Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Moon Chapter 8: Adrenaline

1. Jacob’s fears and Bella’s anger at Sam are forgotten as Jacob tries to give the girl her first lesson at riding a motorcycle. I admit I’m not that familiar with motorcycles myself, but I get the feeling Meyer copied down Jacob’s instructions from somebody at the nearest Harley Davidson dealer.

Bella’s about as assured as I am: “ ‘That doesn’t sound right,’ I said suspiciously.” Doesn’t she trust anyone? Least of all Jacob? She did get all PO’d at the idea that he’d be forced into Sam’s gang, right?

2. Bella tries to get over her fear of riding a motorcycle: “I’d already lived through the worst thing possible. In comparison with that, why should anything frighten me now? I should be able to look death in the face and laugh.”

Wasn’t that what she was supposedly doing by going out with a natural predator in the first place? And maybe she’s lived through it, but she’s not over it. She drove to the Cullens’ house but ran away because the memories were too painful, remember?

3. Jacob: “Are you sure you want to do this? You look scared.”
Bella: “I’m fine,” I snapped.

Screw you, Bella. He’s just trying to help, and this was your (ill-advised, but aren’t they all?) idea. How appropriate the way Jacob describes the importance of holding down the clutch until she’s ready: he tells her it’s like holding down the spoon of a live grenade.

Skimming over this chapter to write the review, I noticed something. Rather, that it didn’t say anything about something. There's this line: "There was wind that wasn't there before, blowing my skin against my skull and flinging my hair back behind me with enough force that it felt like someone was tugging on it." Is Bella riding a motorcycle for the first time without a helmet?

Guess so.

Jacob, the boyfriend who sees her as a human being, permitted this how?

4. Being on a machine she can barely control serves to make Bella hallucinate Edward telling her to stop being an idiot again. “The sheer beauty of it amazed me. I couldn’t allow my memory to lose it, no matter the price.” Okay, it’s official. Bella’s insane. And if the only thing keeping her from being insane is Edward, that’s even worse. And this is when she figures out it’s “adrenaline plus danger plus stupidity,” not déjà vu, that triggers the hallucinations.

Her first crush didn’t work out so she’s playing with death because it’s the only way to hang onto the memory. This isn’t cute anymore. She’s disturbed, and no reader should be supportive of the lengths she goes to to hang onto her Love-In-Name-Only.

5. She crashes because her stupid idea worked and she’s not paying attention to where she’s going. Jacob tells her she’s bleeding from her forehead. She apologizes, and Jacob asks her why in the heck she’s apologizing for bleeding. Exactly. It’s not like she sliced her finger on wrapping paper on purpose. Is it?

I will concede Meyer seems to be paying attention to Bella’s adverse reaction to exposed blood this one time: “I could smell nothing but the damp moss on my face, and that held off the nausea.”

Or maybe not since Jacob pulls off his shirt, “already spotted with blood,” to let Bella use it to stop the bleeding. Yeah, the rampant shirtlessness is in the book, too. He’s still like that when he takes her to the ER.

6. As Jacob rides back to get the truck, Bella marvels at how “athletic and professional” he was…I was sure I hadn’t looked like that on my motorcycle.” Considering it was your first time ever and you were letting yourself be distracted by visions of Edward, probably not.

7. Yeah, Bella can go fork herself (I believe I just made a funny): “I really didn’t feel bad at all as he coaxed my truck to a deafening roar in his hurry to get back to me. My head stung a little, and my stomach was uneasy, but the cut wasn’t serious. Head wounds just bled more than most. His urgency wasn’t necessary.”

Has she had a lot of head wounds then? That would explain a lot. Look, head wounds are too a big deal. Your brain’s in there, and it doesn’t grow back if something happens to it.

8. Bella tries to talk Jacob out of taking her to the ER, saying “I’m an easy bleeder.” Once again I must remind people of the issue with Bella being unable to stand around exposed blood. Is that different if it’s her own? You’d have to think so if she’s indeed “an easy bleeder.” Was that just a fabrication to get Jacob to calm down when it should probably magnify his concerns instead of lessen them? Is she lying to him too?

When she gets home and washes the detritus off herself, Bella was “pretending the blood was paint so it wouldn’t upset my stomach.” Did Meyer just forget how severe a problem that is for Bella?

9. Bella, of course, is ecstatic that she’s found the key to the hallucinations and plans to verify her findings as soon as she can. And she continues to be so melodramatic she thinks of the time Edward gave her a piggyback ride through the woods as “a past life.”

10. After getting cleaned up Bella drinks in Jacob’s appearance. He “really did look older than sixteen--not quite forty, but maybe older than me.” Oh good, that idiotic age game returns.

More than that, she asks him, “Did you know, you’re sort of beautiful?” And she’s still exploiting him the way she does everyone else, eh?

11. Bella does in fact have to get seven stitches in the gash in her forehead. “Jacob held my hand while Dr. Snow was sewing, and I tried not to think about why that was ironic.” Yeah, don’t explain things to your adoring fans, Meyer. You’ve so got something the romance writers of years past didn’t. She's probably talking about how Edward left while she was getting stitches before, but if that's so why is she trying not to think about it, yet so glad she's found out what the trigger for her delusions might be?

Herr Doktor calls her dad and warns him to take steps to make sure she doesn’t have a concussion, and Bella’s anxious that Charlie not, you know, express any concern for his daughter’s safety so she doesn’t *wink wink* fall down in Jacob’s garage again. After all, “I’d had the most amazing hallucination today. My velvet-voiced delusion had yelled at me for almost five minutes before I’d hit the brake too abruptly and launched myself into the tree. I’d take whatever pain that would cause me without complaint.”

“Charlie’s getting nosy,” indeed.

12. With Charlie not putting his foot down yet, Jacob promises to do “What ever you want.” Meyer’s writing, not mine.

What does Bella do with a nice, good-looking guy giving her carte blanche like that? Has him help her find the clearing where Edward revealed his sparkles (why? I thought the recipe for a delusion was adrenaline plus danger plus stupidity). Even though “it might be dangerously painful.” Even though there’s word going around about a bear eating hikers.

Jacob’s dad hears about their plans to go hiking and rather than trying to put a stop to it like Charlie would, he laughs and says maybe they should take some honey in case they run into the bear. Gee, could this mean anything? Does Meyer really think she needs to spend four chapters getting to the explanation? I wouldn’t mind if something else was actually going on to fill the time besides Bella being an insane twat. For such long books, so little happens in them.

Anyway, “Charlie was not a hard person to live with, but it looked to me like Jacob had it easier than I did.” There’s only problems when Bella wants to casually endanger her life and deepen her own sickness. Other than that, Charlie’s easy to live with.

13. They begin an organized search, Jacob whistling “an unfamiliar tune.” It’s been intimated Bella has an interest in music, but that was only brought up for the sake of conversation with Edward and pretty much forgotten as soon as the next one began. I’m not terribly surprised she doesn’t recognize a piece of music.

Anyway Jacob really is intelligent about their search (I hate to play the race card but it’s not like Meyer’s shown herself to be too mature for that kind of thing). Bella thinks about complimenting him, “but I caught myself. No doubt he’d add another few years to his inflated age.” Is she tired of that little game, or is she just a bitch? The evidence is a lot more compelling for the second possibility.

But because what they’ve got to go on is so vague they don’t find the clearing on the first day. Jacob remarks Bella’s kind of slow, and she reacts: “I yanked my hand back and stomped around to the driver’s side while he chuckled at my reaction.” That sounds oddly familiar.

He asks her if she wants to try again the next day, and born-thirty-five Bella answers “Sure. Unless you want to go without me so I don’t slow you down to my gimpy pace.” If she’s supposed to be a huffy teenager with no concept of reality I’d be okay with that (well, more okay), but that’s not what the other characters would have me believe.

14. Jacob brings up the bear and his disappointment at not seeing it (got my sympathies there. Who wants to spend all day walking around the woods with Bella?). Bella sarcastically says maybe it’ll eat them next time, and Jacob jokingly counters people don’t taste good. “Of course, you might be an exception. I bet you’d taste good.”

Just so you don’t miss the symbolism, Bella points out “He wasn’t the first person to tell me that.” Yes Miss Swan, we get it. You’re an empty wreck after the person who used to tell you that removed themselves from your life. And if there’d been any discernible reason for you to be receptive of that person’s attentions besides their hotness, I might be a little more charitable for your loss. And by “a little more” I of course mean “at all.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Enemies At Large!

While I thought Into the Sub-Realm had the potential to be an extremely difficult adventure, one thing in its favor was having some pretty cool villains. So, a villains book from the same guys had a lot of potential.

After kicking things off with some mock taunts at Ken Cliffe over his own villain sourcebook, Super-Crooks and Criminals, including that their monstrously strong brute could beat his monstrously strong brute (you wrote down a higher number for a statistic. Congratulations), we get the standard 30 new characters. Understand that as I say that, there’s rarely such thing as a “standard” V&V character. Unlike say Champions or Mutants and Masterminds this game never dealt in character archetypes, which usually lead to truly creative characters more often than the ones you saw in sourcebooks for those other superhero RPGs.

I’ll just come right out and say the most creative character this time around was easily Sien-Sun, or “Slim” thanks to the downside of his powers. He’s a one-armed martial artist who tries to avoid relying on his powers, but he often finds himself having to use his power to shoot energy balls that consume his body mass to use, resulting in him getting a little skinnier with each use. You’d think he’d be training his hand-to-hand accuracy or something instead of his accuracy with his energy balls if that’s the case.

Beyond him, this book also contains something I thought V&V had been sorely lacking for a long time: comedic villains (maybe sometime I’ll put up the characters I invented myself to fill that gap). There’s only the two, Billy the Kidder, who has the power to make you laugh and the more interesting The Trick (who has minor magic that’s annoying rather than destructive, the power to make things go wrong, and a pet blob), but they finally fill a void within the game’s premade material. I was a little confused by a third villain they work with sometimes who seems intended to be a kind of “lethal joke” villain. Confused because there’s really nothing humorous about the character, powers or personality-wise. Other than the fact that he’s a foot-tall toy robot THAT CAN KILL YOU I guess.

The other characters in Enemies At Large range from the interesting (like Mr. Midas, Ranger 423rd , the villains named after rivers in the underworld, and the bug-themed villain team), to the mediocre (maybe Gargan could beat Terra-Rizer, but his powers are a lot more pedestrian), to the just plain boring (like Rhonda, who isn’t even named Rhonda). And there’s just something cheesy about two roster books in a row that have matador-themed characters. Even if the one in this book has a much more interesting background and set of powers.

The art by Patrick Zircher is good, managing to make most of the characters distinct and memorable. Some of it’s retooled, though, and the art for Mr. Midas, Old Yeller and Twister at least will look familiar to anyone who’s thumbed through a copy of Classic Organizations for the Champions game.

This is overall a nice selection of villains to add to a V&V campaign, though, more than worth $4 for the download. The selection is good more often than it isn’t, and it really did feel like the authors were going that extra mile. For instance, a page is given over to the villains Mr. Midas usually hires as muscle, ones that aren’t part of the other 30, instead of just saying which of the main selection he hires most often. So it’s more like a book of 39 villains. Likewise there's the Cluster, the aformentioned team of insect-based villains, whose regular membership is provided in the book but is also a temporary home of sorts for various other similar villains. So if you want an excuse to reuse a villain like Cicada from FORCE, there you go.

Extras-wise, Enemies At Large comes off worse than Vigilantes International, what with the only bonus material being characters the authors had played in their own V&V campaigns once upon a time. With their secret origins left out, that is. If the characters’ ages are representative of when the authors played them, that’s probably for the best. They do have some interesting and unusual powers, and a creative GM could get some use out of them. They just don’t feel like much of a neat add-on to a roster book, where you just bought a bunch of NPCs anyway.

And where exactly can I read The Menagerie, anyway?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Moon Chapter 7: Repetition

1. Oh boy, like we don’t get enough of that already.

2. Things open on Bella being unsure what the hell she was doing…somewhere and thinking she should have gone straight to La Push. “This was not a healthy thing to do.” Neither was going out with someone who constantly warned her he and everyone in his family would be fighting a subconscious urge to kill her. When was doing the healthy thing ever a concern of hers?

What’s she talking about? Driving out to the Cullens’ empty house to prove to herself it really is there and all the time she spent with he-who-cannot-be-named really happened. I don’t get that either; she refuses to use his name but goes to lengths even she admits are unhealthy to strengthen her memories of Edward. She describes this as a “fool’s errand,” and “mentally unsound.” Is this finally an admission that the character whose story we’re supposed to follow, whose problems we’re meant to hope they overcome, is both stupid and crazy? Not that this is the first time implying that, but is Meyer just coming out and saying it now?

3. The way the last chapter ended, with Bella realizing it’s been a whole year since she started at Forks High and not much has changed, led to “The feeling that I was starting over--perhaps the way my first day would have gone if I’d really been the most unusual person in the cafeteria that afternoon.”

By which she means how everyone ignored her in the lunch room until she made an effort to include herself, I think. I think, because in the last book Bella was given the unconditional admiration of numerous people like a proper Sue the minute she stepped onto the grounds. Is Meyer trying to pretend that didn’t happen?

I suppose Bella figures she wasn’t “the most unusual person in the cafeteria that afternoon” by dint of there being five vampires there, but because everyone in fake Forks is a moron they pretty much ignored the Cullens despite Meyer doing everything possible to make them stand out. As someone nobody knew, and the self-insert of a bad writer besides, Bella probably seemed a lot more unusual to the students of Forks High than those creepy pale kids they’d all learned to ignore a long time ago.

4. After driving around thinking she might never find the place, Bella does find the Cullens’ abandoned house. After thinking “The lane was so overgrown that it did not look familiar.” Really? Did she go there a lot? Did she pay any appreciable attention to anything about the visit besides Edward when she did? Besides, she’s talking about the road there, and the way it was described Bella sounded like she had a hard time recognizing where they were going, so why would anything look familiar? Gah, I’m only on the third page and this is my third rant!

She goes up to the house but there was no “lingering sense of their presence…of his presence.” Well, no. It’s a house that’s been abandoned for months, and she doesn’t even go inside because she’s afraid it’ll have an even worse effect on her if everything’s still there but the Cullens. Which would be pretty stupid on their part what with Edward explaining there was a couple centuries of history in there, and that because the people who lived there had a couple centuries of history themselves. Wouldn’t be the first time I accused them of being shit at covering their tracks, though.

5. She gets back in her truck and flees to La Push, whereupon meeting with Jacob again she asks “You seriously aren’t sick of me yet?” I was sick of you after about five pages, Bells. But seriously, I don’t see why we should like Edward. She had this problem with being down on herself before they met and if anything, he made it worse with all the reinforcing he did. Instead of maybe helping her fix her problems like the ultimate loving boyfriend with access to basically unlimited amounts of money for therapy might.

Jacob says if he had any brains he’d make fixing the motorcycles take longer on purpose. Bella seriously asks why, and Jacob practically has to hit her over the head and explain that, for reasons unknown, he enjoys just hanging out with her. You know Meyer, there’s a difference between making a character modest and just plain dumb. Is this the “anti-human” stuff? Would this not happen if Bella was some kind of supernatural freak? I’m sorry humans aren’t as appealing to you as made-up creatures, Meyer. And the ones in your books are ones you pretty much made up all on your own, so I feel even less sympathy for your "anti-human" stance when you're prejudiced in favor of creatures you invented yourself. Whether this is the "anti-human" stuff or not.

6. Bella gets even more lovable when “I made a gesture indicating the two of us as a single entity.” SDT, Meyer! What gesture?!!

They toast with soda to be responsible sometimes, meaning they spend a few days on the bikes but a few days doing homework so their dads don’t give them hell, but with Bella emphasizing her desire for recklessness.

7. Things settle down a little. Bella gets home to find out Charlie ordered a pizza “rather than wait for me. He wouldn’t let me apologize.” Maybe he can’t cook his own meals, but he can survive on his own. Can we please stop bringing up all the “Charlie needs Bella” crap? Especially when he’s grateful just to receive a degree of normalcy from her? “I knew he was just relieved that I was still acting like a normal person, and he was not about to rock the boat.”

Some people were more welcoming of Bella back into their lives than others. “Angela and Mike seemed ready to welcome me back with open arms--to kindly overlook my few months of aberrant behavior.” I still don’t see how ignoring them was that different from how she acted before. “Jess was more resistant. I wondered if she needed a formal written apology for the Port Angeles incident.” Because it’s not like Bella tried to initiate contact with a total stranger who might have once tried to rape her or anything.

Mike even starts hitting on Bella again, which she gently resists because “I didn’t want to screw things up with Mike, not when he was one of the only people ready to forgive me for being crazy.” Are you saying you stopped being crazy? Or that those four months were the only ones where you were crazy?

“I’d come full circle, and now everything felt like an echo--an empty echo, devoid of the interest it used to have.” Gee, does Bella feel like something’s missing with the Cullens gone? Wow, that revelation comes right out of left field!

When Bella has Jacob over to do study-buddy stuff, Charlie isn’t surprised, “so I guessed that he and Billy were talking behind our backs.” What happened to just glad to see his daughter acting normal? Like having contact with other human beings? The next time she goes to see Jacob she runs past Charlie, going so fast she thinks she hears him say “Where’s the fire?”

8. Jacob finished fixing up the bikes and on the way to try them out somewhere secluded, and on the way they see a bunch of guys on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The one front in front jumps off and Bella panics and assumes he’s just jumped to his doom. That’s why these books are so popular, because the character telling the story automatically assumes the worst about everything. Jacob, a bit mockingly and deservingly so, explains the guys are cliff diving.

Upon hearing that it’s kind of scary, Bella demands that Jacob take her diving sometime. He points out “you just wanted me to call an ambulance for Sam.” She notes “I was surprised that he could tell who it was from this distance.” Which is about the most awkward way Meyer’s tried to give a secondary character attention yet.

Sam’s sort of the head of a gang out in La Push, it seems, but Jacob describes them as “hall monitors gone bad.” You see, “There was this guy from somewhere up by the Makah rez, big guy too, scary-looking. Well, word got around that he was selling meth to kids, and Sam Uley and his disciples ran him off our land. They’re all about our land, and tribe pride…it’s getting ridiculous.” How dare they take pride in their heritage and object to people selling meth to kids?!?

Sam Uley, who if you can remember is the guy who found Bella in the woods after Edward dumped her, runs this “gang” which just sort of hangs around acting like a lot of brooding tough guys. Jacob is kind of put off by them because ordinary-seeming guys from around La Push just suddenly join his group sometimes and start acting like brooding tough guys too. Gee, wonder where this is going…

9. “It was quiet for a brief minute.”

10. They get to where Jacob’s going to teach Bella how to ride. “The bike suddenly looked intimidating, frightening, as I realized I would soon be astride it.” Isn’t that the point? I mean, when has Bella ever backed down from a bad idea?

Jacob’s mind is elsewhere, though because Meyer evidently thought she wasn’t obvious enought with the foreshadowing about Sam Uley’s gang. They recently converted one of Jacob’s friends from before (Embry, if you care) and Jacob thinks they have their eye on him to join too. Leading Bella to say this: “ ‘You don’t have to join anything.’ My voice was angry.” When did her attitude on this change? The “good vampires,” especially the one who she was planning to couple up with, treated her more like a doll and did things irrespective of her wishes all the time. And it only mildly annoyed her before she  realized she couldn’t win and gave up.

Is this character development? Is being around a pleasant person improving her confidence? Is she just desperate to keep her monopoly on Jacob’s attention? She says she’s mad because of the way the gang’s treating Jacob, and I’d like to believe there’s hope even for Bella Swan, but I’m not ready to pass judgment after one measly scene where she actually seems concerned for another person.

11. Bella notes how strange this is for her. “I didn’t normally relate to people so easily, on such a basic level. Not human beings.” Isn’t that kind of a tipoff? Once again, the “cold ones” legend was true, why not the “tribe descended from wolves” one? Then again, when exactly did we see her “relate” to the Cullens? I hesitate to call what she did with Edward relating, and with how Meyer’s still taking forever to go anywhere significant in her second book I still don’t see why some space couldn’t have been given over to that.

I have no idea what these sentences are meant to imply: “His fingers touched my hair, soft and tentative. Well, it was friendship for me.”

12. Jacob remarks Bella looks like a porcelain doll, and the only people he’s ever seen who were paler were the Cullens (although he doesn’t actually finish the sentence).

“I looked away, trying to not understand what he had been about to say.” Despite the fact that “His unfinished sentence reminded me of why I was here.”

Do you want to think about Edward or not, girl?!? By setting out to break her promise to him, it seems to me she's thinking about him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Moon Chapter 6: Friends

1. Last time on Never Mind, I mean New Moon, Bella sweet-talked one of the guys inexplicably squirming for her attention into fixing up a pair of motorcycles for free and teaching her to ride. Because engaging in life-threatening activities causes her to hear Edward’s voice warning her not to do that stuff. However, this particular squirming guy is actually worth remembering because he’s Jacob Black.

Currently, work secretly continues on the bikes, which Jake keeps out in his shed. There’s no need for any further protective measures, because Jacob’s dad can’t cross the uneven patch of ground between the house and the shed on his wheelchair. Yeah, you exploit those weaknesses of the disabled, spunky protagonists!

As he works Jacob tells Bella some stuff about his school and the people he knows, which she briefly summarizes for us instead of passing it on to us so a major character can actually get some background.

2. One thing, or rather two things mentioned in this conversation are two of Jacob’s friends, Quil and Embry. Oh good, more extremely minor characters with unusual names.

The way they’re mentioned is Bella’s summing up Jacob’s description of his average day at school, and then mentions “his two best friends.”  Prompting Bella to actually start relating the dialogue:

“ ‘Quil and Embry?’ I interrupted. ‘Those are unusual names.’ ”

I wouldn’t really mind a transition like that if it was done by a writer who doesn’t seem to have an inexplicable aversion to giving us background on the main characters. Especially if that writer doesn’t frankly waste their space the way Stephenie Meyer does, spending forever on nothing and acting like something’s a mystery when anyone who was paying attention can see the major revelations coming a mile away.

Quil and Embry happen to come along then and talk to Jacob. I love Bella’s observation of the two: “I still didn’t know which was which.” It makes about as much difference to the plot, too.

3. Jacob explains that “Bella and I are going to fix up these bikes,” and the topic shifts to that. “Many of the words they used were unfamiliar to me, and I figured I’d have to a Y chromosome to really understand the excitement.” Because there’s no such thing as female mechanics or female motorcycle enthusiasts in Bella’s mind. Actually, that doesn’t surprise me. And no, that line had nothing to do with the creation of Kamen Rider Tarock.

Jacob breaks it up to ask Bella “We’re boring you, aren’t we?” She replies in the negative, even noting to herself “I was enjoying myself.” Does she even know what that feels like? Most of the time she seems miserable because of one thing or another (sometimes even a conscious effort on her part), and the only times she hasn’t, it was supposedly due to the presence of an arrogant slime who treated her more like a pet than the soul mate he’d waited a century to meet. Unless that’s what she means, listening to a bunch of guys as they ignore her and discuss something she doesn’t understand.

4. Anyway, the other guys (their identities are really about as inconsequential as those of Bella’s “friends”) whoop because Jacob’s hanging out with a girl as awesome as Bella. He threatens them to stay off his property the next day while Bella’s over, and Bella realizes “I was laughing, actually laughing, and there wasn’t even anyone watching.” Given how the sounds from inside the shed were “interspersed with an ‘ouch’ and a ‘hey!’ ” and all the evidence supporting the idea that Bella’s a cold-hearted manipulator, you have to wonder what prompted the mirth.

Once she goes home, though, all that joy drains from her and she prepares nightmares for that would “no doubt, be as horrific as last night.” Cripes, she’s worse than Arnold Rimmer.

To her surprise, she wakes up the next morning “without dreaming. Dreaming or screaming.” Because she has a hot guy to justify her existence again. No, seriously. She focused “on the fact that I was going to see Jacob again today. The though made me feel almost…hopeful.”

Not that this is an actual sign of growth on Bella’s part. That stuff’s for amateurs: “I wouldn’t trust this to last, either. Wouldn’t trust it to be the same--so easy--as yesterday. I wasn’t going to set myself up for disappointment like that.”

I’m sorry, but if your character dated someone for less than a year, no signs were given for the depth of their love but instead for the depth of their mutual annoyance, and the character is still doggedly sealing themselves off from what might be a source of fulfillment four months later, you know how that character seems? I’ll give you a hint, it’s none of the adjectives Edward threw her way before the baseball game.

Give up? The answer’s weak. And mopey, which is the one thing Bella’s convinced she isn’t.

5. The next day on the trip to La Push, “the rain came down like water slopped from a bucket.” Because not a lot of energy had been put into establishing Forks as a really rainy place. Like that being the main reason a bunch of sparkly vampires decided to try to blend into society there or anything.

While they’re waiting for Jacob’s dad to leave so they can go hunting for parts without tipping him off to anything, “Jacob took me on a brief tour of his tiny room while we waited to be unsupervised.” And that’s all Meyer thinks you need to know about that. Once Billy’s gone they decide to hit the dump first. In the pouring rain. I guess there aren’t many times it wouldn’t be in Forks, but being “in the slopping rain and ankle-deep mud” in a place full of rusty old metal doesn’t seem like something Jacob would suggest, what with him liking Bella and stuff.

During their excursion Bella realizes Jacob isn’t always watching her out of the corner of his eye waiting for her to do something crazy. He’s just a pleasant person who can get through the day without thinking the entire universe is out to get him. “Like an earthbound sun, whenever someone was within his gravitational pull, Jacob warmed them.” Maybe that’s why Bella’s so constantly miserable. She thinks of everything in the most cosmic/divine proportions possible, and only man-gods like Jacob and Edward could come close to satisfying her ridiculous expectations for happiness.

6. Another of Meyer’s endearing running gags shows up when Jacob mentions he thinks one of his friends likes Bella, and they start this cutesy game where they rate each other’s actual age based on various stupid little factors. It made it easier to accept Jacob’s change a few chapters later if it meant not having to hear anymore of this garbage.

7. Bella doesn’t lose sight of her goal, though. “I still wanted to cheat.” That’s just a weird way to use the word “cheat.” Cheating is being dishonest so it does apply to breaking promises, but when I hear it, it’s usually used to mean “seize an unfair advantage” or the act of infidelity. She’s not competing with anyone by learning to ride a motorcycle, and Edward broke off their relationship forever so she’s not cheating on him with Jacob no matter what she thinks. So it sounds weird even if it’s technically a correct usage.

“Getting to spend time with Jacob was just a much bigger perk than I’d expected.” Hanging out with a cute guy who really likes her is “a perk.” Ain’t she lovable?

8. I can’t figure Meyer out. Is Bella supposed to be as mature as somebody twice her age,  or a whiny “my life is so OVER!!” drama queen? Like where she says “Jacob smiled, enjoying the cloak-and-dagger.” Even the bookish types didn’t talk like that when I was in high school.

9. They get back to Jacob’s house to find his dad invited Charlie and a whole passel of other people whose names are thrown at us rapidfire in what I think is supposed to be the introductions of yet more minor characters we probably won’t remember by the time Meyer decides to have them show up and do something relevant. If she ever does. I said “Jacob mentions he thinks one of his friends likes Bella” like that for a reason.

More evidence Bella’s state of being truly is defined by the nature of the guy in her life, she gets into the party and doesn’t want to leave. Again, she’s sure it won’t last as soon as she gets home.

10. To stave off sleep Bella checks her email and finds one from her mom, whose new husband is enjoying his coaching job and they’re planning a second honeymoon. After a little more than a year of marriage?

“And I noticed that the whole thing read like a journal entry, rather than a letter to someone else.” I could say something similar about the way Bella describes things that might give us a better understanding of the people she talks about. The time with Jacob really is rubbing off on her because Bella realizes it’s like that because of how distant she’s been from her mom (the one she was prepared to die in place of, not to mention the one she planned to stay in contact with after becoming a sparkly freak, remember) and how worried it must’ve made said parent. She writes a really telling email of recent events back.

Continuing to avoid sleep, Bella does “more homework than strictly necessary.” After that thing with the two-word note from the last book, I remain unconvinced Meyer has any idea what that means. Also gotta love how thinking about hanging out with Jacob made her “almost happy in a shallow kind of way.” That’s our Bella to a T.

11. The next day at school Bella meets up with Jessica, who for some reason doesn’t want to talk to the very possibly disturbed asocial manipulative brat girl. “She looked at me with suspicious eyes. Could she still be angry? Or was she just too impatient to deal with a crazy person?” Bella, even your perfect marble idol of a boyfriend wasn’t patient enough to deal with you. Don’t try to make it sound like Jessica’s the one in the wrong for not wanting to put up with your shit.

12. Then lunch where Bella decides, for reasons unexplained (I’m still going with building friendly ties in case she needs them for anything), to try to reconnect with her mortal “friends,” including a few new ones who are even less worthy of your remembrance than the ones introduced in the last book.

Special mention goes out to Lauren, who you may vaguely remember as the jealous witch who badmouthed Bella a few times before. She got a new haircut and Bella finds herself wondering at the reason why. “Did she sell it? Had all the people she was habitually nasty to caught her behind the gym and scalped her?”…what the hell?? Did she sell it???! Bella, however, “decided it wasn’t fair for me to judge her now by my former opinion. For all I knew, she’d turned into a nice person.”

We’ve only seen her being nasty to Bella, who frankly deserves worse than what Lauren’s said about her. Maybe even deserves worse than what I’ve said about her. Please show us evidence Lauren’s nasty to other people, or at least that her ragging on Bella isn’t justified, Meyer. Because you’ve kind of shown us the opposite.

13. Bella tells us more things about the other kids that are so pointless it’s almost cute how Meyer soldiers on with this as if she thinks it’s not blindingly obvious none of it, let alone the characters, matters for anything.

Jessica asks how everyone’s weekend was, Bella intuiting “I’d bet that this was just an opener so she could tell her own stories.” Have I been missing something? Hasn’t the point of Bella’s last couple encounters with people from her circle of “friends” been that she’s even more out of touch with them than she was before? Don’t tell me she took an interest in them before. I’m not sure why she is now. Maybe it’s got something to do with contact with Jacob pulling her out of her self-pitying doldrums, but that feels wrong considering she’s still judging people as assholes and doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the problem was her, not them. Having a lying or deluded narrator doesn’t necessarily mean a book will be bad, but I don’t think that’s what Meyer intended Bella to sound like.

14. The topic of the giant bear people have seen comes out, prompting Lauren to snort “Oh, not you, too!” and prompting Bella to think “I decided I didn’t need to give her the benefit of the doubt. Obviously her personality had not changed as much as her hair.” Because of one remark. Our kind, mature, selfless heroine.

15. When Bella chips in that she’s heard the giant bear story too, it’s like a switch was thrown and everyone decided to pay attention to Bella again. With this, it's back to Bella being the center of the teenage universe, and this whole reconnecting with the normal kids deal feels like such a forced attempt to show Bella does too have problems she has to deal with it’s not even funny.

Bella doesn’t get anymore endearing when we find out why she asked Jessica to see a movie rather than another girl named Angela, who she admits she likes more (which is only believable on the grounds that we’ve never heard Bella say anything in regards to her opinion on Angela at all). The reason she asked Jess instead? “Angela was too perceptive,” and thus harder to fool, one must assume.

16. The chapter ends with Bella realizing it’s been a year and a day since her first day at Forks High. “ ‘Nothing’s changed much,’ Angela muttered.” Bella agrees: “I was just thinking the same thing.”

What was the point of the last 660 pages, then?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Vigilantes International

In my Danger in the Depths review, I mentioned that one of my favorite contributors to the Villains and Vigilantes game was Ken Cliffe. My favorite thing was the way he wrote each of his books as part of a cohesive universe. The connections between books might be little things, but they were there if you could spot them. Here, I respect him for penning something the game didn’t have before, which is a compendium of other good guys for your players to meet.

Villains & Vigilantes had sourcebooks that were collections of NPCs before (the earliest one was Stefan Jones’s Opponents Unlimited). However as their names implied (Most Wanted, Super-Crooks and Criminals, and the aforementioned Opponents Unlimited), they were collections of bad guys. In running most kinds of RPGs where the players are larger-than-life heroes, I’ve usually found it helped to immerse them in the game’s world by showing them there were others like them. It was nice to finally see a book like this where I could just pick out a likely character to inject into a particular setting when I wanted to have an NPC superhero show up, instead of having to make up one (let alone an entire team) from scratch. I love V&V, but making working characters can be time-consuming.

As usual, those little links to other works are there. We get to see the Red Raven mentioned briefly in Danger in the Depths, and one of the solos is the sister of murderzombie Samhain from Most Wanted 1, for example.

It goes without saying that the characters included run the gamut of creativity. One hero’s sealed inside a magic ring owned by a bunch of adolescent detectives who summon him for help when they get in over their heads, which is great. The not-really team made up of users of ancient objects of power was also an interesting idea, as was the reformed hood who gets his powers by being possessed by a ghost that he sometimes argues with. Then there’s the hero who’s dedicated to protecting…Antarctica. And is completely against using force to do so. Plus, it was excessive to have three characters who used “mask” in their names: the Mask of Midnight, the Masked Matador, and Masquerade.

Overall though, this is a useful book. Some of the characters come a little close to being cheap stereotypes, the Soviet Russian team especially (I get the feeling this was another book that’d been sitting around waiting to see publication since the 80’s), but nothing approaching European Enemies levels of lameness. Plus, the simple fact that it provided an assortment of premade NPC heroes and might lead to more books like this was a nice change of pace.

As for the extras, those were pretty good too. One of them was an archvillain called Anarch, and to say he’s a force to be reckoned with is an understatement. That he’s just an intermediary for someone even worse presents interesting possibilities for epic adventures involving Anarch. I also liked some of the new powers listed in this book, especially the luck-related and self-cloning ones.

The mini-adventure packed in wasn’t too bad, with some villains I’d find it fun to use in adventures of my own. However like most short adventures, it’s too, well, short to have really anything memorable about it beyond its villains.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Danger in the Depths

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

Perhaps because there was never much effort to connect its various sourcebooks into a cohesive universe, one thing that can be said about Villains & Vigilantes is the sheer amount of variety. There’ve been modules where the players fight ninjas, battle aboard a space station and the island stronghold of a mad scientist, journey to a medieval fantasy world and to the farthest reaches of outer space, even to the depths of Hell. There’s even one where the heroes are asked to battle evildoers at a comic convention. Yet for all that, I always felt the system was missing an adventure about a visit to Atlantis. Or at least a reasonable facsimile. Evidently it’s another one of those things they’d actually thought of a while ago, but didn’t get to publish until just recently.

One thing I liked about this adventure right out of the gate is it doesn’t start with the players hearing about some emergency or weird occurrence and checking things out. It starts with them already locked in battle with an evildoer. While the GM is of course free, even encouraged, to use a villain of their own design, a couple are provided as a courtesy.

Speaking personally, one of my favorite writers for V&V has always been the guy who wrote this, Ken Cliffe. One of the things I liked about him was how he actually did build something of a singular universe via little connections he would make between the different books he wrote. For instance, one of his books was a compilation of villains called Super-Crooks and Criminals, and one of them was a swashbuckler type called the Highwayman. He often worked with another villain called Apollo, who didn’t appear anywhere in that book. However, should you read the module Organized Crimes, you’ll find a villain named Apollo with a similar swashbuckler style. I bring this up because one of the villains provided for the attack is Elisa Fathom, or the daughter of Nathan Fathom, the villain Bluegill who appeared in Super-Crooks and Criminals.

That’s a lot of attention to lavish on something ultimately so small, I know, but it made me feel like Cliffe was invested in the material he created. Not just writing an adventure for a superhero game because he had a couple cool ideas for villains.

The purpose of that fight is to have the players handily at the shore when a blue-skinned guy comes up begging for help, right before a group of heavily-armed, nasty blue-skinned guys show up and try to kidnap him. When the heroes undoubtedly refuse to let this happen, they find out they’re harboring the fugitive ruler of an undersea city. And then things get interesting.

I mean that. If V&V had one glaring weakness in its premade adventures, it’s that a lot of them tended to be simply:

Part 1: Battle with villains/investigate strange goings-on.
Part 2: Now aware that villains are up to no good, track them to their lair for a final battle.

Instead, the villains are the ones who go on the attack. It culminates in the players having to protect the city from a full-scale invasion, which was a break from the norm for this system to be sure.

After that, it’s time for the players to go on the attack and help the deposed regent regain his throne. And that’s when the adventure gets a lot more free-form, with suggestions on what to do during the trip to the city and how to incite rebellion once they’re there.

While I said I felt the game’s library of peripherals felt kind of empty without an undersea adventure, that’s not to say I think Danger In The Depths really shines. At least, not as much in the second half as the first. The first half places the heroes in a situation not often seen in premade adventures, which is to say as defenders rather than attackers.

The city is run like a pretty typical and bland tyrannical society. They even have gladiatorial battles for the amusement of the upper crust. Don’t evil people enjoy anything besides watching guys kill each other? Also, the trip to the city itself, in a submarine with occasional dangers from marine life and other underwater hazards, seems like something that would easily become tedious without a very good GM. For all that, however, the module provides a pretty comprehensive understanding of how to game out characters being underwater. It's also a product where you'd actually expect to find that information. "Pre-Emptive Strike" doesn't exactly scream "buy this for the system's aquatic rules." And I sure didn't see where the cover advertized it.

This, on the other hand...

I did like that the module came packed with an NPC aquatic hero, sort of like Commander Astro from Battle Above The Earth. The one Cliffe dreamed up for this adventure, however, is not only a lot more creative but as a result is much better geared toward appearing in adventures outside Danger In The Depths.

All in all a pretty good adventure, but Terror By Night has nothing to worry about.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Solar Adventure

I’m afraid I’ve got no profound insights on pop culture history to kick off this particular post. It’s a cheap Korean mecha movie where most of things meant to be “cool” are stolen from something else if you know what to look for. There isn’t even anything “solar” about this “adventure.” Nothing’s solar powered, nothing involving the sun takes place, and they don’t even go to other parts of the solar system. There are aliens, from a planet we never see, but that’s kind of a stretch, don’t ya think?

Would it surprise you to hear parts of this movie showed up in the infamous Space Thunder Kids?

Things open with the credits playing against some surprisingly well-done illustrations of futuristic cities and space stations. Given the animation we’re about to see, probably stolen from somewhere more reputable. And believe me, I was pining for something half as cool as this. I was also pining for the appreciation of music I’d never have again after listening to the most lifeless synthesizer score you ever heard playing on top of these.

After the credits we cut to a school in South Korea. A live action school with real people. The badly-dubbed class greets their teacher, who explains that dirty nasty communists live in the north part of their country and are always trying to take over their peace-loving democratic society. One kid, bored with politics, proposes a nature study and Nice Teacher Lady promises to take the class camping the next day.

We cut to a shot of a forest they hold for an entire minute, even though nothing is happening at all.

Oh, excuse me. It pans slightly to the left to show us nothing’s happening over there either.

That minute of forest footage was actually to establish three guys in green paramilitary uniforms, carrying guns walking through making all kinds of noise.

Something's happening here, somewhere.

They come up to the house of two kids (maybe they’re from the class but if you think I’m going to try to keep all those poorly-dubbed moppets straight when the movie doesn’t, well, sorry to disappoint you) and ask to be told where they are. The kids, or rather the boy while his sister cowers in terror, intuits they’re North Korean spies and says his teacher told them never to help people from the north. Two of them try to play good and bad cop, with bad cop smashing the kids upside the head with his gun. And calling them “capitalist bastards.” This movie’s for kids, you say?

The boy stumbles down the road looking for help, but keeps stumbling because of his head wound. He makes it to the neighbors’ house and tells them about the spies. They call the army, I guess, because everyone’s sitting around the office in camos. Hearing a kid blaming an injury on spies, they immediately scramble their troops. Or rather, a bunch of farmers hear the alert, change into camos too and ride out on motorcycles to look for the spies.

But enough of that, let’s watch the class from before go fishing! One of those military farmer types rides by and jokingly blames their bad luck on catching anything at the fish hiding from the spies, and tells the kids to let them know if anyone suspicious comes along. Nice Teacher Lady asks him if he thinks it’s a good idea to be out there with a bunch of school kids with armed, amoral spies on the loose, but military farmer guy assures her it’s safe because he doesn’t think the spies would come around there. Why, he doesn’t say.

The military farmers find the spies and eight million bullets are fired without anyone getting hit. Meanwhile the kids are playing with toy robots that turn into helicopters, which I guess is supposed to be some kind of counterpoint to what happens next.

As they sleep something weird happens. The movie turns into a cartoon as something crashes in the lake next to where they’re camping. A big yellow helicopter to be exact.

One of the kids swims out to the chopper and finds two green alien kids in the cockpit. He ties a rope to the helicopter and the class pulls it ashore.

Once that’s done, the alien kids wake up and tell the students their story. They fled to Earth from their planet (which has nearly been destroyed by “nuclear waste,” because there had to be an environmental message somewhere) to find help to overthrow the tyrannical Siporta. And they came here (in a helicopter) specifically because he plans to ally himself with the North Koreans.

Who inexplicably show up in force right then and have a shootout with the alien kids. You might think these are supposed to be the spies from before, but there’s way more than three of them. The Earth kids help by shooting one guy in the head with a slingshot, and eventually the alien kids get tired of shooting back with their own guns and turn their helicopter into a robot that blows the North Koreans away.

Cut to a flying saucer where we meet our villains, Siporta and the North Korean military leader who shall be known in this review simply as General Neck Goiter (who some say is a caricature of Kim-Il-Sung) because this movie’s terrible at naming its characters. Oh, and Siporta’s title is “Mr. President,” which sounds weird for an intergalactic despot.

The main obstacle to Siporta’s conquest isn’t the massive militaries of the other countries, though, but the alien kids and Shank, which I think is the name of the helicopter robot and for the sake of my sanity I’ll assume that’s the case. He’s managed to capture another robot, the Canon Robo (I’m going by the spelling on the case), both robots having been built by a scientist trying to overthrow his despotic regime, but can’t figure out how to make it work.

Believe me, this takes way more effort to follow if you actually watch this movie. Like when Siporta kills another minute of screen time needlessly explaining how some of his ships were lost in the trip across the galaxy. If he had so much trouble, why didn’t two kids in a helicopter?

But that’s nothing compared to this next part, where the human kids (all wearing Voltron-ish uniforms now for some reason) have brought the alien kids to explain the situation with Siporta to people from the government. In the middle of the conversation, one of the non-evil government people suddenly turns into General Neck Goiter. I swear on my mother’s grave, he talks about stealing Canon Robo back from Siporta so they can use it to save the world.

The alien kids explain why Siporta can’t use his captured robot: it only works if the pilot has mastered “emotional wavelength.” Despite how that sounds, it doesn’t mean Canon Robo can only be used by someone with pure intentions for it or whatever. It means nobody on Siporta’s side has stuck their head in a bowl connected to a computer with the right kind of blinky lights. The kids get nominated for this, because hey, those Japanese guys did the same thing with nominating kids to pilot incredibly powerful giant combat robots, didn’t they?

Siporta arms General Neck Goiter’s force with space weapons. Human kids, alien kids and Nice Teacher Lady (oh, it’s okay! They have adult supervision!) all pile into Shank to go find the other robot, but not before eating up more time killing some more attacking North Koreans with the robot.

Meanwhile, the alien villain’s scientists are failing to figure out how to activate Canon Robo (and several other robots we’ve never heard about, apparently). He decides to have it melted down and used to make their own robot.

After an extremely plodding, lifeless dogfight with a bunch of enemy fighters (hint to the North Koreans: it would probably help if you fired your weapons once in a while. And didn’t fly your planes into each other for no reason), the kids find Siporta’s base. How did they manage that? Don’t all Korean military installations have giant space donuts parked next to them?

Inside the base slave workers are driven so hard getting ready to melt down Canon Robo it keeps changing from day to night between shots.

The alien kids attack the base with helicopter robot while the human kids sneak inside to commandeer Canon Robo. The alien kids suddenly find themselves under attack by recolors of Tor from Mighty Orbots.

The human kids sneak behind a guard one by one (and we get to watch all of them do this) until he spots the last one going by. He’s so surprised his coat turns brown as he chases them.

The kids are captured except for the weedy one with glasses who hides in an oil drum, and Shank simply isn’t as mighty as so many Orbots and captured as well. President Siporta mocks the “im-buh-siles” for thinking they could mess with him, and gives his right hand man (whose name is, I’m not making this up, Buzzita. He’s never even mentioned again) permission to melt down this robot too, presumably with the pilots still inside.

But they’re evidently in no hurry, because in the next scene it’s night (and actually stays that way), with Shank and Canon Robo still laying around waiting to be melted. After spending thirty seconds watching people’s shoes, the kid who got away sneaks into Canon Robo. After he manages to activate it by making it turn blue and back to red again, one of the guards sees the robot sit up and is so surprised his coat changes color too.

The North Koreans are torturing the rest of the kids, but Canon Robo busts in and saves them. The troops are caught so unawares the 8’s on the robot turn into 6’s. The kids get their alien friends to start the helicopter-bot up again, then commandeer two other robots who were inexplicably out in the field.

President Siporta and General Neck Goiter are toasting their victory. General Neck Goiter’s talking in this cackling voice, and if this movie didn’t have the worst voice acting ever I’d think it was meant to indicate he’s planning on doublecrossing Siporta.

They storm into Siporta’s ship and I have to say it might not have been the best idea to build corridors big enough for giant robots to walk around in. In what I guess is meant to be a touch of comedy, the security guy who spots the robots thinks they’re just going to get melted down even though they’re walking around.

The four non-evil robots walk into a room with the Tors, who make the lights turn red. I have no idea what that means, but find out why it’s called Canon Robo because the three non-helicopter robots combine into a giant camera like the Transformer Reflector (are all three of those considered Canon Robo?). A giant camera that shoots a giant laser, that is. It blows up the Tors and something else important. It must be, as Siporta yells “Damn these robots!” right before he drives away from his exploding ship.

Siporta goes to General Neck Goiter for help, but the General doesn’t care about Siporta’s loss; he’s already got an army’s worth of high-tech alien weapons, and has his boys gun down Siporta before sending his army to attack the south. I love how the kids see the tanks rolling by and declare “We can’t just sit and watch!” When that’s exactly what they do.

They hold this shot for twenty seconds.

They attack in their robots despite outnumbered about twenty to one. Fortunately the North Koreans are idiots and not one of the tanks returns fire until the commanding officer tells them to you know, use all those weapons the aliens gave them. It doesn’t matter anyway, because for the better part of a minute we just see repeated footage of tanks exploding from the robots’ guns. And even though the robots don’t appear to move at all they’re able to destroy the entire tank column, even around a sharp bend in the road.

Elsewhere General Neck Goiter learns his tanks were destroyed and bemoans his fate as the camera zooms in on his right shoulder for some reason.

And that’s it. With Siporta gone and those couple tanks destroyed, the threat of North Korea is apparently smashed forever as the Earth kids give their alien friends a lifeless sendoff as they head for home. That is, their devastated, polluted planet. In a helicopter. Wait, what?

Bye, dummies. Give our best to the nuclear wasteland.

Then suddenly the movie’s live action again and the military farmers are still in an extremely murky forest. They finally gun down the enemy spies and march past the kids as they wake up and have breakfast. Was all the robot stuff supposed to have been a dream?

If they're comfortable having this in their movie they better be comfortable having it in reviews of the movie.

If I made this movie sound at all compelling, it’s only because you actually have to see it to experience the terrible dubbing and cheapjack animation to truly appreciate the horrible production values. I’ve read fanfic by first-time writers that was easier to keep up with. Solar Adventure doesn’t make Twilight look like Shakespeare (as much as Stephenie Meyer probably thought that's exactly what she was creating), but man…It’s a somewhat confusing, mercilessly plodding viewing exercise that made me wonder why I was watching Solar Adventure when I could’ve been watching the real Transformers. But what do you expect from a DVD still bragging about having “interactive menus” in 2006?

At least the plot summary's fairly accurate. Fairly.

I’ve got other knockoff mecha movies produced by the same people like Defenders of Space, which are just as badly animated, boring and hard to follow, but I have to say Solar Adventure is worse by dint of its clumsily-integrated live action segments and being an amateurish propaganda piece (is there any other kind?). To put that into perspective, Defenders of Space would have us believe the phoenix of legend is actually a robot that turns into a fire truck.

Solar Adventure is deplorable, but it’s perfect for getting a bunch of MSTies together for a night of riffing.

If nothing else, the DVD ends with something that makes me long a little for my childhood. That is, it has a series of quick trailers for other movies available from the same company. Like one where a guy sticks an anchor in a cannon.

Many was the night back in the 80’s where my folks would rent me a tape of Transformers or G.I. Joe and then once the day had once again been saved by those cartoon heroes, my friends and I would have almost as much fun watching the snippets of other movies and getting psyched up to see those. Even though none of us would remember any of them by the next morning.