Squeaking By The Clock
By the time you see this, it will be May, but since I hit publish on April 30th, we're going to count it for April.
I have a few drafts again, but nothing that coalesced into final thoughts, instead I want to do them as a rapid fire set to stand in for this month's post.
Finished two books I didn't really write about. Warren Ellis' Normal and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. At opposite ends of the sci-fi spectrum, they were both good reads.
Normal is a unique book. Set in an experimental forest in Oregon, Normal tells the tale of an asylum for futurists who've lost their mind staring into the doom that is our future. Even if the idea of a room full of people driven insane by thinking of all the ways that civilization can end, there is a locked door murder mystery that moves the plot along. Ellis manages to push together a bunch of interesting ideas about the state of the world, couching them inside the paranoia of the residents. It doesn't hurt that Ellis has some of the best prose in genre fiction.
The Forever War is a much more traditional sci-fi novel. Haldeman was a Vietnam Vet, and the narrative carries a lot of the confusion and randomness of that war. It's a dense book that switches between the alien wars in deep space, and the evolutionary leaps in the home front as time dilation begins to turn the main character's few years into millennia on Earth. This has a neat effect on the narrative, as each of these sections feels like a slightly different genre. The front is always rooted in military sci-fi, but when the main character returns to Earth, we get slightly different moods of sci-fi futurism. I am not sure I'd like to read the rest of the series, as this book felt like a good stand alone novel. (The Forever War also seems to be the only one in current printings.)
The new Zelda game came out, and it is probably one of the best games ever made. They managed to take a linear narrative and break it into pieces that come flooding back as memories, when you rewatch the memories in order they hang together cohesively.
The idea of a futuristic approach to fantasy is another masterful stroke of storytelling.
Link awakens in the ruins of a world where Gannon lost. And there are the ruins of a society that crumbled, but it turns out that the futuristic technology didn't even belong to that civilization. They dug up an even older incarnation of Hyrule's high tech and began to use it.
It's an idea that changes the aesthetics and creates an imbalance in power between Link's sword and shield and laser welding robots. The game's big open world is a joy to explore, and every inch of it feels like it's made by hand. There are tons of corners to get lost in, and plenty of unique approaches.
If I had any complaint about the game, it is that Gannon was never given any real character here. Other than being a giant monster to beat up at the end, Gannon doesn't have much to do. This is something that was true in the earliest Zelda games, but Ocarina and Wind Waker both have a Gannon that felt like an adversary.
It's a small nitpick in a game that does almost everything right. There's a method to storytelling here that it feels more and more like a traditional Zelda game as you unlock more of Link's memories, though you can drop back from the narrative and go back to a big sandbox at will.
I'm not sure what they do next with the series. Unlike Ocarina, this isn't Nintendo reinventing a genre in a new way. However, what this shows is that there's a benefit for the handmade approach to game creation that Nintendo uses. There have been open world RPG's before, but Zelda indicates that there is a way to make sure that the stitching isn't always showing between big set pieces.
So mostly it's a media dump this time. I have a few essays in process that I want to share. Hopefully, I can get two of these done next month.