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1.27.2011

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

"If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don’t."

I am just that kind of geek who not only enjoys Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series but, in fact, considers it a work of hilarious genius. For whatever reason, I had never been interested in Adams other series Dirk Gently, a two-book-long mystery series. When presented with the audiobook read by the (sadly) deceased author himself, I finally decided to take a look.

As I've heard it, Adams fancied himself a performer who got stuck being a writer. He apparently longed to play his wacky radio, novel, and television characters rather than sit behind the scenes and write them. Where Adams really did get to perform was on audiobook recordings. If you get the chance to listen to an audiobook recorded by Douglas Adams: do it. The exuberance, hilarity, and brilliance of the man comes out in his reading particularly since it's his own work.

Now as for Dirk Gently in particular... it is inevitable that my review must compare this book to Hitchhiker's. That is, after all, what everyone knows if they know anything at all. It is a bit difficult to review something like this, however.

Dirk Gently rather ironically and paradoxically is more and less mundane than Hitchhiker's. It is set in what was modern-day London (modern when the book was written in 1987) and features no intergalactic hitchhiking. The original cover of the book described it as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic" which is pretty much accurate.

At the beginning of Gently we are introduced to several seemingly divergent and unrelated characters and events. But it's Douglas Adams writing and the book as the word "Holistic" in the title so we know they aren't. Adams adeptly ties these elements together in a way that had me laughing and saying "that's brilliant" often in the same moment. A noteworthy feat: the book several times got me to laugh out loud which is a rare occurrence when I am alone.
Author Douglas Adams

I spent some time looking for the mystery and the detective who was supposed to solve it. In fact the titular character doesn't enter the story proper until roughly half-way and I'm still a bit confused as to whether there was actually a mystery.

It found the divergence in tone interesting. Some elements of the story seem like they could fit perfectly well into Hitchhiker's with almost no alteration while others just seem incongruous at first. Some of that is due to Adam's style, other things are due to the way in which the story is presented. I have no doubt the whole thing would make much more sense to me if I listened to it again.

Criticism might be leveled at the plotting and some extensive ramblings about computer technology which only has a little to do with the plot. Adams was a technology enthusiast and that certainly shows. There is also one character who (literally) fades out of the story and isn't given a satisfactory ending. I hate it when critics nitpick comedies though. If they are funny then they've done their job as far as I'm concerned. Anything else you get such as good plotting, characters, ideas, and the like are merely icing on the cake.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is an enjoyable, clever book. Most of it made me laugh, but some of it caused me to think. Very hard. To me that is Adam's strength in writing. Clever description, clever story, clever humour, clever ideas.

I may have to pick up the sequel: The Long, Dark Tea Time of the Soul sometime as well.

American Standard Version

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is one thing you still have to do. Keep all your possessions and be glad you are rich, for you will also have treasure in heaven. It is unnecessary to follow me. Stay at home and be comforted by your wealth, with which I have blessed you.”

When the man heard this he was elated, for he was very rich.

When Jesus saw the rich young ruler's happiness, he said, “How convenient it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, money is evidence that God loves you and has destined you for heaven.”

1.17.2011

we are not yet free

my college does not celebrate martin luther king jr. day. it is only fitting that an institution that prides itself on its america-loving christian freedom would not stop to recognise one of the central figures to advance the cause of liberty in united states' history.

from this american life:
Girl: Dad, what's Christmas?
Dad: That's when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Girl: Who's that?

The father was not particularly religious, so they went out and bought a children's Bible and read stories about the early life of Jesus. The girl loved the stories. She was particularly impressed with Jesus' message of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. A couple of weeks went by and the girl and her father drove past a church. In front of the church was a giant crucifix.

Girl: What's that?

The father winced a little and realised he never finished the story about Jesus. He told his daughter that Jesus' message of love was so frightening and intimidating to those in power that they felt threatened and they killed him. She thought about that.

A couple more weeks went by and the girl was on holiday from school because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The father and the girl went out for breakfast and there was picture of Dr. King on a place-mat.

Girl: Who's that?
Dad: That's Martin Luther King, Jr. He's the reason why you have off school today. We're celebrating his birthday.
Girl: What did he do?
Dad: He was a preacher.
Girl: For Jesus?
Dad: Yes, for Jesus.
Girl: What was his message?
Dad: He told everyone they should be kind to one another no matter what the other person looked like.
Girl: That's like Jesus' message.
Dad: Yeah, I suppose it is.

The girl thinks for a moment.

Girl: Did they kill him too?

1.12.2011

Game Anticipation 2011

Well for some reason at the beginning of every year I feel compelled to look through Wikipedia's "Year in Film" and "Year in Video Gaming" pages to remind myself what's coming out in the upcoming year. I'll do a post on the films I'm interested in later. Now is time for games!

2011 looks very bright for gaming. Wow. This year may rival 2007 in the quantity of quality games coming out. I suppose we'll have to see when they actually come out though. Naturally my life is getting busier, more complicated, and more real leaving me with less time for gaming. And that's alright. I'll be selective. I'm not planning on playing all these games. Some I am interested for technology, some for story, and some for their relevance to the gaming subculture. Here's the stuff I found intriguing.

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2011

10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
I have almost completely give up on Wii games. Even if they're good, they are ruined by awful controls. The only really good Wii games are ones that don't use or don't need to use the Wii's awful motion controls. But a Zelda game...? You've got me interested. It's a long shot (no pun intended) but maybe the Wii Motion Plus can make this game's combat somewhat fun or at least not get in the way too much. But then again Nintendo allowed Metroid's perfect track record for great games to be ruined last year. Why should Zelda be any different?

9. Star Wars: The Old Republic

I hate MMORPGs. The Old Republic is an MMORPG. Why does it interest me? Because it's BioWare's first attempt at an MMO. BioWare. That name has become synonymous with quality RPG experiences. Plus it's got Knights of the Old Republic's pedigree. Even those who malign most Star Wars games as obvious cash-ins thought those games were worth their salt. It will be interesting to see what The Old Republic does in the online gaming market if nothing else.

8. Dragon Age II
I really enjoyed the story and atmosphere of the first Dragon Age game. The difficulty, however, drove me insane (the PC version is supposedly harder than console versions). At the end of the day it just wasn't that fun when it came to combat. I'm not sure if the combat's changed much, but other developments have me interested. A fully-voiced main character is a nice addition. The game takes place over the span of the decade so choices made in the beginning reportedly have far-reaching consequences by the end. It's player choice affecting story that really makes BioWare's games compelling and they do it better than almost anyone.



7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I am interested in this game for one reason and one reason only: the engine. Fallout 3 made me a fan of that series big time. And seeing how Bethesda Softworks owns the license to make Fallout games it's a safe assumption that Fallout 4 will run on the new Skyrim engine. Oblivion and Fallout 3's notoriously buggy implementations of the Gamebryo engine left a lot to be desired so here's hoping for improvement. I'm not ruling out the possibility that Skyrim itself might be great, but I was not impressed by the generic fantasy vibe I got from the teaser trailer. Also, what's with "sky" in the titles of fantasy games this year?



6. Rage
Rage is the latest game by id Software the legendary company behind Doom. I'm mostly interested to see what this creative team has come up with in the many years since Doom 3. Rage has been described as an FPS and a racing game with RPG elements. Very odd. Sounds potentially awesome. Plus it all runs on id's new id Tech 5 engine.

5. Duke Nukem Forever
I have never played a Duke Nukem game in my life, but I think the entire gaming subculture is holding its collective breath to see if this really... finally comes out. For those unaware, Duke Nukem Forever has been in development since 1997. In 2009 the studio developing the game closed and everyone thought the game was really, finally dead. Later that same year, however, developer Gearbox Studios picked-up the nearly-finished game and decided to actually get it out the door. We'll see if it really comes this year. No specific release date has been given. I'll believe it when I see it.

4. Batman: Arkham City
Yes, please. Arkham Asylum was one heck of a game. Although based on the cartoon TV series, I felt as awesome as Chris Nolan's Batman while playing. The combat was awesome. The stealth was intuitive and challenging. The atmosphere was thick and rife with detail. I'm hoping to see my sole complaint about the original game fixed with Arkham City: an improved story would be nice this time around. Something a little less played-out than super soldier mutants would be a great place to start.



3. Portal 2
C'mon, it's Portal. Do I even need to explain? Can you just imagine I made a cake joke and move on? Seriously though. I was skeptical about Portal 2 at first. The original was an instant classic, but it was such a short game that a full-length sequel seemed a challenging prospect. By the look of things, Valve has overcome that challenge. Well of course they have. Portal 2 seems to be a much more in-depth game. It looks downright hard, actually. I have just one question: WHERE THE HECK IS EPISODE 3? Sorry, I have to do that every time I mention Valve.



2. Mass Effect 3
Congrats to BioWare for taking three spots on my most anticipated list. I guess that makes them my new favourite developer ahead of Valve (it might help them if they would release a certain HALF-LIFE game before I'm 60). Although ME1 had a few design flaws and ME2 felt like it was shuffling around looking for a real plot, the Mass Effect games have been absolutely a blast to play. I cannot deny that. Judging by the trailer, ME3 looks to be a highly memorable and very exciting final chapter. Since this is the final game in the story arc and there's no sequel to import save data into, I'm really hoping to see some diverse endings.



1. Crysis 2
I love Crysis. It is the quintessential video game. You are a one-man army in a futuristic supersuit and you own everyone. Yeah! That's what video games are about. To boot, Crysis had graphics imported from the future. The 2007 game still looks better than a lot of stuff out there. This time around the setting is an alien-infested New York. And... that's about all I know. It's all I need to know. The game speaks for itself. Have a look at this trailer. You'd have to be a good liar to tell me it's not awesome.