Neil Gaiman tells us about the things that lurk in the back of our minds. Those simple unseen things, often frightening, that are there, but mostly left undisturbed. Often those things are quite small – like modern day versions of the old folk tales about why the tip of the tail of the fox is white and stuff like that. That stuff tends to be quite small, so the short story format fits him well.
This is a collection of those mostly quite enchanting and mostly quite harmless stories. They are ideas and suggestions. Parts of some worlds unseen and only glimpsed by even Gaiman. They are usually very twisted in one way or another, but they also bear a sort of fairy tale quality that keeps the darkness at an arm’s length so as not to be too dangerous.
I gobbled down the small snacks offered by the book quite fast (by my current reading standards, which are very slow). I enjoyed all of the stories. Some more, some less. Not a single one was strictly a master piece, but neither was any of them bad. An endearing piece of writing despite containing basically horror stories.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. This is an ambitious Finnish novel, with a semi-sci-fi twist. More than enough reasons to like it right there. There’s a lot of problems though…
The major problem is that Valtonen doesn’t like any of his characters. Do you remember the Oscar bait film Crash from 2004 by Paul Haggis? It was hailed as a masterpiece and major film about racism. The problem with that film was the same – Haggis despised his characters and most of the film was spent pointing out the various ways in which Haggis thought his characters should do differently. This reads like that film – Valtonen has written a bunch of characters and then spends hundreds of pages pointing out, how those characters are acting stupidly. He! Wrote! Them! It’s extremely hypocritical to then go about pointing out their stupidity.
Valtonen gets basic human behaviors wrong both on individual and demographic levels. This is accentuated by the first problem – pointing out, how his own characters are stupid, is even more awful, when his characters are psychologically unsound.
The only suspense in the book is held by telling things in a weird order. It kind of emulates the fragmentary way in which people remember things, but feels unnatural and is used way too much. When a character drops into a memory, there might be a few more further drops into further memories and we might resurface maybe 150 pages later to actually find out the meaning of these memories in this scene. Also, often there’s no meaning to be found for these specific memories in this specific scene, when we resurface – they are there apparently just because Valtonen likes the trick, and because he is seemingly incapable of revealing the mystery slowly any other way.
The problems are sad. The parts of the novel that work are so good, that this could’ve been a great novel. I wished it to get better all the way to the end, but the ending is just the last punch in Valtonen’s despise for his characters. Now it is an ambitious novel that has huge potential, most of which is wasted.
I noticed the book, while at the library with my family and added it to the stack of books we were picking up for our kid.
This is a novella about Coraline, whose parents don’t really pay too much attention to her until finally one day they disappear. Coraline suspects the weird door at the end of the unused room in their apartment. She enters the door to find a weird and twisted version of her own world with an other mother that tries to lure Coraline into staying in the other world.
The translation unfortunately sucks monkey balls. There’s several phrases that are lazily translated into language that just doesn’t fit into Finnish. Although the story pulled me in quickly, the translation kicked my out a few dozen times during the novella. This is a reason I prefer original language versions of books, if I just am fluent in the original language.
As mentioned, the story did pull me in, but due to the format and the target audience, it is quite simple. A fun and light read, but nothing too special.
I’m not going to be writing at pretty much any length on novels that I read, since I don’t feel like I have anything of importance to say most of the time. Just some notes to remember that I’ve read them.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been getting my attention for a while now and I finally picked up the Finnish translation – Kuin surmaisi satakielen – and read it.
It’s a coming-of-age story telling about Scout (Jean Louise Finch) living with his attorney father and big brother in a small town somewhere in Alabama. The town is quiet and days repeat without much variation, until a black man is accused of raping a white woman. Scout’s father is the attorney for the black man, who is seems to be innocent. – although he knows the result beforehand, he refuses to do anything but his best in defense of the man. This is the setting, where the 6-year-old Scout tries to make sense of the world.
The story is filled with affection and warmth and the language just sucks you into the novel’s world from the first page. I loved it from start to finish.
So, I guess the first real post should be about the book that made me put up this blog in the first place – Suuret seikkailupelit.
Look how pretty it is. Just looking at the cover takes me back to dozens and dozens of warm childhood memories.
I actually asked my fiancee for Juho Kuorikoski’s earlier book – Sinivalkoinen pelikirja. I wasn’t even aware of Suuret seikkailupelit at that point. Sinivalkoinen pelikirja had run out from the bookstore, but the sales people there remembered the other book by the same author. My fiancee picked that up, despite being worried that I didn’t want that one, because I hadn’t asked for it. I am very happy for the Finnish gaming industry due to its recent success and the history does interest me, but my two favorite genres are adventure games and role-playing games. Both are underrepresented in Finnish gaming industry, so the book would’ve been just a nice curio read for me. Suuret seikkailupelit on the hand touches the deepest parts of my love for games, so my fiancee’s worries were very much unfounded. Best Christmas present in a long while. If Juho ever writes a book about the history of computer and video role-playing games, I’ll throw my money at the screen, if it helps me to have the book in my hands faster. A book about storytelling in games in general would be nice too – that’s the thing that adventure and role-playing games have in common. Just a few hints.
I remember playing some early King’s Quest and Police Quest games and Black Cauldron as a child on our first computer. Me and my brother didn’t know English very well, so we had a dictionary at hand. Still we ended up progressing through trial and error until we found the correct responses at certain situations without fully understanding what was happening or why something worked and something didn’t. A bit later we had Zak McKracken, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade and King’s Quest V. Our English skills had improved a bit, but at least I still didn’t understand all the events happening on screen. Despite the language barrier, we still spent endless hours on those games. I’m not sure, if we ever finished any of them except Indiana Jones. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that, when I fire up Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade again, all the actions required to finish the game will come from muscle memory.
In any case, those games and the feeling I had playing them have been burnt into my memory very deeply and encountering them again after a few decades brought me to tears. After bringing me to tears, I realized how many other great games were done during those times and even earlier with Infocom and Legend Entertainment. I’ve missed most of them, so as I said in my earlier post, I decided to fill in the gaps and play through the history of adventure games. Thus was sparked The Great Adventure Game Project and this blog.
For a long time we had the situation that our computer didn’t run the newer games. I ended up missing the latter part of the Sierra and LucasArts golden era except for a game here and another there that I played with some friends on their computers. Mostly I wasn’t able to finish them. I picked up on adventure games a again, when Telltale Games came into the scene. I’ve played a bit of Sam & Max and a bit more of The Walking Dead. Again, the book revealed to me that I’ve only scraped the surface though.
But I digress – I was supposed to write more about the book. It is difficult without mentioning the feelings that it brought up in me, but with that now behind me, I’ll try and say a few words about the book.
The book is divided into four parts:
Text based adventure games and early graphical ones
The golden era of graphical adventures
The death of the genre
The only thing about this structure that bothers me, is that although many of the text based adventures are given their own subsection, those subsections are not listed in the table of contents, so going back to check up on a single title is a bit difficult. I can understand that their handling is more cursory than for the rest of the sections and titles. They were put out by just a few companies and gaming was smaller back then. Many of the titles are out of release and can be only found in the murky abandon ware corners of the Internet – I bet even Juho had a hard time getting to know the titles from that era. The rest of the structure nicely supports the narratives that Juho builds. This occasionally brings slight confusion, because he breaks chronology in favor of the narrative structure. Luckily, I like stories more than chronology.
Juho has done an amazing job digging up the original designers and developers of the games and contacting them for interviews. He’s interviewed 40 people for the book, a few of them several times. The stories and feeling that the developers tell are the most interesting part of the book. Anyone can go and experience the games themselves, but it’s more difficult to find out the stories around the games – why did they get made, who were the people that affected them, why were some design choices made, where’d they get the ideas, etc. I like to read about the things surrounding the cultural products that I like, and Juho does simply an amazing job in bringing the industry and people around the games into life.
Reading the book took me first to my childhood memories of hours and hours spent exploring wonderful worlds and stories and then to the realization that there’s a lot more of those. Going through the games that I haven’t played, took me on introductory journeys into the adventures that I can still experience. Last but not least there was also the story of the industry and people in the industry – who doesn’t like a story of rise and fall and rise again, just look at Hollywood films and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a different story.
If you are into adventure games and can read Finnish, I urge you to buy the book and read it. I don’t remember that a book that has taken me so deep into my own memories and then into new exciting worlds in a long while, and it isn’t even fiction.
Besides, buying the book will give Juho more resources and motivation to write more of these. He just finished the crowd funding project for his forthcoming third non-fiction book about games, X-Com. There is not too much Finnish language books on gaming, so his one man project to fill that gap is commendable. Besides, he writes with a very readable tone that is both entertaining and informative.