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I've read several examples of sociopathic characters in several different books, and been left with a bunch of thoughts.

Read more... )
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https://captaingames.itch.io/freeways

Yesterday andrew ducker's links got me addicted to this little game. Each level is a screen with some roads coming in and some going out, and you need to join them up so the traffic can flow freely. Some connections need high traffic and need direct connections. Sometimes there's small or medium levels of traffic but lots of connections.

It's really cute how the separate screens join together to make a city with coast and mountains and houses and industrial areas. When you do all the levels in the initial 3x3 grid it expands to 5x5, then 7x7. And maybe further, I don't know.

I don't really understand the score, it clearly correlates with how good the network is, but I don't know exactly what contributes to it.

It makes some real-world motorway engineering make more sense. There's lots of situations where roundabouts work really well. Sometimes there's a couple of really busy routes which need direct connections, but then everything else just needs to be connected *at all* so you can use normal cross-roads with no flyovers at all.

Some things are bizarre. Who designed this city so SOME roads drive on the left and some on the right?

A few of the screens have a menu item to open an aerial picture of a real-world junction with similar connections and see if you came to the same sort of solution. One was a diamond interchange, with a moderate traffic road crossing a high traffic road. Another was two low-traffic roads crossing, in the middle of some fields somewhere.

There doesn't seem to be an "undo" button, am I missing something? That's realistic for working with concrete, but with the interface so clunky it would be really nice.

Edit: Also, there's a directory called save but I can't find any option to save which disinclines me to play again. Anyone know where it's hidden?
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Orientalism

People have commented on this much better than I can and I didn't have much to add. I avoided seeing it in the cinema, but after some debate decided I was interested to see what it was like.

I thought that overall it was less fail-tastic than I expected, despite the big failures right in the middle.

Good things

Many people got over-Cumberbatched, but "arrogant ass who becomes worthwhile arrogant ass" is a good role for him.

The reality bending stuff was very well done, it looked very natural as a "we have weird power of reality but the fighting is somehow a mix of sorcery and martial arts".

And the other-dimension stuff was psychedelic and quite freaky.

I actually got invested in his journey from arrogant doctor to desperate drop-out to apprentice to equal with the masters. Some of the medical scenes were legitimately tense.

The learning scenes were good too, it really captured the feel of learning sorcery/martial arts.

spoilers )

Books, tv

Aug. 30th, 2017 12:25 pm
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Russel's Attic #3

I think it was kaberett who put me onto these. Some people have not-exactly-supernatural-but-better-than-humanly-possible talent. Cas does maths, so well she can predict paths of bullets and other matrix-reminiscent stuff in real time. And works as a freelance "acquirer".

What's lovely is her relationship with the few people she works with, the PI, the hacker, the office assistant, where she's instinctively opposed to human connections at all, but comes to value a few of them anyway. And Rio, the scary I'm-a-sociopath-but-happen-to-be-on-your-side character.

One of the side stories is "Rio adopts a puppy" and it's, um, very moving, in good ways, but also, without anything very gory happening, rather emotionally scary too.

In book #3, we finally have Cas interacting with research mathematicians, and learning her opinions on various maths research, and it's really quite cool. If you like books about freelance mercenaries and cutting edge mathematical research.

Shambling Guide #2: Ghost Train to New Orleans

A protagonist sucked into working for a publishing house run by a vampire, writing a travel guide for supernatural creatures, the second volume now visiting New Orleans. I enjoyed it, maybe more than the first book, as the worldbuilding has settled down a bit, and it doesn't feel like everything that they encounter came out of nowhere.

Good place

A recent sitcom about a woman who goes to the afterlife, "your notions of heaven and hell are not exactly correct, but there's a good place, and a bad place", and is in the good place by mistake. Or rather, it gets more complicated than that, but that's the premise.

If you like comedy that regularly mentions Kant and Hume, this is it :) The humour isn't very intense, but isn't very cringeworthy, but the relaxed humorous tone lets it explore what that afterlife might be like in ways a more serious attempt wouldn't be able to.
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http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/09/the-lizard-people-of-alpha-draconis-1-decided-to-build-an-ansible/

Scott wrote another short story. As is usually the case, it's intriguing but there's also much to critique :) The aliens in the story develop great technology, and build an ansible out of negative average preference utilitarianism.

I have a lot of different thoughts inspired by this story. I don't think it's the sort of story where knowing what happens is a problem for reading it, but I will cut a detailed discussion just in case.

Spoilers )
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So, Arrival (the film, adapted from the Ted Chiang story). I didn't have a lot to say about it. Aliens, were great. Linguist, was great. Kind-of-sympathetic kind-of-antagonist military were a bit gratuitous, but generally good. But I did have thoughts about a few specific things.

And, yes, I'm annoyed it wasn't EVEN MORE like a Ted Chiang story than it was, but please do adapt as many Ted Chiang stories as you can. The tower-of-babel one would be amazing...

Spoilers )
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Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of a school for the recovery of children who've been subject to portal fantasy stuff, specifically people wanted to stay but were cast out for some reason. It's pretty good; I felt it could have embraced the premise *better*, but it still did a pretty good job.

I have lots of different thoughts about this.

Returning from portal fantasy

One of the biggest is probably that, it's written as if people being cast out is a central feature of secondary worlds, whereas originally I think it's more like, the authors didn't think about it much either way, they just tacked on a happy ending even if it didn't really make sense in the book.

But as liv points out, many people found portal fantasies incredibly moving as children because they wanted to escape somewhere else from where they were, and returning was horrible, and this story serves very very well as an emphatic rejection of that trope.

Funnily enough that was never me. Lots of my friends overcame a lot of childhood problems, but though I was nerdy and bad at making friends, my parents were great, and I never wanted to get away from here, even if I was drawn to the idea of going somewhere where my strengths could blossom. I got some of that by going into maths and programming.

Flaws

I enjoyed this more than most of the other Seanan Mcguire I've read, even the Mira Grant. I think the strengths were similar, but the bits where "the characters go where the plot says, completely disregarding logic, common sense, emotion, characterisation, survival, or physical possibility" were much less prominent.

At least to me -- I know some people didn't find that a problem in any of her books, and some people were bothered by it in this one. But there are going to be *some* rants in the spoiler section.

I wasn't bothered by some things that bothered other people. To me, the variety of sexualities etc didn't feel shoehorned in, except occasionally (and I was pleased it was there). I wasn't bothered by shifts in narration from tight third to omniscient (I actually quite like little omniscient asides).

Strengths

The diversity of characters. The description of the secondary worlds: the harsh "high logic" faerielands; the "high nonsense" nonsense worlds; the ones with rhymes, the underworlds, etc etc. It is all very memorable.

Random thoughts

I know I can be too optimistic here, and it can be impossible to stop bullying, but I also just despair at how it's taken for granted in so many situations fictional and real. Here there's a fairly small group of children, with several adults present full time. Can't they at least TRY to prevent at least physical attacks? And ideally violent threats?

Spoilers )
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In several ways I enjoyed the second (African swamp dragons) and third (Sea Serpents, Chinese dragons of many sorts, and Polynesian firewyrms) more than the first. The main character is more proactive. We start to see more of the outline of her life. I found it a bit easier to cope with the alternate-history geography too, either because I was more used to it, or because it was further away from places I'm familiar with.

I like the bits of her son Jake we get. There's so few fantasy novels with children and adults together.

And I'm more familiar with the alternate world. Several things are different: the series is set later than I'd realised (1890s?) but steam power is severely curtailed by the lack of iron, taking the place of various resource-scrambles Europe imposed on the world in our history.

And I still can't believe I missed everyone is Jewish, temple judiasm or "magisterium" judaism, but with the varied devotion victorian scholars had for Christianity.

As I'm re-reading, I see more things alluded to in the early volumes, about her eventual discoveries, and the misadventures she gets into, and her later remarriage, that make me excited to know which of the things I've read tie into those and which are still to come.

Every book seems to wend its way until the plot starts about 3/4 of the way through, but the third one I was really wrapped up in all the things that happened until that point, the difficulties of navigating a ship, negotiating chinese bureaucracy to get to see dragons, befriending islanders, surviving storms, performing experiments.

I'm still a bit put off by the alternate-history names for countries. Couldn't we just use the same names even if the shapes are different? It seems like more places are islands? And it feels weird I can't just look it all up online and see what corresponds to what, but here no-one seems to have done the work. I should compile a list of what I managed to work out for my own reference.

Minor Spoilers )
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I'm rereading Borderline in preparation for reading Phantom Pains.

(Be warned that although these are not dwelt on unnecessarily during the book, and I didn't notice any notable bad handling, the main character suffered emotional abuse and a suicide attempt before the book starts.)

I love the basic concept. The main character, struggling to cope with borderline personality disorder, is recruited by an ad-hoc agency dealing with various supernatural stuff. More like negotiating stuff than SWAT raids. I'm being deliberately vague because I like the way the main character finds out about this stuff so I want to avoid spoilers.

Writing about a character whose perceptions shift so radically is really hard. Whenever you're dealing with a main character's flawed perception, you need a balance between, narrative presents their point of view at least superficially plausibly, and yet sooner or later gives enough information that the reader can tell its skewed. But when "this person is great" and "this person is horrible" can abruptly switch places without warning, it's really hard to carry the reader along. Somehow it feels like it doesn't really "count" if the main character believes it but I don't. Borderline handles this well (although not so well I didn't notice).

The supernatural worldbuilding is also really interesting (spoilers below), although it did feel sometimes like it hadn't been fleshed out enough.

I followed the author on twitter and was really pleased when she was nominated for a Nebula.

Minor spoilers )
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I saw this recommended online somewhere and the premise was v my sort of thing so I gave it a go.

Bob is a hacker who gets lucky rich, signs up for cryogenic suspension, and at some point in the future is scanned and turned into an AI in a semi-theocratic-dystopian future. This is before that tech becomes reliable or cheap, so it's only used where an AI is needed and the subject doesn't have much choice, specifically running a space probe.

The generally comedic tone allows a lot of interesting premises to be examined which I've rarely seen in other books, like automatically using multiple copies of the most effective uploaded personality, instead of using each once each.

There's a bunch of space exploration which is solid and pleasingly up-to-date, but not otherwise spectacular.

Bob is an example of the sardonic-witty low-self-esteem hacker who shows up in lots of books. An archetype I like, but have got sick of. The sexist comments are fewer than The Martian, but still not zero.

If you like this sort of thing, you will probably enjoy it a lot, but if you don't, it probably won't persuade you.
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Overgrowth (AKA the realistic ninja rabbit game)

Oh look! Cute anthropomorphic rabbits. This is going to be bloody, isn't it?

I only played a little of this. I love the basic mechanics. You control a humanoid rabbit walking around a 3d environment. AIUI, the characters are actually composed of separate limbs etc not just treated as a moving cylinder. You have a whole bunch of ninja moves, but they mostly depend on how you're moving and the attack button: like, "high kick left" is done by "move left and press attack". That means, it's easy to cause attacks to happen, and if you just want to spam *some* attack, it's easy to do so. But if you want to do specific moves which are necessary to the situation, or to roll with attacks and come to your feet, you need a bunch of practice. So there's an immediately apparent bunch of skills, not just "abilities which are unlocked".

It really feels like ninja combat: many enemies can be taken out in one punch, unless they block in which case you need to vary the attacks. Knives are dangerous: you need to knock them away, but can then roll to pick them up and have a big temporary advantage over one enemy.

Disturbingly, you get bloody as you get hit or cut. Not excessively for the amount of damage you've taken, but it's a real contrast to non-anthropomorphic-rabbit games, where you're usually immune and enemies usually go straight from "upright" to "shower of stars" or "shower of blood".

But I didn't put a lot of time into the actual game, so I don't know how it would be to play for longer.

Virus called Tom

Hilarious setting, a mad scientist who sends an intelligent virus (you) to take revenge on a corporation who sidelined him. You slide around a grid, trying to rotate tiles so circuits become complete. Quite fun, but I didn't persevere.

Ninja Pizza Girl

You're a teenage girl delivering pizza by dodging, jumping, ducking obstacles. Each level has a few implicit challenges: first to complete it at all, and then collect all the items and finish with an excellent time, which unlocks stuff.

The banter with her father and little brother are funny, and generally uplifting: they tease each other a lot, but are quite good for each other.

You periodically meet rival ninja pizza deliverers, who function as enemies, except your character doesn't lose a life, instead, they're knocked off their feet, and tauntingly laughed at until they stand up, which is really quite emotion-provoking. And when you get a good momentum going, the screen lights up whizzy and rainbow, but when you're knocked over repeatedly, it goes grey and dull. Many of the unlocks are self-care things which make the world happy again.
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Camel Up

Played at Alex's. Quite silly and sometimes fiddly, but I really love the way it works. Camels race round a camel racing track. Each round, each camel moves once (1,2, or 3 spaces) according to a die, but the moves are spaced out as each player can either make a bet or move a camel, and the round only ends when all the camels are moved. Then the per-round bets are resolved. When a camel crossed the finish line, the per-game bets are resolved.

The camels are lovely: they're little camel meeple pieces which stack, and when multiple camels are in the same space on the track, they stack up, the top one considered in front. And when any camel moves, all the ones on top of it move along with it.

The way the bets work works fairly well, there's a token for a bet at various payoffs, and the first player to take one for a particular camel gets the best payoff, etc. So there's no "just bet as much as you want", you have to eke out small incremental advantages, which feels more in the spirit of the game.

Hogwarts Lego game

Belonging to Ms 8 (I think?). It works really well at capturing the feel of both lego and of hogwarts.

There's an arena of 4x4 lego rooms with room for four lego people to stand, which slides freely if an adjacent room has been lifted out. Four classrooms with relevant stuff to collect (potion, familiar, divination crystal, and spellbook), and the rest corridors, either straight, L-shaped, or T-shaped.

Each turn you roll a die and it gives you one of several different move types. Usually you pick up a corridor, and rotate it, or pick up a corridor and slide one to three other rooms around. You can slide classrooms and rooms with people in, but not pick them up. Then you move your meeple from one room to an adjacent room (assuming the doorways match up).

Each player controls a student from one house, and needs to collect the four collectables in their colour, and get back to their common room to win.

I don't know how well the strategy holds up, but it did very well at capturing the feel of lego: you build the arena and different rooms first, and the meeples and collectables have just the right lego bumps to click onto in the rooms and back in the common room. And also hogwarts: it's not scary, but it does feel like the layout is just constantly new to you.

The rules had a few weird omissions near the beginning (Do you need the room to match up with your common room before you first move into them?) But they also had several sections about suggestion rules modifications and additions, and had several extra pieces for them, and encourage you to experiment, which is a very lego approach to a board game.

Pandemic Legacy

C+K have pandemic legacy, Pandemic where you play a series of a dozen or so games, and each one alters the board and rules in a permanent way (good and bad). They've played about half the games and we joined on the most recent one. I'm carefully not talking about what happens, because most people who are interested probably want to play it for themselves. (But if you're curious and don't care about spoilers, feel free to ask me.)

But even knowing the general principle, it was really exciting to play a particular game and see what had happened and what happened this game. Some of the changes were about what I'd expected, but others were really interesting.
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I really liked it. Especially the first half an hour or so is exactly the blend of humour, action, frivolous and serious I like. It manages to make deadpool seem both intimidating and effective, but also whimsical and willing to charge into impossible odds.

Deadpool is notoriously edgy, in good ways and bad depending on his mood and the medium he's portrayed in. His whole schtik is doing bad things to bad people -- he openly admits that's not really ok, but that it also does good by getting bad people out of the way.

There's two problem with "edgy". Read more... )
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I read the first book, Leviathan Wakes, a little while back, and recently got round to reading the second and third. Someone online said book #5 was really good, so we'll see what I think.

What I really like is the setting -- medium future solar system SF, when Mars has been settled, and Earth and Mars are the solar system's superpowers, but humans are still scattered round the belt and a few other places doing mining and research and so on, with a varying tension in how they're loyal to the inner planet governments they have almost no connection with.

It's old school in a way I like, to imagine humanity will eventually make inroads into the solar system, rather than assuming it will never happen, or will only happen by some magic alien tech which is dropped onto us. It feels like, it's at an *earlier* phase than some other books, in that we've settled *one* other planet, and some other asteroids and moons, and the situation is evolving from there.

Earth and Mars have military spaceships, bu they're like aircraft carriers -- they've rarely been tested seriously against OTHER serious military spaceships, only against smaller stuff. And they really exist as a last line of defence for the settled planets which might be futile.

Of course, into the middle of this, they DO drop some alien technology, which is simultaneously an incomprehensible physics-defying threat, but also automated and uncontrolled and potentially an opportunity if you're VERY VERY careful.

The second and third books are about as good as the first (which is good but not superb for a series :)). They still talk about the settled human places and the politics between, though it's evolved a lot. And I wish there were more of it. The alien tech is still there, not sidelined, still central to the plot of each, in what happens next, but not completely obviating the existing worldbuilding.

A few minor details bother me. "No lightspeed delay" is not impossible like "free energy" it's impossible like "garble warble farble" -- you need to say what it MEANS before you can attempt to claim it's something which has happened. *Different* details bothered other friends.

The second and third books are *better* at a varied representation. The first book focuses on Miller, a hardboiled detective archetype, and Holden, who has almost the same personality but runs a spaceship instead of being a detective. The second and third keep Holden but have (I think), an even mix of male and female viewpoint characters, many of which I really like. Although I feel it's still playing catch-up in some ways, like one fo the viewpoints in the third book is an antagonist, who doesn't feel as equal as the others.

And the viewpoints are not always very distinct -- when it's describing what's going on, it's easy to forget who's in theory seeing it. And I feel like something's missing it's hard to put my finger on. Like each character has stuff that happens, but it's not always much of an *arc*, it's sometimes hard to fit "challenges met and overcome" into the plot of the book.
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What I like about Ingress

You can make plans and follow them. You can say, "I have ten minutes, let me see if I can grab keys for these four many portals" or "Can I fill this hole in fielding". In pokemon, you can't really set out to *do* something most of the time.

There's a big incentive to visit different and out-of-the-way portals which is really interesting. Getting keys for them, or linking to them, mean the portals are *different*, not just "go to whichever ones are closest".

You can look up where's an interesting place to go to.

What I like about Pokemon Go

Filling the pokedex and collecting high-level pokemon gives you a form of progress which you can always increase. In Ingress, the only form of permanent progress was levelling-up, which was fun at low levels, but it was about conquering territory which was always transitory.

There's three teams, not two. I don't know why, but that seems to make it a lot more fun, both in how gyms change hands, and in meeting people.

The flavour is really nice, I love seeing different pokemon.

When you get to higher levels, there's not quite such a cliff of "now it's too hard to level up, and there's nothing else to do, there's no point".

Problems I'm starting to have with Pokemon

I've had a *lot* of fun with it. But I am starting to find some problems.

The new scanner sort-of works. It at least tells you what's within 200m. But it seems like that's not *totally* reliable. And it doesn't seem to tell you pokemon in order. But that means, I never have the satisfaction of tracking a pokemon methodically. It's either "walk along the river" or "rush backwards to establish the edge of the circle, then dash in one direction, and either frantically search around 200m from the first point, or reach another edge and triangulate". It's not a *fun* process, it's aggravating.

You don't play only at pokestops.

I mean, it's realistic that you don't get good intermediate indications of progress, you just have to try your best and then wait for success. But getting positive feedback is one of the things that makes games fun!

Now I have most of the pokemon which often spawn nearby, there's a lot less point going for a little walk and capturing some. I used to take a little wander, catch a few, come home. Now it's "go and see if there's a rare one, there isn't". Or, waste a bunch of pokeballs catching pidgeys I don't really need.

And it's hard to *work towards* filling my pokedex. ETA: Either someone tells you where a rare pokemon spawns, or you just wander around and hope. Either way, you get a random success for no reason, followed by a long period of failure.

So I may stop. But I wish it would become possible to start over, while being able to switch back to my original account occasionally. Like, in Ingress, having multiple accounts even if it took time to switch was a big advantage, because you could put multiple high-level resonators on a portal. But in pokemon, it seems like it wouldn't make that much difference. I'm sure I *can* start another account, but it would be nice if it was officially supported, "yes, that's what you're supposed to do, we won't ban you". Maybe with a built-in delay for switching or something.