Multimodality

I’ve been consuming surprisingly many pieces work in the original and an adapted format recently. Here’s the reviews.

Lucifer – the Comic

lucifer_comic

The comic picks up the character of Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and tells his story. The story plots his course rebelling against God in modern times. It starts by Lucifer leaving hell, since he doesn’t care about being his father’s puppet anymore.

I picked up the comic, because of Neil Gaiman and Sandman. There are definitely influences here, but Lucifer never flies in the same league. The ideas are not as surprising, the plots are not as devious, the characters are not as juicy.

The one point, where Lucifer can stand tall next to Sandman, is the art. Sandman suffered from slightly lackluster art for the first few trade paperback collection, but Lucifer has high quality on that front from the start.

This is a nice comic regardless. Again the flaws seem prominent only, because the point of comparison is so high. If you are interested in plays on the pop culture Christian mythology, this one certainly offers something new.

  • Title: Lucifer
  • Author: Mike Carey
  • Year: 2000-2006
  • Finished in: 25th Dec 2017
  • 3/5

Lucifer seasons 1 & 2 – the Series

lucifer_series

I picked up on the series, because some people, who were high on the comic, kept recommending it to me. It is supposedly based on the comic, the premise is certainly the same – Lucifer is done with being God’s puppet and leaves hell to strike out on his own in Los Angeles. There the similarities end. In the series we follow Lucifer through a path of self discovery as he fights crime as a consultant for the police. The fighting against God bit is restricted to occasional outbursts against his controlling dad.

The series could be interesting from this starting point, but execution lacks. Lucifer is a narcissistic and egoistic caricature built for cheap gags and nothing more. The individual episodes never offer anything interesting and the overall story arcs are inane and boring.

I should’ve quit after a couple of episodes, but it took me a couple of episodes into season 3, before I finally gave up. It’s like Buffy without the charisma and serious topics – what you have left is the case of the week.

  • Finished on: 17th Feb 2019
  • 1/5

Gone Girl [2014]  – the Film

gone_girl

The story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). They are a seemingly perfect couple – stylish, witty, beautiful, smart – but that is only a carefully constructed surface. Nick is out of a job and living on Amy’s trust fund money and he is having an affair, and Amy has just gone missing. The film follows the investigation into Amy’s disappearance. The story slowly reveals various secrets – the marriage hasn’t been happy in a long time, Nick is having an affair, Amy staged her own disappearance to look like Nick murdered her, she did it as revenge for the affair…

David Fincher is not at his best, but this is still guaranteed Fincher quality. The film is, if nothing else, rigorous. It reveals everything bit by bit, always grabbing the viewer’s interest back just, when it looks like the plot is not going anywhere. There are two major twists – one was revealed above, that Amy is still alive and hasn’t actually been kidnapped, and a second one in the end. Neither is being hidden too much and especially the latter one is clear long before it actually happens, but the interesting bit with the twists is not themselves, but the reasons behind them and what happens next.

There’s nothing wrong here, but there is nothing exceptionally right either. Fincher goes into Michael Haneke territory here, with the calculated control, but he lags far behind with the uninteresting mise-en-scéne. He used to be one of the more interesting directors coming out of the US, but it seems that Hollywood has gotten to him and although parts of his style is still visible, his ideas have been replaced by Hollywood design by committee scripts.

  • Director: David Fincher
  • Watched on: 8th Sep 2018
  • Watched at: Home (Sub)
  • 2.5/5

Gone Girl – the Novel

gone_girl_novel

The film seemed like there was unrealized potential just below the surface, so I picked up the novel to see, if that potential was lost in translation. Long story short: it wasn’t.

The novel reads like a film script from the start, and it reads like a script written for David Fincher. Maybe the goal was Michael Haneke, but it falls short. Nevertheless, reading the novel or seeing the film is enough, no need to do both, since the film is an almost exact replica of the novel. Towards the ends a few details have been moved around and changed a bit, but anything essential is neither lost nor gained. My rating for the novel is slightly less than for the film, since the novel attempts to be a film script and loses something of the possibilities of the novel format due to that.

  • Title: Gone Girl
  • Author: Gillian Flynn
  • Year: 2012
  • Finished in: 19th Oct 2018
  • 2/5

Under the Skin – the Novel

under_the_skin_novel

The film was one of the most pleasant and surprising experiences I’ve ever had with films. I knew practically nothing about it going to the screening, and it completely blew me away. Definitely one of the best films of the millennium, maybe even the best. It horrified me to no end, without being a horror film, and it told of something essential in the human nature, that I hadn’t realized or experienced in quite this way ever before.

I didn’t realize, at the time, that it was a novel adaptation. When I did, I had to pick up the novel to see, if I could find another similar experience. Nope, nothing of the sort found here. The film takes only the premise from the novel, but heavily adapts pretty much everything. Not sure, if from necessity, since the budget was practically non-existent, or if it just sparked some ideas that were better than what the novel contains.

In the novel, we follow some… thing, that appears close to human at first. She goes around in her near broken down car picking up hitchhiking men for some sinister purpose. This is as far as the similarities between the film and the novel go. I’m not going to reveal more about the film, since it is an exceptional piece of work that heavily relies on not knowing anything about it beforehand. The novel goes on to slowly reveal, that the protagonist is not actually human and that the men she picks up, end up as fodder for the aliens. The aliens are a species that lives mostly underground, but the elite of that species have developed a taste for human meat, so some of the species have to go above-ground and hunt for this valuable food stuff. The protagonist has gone through extensive surgical procedures to appear more human. The novel proceed to delve into this alien culture and the ethical justification for the hunting of humans.

Unfortunately after the first third of the novel, it loses any tension. Too much is revealed and the alien culture and the characters drawing from it are just not interesting. Their differences are too big that the presumable tense ethical dilemmas seem like badly drawn caricatures and fail to touch on the reader’s emotions.

  • Title: Under the Skin
  • Author: Michel Faber
  • Year: 2000
  • Finished in: 16th Sep 2018
  • 1.5/5

Altered Carbon season 1 – the Series

altered_carbon_series

There’s never too much high quality cyberpunk / post human sci-fi in the world. This is a pretty run of the mill neo noir story of a detective going after a complicated case. We get all the trappings of both noir detective stories and cyberpunk sci-fi – it is the execution, where this excels.

Sci-fi these days tends to be self indulgent presentation of mind-tickling ideas, but no emotional connection – a tour of “hey, look how neat the future could be” moments, where the characters and story are just an excuse to go on the tour. That’s interesting in itself, but without interesting characters and plot, the whole falls quite flat.

Film noir on the other hand, has always been about strong characters and sort of fantasy – the viewer needs to buy into the characters acting the way they do, but after that one required step taken by the audience, the fantasy pretty much automatically provides emotionally gripping stories.

The combination seems like a match made in heaven. This is by far not the first time the combination has been made, so no points for originality. This also does not rise above the combination to produce singularly spectacular art, so no points for that either. It is just a really well executed version of this with good characters, good plot, nice ideas, and good enough production team to execute all of it well down to the last detail. The result is an excellent piece of entertainment.

  • Finished on: 24th Aug 2018
  • 3.5/5

Altered Carbon – the Novel

altered_carbon_novel

Similarly to the Gone Girl novel and film, the novel and adapted TV series are very close to each other. Differently from the Gone Girl case, the novel doesn’t attempt to be a script, and here both the novel and series are actually entertaining in themselves instead of being slightly interesting film school exercises in plot control.

Not much new to say, except that Morgan has a way with words that pulls you in, like a good novel should. Despite having seen the series before reading the novel, the novel evokes new images and atmospheres. Not high art, but very good execution.

  • Title: Altered Carbon
  • Author: Richard K. Morgan
  • Year: 2002
  • Finished in: 17th Mar 2019
  • 3.5/5
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Some Non Fiction (not too many I’m afraid)…

So it seems I haven’t had the opportunity to read too many books of late. A selection follows though.

Tove Jansson: sanat, kuvat, elämä

tove_jansson_sanat_kuvat_elama.jpg

A biography of the world famous writer of the Moomin books for children. Tove worked with various forms of art all through her life and it turns out that eventually she felt trapped by her Moomin fame, since nothing else she did, was given an honest look anymore. She was the Moomin artist and nothing else was of worth.

But Tove was many things. She painted, wrote novellas and novels, did frescoes, was an independent spinster involved in more relationships with women than with men during a time, when that could’ve lead into trouble, she was a bohemian and a lover of the sea and the many islands of the Finnish archipelagos.

Boel Westin’s writing is occasionally a bit long-winded, but if you are the least bit interested in the woman behind the Moomin, this is a book you should definitely read.

  • Title: Tove Jansson: sanat, kuvat, elämä
  • Original Title: Tove Jansson: ord, bild, liv
  • Author: Boel Westin
  • Year: 2007 (translated to Finnish in 2008)
  • Finished in: 28th Oct 2017
  • 3/5

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk

how_to_talk_so_kids_will_listen

Got a recommendation to read this book from a Finnish child psychologist and it certainly is worth the while. It helped me transform from a flailing parent into someone, who is probably giving more tools for my kid’s future than causing traumas… Hopefully. The language is simple enough, the techniques even simpler – if you feel like you are struggling as a parent, you should definitely give this a go.

Besides reading this and the next book, I went into counseling to get some tools to handle parenthood and that everything I read in the books was repeated in the counselling, so really recommended.

  • Title: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk
  • Author: Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • Year: 1980
  • Finished in: 1st Mar 2018
  • 4.5/5

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

how_to_talk_so_little_kids_will_listen

More of the same by the daughter of Adele Faber. The little kids twist made me read this, but it is very much more of the same. Still, very good content, so you’ll probably do fine picking up either one of these two How to Talk books.

  • Title: How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen
  • Author: Joanna Faber & Julie King
  • Year: 2017
  • Finished in: 13th May 2018
  • 3.5/5

Keisari Aarnio

keisari_aarnio

A book that presents the investigations into and the, at the time of compiling the book, still ongoing downfall of the head of Helsinki’s anti-drug police unit. Turns out he was eventually the head of much drug trafficking in Finland.

Some things that intrigued me enough to point them out…

Aarnio’s operations were completely amateurish. It seems the only reason they didn’t take him out earlier, was that people trusted in the head of the Helsinki anti-drug police unit despite him acting in a self implicating way very consistently for years.

The mess at the Helsinki police is far from settled. There’s new problems coming to light a couple of times a year still and more and more police are convicted for actions that imply that the police thought they were above the law. Also, Aarnio was most recently implicated in a paid hit.

The book itself occasionally gets bogged down in details, but then again, that’s what it sets to do. It presents the details found during the journalists investigations as is, instead of drying to build a coherent drama out of all that.

  • Title: Keisari Aarnio
  • Author: Minna Passi & Susanna Reinboth
  • Year: 2017
  • Finished in: 27th May 2018
  • 4/5

Trigger Warning

trigger_warning

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.

  • Title: Trigger Warning
  • Author: Neil Gaiman 
  • Year: 2015
  • Finished in: 17th Jul 2017
  • 3.5/5

He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät

he_eivat_tieda_mita_tekevat.jpg

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.

  • Title: He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät
  • Author: Jussi Valtonen 
  • Year: 2014
  • Finished in: 24th Jun 2017
  • 2/5

Coraline

coraline

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.

  • Title: Coraline
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Year: 2002
  • Finnish title: Coraline varjojen talossa
  • Translation by: Mika Kivimäki
  • Finished in: Feb 2017
  • 3/5

To Kill a Mockingbird

to_kill_a_mockingbird

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.

  • Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Author: Harper Lee
  • Year: 1960
  • Finnish title: Kuin surmaisi satakielen
  • Translation by: Maija Westerlund
  • Finished in: Jan 2017
  • 5/5

The Book that Sparked this Blog – Suuret seikkailupelit

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.

suuret_seikkailupelit
Suuret seikkailupelit by Juho Kuorikoski

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:

  1. Text based adventure games and early graphical ones
  2. The golden era of graphical adventures
  3. The death of the genre
  4. The resurrection

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.