Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Moon Chapter 1: Party

1. The first book opened on an inexplicable quote from the Book of Genesis, this one opens on a quote from Romeo and Juliet. Laying on the subtlety on with a trowel, huh Steph? If you’re afraid of finding a copy and opening the book for yourself, it’s “These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die, like fire and power, which, as they kiss, consume.”

Another prologue that actually deals with things at the end of the book. Not much to say, except I have no idea why Meyer does this to an already predictable as hell story. Maybe it’s supposed to be like a dangling a carrot in front of a horse, like “check this out! This is all building up to something really exciting!” Except getting the most clever, most unexpected ending in the world isn’t worth listening to Bella be a complete whiny parasite for over 500 pages. And Stephenie Meyer only writes unexpected endings in the sense that you never expected a human being could write something so lame.

I’ll save details until this stuff actually goes down (wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise, after all), except to say that at the end of this mess, Bella’s still going to have nothing to live for without Edward.

2. The book proper opens on Bella being “ninety-nine point nine percent sure” she’s dreaming as she sees her dead grandma. In a surprise that will surprise no one, she’s actually seeing herself in old age while her sparkly soulmate stays young and hot forever.

Maybe this was for people who didn’t read the first book--but if you weren’t willing to read hundreds of pages of pure krelm in the first place, why would you be reading this--but already the praises of Edward’s perfection start flying.

And maybe it’s just because I read this book right on the heels of the Percy Jackson series, which took the device of the prophetic dream and stood on its nuts til it cried, but this was a really clichéd way to start a book. The fact that it’s 563 pages long didn’t help either.

3. Bella wakes up on a day she’d been dreading all throughout “the happiest summer anyone anywhere had ever had.” Isn’t it cute when kids pretend they invented things like truth and love? What did this happiest summer ever involve, anyway? Based on how they have nothing in common and how Edward insists on a proper relationship, I get this image of them sitting on a rock in the woods just talking about how in love they are.

What exactly is this day, you ask? September 13th, Bella’s 18th birthday. Meaning now she’s physically older than Edward. “Just a dream…but also my worst nightmare.” If you go to Stephenie Meyer’s site and find the section where she talks about the writing of this book (it's almost as entertaining as reading the books themselves, if you can take looking into the writer's mind without the filter of one of her books), she describes herself as “anti-human.” Like the bad writer I already knew she was, though, she doesn’t explain what that means (if anything it sounds like she's still talking about her previous point, which was responding to accusations that Bella's weak). Is this the "anti-human" stuff? That being human means growing and changing and ultimately, not being here anymore someday?

Yeah that sucks, and yeah a lot of people try to fight that reality, but despite what Meyer might believe (she talks about her characters as if she actually interacts with them and can't control what they do) there aren’t really any beautiful sparkly people who can make that go away by turning you into one of them.

I don’t know if this is what Meyer meant by “anti-human,” but if it is she’s even more juvenile than I thought for basically telling her teenage audience to resist change and not learn to deal with the passage of time with any degree of maturity. If there’s another message in Bella checking her reflection for wrinkles, refusing to think of the old lady in her dream as herself and telling everyone she doesn’t want a birthday, it’s sure as hell slipping by me.

4. Bella goes to school and still compares Edward to “a marble tribute to some forgotten pagan god of beauty. The dream had not done him justice.” For that matter, “Even after half a year with him, I still couldn’t believe I deserved this degree of good fortune.” So after 500 pages, almost being killed in a situation of her own making, and spending the happiest summer in the history of ever hanging on that marble tribute’s arm, Bella hasn’t changed at all. Character development, after all, requires characters.

More explanation for new readers. Like how Edward and Alice, who’s also there, aren’t really siblings. And the weird things about their appearances, like their skin being the same pale shade and their eyes the same shade of gold. “To someone in the know--someone like me--these similarities marked them for what they were.” What it’s actually telling newcomers is this is a world where noticing things like that means you’re really with it. Strap on your helmets, greenhorns. It’s gonna be a stupid ride.

5. Alice has a present in her hands as Bella walks up to them, which upsets Bella because she wanted the Cullens to celebrate her birthday least of all. “The last thing I wanted was some kind of celebration of the black event.” Why, it’s like they’re rubbing her nose in it! “Obviously, my wishes were being ignored.” So what else is new?

Alice, who as you’ll recall, sees things, but with uncertain control and debatable reliability, asks Bella what she thinks of the presents she got from her parents. “Alice would have ‘seen’ what my parents were planning as soon as they’d decided that themselves.” As you’ll also recall, Meyer can’t seem to make up her mind on how Alice’s power works. Why would she see automatically see something decided by Bella’s parents? Does she have visions of everyone? That would make her power even less useful because how could she possibly interpret information resulting from the choices of all sentient life? No, even Meyerpires aren’t that awesome. Is it because Bella’s someone she, for some reason, cares about? Look, as I said near the end of the last series of reviews, if Meyer’s going to make her books so long, she can explain these things.

Meyer can’t even explain her characters' expressions. “Alice laughed, and the sound was all silver, a wind chime.” Say whaaaat?

The Cullens are throwing Bella a party after school, and head off Bella’s excuses that she has to work that night and she has to watch Romeo and Juliet for school. Because for such great people, what the person at the center of all this might want doesn’t matter for beans. Emo as that person might be.

I’m not kidding, this is in the book: “Finally, Alice lost the smug smile and glared at me. ‘This can be easy, or this can be hard, Bella, but one way or the other--’ ” Did I say I was starting to like Alice in the last book? Pardon me, apparently I was mistaking Twilight for a series with the potential for sympathetic characters. I’m forced to assume Meyer doesn’t even realize this is basically kidnapping.

6. Let’s try to breeze over the light stuff all at once or this’ll take forever. Bella and Edward are in almost all of the same classes now (“it was amazing the favors Edward could get the female administrators to give him”. Not really with the way she keeps describing him). Bella’s been working part time at the sporting goods store run by Mike Newton’s family to save a little something for college, even though she’s planning on Edward changing his mind about turning her into an sparkly undead freak like him.

Don’t know why she thinks she’d want to spend eternity with him. Yes, teenagers are a little too new to the game of love to really know the difference between lust and the real thing, but the rest of the Cullens have been happily coupled up for decades and they can’t shut up about how true Bella and Edward’s love is either. Even though this is the first relationship either of them has ever been in.

We’re also reminded of how Edward refuses to make Bella a vampire because it would mean abandoning her old life, and how she’d be willing to do anything if it meant being by his side forever. What makes her think cutting her ties would be so easy when she was about to sacrifice her life to save her mom from James in the last book? On the other hand, why is Edward dragging his feet on this if he can’t imagine life without her either? And why don’t the other Cullens lean on Edward to relent, when it would’ve been a feat worthy of Hercules to make it clearer that they want Bella and Edward to stay together because she’s the first thing to come along in a hundred years to give his unlife meaning?

She’s unwilling to accept monetary gifts from the Cullens’ bottomless coffers for a college fund (Edward of course finds her “difficult” for wanting to do something her way). While yes, Meyer's explanation that their bank accounts would have a lot of time to fill up makes sense (plus some rigamarole about Alice using her powers to predict stock prices…how does it work again, Meyer? In the last book when Alice had visions they came without warning), a semi-reasonable explanation doesn’t do much to make them seem less like Mary Sues for having money for whatever they want. Not need, want. Especially with the way they go through it.

Some talk about Bella’s mortal “friends” and the state of their relationships. Mike and Jessica were in the “awkward post-breakup friendship phase” (suckers!). Since Bella can only find happiness in the arms of someone supernatural, they merit discussion even less than they did in the last book.

Lastly, Meyer still hasn’t gotten her stories straight. “People always felt strangely ill at ease with the Cullens, almost afraid for some reason they couldn’t explain to themselves. I was a rare exception to that rule.” We’re told the reason sparklepires are so physically appealing is to lure in prey. Which is negated (or at least contradicted) if something about their condition inexplicably puts people on edge. And as Bella will go on to prove time and again in this book, the reason she’s not afraid is she has no preservation instincts.

Besides, there’s the fact that attractiveness is relative. For that matter, I’m told when the narrator of the spinoff book (the Bree Tanner one) runs into Edward, she doesn’t describe him with anything approaching the divine imagery Bella does.

7. Bella and Edward sit down to watch some Love, Shakespearean Style (it’s not enough the book had to open with a quote from that, the characters have to watch the play themselves and beat us over the head with the significance. The first chapter’s not even over and New Moon’s already going downhill). Edward thinks Romeo was a fickle moron who thoroughly destroyed his own happiness.

Just like Esme casually mentioned her dead baby and how she decided to kill herself last book, Edward mentions if he envies Romeo anything, it’s how easily he was able to kill himself after his world came crashing down. Being a nigh-indestructible rock with no weaknesses has a few downsides after all, it seems. He was making contingency plans in case he couldn’t save Bella from James, you see, for a life without Bella…is one he’s totally prepared to face in this book. Which makes the exposition he delivers seem even more forced.

Anyway he tells Bella about the Volturi. “They are the closest thing our world has to a royal family.” Basically if you don’t obey their rules, you die, “or whatever it is we do.”

I like how Bella rebukes Edward for that. “No matter what might ever happen to me, you are not allowed to hurt yourself!” After all, “I thought we’d established that all the bad luck is my fault?” He’s the invincible one, do you get the irony here? I don’t know, Bella places no value on herself, so when she does something supposedly selfless, it doesn’t make her seem like a giving person.

Plus, that thing where she fell into James’s trap? That was completely deliberate. And based on what we’ll see in the chapters to come, that suspicion of mine that she did it to prove she needs Edward babysitting her still stands.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how Meyer, blessed with her preternatural understanding of romantic fiction, made the mistake most people do and acted like Romeo and Juliet’s a straight romance story, and not a satire of the crazy things teens do when they mistake a rush of hormones for true love (Juliet was only thirteen, people!). Like kill themselves over mistaken impressions. So yeah, Edward and Bella are a lot like Romeo and Juliet.

8. On the way to his house for Bella’s like-it-or-not party, Edward asks her not to be “difficult” because the last time any of them celebrated a birthday was in 1935. Screw you, pal. I know he’s supposed to still be set in his ways from when he was alive, but a lot changes in a hundred years and if he’s so awesome he oughta know that. If he’s going to insist on treating his girlfriend the way he treats Bella, I don’t know why he didn’t just spend some his family’s unlimited money on a reinforced blow-up doll.

I’m not saying I dislike Bella any less, though. The subject comes up of Rosalie, Edward’s beautiful blonde sister who resents Bella’s presence in their lives. Since there really is no good reason for Edward to be interested in her and Bella makes all the trouble she claims, it’s not hard to think of reasons why.

In what I’m hoping is still setup for new readers, they argue more about Bella’s desire to be a vampire and Edward’s insistence it won’t happen. She retorts “That’s not fair!” but notes he’s not the only vampire she’s on good terms with, and while Edward's her first choice as a source of vampirization, she'd be willing to settle for Alice or Carlisle. And she doesn't think Edward would have any problems spending forever with someone who went behind his back and betrayed his desire that she not throw everything away for his sake. So in case you forgot, they’re supposed to be in love but you’d never know that unless they kept saying so.

9. More setup for newcomers as Edward’s weirdly-named relatives, slightly less superfluous than Bella’s human “friends,” are described. All I found worth mentioning was that Jasper’s described as avoiding Bella as much as possible, like he supposedly had before even though I didn’t notice. Then again there’s so much unnecessary crap in these books it can be hard to notice when something actually relevant comes along.

10. After that, it’s time for presents! Bella opens the first box to find out it’s empty. “It’s a stereo for your truck. Emmett’s installing it right now so that you can’t return it.” Wow, you guys really, really suck. How am I supposed to support this relationship, let alone think it has any staying power, when the people we’re meant to like have no respect for each other’s wishes?

As Bella opens her next present…it happens. She cuts herself on the wrapping paper, Edward throws her across the table in a shower of shattering glass, and grapples with Jasper as the mood-controller loses control of his own mood and goes crazy at the sight of Bella’s exposed blood.

Yes, the event that gets the plot of this book going is Bella getting a paper cut. That’s just awesomely stupid.

Quick Note: I'm using the same tag for this book because they're part of the same series, but if people would find it more convenient I'll split them up with a new tag.

Photon The Ultimate Game On Planet Earth #4: This Is Your Life, Bhodi Li

Once upon a time there was a game called Lazer Tag which you played by pretending to shoot your friends. Competition came in the form of a game called Photon that in addition to being sold as a home game, was also available in nationwide arenas. Any kid who thought they could shoot a gun or had a birthday party was invited to plunk down their money and go all commando in a futuristic battle zone for points.

And to promote the game they came up with a story about a kid who was so good at Photon he was invited by a bunch of aliens to play it for real out in space against a bunch of meaner, uglier aliens called the Arrians (I love how in the pilot he sees one of the Arrians and says “Obviously a bad guy”). It seems there’s a special crystal on every planet in the universe, and every hundred years it needs to be recharged by being shot by a Photon laser gun. If the good guys do it, the planet becomes a verdant paradise. If the Arrians make the shot, it becomes a volcanic wasteland.

This story was distributed in the form of a live-action TV show that makes Mighty Morphin Power Rangers look like a triumph of special effects and realism, and two varieties of novel. The first was a series of six books based on the show penned by comic book writer Peter David, and the other was the one shot Thieves of Light, which took the same characters and setting, but presented them in a slightly more grown-up fashion.

So anyway, our hero Chris Jarvis, or as he’s known out in space, Bhodi Li, is about to rejuvenate another crystal when he and one of his Arrian enemies go over a cliff in their scuffle to be the first to claim the planet. Because for some reason only the bad guys have the benefit of being energy constructs that are sent safely back to their home base upon death (is it a choice between that and freezing time on Earth so nobody notices he was gone?), Bhodi goes splat…

…until he wakes up in a hospital, having been in a coma since some jerk jumped on top of him during a perfectly ordinary, non-lethal game of Photon. Later he tries to go back to the Photon arena to get in touch with his fellow Photon Guardians (a Photon Warrior is someone who thinks you only fight for points and bragging rights, a Photon Guardian is one of the aliens who plays it for real, and a Dark Guardian is someone evil who plays it for real. A plot point asks that you know the difference). Normally a ring he wears flashes to let Chris know his space buddies need him. Then he goes to the local Photon arena and wins the match as a signal for them to beam him up. Yeah. This time, nothing happens. He just wins the game. Good thing crystals never need to be recharged while he’s in school or the arena’s closed for the night. Yeah, maybe his buddies handle things without him when that happens, but there’s only five other guys looking out for the whole universe and none of them appear to have those kinds of restrictions on their availability.

Chris is convinced it’s some kind of Arrian trick, especially after he starts seeing people in his everyday life that look just like the human-appearing people from his time spent as a Photon Guardian. His doctor’s a dead ringer for the evil Mandarr, even down to the real name, and there’s a candy striper who looks like space ninja chick Tivia. Uh-huh. See that woman in yellow and white on the cover? That’s Tivia. Notice how her face is covered? That’s because she comes from a matriarchal society and inferior males like Chris aren’t allowed to see her face.

Chris decides to play along until he finds a way to escape, which he does by telling his bossy gym teacher that he’s stupid and none of this is real before pummeling the guy. And freaking out when he sees a lizard named Leon, like his gravelly-voiced pseudo father figure in the Photon Guardians. And playing Photon to a point even more obsessive than before. Could all of Chris’s adventures have been a dream? I said there’s six books, figure it out yourself.

I’m not familiar with Peter David’s work in comics, but I wasn’t that impressed when he wrote something that would be realized solely with words. The main thing about his style I noticed was he seemed to really like the “head/half a head taller than” description when describing height. It made it sound like he was referring directly to the characters’ model sheets when describing them, which is probably okay in the script for a comic book but no so much in a novel. The rest of the writing was dry and stark, and I never once forgot I was a guy killing time on the train.

His idea of a hip in-joke leaves something to be desired. I remember catching a reference to something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (drinks called Gargle Blasters) which was of course treated like it was real in the book’s vast, silly universe, and the time Chris arrived on the corner of Siegel and Shuster Street. Considering the people likely to read a science fiction action adventure book, those were a tad too on the nose for my tastes. And get this: Tivia’s lookalike is named Loretta. Like Loretta Haywood, the actress who played her on the TV show. When his delusions of adventures in outer space are supposed to be based on glimpses of stuff happening around him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. I'm just saying, shouldn't her name be Tina or something like that? Naming her instead after the actress makes no sense and is kinda lazy.

A sticking point I’m surprised got left in occurs when Chris is being psychoanalyzed for his delusions of going into space and saving the universe. The shrink asks whether Chris thinks playing a game where you pretend to be a space commando dehumanizes people and glorifies violence. Chris responds no, because if you don’t play fair, they kick you out. “A Photon Warrior has to be considerate of others.”

The others that he’s running around shooting in a war game. And this is the same guy who would occasionally run around shooting people with a real laser gun. Do the Arrians not count because they don’t actually die (even though Chris and his fellow Photon Guardians would, if they were to be tagged by the meaner, uglier aliens)?

I’m saying if your defense against the game making gun violence seem cool is that you’re not allowed to play unless you play fair, it doesn’t quite fly if the promotional material has unscrupulous bad guys who never suffer lasting consequences for being unscrupulous bad guys.

That’s Photon in a nutshell. Unforgivingly goofy, and in book form you can’t even laugh at the listless combat sequences and horrific special effects. The ultimate game, indeed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Next Review Series

Bad news everybody, I've decided I''ll start picking on the next book in the Twilight series (I'm not going to argue terminology but I have a hard time thinking of it as a "saga") in the not too distant future. It's just a question of when I'll have finished settling into my new place and can take time out from job hunting to write another review. Also keep your eyes on the Razzie awards, Eclipse is nominated for just about everything.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dino Squad - Attack of the Brain-A-Saurus

We open on the lighthouse where Moynihan is, I’m not kidding, giving the kids check-ups. Giving their dino forms check-ups anyway. Even though she admits she doesn’t have the equipment to do anything more than check their tongues and listen to their hearts. Wonder if she hasn’t got the equipment as a result of her supposed limited funding or the inexplicably low demand to medically analyze living dinosaurs in her state. You really can’t tell with this show.

Rodger comes in listening to “some rocking beat,” but his ipod turns out to actually be a gizmo he invented that pick up someone’s heartbeat, even if they’re a dinosaur. So he was dancing to the sound of his heart. Who does he think he is, Danny John-Jules?

He declares this “the greatest advancement in dinosaur health care in the past 250 million years” because with it “you can listen to our hearts and see them at the same time.” She was able to listen to their heartbeats anyway, now she can do it from arm’s length when she doesn’t have to worry about any of them getting snappy anyway.

Moynihan says she’ll forward the results to a herpetologist friend of hers (is there any field she doesn’t have a friend in?) to get a better idea of the results. Will it not be evident that the examinations were on reptiles too big to be alive anymore? Or does she know whoever this is can be trusted to keep their mouth shut?

Rodger basks in Moynihan’s praise that he’d win the Nobel Prize for dino medicine, if there was any such thing. Max warns him not to get a big head, and he and Fiona talk about things they’re better at than Rodger (football and motorcycle racing). He counters those are things you get better at through practice, and some people are just smarter than others. I don’t want to sound like a douche or anything, but some people do just excel in the academic arts, either through talent or plain old interest.

“You’re all very special in my eyes,” Moynihan breaks this up. The writers do know that even though they all turn into dinosaurs, she’s not in fact their mom, right? She goes on to say self-confidence is a powerful thing, but the scene cuts away before she says anything about making sure it doesn’t turn into arrogance. Maybe that explains the gob-smacked looks on everyone’s faces.

Things switch to Veloci’s lab, where he’s mad that a new formula for his mutation juice (“primordial ooze”) only makes animals monster out when they’re scared. He’d hoped adding petroleum to the mix would make the changes more complete. He doesn’t say why he added that, but with a chill I think I may have watched this show too much because I get the feeling it’s because petroleum’s “fossil fuel” and its inclusion would make a dinosaur mutation formula more effective in the mind of a bad writer. He orders it dumped into the ocean.

Because she has cameras trained on where his company’s pipes let out but thinks it’s better letting a bunch of teenagers deal with the results than turning the tapes over to the authorities, Moynihan sees him doing this. Fiona grouses that the evil mastermind who turns animals into dinosaurs and terraform the world to be more hospitable for them has no concern for the environment. I know, what a jerk, right?!

Max and Moynihan notice the ooze is acting strangely, in that it’s floating on top of the water instead of dissipating. That’s the real reason they had Veloci add petroleum to the juice, but is that strange? They’ve only been looking at it for like a minute, and the blob they swam through in the pilot (which was written by the same guy as this episode, thank you) didn’t dissipate in the water either. At least not until long after they were done with it, and they make it sound like they’ve seen Veloci do this a lot.

Max thinks they should do some more research on it before going near it. I’m all for knowing what you’re up against, but what exactly would they be able to learn there in the lighthouse that they haven’t already? While leaving the blob of dino juice out there free to mutate anything that gets too close.

Rodger comes in with his new invention, another stupid-looking gun that acts like a super vacuum cleaner. He wants to get right out there, but Max says if he’s learned anything from football it’s you’ve got to practice. And if you want to be good at saving the world, you have to recognize a threat and neutralize it as quickly and efficiently as possible. With emphasis on the quickly.

Will fish shy away from the floating dino juice? Do most fish stay deep enough that this is a problem they can afford to wait on? Remember, the kids were menaced by a shark when they went swimming through dino juice in the pilot, and they stayed on the surface the whole time. I don’t see how this is something they should sit on, and like I said I don’t see how they’d learn more without getting out there to see it for themselves.

Moynihan ends the discussion by praising the value of practice, and I love how she says “even” astronauts practice on the ground before doing their thing in space. As if they’re not working in extremely expensive operations where even the slightest mistake could mean their death. However, she adds the blob of dino juice is expanding “at an alarming rate.” No cliché left unturned.

Once they get to the dino juice slick in their stupid dinosaur-faced boat, Rodger hands out neoprene tubes to link together and form a ring around the dino juice, preventing it from spreading any further. Max asks if Rodger’s sure he doesn’t want to practice, and I ask what there is to practice. Their ability to connect one tube to another tube? Especially with that blob getting bigger every second. I admit I get little sense Max is supposed to be “the leader” after watching this for a while, but as the quarterback I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be the guy who’s good at strategy and thinking on his feet. Does he really think that’s something they need to rehearse, and does he think taking their time’s better than containing a rapidly-expanding flood of mutation juice as quickly as they can? They do form the ring and stop the spread without any problems, or any practice.

Rodger bumps the ring with the boat and pushes the dino juice into a fog bank while trying to get close enough to suck it up. Fiona suggests maybe she should drive, so the episode’s decided to actually raise a valid counterpoint to Rodger’s runaway arrogance. Having the person most suited for the job do the job’s a bit different than saying these guys who’ve been saving the world together for a while and should know a few things about working with each other need to practice a simple task before they do it for real.

With Fiona steering they do get close enough for Rodger to suck up the dino juice (what do they do with that stuff when they’re done with it?), and he praises his vacuuming. Max and Fiona ask about their “slick corralling” and “slick steering” and I ask what happened to them thinking Rodger’s the one with the big head.

They get a call from Moynihan, who goes by the radio handle “mothersaurus” (sigh), saying she’s picked up some blips on the dino radar not far away (double sigh). They follow her directions to a little island where a ship’s run aground.

Fiona recognizes it as belonging to an organization that rehabilitates injured animals and releases them back into the wild, but Buzz recognizes that something with BIG feet was there before them. Before we move on to them following the tracks inland, I love how safe this show is that Max automatically assumes the crew escaped in the life boat and they leave it at that.

The tracks just end after a while, but Fiona finds the tracks of a baby gorilla leading off in another direction and assume the mutant scared it away (I won’t ask how Fiona knows what baby gorilla footprints look like). Buzz asks how they’re supposed to find the thing without footprints to follow, and…damn. Look for the twenty-foot monster. You’re not trying to find a dropped contact lens, guys. They don’t stop to think why it suddenly stopped leaving tracks, for that matter.

Rodger asks, “what detects mutants, ooze, and came from the magnificent miracle between my ears?” His scanner, by which he means the thing that was checking out heartbeats with before, I think. It can do that too? Then why did he just describe it like we should’ve known about the mutant-detecting feature all along? Before he gets a chance to use it, Caruso breaks it when he tries to use it like a backscratcher. So the only point in mentioning it could detect mutants was to kill a minute of runtime. And set up “Scents and Scents Ability.”

Fiona suggests they go dino and sniff out the mutant. Why not have Buzz change and then circle the island looking for something giant and semi-prehistoric? Yeah I know it wouldn’t work, you know it wouldn’t work, but they didn’t watch the scene in Veloci's lab.

Max goes dino, and because he suddenly has to prove he can compete with anyone on the team without using his brain for some reason, so does Rodger and the two wander through the jungle sniffing for giant monsters. This results in Veloci picking them up on his long-range dino detector and scrambling a chopper to go capture them. Also around here we get the start of a stupid, unfunny and pointless running gag (my favorite kind, just ask Stephenie Meyer) where Caruso decides to capture their hunt on video with his cell phone and share it over the internet when they get back.

As it turns out, Rodger does find the monster first. He smells something “dangerous,” but what Max smells “isn’t threatening at all.” It turns out to be the cute little gorilla baby. Who has a tail. And can jump into a human’s arms.

Rodger gives her a balloon (something else his vacuum does), but when the little primate pops it, she freaks out and turns into the giant thing they’ve been looking for. Max dinos up to keep it busy, but when Buzz trips trying to get around his own t-rex buddy to get a good shot, Max tries to help him up.

With Max making the brilliant move of turning his back on his enemy in the middle of a fight (one that’s bigger than he is and has usable arms, yet), the gorilla slips away from him, grabs Buzz, and escapes into the jungle. You know, it’s sort of hard to focus on how the supposed lesson of Rodger needing to learn he’s not always right when it’s everybody else who’s coming across as stupid, useless and incompetent.

To quote a great madman, never, ever do this.

The kids reason the gorilla grabbed Buzz wasn't because she was going to crush him, but because he was nice to her and she thought the giant carnivorous lizard was going to attack him when it turned to face him. After getting to the top of the tallest mountain on the island, he lets her listen to his ipod, she dances, and calms down and changes back to normal. The others show up in no time, because it’s not like they had to climb a mountain to get there and Buzz is the only one who can fly.

Yeah, that really tall one.

Rodger wants to de-ooze the gorilla, but Caruso stops him because it would be a lame ending to his video. He spots Veloci’s chopper approaching and the others want to go dino but Rodger chides them for having brute force as a knee-jerk reaction to trouble. Fiona reminds him of all the mistakes he’s made on this trip. Like when? Maybe it was when Max said they needed to rehearse sticking lengths of tubing together? Or was it when Caruso used his delicate scanner as a blunt instrument? Oh, wait, it must’ve been when Buzz wasn’t looking where he was going when trying to line up a shot (learned to run and gun from playing Halo, probably), fell down and Max let the monster out of his sight to help him up. Which was what made her grab Buzz and run away with him! Or, no! It was when Caruso stopped Rodger from de-oozing the gorilla, which if he’d done they’d have completed their job and would be on their way out of there already.

If Rodger didn’t come up with the plan to contain the dino juice, he at least had enough intelligence and possibly faith in his teammates to think sticking lengths of tube together wasn’t something that required practice. He found the mutant they were tracking first. He not only invented the scanner they used to find it after she got away, he fixed it after Caruso broke it by acting like a total moron. Yes, he bumped the dino juice with the boat, but that only stopped them from collecting it for another thirty seconds after they’d already contained it. Yes, he gave the balloon to the gorilla that scared her, but it’s not as if he or any of them knew they were up against a different kind of mutant.

Was Caruso using the scanner as a backscratcher deliberate? Yes. Was it stupid? Yes, because Caruso’s this show's Wheeler and he's who they go to when they need a character to do something stupid, and his action cost them something useful. Was Max taking his attention off his opponent deliberate? Maybe not, but it’s unnerving for someone who's in an activity where huge guys try to run into him as hard as they can. He’s lucky he’s in a kids’ show or he’d have ended up like Giant.

I’m finding the balloon thing hard to consider a screw-up considering it solved the mystery of what they were after, and Rodger was the one who was in the right about what they (or rather, he) found being a potential danger.

Shut up, Fiona. No, Rodger’s record today isn’t perfect, but if anyone should be learning from the day’s events it’s the rest of the group.

In fact, Rodger’s the one who points out that if they go dino, Veloci will have a way easier time finding them. Not just because they’d be huge and prehistoric, but because his scanner can detect dinosaurs. If they stay human, they’ll be harder to spot and his radar won’t pick them up so they can just make their way back to the boat and leave. They listen to Rodger too, so what’s the moral supposed to be again?

I haven’t forgotten how I kept ragging on Twilight for the constant overtures to Edward’s perfection, and you’d think I’d be annoyed at Rodger for always being right. However, mainly my annoyance with Edward sprang from how the book tried to tell us he was one thing, but showed him to be another. He was supposed to be the ultimate boyfriend but we were shown someone who seemed more like the villain. This episode’s likewise supposedly trying to make Rodger out as someone who’s a little too convinced of his greatness, but instead shows us someone who’s surrounded by incompetents and has pretty much every right to think he’s smarter than they are.

The episode keeps trying to hammer home its stupid moral by having Veloci’s guys continue to cut them off. Moynihan guesses it’s because Veloci can detect the ooze Rodger’s still got in his vacuum pack, but because she doesn’t say she can detect it too, I can only assume that’s an educated guess on her part. This leads to Rodger thinking he’s “even more of a failure,” and deciding he should be “sticking to what I’m good at and letting you do what you do best.”

If I were writing this episode, I would’ve let Rodger have some successes for a while, but gradually the problems get bigger and bigger. Show that these are things the other kids can handle because the problems call for things they’re good at, and have Rodger get mad as he tries to compete in areas where he’s unskilled and meets little success, especially compared to the others. Finally, have them face a problem that’s so big none of them can handle it alone, and have Rodger admit there are things he can’t do and they need everyone’s help to get out alive.

This…this comes a bit out of left field. Yeah, Rodger’s slipped up a few times this episode, but the others haven’t exactly been coming across as anyone with a good handle on things.

Since they’re evidently unwilling to do anything permanent about Veloci even when they completely outnumber and outmatch him, a quiet exit seems like the ideal way out. And with how Veloci was never able to track the kids by the ooze sucked up by their guns before, why would Rodger think he suddenly could? The show doesn’t bother to explain what’s different now, and I'll point out that nothing was done to show Rodger's mutant scanner was being screwed up by the ooze in his vac-pack, a possibility brought up by Moynihan when she mentioned how Veloci's probably tracking them. Instead, when the scanner didn't work it was messed up after Caruso used it as a back scratcher, but then shown able to tell them where the gorilla had taken Buzz after Rodger got a minute to fix it.

I can see how this might be a lesson in how even a brain as powerful as Rodger's can’t anticipate everything, but it sort of feels like the universe is punishing Rodger for not knowing he’s in an action cartoon and thinking they’re allowed to leave without a battle sequence.

What I’m saying is this episode’s badly written even for Dino Squad, and doesn’t make much of a case for its central point (coming off a 500-page book that did the same thing, writing this review wasn’t fun). The fact that their solution to being surrounded is to have some of the group (including the gorilla) change to their super-powered forms and fight it out doesn’t make me think the others have their bright moments too.

Buzz goes dino and lets himself be grabbed by a claw from Veloci’s helicopter, which makes the gorilla turn into her monster form at about four times the size she was before (she could pick up a person then, now she can pick up a helicopter). I’m pinning that one on bad animation rather than bad science. In any case, she grabs the helicopter. Veloci thinks he can fight King Kong as a raptor, and he’s beaten by the gorilla’s breath.

Veloci’s goons try to catch the dino-kids with guns that shoot what I guess is tar, because you know, dinosaurs and tar pits, and there’s an awful pun from Rodger to confirm it (if you really must know, it’s “That’s some tar-iffic teamwork”). The kids win by dumping them in their own tar. Because t-rexes have prehensile tails.

With the villains seen off (I have no idea what happened to them, but it’s not as if that’s a change in the writing quality), the kids finally de-ooze the gorilla as she cradles Buzz in her arms and Caruso gets the Hollywood ending he wanted. They mention they’ll be giving the gorilla back to the relocation people, and I notice there didn’t appear to be any other animals back on that island. Did they die when it ran aground? Did sweetums there eat them after they scared her?

Rodger apologizes, “I just thought being smart meant my ideas were better.” They were, because your friends acted like complete idiots back there.

“Confidence is a good thing, Rodger. But knowing what you don’t know can be as important as knowing what you do know,” adds Max. WHATever, Mister Turned-His-Back-On-King-Kong.

Caruso’s rhapsodizing about the awesome little slice of life he captured on his cell phone and how he’ll get an Oscar for sure. Rodger bursts his bubble by telling him at the resolution he had it on, you can only capture a few seconds of footage, and only the only thing he recorded was footage of himself. Not much without his fruity hand cream, is he?

And you thought my reviews couldn’t get any more incoherent than the sparkly vampire ones.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Twilight vs. Twilight

Twilight the book’s finally behind me, and I hope everyone enjoyed me making a jackass of myself reading it from start to finish. I thought about doing an indepth review of the movie it spawned in the style of my cartoon reviews, but as I pointed out before Jet kind of beat me to it. Besides, as we know they didn’t use the original script and for that reason the resulting movie isn’t vastly different from the book, which I already described in detail. So that seemed kind of pointless.

Still, I paid to watch actual sparkling vampires and don’t quite feel I’ve got my money’s worth from the DVD by watching it with Rifftrax. So here’s how I thought Twilight the movie was better (and of course worse) than Twilight the book.

The Good

Robert Pattinson
. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear someone so central to the project talk about his absolute disgust with the source material and the person responsible for it. In case you haven’t heard, he loathes his character and plays Edward as a self-hating manic-depressive because that’s how the character came across to him (an interpretation I can’t dispute). He also thinks Meyer’s “mad” because of how in love she is with the characters she made up. He doesn’t manage to redeem the character, but I don’t think that’s what he was trying to do. It’s not something that can be achieved by human effort, anyway. He’s got my condolences for spending the rest of his career being thought of as the sparkly vampire kid.

James and his buddies
. The movie actually thought to set them up before the vast majority of the story was over via “animal attacks” on various people Charlie had to look into. This gave them some real menace. They’re still pretty low on the cinematic villain totem pole, but at least they weren’t shoehorned it at the last minute. While we’re on the subject…

An actual payoff. We wait the whole book for something to happen, and the narrator’s pummeled unconscious until after it’s all over. In the movie we actually see the Cullens come in and duel with the villain. I can understand how action sequences can be hard to make cool with only words at your disposal--the things I write call for them a lot more often than a dopey romance does--but at least try! Oh, and the movie actually let a girl do something useful as Alice was the one who ripped James’s head off while her brothers held him.

No “Tyler’s taking you to prom.”
Someone please explain to me the point of that subplot.

The compressed runtime. Meyer was dating herself when she wrote the book (or rather, vicariously dating Edward). It didn’t need to be five hundred pages, and the movie could’ve easily been three and a half hours long. Most of the stuff about how vampires work comes all at once in the movie, but that means they didn’t think that aspect needed to be dribbled out over half the runtime. We paid to read a story. Give us one.

The cinematography. There are some truly beautiful set pieces in this movie that show up when they’re not trying to make everything look dull and gray.

The Cullens might have, but the movie didn’t forget they didn’t deal with Victoria.

At least, I assume that's her.

The Bad

Kristen Stewart as Bella. She turned in a nearly flawless performance for the character. That is, a whiny, stupid teenager who’s bored and annoyed by everyone and everything around her except what’s-his-name. Seriously, Bella makes the Emo Rangers look well-adjusted, and their show’s a parody.

Can't you just see it, though? "Codependence Emo Power!"

Seeing a real person act like she does in the book, the dude magnet aspect of her “character” gets even more unbelievable. Especially since her “friends” are actually shown to have personalities in the movie because we’re not relying on her to relay all the information we receive.

There’s a little bit of a plus to this aspect, though, because it almost seems like even the crew knew what a joke Bella’s sex appeal was. When she has her first meeting with Edward, her hair’s being blown in the wind like in, well, a stupid romance movie (and before anybody says anything no, being a romance doesn't automatically make a movie stupid). The thing is, they actually show the fan doing it. Maybe that was a coincidence and I'm making things up, but for the sake of my own amusement I like to pretend otherwise.

And does it say anything about me that I find this Bella more attractive?

Speaking of things looking even stupider when performed by actual people, there’s the baseball game. No amount of movie magic can hide how it’s nothing but a moronic way to kill time until the evil vampires show up and decide to kill Bella.

Mighty Sokka at the bat.

The love story. As with Bella's character, the romance is even less believable watching real people act it out. Seriously, it’s like this:

Bella: “I don’t care that you’re a vampire.”
Edward: “No? Guess that means we’re in love.”

The whole “About three things I was absolutely positive” stuff comes AFTER Edward reveals himself and they declare they’re in love. Yes, thank you. We were there forty-five seconds ago to hear the “and so the lion fell in love with the lamb” garbage.

Bella’s lowered IQ. She’s a little dumber in the movie than in the book, which as you might have noticed, is saying something. After the second “animal attack” Charlie tries to get her to carry pepper spray and initially she resists. Mind you, this is right after she gets back from Port Angeles, meaning she's turning down a weapon scant hours after almost being raped. Also building on the “animal attack” addition, she knows Edward’s a vampire but spares little if any thought to the possibility it might be thanks to him.

“This is the skin of a killer, Bella!”
Full stop.

The author cameo. The waitress even calls her by name, and she’s at a laptop like she’s working on the next book. Somehow accounts of her hubris are multiplied by actually seeing her in the movie based on the book she wrote. I’m not saying Alfred Hitchcock or Stan Lee are hubristic by that same token, but then they don’t have reputations as hacks or being full of themselves.

Onto the Next Thing

That’s a wrap on the first book in Stephenie Meyer’s magnum opus. Will I tackle New Moon next? The answer is yes…if that’s what people want to see.

Spectrum of Madness gets a fair number of visits, but the people that come here are a quiet bunch. I don’t know if people are enjoying the Twilight reviews or think I’m a moron talking about something he doesn’t grasp.

I’ve read the other books, and even started making notes in my copy of New Moon, but a lot of the hate for the Twilight series has died off. If I’d had a blog in 2008, I probably would've done more reviews regardless, but it’s 2011. I'd be happy closing the book, as it were, with this side-by-side review. Before I commit to another series of reviews for an even longer book, maybe even three of them, I want to know if anyone’s actually going to read them.

So I’m putting this in your hands. Yeah you, the kid holding the controller. If you want to see more savaging of sparkly vampires, say so. Leave a comment. Send me an email. Start an online petition to continue the reviews. I promise I’ll look at it and take it seriously if someone actually goes that far. I don’t have a magic number of supporters in my head that needs to be hit before I'll do the next book or a deadline by which I'll have made up my mind (so if I've done another review or twelve by the time you read this, still feel free to ask for more), but if I don’t hear anything, I won’t be doing anything. If you want to see more, speak up. I'll listen.

If nothing else, I hope you enjoyed my suffering through Twilight and will enjoy the reviews to come.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Twilight Epilogue: An Occasion

1. This last part’s 17 pages long. That’s probably the longest epilogue I’ve ever seen.

2. Edward’s driving Bella somewhere, somewhere that involves her wearing flowers and “elaborately styled curls.” He hasn’t told her where, which means she’s annoyed with him yet again. Which he probably intended: “I really hated surprises. And he knew that.”

Most supposedly intelligent people would consider it time to rethink the status of their relationship if they’re annoyed with their partner as much as Bella. Yeah, no partner’s perfect, but come on. On the other hand, at this point you don’t need me to remind you about all the evidence that Bella’s not smart, not mature, not brave, not kind and compassionate, or any of the other positive traits Meyer tries to pretend Bella has except appealing to the opposite sex.

3. Even as Edward “threw a mocking smile in my direction,” she asks herself, “Would I ever get used to his perfection?” Do you think we haven’t?! I’m not talking to Bella, I’m talking to Meyer. I know these books are your romantic fantasies. Therefore, you want the hottest guy who ever lived in them. However, these are also books you decided to share with the whole world. It’s page 481. Do you honestly think we haven’t caught on to the fact that Bella thinks Edward’s hot yet? Are you that shameless? Or is that the only thing you think matters about him? Attractiveness does not a developed character (or a suitable significant other) make.

4. Alice spent all day trying to find the perfect look for Bella, it seems, styling her hair and having her try on dresses “with French tags I couldn’t read” for some unknown function. Alice waved off any complaints by saying she doesn’t remember being human and asking Bella not to ruin the fun of fashion-shopping. Ah yes, the fading memories thing. How is it that Carlisle and Esme retain theirs, then? Supposing Meyer even noticed that little hiccup in her internal mythos.

5. Remember Tyler, the guy who said he was taking Bella to prom without actually getting her permission? Don’t worry if you don’t, it was like three hundred pages ago.

He’s still going ahead with his plan, and calls the Swan household to ask about picking up Bella. The stupid running gag finally pays off when Edward says he’s taking Bella to prom in the most superior, dickish way possible, sorry non-sparkly mortal loser kid. Don’t believe me? Here it is: “ ‘To be perfectly honest, she’ll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offense. And I’m sorry about your evening.’ He didn’t sound sorry at all. And then he snapped the phone shut, a huge smirk on his face.”

Wow, that was totally worth it, Meyer. It even managed to make Edward look like a bigger asshole than anything else in the book. To anyone who’s over the age of 17 and attracted to this kind of thing, grow the hell up. Hopefully those of you under that age will on your own.

6. What’s the occasion Alice got our narrator all dressed up for? Prom, which Bella hadn’t realized at all until they pulled up in front of the place. Making her even more lovable, she whines about it: “But I’d never dreamed he was thinking of subjecting me to this. Didn’t he know me at all?”

Hey sister, don’t YOU know HIM at all? Haven’t you ever noticed how much pleasure he gets from treating his girlfriend like crap? You sure point it out enough times when he acts like a dick toward you. Yet you insist he’s the center of your universe.

Yet another endearing moment: “He wasn’t expecting the force of my reaction, that was clear. He pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed. ‘Don’t be difficult, Bella.’ ”

Almost over, almost over, almost over…

7. What did Bella think all the finery was for? She thought Edward had changed his mind and the Cullens decided to make a formal occasion of her becoming a vampire. Ha!

Yes Bella, that’s why you’re wearing all those fancy clothes and got your hair done, so you can look your best while you’re spending days curled up in agony letting the venom make its way through your system. You idiot.

8. Next comes something that cements in my mind what a complete and total amateur Meyer was about this. Bella describes what her interactions with the other vampire kids are like since she’s had more time to hang out with them since her ordeal. It doesn’t matter what they are, what matters is how this character development’s revealed. Bella summarizes the way they treat her as she and Edward are sitting in his car in the parking lot.

Meyer wrote a 500-page book, she gave Edward so much attention, and all we really learned about him as a character was his overwhelming arrogance. Here, a paragraph-long blurb is all we get of what the other Cullen kids think of Bella. The other Cullen kids are even at the dance with them, they could've had interactions with Bella right here. They don't, this is it. There's so much nothing in this book it's staggering. I've never seen a writer work so hard at misdirecting their effort before.

I’m left numb. Of course I noticed how bad she was at the whole “writing” thing on the way to this page, but this was what forever clinched it for me.

9. Edward’s not even done being a dick to Tyler yet. When Bella asks if her father was in on their scheme to sneak her to prom, Edward confirms it and adds, “Apparently Tyler wasn’t, though.” The fact that Edward let the kid waste so much time and money makes our "hero" seem like an even bigger cock knowing he doesn’t have to worry about either.

10. Probably the worst thing about Bella and Edward’s abusive relationship is how casual the books are about it: “I sat stubbornly in my seat, arms folded, feeling a secret twinge of smugness. The lot was crowded with people in formal dress: witnesses. He couldn’t remove me forcibly from the car as he might have if we’d been alone.”

How do the fans justify this? Even “so bad it’s good” doesn’t go this far.

11. They do end up going inside and dancing along with the other vampire kids, and Edward can dance because he can do anything and I don’t even have a reaction from it anymore. This goes on until who should show up but Jacob Black, whose dad actually paid him $20 to ask Bella again to stay award from Edward, and if she doesn’t, “ ‘We’ll be watching.’ ” She’s not worth an awful lot to Mr. Black, huh?

He hastens to add “this is his plural, not mine.” Did we need to spend three and a half pages between Jacob showing up and getting to this little tidbit of information? Granted it was spent with one of the few characters who doesn’t make me shake my head and sigh (at least not at this point in the series), but three and a half pages?

Afterward, Bella tells Edward not to be mad at Jacob’s dad for being protective of her. She claims it’s only because he’s friends with her dad, “It’s nothing personal.” Uh, yeah it is. It’s because Edward’s really a vampire, and Mr. Black knows it, and he and his people have a really cheesy reason relating to horror movie icons to be at odds with vampires. Which Bella was told the same time Jacob told her the totally-real legend about the cold ones.

Edward turns his dislike for Jacob into a joke, saying Jacob insulted Bella by calling her “pretty.” You’re so much better at insulting her, aren’t you? Okay, he actually says that’s way underselling her, but I still speak the truth.

Then they dance and Bella notices all her mortal “friends” are there too, and they haven’t been part of the book for such a long time and were such minor presences when they were I don’t know why Meyer even bothered to remind us about them this late in the game.

12. They go outside and it’s title drop again (good luck with that for the other books), and Meyer has Edward try to give it some symbolic meaning that falls completely on its face.

They discuss Bella wanting to be a vampire and Edward wanting “your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have.” He does nothing to remove himself from her life despite saying this, you’ll notice.

He reminds her it means giving up her old life completely, which she doesn’t think is that big a deal what with being willing to sacrifice her life to save her mom from an evil vampire. Wait, what?!?

The book ends with neither of them willing to give on the issue, the affirmation that “I love you more than everything in the world combined” (considering that’s coming from Bella, it doesn’t sound like much), and a kiss that must’ve been like laying a wet one on Mount Everest.

Oh man, is it…it’s finally over. I almost can’t believe it.

Thank you for reading, and goodnight.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Twilight Chapter 23: The Angel and Chapter 24: An Impasse

1. This chapter’s Bella drifting though a haze after the pummeling James gave her, and seeing an angel who--I hope you’re sitting down--turns out to be Edward. Some of James’s venom got into her system, and if the angel doesn’t suck it out, she’ll eventually become a vampire.

The angel’s against letting Bella enter his pale sparkly heaven, because it would mean forsaking everything about her old life and Edward thinks the best gift he can give her is the chance to just live normally (how he expects that to work while she’s going out with him, your guess is as good as mine). This raises questions on what exactly their policy is concerning vampire conversions. Would Carlisle have let Edward die of influenza if his parents hadn’t preceded him into the afterlife? He still would’ve had ties to his old life. Isn’t Carlisle essentially playing God and damning someone to a life they might not have chosen by deciding they’ve got nothing to lose and he could use someone to talk to? Is that something a great guy who fears for his immortal soul would be doing? What about the possible consequences? He’s been pretty lucky so far in his choices of who’d make a good vampire, but he’s not the one who was such a great reader they turned psychic when they got their sparkles.

Look who he let into his family. Edward treats his girlfriend like a doll, Rosalie’s a bitch, Jasper’s a ticking time bomb and the woman Carlisle chose to be his wife conversationally mentions her dead baby and how she decided to kill herself (I’m aware he didn’t convert all of them, and just accepted some into the family who were already vampires). How close he’s come to letting a James of his own under his roof, we can only guess.

2. Edward does suck out the venom from Bella’s body, although unless Meyerpires can control whether there’s spit on their teeth or not I don’t really see how he could’ve prevented some of his own vital venom from getting in her in the process. Nonetheless, Bella’s spared this sparkly fate for a few more books.

Still don't see how he avoids it.

There’s not much else to talk about, except a bit at the end where Bella admits to how James tricked her: “ ‘He tricked me, Edward. He watched our videos.’ The outrage in my voice was pitifully frail.” I’d say she’s admitting she’s useless AND stupid, but she’s been admitting that the whole book.

Oh, and Bella smells gasoline before she finally goes under. Take a wild guess what that means.

Since that was a little nothing of a chapter, I’d feel like I was gypping you guys by calling that a full review. So let’s just keep rolling right into…

Chapter 24: An Impasse

1. Bella wakes up in a hospital, and figures she must still be alive. “Death shouldn’t be this uncomfortable.” That depends on where you go after it happens, and I can’t say you’ve got a strong case to give Saint Peter, Bells.

So saying, she acts out of what can only be assumed to be her instincts and tries to rip a tube off her face because it’s somewhat uncomfortable. The only reason she doesn’t is Edward stops her, which does a nice job of establishing how she’ll act in the next book.

This also means all the action of dealing with James happened off-page, as it were. We read through over 450 pages of Smeyer slop for the biggest anticlimax I’ve seen in a long, long, long time, and people defend these books?

2. She apologizes for trying to rip off a piece of equipment helping her to stay alive. Then she apologizes for ending up in there.

Bella: “I was so stupid, Edward. I thought he had my mom.”
Edward: “He tricked us all.”

Which is either an admission that every character in this book I’m supposed to support is a moron, or Edward's being nice and doesn’t think she needs to learn a lesson from this experience that nearly got her killed and was entirely of her own making.

Think about the latter a minute. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been desperate enough to see a girl I was willing to do something that could get me sent to jail, but all this would seem to indicate even a guy like him can’t be around to protect his squishy girlfriend all the time. Bereft of that protection, she’s willing to do some really, really inadvisable things. You’d think he’d at least tell her “yeah, you’re lucky we got there in time” and impress the need to take an interest in her preserving her own life. If not right now in the hospital, at least when things have had a chance to settle down again.

3. Edward explains that Bella’s mom will be back soon, and her cover story is she fell down two flights of stairs and out a window. Because that’s possible, and doesn’t carry any dark undertones coming from a guy who treats their girlfriend the way Edward does.

4. They get into a little discussion about how Edward likes the smell of Bella’s blood (which is supposedly constantly tempting him to drink it let’s remember), how he enjoyed the taste of it when he sucked out James’s venom, and she apologizes for being so appealing like that. He says that’s a stupid thing to be sorry for, and if she should apologize for anything it’s doing something that would remove her from his life.

Yeah…what’s the plot of the second book again? Edward dumps Bella and leaves Forks, never to return, for the sake of her safety. What Bella did was done under the (stupid, mistaken) belief that what she was doing was also for the safety of a loved one. What’s the message? That as the man Edward knows what he’s doing and Bella doesn’t? Except without him around to supervise her, Bella starts treating her life like some kind of easily-replaced household item even more than she does by going out with a vampire. So yeah, both of our leads are unlikable idiots.

5. They talk some about what happened to James. “Emmett and Jasper took care of him.” The dudes handled that, of course. When Bella happens to mention Alice and Carlisle’s names, Edward puts in, “They love you, too, you know.” Why? Because Meyer says so, that’s why.

Alice also saw the video where James explained to Bella that he’d hunted her before, which is mentioned to give some closure to a subplot that was barely worth mentioning in the first place. “She was always in the dark, that’s why she didn’t remember.” There’s no indication what that means, but as I said the stories of the vampire kids never interested me much. There isn’t a whole lot indicating they interested Meyer either, specially on account of that "memories fade" rigamarole that doesn't seem to affect vampires who aren't teenagers.

6. There’s a bit about Bella not liking needles that Edward uses to make some kind of contrast to how she doesn’t mind hanging out with vampires but gets grossed out by the everyday stuff. Because that had in no way been established anywhere in the previous 460 pages and doesn’t feel like Meyer’s treading water to get this thing up to a certain page number.

Edward adds the rest of her cover story, that he and his family had come to Phoenix to talk Bella into coming home--because families do that when teenage infatuations don’t pan out--making a point that he was there with parental supervision. So that’s seriously  their story. Wow.

Alice had a lot of fun making it look like Bella really had fallen down the stairs at the hotel, and Bella could probably sue them if she wanted. Bella doesn’t notice anything of the sort, but why do I get the feeling Edward was amused by the possibility?

7. Bella’s mom comes in and Edward pretends to be asleep while they talk. Bella’s mom asks, “He never leaves, does he?” Since she thinks he chased Bella across the country to convince her to move back to Forks…probably not! Can tell where Bella got that razor-sharp intellect of hers…

She’s been told the story, right?

8. Maybe not, as next mom tells Bella her new husband got signed after all and can come live with them and Bella has to make up some BS protests that she likes it in Forks after all and has friends there and Charlie can’t take care of himself even though he’d managed just fine for the years she spent in Phoenix. Bella’s been a morose little whiner girl for so long it takes some doing, and I have no trouble imagining Edward was having a grand old time listening to Bella try to make her case.

Mom doesn’t take long to figure out the real reason is Edward, which Bella confirms while thinking, “No need to confess how big a part” (read: the only) reason she has for wanting to live in Forks. Mom shares her thoughts that Edward’s in love with Bella, who replies she thinks she feels the same. Because we need to have this relationship validated even further, but still without anything except people’s say-so for the depth of their love. Check out this one line, “that sounded like something a teenager with her first boyfriend might say.” She has to fake being subdued but what she has with Edward is so much more, isn’t it?

Bella, however, would rather not be having this conversation with her mom. Don’t know why. It’s not as if there’s anything bad about Edward to find out, or like she really cares about getting her parents’ approval. Edward might want her father’s blessing, but try and tell me Bella cares. At least as of this chapter.

9. Bella’s Mom: “I’ll be back soon. I’ve been sleeping here, you know.”
Bella: “Oh, Mom, you don’t have to do that! You can sleep at home! I’ll never notice!”

Translation: “Go away, Mom! I’m smarter than the people who brought me up, just like every teenager! It’s cute that Edward breaks into my bedroom!”

Bella’s never going to go through this; her daughter will practically raise herself. She’ll never need to worry about what’s wrong with her child, if she’s teaching her the right things, if her daughter’s seeing someone who isn’t right for her, or having to detach herself from Edward’s hip because her child needs something in the middle of the night. Just knowing that, even if she doesn’t at this point, makes her even more unlikable when she tries to get rid of her worried parents. Sorry for trying to be a good caregiver, a responsibility that’ll never be asked of you. You Sue.

Somehow I don’t think they let you sleep at a hospital unless you’re a patient. Especially when the person you’re there to see has serious but non-lethal injuries like Bella. No, “the Cullens greased some palms” isn’t an acceptable explanation.

Good lord, why are there still 11 pages of this chapter when it’s all Bella lying in bed?? Because this is Twilight, and that’s what Twilight is: endless stretches of boring as sin dialogue that tell us what to think but show something very, very different. That the worst example shows up right at the end is no surprise.

10. Bella’s mom leaves, and as she does she delivers the random news that someone torched the dance studio where she went a few weeks as a kid and left a stolen car outside.

As if there was any doubt, once they’re alone Edward confirms that was them. “He smiled, unrepentant,” of course. Why the hell should it bother him that they destroyed someone’s livelihood and stole a car when Bella’s party had driven to Phoenix in the first place? Was either of those acts really necessary? Is there some reason Carlisle couldn’t have mopped up the blood in the studio while the others went to burn James’s bits somewhere isolated? The way they did it most people will probably think there’s a deranged criminal around anyway, setting random buildings on fire. In my version, people would just think somebody vandalized the studio. The owner would have to get a better lock and maybe some burglar bars, but not a whole new damn building. Then again, it would've also required the Cullens to actually do a careful job.

The problem is I don’t really see why burning a vampire’s remains is such an integral part of making sure they’re dead, considering the first step is ripping them limb from limb. Are a vampire’s dismembered limbs still alive until immolated? I’m thinking of the scene in New Moon, the movie, where they show a vampire getting his head and arms ripped off. It’s hard to imagine James being a threat anymore if that’s what they did to him. It wasn't as vivid in the movie of this book, but still, they ripped James apart. Is that not final? I don't know, because Meyer doesn't think it's worth explaining.

The Twilight wiki only has this to say on the matter: "In the Twilight universe, vampires are not known to be killed by human effort, are unharmed by sun, garlic, holy water, silver, wooden stakes, and can enter homes without permission. The only known way to kill a vampire is to to dismember his or her body and burn the remains. Thus their weakness is the strength of their kind and fire"

But Meyer doesn't explain that in this book. Despite having an evil vampire as the climax, how vampires are killed in her books isn't really explained, let alone something like how their parts are still animate and they could put themselves back together if they aren't burnt completely to ash. Burning down the whole building seems like serious fncking overkill.

11. At any rate Edward has this to say about her choice of where to live: “I’m surprised. I thought Florida…and your mother…well, I thought that’s what you would want.” I know he can’t see into her mind like I can, but how clueless can you get? I won’t bore you with another rant on how he’s her reason for existing as much as she’s his, but God almighty is Meyer using this chapter to remind us of every stupid fixture of the book like she’s got no faith in her readers?

12. Looks that way, since Edward goes on that if she lived in Florida he’d stay in Forks so she wouldn’t be exposed to danger via their association again. If you guessed Bella still wants him around despite this little escapade, congratulations, you’ve almost made it to the end of Twilight.

They discuss this some more (“I’m the reason that you’re here,” “The reason I’m here -- alive”), but you know what? She’s the reason she’s there. She’s extremely lucky Edward’s the reason she’ll be in a cast for a while instead of a coffin after the extremely thoughtless thing she did. I can’t duck the feeling she subconsciously did what James said in the hopes that if she survived, it would prove to Edward she needs him around to keep her safe.

13. What’s next on our list of unnecessary reminders? Edward telling us for the nineteen-billionth time he gets the urge to drink Bella’s blood himself and he had to fight the urge to feed when he was sucking the venom out (“But you didn’t,” “I could have. So easily”).

He didn’t, and he won’t, and maybe it’s time to stop tossing out the baloney warnings. They won’t, of course. Meyer even made it the kickoff for the next book.

She asks why he sucked out the venom when it could’ve meant they’d be together forever. I already answered that, but maybe it’s also got something to do with how Bella gets so sick she can’t even stand up around exposed blood. Imagine that problem magnified by having a vampire’s super-acute senses. No, I don’t really see how her aversion would be magically fixed by eating that instead of food. Generally speaking, it’s bad practice for a writer to ignore things once they’re no longer useful to the narrative.

She even tries to convince Edward that if she was a vampire maybe she could save him sometimes: “I’ll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships. But it just seems logical…a man and woman have to be somewhat equal…as in, one of us them can’t always be swooping in and save the other one. They have to save each other equally.”

That’s just funny because she obviously doesn’t mean a word of it. When Edward treats her like a sexist bastard who hasn’t done anything to update his attitude over the decades, she might get a little annoyed but never considers the possibility maybe he really isn’t worth all this.

They argue a little more, Edward saying “You have saved me” but not elaborating. She says he’s the only thing in her life it would hurt her to lose, which makes you question her willingness to do anything to save her mom. He says “It’s possible to take bravery to the point where it becomes insanity,” not realizing they crossed that line a long time ago. He reminds her of her parents and she says they’ll have to learn to live their lives without her at some point. Different stance for a different argument, huh? She even mocks him a little for thinking that becoming a vampire is a bad thing, and compares it to someone regretting they won the lottery.

Know what? Shut up, you stupid know-nothing bimbo. I’m not in favor of Edward angsting over his condition (especially not right after he says he doesn’t regret Carlisle making the decision to change him), but she’s talking about something she has no understanding about whatsoever. Becoming a different species isn’t like trying a new hairstyle. Then again, this is an inept series where the downsides of being a vampire are either phased out completely or never made out to be very believable dangers. How many times do we actually see a veggie vampire give into bloodlust and threaten a person’s life in all four books? Not hear about, see for ourselves. One that I remember.

14. Bella isn’t ready to give up, and for some reason tells Edward as much. “If you think that’s the end, then you don’t know me very well.” No he doesn’t, and I must once again ask why they’re so sure this is the real thing.

Bella figures the reason Edward’s so uncomfortable is Alice has already seen that Bella’s going to become a vampire and he doesn’t want that for her. “You’ll never catch me betting against Alice,” Bella challenges. I know we saw her having visions of where major stuff would go down, but even if they were accurate this time, all she saw were rooms. Plus it took someone else to make sense of them. She also didn’t catch what the VCR was for. I still don’t see what all the fuss is about.

15. The nurse comes in to give Bella some meds, and there’s some more cheesy banter. She’s still afraid if she closes her eyes for too long, she’ll wake up and Edward won’t be there anymore. Isn’t that an entertaining idea, that these books are nothing but the fantasies of a deluded emo girl.

He tries to assure her that one of the nice things about being human is things change, with Bella firing back with “Don’t hold your breath.” The sad thing is this is one of the few times Bella gets to be right, and Meyer evidently supports her.

As she goes under Bella says she’s still betting on Alice. Not so much because it means supporting the only person in the family who genuinely seems to like her as much as it’s because it’s the outcome she, Bella, wants. Ain’t she lovable.

16. By the way yes, they're completely forgetting about the other dangerous vampire, Victoria. Meyer really wasn't ready to have villains in her stuff.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Zork 2: The Malifestro Quest

All is not well in suburbia!

It’s been a while since Bill and June helped their “uncle” Syovar save the magical realm of Zork from evil and returned to their humdrum lives in Anytown, USA. After sharing a nightmare about Syovar being tortured, however, the kids decide to use the magic ring their beloved “uncle” gave them to warp back to Zork. Once they’ve arrived and turned back into Bivotar and Juranda, they find out from a pair of annoying elves that a brand new all-powerful evil wizard, Malifestro, has kidnapped Syovar. The knights who went to save him haven’t returned and without them Zork is overrun with thieves and bureaucrats. Sounds like a job for a pair of adventure gamers!

Unlike the first book in the series, which was memorable mainly for its mechanics, the experience of reading through The Malifestro Quest is likely to stick with you for a while after reading it. Mind you, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Perhaps the most memorable things are Max and Fred, the elves. Why was everything in the 80’s produced for kids so convinced that having a cutesy but useless sidekick or two would make it more appealing? Listening to those two short people argue isn’t cute or amusing. Lucky for us, Meretzky seemed to realize how endearing Max and Fred actually were, and shortly after the adventure proper begins, they’re ditched until almost the end of the book.

Just who I want at my side on a harrowing quest.

Speaking of the beginning of the adventure, the first choice isn’t whether to accept the quest or not. No, the author held off on that until the second choice, and choosing wrong at the first one will just get our heroes sent off this mortal coil that much sooner. And if having another "do you go on the adventure" choice wasn't bad enough (it was) there’s a choice regarding whether to bail out, ignoring all the dangers you already passed, or continue the quest when you finally get within striking distance of Malifestro’s castle. Thank you kindly Mr. Meretzky, but if we get bored we can just close the book and put it away without you giving us the option.

What really makes the book more memorable than The Forces of Krill is that a sense of humor is much more in evidence. For one thing, Bivotar decides to grab a book on exorcism just on the hunch that it might come in handy, sounding exactly like someone playing an adventure game. In one ending he also learns the hard way that these games want you to take the intellectual path whenever one presents itself.

Watch out! A kid with a weapon he can barely lift!

You’ll meet Walter Smith, Cyclops. And there really is a dangerous bureaucrat in this book, no fooling.

The book’s still pretty simple and won’t pose any great challenge to people who remember the adventure gamer’s credo of investigate everything and take everything that’s not nailed down. Especially as the do-over feature is in place again and will be for the rest of the series. There isn’t even a cheater trap that doesn’t let you try again.

The Malifestro Quest is without a doubt a better book than its predecessor, but not quite enough to move up to the next level. It is, however, probably the only Zork book where you’ll die on purpose a few times looking for another humorous ending.