Monday, March 31, 2008

Lost: Via Domus

Someone got to say it first on at least one message board, but it's a good point. Lost Via Domus, the Ubisoft video game based on the series is a little like the whole Nikki and Paulo story arc.

Like the series of Lost paperbacks, the Exposé episode and those immediately preceding it in Season 3, Via Domus introduces a new character aboard Oceanic Flight 815 who's quickly off on his own adventure, wending his way through the island's familiar landmarks, interaction with the main characters and his own cryptic flashbacks.

That new character is you as you play first person non-shooter, and fairly quickly you discover you're an amnesiac photojournalist with at least one thug on your tail. Your objective is to unlock your memories about a girl who periodically appears Christian Shepherd like--or Kate's horse-like--in the jungle and in your memories.

I didn't think I'd really like the non-canonical story, but for me, it all works pretty well and it has some definite pluses.

Story pace
What is it like, 100 days we've had spread out over 3 1/2 seasons? Much of the familiar plot line material is playing out around you in the game. You're busy wandering in caves or the jungle while the first encounters with the Others are taking place, explosives are being acquired from the Black Rock, the hatch is being opened and Sawyer, Jin and Michael are taking off on a raft.

That peripheral exposure while you're being sent on mystical vision quests by Locke and getting shot at in the jungle, really gives you a feel for how fast everything is supposed to have transpired.

In the midst of your quest, you also have to take a tour of the Swan hatch, a great walkthrough experience because it lets you see how everything's laid out from the computer room where you have to enter the numbers at least once to the kitchen and living quarters. You get to browse the books but not the album collection, but you can't have everything. There are only so many megabytes available, right? (The authenticity of the game with some cool in-game clips is disccused in this IGN video featuring the developers.)

The #$%@&*^%* Spots
I've found two #$%@&*^%* portions of the game so far and I think I'm just past the midsection. A lot of players discussing Via Domus in forums seem to agree with me.

There are the #$%@&*^%* electrical panels in which you have to modify fuses to either reverse electrical flow or disperse it appropriately. I don't know what should be inferred from the fact that Oceanic Flight 815 and the hatch utilize the same basic panels. I solved a couple but went to a walk through for the others because trial-and-erroring fuses had a dangerous level of stop-me-from-playing potential.

The other portion that's a little frustrating is an area where the difficulty is achieved by repeated incursions of the #$%@&*^%* smoke monster. Enough! you want to say after a while.

Still and all for me if not for the Doom generation, Lost: Via Domus is a cool adventure and puzzle game and it's a fun if not required experience for the Lost fan. Hopefully it will tide me over until the return of this season.

Maybe by April 24 I will have managed to get past the #$%@&*^%* smoke monster.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lost in Space and in Hulu, the NBC/Fox venture to bring tons of free shows to the web, has been talked about for a while and I discovered last weekend it's live. That was about the last time I was really productive in off hours come to think of it.

I've watched the occasional episode of Lost while sitting at my computer, The Office on Netflix, or, but I haven't made the transition to really watching a lot of web TV. The web connection's in the office not the den, and I'd have a guy come out or string a wire in the attic myself or figure out one of those wireless hubs. Anyway...

Hulu with it's friendly interface and limited commercial interruptions makes for pretty good office-swivel-chair viewing for me. Is it the tilting point? Perhaps. Slate suggested recently it may be the future of television and the edge of new social networking. Viewers will be able to collectively vote on the best episode of The Simpsons ever and things of that nature.

It's certainly like we've always heard TV would be some day. A menu of the programs we want, all on demand.

For the genre fan
There are many choices for the science fiction fan and some for the horror fan, as well as those who want to catch up the brilliant satire of American Dad and The Simpsons.

My favorite offering is Lost in Space. I was a Lost in Space kid. When it went into syndication and started airing on our local TV station when I was in first grade, I counted the days until its kickoff and watched every afternoon without much of a discerning eye.

I was a kid so the later, garishly colored and hopelessly goofy episodes didn't really bother me, and in those days generally they seemed to air shows in kind of random order. I was a little surprised one afternoon when something that seemed like a news show came on in the Lost in Space time slot. After a few second it became apparent it was the first episode, introduced in documentary fashion.

Hulu offers the slightly more serious and somber Season 1 including the first full pilot w/out the robot or Dr. Smith. That was later recut to introduce a then-sinister Dr. Smith, foreign agent and stowaway on the Jupiter 2.

If you're not nostalgic, there's still much to be found. Battlestar Gallactica episodes -- new, classic and '80--are available.

There's also Sci Fi's Invisible Man, he of the quicksilver rage; the new and just slightly underrated Bionic Woman featuring the co-star of BBC's stupendous Jekyll as Jamie Sommers; Flash Gordon; The Pretender; I Spy; Chuck and many others.

There are also interesting things to check out. I haven't watched yet, but in addition to Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is included, and the episodes on Hulu include a Harlan Ellison-penned installment "The Price of Doom." The producers must have changed his original because it's credited to Cordwainer Bird.

Mystery fans can also find much to enjoy including the unbelievable first season of Murder One and on the horror front there's the old Night Gallery though it's not the best package of shows you could hope for from that series that frequently adapted tales from the pulps including Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model."

If you have a speedy web connection check it out.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A few words about promises

I had a longer post here earlier. I'm wearied by some of the back and forth political discussion so I'm capping it all here except for these links.

The next post will get back to the matters like which episode of "Lost in Space" currently on is best.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher

Living Wealth Better Than Money from Yes Magazine

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Good Song

When I was a reporter, I was apolitical.
I have always been cynical. Even as a young man.
I'm not so young anymore.
I'm not a reporter these days.

I live in a world torn by war.
In the wake of a mortgage crisis fueled by greed.
In a country where corporate lobbyists write laws.

Here's a song I heard somewhere.

Addendum on why he wrote the song.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Books I Should Have Read in the '80s: Kane by Douglas Borton

Do you have books waiting around for you to read them? Doesn't everybody?

by Douglas Borton has been on my shelf, or actually various shelves in various residences since it came out in 1990, so technically it's not an '80s book but it is part of that '80s horror wave.

I bought it new because I was intrigued by the premise and had liked Borton's Manstopper, but in spite of its great premise I've just kept not getting around to it until now.

But it's a great read. I'm not finished but I trust it will all come together well. It's about a mysterious stranger who wanders from the California dessert into a dying town and decides to speed the process along.

Only about 25 people still live in Tuskett, Calif., once known as Desolation. After a brief pause to get his bearings, the mysterious Kane starts picking off the population. Why was this never made into a movie? Could have been a great, gritty documentary-style chiller.

The novel offers some great characters along with page-turning chills. It's broad, small town cast of characters reminds me of the flavor of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot.

If it's on your shelf but neglected, pick it up, or look for it and see what you think.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Does my forehead feel a little warm to you?

I think a bout of hypochondria is finally starting to wane for me. I should be back to feeling invincible again sometime soon.

I guess it's a product of getting older and being exposed to information about health screenings, early detection and warning signs. I know it's a good idea to get checked out for things you might have, but it's psychologically hard -- on me at least.

My uncle's, sister's grandfather's cousin had what so you want to do what?
Checking for possibilities is probably a good thing. It's preventive. You'd be surprised how many older doctors hate the word preventative, which at least in online dictionaries is listed as a variant of preventive. I've had them open conversations with it. "If you ever write the word preventive you should do it correctly." Kind of reminds me of this broken record caller we had in the newsroom.

"You people aren't capitalizing the word pope," he told me once.

"We do if it's in front of a name like John Paul. Or Paul. Just not if it's a stand-alone noun," I said. Couple of weeks later about ten of us in the newsroom were sitting around talking because there was no exciting breaking news to cover, and it turned out everyone had the same conversation with the guy.

I don't know if there's a preventative measure for that kind of behavior, but I do work on crossword puzzles when I'm not digressing. I also sometimes use the less-preferred variation on a word just to be rebellious.

People can have heart attacks at any age
Anyway I can't say that avoiding screenings is a good idea, even if you're pretty sure there's nothing wrong with you, but I do think it's important to try and think there's nothing wrong with you.

It makes living in the now easier. Get too caught up in "what you might have" and it discourages long-range planning as well, which also is not a good thing.

What you might have also makes a lot of people say: "Well, anything's possible, but I think it's unlikely you're having a heart attack."

Christine said that once when I was 30 and had had coffee, a Mountain Dew and the notion that "30-year-olds have been known to have heart attacks."

If 30 year olds can have heart attacks, I can imagine a whole lot of things older guys can have and there's this thing called the Internet where you can read about all kinds of diseases.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

I Went to the Renaissance Fair and What's on the iPod Because of It

It's been ages since I've been to a Renaissance festival. I was overdue. Huzzah!

We went for the jousting Sunday at The Four Wind Faire and stayed for The Brobingnagian Bards, an Austin-based duo performing Scottish and Irish drinking songs with the period instruments and the upbeat humor you hope for in such venues.

I was happy to discover they had a website, one member has a podcast and they're well represented on iTunes. They're veterans of science fiction conventions as well as festivals so there are Jedi tunes in their repertoire as well as many an Irish tune.

My favorite song, being a cat owner, is Marc Gunn's solo effort Danny Boy, to the tune of Londonderry Air, sung by a cat owner roused in the wee hours by his feline friend.

Reality Check

A pretty good movie called The Night Listener is on cable right now. It stars Robin Williams as a fictionalized version of Armistead Maupin upon whose novel the film is based. In it Williams is plunged into the quest to solve an emotionally wrenching mystery behind a literary hoax.

It's based on a true story involving a book called A Rock and a Hard Place, a purported memoir, that actually saw publication though in the film the book never does.

The revelation last week that another memoir, Love and Consequences, is really a novel should not come as any great surprise, I suppose. It's a new literary tradition and is on the heels of a similar revelation of a few days ago that Misha Defonseca did not really escape Nazis to be raised by wolves as she claimed in the 11-year old memoir Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years.

It would seem the reality craze that has polluted commercial television has spread to publishing and the reading public. One article I read about Love and Consequences noted publishers will look at a memoir quicker than a work of fiction, I suppose because readers are seeking to find the thrill and emotion that they suspect only a true story will bring. The kind of love and emotion they see on say The Bachelor I suppose. I loved it in the defunct, scripted series Studio 60 that Aaron Sorkin had one of his characters call a reality development chief "vice president for illiterate programming."

Ironically, these literary scandals would seem to confirm that fiction can deliver powerful emotional experiences. Editors and initial readers clearly have found rich reading experiences in the hoax narratives mentioned above and those such as A Million Little Pieces. Believing them to be non-fiction, millions have been engaged and enthralled.

Perhaps publishers and readers (some readers) have just forgotten what the novel can do and how it can strike at the heart.

I'm not defending hoaxers but fiction. I believe James Frey did try to sell his book as a novel first. Wasn't it the same story when he started claiming it was true?

I believe truth matters and if a book is claimed to be true it should be. I've had friends who said it didn't matter that A Million Little Pieces was not true, it was still a good read.

If it was a good read the wrenched the heart, why not publish it as fiction? OK, it's about a few dollars more, I know.

What if we could just convince readers to remember that often a novel can deliver more in the way of truth, that it can be richer and engaging with it's portrayal of multiple characters and inner lives and sometimes metaphor can speak more than words.

King Lear was kind of based on a true story, but it's kind of the writer's embellishment and not the movie-of-the-week aspects we hang on to, and I watched The Night Listener with interest, even though it was based on a novel and not a memoir because it explored a perplexing case and gave a potential explanation of the hoaxer's soul.

A good book doesn't have to be non-fiction. It just has to be true.


This is a great piece from Slate on this topic.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lost: Flashes and Tears Before My Eyes

(Spoiler warning: This post reveals information found in the Lost episode "The Constant" and thus spoilers to the mysteries of the show thus far.)
Just a few days after I noted that Christine sometimes thinks I get choked up too easily at TV shows, comes "The Constant," one of the best episodes ever of Lost ever. It was penned by the show's producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

I've already acknowledged the reunion of Rose and Bernard was a hanky moment, but as the wicked cool Lost Diary that chronicles each episode movement by moment summed up this installment's final seconds:

9:58 -- Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring ...

9:59 -- "Penny?" -- Desmond

10:00 -- If you're not choked up right now, I'm sorry -- we can't ever be friends.

In a mythology-rich episode we discovered some characters such as Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) are unstuck in time, and we discovered that his long-lost girlfriend Penny is a requirement for his survival-- time-hoppers need a "constant" present in past and future to prevent total meltdowns. Whoa! And Penny's dad was bidding on a ledger from the Black Rock, the ship somehow deposited at the center of the Losties' island.

As his Billy Pilgrim-like escapades began to threaten Desmond's life, we discovered Desmond needed at least voice contact with Penny to survive. "1996 Desmond, get a phone number where you can call Penny in 2004!"

In true Lost "everything happens for a reason" fashion who should be on board the "rescue" freighter where the affected Desmond found himself gradually goin' south but former Republican Guard communications officer Sayid Jarrah--who, by the way, doesn't need a gun, buddy! Sayid was able to fix damaged radio phones and get Des hooked up on a long distance call with none other than Penelope Widmore.

What a fabulous storytelling arc to convey all of the information the writers had to impart. Deep science fiction concepts wrapped in a love story.

So I'm sitting there watching and thinking "Christine's going to chide me if I cry. Christine's going to chide me if a I cry" and then I look over during:

9:58 -- Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring ...

9:59 -- "Penny?" -- Desmond

and tears are streaming down Christine's cheeks.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is writing. Bravo!
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