Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Son of Tarzan (Burroughs E., A., 1915-1916)

I can't really say that I care much of this particular Tarzan tale. I think a lot of of it stems from that it's a bit odd mishmash of styles aiming more younger audiences as well as bit older readers. It has a style of naivety as well as implausibility that didn't really bother me with the previous novels.

I know what you're thinking: aren't Tarzan stories all like that? Yes, to a degree. They are naive, but they also are very gruesome in nature. While they feel naive, they still are violent to a degree that lifts them over more typical childrens tales. Son Of Tarzan, while more violent than modern stories for kids, doesn't really manage to do the same.

In terms of plausibility the Son of Tarzan also looses to the first three as Tarzan himself is raised since he was an infant. Korak on the other hand learns the tongue of apes at the age of ten after which he runs away to Africa from London. After he gets to African jungles he soon picks up the survival skills as it all seems to be hereditary to him because of who's his daddy.

As I stated in the beginning, it's an odd mishmash. The way the Son of Tarzan starts feels like it was written for younger kids. Then the further it goes it changes style to something which would go as teen literature, then young adult romance after which it gets some bloodier tones, but never really goes as violent in description as the previous novels do. In short, it never feels like a story Burroughs was sure of for whom he really was writing it.

Tarzan himself has relatively small part in the story. He has lived in London with his family for a decade, trying to keep his son Jack (whom later turns into Korak) out of the jungle life as of the wishes of Jane. They both are prominent only in the beginning and in the end. Also Paulvitch, the remaining Russian baddie from the Beats of Tarzan, is given a small role in the narrative. He delivers ape Akut to London and ends up dying pretty unceremoniously without having his revenge on Tarzan despite he was so hell bent about it at the end of the previous story. sure, there's an explanation why that all happens, but in the end it just feels like a cop out from Burroughs's part, him writing out a character he had no real ideas anymore. Then again using Paulvitch as a main villain could have turned the Son of Tarzan even worse rehash it feels now.

I can't really recommend the Son of Tarzan. all in all it feels like rehash of the previous books, with Burroughs trying hard to turn his pulp hero into something more kid friendly. It is at places well written, but in the end I couldn't really recommend for its indented reader group because of the way Burroughs again describes non-white people. Or non-English for the matter.

Despite Tarzan stories do tend to have a reputation of being aimed towards younger audiences, it's a bit hard to recommend them as such, especially these days. For one, they are relatively gruesome and the violence in them might be a bit too much for todays audiences. And then there's the attitudes towards different cultures which in many ways are just flat out archaic.

That's the Son of Tarzan for you. A novel that doesn't really seem to know for whom it's aimed at. And in the same time a novel that feels like it's just a rehash of what has been done before it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Beasts of Tarzan (Burroughs, E., R., 1914, 1916)

In many ways 3rd novel in the Tarzan series is the Tarzan I think of when there's talk about the mighty lord of the jungle; a savage, yet noble wild man, who can get the jungle beasts to his side only by calling them out. And better yet, he can make the beasts work together in order to do his bidding.

Rokoff, the evil Russian from the previous books, has set his revenge towards Tarzan in motion. He kidnaps him, his son and wife Jane. The villain intends to leave Tarzan to a deserted island, sell the kid to cannibals and have his way with Jane. All in all a dastardly plan, but Tarzan isn't so easily thwarted.

From the seemingly empty Jungle Island Tarzan finds  a tribe of apes lead by Akut, whom he manages to get to his side along with Sheeta, a panther. He also gets help of a black chief Mugambi, so all in all he has a good set of helpers with him during the game of cat and mouse with Rokoff.

 As you might imagine, in a solid pulp fiction fashion, Tarzan and Jane go through a load of hardships before all is said and done. Even Jane, unlike more typical heroines of the decade, gives some resistance to the foes. While Tarzan is tailing Rokoff, Jane herself is running from the Russ, aided by a Swedish chef of the villains vessel Kincaid. After a good chase Tarzan finally reaches Jane and Rokoff and while Tarzan himself doesn't give the final blow, the evil, cowardly villain meets his end in the fangs of Sheeta.

The end is terribly anticlimactic though, with an unnecessary set of secondary villains which just appear by a change. Rokoff is dead and his cohort Paulvitch sets a bomb to Tarzan's ship, which forces him and Jane to stay on a Jungle Island for a while. This leads a secondary villains to enter just to be killed off pretty soon. In all the final chapter is a fast forwarded tale that tells just the highlights, but forgets to be interesting at that. I'd even go as far as to claim that the finale drags otherwise good story down quite a bit and that's a shame, as clearly Burroughs just didn't know when to quit. Or then again, the story's origins as a serialized magazine story might have more to do with that.

The final chapters themselves could have worked as a basis for an another full length Tarzan story and in many ways that could have been more preferable. Paulovich himself could have been left in the jungle plotting his revenge while Tarzan and Jane return home. From this happy ending an another story could have easily been started, albeit in many ways it would have been just an another iteration of the same story.

All said, the Beasts of Tarzan is a fun read. Very much a products of its time, especially what comes to portrayal of native Africans, where cannibals are around every river bend.  Not to mention that the tribals are at best described as benign yet simple childlike creatures, not much above the apes of Tarzan. You could also fault the Beasts of being a tad xenophobic on what comes to non-English or French speaking Nations of the world, as very few of them are described as having any good in them starting from their appearance, despite the thug looking Swedish chef does end up being a man of honor.

Reading Tarzan makes the more unsavory elements of Burroughs's writing more apparent than they are in his Barsoom series for an example. In the Mars series the divide between primitive and civilized people of Mars is quite noticeable, but as they are aliens, the difference doesn't necessarily hit as close to home as it does with Tarzan stories when the subject matter comes from real Earth countries and locations, written by a man who hasn't necessarily done his due diligence about the places or people he's basing the story on.

You could, if you wanted to, over analyze everything in the writings of Burroughs. Hell, it's not even a difficult thing to do, especially with the overly sensitive, politically correct obsessed world we life in today. But then again you could just take the story as it is and try to enjoy it as a product of its time.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Rogue One

If you've ever wondered how the rebellion ever did manage to get their hands on the Death Star blueprints, you have no need to wonder any further. Before Rogue One I recall an older FPS game Dark Forces, where a mercenary named Kyle Katarn stole the plans, that's not what happens here. In this tale we have a reluctant designer.

Galen Erso is the man whom the Empire wants to build their weapon. Erso isn't keen to play ball, but the empire has its ways and soon Erso is doing what's asked of him. Que forwards a couple of years to find Erso's daughter Jyn from an imperial lockup. She's freed by the rebellion, because they know what her daddy's done and so she's driven on a mission to get her father out from the imperial hands as well as trying to get her hands on the blue prints.

Stylistically Rogue One is a gritty war movie. It's still set in a very familiar universe, but overall it's the grittiest movie ever to set in the Star Wars universe. Perhaps it's the touch of the Mouse though, that Rogue One doesn't manage to be grittier, as I suspect the powers that be might have had a hand in cutting out some aspects that could have turned out even grittier.

Surprisingly enough Rogue One does manage to stand on its own feet though. There where Force Awakens felt like a piece of fan fiction with scenes dripping with fan service, Rogue One manages to be mostly an entity of its own. You could argue that there's some amount of fan service provided though, especially with the scenes with Darth Vader in them. The same goes with the digitally re-created Peter Cushing as Tarkin and a young version of Carrie Fisher as Leia.

Rogue One is not a flawless movie, far from it. It has characters in it that don't really go anywhere and as a whole the main characters are also a bit forgettable. It's a shame really, as that makes giving a damn a tad hard at times. And giving a damn would be pretty important in a movie like this.

Out of the two Disney Star Wars movies Rogue One is clearly a stronger movie and clearly better than what George Lucas did manage to do with the prequel trilogy.  It's still far from being the best of the series though, but it does hold a promise that there might be some good stuff coming this way at some point.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Star Wars: Episode VII - the Fan Fiction Awakens

Don't get me wrong, I thought Star Wars 7 was an entertaining movie. Sure, it had a plot that rushed through things like a road runner, but all in all it was an entertaining movie for what it was: a special effects heavy block buster. In that genre I've seen a lot worse. The thing is, that it also feels like a piece of fan fiction. You know, the kind of where some enthusiastic fan tries to stuff in all the things that made the original so great, so the end result is a collection of scenes which make you go "that's cool", but after all is said and done, you might go and claim that all the other aspects in the story were a bit lacking.

As I said, I was entertained by the movie. J.J. Abrams is a director who know exactly how to make scenes which make most people go "ooh, that's cool" and with that he most likely can keep a lot of people entertained, me included. At the same time I couldn't help but to think, that the story line presented in the movie would have been better suited spread over multiple movies, as everything is moving with such a fast pace. See, unlike in the original trilogy and even in the prequel trilogy, Abrams presents the evolution of the characters and situations in a faster manner. For all his faults George Lucas did allow things to simmer and cook up in their own weight, even if that took a couple of movies. In Force Awakens things like Rey finding her hidden force abilities happen in accident and bring immediate results with no one guiding her.

I know it sounds pretty apologetic from my part, when I say that I still like the movie, because I really did. It's not a great movie nor even close being the best in the Star Wars franchise. In many ways it's a rehash of the best of bits from what came before it, but mainly because of nostalgia and Abrams's relentless use of money shots, it works as an entertaining escapade. And if that's all you're looking for, it's not a bad movie to watch.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Silent Age

A common problem with time travel stories is, that when you start to think about them, they rarely make much sense. There's always something in the plot, that makes me wonder "what?", "that made little sense" or "how's that possible then". Not the technicality of time travel, mind you as for me sleeping or being in a come to the future is just as good as some time machine doohickey, but the cause and the effects of the story.  And that is the exact problem that The Silent Age has. While it is a pretty well adventure game, the time travel plot of it doesn't really work, expect on when you use time travel as a method of puzzle solving.

Puzzles really are the strong point of the Silent Age. Those and the minimalistic art style, which make the game as a whole really stand out. As it is a point and click adventure game, you do collect items and use them on screen in order to progress, but a lot of times you need to swap between the present and the future in order to get certain items or get past obstacles on your way. This system works very well and adds an extra layer of depth on puzzles which otherwise could be classified as simple, especially if you've played adventure games before.

The atmosphere of the Silent Age is strong as well. While the game itself isn't long, it's bit under 3 hour experience as a whole, it is engaging thanks to nice graphical style, good music and sound effects. The voice acting is also pretty good, which is always a pleasant surprise when it comes to modern adventures, which often are budget affairs (which is true with this as well). There's isn't much talking in the game, which probably has helped the devs in getting small, yet solid cast.

As I said in the opening though, the plot doesn't really work that well, especially when you start thinking about it. There's things which clash a bit even during the gameplay itself, when you pick up an inconsistency or two.  That's a pretty common problem with time traveling stories, especially when the story is, like this one is, strongly about jumping back and forth in time. I did like the overall idea of it, but as a whole, the plot is what it is, to the predictable end.

The Silent Age isn't a bad game though. Far from it. In fact I'd say it's one of the better adventure games I've played recently. It is short, so if you're one of those people who think all games should be +10 hours, it's not necessarily a game for you, but if you're looking for an atmospheric, story driven game, it just might be.

If you want it, it's in Steam. Also for mobile devices.