This book is no exception. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.
 
PLOT

First, this book is actually two stories. I think they were separate at one point but now they are together in this book. They are "The Adventures of Sir Edric Volume" and "Sir Edric's  Treasure".


The first one is similar to a Redemption Quest but it is played like a stealth suicide mission. The second is more like a treasure hunt. I say it is a parody because of the motivations for these quests and dissonance between what Edric says and what he thinks.


The first is presented as a heroic adventure for king and country but Edric suspects that the king is sending him on a suicide mission in retribution for committing adultery with the queen. The beautiful sorcereress accompanying him, who would likely be a love interest (Defrosting Ice Queen style) in a straight version, is actually his jailer who maintains a low opinion of him throughout. Instead of taking action himself, he foists all the dangerous stuff on his braver and more competent manservant.

The second has the same qualities as the first but a significantly different set up, which makes it the same sort of enjoyable but a different sort of interesting because Edric is in a situation more suited to his true nature.

Much of the comedy in these stories comes from Edric talking like a chivalric and heroic knight while thinking thoughts that instead reflect a pragmatic and misogynistic mercenary. There's also Schadenfreude from the dangerous, embarrassing, or painful things that happen to him, usually as a result of his actions but also like a karmic kick. For readers like myself, there is a third source of comedy in the use of the tropes. Literary concepts like Boring Return Journey are lampshaded, examined, and/or mocked.


Both stories have an ending suitable for this story's tone. I like them. They close the conflict but they are not happily ever after sorts.


CHARACTERS
 

Sir Edric is a noble and used to be an active knight. Now he's more sedate, and by "sedate", I mean only rouses himself to go to a whore house. Aside from this laziness, he has about every other vice you could name: greed, snobbery, misogyny, irreverence, cowardice, lack of empathy, hypocrisy etc. There's one scene where he's pretending to be a monk as a disguise and someone asks him for religious advice, and he does so in exchange for a fee. A Nominal Hero if there ever was one, but it suits him in this world of grey and grey morality. Indeed, the only reason he's not a Villain Protagonist is because he doesn't actively do anything evil, and he usually has something, or in the case of Lysandra, someone, to keep him focused on heroic acts.

 It also makes him a comedic duo with his manservant, Dog. He is the wise guy doing something immoral, pragmatic or whatever, and Dog is the straight man who reacts to it.

 While it is easy to see him as someone who relies on Dog to do all his fighting for him, he's not incompetent. He demonstrates skill with a crossbow, a sword and in quick tactical thinking. It's just that he's pragmatic enough to stay away from immediate danger and talk or trick his way out of a fight in the first place.


Dog is described in book blurbs as "pathologically loyal", which is indeed true. The things he does out of feudal duty truly stretch the bounds of credible belief. That's part of the humor in his character because Sir Edric definitely doesn't deserve it. For instance, "Dog" is not his real name but something Sir Edric decided on because he didn't like Dog's real name. Nor does he get any credit or appreciation. Without Dog, Erick would never accomplish or survive half of the stuff he does.
He is an example of Good Is Not Soft as he is a courteous fellow that still kills enemies with little hesitation.
His past is mysterious because he has skills that do not coincide with some him being some random commoner.
Personally, I see Edric as a supporting protagonist and Dog as the hero of this story. He's much more traditionally heroic with his loyalty, bravery, and feats of daring do, etc. except he is Edric's sidekick. Yes, it is a strange blend of roles which one of the things I like about this book.

 
Lysander is the third character to span both stories. She is an elf sorcercess assigned to assist Sir Edirc on his first adventure, and make sure he doesn't abandon his quest. She is a Celibate Heroine who wears a Dangerously Short Skirt. She appears to follow a standard Defrosting Ice Queen arc but still thinks him a cowardly sex-obsessed jerk in the end. Her humor comes in the form of her being a sheltered academic unused to adventuring, and the banter she has with Edric over his unwillingness to aspire to noble action.

 
POLISH

Both stories look good spelling and grammar wise. However, there is one thing in the second book that is odd.


There is this scene at the start of a chapter that comes out of nowhere. It is not connected to the previous chapter and does not connect to the following scenes. It is an argument that does not have any basis in previous conversations; "how dare you! Have you no respect?" I don't see what that refers to. It can't possibly refer to tripping over an invisible object and the response would make no sense in context. It involves a permanent shift so I can't dismiss it as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment. There is even a text-breaker area of blank space between it and the next scene that suggests it is isolated.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Adventures of Sir Edric" an A+ for Temple of Doom, a B+ for "Treasure" and an A+ over all.

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.


Click here for my next book review (request): The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Medieval Towns - a reader

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).