Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Imaro Review

I’m ashamed to admit it has taken me this long to finally read Imaro by Charles R. Saunders. Having finally read one of the seminal works in sword and sorcery, I’m glad that I finally did. Imaro is amazing. This book is going on my shopping list.

But first, some background. Charles R. Saunders, in the 1970s, desired to write the stories he wanted to read- stories inspired by his African heritage.  Thus was born the character Imaro and his world of Nyumbani. The Imaro stories where published throughout the later seventies and early eighties before being reissued (and revised) in the 2000s.

Imaro is a short story novel that depicts the life of Imaro, an Ilyassai youth, at various ages from five (when his mother abandons him) to late teens or very early twenties (when he leads his haramia band). The novel, and the component short stories, explore Imaro’s growth as a great warrior and his conflicted status as an outsider as he confronts enemies both mortal and sorcerous.

And this is what is so amazing with Imaro as a character. He is the “son of no father”, an outsider, who desperately wants to be accepted by his mother’s people. But they hold him in utter disdain until it is far too late. Their acceptance comes only after he has come to hate them, and himself for wanting to be accepted by them.  But that desire to belong is still present for Imaro. He achieves this when he joins the haramia and earns the acceptance and respect of outsiders like him.

Pity he has demon gods and their sorcerer servants after him.

Is this destiny, as implied by the narration (the language equating Imaro with a weapon during its forging stages), or is this the inability to let go of a grudge (Imaro certainly seems incapable of letting go, and the same seems equally true of the Mashataan and their Namaan servants)?

Personally, I think the narrative thrust has more to do with a general inability on the part of most of the characters to let go of grudges.

All of the stories that make up Imaro are quite good. But the best ones are “The Place of Stones,” “The Afua,” and “The Black Hills.” I also quite like “Betrayal in Blood,” but I feel that Imaro’s rise to a military prodigy that can run the combined armies of two of the most powerful kingdoms on Nyumbani raged to be a bit much.

Imaro can be a great warrior without being a great general. Making him such a prodigy, while giving him a credible reason to put off his pursuit of the Mashataan, creates the impression that Imaro is, in part, wish fulfillment.

Not that wish fulfillment is a bad thing. It isn’t. Quite the contrary, wish fulfillment can be a great thing.

On the whole, Imaro as wish fulfillment is handled extremely well. Except when he is depicted as a military prodigy.

The biggest problem with the stories that make up Imaro is Imaro’s love interests. Both Keteke and Tanisha are war trophies. Imaro won Keteke during a raid on the Zamburu, a tribe bordering the Ilyassai. Tanisha  is meant for a noble’s harem before she is captured by the haramia and becomes Imaro’s woman. Yes both women willingly “choose” to be Imaro’s, but that choice is effectively negated by their circumstances. Keteke is a straighter example given that she is more explicitly a war prize. But Tanisha “choosing” Imaro as “her one and only” is, to me at least, a poor attempt at giving Tanisha the semblance of choice. Perhaps a better option would have been to have Tanisha be a member of the haramia and avoid the war trophy implications.

The world building of Nyumbani is fairly impressionistic. Nyumbani is a fantasy construction explicitly based on Africa. Many of the tribes and cultures of Nyumbani can be easily traced to real world counterparts. The best example are the Maasai inspired Ilyassai, but the sources of inspiration are quite clear to the reader.

I like the world building. The impressionistic quality avoids the information dumps that can so often ruin fantasy novels.

Despite its flaws, I love Imaro. This is one of the best novels I’ve read in quite a while. A definite inclusion to my buy list.

Coming Out on Top, A Further Take

This post is not safe for work. You have been warned.

I’m still obsessed with Coming Out on Top. I want it now, damn it. But I’ll wait, knowing that a better game will be the result. 

I can’t help but feel that my review of the second demo is incomplete. Namely, I didn’t go into the art and visuals like I should have. Nor did I point out some specific examples of scenes that need improving. I’ll also end with what I’d like to see in a third demo, before release. 

The art work for Coming Out on Top is very well done. It certainly has evolved from the earlier demo. I see nothing wrong with it. The character design is great. And the landscaping/ interiors are all pretty good. 

The problem is that there are clearly two artists at work. One does most of the game (who I think is Obscura herself) while the other does the sex scenes (who I think is Doubleleaf). 

In the second demo, there are only three sex scenes with several accompanying explicit images. They are all very nice, especially the Jed/ Mark and Alex/ Mark scenes. But the first sex scene, Mark jacking off, is problematic. In those images, Mark’s head looks a little small compared to the rest of his body and his chest is somewhat too big. It doesn’t look quite right. 

One part of the character design that I should have commented on is the player choice in facial and body hair. The player character and his love interests can all be modified by giving them beards and body hair. Some of the beards look very nice, Ian and Brad’s, while others don’t look quite that good, Mark’s. Jed is, honestly, a bit problematic. His beard looks better in the sex scene than in the game itself (there are points where the beard looks weird when he talks). I have stronger feelings about the chest hair, to be honest. Jed, Ian, and Brad’s chest hair look amazing. But Mark’s chest hair looks weird. And Alex’s chest hair is atrocious. 

The problem here is that the facial/ body hair worn by the characters are too standard. While Jed has a sparser, scruffier beard, all the beards are full. There are no goatees or van dykes or mustaches. The same is true of the body hair. Again, Jed has a sparser cover, but all the guys have basically the same full coverage. 

(All that said, adding beards and body hair is entirely optional. If a player likes it, go for it. And if not, don’t use it.)

Moving on to the sex scenes, there are a few more things I want to say about them.

Why does the dildo scene not have any explicit images? Will the scene be illustrated in the full game or is it just a humorous, and disappointing, throwaway? In any case, I hope this scene gets an explicit expnasion. 

Another scene in need of expansion is the bukkake between Mark and Jed. When Mark strips in front of Jed, the narrative box tells the player what is going on. Why is this scene not shown? Wouldn’t showing Mark and Jed standing and staring at each other naked with lustful eyes not be hot? Why skimp on the MVP’s cumming? Or Jed rubbing his dick on Mark’s chest/ sucking Mark’s dick after Mark cums? And why not show the kiss between the two at the end?

I emphaically want more to the bukkake scene. And hopefully the other sex scenes will be similarly expanded. (The dream sequence between Mark and Alex is slightly longer than the bukkake scene.)

This plays into my earlier complaint in my review of the demo that Jed, Phil, and Brad get short changed. There are three Alex scenes and only one scene to introduce Jed, Phil, and Brad each. This leads to the conclusion that the second demo feels rushed at the end, though not tacked on (given that the first demo was all Alex). 

In a third and final demo (which should be released 1-3 months before the game’s release date), I would like to see more done with Jed, Phil, and Brad. Maybe expand the demo’s time frame by another week or so to give players more time with the new love interests. I think all three would benefit, but Phil and Brad honestly do not look very good personality wise in their introductions. And, for me at least, more Jed is a good thing. 

I also think that there needs to be another two sex scenes in a third demo. The dildo scene needs to be illustrated. And another Jed scene couldn’t hurt (in addition to expanding Jed’s initial appearance).

Did I mention I’m obsessed with this game? Yeah. . . 

I may return to Coming Out on Top if there is something I feel that I need to say. I’ll also be sure to review a third demo and the full game on each’s release. Just give me some time to play them. 

 

My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant: The Demo Reveiw

My Ex-Boyfriend, the Space Tyrant has been lurking on my computer in demo form for almost a year, or more. I finally decided to play the demo last night. And damn it all, did it stink.

The game stars Tycho Minogue, a retired captain in the Space Navy, who is mustered back into the service when his ex-boyfriend goes on a spree of galactic conquest.

The problem with the game is that it wants to play the point and click adventure “straight” while at the same time attempts to be a campy parody of the genre. It doesn’t work on either level.

The story is, honestly, boring and uninteresting. And the gay element of the game is, frustratingly, tame. The men are scantily clad but nothing happens save some flirting, or so I’ve read. In other words, the game is toothless.

The selling point of My Ex-Boyfriend, the Space Tyrant is not that it is a good game. Not even that it is an adequate game. Rather, the argument is that the game is explicitly designed for a gay audience. But the copious flaws that mare the game destroy any desire on my part to buy.

Absolutely there needs to be more games for the gay market. But it is vital that those games actually be good.

Unfortunately My Ex-Boyfriend, the Space Tyrant is not one of them.

Revising a Rant: The Hot and Cold Edition

I sometimes write rants on this blog. These rants are often therapeutic. I feel a weight of annoyance lifts off me. But I also worry about my rants. Am I writing something stupid? Should I have taken more time to think about whatever I’m ranting about? Rants are a spur of the moment unleashing of pent up frustration and anger. Maybe there should be a lack of forethought? Whatever the answer, sometimes it might be wise to look back over a rant and revise the opinions expressed.

So let me do that with “A Rant of Hot and Cold” from almost two years ago.

My Issue with A Song of Ice and Fire

I am not exactly fond of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. My problem isn’t exactly that I don’t like Martin’s extensive usage of history as basis for his fantasy. I do, however, think his myriad influences are a little too obvious in the text. Especially The Wars of the Roses, the Norman Conquest, etc.

My problem with the series is that I find it to be bloated. And, honestly, dull. There are only two characters that I have any interest in: Dany and Bran.

Part of the problem is that I find the primary concern for the first half of the series to be unexciting. I don’t care who is sitting on the Iron Throne. That is not interesting. The Others/ White Walkers are interesting. Dany’s adventures are interesting. Bran’s adventures are interesting. The rest of it? A too long prologue to the main event which will, I fear, come off as too rushed to really have any sort of emotional impact.

I get that A Song of Ice and Fire’s major selling point is the historical roots. Most people love the fight for the Iron Throne. I understand that my view is likely to be in the minority of readers. And yes, I still haven’t gone back to the series. Nor have I read A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons. I feel that maybe I should give the series a second chance. Or maybe I should just take the plunge and give A Game of Thrones a chance. (Now that I think of it, I wonder if Martin didn’t subconsciously structure the series to resemble a television series).

What is History’s Role in Fantasy? Historical Fiction, Too.

History has a role in fantasy as an inspiration. It also has a role in providing the author with tools to ground the narrative. No matter what type of fantasy one wants to write, doing research is essential. Even if most of it will never see print.

But the work should not become dependent on history. Fantasy is a literature of the imagination. Use it. Don’t just rehash the Wars of the Roses. Or, if one must, please don’t make it so blasted obvious. Unless, of course, the work is alternate history or historical fantasy. Then it is okay.

In my “Rant of Hot and Cold,” I stated several times that if I wanted history, I’d go and read a history text. Why say this when there are numerous examples of great historical fiction?

I’ve come the conclusion that history is, ultimately, a relative subject. There is no way for us to know exactly what happened. What we have are images, glimpses, texts, etc. that provide an idea of what history is. We, then, create a narrative based upon what fragments we have. But our historical narratives are as much about our present as our past.

Personally, I feel that historical fiction, or maybe just certain subgenres within the larger genre, are too obvious in the present reading the past. And exactly how authentic is the history here, anyway? ( Keep in mind, I have an academic bias when it comes to historical texts).

The Grim Dark Calling Itself Real

I’ve followed the crowd in allowing grim dark fantasy to apply “real” to its description.  Is an unrelenting march of horrors any more “real” than an idyll in the Shire? Honestly, no.

What we have here is the changing fashion between pessimism and optimism. Neither side is any more real than the other. But by claiming “the real,” grim dark fantasy makes an argument for its worth.

Until the 1990s, fantasy had the reputation, whether earned or not, of being for kids. And as we all know, kid stuff is full of sweetness and light.

Grim dark fantasy, then, is a reaction against idyllic forms of fantasy. But, perhaps, the grim dark has gone too far. Maybe it is time for a moderate tone to be struck.

What did I mean when I value myth over real?

To me, myth pushes fantasy to strive beyond itself and reach for greatness. Entertainment for its own sake is great and undervalued. But who doesn’t want to reach for the stars?

Wrapping This Post Up

Well, this post is getting bloated, so I’ll wrap this up.

I hope this revision to “A Rant of Hot and Cold” gives a better explanation of my position towards A Song of Ice and Fire, history’s role in fantasy, and the purported “realism” of grim dark fantasy.

 

 

The SF Civil War

SF is in a state of civil war.

One of the factions is progressive. Their argument is that sf should be more reflective of its diverse readership. To achieve this, greater diversity is needed among the ranks of writers, characters, and settings. in addition to the call for greater representation, the progressives have introduced more contemporary literary theories to science fiction and fantasy scholarship.

Opposing the progressives are a faction of conservative writers and critics. Their argument is that sf doesn’t need to diversify. Indeed, some of this faction’s adherents desire to see sf return to an appearance reminiscent of the sf of earlier decades. 

The battles are waged on various blogs. Often, this is the general order of battle: The progressives will issue a strong call for increased diversity or the conservatives will write something offensive. The opposing side will respond with criticism, sometimes strong and harsh. Then the initiating side respond. Finally, the sf blogosphere explodes in a wave of histrionics. And then every body forgets and goes about their regular lives until the next blow up. 

I will admit that I’m biased. I’m a supporter of the progressive faction. As a gay man, i want to read stories featuring gay protagonists. And I want the right to write those stories. Or any story I want to tell. And this sentiment is shared by thousands of fans who want to see people like them depicted for a change. 

I don’t agree with the conservatives by any stretch of the imagination. I understand that they feel threatened by the changes we in the progressive faction want to enact. But, unfortunately, some conservatives have shown themselves to be reactionary and, indeed, out and out racists, sexists, and homophobes. 

Are the progressives angels? Not all the time. Occasionally, I think we honestly cross the line, even if we are supposedly the champions of political correctness.  (The problem is deciding when a strong call for action crosses the line into authoritarian demands. Concurrently, where is the line that divides strong criticism that can serve as teaching moments and unleashing one’s pent up frustrations?)

What frustrates me the most about this whole fracas is the implied to the death nature of all this. Which is absolutely freaking stupid. This isn’t to the death. This isn’t a zero sum game. There is more than enough room for both sides to coexist. And with the rise in independent publishing, this is even more true. 

At the end of the day, it should be left to the reader to decide what he or she wants (or doesn’t want) to read. Yes, both sides have the right to criticize works that are problematic. But try not to degenerate the debate into histrionic typed shouting matches. 

(I know that I’m short on specific examples of some reactionaries’ various bigotries or clear examples of the progressives’ crossing the line. If it is raised in the comments, I’ll address it there. Honestly, though, I’m so sick of this crap. Hopefully, this post will purge my system of this civil war for a while.)

 

Final Take on Young Avengers

I hate having to say this. It hurts because I wanted to love this series so much. But, in the end, the most recent run of the chronically stalled Young Avengers series (written by Kieron Gillen) has been bitterly disappointing. To the point that any new revivals of the series will be met with a much needed suspicion.

My biggest problem with the series has been Billy Kaplan. His characterization has been atrocious throughout this series (though there are some arguments to be made that this trend started with Children’s Crusade). Though his character is not absolutely dependent on his romantic relationship with Teddy Altman, his characterization revolves around that relationship. This point is best illustrated in the climatic final confrontation with Mother. On his own, Billy cannot defeat her. It is only when Teddy comes to him and redeclares his love that Billy is able to become the Demiurge. 

On one hand, this is a wonderful moment for LGBT representation in comics (as is the later revelation that all on the team save for, maybe, Kate Bishop are shades of LGB). But on the other, when is it a good idea to limit a character’s growth to their romantic partners? 

Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that Billy exactly grows as a character during this series. Except, of course, he does come back to the superhero life. 

Teddy Altman is problematic in a lot of ways. Personally, I feel his personality darkens considerably. While unintentional, I feel that there is a manipulative element in his interactions with Billy. Maybe when Loki intimates that Billy created Teddy to be his ideal boyfriend, he hit closer to home, but still missed the mark? 

The new Young Avengers series is the story, ultimately, of Loki’s redemption after killing his genuinely heroic reincarnation. His confessional breakdown is, perhaps, the best written scene in the entire run. The emotional impact is undeniable. Gillen gets Loki. Pity the other characters don’t get nearly that level of understanding. 

America Chavez comes close to getting that level of understanding, if only on a more subtle level. She depicts herself as a hard, experienced, no nonsense superhero. But behind that tough exterior is a young woman meeting her god (Billy) and learning that he is not what she thought he was. This is great characterization. 

I’ve gone on about my dislike for the overall plot of the series. Mother is a rather ridiculous antagonist. That her menace lasts so long is frustrating. What happens to the team during their months long exile from Earth? Aren’t there stories to be told here? 

At points, Young Avengers does hit a level of coolness that goes beyond the average comic book. But too often that potential is hampered by a bitterly uninteresting plot. Rather than one long (fifteen issue) story arc, the series should have been composed of shorter and more frenetic, action packed arcs. 

In the end, it is hard to say that Marvel has handled Young Avengers well. It may well be years before a return to Young Avengers as an actual ongoing. But this time, I’m going to be far more cautious in my enthusiasm.