Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kalpar Lectures: Outrageous Facts About Cincinnati

May it never be said that the Kalpar failed to rise to a challenge. Sorry if this video looks weird, I'm fiddling with some controls and things to try and improve it. 

- Kalpar

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Misadventures of Krinsblag: Exercises in Futility

After having thoroughly looted the surgeon's theater we decided to cut a hole in the floor/wall of the room so that we could scout the next room down and determine our next course of action. We lowered a lantern down to discover that the next room was a very large gun deck with a few cannons and other weapons scattered along the floor. In addition we noticed two carved figureheads which instantly aroused our suspicion. Tidingston and Soma were able to identify them as Ship Sentinels, a sort of magic statue that protects a ship from harm at the direction of the captain. Tidingston decided to attempt posing as the captain and getting the sentinels to assist us in clearing out the ship. The sentinels, however, remained unresponsive to our commands. Acting on a hunch I went back over to the galley and cut a hole into the next chamber, discovering that it too was a gun deck, much like the other one, but lacking any sentinels.

Unsure where to go from here, we somehow inferred that another chamber was located on the ship and managed to punch our way through the decks to it and it turned out to be the captain's cabin. After a brief search of the room we managed to turn up a few odds and ends of varying utility. We also discovered the captain's log which shed no real new light on our predicament. Apparently Corrister was the ship's medic, but instead of healing people with the principles of modern magic, he resorted to the barbaric practice of cutting people open and performing surgery. However, the sheer lack of skill necessary for such a brutal practice left us seriously in doubt that Corrister could even be behind whatever nefarious plot was going on.

Faced with yet another dead end that apparently had done nothing but waste our time we decided to leave the ship and burn it down out of spite and frustration. Surprisingly this task was easily done and we watched the ship burn down to the waterline before heading off into the west away from this forsaken blight. We traveled for much of the day before setting up camp for the night. Unsurprisingly we heard the sounds of someone moving around our campsite in the middle of the night and when I went out to investigate I was rather surprised to discover a band of pirates, or as they prefer to be known, wealth redistribution specialists.

After some very tense, and through my own fault, rather idiotic negotiations we seemed to reach an agreement with the pirates to negotiate passage off of this island on their ship. We then went back to the pirate's base and joined in their frolics and festivities before turning in for the night. Hopefully come morning we'll be able to get off this godsforsaken island and back to some civilization.

- Krinsblag

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, by William Goldman

This week I've decided to look at one of my favorite works, The Princess Bride. Like probably most of my readers, I was introduced to The Princess Bride through the film adaptation (which remains my all-time favorite movie), but there is of course a novel which the book was based off of. I definitely think both the movie and the book do a very good job with the story and are very funny, but the book has a far more satiric tone than the movie which is much more light-hearted. Still, I wouldn't change anything in either the book or movie because they have their own merits.

Now, I'm sure you're asking yourself, "But Kalpar, if I've seen the movie," (Which you undoubtedly have. If you haven't then go, find a copy, and watch it. I'll wait, this review isn't going anywhere.)

(There, see? Wasn't that a good movie? I liked Inigo the best, but Fezzik's pretty cool too. Aren't you glad you watched it? Oh, right, back to the review.)
"If I've already seen the movie, why should I read the book? This isn't like Lord of the Rings where a lot of stuff got cut to make the movies only three hours long or like the Hobbit where a lot of stuff was added to make the movies three hours long, is it?"

Well, dear and gentle reader, the answer is of course more than a little complicated. Yes, things get cut from the movie but they're the extra bits that would have had to be cut to make a movie out of a book anyway, as book version inevitably have far more detail than movies. However, the bits within the book that are not in the movie are so very good that I think it's worth the extra effort of going to read the book. Perhaps most important is that you get more backstory for my two favorite characters: Inigo and Fezzik.

In the movie, Fezzik specifically doesn't get terribly much characterization. He's just the big giant who's really strong and yet nice as well. In the book you learn more about Fezzik as a character and the challenges he faced when he was growing up as the biggest and strongest. It took a character that was just sort of there for me in the movie and gave him more depth and motivation as a person. Inigo, of course, is perhaps more memorable as a character than our ostensible protagonists Westley and Buttercup, and a lot of his character comes across on the screen. What I really liked, however, was we got to see more of Inigo's history and see his motivation to hunt down Count Ruegen from the very beginning. Plus, Inigo is just really freaking cool.

What I really liked the most about the book version of The Princess Bride is there's more about Buttercup which makes you understand her more as a character. In the movie Buttercup even I have to admit that Buttercup doesn't do a whole heck of a lot and constantly needs rescuing. It certainly fits in with the story, but makes for an uninteresting character. In the book it's more explicitly satire because you can see that Buttercup's not exactly the brightest person around and you get the feeling Westley's only attracted to her looks. Now, obviously you can interpret it any way you want, but I feel like it's that little twist on the end of a typical fairy tale that makes you think about all the things in those stories.

The other really big thing about the book is the interjections from the author. You sort of get that in the movie with the interruptions with the grandpa and the kid, but there are far more interruptions in the novel and probably the most important message you get from that is life isn't fair. We know this to be true, of course, but we also desperately pretend it isn't most of the time as well. The book and movie have their own leanings on that issue, especially with the ending, but ultimately you have to decide what to think about it. Personally I agree that life isn't fair, which is why we should work to make it that way, but that's just me.

Ultimately the movie is more of a lighthearted romp while the book has a far darker, more satiric edge to it. Both of them are good, but in different ways and I highly recommend them to you both.

- Kalpar

Monday, April 21, 2014

Kalpar's Terms and Conditions

I recently realized that I probably should write some terms and conditions jargon for my little book review blog here. This document represents the current terms and conditions of my website, as well as any disclosure material necessary.

  1. Kalpar seeks to provide honest reviews of books, movies, tv shows, graphic novels, board games, or really anything else Kalpar decides to consume for entertainment and he feels is worthy of writing a review about. (Mostly books though.) That being said, Kalpar will give as honest an assessment as possible for his two readers, and if Kalpar thinks said work is bad he will say so in his review. He will always attempt to articulate why he thinks it's bad and do so in as respectful a manner as possible, but he will always give his honest impressions of a work. 
  2. To preserve Kalpar's independence as a critic, he will only obtain works in a manner available to the public and will not accept free copies or advanced copies from authors, creators or publishers. If the novel is being offered for free to the general public, as is the case with numerous e-books on Amazon, then Kalpar will accept the work for free, but will provide an honest review. 
  3. Although Kalpar is currently employed with the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal in the Cincinnati History Museum, none of his opinions or historical interpretations are endorsed by CMC. Kalpar's historical opinions and interpretations are his own, separate from his work for CMC, albeit definitely influenced by his work and research for said institution.
  4. No bullying, trolling, or other uncouth behavior will be tolerated in the comments attached to this blog, and Kalpar reserves the right to ban commentators who cannot maintain a civil discourse, as well as delete their posts.
  5. Kalpar reserves the right to amend or edit these terms and conditions in the future and shall be effective from April 21st, 2014. 

- Kalpar

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

This week shall conclude my tour through the Hunger Games series with the final novel, Mockingjay. When I had begun this endeavor I had contemplated taking an extra week to talk about this series overall and dedicate the entire month of April to this. Unfortunately, dear and gentle readers, I found myself greatly dissatisfied with how the series ended and its failure to address important issues with a distracting romance plot, as well as frustrations with Katniss, the main character. For whatever reason this series gets less interesting the more it continues and I'm left thinking perhaps you're better off reading just the first book instead of the entire series.

Once again, dear and gentle readers, I must mention spoilers to adequately address this novel. As such you have been advised and utilize your own judgement.

 Mockingjay follows the second war between the Districts and the Capitol from its very early stages to its ultimate conclusion, although I find myself asking why such a revolution takes so long in the first place. The reason I say this is because District 11 is the district which focuses on agriculture and is a source of much of Panem's food supply. Granted, District 10 provides meat and District 4 seafood to the bottomless stomachs of the Capitol, but much of the other sustenance seems to come entirely from District 11, one of the first Districts to end up in rebel control. Even with stockpiling and hoarding, the Capitol simply cannot feed itself and would not be able to survive a protracted siege, which by my estimate would make it fall in a matter of weeks, months at the most. Yet, for some reason, the war drags out and the rebels are determined to take the Capitol block by block with a heavy toll in both military and civilian casualties.

This leads into my second point, the fact that you're constantly questioning whether the rebels are really that much better than the people in the Capitol. I feel like this certainly was the point of the author in many respects, showing how both sides in the war aren't all that different, but it left me feeling rather hopeless about the eventual outcome. There was simply no place for free will or individualism in the structured organization of District 13, and if they're left in charge it seems likely they may enforce their lifestyle on everyone else as well. It left me wondering what was the point of this struggle if the new regime is just as bad as the old one? Was it really worth all the bloodshed and sacrifice?

My frustrations with Katniss stem from the fact the book focuses almost entirely on her emotional turmoil, much of which is brought about by the love triangle that ultimately swallows the end of the book. I understand that she's seventeen years old and thrown into this revolution which she's the face of and all this other really emotional stuff, but a lot of it seems to boil down to her debating, "Do I want Gale or Peeta?" There are more important things at stake here! Like the fate of a continent! Plus Katniss realizes she doesn't really believe in anything beyond her own survival and it makes you wonder why you care about a character that isn't motivated beyond something greater than herself. Maybe it's just me but I prefer my heroes having a motivation beyond, "I want to stay alive."

There was a lot of potential here in exploring how the revolution would end and ultimately how it would change the face of Panem and its consequences but we unfortunately don't really get to explore that because the focus remained entirely on just Katniss who realizes she's been little more than a pawn or figurehead in a lot of other people's plans. This book could have been a lot better by widening the focus and exploring the consequences of the war a lot better rather than sticking on just Katniss. Strangely, I find myself saying that perhaps this should have just been one book. The Hunger Games set up a rich world with profound social, economic, and political structures and the sequels could have done a lot more to explore that structure and its frailty. Instead, the focus remains on Katniss, merely one part of a much larger series of events, and as a result we don't get to explore that world on a deeper level. Whatever promise The Hunger Games had for me, it failed to deliver with Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

- Kalpar

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

In continuing with this month's Hunger Games theme I have read the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire. Now, I have heard mixed things about this book and upon completing it I can see how people might be dissatisfied with this novel. Overall, however, I thought it was fairly interesting and at competent as a second act, at least until the ending, but more on that later.

Warning to my kind and gentle readers: As this book is, of course, part of a trilogy, I may mention some spoilers during my review. If you're completely adverse to this please just take my word that it's worth your time and go read it. Otherwise you have been warned, but I shall endeavor to avoid spoilers as much as possible. 

After the furor over the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss has returned to District Twelve, trying to return to the life she had before. But, of course, the Games have changed her irrevocably and she simply cannot go back to the way things were, as much as she'd like to. In addition, Katniss's actions inside, as well as outside, the arena have inadvertently provided a spark for the ready tinder of rebellion throughout the districts. (Have you noticed fire gets used a lot as a symbol in this series?) Ultimately Katniss finds herself once again being used as a piece in the power games of Panem's political players and becoming far more important than she could have ever imagined.

What I really liked about this book in the series is that you get a very strong sense of desperation from the political leaders in the Capitol. As I mentioned in last week's post, the socio-economic framework of Panem is incredibly fragile and it doesn't take a lot to threaten its total collapse. The Hunger Games are, of course, an incredibly useful tool for the Capitol in keeping the Districts in line, so long as it remains effective. Katniss's actions, though, have severely undermined the efficacy of the Games and has begun providing a means for the people of the Districts to unite against the Capitol, a truly dangerous prospect. As a result the Capitol resorts to more direct and brutal measures, crushing any sign of rebellion beneath an iron heel, in an attempt to reassert control upon the Districts. While this is certainly bad for the Districts, and creates a great deal of despair and frustration, you get the sense that Capitol can only keep pushing these people around for so long before some of them decide to start pushing back, and hard.

I will admit that the middle to later part of the book becomes a little less interesting because we once again must go through the ritual of a Hunger Games, although in this case there is the change of it being a Quarter Quell with changed rules to remind the Districts of the Capitol's authority, rather than the more regular Games. However, I got the feeling that even the author was tired of writing about the games because the whole thing happens in a very abbreviated fashion. "Twenty-four people, fight to the death, do your best to stay alive, blah blah blah." Somehow something so horrific and terrifying the first time around has become positively mundane. There are at least some new characters to make it more interesting, but it still feels rather tedious.

The biggest weakness of this novel, and again, this is probably part of it being the second in a three-part series, is that it just sort of...ends, rather anticlimactically. There's a lot of emotional buildup and the book gives us quite a few emotional sucker-punches throughout, so you're thinking it's going to end with this really big finish setting up the third act but instead it just peters out. "Oh yes. Important things happened while you were asleep. We'll get to them in the next book." I can see how people could be really frustrated with the ending, especially if they had to wait for the third novel to get written.

Despite its weaknesses, I feel like Catching Fire is worth reading, especially the first third or so that really shows you how desperate things are getting for the Capitol. The other parts are necessary at least for setting up the third novel, which hopefully will provide a meaningful resolution to the series.

- Kalpar

Monday, April 7, 2014

Adventures of Krinsblag: Some Days, the Bear Gets You

Although we had successfully defeated the ghosts, and got two nifty eyepatches in the bargain, Soma and Tidingston's supply of spells and bombs had been severely depleted and we had another deck of ship to still clear out. Deciding it was better to go in with a full supply we headed back out of the boat and spent an uneventful night camped out on the plain near the swamp. When morning came we headed back into the boat and had Meda climb through the passageway to see if the coast was clear. Meda directed us to an abandoned kitchen and we punched a hole through the wall/floor to access the kitchen.

To absolutely no one's surprise the food was all moldy and completely inedible, although we found a collection of interesting cutlery and some four hundred year old wine. It seems if we ever make it back to civilization we'll make a handsome profit off of this misadventure, but that hinges on us getting back to civilization in the first place. Satisfied that we could find nothing else useful in the kitchen we decided to cross the hall and enter what appeared to be a surgeon's operating theater. We did notice two mutilated cadavers on the floor, which fooled exactly no one. I told everyone to get behind me and cut the head off of one of the cadavers with my sword. When nothing happened I decided to cut the other cadaver's head off, which resulted in a brain ooze and two blood pudding coming out of the corpses to absolutely no one's surprise.

Sometimes, I think, there is a god up there that hates when we start doing well as a party. Because for whatever reason, when things start actually going our way for once, some monster comes along that's just downright impossible for us to deal with. Well, at least for me to deal with. Take these oozes, for example. So we manage to get the jump on these guys and I figure, "Tidingston will drop some bombs, Soma will do his usual thing, Meda will shishkebab them, and I'll cut up whatever's left." Solid plan, right? Interesting fact about blood puddings? Fire proof. So poor Tidingston's standing there, wondering why in holy hell these damn things aren't getting scorched, and then they decide to come up and give me a hug. Because, of course the have to give me a hug. I can't use my sword, the thing I'm best at, if they decide to give me a hug. Another interesting fact about blood puddings? Apparently they can go inside your body. Just...force their way inside and kill you. Plus the brain ooze kept zapping me and doing weird...brain oozey things. Fortunately Meda split it more or less in half with an arrow. Which just left me with a blood pudding trying to take up residence inside of me.

Honestly, if it hadn't been for that crocodile that Soma summoned, we'd have been well and truly boned. To see the jaw on that beasty, I'm glad he's on our side. On the plus side we did find some potions and equipment in the operating theater, but I'm personally not looking forward to clearing the remaining rooms in the ship. Soma's said he wants to eat Corrister when we finally kill him, and I'm inclined to let Soma do just that.

- Krinsblag

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

This week starts a month of Hunger Games as I've decided to read Suzanne Collins's trilogy of young adult dystopian science fiction. I am of course aware that I'm coming to the party fairly late, reading this well after the first and second movies have come out and the furor has died down somewhat. I had been aware that this book had very strong dystopian element and for a while I just haven't wanted to sit through that, but recently I decided I'd be able to stomach the grimness. Overall I was very satisfied with this novel and shall be continuing talking about this series all through the month.

If you've been living under a rock these past three years or so, The Hunger Games takes place in a distant future where much of North America is ruled by a country known as Panem. In the Rocky Mountains the Capitol is the center of government for Panem where the citizens live a life of luxury and ease. Surrounding the Capitol are its twelve Districts, all of which specialize in a particular industry. Some Districts, such as the ones that specialize in luxury goods consumed by the Capitol, are fairly wealthy while those that specialize in more basic needs like agriculture are much poorer. Uniting all of these districts is the tradition of the Hunger Games, a tradition that began out of a rebellion that occurred over seventy years ago. According to the history we're revealed in the first book (and the characters admit there's probably more to history that the Capitol isn't admitting) there used to be a thirteenth District, which lead a rebellion against the Capitol, resulting in a terrible war. Eventually the Capitol won and obliterated District Thirteen as an example to the other twelve. And as an annual reminder of the supremacy of the Capitol each district is required to sacrifice one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, as tribute for the titular Hunger Games where the children all fight to the death until only one is left as champion.

What I really liked about this novel was the amount of psychology that went into designing the entire social structure of Panem. To me it appears to be a very fragile structure (I will talk more about that at the end of this month in a special poost) and the Capitol is very aware of how fragile it is. A few people I've known after just reading the first book, or seeing the first movie, find themselves asking why the people of the District don't just rise up against the Capitol. The answer, quite simply, is the Hunger Games, which are a brilliant combination of several empire-building tactics.

First with a demonstration of the power of the Capitol to the citizens of the Districts. The Capitol can take their children away, make them fight for sport, and there isn't a thing the people of the Districts can do about it. I assume after the rebellion had been crushed and the Hunger Games began, the people of the Districts simply weren't in a position to rise up against the forces of the Capitol. Now most of the districts are so desperately poor they still aren't in a position to rise up; and those that could revolt are more closely allied with the Capitol because of the rewards the Capitol doles out to its favorites. The people are so broken that they simply believe there is nothing they can do to fight against the oppression of the Capitol and that makes them powerless.

A second brilliant element to the Hunger Games is the divide and conquer aspect. As there can be only one winner, all Twelve districts will be rooting for their own tributes and hoping that they succeed. Furthermore, the district that wins the Hunger Games is given food and other rewards from the Capitol all throughout the year, all of which serves to pit the districts against each other and make cooperation among them all but impossible, which is further strengthened by the lack of communication between districts, again engineered by the Capitol. The division goes even further down, however, within the Districts themselves with the poor having a much higher chance of getting selected for the Hunger Games than the rich through the institution of tesserae. Basically you can get additional food for your family if you consent to having your name added to the drawings for the Hunger Games more times. Obviously people with enough to eat will not take out tesserae, but the poor often have to rely upon it as a means to survive, making their chances of losing their children even more likely. As a result there is a great deal of institutional resentment between the rich and the poor, making it difficult to cooperate even within a district.

So rebellion is clearly not an option for the Districts, but what about the citizens of the Capitol? Could not a restless population in the seat of government cause trouble for the establishment? It's certainly happened before. This is where the Capitol's excellent use of bread and circuses comes into play. The people of the Capitol are well fed and have all sorts of luxuries available to them; you're far less likely to rebel when you stand to lose something from a change in the social order. The Hunger Games themselves provide an excellent distraction for the people of the Capitol, guaranteeing generally at least a month of entertainment every year and it is carefully designed to keep the viewers interested throughout the games. In addition, there is a great deal of audience participation in the games by permitting extensive betting on the tributes as to who will emerge victorious, and the participation of sponsors in providing supplies to the tributes within the games to make it more likely their tribute will win. Add victory tours and the option of visiting historic Hunger Games arenas and reenacting their favorite parts of past Hunger Games and you create an entire culture obsessed with nothing but the games, and little incentive to worry about anything else.

On top of all this great psychology, Katniss is a really great character who is not only trying to keep herself alive, but also play a dangerous game of subtle rebellion against the Capitol. Plus you have people with real depth behind them such as Cinna and Haymitch and I'm really hoping to explore those characters more in the next two novels. I will admit that the writing was a little weird at times. (I don't know of anyone who'd think about how their boots are molded to their feet when they get dressed in the morning.) And I don't know if the thoughts Katniss has are really accurate to someone fourteen years old, but writing children realistically can be difficult and Collins at least makes a very good attempt.

Definitely an excellent book I'd recommend reading with any teenagers you may know. Come back next week for my review of Catching Fire.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Adventures of Krinsblag: Who Ya Gonna' Call?

When we got back to the sunlight streaming into the hold of the ship, Tidingston and Soma seemed to have recovered from the pants-wetting fear that had engulfed them with the appearance of ghosts within the ship. We were determined, however, to ensure that the mere incorporeal nature of our opponents would not stop us on our quest for loot and vengeance, mostly vengeance, and given the opportunity we would come back and teach those ghosts the meaning of fear. We also miraculously discovered an entirely new line of compartments within the ship we could explore and avoid the ghosts for the time being. How we had not noticed this series of compartments before is a downright mystery and it seems that whoever designed this ship had little to no understanding of nautical engineering, but I'm just a former slave so what do I know?

The first room we investigated turned up nothing but some bits of rope, hammocks, and some old moth-eaten Pathfinder robes. We did decide to keep the Pathfinder robes with the intention of being able to break into the first Pathfinder guild we find, taking money from their vault, and leaving the invoice Soma's drawn up for our previous endeavors. The second room turned out to be an armory of sorts and we discovered a few magical weapons, including a shiny new greatsword. I'm still pretty attached to my old sword, I mean I have some fond memories attached to it, especially when I murdered the people that owned me and freed my family, but Soma explained this new one would be able to actually hurt the ghosts, which is definitely an advantage considering how many we've been running into.

It seems we've settled into a sort of rhythm when it comes to fighting the various monsters we find. I usually go in first, solid like a brick wall, and draw the attention of any beasties. Soma uses his magic, summoning creatures and dropping buffs, while Tidingston flings his bombs. Behind all of us Meda continues to fire her arrows with deadly precision. Aside from the me getting punched and hurt a lot, it's a pretty good plan. And even I have to admit if anyone's going to get punched around here, it's probably best for it to be me. Meda might be able to take a hit or two, but Soma and Tidingston would probably crumple like wet paper. It's certainly putting a strain on our supply of potions, but better me than anyone else. In another compartment we found yet another corpse lord and some creatures that appeared to be sewn together out of a bunch of different bodies. It looks like Corrister didn't leave any of his crew alive, but they went down like all the others we've taken out so far.

Once we had cleared out the other compartments of the ship, we decided to cut a hole in the compartment directly above the one with ghosts in it to allow sunlight into the interior of the ship. We also cut a hole through the floor, providing a nice, large patch of sunlight. The corpse lord that had been with the ghosts merely looked at us quizzically while the ghosts remained safely away from the wrath of the sun's rays. We decided to gather around the hole and start taking potshots at the corpse lord, who eventually went away where we couldn't hurt him. Lacking any better options, I jumped down after him and soon became the target of the corpse lord and both the ghosts. Fortunately Soma summoned a couple of giant ants, which were much more useful than you'd think, and Meda put an arrow straight through the corpse lord's head. The ghosts kept hitting me with magic rays that sapped my strength, but unluckily for them, my martial prowess enabled me to shrug off their attempts and delivered a sound thrashing, all without taking so much as a scratch. Hopefully all that remains is to find and kill Corrister and then maybe we'll be able to get off this blasted island, although I'm not exactly sanguine about our prospects.

- Krinsblag