Thursday, August 25, 2011

What the hell am I reading?

Long before I became an obsessive gamer, I was an obsessive reader. As a kid I rarely played video games, preferring to read and to this day I still treasure the very first book I remember reading often during my childhood, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
Since you aren't my therapist we won't discuss my life growing up but I will say that books got me through most of it with most of my sanity intact. A book, any reading material really, was never far from my hand and to this day when I'm eating my Lucky Charms I'll read the box if I don't have a book handy.

Where the hell is this going?
I'm getting there and it is related to games. I swear. You know me, I take the meandering path anywhere.

When I was younger I mostly focused on classics. In my late teens I added more modern fare to my list. In between this I did my random studying, i'd pick a topic and research it for fun, Metallurgy, Arthurian Legend, Mythology, History...Yes, I've always been a giant nerd.

A few years back I discovered the Vampire Hunter D series and started reading and collecting both the novels and the manga as they are released. I also started reading more manga, Trinity Blood, Naruto, Inuyasha, Hikaru no Go to name a few.

What didn't interest me at all? Game novels. Pprobably because I didnt care for the games that were getting novelized. I admit it...Xbox fangirl that I am, I have never cared for or about Halo, any Halo game. I played a bit of the first one, it was ok, but it wasn't anything extraordinary.
That all changed when I read The Last Wish by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. If the name doesn't sound familiar, perhaps this one will, The Witcher.
The Witcher is based on Sapkowski's series of books.  Sadly only 2 have been translated to English, The Last Wish and Blood of Elves with a third one, Times of Contempt being planned for release next year.

Around the same time I played a lot of Dynasty Warriors 6 with my husband and like many other gamers it piqued my interest in the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese History and I ended up ordering and reading the massive 4 book spanning Three Kingdoms by Guanzhong Luo, (BTW, I really recommend it, it was really amazing)

After reading these books I got curious about what other novels based on games I play might be out there, that maybe weren't exactly showcased at the local Borders.  Look and ye shall find....Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Dead Space and others. So I went on a shopping spree.

I don't know what I expected, but whatever it was, it wasn't what I got.

I read the Dragon Age books and  found myself wishing there were more than just 2 novels. I also found a lot of understanding and compassion for Teryn Loghain.

I bought all 3 Mass Effect novels, though I've only read 2 because the last one takes place after ME2 and I didnt want any spoilers however slight, and discovered they were deep, fascinating glimpses into both the world and some of the characters I had met in Mass Effect. Anderson was utterly badass in his youth.

One series I approached with low expectations was Gears of War. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Gears 1 and 2, Pre-ordered the Epic edition of Gears 3 and am trying to decide the best place to build my shrine to the Marcus Fenix statue it comes with. But, while I love Gears and find the story interesting and well written for the purposes of the games, I wasnt sure if it would be deep enough to make a good read. I couldn't have been more wrong. I just finished reading Coalition's End a few nights ago and I think I spent most of the book turning the pages breathlessly, wanting to see what happened next.
Not only were they great reads, the last 2 books did the impossible...they made me like Baird. THAT is one thing I didn't expect from the Gears books.

After reading a few of those books and admitting that perhaps I shouldnt have assumed all game novels would suck I bought 2 more game novels. One with high hopes and one with mild curiosity. Dead Space and The Elder Scrolls.

Well, the gravy train of awesome had to end sometime, right?

I started with Dead Space, didnt get too far in before asking myself  "wtf is going on and why the hell do I care? But I tried to keep going, eventually I got sidetracked by rereading The Great Book of Amber for the 27th time and so my husband read Dead Space. Upon completion he told me that it was really good and that I really should give it another go, if I got past the horrid beginning, it had a great payoff later on. So I went back to it and he was right. Don't worry, no spoilers or anything,, that didnt end the way I thought it all.

Now I confess this incredibly long and, has been leading up to this: The Infernal City, an Elder Scrolls  novel because I FINALLY finished it last night.
I was instantly interested when it was announced, I mean, I love me some Morrowind and Oblivion, even tried to get some of the older games to run on my go :( i guess I should have kept my old POS for old games. So I went into this with high expectations of high fantasy.

I can read a standard 500 page novel in a night if motivated. I've been reading the 285pg  Infernal City for months. I want my time AND my money back.
I finished the book with the same question I started it with... What the hell am I reading?
No really, what the hell was that? Cause I have no clue. The premise seemed promising, a floating city that turns people into zombies as it passes over them..hmm, I can dig that.
I'm not sure how long it takes the book to actually get to the floating city because those  285pages made War and Peace feel like a comic book.
I can't pronounce half the names I'm reading, the story jumps to a few different people out of the blue without much explanation and I can't say I found myself giving a damn about ANYTHING or ANYONE in the damn thing. Not to mention the wasted opportunity. Again, I promise, no spoilers in case you actually want to read this disaster...But, personally, If I were going to write about a mysterious floating city that turns people into zombies I'd find a really kick ass reason for it, no I dont know what exactly, but, that isnt important right now, I'm not a writer, well I am, sort of, just not a novelist...the point is, you know how I said in Dungeon Siege 3 I felt like every boss was just misunderstood and everything could have been solved if they talked instead of going straight to fighting? Pedestrian bosses with pedestrian problems do not epic stories make...
I admit it..I had a point, this was going somewhere, especially the Dungeon Siege thing (I swear it wasnt just a plot to get you to click on another page of my blog for the pageviews, hehe.) but, the book is so horrifically awful that it actually turned ME into a mindless zombie mid-blog post. The thought has utterly gone, dammit I hate it when that happens.

So yeah...forget whatever i was saying, it'll come to me eventually I'm sure, like at 3am, in the middle of a dream about shoe sales (don't laugh, thats what I was dreaming about this morning. Ok, laugh, its kinda pathetic)

Back to Umbriel, the floating city over Tamriel...

The Product Description on Amazon says:

Four decades after the Oblivion Crisis, Tamriel is threatened anew by an ancient and all-consuming evil. It is Umbriel, a floating city that casts a terrifying shadow–for wherever it falls, people die and rise again.

And it is in Umbriel’s shadow that a great adventure begins, and a group of unlikely heroes meet. A legendary prince with a secret. A spy on the trail of a vast conspiracy. A mage obsessed with his desire for revenge. And Annaig, a young girl in whose hands the fate of Tamriel may rest . . . .

Based on the award-winning The Elder Scrolls, The Infernal City is the first of two exhilarating novels following events that continue the story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, named 2006 Game of the Year.

Wow, that sounds so cool and interesting. Spys and undead and a dashing Prince! Sign me up!
What I got instead was a disjointed, poorly written fan-fic that happened to take place in Tamriel. I realize that there is a sequel planned but really, there are cliffhangers and then there's the place where the author just stops writing...

Its hard to not just give up the whole stupid plot here because without actually giving you spoilers you can't comprehend why I loathed this book so much.  Tell ya what, i'm gonna write  the whole ugly thing below and you highlight it if you wanna  read it, will that work for you?

Ok so you read that little blurb about the story above, well lets go ahead and give you the REAL story.

No one MEETS anyone else. Annaig has an Argonian friend named Glim and they start off hanging out, get separated and then meet up again. 
Annaig talks to the prince through a magical locket and mechanical bird (nowhere near as cool as the owl in Clash of the Titans)
The Spy never meets either annaig, Glim, The Prince or anyone else for that matter besides an old buddy that has zero to do with the plot. 
Wait, I take all that back, the Prince meets the "mage bent on revenge"
Ok so 2 people actually physically "meet"

The "great adventure

Annaig is a nerdy wannabe mage and Glim is her somewhat boring Argonian buddy. Shit's going down in Black Marsh and her dad wants to send her away to Cyyrodil. Annaig jumps ship meets up with Glim sees the floating city and drinks a potion she's cooked up so they can fly up there. 
The place is weird and kinda pretty, Everyone in Black Marsh dies and becomes zombies. 
Annaig and Glim get captured and she's made a cook in the kitchens and he's sent to "the sump" a lake? River? Some sort of watery area where they collect seafood for the kitchens. Its also the place dead bodies get dumped and new "people" are born. Yes the Island is like ultimate friggin reincarnation, people die, they get dumped in the water, the fishies eat them, then they are reborn fully grown out of sacks underwater to hatch and carry on til they die again. WTF???

Annaig has heard about the epic exploits of the prince and sends her magic bird to find him so she can tell him about the floating island and have him come to her rescue. This plan does succeed, well, the finding the prince part.
Turns out our Legendary Prince's deep dark secret is..he's a loser. But he doesn't know it. Every  badass thing he's ever done, every battle he's fought in, they've been rigged by his daddy. All of his guards know about it, they all laugh behind his back, but he really thinks he's the man. 
So the prince sets out with his guard to rescue Annaig, against his daddy's orders, because daddy knows "Treb" will get his ass handed to him on a platter in a real fight. Shortly after setting out on his quest the new hot chick he had recruited into his guard beats the tar out of him while her friends come down and incinerate or shoot everyone else. See, she was hired to kill his dumb ass, but instead decides she can make a lot of coin by selling him. She tells loser boy all about his fake exploits and he whines about it being lies, while she kicks his ass again. 
This is where angry mage makes his appearance. He takes her out and most of her band and rescues prince whiny. He tells the prince that everything bitch said was true and he's a pathetic excuse for a man, this makes the prince cry and feel hopeless because now he isnt man enough to rescue Annaig. Angry Mage tells him to suck it up.
Mean while Annaig is kicking ass at making strange dishes in the kitchen while trying to figure out how to vacate Dodge and not get whacked for bad food. Another Kitchen invades the one she works at and kills everyone in order to take the talented cook Annaig for their own. (these are not metaphors people, this is really about kitchen staff making food for the inhabitants of the floating island) The head chef of the new kitchen "Lord something-or-other" not only wants Annaig to make good food he's hoping to steam it up in the bedroom too but she wont go for it. She's busy waiting for Prince charming to save her. 

And the Spy, what about the spy...yeah, he's actually a noob inspector on his 3rd case, he  thinks the prince is still alive and is trying to figure out who set up the prince, but, it never really leads anywhere of great import really...the butler did it..well the prime minister which is just as generic (I'm assuming it was the prime minister because every time he's mentioned everyone gets the "EUREEKA!!I've found it thing).
That's it, thats the deep intrigue with the spy. It goes no further.

Surly mage and prince make cat friends (Khajit), prince tries to recruit a friend and gets him killed, surly mage decides to take a shortcut to the next location of the floating city, through Oblivion, where they are chased by Hircine, all kitties die. 

Annaig meanwhile survives an assassination attempt by a jealous cook, finds her missing stinky black liquid so she can make a flying potion and reunites with Glim.

and NOW the deep dark reason behind the floating city....

So yeah, in Morrowind there was some floating Ministry thing over the main city. (you know, I could look up the names of all this stuff but I'm too lazy) Well apparently it was magically stopped there from crashing into the ground by the god Vivec, he must not be a very good god if he could manage to stop it but not keep it there or send it away or something. So the Dunmer made a cool machine thing to keep the Ministry up in the air, one little needed souls to power the machine and keep it up there. They couldnt keep killing people so surly mage and his buddy figured out a way to tap into living people's souls and suck them out slowly, allowing them to maximize their soul usage. All was dandy til Surly Mage's buddy took his girlfriend to use as a battery. Surly mage ran to her rescue, fought with his now ex-buddy and they broke the machine sending the ministry crashing down on the city killing everyone.Way to go dudes!

Surly and his friend make a break from the firey crash into Oblivion where they both end up trapped by Umbra, who kicked Clavicus Vile's ass and then chucked the sword also named Umbra out the Oblivion gate before it closed. Surly gets away eventually, and decides to find the sword and then find his ex-friend and kill him.
His buddy uses his dark arts to screw over Umbra and Vile, he cant get out of Oblivion but he warps time and space and the land and whatever else he can and it becomes this floating island, powered by souls. This would be why wherever the city passes people become zombies, it sucks their souls out. OOH he's definitely a bad guy now.

Surly cant' find the sword and him and the prince are about to bite it when something happens (I fell asleep) and they end up confronting Surly's buddy on his floatie Island of doom. 

So what does Surly's friend REALLY want? 
He wants the white-gold tower in the middle of the Imperial City
For what nefarious purpose? 
So he can break out of Oblivion, see, no one can leave the island, they become incorporeal if they try to leave, because its still tied to Oblivion. 
What havoc will he wreak when he gets out of Oblivion?
None, seriously. He literally wants to park the Island somewhere and chill. Yeah, all that drama and buildup..guy wants to park his ride and relax.

Surly and the Prince say hell no, dude gives a big ole speech, Surly attacks, gets killed, Prince is still alive and presumably still useless.

Annaig and Glim take her nasty potion and make a break for it, but oh snap! they start fading away. Yeah, they can't leave. 

The end.
No, really, the end.
That's where the book ends.

No sequel can save this turd.
I will commend the book for one thing. Its exactly what I once thought game novels would be like.

Luckily, its the first one I've read that is truly horrid with nothing to redeem it. Of course, I haven't gotten around to God of War novel yet....

Sihaya asked me to post my thoughts about the book after we ate lunch. I'm her husband, hater of all things Lucas Montbarron and newfound convert to DJ Hero II. Anyways, it seems like a really wasted opportunity, we're talking about the minds behind the Oblivion and Morrowind stories and a gazillion (re: Borderlands!) side stories actually approving this book to print and a sequel after that. Given the rich stories behind them both, (full disclaimer: I haven't, and after talking to Sihaya, there's no way in hell I will ever read this book) the only way I can sum up the author's work is this video which YouTube will not allow anyone to embed. It's the question we all should be asking.

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