Unsong Review

Meh.
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Unsong Review

A Second Set of Very Short Reviews With No Particular Purpose

Too Like the Lightning
It’s the philosophical parts of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, but as a book! Awesome! But it’s presented in the most insufferable writing style: needless archaicism. And its philosophy-behind-the-philosophy agrees with my mother, which doesn’t win it any favors.

Ergo Proxy
It’s also kind of like SMAC, but with masses of eye-shadow. If you can disregard the unlikable cast and cliché aesthetics, it actually has some fairly interesting things to say about creating sentient servants. But it kind of mumbles them under its breath with frequent non-sequiturs. Overall, overrated.

Factorio
Good fun in the vein of SpaceChem etc. Difficulty curve is a bit patchy to nonexistent at times. Looks kind of ugly but not in an offensive way. If you like build-a-machine games, this is one of the greats.

Making Money
I’m honestly not sure about this one. Nowhere near the greatness of Reaper Man, Hogfather, Night Watch, Small Gods etc, but still one of the better ones? Yeah, that’ll do. Kind of bothers me how all of Moist’s opposition just self-destructs without any real sense of him having to fight for it. Maybe that’s just his style.

DotA 7.00
Nah.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Someone told Rothfuss they liked his, shall we say, open-minded attitude towards the categorization of words into nouns, adjectives etc, and he got a bit carried away with the heady feeling of praise. And a thesaurus. Also reduced Auri from a perfectly good side-character to “the yandere harem girl.” Still a pretty good read.

Flip Flappers
You deserve to watch this.

Path of Exile: Atlas of Worlds
Fantastic expansion. Can anyone stop this game from getting better before it’s too late? Find out in Act V, coming some time eventually.

Black Mirror S3
Not as ludicrously good as the first or second season, but still very good for TV. People are right to hype San Junipero. Pretty much every episode had enjoyable parts and made me think about something even if not always what I think I was supposed to be thinking about.

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC
“Charming” is the word that springs immediately to mind. You can do a lot with characters that you introduce as flat archetypes and build on a little more with each scene they’re in, and the setting is well-realised enough. I lack the tactical-RPG experience against which to compare it, but the gameplay is usually pretty engaging, so can’t be that bad.

Hello Internet Podcast
Oh, okay, turns out CGPGrey is only a nice voice and somehow manages to have Wrong Opinions on every single other aspect of existence. Impressive, really, as it implies that there’s a Right Opinion Generator which he’s inexplicably inverting the outputs of. Would be much less terrible if Brady, who has quite a broad spectrum of partial knowledge, weren’t played as the Dumb Guy of the two. In essence, I don’t like thing.

Rick & Morty S1
Wow that got unfunny quickly. Brilliant ideas, but firmly lashed to the anchor of “status-quo-preserving sitcom.”

Perdido Street Station
Reminds me strongly of an acquaintance at university whose drawings of unsettling creatures would consistently feature leaking, oozing, etc. Imaginative, but deeply unpleasant to look at for too long. When most people want to say summer days are long, they don’t use implements of torture in their simile. On the whole: a great book.

A Second Set of Very Short Reviews With No Particular Purpose

Deliberately Doing Thing Is Still Doing Thing

Plucked from the slatestarcodex subreddit:

Don’t ask why the author told you something or had a character do something; ask why a character told you something or what the character’s motivations actually were rather than what they were intended to be or, worse (and barf), symbolize.

Suppose I write a book in which a character spends page after page talking about whaling, or their pet political philosophy, or the history of plumbing. There are several ways I can defend having done this from the charge that no one is interested in hearing about that:

  1. Denial – arguing that actually my particular audience is interested. Most effective for political rants. A perfectly reasonable defense, but leaves readers not in that audience unsatisfied.
  2. Explanation – giving my own reasons for having done this. Like, I really need the reader to understand the minutiae of plumbing in order for later parts of the story to make sense. Maybe it’s not a good enough reason, but hey, at least I had one.
  3. Cheating – “But it’s what the character would do! It’s deliberate!

In very short, my position is that if my story is being told by a character who would spend multiple pages describing plumbing, then I have chosen a boring character who should not be telling a story. Or, if I’m convinced that my character is interesting, maybe I shouldn’t put a bunch of boring words in their mouth, since probably an interesting character would be saying or doing interesting things instead.

To put it another way, saying “it’s what the character would do” is a general excuse that can justify anything. The reason it provides no actual justification is simple: yes, the space of possible characters contains the character as written, but it also contains a version of the character who wouldn’t say something so boring/pointless/verbiose/etc. I have to justify why I plucked the former out of character-space and not the latter.

Perhaps the character that rambles on is a more parsimonious character, e.g. if they’re often inclined to long plumbing discussions, maybe dropping this particular plumbing discussion would be out-of-character. In that case the question becomes “Why does my work need this character? And why has it failed to convince the audience that it does?”


Aside: what’s wrong with characters’ actions symbolizing things, anyway? I’m pretty sure that’s like Literary Fiction Traits Top Five: characters doing things because it’s symbolic of something. Their “internal motivation” is back-written to fit, if it really fits at all. The standard of literary fiction is how far backward an author is willing to underbuild, no matter how empty-feeling and disconnected it becomes. But that’s a different rant.


This habit of saying “but I’m deliberately choosing to do this” extends throughout all of fiction. Maybe you deliberately don’t answer questions. Maybe you make characters deliberately obnoxious; not merely evil, or even unlikable, but deeply unpleasant to experience. Maybe you deliberately use clichés; maybe you deliberately avoid clichés. Maybe your ending is deliberately unsatisfying or deliberately deus-ex-machina. There are limitless possibilities.

But on the whole, being deliberate isn’t sufficient in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind about liking anything on the basis that it was deliberately chosen to be exactly the thing I disliked. What am I even supposed to say to the claim that it was so? “Good job making me not like it”?

Deliberately Doing Thing Is Still Doing Thing

A Series Of Very Short Reviews Without Any Particular Theme

Luminous
Almost all of these short stories feel too caught up in their own cleverness. Some, like Silver Fire, also seem to be struggling with the weight of a not-particularly-brilliant political message. Potentially worth reading but you can easily find better things to do.

Planetes
Oh, they tried so hard. Really great serious near-future sci-fi, right up until the end where (spoilers) several character arcs derail badly and we’re left with a message of “don’t trust brown people, and keep women at home where they belong.” Yes, I am indirectly judging other people’s culture. Still recommended.

The Martian
At first I loved it, but the almost episodic storyline and weird, badly-done breaks to typical omniscient narrative perspective dragged it down. Combines both of the above in terms of originality and well-researched hard sci-fi, but lacks on the storytelling front. Flip a coin for it.

Cencoroll
It’s exactly the right length. Definitely worth watching.

Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water
The great parts are truly great. The good parts are enjoyable. The bad parts are all too numerous. If you’ve watched every Ghibli movie twice and still need more in the same vein, give it a go, otherwise probably don’t bother.

9M9H9E9’s Narrative
When it’s weird and metaphorical, it’s good. When it’s literal, it’s still good but in a “good for a creepypasta or SCP entry” way rather than “just good literature” way. Arguably closer to an ARG than a story.

Ori and the Blind Forest
I guess if you’re really into Metroidvania games and basically only care about visual appeal, this one’s for you? But really, the two conflict too much – precision platforming doesn’t mix with pretty, hitbox-obscuring art-style. The best feature mechanically is letting you save anywhere by expending MP, except when the game decides to not allow that, which, you guessed it, is whenever things are most difficult and frustrating. The soundtrack’s good, I guess.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
On the plus side, it is amazing on every level. On the minus side, Pratchett won’t be writing any more witches books, and Gaiman’s version is just a little short of that level of amazing while still being heartbreakingly reminiscent of it. Read this.

Log Horizon
Utterly charming, and a delight to see “taking the hypothetical seriously” done so well. It feels strange to say this, but it’s sorely let down by its aesthetic (or lack thereof). The visuals just come across as “cookie-cutter modern anime” where they could have done so much more. Still a must-see.

Persona 4
Several characters are good, but the game feels ludicrously bloated and has terrible pacing. The mechanical aspects are polished, but this is absolutely a guide-based game. At the very least, I think you’re supposed to play it twice and take notes on how to maximise your numbers rather than enjoying the plot which just seems wrong. Skip this one.

A Series Of Very Short Reviews Without Any Particular Theme