Sunday, 23 August 2015

My Geekiness: Things I like.

Geek is hot these days, its everywhere you look; a trend that's been building up for at least a decade. We have a superhero films that don't suck and TV shows that are openly fantasy and immense hits. Science is hot and some of the most influential people in entertainment are gamers, geeks, and other formerly maligned groups. There seems to be more and more to be geeky over too, from the things mentioned above to computer games, comics, novels and a hundred other things. It's an expanding field, taking in new view points, including more and more people until its starting consume the mainstream.

We don't just live in Gothic times, but geeky ones too.

Perhaps as a result of this, I find myself looking at all the things out there cherry picking what I like out there in geekdom. I'm not a huge fan of television, simply because I find it a bit too passive; if I do watch stuff it tends to be cartoons and anime, though I would like to see Sens8 and Penny Dreadfuls as I've heard good things about them. Most of my geek stuff lies in books, comics and games and I tend not to think about television very much at all these days. I also have a somewhat regrettable tendency to dig my heels in if someone tells me I will love something; so sorry to anyone who has said that and then found they got a bit of an odd look.

As a result I thought I'd talk a bit about some of the geeky things I like/love and what attracts me to them.

Starting with video games: I love Skyrim, so much that I've got about four characters that I'm trying to take down different paths. The main character, a straight forward warrior has completed the main game but we've kept her to play the Dragon Born expansion, which is a bit more difficult than the main game. Other than that I'm experimenting, and have an Argonian assassin, a Dark Elf spell slinger and a Red Guard warrior, who is currently a werewolf and who I've finally cracked the archery skill with. One of the things I like is that I can come up with all sorts of different characters and explore the world in slightly different ways, acting how I feel the character would (the Argonian is far less sympathetic than the mammals I've been playing for example, even without the assassin aspect).

What I like about Skyrim, aside from the general plot of the game is how beautiful it is; the art takes my breath away frequently and there are times when I could just travel the area looking at the scenery (if only the game allowed such things), It is so well realised, I feel I could step into the world and feel quite at home. Add to this a complex backstory that actually mirrors what's going on in the rest of the game (love it when that happens), and brings up questions about power and rulership, faith and justice and it starts to become a heady mix that gets richer as you play, even if you are rolling your eyes because it is the fourth time the quest to rescue x or clear out bandits from location y has come up.




One of my absolute favourite anime shows is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It is a cyberpunk show, with a touch of philosophy in that it asks what makes a human in the first place (as all good cyberpunk should) and is filtered through the adventures of Section 9 in a near future Tokyo. The cast is great, wonderfully voiced and compellingly written. Every character serves a purpose and has a niche, so there's no deadwood. The story arcs are well put together and the society feels like its on just the right side of mad; it feels plausible as we teeter on the edge of a truly wired society, and that's a little scary.

The animation is lush, and well rendered, the vision of the future beautifully portrayed. Again, it feels plausible, fitting well with the ideas that drive the show. At the same time when I watch it I can see how it ties into current fears and themes about the growth of technology and the relationship between technology and the state. Which rather clicks with my love of politics...


Also, the theme tune is wonderful:



Onto print media and the first thing I love is Charles Stross' Laundry Files. A heady mix of spies, Lovecraft and geek memes, all centred on the final remnant of the SOE, hidden deep within the machinery of the British government. The first four novels were pastiches of various famous spy writers' work while the last two books the series has dived into new territory, taking on urban fantasy tropes. So far we've had vampires and superheroes, both delivered in a way that makes a worrying amount of sense within the universe. Stross has made a very flexible world, with a lot of potential and the novels really work. Even better we're seeing development happen, not just in the sense of characters growing in occult power but in the way that sees them move and change. Bob, the protagonist of the first five novels, is now an 'NPC' because he's been promoted into management. His wife, Mo, has just seen something similar happen as she's reached the end of her active status as an agent. The next novel focuses on a new character, one who was introduced in book five,

We're onto Laundry generation 2 and that's almost unheard of in these kind of novels where the protagonist is often so deeply embedded into the world that moving them on to a new role would defeat the purpose.

In the hopes that I have whetted your appetite, here's Overtime, one of the short stories lurking for free on Tor's website.

In comics I have a definite love for some of the kookier British voices out there, and while I do
like superheroes it feels as if Marvel and DC have really drawn things out too much and I have a touch of event fatigue. Also, it feels as if they don't really know what to do with a lot of their characters anymore, which is a shame. As a result in the past few years I have been picking up more indie books, and Image has become my 'go to' for comics. Of the books that have caught my eyes my favourites have been Trees, which I've reviewed on this blog, and The Wicked and the Divine.  Telling the tale of twelve gods who incarnate every ninety years, for two years, the book feels like a mixture of Neil Gaiman's myth building and Warren Ellis' real politic, but with Kiren Gillen's voice melding the two expertly into something that is uniquely his.

Drawing on pop music motifs, the book explores the price of fame and power, the idea that popularity is manipulated and the effects of the pop super stars on the world around them; all wrapped up in a mystery about who the gods are, why they incarnate and if there is a deeper reason for the events that occur.

It's a fun read, and a gripping story so far.

Finally it feels as if this would be incomplete without at least a hat tip towards RPGs. This is still a tricky one, partly because there's nothing that's standing out head and shoulders over the rest and partly because I've reached a point where I'm of the 'no gaming is better than bad gaming' school of thought. I haven't actually gamed in over a year now and Skyrim (and Rune Factory) is very much scratching my gaming itch). I retain a deep love for the World of Darkness, there's something about it that really works for me and so... given that the 20th Anniversary edition has just come out I'm going to say that my favourite game is, probably, Mage: the Ascension (I'm not going to type out an explanation of what the game's about so go ahead and click the link).

At its heart the game is one about the horror of absolutism, the idea that taken to the nth degree anything becomes scary. In a world where reality conforms to belief, this is terrifying because it suggests that not only could anything happen but that we are not gods, because we do not want to be (a theme in the third edition suggested that apathy was the main enemy of all sides, apart from the guys who want to drag us down into Hell).

What I like about the game is that it makes me think; it is apologetically about stuff from the real
world, rather than airy fairy fantasy, A story set in a secondary school is as valid as one out in the wider reaches of who knows where, a game where you blow up bases is as plausible as one where you dig into the history of the Ascension War.  There are no clear cut answers and it forces you to confront the fact that the ideas we live by are no more perfect than anything else. This makes a quandary that gives depth to a game about wielding magic and fighting a war, which is appealing. Well that and "freaks fighting the 'good people'" has always been one of my favoured stories, and I have to admit the Traditions stole my heart a long time ago and I adore the Hollow Ones.



But I think the thing I like most about it Mage is that it does not push towards a horrible end of the world, a point where we might as well give up and go home. It is a game that exhorts you to keep trying, to stay true to your beliefs and values and never give up: and that's pretty cool.