Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 24 and 25, in which nothing happens

Another two-chapter post this week because these chapters sap my will to live.  They also form a nice duology of toss-off ideas.  My working theory at this point is that Robert Jordan realised that instead of writing a lot of books with specific premises, he could write one book that contained six hundred premises and just tour around them without ever developing any, and that would be just as popular but much easier to write.

The Eye of the World: p. 348--378
Chapter Twenty-Four: Flight Down the Arinelle

This chapter again begins with a dream sequence as Rand is running around a fantastical maze, and the scenery as described is all very pretty but it does basically zero to advance the plot.  He's being hunted by the devil, he runs into the devil, he screams that it's all a dream and wakes up, but his finger is still bleeding from a thorn he touched in the dream.  I just gave you several minutes of your life back.  Then it's boat time again:
The Spray made haste slowly down the Arinelle.
FIGHT ME ROBERT JORDAN.

(There's also a note that all the sailors go barefoot because "boots could slip on a wet deck".  I don't--are human feet covered in suckers like octopus tentacles in this world?  I'm pretty sure humans are capable of creating boots with higher coefficients of static and kinetic friction than our feet.)

Most of this chapter appears to be filler--we get rundowns of the cyclical ire of the crew, between working hard to escape trollocs and grumbling that they've left the trollocs far behind; we get descriptions of how Thom keeps up the pretense that he's apprenticing Rand and Mat; we get talk of how Mat is constantly creeping away to 'be alone', which would be more sinister if Mat weren't a fairly typical teenage boy.  Mat does seem to have developed something of a treasure obsession, but since it has no plot relevance yet, I don't care.

Captain Domon rambles for a few pages (I am not exaggerating) about the wondrous things he's seen in the world, cursed metal towers and skeletons of ancient beasts.  Same old same old: instead of any kind of actual depth to the structure of the world, we're 356 pages in and the vastness of this land with its perfectly rectangular borders is being emphasised to us through endless lists of one-off wonders that we'll never hear of again.  There's mention in there of a crater somewhere with a giant silver spike in the centre that kills anyone who comes within a mile of it, and I spent a few minutes struggling to think of any reason that the existence of an instant-kill magic zone wouldn't be extremely important and interesting in a world with a lot of monsters that seem to have trouble properly dying.  These are all cool notions to throw into the world, but it bugs me that everyone's apparently just happy to let these things be completely mysterious untouched curiosities rather than actually incorporating them into their lives.  It doesn't feel more like a great big world to me; it feels like a weird museum for the protagonist to wander.

There's then a detailed explanation of how Rand messes about on top of the mast one day, freaks out the crew, Thom comes to get him, and he inexplicably nimbly clambers down again, in the perfect place to see why Mat keeps sneaking off all the time--he is, as anyone could have guessed, playing with his dagger.  Oh, an actual dagger?  Okay then.  It's very fancy and golden and he took it from Shadar Logoth, but it wasn't a gift so he's sure he didn't accidentally release that incredibly evil ghost-dude Moiraine warned them about.  This, obvs, is the source of his new obsession with treasure, but Rand agrees not to tell anyone, because Rand failed his Genre Savviness check today.  Rand talks about all the cash they'll get by selling it and Mat just says 'if we have to'.  He is also reluctant to admit he's been having more dreams, like Rand, and then they Don't Talk About That for a while.  Rand also retroactively freaks out about the stunts he pulled on the mast, and becomes more convinced that something is messing with his head.

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Traveling People

Oh fuck, are we going to get Fantasy Romani now?  This is gonna suck.  Egwene and the horse, Bela, do not particularly trust the wolf pack now just hanging out with them as they stroll onwards.  I thought for a moment that this was actually from Egwene's perspective, but no, that would be silly because she is a girl and therefore a distraction from serious, slow, thoughtful Perrin the cool dude who can, like, talk to wolves.  Egwene tries to get Elyas to share in riding Bela, like she and Perrin do, and he refuses:
She took a deep breath, and Perrin was wondering if she would succeed in bullying Elyas the way she did him, when he realized she was standing there with her mouth open, not saying a word.  Elyas was looking at her, just looking, with those yellow wolf's eyes. Egwene stepped back from the raw-boned man, and licked her lips, and stepped back again.
We know Elyas is cool because he can make girls shut up just by looking at them, when they try to 'bully' him with their logic and courteous offers.

It's like Tolkien, but feminist!  (Also, raw-boned?  What does that even mean?)

Perrin is slowly adjusting to his new wolfdar, constantly pointing out their presence to him, but he's comforted by his dreams, which no longer feature Ba'alzamon--they're normal dreams like he had back home, except that there's always a wolf in the background, facing away from him like a watchdog.  This is probably one of my favourite mystical things we've seen so far: and it's remarkably succinct and understated rather than getting three pages of explication.  I don't think that's coincidental.

And yet, because Perrin is a useless sack, he also resents and fears the wolves that speak to him, guard him, and bring him food, and thinks he'd be willing to go hungry if they'd just go away.  He also almost takes a shot at some giant mastiffs that leap out of a copse of trees, but Elyas calms them and explains that there are Tuatha'an camping within, and because everything has like fifty names in this world, they're also known as Tinkers or the Traveling People.  Okay, not Fantasy Romani, then, but Fantasy Irish Travellers.  Egwene immediately brings up the stereotype that they're all thieves, and Elyas shuts her down.  Elyas remains the Best Dude, but really, can Egwene just not have nice things anymore?  Perrin has heard about the their legendary tinsmithing skills and wants to check it out.  One point to House Useless Sack.

(We pause now to talk about demonyms.  I note that Jordan here uses most of the common terms for Travellers except for 'gypsy', which is a racial slur, specifically against the Romani and related peoples.  I would give points for that, except that I'm guessing he didn't use it because it sounded too Earthlike, while 'Tuatha'an' is just, like, Dog Gaelic.  WOT hereafter refers to these people mostly as 'tinkers', but the interwebs inform me that this is also sometimes used as a pejorative against actual Irish Travellers, so I'm going to skip that for the sake of simplicity and courtesy.)

Elyas leads them into the trees, and while Perrin has never seen Travellers before, their camp is exactly what he expects from stories, because stories about exotic ethnic minorities are always perfectly accurate and don't overstate anything.  (Except for the stealing, apparently.)  The camp is exactly what a stereotypical Traveller or Romani camp looks like, with giant brightly-painted wagons and clothes with eye-hurtingly contrasting vivid colours.  Well, I say vivid colours, but the other obvious reason to base these people on Irish Travellers instead of Romani is that we were in great danger of accidentally including brown people in this story.  Dodged a bullet there.

They sit down for a meal with the elder and his wife, and a grandson who shows up to hit on Egwene.  (Perrin admits he's cute but figures he's like that player back home who dates all the girls at once.)  We also get some infodumps on Traveller pacifism (they're very pacifist) and Aram takes Egwene away to dance.  The elder relates a story of news from a couple of years ago, some warning that a Traveller band got from a dying Aiel warrior while crossing the Wastes, saying that the Dark One is coming to blind the Eye of the World and kill the World-Serpent.  Perrin spends most of this time baffled at the notion of a society where female warriors are common and accepted.  Egwene dances with Aram until it's late, snaps at Perrin that Aram is a sweet fun boy and not just a player, and then breaks down in tears and begs him to tell her that the others are still alive, before she kisses him on the cheek and heads to bed down among the women.

Why in the world is Perrin our POV character here?  He has, like, two emotions and no direction in life.  Egwene frequently acts like a real person and has a vastly more interesting potential storyline, but she's too busy getting saddled with the role of overemotional token chick who needs a man to support her.  At least if their roles were swapped Perrin wouldn't have any personality to waste on his overwrought outbursts.

I'm also curious about the pacifism the Travellers expound, because the narrative certainly treats them like they're sensible rather than naive fools, but the narrative is also totally onboard with Our Heroes beheading enemies all over the place.  The elder would have Perrin believe that the spiritual self-harm that results from doing violence to other people is much worse than the physical violence that they're doing, but he's saying this in a world with a malevolent ancient god that works tirelessly to destroy all of existence, which makes 'running away' a questionable plan at best.  I mean, I guess it's supposed to be an even presentation of the options, but it feels rather more like 'I beat a bad guy to death with another bad guy this morning, but I appreciate pacifism, so you know I'm a good dude'.  Whereas Egwene, who supports this pacifist notion much more strongly, is an overemotional wreck who needs to deal with her emotions by shoving her tongue down hot nomad boy's throat like it's an ovipositor.

I'm saying that Ender's Game was supposedly about peace and mercy too, and that's full of people who are all about that genocide, 'bout that genocide, 'bout that genocide, no trouble.  Pacifism in fantasy would be more interesting if it were ever brought up with more depth than 'foolish idealism' or 'theoretical notion that we don't actually need to engage with'.

Next week: Rand arrives at Whitebridge, at the end of the White Bridge, which I can only assume is some kind of gated community with a lot of dentists and financiers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 21, 22, and 23, in which girls get put in their places a lot

In an unexpected twist this week, we get three straight chapters with no Rand at all.  It turns out Perrin is not an improvement.

The Eye of the World: p. 314--347
Chapter Twenty-One: Listen to the Wind

For our second perspective swap, we wake up in Nynaeve's head, giving us our first opportunity to see how Jordan thinks woman work on the inside.  She didn't meet up with any of the rest of Our Heroes in their frantic dash out of the city of murder-fog, so she awakens sitting up against a tree when the sunlight stirs her sleeping horse and it shakes the reins in her hand.  I would like to note again that the last time Our Heroes slept properly was that first night in Baerlon, and that was also their first rest in like a week, so everyone is hella sleep deprived, but she still curses herself for falling asleep at all, and for thinking the others might not have survived.
Not even Winternight, or the battle before Shadar Logoth, had prepared her for last night, for that thing, Mashadar. All that frantic galloping, wondering if anyone else was still alive, wondering when she was going to come face-to-face with a Fade, or Trollocs.
I'm generally of the opinion that an author shouldn't need to tell us when one of his action scenes was way more intense than any of the other ones.  Did he realise how hard it was to take the creeping fog tendril seriously, compared to wraiths and beast-people appearing in the middle of the night to torch your whole village?  This is blatant shilling and it's not a good sign when you need to do that halfway through book one of fifteen.

I'm not clear on why Nynaeve was worried about getting caught by trollocs while asleep, since she also tells us how she ran into a pack of them last night, outside the city, and when they recognised her they turned and ran in another direction, since their mission is to capture the Important Boys.  Nynaeve sets out with her elite tracking skills and fails to find the boys' trails, but does locate Moiraine and Lan by the smell of their campfire.  She eavesdrops for a while--they are incredibly roundabout, but the point is Lan is worried the bad guys have regained the old Mass Teleport magic and are using it to move troops--before Moiraine calls her out of hiding.

Their new argument begins with a nonsensical rejoinder:
"No, I don't want any tea. I would not drink your tea if I was dying of thirst. You won't use any Emond's Field folk in your dirty Aes Sedai schemes." 
"You have very little room to talk, Wisdom [....] You can wield the One Power yourself, after a fashion."
I--wait, what?  'You're using my neighbours in your wizardly plots!' 'Well, you're a wizard too!'  That is not a convincing counterargument, Moiraine!  That looks like an admission of guilt!  Do better.  Nynaeve scoffs at the idea of her wizardry and Moiraine rants a bit about how she obviously is magic, and insists that's why she could detect Nynaeve's presence.  Nynaeve's too young to be such a good healer and wind-reader--"Oh, it has nothing to do with the wind, of course. It is of Air and Water", not that we're told how that's different--and then Moiraine speculates at Nynaeve's backstory, at some early incident in life when she accidentally used magic to save herself or a friend and then later felt shakes or numbness.  She also must have, I quote, "used the Power to Heal either Perrin or Egwene", because you can always sense people you once healed, and that was how she figured out so fast which inn they had stayed at in Baerlon.  You can tell it's magical because there are so many capitalisations.  If you think Healing is impressive, wait until you trying HeAlING.

(If the bond is that strong and long-lasting, why in blazes didn't Moiraine quickly Heal a bruise on the rest of the party so she'd be able to find them at will for the rest of forever?  That business with the silver coins was unnecessarily roundabout and fallible.)

Obviously, Nynaeve eventually is forced to admit that everything Moiraine said is true, including stories about other Wisdom girls dying with symptoms that match her description of people who don't learn how to safely touch the True Source and burn out instead.  She then completely falls for reverse psychology ('Well, I guess you won't be coming south with us', 'Oh, no, I'm headed south too, towards the sacred valley of FUCK YOU LAN') and they plan where to go next, with further sniping at Moiraine of the 'I know you're right but I'm petty and stubborn' variety.  Further points to Nynaeve, though: she wants to find Egwene quickly and make sure she's safe, while Moiraine is all 'Eh, wevs, she's probably fine'.

The complete decimation of her arguments pushes Nynaeve to tears, obviously, and when Lan's eyes widen in his blank face, she silently accuses him of mocking her and whirls away to wipe her cheeks.

There you have it, folks: we've had precisely two mentions of crying from Our Heroes so far, and they've been Egwene when she 'realised' she was in real danger instead of just an adventure, and Nynaeve when she 'realised' that she was wrong about everything and she had no choice but to do exactly what that witch said.  Is it too much to ask that a story that's supposedly setting out to say things about gender equality maybe try not to associate femininity with weakness and irrationality?  I realise Moiraine is a woman as well, but apart from having breasts and a pretty dress, she's been characterised mostly with the traits lauded in male heroes: brute force power and Doing Her Job and Making The Hard Decisions.  So far this feels about as progressive as hating Sansa Stark.  (Friends don't let friends hate on Sansa Stark.)

Chapter Twenty-Two: A Path Chosen

Now we're back to Perrin, who napped under some branches after losing Egwene crossing the river.  Perrin displays a unique gift for blankness by talking for several pages without actually revealing anything new about his personality, history, or desires.  I'm trying to remember which writer said never to have a character just 'read a newspaper': have them flip to the business section or personals or comics or fashion, anything to show the reader more about who they are.  Perrin is the embodiment of the generic newspaper.

He wanders until he finds horseshoe prints, specifically matching the design used by his teacher back home, and follows them to Egwene and Bela the horse in their own nook, warming themselves by the fire.  You know what this is reminding me of?  The latter half of Walking Dead season four, when every fricking episode was 'a couple more cast members find each other and despair and find the strength to keep going'.  That wasn't why I stopped watching TWD (that was the atrocious season finale), but it didn't help, either.

Perrin and Egwene discuss whether everyone else might be dead and where they can go,and especially whether they won't just walk into a pack of trollocs if they head for their supposed next destination (Whitebridge).  Perrin is constantly described as speaking "slowly", in case we forgot he's the Very Deliberate Thinker, and he lays out why every option they seem to have is a bad idea.
"But every time we think we are free, Fades and Trollocs find us again.  I don't know if there is anyplace we could hide from them. I don't like it much, but we need Moiraine." 
"I don't understand then, Perrin.  Where do we go?" 
He blinked in surprise. She was waiting for his answer. Waiting for him to tell her what to do. Egwene never liked doing what someone else had planned out, and she never let anybody tell her what to do.
Faith and fucking begorrah, what am I reading?  Perrin basically says 'We can't do any of the things, so we have to do this thing', Egwene responds with 'I don't get it, what do you mean?' and he interprets that as proud stubborn Egwene asking him to lead her?  Are we supposed to think Perrin is thick as a post for his analysis?  Or are we supposed to take the narrative at face value and see this as Egwene, in her desperation, finally letting a man direct her?  Is there some reason Jordan thought it was important to introduce his female lead as an enthusiastic adventurer and then grind her down into despair right away?

They agree to go to Caemlyn, Perrin asks for more food and Egwene just says they need to ration it, and Perrin concludes that "there were limits to how much leadership she was willing to accept".  This is the only part of our fragmented party where there's any talk of 'leadership' and there are only two of them.  I hate everything.  Perrin gets ready to start walking (still damp), and puts out the fire, having decided that "If he was the leader, it was time to start leading".  Changed my mind again, Perrin is not too good for Mat; they're both useless.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Wolfbrother

With a title like that, I can only assume we're going to meet the Beorn ripoff in this chapter.  I immediately begin to pray we do, as the first page is Egwene being a Bitchy Feminist and Perrin literally putting her in her place.  They argue over who'll ride Bela: Egwene insists they share, Perrin says he's too big and he'd rather walk, Egwene says she's just as good at walking and he'll probably expect her to take care of him when he's ruined his feet from his stubborn marching, and she only relents and gets into the saddle after Perrin says she rides first or he'll heave her into it himself.

It's like Tolkien, but feminist!

They do some pretty typical implausible fantasy wilderness camping (they have time to locate rabbit runs and set snares in the area, and Perrin slings down a single "scrawny rabbit" and declares that they'll eat well that night).  Egwene clearly read last week's post and tries to use magic to start a fire, but Perrin freaks out and makes her promise not to.  They scavenge badly before the next few days, before finally creeping up on the smell of a cooking fire again, where predictably Perrin is silent but the man covered in furs knows he's there anyway, and has been watching them both starve for days.  Furry dude is named Elyas Machera, predictable professional loner who doesn't like cities and people, and the 'friends' he keeps mentioning who are on their way turn out to be a pack of wolves.  (Elyas has yellow eyes, just like the wolves, which raises further questions about narrative convenience and genetics.)  Apparently he used to be a normal village dude, and then one day wolves started showing up around him, normal people started avoiding him, and he moved out to hang with them.  The wolves are the ones with a gift for understanding him, not the other way around, which is at least a different take.  This is one of those chapters that's just fun fantasy, with much talk of how wolves speak in feelings and have names that can't be put into words because they're too complicated, and I hold some vague hope that Elyas won't just be a pointless cameo.

The wolves apparently have ancestral memory, back to the dawn of history when they used to hunt alongside wolves, and they say--oh, balls.  They say that you can't learn to communicate with wolves, you have to be born with the gift, and Egwene doesn't have it but Perrin does.  Heavens forfend we spend any length of time focused on the wizard girl without making sure the boys have badass magic powers too.  Perrin is boring, wolves!  Y'all can find a better packmate!

Egwene gives their cover story for how they ended up wandering the wilderness, which they've been prepping for days and Perrin thinks sounds brilliant, but of course "Dapple says she smelled Halfmen and Trollocs in your minds while were telling that fool story" and with a low howl they're surrounded.  Egwene of course looks to Perrin to save the day, and he instead tells the real story, which calms them more, although Elyas hates Aes Sedai and claims to have killed Warders to escape them.  There's one worldbuilding point:
"They don't like that either, Aes Sedai. Old things coming again. I'm not the onlyone. There are other things, other folk. Makes Aes Sedai nervous, makes them mutter about ancient barriers weakening. Things are breaking apart, they say."
I'll give this to Elyas: when he's talking, I do not hate this book.  He agrees to take them south, with the pack, and hunt any monsters they find along the way, because apparently wolves are the anti-crow and have an eternal feud with Trollocs and the like.  (I've skipped yet more snarking with Perrin telling Egwene off for making decisions without talking to him first, because it sucks and it gives us nothing, but it's important to note that it's still there because it's everywhere and we can't have nice things.)

Next week: Does anyone feel like it's been too long since we had a dream sequence?  Rand is here to solve the problem that we didn't have.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 19 and 20, in which no one makes good decisions

It's honestly harder to carve into this book than it was for any of Card's works.  Not because this is more horrifying, but because Card is, in comparison, an incredibly concise writer, while Jordan apparently takes pride in writing pages of description I couldn't cut through with a hacksaw and a Loggingbot 3000 Automatic Hewing Droid.  For that reason, please accept my apologies as we only get through two chapters this week.

The Eye of the World: p. 275--313
Chapter Nineteen: Shadow's Waiting

The title trips me up here.  'Shadows Waiting' I would understand to mean 'there are shadows which are waiting', generic but okay.  The apostrophe means it's either a contraction, which seems deeply unlikely (casual language is always less MYTHIC), or a possessive gerund, in which case this chapter is about the waiting that some particular shadow has done, which sounds like really boring performance art.  I've gotten this far in life without seeing Godot and I'm not going to start now.

When last we left Our Heroes, they were creeping into the ruined city now called Shadar Logoth, which is of course hella impressive, as all ancient ruins must be.  Every giant building is capped with one to five marble domes, "each one shaped differently", and I'm not even sure how you do that with a feature that's literally named for its shape.  Very, very creative use of convexity, apparently.  There are also long pillar-lined streets leading up to sky-scraping towers, and I would like to know how it is that Rand didn't see any of those buildings from a distance.  Every intersection has a fountain, monument, or be-pedestalled statue, which must have made for terrible traffic flow back in the day.

Lan picks a ruined tower with an intact main floor and no door whatsoever for their camp.  The doorway is literally so big that they bring the horses inside in pairs, but apparently that's secure enough for Lan's liking.  Nynaeve immediately starts try to herb Moiraine up, and shuts Lan right down when he interjects, but Moiraine says all she needs is a power nap.  She does, however, accept some herbal tea to help with that.  These two were practically made for hurt/comfort fanfic.

The farmboys explore for a while, Mat seems kinda hypnotised by an alleyway, and Rand is bright enough to still be feeling weird about the way he shouted ancient war cries earlier, like he was possessed.  Thom the gleeman tells them not to joke about possession and resurrection, because it's a Big Deal.  Hasn't that already been made very clear with talk of the Dragon Reborn, harbinger of the salvatiomageddon of the world?  Rand angsts more about maybe being adopted.  FORESHADOW FORESHADOW.

Mat, whom I am tempted to only call by his ancient Manetheren name, Makes Bad Decisions, wants to go explore the ruins, and explicitly says not to ask permission because they know they won't get it.  Goddammit, Mat, you are hiding from the devil's besties with the help of a witch who can set you on fire by wishing hard enough.  I hope Perrin leaves you for Rand.  But the three of them obviously go off exploring, and it's time for more of those nudge-wink-modern-world references, as they puzzle out what could possibly be the purpose of a building that's clearly a sports stadium.  There's another building that's just a huge dome covering a single large room; please tell me that's not supposed to be a capitol building like the U.S. senate.  Aridhol isn't just DC, right?  Please?

Mat's talking about climbing a tower when the Most Suspicious Man In The World pops up out of nowhere and introduces himself as Mordeth oh my god I can't.  He claims to be a treasure hunter and says things that are supposed to be sly while a huge neon sign blinks the words VILLAIN over his head.  He asks them to help carry all the loot he's found, and leads them down into a huge trove of gold and weapons, before Rand finally notices Mordeth doesn't have a shadow.  He briefly turns into a huge monster before his illusion fades and he wisps away through a crack in the walls, at which point Rand and Perrin forcibly drag Mat out by his arms.  The lights go out behind them, and on the street again they're still convinced they're being watched, but they make it back to camp, where Moiraine chews them out and gives them another giant history lesson.  TL;DR: Mordeth was an ancient advisor who turned the noble kings of Aridhol evil and sowed chaos until the people of the city destroyed themselves under the influence of something called Mashadar.  'Shadow's Waiting' is the short form of 'the place where the shadow waits', the literal translation of Shadar Logoth.

This is all stuff that would be way more interesting in the hands of someone who was telling a story instead of telling us about telling a story.  Moiraine rattles off a chain of loosely-connected events with no actual explanations, about the last noble prince and how he was betrayed and ran away and found a wife and they both ended up dead, possibly Romeo-and-Juliet-style, but since it lacks much poetic value, it's only compelling if you tell yourself the story.

We did talk, back in Ender's Game, about how the strongest stories are often the ones that we invent for ourselves, and how popular books often seem to try to tap into a null zone where the reader is the one actually filling in the details and explaining things however they like best.  I'm starting to wonder if Robert Jordan's success wasn't that he did that on a grand scale, and for every generic fan of fantasy, not just bitter geeks or teenage girls with unhealthy romantic notions.  What I'm suggesting is that Wheel of Time might perhaps be a book that tries to pretend to be a better book, the way butterflies sometimes have camouflage patterns that look like jaguar eyes.

It makes as much sense as anything else so far.

Anyway, Moredeath Mordeth wants a new host body that will let him escape the city, but they're safe as long as they didn't do any of the fairy-rules types of things that would let him enthrall them, like accepting gifts or whatever.  They all try to rest, but Lan arrives in the middle of the night to report that Trollocs (which we are assured are far too scared to enter the city, that's the point) have entered the city, with sufficient prodding from Halfmen.  I'm 90% sure Our Heroes haven't slept properly since before Baerlon.  How are they not all dead, again?  Magic?  Super.

Chapter Twenty: Dust on the Wind

Our Heroes bravely run away into the nighttime streets, but tendrils of fog creep in at ground level and Moiraine commands them to stop.  The fog is the body of Mashadar, and it kills instantly on contact, so they have to split up to avoid it.  (Jumping over a tendril "as big around as a leg" is apparently not an option.  What did I say last time about CRPG heroes?  Find the jump button, Rand.)

Rand bravely leads the rest of the party on, but they run into trollocs and run madly off in all directions.  We get to see Mashadar eat some trollocs and a halfman, and I'm left wondering: if we know that Moiraine has the power to ward away Mashadar And Friends, why isn't this city the favourite battleground of the forces of good?  Live in its buildings, have your wizards ward away the evil magic, no one goes out at night, and when the forces of evil try to invade again, just drop the street wards and flood them with murder-fog.  BRB, writing a more interesting fantasy novel based on this concept.

Rand finds Mat and Thom again and they escape the city, and we get the first scene from someone else's point of view: Perrin, staring at the path out of town, testing his axe blade and thinking carefully.  He is, we are told, a careful thinker, since he has Mat as his cautionary example of quick decision-making.  He quickly gets found by Egwene and they also run off together.  (I note that for our first non-Rand scene, we've got the hulk's point of view instead of, say, the wizard-apprentice who might have much more extensive thoughts about everything she's seen tonight.)  Perrin manages to drive his horse right over a cliff and into the river, struggles not to drown for about a page, and finally realises that he's actually managed to get all the way across to the far side.  With his heavy cloak, boots, and fricking battle axe.  He's not even a good swimmer.  And Moiraine's plan to cross the river was 'place a magical ward around us while we build rafts'?  Apparently all you need is hip-waders and the strength to dogpaddle for forty seconds.

Back with Rand, they get ambushed by trollocs in the woods and Thom suddenly proves ninja by throwing "my best knives" into the backs of three of them.  All of those big-name heroes are seeming less and less impressive as our backwoods randos laugh off the evil hordes.  They find a boat, there's much scuffling, and Rand is once again moments from death under a trolloc when the ship's boom smacks it overboard.  The narrative all but says 'Yes, that was a deus ex machina'.  Oh, but then there's an extended argument among the crew about whether the boom was secured or not, which I'm guessing is foreshadowing that Rand actually willed it to save him because he is magic.

Captain Domon is kind of a no-win situation in terms of racism, because he speaks in broken English, but it's also not quite clear if he's supposed to be white or not, so either we continue to have the palest cast ever or our first POC has questionable language skills.  Thom bluffs a whole backstory out of the dangers that have assailed them thus far, living the gleeman's life, travelling "like dust on the wind".  But it's not enough to buy passage, and since Rand refuses to give up his sword, he and Mat hand over their silver coins from Moiraine instead.  The chapter ends with Rand leaning overboard, repeating that he tried to convince Egwene not to come with them.  Despite the fact that he's on a boat with a sketchy bard and a ship captain who wants his sword and doesn't care about throwing him overboard, I'm not sure why Rand thinks she'd be safer with him than with the wizard and her pet super-knight.

I apologise for cutting short this week, but my loathing of this book has overwhelmed my work ethic.  Instead, I offer you this:


Next week: sudden unexpected extended Bechdel pass.  I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 16, 17, and 18, in which we need a better class of villain

Oh my god I have left this blog so bereft.  My apologies to the six of you who are still reading (because of those hypnotic messages I implanted in some of the hyperlinks).  Everything with my family over the holidays was more jam-packed than expected and then it's taken a couple of weeks to recover and get back into a writing groove.  I couldn't even maintain my intended Doctor Who marathon posts (although the rest of those will still happen).

In case you missed Sunday's announcement, my posts will now be going up on Wednesdays (the alliteration of WOT Wednesday was the final tipping factor).  I mean, Sundays are pretty good days already, but we need some stuff to look forward to in the middle of the week, so I decided to fill the niche.  Let's get back into it, eh?

The Eye of the World: p. 230--274
Chapter Sixteen: The Wisdom

When last we left Our Heroes they were busily not telling any of the women about their important plot discoveries, and learned that the careful efforts their party wizard went through to cover and block their trail were no match for their harpy of a witch-neighbour.  Naturally, the next chapter starts with them getting pulled aside by Min the prophet girl, who quickly tells Rand that Nynaeve is also radiating Plot Relevance.  Rand keeps this (and all of Min's plot-sensing powers) secret from the rest of the party, justifying it with a vague wave of 'it might be dangerous'.

Nynaeve and Moiraine are found staring each other down from either end of the dining table, filling the room with an icy aura, because powerful women are automatic nemeses I guess?  Nynaeve tugs at her braid, which Rand identifies as her habit "when she was being even more stubborn than usual with the Village Council".  Irrationally hard-headed women being 'stubborn' is the same thing as strong characterisation, right?

Nynaeve reveals that while she had already guessed that Our Heroes would go to Baerlon, she also tracked them, using the incredible hunting skills that her father taught her (specifically because he had no sons--apparently teaching things to girls requires special justification).  We are assured by Lan that almost no one in the world could do this.  Sweet Bahamut, was Two Rivers settled by a party of level 20s who got tired of dungeoneering?

I've tried twice already to write this post and I keep dragging to a halt in this section because I just can't take the recapping anymore.  Nynaeve wants them to come home because honestly who believes in trollocs; Moiraine says they can because obvs monsters and darkness and evil.  There is much staring down and posturing, the men flee the room and mutter to themselves, and finally Nynaeve emerges, relented.  There is just so much "what about monsters" "but I don't trust lady wizards" repetition I am in danger of losing consciousness.

This kitten has never known suffering like mine.

Rand asks why they sent Nynaeve rather than literally anyone else in town, and Nynaeve notes how much he's grown in a week, since he never would have questioned anything she did before.  Really?  Rand's been pretty inquisitive for a farmboy hero since the beginning (it's his strongest quality), and I like my character development earned.  Anyway, Nynaeve explains that the village meetings were a mess--"The Light save me from men who think with the hair on their chests" is one of the better lines so far, despite its ridiculousness--and the Women's Circle took swifter action and sent her on ahead, while the men are "probably still arguing about who to send".

While I get that 'girls rule, boys drool' rhetoric has its place in a patriarchal society, it doesn't exactly make for a cohesive case for inherent equality when the story is busily saying men are incompetent but they still make up the majority of the cast, while all the women are the exceptions: the wizard, the runaway, and now the renegade doctor.  I suppose there's a certain amount of realism to a setting wherein the women have to be twice as competent as the men just to earn a normal place, but this kind of 'men suck and run everything, what are you going to do' doesn't challenge that narrative so much as it reinforces a world where dudes aren't expected or required to do any better.

Lastly, Nynaeve explains that Moiraine was questioning her about the three boys' backgrounds, whether any of them might have been born outside Two Rivers, and Rand finally brings up Tam's "fever-dream".  Nynaeve awkwardly confirms that Tam left home long ago and she's just old enough to remember when he came back with a hot wife and a baby, but doesn't address whether Rand was a foundling or not.

Chapter Seventeen: Watchers and Hunters

Back in the common room, Thom is telling yet another story of the Great Hunt of the Horn, which seems to be sort of a grail-quest that's been attempted a lot over the centuries.
"...To the eight corners of the world, the Hunters ride, to the eight pillars of heaven, where the winds of time blow and fate seizes the mighty and the small alike by the forelock. Now, the greatest of the Hunters is Rogosh of Talmour, Rogosh Eagle-eye, famed at the court of the High King, feared on the slopes of Shayol Ghul..."
At this point I think I'd rather listen to Thom for a chapter than endure any more of this recap-happy Rivendell-knockoff, but instead we just get a list of titles of Thom's stories, then it's music time (Robert Jordan desperately wishes he were Tolkien but his lyrics are vastly less inspired), then dancing time.  This reads somewhat less like swing dance and more like a swingers' party, with much talk of "passing his partner to the next man", but it's also a shippers' dream, since it means Rand dances with a series of hot local girls, Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Egwene, with increasing awkwardness.  (He considers and rejects the idea of trying to talk to Egwene again, because humph and also pfah.)  There's a man with a scarred face who spends the dance increasingly glaring at Rand, so presumably as usual ugly scars make you evil and dude's going to jump Our Heroes later.  Ah, yes, we're informed by the innkeeper that he's a Whitecloak spy.  That's what you really want in your spies: incredibly distinctive facial marks and a penchant for furiously staring at his targets.  It's like Battle School levels of brilliance all over again.

The dances eventually end, Rand goes to get some pre-bed milk, and on his way back down a dark hall gets ambushed by a Fade.  He can't look away from its pasty white eyeless face, which makes fleeing hard, and at the sounds of boots from above (Lan is supposed to sense these things coming from miles off, isn't he?) it draws its black sword, moves as if to slaughter him, and then just declares "You belong to the Great Lord of the Dark [....] You are his" before running off, and then Lan arrives and declares there's no point in chasing it.  Really, Lan?  You're supposed to be borderline superhuman; take a sprint.  At this point I almost suspect that he and the Fade are working together.

So again they have to run away in the dead of night, because that hasn't gotten old.  For some reason Egwene this time looks "frightened almost to tears", which hasn't been her reaction to any of the dangers so far faced.  I guess with Nynaeve added to the lineup we've reached Critical Girl Mass and Egwene is allowed to relinquish her position as the cool enthusiastic adventurer, in favour of being the chick?  Let's hope that doesn't last.  Rand's response to seeing her teary face is to think "At least she doesn't think it's an adventure anymore" (which: shut up, Rand), but then he feels shame and actually apologises for his general jackwagonry of late.  I don't hate Rand as much as I expected to--not yet, at least.

Lan bribes his way past the gate guards easily enough (there's a law against letting people into town after dark, but not specifically against letting them out) but is interrupted by a pack of Whitecloaks who do their best to make it sound like anyone who ever questions their whims is the devil's personal nutritionist and decorator.  Their leader reveals himself to of course be one of the guys Mat 'pranked' fifty chapters ago, Bornhald, and declares the whole party Darkfriends in need of interrogation, but Moiraine steps up and goes wizardly-booming-voice, telling them off.  Bornhald attacks:
...He slashed at her in the same motion that cleared his sword.  Rand cried out as Moiraine's staff rose to intercept the blade.  That delicately carved wood could not possibly stop hard-swung steel.
...Said no one who understands that swords are finesse weapons, not medieval chainsaws.  Delicate carvings or not, her unfixed staff is going to do just fine against a panicked one-armed swing with a sword.  Also, of course, wizard, so Bornhald flies back into his goons, sword half-melted and bent.  Moiraine, who has already grown taller than the rest of them, bursts up higher than the wall and literally steps over it once the rest of Our Heroes have booked it on horseback.

As soon as Moiraine's out of town she shrinks back down to normal size, and insists that Egwene was just seeing things when asked about turning giant.  Sigh.  Moiraine, everyone saw you, and in particular you've just tantalised this young girl with her wizarding potential and you think she won't be curious about how to grow tall enough to crush her enemies and make them rue the day they--but anyway, this is not how you win anyone's trust.  At this rate Egwene is going to become one of those people who experiments with powers she doesn't understand and tears holes in the firmament of reality.

A short distance from town, they look back to see a plume of fiery smoke over Baerlon, which Moiraine concludes is the inn going up in flames.  Unlike the destroyed raft, this wasn't her doing, though I find myself wishing that it was--that would actually provide some real moral confusion, clear evidence that Moiraine's ruthlessness in her world-saving quest includes screwing over allies once she has no further need of them.  She instead notes that she warned him but "he would not take it seriously", which we're meant to take as frustrated, but unless proven otherwise, I'm going to assume she's thinking 'If he'd only listened I wouldn't have had to burn down his life'.

But for now she'd have us believe it was Darkfriends still just a step behind them.  The Darkfriends apparently have terrible recon, since they were able to implement a plan to burn down an entire jam-packed inn that night but couldn't spare a scout to catch the party of eight and their horses sneaking away after the Fade tried to hit on Rand.  What kind of modus operandi are these villains even using?

Nynaeve continues to win points (as generally happens with women we're not supposed to approve of in these books, have you noticed?) by asking why Moiraine isn't helping any of the people now fleeing a burning inn because of her, and Moiraine just says she'd make things worse by drawing more attention to the victims, both from the monsters and the whitecloaks.  She does, however, promise to have gold mailed to the innkeeper, enough to rebuild his inn and help out anyone who lost anything in the fire, but anything more than that and they might as well ritually sacrifice their whole families to the devil right then and there so stop asking questions this isn't a cheerocracy.

The rest of the chapter is just them wearily marching and taking an uncomfortable one-hour pre-dawn nap, with the boys muttering to each other again about how this is more dangerous than they expected and they won't be safe until Tar Valon.  (Points to Perrin, who also thinks Moiraine should have done more to help the inn.)  It couldn't be more obvious at this point that they won't be safe at Tar Valon either, any more than the One Ring was really safe in Rivendell.  By Eru, I want to skip ahead.

Chapter Eighteen: The Caemlyn Road

We're two hundred and sixty pages in and we're still on Disc One, to speak in CRPG terms.  Maybe people become Darkfriends just because they're bored.  I might sign up with Satan for a chance to shake things up.
The Caemlyn Road was not very different from the North Road through the Two Rivers.
I would unquestionably sign up with Satan at this point.

They ride along this road through low hills for days, occasionally stopping on top of a hill to scout.  No fires allowed, ever, which means no tea, to their sorrow, since it would break up the monotony of endless bread and cheese.  It doesn't sound like Egwene's been getting her magic lessons, either--if her first test involved making a stone light up, wouldn't it be a good idea to maybe try the ever-practical 'how to boil water by wishing hard' spell next?  They're travelling with an awesome wizard, why isn't there any option for tea?  And if you're so desperate to not be seen, why are you hanging out on hilltops instead of ditches?  For that matter, you and everyone else knows you're heading for once again the Only Bridge For Miles, so why would a flying demon seek you out by daylight instead of lying in ambush?  (The gleeman points this out and gets brushed aside.)  I mean, if the devil knows where you were and where you're going, isn't step one 'destroy the Only Bridge For Miles'?  And why doesn't Moiraine have a spell on hand for crossing water?  Why does she keep leaving herself at the mercy of ferries?  Why is the fate of good and evil being left up to the robustness of the public transportation infrastructure?

Echoes of hunting horns announce that trollocs are after them, and Lan scouts to determine that there are at least three Fades leading platoons.  They finally decide they're being driven into a trap, and given the choice of going south into the menacing Hills of Absher or north to the Arinelle, Moiraine ignores Lan's suggestion of "a place the Trollocs will not go" and takes them north, riding hard as the trollocs close in.

Instead, Our Heroes crest a hill and find themselves staring down into a half-ready trap, a mess of trollocs with hooks and lassos led by a Fade, and with a variety of battle-cries that are all basically Tolkienish versions of #YOLO, they charge into battle.  Lan and the Fade get to do single combat, of course, and their swords hack at each other exactly the way no one who knows how to use a sword would ever do oh my god they're scalpels not clubs.  Sigh.  Moiraine's weapon of choice is Spontaneous Trolloc Combustion--not sure why she doesn't cast it on the Fade--and the Other Wimminz stick close to her while the boys get hacking.  Rand manages to chop a catchpole in half "with an awkward slash", so maybe the trollocs are just using Nerf weapons, but by sheer numbers they're all getting swarmed, Rand gets a hook in his shoulder, Perrin is halfway dragged out of his saddle, and--

Look, here's the thing, I was actually feeling some tension at this point.  For all that his characters apparently wield only Vorpal (TM) Brand Farm Equipment, the language is pretty tense and bit by bit our heroes are getting dragged down by terrifying beastmen and I don't think Moiraine has a spell of deus ex machina for this scene, so for a moment I forgot that there were six hundred sequels with all of these characters and I wondered how they could possibly get out of this unscathed.  Okay?  I got into the story.  I was onboard.

Then the trollocs en masse start screaming and falling over having some kind of fit, and Rand notices that Lan has beheaded the Fade.

Really?  I mean, really.  At least when they did this in Star Wars Episode One they had the decency to announce well in advance that destroying the central computer would break all the droid soldiers.  The devil's legions of evil need a command unit or they bluescreen?  Why would you ever send a Fade into melee combat if this is what happens?

(Also, and this is especially nitpicky, if all of the farmboys are deadly archers, why are they bothering with melee weapons at all?  Why didn't they go bow shopping in Baerlon?  Genghis Khan conquered most of Asia and Europe with horses, bows, and a mind like an icebreaker ship.  Especially when you don't want to get roped or something, distance weapons seem like the way to go.

They take off again, since there are still more trollocs coming, but then Moiraine gets a full page describing how she throws an earthquake at them and calls up a wall of fire to buy them more time (although earth and fire are her opposed schools, so she's very tired afterwards). Nynaeve slips her some herbs, which she takes.  (Nynaeve's been trying to talk to Moiraine about herbs for days, which I like to think was just really awkward flirting.  Yes, I'm shipping it.  Obvs.)

When they have a chance to stop, Moiraine talks about their impromptu battle-cries, because Mat in particular shouted something in a language he's never heard before, which turned out to translate to 'in the name of some of my ancestral rulers like the Rose of the Sun'.  Moiraine takes this as proof that the Manetheren blood (which makes them better than everyone else, I guess) is still strong in them, and not--just as a f'r'instance--evidence that someone is messing around with his mind and memories.  Questionable, is all I'm saying.

More horns sound, Lan brings up once again that they have a perfect hiding place and his brother Balin will set them a great feast so Moiraine casts a misdirection spell (why has she not been casting those all day) to buy them enough time to flee into ancient  Moria Aridhol, an enormous abandoned stone city just hangin' out in the middle of the hills.  It's all supposed to be very ominous for some reason, and Lan says they have to find shelter before dark, dodging the question of the city's current name.  As they sneak inside, Moiraine grimly announces that it's now called Shadar Logoth.

Is that supposed to mean something to me?  If you're going to end your chapter on a dramatic revelation, make sure you reveal something that the reader actually understands.  I feel like that's a pretty basic guideline.  This is a bit like trying to convince Lex Luthor it's a big deal that Superman is secretly Kal-El.  The fuck does that mean?

Next week: In a refreshing break from CRPG rules, Mat tries to loot the abandoned city and, instead of getting a weapon upgrade, ruins everything.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

50 Shades of movie promotion

Erika here! Will has been turned into a very tiny bird by an evil wizard. I'm working on breaking the curse but it's hard since I'm a different type of wizard. I've almost got it now though. To tide you over, here's some 50 Shades movie promotion. The 50 Shades movie comes out next week. I've tried to stay away from the hype too much. The trailer looked like a horror movie, but a friend of mine, being... diligent, pointed me out to an ad they got on facebook (he also informed me his facebook feed has been taken over by evil forces). It's a virtual tour of Christian Grey's apartment, one he tells me from the map on the ad has no bathroom for Ana. I'm biting the bullet--lets go on this adventure together.


Seeing the locked doors, I expected this to be a point and click adventure where you got to snoop around and eventually unlock them. I was wrong. It seemed weird that the bathroom is off limits, the--er, player?--is presumably a guest, and not letting guests use the bathroom seems a bit rude. OK, I usually close my bedroom door when people are over too, and same for my sex dungeon, makes company nervous, I get that, but I don't want people trying to pee in my sink. I guess that's a kink of Grey's that comes up in the third book?

The first page we're greeted with has some generic audio and shows a few clips of Ana and Grey that I think are supposed to be sexy? One is their backs as they walk away holding hands and it looks super awkward, another is him facing away from her (looking in a mirror watching her I think?) while she coyly drops an oversized button-up shirt, another of him taking his shirt off. The grief piano is briefly featured. Not a horrible start, but it does not make me dread inevitably seeing this movie any less. Let's see what happens when I enter.

Use headphones for best experience? What? Ok, I'm in a poorly animated elevator. I'm told there's "Something about elevators" and OH GOD IT'S GIVING ME AN NDA AND IT'S TRYING TO SAY ITS BEEN WAITING FOR ME IN A SEXY VOICE. Ok, this doesn't look legally binding, so I'm going to tell you all what lays beyond, but I'm scared now. You guys I didn't expect the voice acting.


"This means you cannot disclose anything that you see" TRY AND STOP ME



Showing a bunch of places I can explore. Let's try the closest one.

It's offering me a drink. I don't get the choice of gin and tonic without the tonic. Other options are margarita and cosmo. The margarita looks like it has the highest booze content by the recipe, so lets try that. Like seven times. It doesn't actually let you pick an option, just shows you the recipe for these drinks.

OK, moving along. Random bronze statue, some text with a generic aerial picture of Seattle telling me the view is unforgettable...





This is both not a love seat (it's too big), and the implication is I am touring this apartment, so does this mean they're fooling around in front of me? Awkwardly sipping my margarita that I had to make myself? I'm gonna go wander over to the grief piano now.

I lost the screen shot and refuse to go back for it. Pretend this is an image of Grey shirtless in sweats illuminated by a single lamp at the piano asking what you want to listen to and has two classic song options. Neither sound particularly impressive.

Apparently he just left Ana blueballed on the not-a-loveseat to offer to play the piano for me, but not without stripping his shirt off. Well, I appreciate your attempts at being a better host, Grey. Even if they are hella weird.

I'm, uh, I'm going to go check out the kitchen now, 'kay Grey? Good, he didn't follow me in. The dining room just lets me look out the window (again) while the kitchen gives me a few super generic looking recipes (FOOD WIZARD ERIKA IS UNIMPRESSED) and wine. I'm not being offered a bottle, but I uncork one and drink straight from it, quickly scampering on.

Now sneaking over to the stairs, where I am told that Grey has fresh flowers delivered every 3 days. That seems wasteful. Also the tenses get weird, is Grey supposed to be giving me the tour as the audio implies, or like, is this a service I paid for? Did Grey automate his apartment to hit on people while these tours are given?




Making a break for it and going up stairs. Whew, made it. So far his upstairs hallway just plays youtube clips of music videos and TV ads.

Whoever lost a bet and had to animate this thing clearly lost their will to live near the end as the upstairs has nothing. It's all the videos, the movement stops making sense (you hover across air when there is a clear path where you're trying to go when moving), and even the videos are sparse up here. However at the end of my journey (which is Ana's room) I find one descriptor in it. This.



I just--WHO DECIDED WHAT POPULATED THIS APARTMENT? Who sat down and decided to list like, a handful of the artwork, none of the furniture (which might have actually been cool) two random sets of recipes, and barely anything about the characters? Ana's computer, good for reviewing contracts, and sending email, because she has no personality and would do nothing else with a new computer, made the cut? Why couldn't I unlock the dungeon and get to tour his sex toys? THAT would have potentially been cool. These are nipple clamps from Clampz R Us, used to stimulate the nipples. This is an egg beater from Home Sense. Here is rope and the scissors kept on hand in case you need to get your partner untied fast or the knot gets tightened too much, which is safe BDSM standard. Did Home Sense refuse to let them list the egg beater and then after that they thought "Well, what's the point of letting people explore the sex dungeon, it's not like he has a sex swing"?

Over all, 2/10. This whole thing is an awful point and click adventure, it looks rushed through production, style fluctuates wildly, audio is weirdly implemented, the plot is lacking, and there are obvious puzzles that can't be solved. I give it 2 instead of 1 because they actually have voice acting that's half decent.

If you encounter any other weird movie promotion stuff that you'd like me to suffer through, feel free to leave links in the comments or e-mail them to somethingshortandsnappyblog@gmail.com

[[Despite being a tiny bird, Will managed to manipulate a dry-erase marker long enough to report that Wheel of Time posts will begin again this week and will be going up on Wednesdays until further notice.  Come back in three days for the continuing adventures of useless farmboys and badass wizard ladies.]]

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Liveblog of Impossible Things: Doctor Who, season eight, episodes 1-3

Oh my stars and round things, have I never made a Doctor Who post on this site before?  That is amazing.  Let's fix it really hard this week.

My abiding love of Doctor Who was once so strong that I watched The Impossible Astronaut (episode 6.01) and said aloud to my mother "If it were anyone else writing this show, I would be worried that the plot twist for this season was going to be terrible, but I know that Moffat has something great planned."  Doctor Who was as close to religious ritual as I got: new episodes were like holy days, brief periods of time in which we imagined what could be and what was and what we would do in the worst possible moments of our lives.  Rose becomes a god.  Martha laughs in the face of armageddon.  Donna shines brighter than anyone in the universe.  Jack lives.

My adoration of the show even let me look past the varied weak points of the fifth season and brush off (as rough edges to be soon fixed) the perennial flaws of Moffat's writing.  To this day, while I won't argue with anyone who says the Eleventh Doctor is a terrible person, I personally like to maintain that he was a great man and his actions were unfortunately misrepresented by inept writers who meddled with the truth.  (This applies triply to the 50th Anniversary episode.)

The show has since devolved into a case study in Special Smart White Guy Privilege about a man who travels the universe being rude to everyone and getting away with it because he's good at his job, also known as 'that plot you've seen a million times before', but now with more rayguns and women who literally tear apart the universe over their infatuation with Our Hero.

So while I downloaded Deep Breath (the first episode with the Twelfth Doctor) and watched it immediately when it was released, I then set about a strict regimen of completely forgetting about the show for the rest of the year.  I am told I didn't miss much, but it's the holidays and a friend has lent me the boxed set that she just got for Christmas, so let's just marathon the lot of them and get it over with, shall we?

Episode 8.01: Deep Breath

I'm skipping rewatching this one.  Summary: the Twelfth Doctor is rude in that way that's supposed to make white male heroes charming, his human companion Clara is a spunky young lass who puts up with his antics out of loyalty to his previous self, the Doctor definitely would/wouldn't voluntarily kill someone, and he has a new hidden nemesis who is a vaguely posh pretty thin middle-aged governess-type woman, also known as 'the only kind of female villain Moffat knows how to write', and the word 'knows' in there is generous.  Come with us on a journey of discovery to find out why the Doctor's new face has previously been seen on a patriarch in Pompeii and a government monster in modern London.

Final score: Creepy, striking, weird, pointlessly adoring of the cranky old white man, Vastra and Jenny's kiss didn't need an overlay of 'we must share oxygen' to justify it.

8.02: Into the Dalek

The episode opens with the crew of a not-X-Wing ship trying and failing to escape a Dalek mothership in space.  The surviving pilot awakens on the TARDIS, where the Doctor is Charmingly Rude to her about saving her life and how she can't kill him and claim his ship because "you'd starve to death trying to find the lightswitch".  I'm trying to imagine the Ninth Doctor acting like this around someone whose brother just died beside them, victim of Dalek cannons, and I take a moment to shake my fist at the uncaring gods who let Moffat do this to us.

He returns her to her warship, where they intend to kill him for security purposes but decide instead to zap him with a shrink ray and jam him inside a captured Dalek.

The new intro graphics look intentionally low-budget, like they're trying to find the most expensive way of simulating a papier-mache model dangling from a string in front of the camera.

We then cut to a dude pretending to be a drill sergeant but proving to actually be a gym teacher at the same school where Clara works.  He's also an ex-soldier, and tears up when a student asks if he's ever killed someone who wasn't a soldier.  He's running a cadet program at the school, which he insists includes a moral element beyond shooting people, which Clara summarises as "Ah, you shoot people and then cry about it afterwards", which puts me much more on Clara's side than his so far.  He is all awkward in ways that clearly are supposed to be adorable, but luckily for him they are in mutual boners for each other.

Clara gets whisked off to join the Doctor on his new journey, because the captured Dalek has declared its intention to destroy all Daleks, which has the Doctor thinking about saving it.  (He asks Clara if he's a good man, she says she doesn't know.  I'm not sure he's an anything man anymore, myself.)  He guesses that it's so damaged its hatred toggle flipped around in the wrong direction  The lot of them get shrunk down and injected through its eyestalk.  They're not actually that small; maybe five-ten millimetres tall?  I'm pretty sure this is all in the realm of normal slicey-slicey surgery, not even futuristic robot surgery.

The inside of the Dalek body turns out to be a 'perfect analog' of a living body, and therefore firing a grappling hook into the metal plating summons antibody drones.  The Doctor tells their unfortunate redshirt to eat a pill before the drones vaporise him, which lets him track the residue to some waste tube.  Trying again to imagine Nine's response to an about-to-die man being "Hey, chew this and you can still be useful to me" rather than any kind of apology or sorrow.  Who the fuck is this man?  (Also, what kind of internal sensors react hostilely to a tiny puncture in a metal plate but ignore complex radio communications beaming in and out of their robo-intestines?)

A radiation leak is killing the Dalek, but also caused it to reach a reversal of the normal conclusion: it saw a star born as concluded that 'resistance is futile', but not resistance to the Daleks, resistance to life, which keeps coming back and keeps fighting.  Ten seconds later, the Doctor seals the radiation leak and the Dalek immediately sets about slaughtering everyone on the ship in dramatic slow-motion.  Clara slaps the Doctor for being pleased that he was right that all Daleks are evil, but they have the dramatic realisation that good Daleks are possible and set about mucking with its robo-brain and its memory banks.

Sidenote as I watch the actiony climax: this episode is rubbish on any kind of mental health-relevant philosophy.  The Daleks "are" evil, but the Doctor points out that they have mental suppressor tech that quashes any hint of empathy, but then the mentally-damaged Dalek "is" good, and when fixed it proves that it always "was" evil.  It's not clear to me either that the Dalek ever "was" any of these things, given that we have no idea what it would be without its suppressor working.  (Why did no one think of breaking the suppressor to start with?  Why was anyone surprised that it would start murdering people as soon as the leak was repaired while its suppressor was still running?)  The conclusion appears to be that if someone has any kind of factor impairing their ability to be kind or polite or generous, this reflects on their innermost morality and nature.

The climax seems to lean pretty hard on this as well, when the Doctor mind-melds with the Dalek to show it the beauty of the universe and it instead latches onto his hatred of the Daleks and goes on a rampage to rescue the remaining redshirts.  So, even a Good Dalek is fundamentally evil and destructive after all.  The Doctor says this isn't victory, "victory would have been a good Dalek", and it responds "You are a good Dalek", referencing episode 5.06, 'Dalek', a vastly better episode that covered basically all the same plot and philosophical notions, on a lower budget, with a more family-friendly script and kinder Doctor.  Moffat fucking loves referencing old episodes in a way that he has not narratively earned.

The soldier girl from the beginning, Journey Blue, asks to leave with the Doctor, and he sadly lists all her good qualities before saying he wishes she hadn't been a soldier, and turns away.  Apparently forgetting that his own daughter Jenny was literally born a soldier, Dalek-style, and in the space of a day grew to be much more heroic.  (Clara should know this, Clara knows the Doctor's whole life, or maybe she doesn't, I don't even know anymore.)  The important part of course is supposed to be that the Doctor doesn't like soldiers and Clara's new boyfriend is a soldier, oh noes, what tension shall this create.

Final score: Doctor Who is always supposed to be accessible to children, no matter how grim it gets; who was this episode for?

8.03: Robot of Sherwood

Clara reveals that she's always wanted to meet Robin Hood and the Doctor informs her that he doesn't exist, so I just want to take a moment to note that the legends are very liked inspired by the locals who became guerrilla insurgents to resist the Norman invasion of England.  These people, the ones who left behind their families to live in the wilderness and fight the conquerors, were the first Wildmen, and I am their descendant, so fuck you very much, Mr I-Know-Everything, Robin Hood was my nth-great-grandfather.  Naturally, the TARDIS lands in Sherwood Forest and immediately gets an arrow in the door from Robin Hood, who is realistically scraggly for a man who lives in the woods but oddly well-bathed.  Robin Hood declares his intention to take the TARDIS, as "all property is theft", so apparently he got to that line about 650 years before Proudhon.

The Doctor fences with Robin Hood, but using a spoon, which is at once incredibly stupid and charmingly weird.  It's the type of thing I would let go without a blink from the Ninth or Eleventh Doctors; weird for Ten or Twelve.

There is also a Sheriff of Nottingham pillaging the locals villages, stealing daughters and shanking old dudes.  Straightforward enough.  We meet the Merry Men and the Doctor goes around stealing hair and blood and such to try to prove they're not real.  There is the traditional archery competition to capture Robin Hood and the Doctor steps in, also a master archer in addition to master fencer.  When did the Doctor suddenly start studying all the weapon arts?  They do the 'split the arrow' trick about five times total, so I guess this is supposed to be a funny episode?  I should not have taken this long to realise that.  The Sheriff's soldiers are revealed as robots, everyone gets captured, Robin Hood and the Doctor squabble in their cells, and Clara is identified as the ringleader and taken away to be interrogated.

This is the kind of episode that sets out to be all 'women are the truly competent people and very badass' and comes out 'men are infants and need women to mother them forever'.

Down in the dungeons, the slaves are seen running forges, and one of the robo-guards pours the metal into an enormous circuit-board-looking mould.  Uh... that's not how circuit boards work.

Clara has dinner with the Sheriff in traditional villain manner, where he demands to have the screwdriver explained to him.  Clara instead bluffs him into revealing what deal he made with robots from the sky.  They crashed, offered him power, and he now intends to conquer the world.  The Doctor and Robin somehow break free (no explanation how, after a long scene of them utterly failing) and find the hidden ship at the core of the castle.  The robot needed gold to fix their engines, but the Doctor declares they're too far gone and all he can do is blow up half of England.  Et cetera et cetera action scenes, banter.  There's a moment after the Doctor has helped the slaves free themselves by reflecting their laser back at them with gold plates, and the last girl to escape gives the Doctor a kiss on his cheek.  He looks startled, reflected, and I begin to hope that this Doctor is supposed to be seen as a cantankerous jackass who needs to remember that he loves people and they are the purpose for his whole journey, as opposed to self-aggrandisement.

When the world is saved with improbable archery, Robin (who is real after all, not a robot) and the Doctor have a last chat about people and legends and pretending to be a hero and inspiring others, it looks like a pretty good show for a moment, and then the TARDIS leaves and Marian appears behind it for her one line, "Robin!", so that Our Hero gets his Love Object Reward.

Final score: A roundabout, slapdash mess that destroys any shot Twelve has had so far at character consistency, but also less conceptually offensive than the first two episodes.  Terrible, yet charmingly so.  Quoth Rosa Diaz, "And the night gets even worse-better!"


Probably come back tomorrow for the next episodes!  Happy imminent New Year!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters 14 and 15, in which a dream sequence is actually good

Only two chapters this week, because there's actually stuff worth talking about in them.  Still have to sift out great tracts of chatter, but I knew what I was getting into, and the novelty of a dream sequence that's actually got some weight to it was worth the slog.

(Content: animal death. Fun content: I am the captain of the HMS Mat/Perrin.)

The Eye of the World: p. 192--229
Chapter Fourteen: The Stag and Lion

We last left our heroes arriving at an inn, which is apparently jam-packed with waves of people finally leaving the mountains after getting snowed in all winter.  Wouldn't people leave the mountains for the winter and work mines in the summer?  I confess to not knowing standard practice, but that seems counterintuitive to me.  Lan splits off to find news from the loud and joyful common room, and Rand decides not to follow because he smells.  (Literally.  Shouldn't Lan smell just as much?  Or more?)  The ladies split off and the dudes are brought to a bath chamber, with a circle of twelve copper tubs (everyone likes washing themselves panopticon-style, right?) and inexplicably extensive quantities of hot water.  The gleeman is at one point described as sinking up to his nose, and there are four tubs, so I'm guessing 140 gallons of water at 38C, and they were just able to provide that, in this super-crowded inn in the chilly springtime, in the time it took Our Heroes to get naked.  [Drink!  Sorry, no, wait, this isn't Orson Scott Card anymore.]  The first house I rented couldn't provide that many hot baths on its best day.  Apparently there are witch-hunters in the city looking for Aes Sedai; have they searched the boiler rooms?  Or grown suspicious that there are boiler rooms?

The bathtub attendant (most awkward job?) sees their weapons and asks if there's anything Dangerous going on in hick country, and there's half a page of everyone bluffing and trying to stop Mat from revealing that they were attacked by trollocs.  Lan arrives and shoves the bath attendant out of the room.
"Don't talk about Trollocs," Lan said grimly. "Don't even think about Trollocs. [...] If the Children of the Light heard Trollocs were after you, they'd be burning to get their hands on you.  To them, it would be as much as naming you Darkfriend."
Doesn't that make the opposite of sense?  'The forces of evil want to murder him--he must be on their side!'  Shouldn't being wanted by trollocs be a badge of honour?  Anyway, Lan is so frigid about the risk they're putting Moiraine in that they all spend the rest of the bath in silence.  (That or Lan got naked and everyone was just so 'daaaamn, that butt is cubic' that they couldn't speak.)  Afterwards, despite the uber-crowded inn they get a private dining room.  There was no one else in the baths, either; how is this crowded?

Rand shows a rare flash of Doing Better when he sees Egwene again:
It seemed they could not trust anyone but themselves [....] And Egwene was still Egwene. Moiraine said it would have happened to her anyway, this touching the True Source. She had no control over it, and that meant it was not her fault. And she was still Egwene.
Folks round these parts already know my feelings on the 'born this way' argument, but if Rand's childhood friendships and teenage boners can help him grapple with the idea that people are complex and not just inherently and arbitrarily good or evil based on fairy tales, that's a start.  Of course, Egwene immediately spins away from him and he thinks 'well, if she's going to be like that about it' and they don't talk.  I would call this teenage realism, except I gather that this is going to be a running problem for everyone in the series.

The innkeeper delivers chickens and veggies for all, and his Distinguishing Character Trait is that he can't shut up, so his every appearance has resulted in at least half a page of blather, but Moiraine insists the food is a feast and he should feel proud.  I hope Lan overpays the hell out of him too and this isn't just perks of celebrity.  Lan's news says that the false Dragon, Logain, has won a major battle, but no one can agree what happened to the Aes Sedai that fought him, if they died or lived or joined him.  Rand's genre-savviness power detects that Lan and Logain were previously bros.  (Logain is such a brooding bad boy name; is he going to stay a mid-level bad guy or switch to Team Good?)

They get split among three rooms, girls in one, Lan, Thom, and Rand in another, so the good ship Mat/Perrin is still sailing steady.  Rand immediately falls into another plot-relevant dream, but I don't hate this one.  I actually think it's one of the better passages we've had so far, because Rand wanders an Escher-esque castle with a view of an impossible sky until he meets a dude who calls himself "Ba'alzamon".  I was a big fan of Digimon as a child, so I'm going to take this sole incident to call him Ballsmon and then show restraint for the rest of the series.  For some reason Rand identifies this dude as the Dark One, but he's the guy from the prologue:
Dressed in dark clothes of a fine cut, he seemed in the prime of his maturity, and Rand supposed women would have found him good-looking. [NO HOMO YOU GUYS.] 
"Once more we meet face-to-face,"the man said and, just for an instant, his mouth and eyes became openings into endless caverns of flame.
The thing that's less boring about this dream sequence is that Rand spends the whole time insisting that it is a dream and being distressed about his inability to wake up, while Ba'alzamon basically starts singing Sympathy for the Devil:
"I stood at Lews Therin Kinslayer's shoulder when he did the deed that named him. [....] I whispered in Artur Hawkwing's ear, and the length and breadth of the land Aes Sedai died."
He tries to get Rand to drink from a goblet, insists that he has never been bound and could destroy Rand at any time, mutters a lot of stuff that obviously won't make sense until later, but there's one interesting bit, when he claims that Logain and various others (past false Dragons, I assume) are "being used", as Rand will be.  He also claims that if Rand tells the Aes Sedai about this, he'll be a threat to them and they'll kill him instead of using him.  I've become so inured to people expositing half-sensical phrases at me that I mostly just enjoyed the scene.  Maybe that's the secret of the series?  Sort of like how in Fifty Shades we start looking forward to the sex scenes because people talk less, maybe Wheel of Time transitions into a state where the Generic Fantasy Cliches become a kind of bland cracker base upon which we can start to savour the hints of things that have actual flavour.  (Plus I just enjoy villains cheerfully delivering their resumes.)  When Rand finally awakes, he thinks about asking Moiraine for help with his nightmares, but doesn't, because that would make that last scene relevant.

Chapter Fifteen: Strangers and Friends

Rand wakes late with aches and a headache, which are obviously totally reasonable symptoms of a nightmare.  He sees the others have taken their weapons with them, and straps on his sword as well, with a nice lampshade as he tells himself "it was not because he had often daydreamed about walking the streets of a real city wearing a sword".  Of course, Rand knows that his heron sword hypothetically marks him as a master fencer, which could be a mite attention-grabbing, but I guess we'll just skip that for now.

Rand wanders to the kitchen, where there's a full page and a half of the innkeeper and cook talking about her cat and guest complaints, but in a shocking twist, it turns out to be plot-relevant, as a dozen rats were found around the inn with their backs broken, just as Ba'alzamon did to a rat in Rand's dream.  Interesting way to prove your power.  I don't expect this to be anything more than a throwaway scare tactic, but having sufficient physical power to snap a dozen rats in half at will seems like a waste of that power, when you're an imprisoned god of evil threatening the Chosen One.  If you know where he is (in order to kill the surrounding rats), why not drop your monster horde on him?  If you have Rat Control, why not swarm him in the night?  If you can snap bones, why not kill him outright, or one of his friends if you have some purpose for Rand left?  The only way this makes sense to me is if the Dark One only has the power to harm vermin, and can channel that into the vicinity of someone whose mind he has invaded, but can't use that connection to actually find the target.  That is a very specific power.

Perrin turns out also to be in bed, and he and Mat apparently had the same dream Rand did, but Mat tried to laugh it off, whereas Perrin still feels ill.  Rand leaves him behind, steps outside and is immediately bewildered by the sheer number of people on the street, none of whom know each other.  Rand's bemusement at the idea of people from the same city being strangers is the first rural thing with any verisimilitude about him, and I approve.

Also, called it, because a short-haired girl whom he saw talking with Moiraine the night before appears and immediately comments on how weird it is to see a country boy with a heron sword.  Rand is a bad spy.  The girl introduces herself as Min, reveals that she knows their deal, and quickly exposits that she has Plot Relevance Senses, or sees "pieces of the Pattern", if you prefer.  There's some really blatant imagery about how their party altogether creates and aura of sparks trying to ward off a great black shadow.  She also states that Rand and Egwene are in love with each other (which: what, no, they at best are in boners with each other) but are not meant for each other, so yay for the initial love interest not being the real One True Love Interest?

Oh god, it goes on with the symbolism forever, Lan has "seven ruined towers around his head" and a baby with a sword, Mat and Perrin have stuff like "an eye on a balance scale", and this would all be much more interesting to me if it were in any way informative.  It's just the author coming up with shorthand symbols for future plot points and rattling them off, so that readers can spend the rest of the series going 'That's the thing that Min meant when she saw the thing!'  Rand gets a better quality of montage, including "a sword that isn't a sword" and three women standing around his funeral bier.  That's at least got some plot gravitas to it, because we've already heard something about a legendary maybe-a-sword-but-not-quite, and in another series we might actually be wondering if Rand would die in the end.  She also sees a fuckton of lightning, which I assume hints at Rand's future duel with the false Dragon.

Pseudo-exposition done, Min lets Rand run off to wander the city in a distressed daze.  We get a solid page and a half of city description before Rand finally finds the peddler from several chapters ago, believed deceased, now a ragged homeless man.  Rand promises his horses are safe back in Emond's Field, and says he should come back with Rand to the inn, where they're staying with Moiraine.  I'm going to say 85% chance that the peddler is going to sell them out to the witch-hunting Whitecloaks in vengeance for how he feels Rand's village betrayed him.

Rand runs into Mat next, they recap their dream and the rats, and resolve not to tell Moiraine, because she's obviously untrustworthy and might murder them all on the spot if she finds out the devil is in their heads.  Rand also promised not to tell her that he found the peddler.  So beginneth the path of Oh My Fucking Word Just Tell People What You Know And Get It Over With, I think.

They spot a bunch of dudes with white cloaks and pointy metal hats, making me wonder if they are intentionally supposed to invoke the KKK.  If so: I find this sketchy, especially since thus far we have an utterly white cast.  They're the Children of the Light, of course, and because Mat makes bad decisions he 'pranks' them by using his sling to set a small avalanche of full barrels rolling into the street, thus panicking everyone and splattering the neat white cloaks with mud, ha ha.  Rand half thinks this is a bad idea and half wants to run with it, and is left laughing alone with the whitecloaks when they recover.  He tries to intimidate them by casually displaying his heron sword, to little effect, and they bluster until the town guard arrives.  I think the implication is that some magical force is pushing Rand to get into trouble, but it's not clear.

Rand escapes, they regroup with the gleeman, and recap again all that's happened.  Thom confirms that all the names in their dreams were powerful figures in history (he doesn't say what they have in common, but I'm running with 'false Dragons' for now), but he's Obi-Wan levels of vague on whether the Aes Sedai killed them.  We've also now had the Eye of the World and the Horn of Valere name-dropped as big magical artifacts (the Horn being related to the Great Hunt, which I know is book two's title) that people go on quests to find.  They return to the inn where Perrin reports that Nynaeve from back home has caught up with them, having bullied the ferryman into rowing her across the river after Moiraine obliterated his ferry.
"From my observation of the young woman," Thom said, "I don't think she will stop until she has had her say." [....] 
They exchanged glances, drew deep breaths, and marched inside as if to face Trollocs.
Totally less sexist than Tolkien, though!

Next week: