The Hobbit: Then and Now Again

When my brother and I were small, my mother read us The Hobbit, and then the Lord of the Rings before bedtime.

If the goal was to get us to sleep (as she claimed it was), then it failed rather tremendously. We got fired up at the story and us pleading for ‘One more page!’, ‘Two more!’, ‘To the end of the chapter, pleeease!’ became a nightly occurrence.

I started reading under the covers with a flashlight, thinking I was sneaky.

However, I don’t doubt for a second that her ulterior motive was to get us wildly hooked on stories for life, and in this she was very, very successful. We became unrepentantly voracious readers and though she did have to spend rather a lot of money on books, I think she was quite pleased with herself on that front.

The Hobbit is one of the first stories I can remember being told, but I hadn’t heard it in a very long time, nor ever read it on my own. When Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings came out I read the trilogy for myself (in French, as well as chosen passages in English), but for some reason, I never did the same with The Hobbit.

So I decided to splash out and get the audiobook for The Hobbit in anticipation of the first film. I also got the new starter set of table-top miniatures from Games Workshop, because I do like things which are tiny and paintable. Also goblins are cool. I have goblins now.

About the audiobook, first I was really annoyed with Audible.com for splitting the book into two parts, each priced at one full credit. As a subscriber, I pay about $15 a month for one credit, which normally buys me one full book. As in one full Connie Willis or Frank Herbert book. Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension is 29 hours long, and it was one credit. The Hobbit’s audiobook is ‘only’ 11 hours long, making each part among the very shortest audiobooks I own.

I ended up paying for the two parts of the book with dollars rather than credits. I do get a subscriber’s discount, so it was only about $18, but that is quite steep for a regular book, and it is more than I already pay monthly as a subscriber. Yes, Peter Jackson is making three movies and we’ll have to shell out for a 3D ticket each time, but at least there I can see the added value (sets, costumes, props, makeup, etc…). I trust I’ll get something breath-taking for my money, whereas as good as this audiobook was, I really don’t see anything that qualifies it to be pricier than Dune, which is more than twice as long.

Grating pricing strategy aside, I truly enjoyed the book. I didn’t remember most of the story, so I had a lot of fun rediscovering it. The premise for Bilbo accompanying the dwarves was a bit silly (there are thirteen of them, so they need a fourteenth of their company to avoid ill luck) but I was excited enough to just roll with it.

I enjoyed Bilbo’s character very much, particularly his food-related pragmatism (I think I may be a Hobbit at heart) and the difficult decision he makes throughout. I found him a lot more relatable than Frodo, probably because he is able to retain a sense of humour at this point. The ring later spoils him a bit too, as seen in that really creepy scene in the Fellowship when Ian Holm’s Elderly Bilbo wants to keep the Ring for himself.

Rob Inglis’ narration was top-notch, his voice and accent suited Tolkien’s grand use of language perfectly. I am a total sucker for his old-fashioned turns of phrases and his omniscient, fourth-wall-breaking point of view. Inglis also did all the songs wonderfully. A lot of people seem to complain about the songs throughout The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, but they’ve always been a special treat for me, especially in the English versions. The low chorus of the dwarves in the trailer for An Unexpected Journey gives me goose bumps every time.

So, on the whole, I’m very happy that I took the time to rediscover the book before going to see the film. And I am so, SO VERY EXCITED for it!


Faster Than Light

So I meant to do some work this week-end, then this wonderful indie game came out and time kind of disappeared.

FTL: Faster Than Light is a real-time, perma-death spaceship simulation inspired by classic sci-fi TV shows.

It aims to “recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy”.

The idea is that on Star Trek, BSG or Firefly (think Out Of Gas) there’s always something catching on fire, a breach in the hull sucking out the oxygen, a boarding party intent on taking your ship for scrap metal, etc…

The thing about FTL is, it’s actually quite hard. Even pausing the game every time I need to make a decision during battles and playing on easy, I haven’t gotten even close to finishing it yet.

FTL Battle

This may be due to the fact that I have a very poor attention span, and not much experience of sticking with games until I got really good at them, or maybe it’s because I take undue risks (by which I mean I go ‘SMASH! PUNY PIRATES!’ before I’m even done reading the explanatory text).

FTL also boasts proper old-time graphics and a lovely score. I’m not usually one to notice music in games but I love what they’ve done here, especially the Rock-people’s theme. The nostalgic aesthetic definitely appealed to this nerd.

FTL Ship improvements

The starting ship looks like it was plucked out of Firefly, so I renamed her Serenity and made my starting crew Mal, Wash & Kaylee. It was REALLY cool until I got a hull breach in the O2 room and Kaylee suffocated trying to fix it. Of course the rebels kept firing at my ship while I was busy staring at the screen in horror and yelling ‘NOOO KAYLEEEEE!’, so the hull breach got worse and the ship blew up.

FTL On Fire

This game is unpredictable, addictive, very easy to pick up but complex to master and I absolutely love it. You should go and buy it now for only $10. It’s available on Steam, but you can get a DRM-free version on www.ftlgame.com.

Dr Who - Asylum of the Daleks

It’s Dr Who time again!

The new series of Dr Who opened yesterday, so naturally we had some friends around to watch the episode and nerd out over it in style.

Pre-Who preparations included watching the Dr Who cast bowling with Wil Wheaton on YouTube and catching up on Pond Life.

We also bought a nifty mcguffin to connect our hitherto games-and-DVDs-only TV to the aerial.

@NickMB even came up with a themed drinking game:

Dr Who drinking game

The episode itself was fun and creepy, if full of things that didn’t really make sense – but I’ve come to accept, especially over the course of the past series, that Things That Don’t Really Make Sense are kind of a fixture on Dr Who.*

What still irks me is that it seems like the writers are trying to have it both ways:
– On the one hand the Doctor is Mr Logical, and figures out something is wrong with Oswin because she claims to be baking but where does she get the ingredients?
– On the other hand, the whole crew escapes on the TARDIS which just happens to have found its way on the Dalek ship somehow.

The Daleks! I loved the idea that the Daleks find beauty in pure hatred, a bit like Dexter admires talented serial killers. And the concept of a planet full of something that actually scares the Daleks (when one Dalek was enough to reduce Nine to panic!) was truly powerful. We’re a far cry from their fantastic Doomsday assertion that the Cybermen ‘ARE-BE-TTER-AT-DY-ING’. Near-fossilised Daleks coming slowly back to life were suitably scary and I loved the very tense moment of panic the Doctor had when he was backed in the door frame.

Of course, the effect was slightly ruined for me by the idea that the Daleks now have a place in their heart for Parliamentary Democracy. The rest of the evening was spent toying with the idea of starting a spoof ‘@DalekMP’, ‘@DalekPM’ or ‘@DalekShadowSec’ twitter account. Shame ‘@DalekBackbencher’ is one character too long for twitter.

Oswin! I enjoyed Oswin as a character, although she seemed very similar to the Doctor in some ways (rapid movements, quick-fire explaining away of her feats of hacking, extreme self-confidence), and just as cheeky as River. Her story felt very creepy and moving, in the same way as that of the little girl who is the library in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead.

We know by now that the actor who played Oswin will play the new companion in the Christmas special and possibly beyond, and I have to say, I’m not very comfortable right now with the pattern this all seems to form. I do love a good bit of Timey-Wimey, and there is no denying that Steven Moffat has done it beautifully in the past, but this is bordering on too much.

/** Amy & Rory rant **/ Seriously, what the actual nonsense was that? The five minutes of soap-opera ‘I love you more’/’No, I love you more’ mid-episode just completely took me out of the story and left an utterly sour taste in my mouth. What a ridiculous, lazy way to break up the Ponds, not to mention get them back together in five minutes. There is no emotional pay off from their getting back together because we’ve barely had time to see them apart, and have no idea why they are apart. This made me sigh in exasperation, while I cried buckets in the first ten minutes of UP!, which were silent.

Also, one would hope that two people who have lived through such strange stuff as Amy and Rory have since they met the Doctor would realise that, actually, having lots of babies the traditional way is not the only way to raise a family. /** rant **/

* Now that I’m done writing this, I realised I lied a little bit. These things quite obviously still bother me. Mostly it was fine, though the Dalek Parliament is comedy gold waiting to happen. Just, the ’emotional’ stuff was bad storytelling. Not to mention sexist, because that’s another post altogether and many people have already written it, better than me.