Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Garden of Rama

It has proven to be a traumatic time for the Rantonator recently. After bliss was discovered in the ongoing affair with your mum, it was cruelly snatched away. Too much action in too short a space of time proved fatal. Your mum's demise proved the Rantonator's undoing. From bliss to despair. We'll truly miss her.

Thankfully for all concerned, the funeral provided an opportunity to meet your sister. And even if it can't be said to be bliss just yet, it's certainly proving a useful distraction from the Rantonator's grief. Several times a night. For your sister is young, nubile, keen and has a far more engaging collection of Pokemon cards to while away the small hours with.

This kind of familial interaction is also practiced in The Garden of Rama, the third book in a series ostensibly by SF grand master Arthur C. Clarke but actually by some bloke with a name which is more a part of the feudal system than it is an appropriate label for a human being and who has less talent for writing engaging fiction than your mum currently has for anything (yeah, we went there. Lots, for most of the time, but, alas, never again).

The Rantonator doesn't pretend to be a scientist, but does at least have a double award GCSE in science, and it is possible to say that, on this evidence, despite Gentry Lee supposedly being a NASA employee, the Rantonator knows more about it (although the run-on, multi-clause sentences also suggest that writing isn't a strong point. We blame the grief). After all, we do know that in order to restart the human race you need more than one woman, two men, and a large number of incestuous offspring to marry off like Targaryen game pieces. Because that is what Gentry Lee has them doing. A gene pool smaller than a garden pond, and this is apparently enough to restart the human race.

Call us cynical, Mr Lee, but there's clear evidence that a narrow gene pool doesn't produce well-balanced human beings. Just look at the royal family for evidence of this. Or the Bush family. Or the entire population of Norfolk.

To fill in the story so far, Rama, the cylindrical world which hurtled through the solar system in Rendezvous With Rama (an exceptionally good book, it has to be said) has a successor. Exploration of Rama II, which formed the bulk of Rama II, ended up leaving three members of the exploration team behind as the ship continued to hurtle through the galaxy like an out of control oversized shopping trolley with an atmosphere and ecosystem. The first part of the book focuses on their continuing adventures, exploring this strange new world, mostly avoiding new life and trying to found their own civilisation, definitely going where no man has gone before. This is where the quite frankly fucking awful idea involving a new civilisation from a tiny gene pool comes from.

The Rantonator makes no bones about it: The Garden of Rama is rubbish. Not as rubbish as Wild Animus, that's true, but then that's also because the only book in the known universe as bad as Wild Animus is another copy of Wild Animus. The Garden of Rama is certainly on a par with the likes of Sandworms of Dune in terms of not only its crapness, but also its blatant ripping off of intellectual property to make money for the sake of making money.

Rendezvous With Rama is a science fiction classic. It's the perfect stand-alone exploration novel. So why encourage someone to take a page of notes and turn them into a novel with less of a relationship in terms of themes and plot to the original source material than the Rantonator has to a feral cat? Oh yeah. Idiots like the Rantonator will buy it for the sake of completion.

At least there's been a cathartic rant at the end of it. It has been greatly needed to escape from the living hell of life without your mum.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Shadow Rising

Recently, a friend of the Rantonator's received an official Final Fantasy VII 'Develop Your Own Materia' kit. It involved getting cancerous growths from time spent around Mako, and most of his early efforts produced the crappy Enemy Skill materia that no one particularly wants anyone in their party to have, but in the end there was a wonderful green splat of pure green energy which didn't look unlike Lord Percy's efforts at producing gold in Blackadder II. Thus with his new Life materia he was able to go to the Rantonator's grave, resurrect us and prove, once and for all, that Aeris's death actually came about as a result of drowning and not getting stabbed in the back by Sephiroth.

And thus the Rantonator was reanimated like a bad Lovecraftian villain with the dialogue skills to match. And, like any good reanimated corpse, the first thought was that we were in dire need of brains to consume and bad literature to savage.

The Shadow Rising is short on brains but high on calcium. Sorry, bad literature. It's the fourth in Robert Jordan's obscenely long Wheel of Time series and is, in fact, utter shite.

Look, let's be honest: no one reads The Wheel of Time because it's any good. They read it more often than not because Robert Jordan manages to do kinky sex better than your mum but without flashing the sagging cleavage or cellulite-laden thighs (look, since we last came across her she's got a few years older and put a few pounds on - probably our absence, but what she lacks in looks she makes up for in enthusiasm and know-how). Because that's really what it's all about. Forget this 'Dragon Reborn' nonsense about heading off to the final battle to save the world against the spectacularly unimaginatively titled 'Dark One', it's more about watching three boys from the backwaters of the world successively nob their way through all the ladies of the fantasy world like 1970s Radio One DJs whilst still claiming to be innocent.

By this stage Rand has managed to get over his crush on dominatrix figures Moiraine and Nynaeve, and is just about through his childhood love for Egwene, so he can concentrate on the more exotic ladies of the south. Indeed, he spends more time fending off the attentions of ladies than he does in earth-shattering combat with the antagonists. Perrin, on the other hand, is busy settling down with Faile and, in the process, breaks a few Trolloc heads. Mat manages to go the whole hog to actually being a Radio One DJ and seems to enjoy sexually assaulting anyone with boobs, whether they're large, small, mountainous, perky, saggy, ingrown, male, natural, artificial, made entirely of cheese, round, triangular, rocket-shaped, or, in fact, not breasticles at all. Somehow he's a hero, by the way. We're not so sure, though your mum certainly fancied him.

After managing to do roughly the same as the Rantonator on one of the less interesting Thursday nights we've had since resurrection for about 400 pages, where the most interesting occurrence was Michael Gove popping up on Question Time, stuff starts to happen when the cast splits up and does stuff which is meant to advance the story but gets about as far as a train on a local line in the winter before its wheels get iced up and it falls off the rails. And starts ogling and groping as appropriate. Or inappropriate, as the case is.

For 1,100 pages the story manages to be a combination of uninteresting with boring cardboard cutout characters and moderately serious sexual assaults before about three pages of stuff happening which might have been better dealt with at the start of events.

This goes no way to easing concerns over Jordan's mental state. We get it. Ladies have lady parts. Even if your sexual predators which are meant to be likeable main characters don't understand it, we do. Some of us have even actually, you know, seen them (especially on your mum. Not his - that would be weird). A smaller, more select band may have had opportunity to touch. They're normal and not mythical, despite what you may believe. We actually think that Jordan was trying to make us think titties were the imaginary thing by the end, and that the world was really a mundane fantasy with occasionally bad guys and teleporting bits.

Worse than a night with your grandma, to be quite honest.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)

The Rantonator has never been afraid to show up late to the party. Granted, a decade after the event is spectacular even by our standards (and all the cheesy dips and bottles of alcohol have gone, leaving us to bop away in a corner while sated, drunken couples screw to the music in the middle of the floor), but we're here, at last, bold as brass.

The Rantonator also has the feeling that everyone at this particular party has heard all its jokes before, but it's not going to stop us telling them. Oh no. Because in this case telling them again has a perfectly legitimate reason behind it: to reinforce Dan Brown's utter crapness.

For people who have managed to stick with the party metaphor thus far, a little light relief. We're going to talk about Angels and Demons. Not the angelic progeny of the heavens, nor the demonic (file under: State the bloody obvious) spawn of Hell, but the novel by notorious American self-publicist Dan Brown.

The story of this 620-page doorstopper follows American (file under: Write what you know) professor of religious symbology Robert Langdon on his adventure in Europe and takes place over about 10 hours. Our story starts in the US, where Langdon is awoken by a phone call at 5am, telling him about a murder which CERN (yep, the blokes behind the Large Hadron Collider) wants him to advise them on. Cue madcap dash to Switzerland in a plane that was never built to an airport which doesn't exist to a version of CERN which has since felt the need to rebut pretty much everything Brown said about them, where the murder has taken place. This puts Langdon onto the trail of the Illuminatus, a centuries-old scientists' cult which vigorously opposes the Catholic Church.

Oh, and there's an antimatter bomb and a plot to destroy the Vatican before the announcement of a new Pope is made. We're not making that up; we wish we were.

So the plot makes as much sense as an oak tree wearing tweed and sitting in front of the fire reading H.P. Lovecraft (which would make perfect sense, if it were in a H.P. Lovecraft story; our eldrich abomination is a tree! How quaint). But hey, there are parts of it which are more coherent than others, such as the half of the Illuminatus plot to kill the preferred papal candidates.

In saying that it's coherent what we mean is that the concept makes something resembling sense. The execution takes a step beyond sloppy into dripping all over the floor territory. Scenes which should be tense and exciting are ruined by the simple fact that Dan Brown is an abominable writer. His pacing is awful, his descriptions bland and use of language uninspired. To say he's meant to be a professor of the English language, his ability to use it ranks alongside your mum in her less eloquent moments (after we've left her all agibber at our prowess in coitus).

So thus far we have a dire concept and ridiculously poor writing. Allow us to now throw unbelievable characters into the mix. Langdon himself isn't a great character of the 21st century, but we can live with his blandness. No, what strikes us as being the most unbelievable is his sexy lady companion, Vittoria. We're told she's a physicist - what kind of physicist doesn't know that atmosphere thins at altitude? And that's part of the problem - we're told a lot of things about the characters, who aren't allowed to grow of their own accord like, say, a normal person. Brown doesn't understand basic principles of characterisation and storytelling which fundamentally undermines his credibility as a storyteller.

Even with all this in mind Angels and Demons isn't the abomination you may have been led to believe it is. What makes it unforgivably bad is Dan Brown's declaration at the start - that everything depicted is true apart from the Harvard professor being bunged in. So we're expected to believe every inaccuracy about Roman geography, science, history, religion, sociology, media... If he doesn't do that he's a storyteller worthy of burying with the ephitaph 'he wrote some crap in his time. In this case, he's a person who will have 'knew bugger all but passed himself off as a genius'.

A worthy read for masochists.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Wild Animus

Sometimes God comes good. It's been a while since the Rantonator felt the need to purge its collective mind of the content of a book, film, game, or sexual encounter. It's also been a while since the Rantonator read, watched, played, or bonked something so horrendously bad it has been the moral duty of the Rantonator to review it whilst referring to itself in the third person.

Step forward Rich Shapero, a man who apparently wants to become a sheep. Or, at least, his main character does. It's quite easy to imagine that neither Shapero or his multi-named main character has never been to Wales. There's also an element of author avatar, so the accusation of wanting to be distinctly wooly is legit.

We picked up Wild Animus at university. It came free from a pile of the damn things in the Student Union. There were literally hundreds of them, with a sign saying 'Please Take One'. Only now we realise that it was pleading, as opposed to inviting. Pleeeeease, oh pleeeeeaase take one! Apparently students remain the target audience for anything involving LSD and furry creatures. Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth lest that gift horse happens to contain nuts, the Rantonator took a copy.

We want our money back.

That's not money for the book, but the entire tuition fee. Wild Animus is so deeply scarring that it's impossible to not be rendered a psychological wreck. There's the bad prose, the incessant needless dialogue tagging, the utterly bonkers characters and the story which would be insane to a man in an asylum. Presumably after overdosing on industrial strength LSD and being recruited by the Joker. All these factors taken into account - and the fact the book was picked up on university premises - it's impossible to not come to the conclusion that university was complicit in this crime. GBH can be psychological, you know.

So, the plot. Bloke gets high, gets girl (who also gets high), decides after meeting girl that he wants to be a ram, then becomes a shaman after moving halfway across the country, and still wants to become a wooly thing with horns. I wish I was making this up. But I'm not. This is actually meant to be serious, literary fiction. Literary fiction expects to be taken seriously with plots like this ("Oh, it's all about going back to nature," is what one or two pretentious tosspots would say about it) and then derides SF for not being realistic enough.

I would sum the whole farce up by saying drugs are bad... Mmmmmmkay?

The Rantonator is now going to lie down and think nice thoughts about fish.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Medieval fantasy

I think I can safely say this without causing any kind of controversy: medieval fantasy needs to pull its finger out and do something original. I'm not saying that the orcs have to start wearing teapots on their heads or the ranger/warder/whatever-er carries an Easter egg rather than a sword, but it would be nice just to see them do something new.

A Song of Ice and Fire does something new. Ish. Technically it does nothing new. It just takes the medieval wars of real life and transports them to a fantasy setting. And then throws in some motherfucking dragons. And lots and lots and lots of sex and incest and cunning behind the scenes plotting (yes, Cersei Lannister, I'm looking at you on all counts). Sure, it has dragons and knights in armour and any number of medieval fantasy tropes, but it feels a far cry from, say, The Sword of Shannara.

When people think of the worst of medieval fantasy, they think of things like The Sword of Shannara, or, as we prefer to call it, unadulterated knock-off shite. And we don't like Tolkien either. Because that, too, was unadulterated knock-off shite, it just happened to nick off the original ballads rather than have a conveniently translated English myth to plagiarise. Give us the original text of Beowulf any day. Just so long as it's not actually in the original Anglo-Saxon, as we're no great linguists (though we can ask for a blowjob in Greek).

From what has been read of The Wheel of Time it's hardly any better. Fantasy realm, evil overlord (one of these days I'll write my parody about evil overlords, and it will sell more copies than there are atoms in the universe), mad quest, questionable wizard, loveable rogue and a pirate or two. Usual shenanigans ensue. It's entertaining enough, but it's fluff. Lightweight fluff. Not that it'll stop me finishing book 2, but I won't be looking out for books 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14.

That's another thing: the series are infuckingterminable. Author existence failure ends the things rather than author 'I'm tired of the thing, kill all the characters and let's have a big jamboree' existence... win? Ignore than sentence, it wasn't well thought-out. But the point is they're cash cows for the publishing companies and actually give SF and fantasy a bad reputation. If they were all standalone novels or the odd trilogy, no one would bat an eyelid, but they're massive series which could be cut down. At least The Lord of the Rings had the good grace to fuck off when its welcome was over.

There are of course some good medieval fantasies that work within the tropes to give good, original experiences. Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy and its sequel The Tawny Man Trilogy were both magnificent, classy pieces of fantasy literature that fell within the medieval fantasy borders. A Song of Ice and Fire is beautifully gritty with a high-octane plot and realistic (with motherfucking dragons) world.

But by and large, medieval fantasy needs to get original. Because it's not good enough for modern SF and fantasy and the massive leaps they've taken in recent years. What's done is done, but let's make sure what's done is not further going to be done.

Right, back to my generic medieval fantasy novel, involving a McGuffin, a quest and a hot as Hell motherfucking priestess.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Sandworms of Dune

I somewhat gave away my opinion of Sandworms of Dune last night. When posting potential reviews on Facebook, I should be a little more careful. Especially when banding round phrases like 'is it shit enough to merit a review'.

After the absolutely definitely unashamedly awful Hunters of Dune, I don't really know why I bothered with reading Sandworms. In my experience anything written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson is most likely to be, at best, lightweight fluff (even at 600 pages) and at worst self-publicising rubbish defacing the very value of the written word, all while screwing the corpse of Frank Herbert for cash.

Going further into my experiences of Kevin J. Anderson, I read his Jedi Academy trilogy in the Star Wars universe a few years back. When you're 14, space opera without much substance can cut the mustard. When you're into your 20s and appreciate intelligent fiction it can't. So why did Brian Herbert invite Anderson to help him write the prequels to Dune as well as the Legends series?

I haven't read those two trilogies. I don't plan to. I have taste. Reading those after my experiences of this would just be playing right into the Brian and Kevin plan to milk the Dune cash cow for all it's worth. Even though these two instalments of Dune 7 bear more in common with those six novels than they do with the actual Dune novels written by the great Frank Herbert and it's difficult to understand the events in full without reading the series written by Brian and Kevin.

I've covered this ground before. And I think you've had enough of my rants about these two goons and their obsession with making the monies. Despite the fact it truly rankles with me.

So, Sandworms of Dune. It's a step up from Hunters by some distance. Which isn't to say that it's any good. If Hunters was the SF equivalent of falling face first into a vat of cow manure, Sandworms is the same, only with mere mud.

Firstly, the writing. When I was 16 I was writing to a comparable standard. Repeat: when I was sixteen I was writing to a comparable standard. A teenager with little maturity could more than match the standard of writing the two authors are going for. It reads more like a book for ten year olds than an actual serious piece of adult fiction. And this jars, considering some of the content. Sex, violence and serious ethical issues are all represented. It's good to know that these are made accessible to the younger generation.

With the low standard of maturity in the writing comes the lack of true intelligence and cunning in the content. We're told that the ultimate Kwisatz Haderach (incidentally, this is misspelled on the back cover of the paperback version, in an exceedingly sloppy oversight from the publishers) is on board the no-ship. It's meant to come as a surprise when the identity of this Kwisatz Haderach is unveiled. I'd guessed before the start of the novel, about halfway through Hunters. Obvious false trails are obvious. Insofar as the intelligence of the novel, it's on a par with a koala bear having been dropped on its head as a wokling (they're related to Ewoks, right?).

The amount of padding is equally frustrating. Just because Frank Herbert's notes made allusions to something (and this is something I doubt in relation to Brian and Kevin's constant allusions to their own trilogies, with this adding up to about 40% of the novel) doesn't mean it needs to be mentioned. The six original novels were tightly plotted, rich in detail, multifaceted in every scene. Dozens of scenes were dropped from the original novel, mostly with good reason; having read The Road to Dune, the scenes contained within its pages were largely redundant. Half of the ghola project could have been cut. The attempts to restore spice and the worms to Arrakis could have been pared down. And the same went for Hunters. The 1,200-page duology could have been written by most competent writers in 500.

On the plus side, it's lightweight fluff that doesn't take a tremendous level of intelligence to get. Had this been another series I doubt I'd be so scathing to it. But the fact is that this is an addition to the Dune universe. It should be dense, tightly-plotted, intelligent.

And I'll make another concession. The ending is probably what Frank Herbert had in mind. Because, for the first time in 1,200 pages, page 1,100 sees a return to ideas and plot events that seem to come from the mind of Frank Herbert himself. And it serves to redeem at least some credibility to the duology.

But it doesn't stop the intense dislike I have for Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Winter is coming

Well diddle my dog with a doughnut. Two posts in under a week. We'll be back to having a regular blog next, rather than just getting hyped up over the Game of Thrones TV series which is on its way next year.

Serious point here: A Song of Ice and Fire is effing AWESOME. HBO make TV series that are, generally, good. Combine the two and you've got the potential for a Battlestar Galactica rival in the greatest series ever made stakes. Throw in Sean Bean, Lena Headey (yes, Queen Whatsertits in 300) and the lass playing Daenerys (who's 18 and not 13 like in the books. Get. In) and the level of awesome may go through the roof.

But enough of that. People want to see what I'm getting excited about. So here's the latest trailer:

Winter is coming.

In March.

Work that one out yourself.