Warrior Women at Work

The Dark Prophecy, by Rick Riordan – The follow-up to The Hidden Oracle continues the adventures of Apollo in a mortal body, with only occasional access to his godly powers when he least expects them. The previous volume established the conspiracy of resurrected Roman Emperors, and this time it’s Commodus who’s the most significant villain. Ruling towards the end of the second century, Commodus was said to have been very handsome, and considered himself the reincarnation of Hercules. In this story, he has a base in Indianapolis, which he plans to rename after himself, and a lot of folksy and not-too-bright blemmyae under his command. Apollo turns out to have been a former lover of his, and also responsible for his assassination. And yes, there are quite a few “commode” jokes about him. (As far as I know, there isn’t really a direct connection between the Emperor and the toilet. His name means “convenient,” and that came to be used as a French term for a chest of drawers, then later encompassed other furniture as well.) In order to stop the Emperor, Apollo teams up with characters both familiar and new, starting with Leo Valdez and Calypso, whose relationship is explored in more detail. They come across Hemithea, a former Hunter of Artemis whom Apollo had made immortal, but who retired and gave up eternal life to settle down with her wife Josephine. The god turned human is forced to rescue some griffins from the zoo (in case you’re wondering, their favorite food seems to be gold-painted Tater Tots) and confront his son Trophonius in addition to battling Commodus with help from the Hunters. Perhaps even worse to his mind, he has to scrub toilets and chop carrots. We see the deity develop as a character, which is saying something considering that he’s thousands of years old. Each chapter is introduced with a haiku, and as usual it’s quite humorous while still exploring some dark themes.

Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years – I guess I’m jumping on the bandwagon by checking out the comics after seeing the movie, but I had actually read a collection of early Wonder Woman stories before. I’d read the seventy-fifth anniversary collection of Superman stories and enjoyed that, but unfortunately this book seemed more haphazard. That isn’t to say there weren’t good comics in it, just that it isn’t really a good overview. Even with the short essays on the character’s history, it’s difficult to keep up with all the changes between stories. Too many of them are part of arcs and don’t do so well on their own. Maybe there just weren’t that many good stand-alone Wonder Woman stories, but somehow I doubt that. And while most comic characters are retconned from time to time, they went in some really weird directions with Diana. In the late sixties, DC decided it would be a good idea to take away her Amazon powers completely, and instead have her learn martial arts from a stereotypical Chinese guy. There were also a few largely similar but somewhat incongruous origin stories for her, and while obviously the first one had to be included, I’m not sure the others were necessary.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Comics, Etymology, Greek Mythology, Humor, Language, Mythology, Poetry, Rick Riordan, Roman, Trials of Apollo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sitting in the Corneria

Video games nowadays tend to flesh out their characters and worlds a lot more than they did back in my youth. Still, there was some definite appeal to trying to piece together what little background the early games did give us. With the original Final Fantasy, for instance, we’re given brief glimpses of the world’s history through the game itself, and the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide added some more.

We learn that the Lufaine (called the Lefienish in the English translation at that point) had an advanced civilization, complete with airships and a floating sky castle, until the Fiend of the Wind destroyed it 400 years previously. The town of Lufenia survived, but never regained its previous technological level. Five Sky Warriors left in the last remaining airship to try to track down the Fiend’s master, leaving the ship in the Ryukahn Desert and somehow making it to the Chaos Shrine, where they were transformed into bats. 200 years later, the Fiend of Water sank the Sea Shrine of Onrac, home to the mermaids. The Earth Fiend was beginning to flex his muscles (despite the fact that he was a skeleton) around the beginning of the game, and while the Fire Fiend isn’t due to wake up for another 200 years, she awakens early after the Earth Fiend is killed during the game. Garland, a good knight of Cornelia, is corrupted and joins with the Fiends to create a 2000-year time loop, hence making himself eternal. It’s a confusing story, and I guess it means the Fiends existed for at least 1600 years before the first one started wreaking havoc. Or maybe they had done something before that, but were temporarily defeated. You control the four Light Warriors, who have no lines, no hints of personality, and no origin story.

They just show up in Cornelia with some magical orbs.
A long journey from WHERE? And how?
Since I’ve read 8-Bit Theater, a jokey retelling of the game’s story, I often tend to think of its versions of the characters.

Their names were simply their classes, and they each had character traits and back stories. Most were either self-centered jerks or totally oblivious, if not both. The origin most relevant to the plot was that of Thief, who turns out to be the son of the cursed King of the Elves, presumably because his in-game sprite looks kind of elvish.

Story wasn’t quite as important to games back then, largely because of a lack of ability to hold that much information, and possibly also so the player use their own imaginations to fill in the gaps. In the first Dragon Warrior, you know your hero is a descendant of the great hero Erdrick, whose tale would later be told in DW3, but not where he comes from.

This lets you discover the game world with him, but it raises the question of how he got there. I believe every other main game in the Dragon Quest series at least indicates where your character lives or lived. It’s particularly confusing as we’re told at the end of DW3 that Erdrick leaves the country and nobody knows what happened to him (or her; you can play a female hero in the game, but that doesn’t stop everybody in 1 and 2 from referring to Erdrick as male). There’s a manga, Emblem of Roto, that takes place in between the two games, and most but not all of it has been translated into English. According to this, two of the descendants of Erdrick/Roto/Loto somehow returned to the upper world from which the hero originated and founded their own kingdoms on the sites of the former castles of Baramos and the Dragon Queen. As far as I know, there’s no translation of the succeeding series, one of which has the characters visiting Alefgard (yes, I spelled it wrong in that old post) and finding the Sword of Roto, and possibly linking more closely to the first game. A few sources, including this Wikipedia page, refer to the character Asteea as the descendant of Roto’s third child Flora, who was thought to be stillborn but actually hidden away. Does this mean the hero had exactly three children, or were there possibly more after Flora? There’s another possible hint of the character’s fate in FF1, where a grave in Elfland says, “Here lies Erdrick, 837-866, R.I.P.”

This is only in the English NES and PlayStation versions, however; otherwise it’s Link’s grave, although we don’t know which Link.

And to complicate things further, Loto’s grave can be found in Saria Town in the Japanese version of The Adventure of Link.

Maybe this is a different Loto, or there’s some argument over where he’s buried. Dragon Quest III starts on Erdrick/Loto’s sixteenth birthday, and he’s apparently twenty-eight or twenty-nine when he dies. I’m not sure what to make of the dates, which I understand were added in by the translator. If those are years for the FF1 world, maybe it means Erdrick died 866 years after the beginning of the time loop, although that’s just a guess.

I haven’t played any of the Dissidia Final Fantasy games, and from their look I probably wouldn’t be good at them. Still, they’re interesting to me, as they expand upon the world of FF1. We’re told that Cid of the Lufaine, the one who originally built the airships, was also the creator of Chaos. At least one hero from each of the then-existing FF main series titles showed up in the game, with the representative from FF1 being the Warrior of Light, sort of a combination of the Light Warriors who doesn’t know where he comes from and has a quite stoic and single-minded personality.

He’s eventually revealed to be a creation of Cid implanted with the scientist’s own memories. His story ends with his walking toward Castle Cornelia in a scene reminiscent of the beginning of FF1.

I forget where I saw it, but I think it’s been suggested that he’s either one of the original Light Warriors or he somehow divided into them.

Back when I first started using the Internet, when Final Fantasy VII was still in the works and there had only been three previous games released in North America, there were theories about the FF games all taking place on the same world. Final Fantasy Tactics lent some credence to these by including places from all of them.

Later, however, it was confirmed that they’re all separate worlds, although the Tactics games and FFXII do take place on the same one. There are some hints of connections between them, but that could be because the Interdimensional Rift allows some travel between them. That would, for instance, presumably be how Kain Highwind in FFIV could be the son of Ricard Highwind from FFII.

The DQ series turned out much the same way; while the first three games were directly connected, the next three were only somewhat so, and beyond that I don’t think there are any recurring locations. Still, the worlds in the different games are similar enough that there are presumably ways to get from one to the others. Indeed, in more recent installments and remakes, characters from other games frequently make cameo appearances. There’s also an almost certainly unintentional connection between FF1 and a totally unrelated game series, Star Fox. The first kingdom visited in FF1 is called Coneria in the original translation, and Cornelia in later ones.

And in the SF games, the homeworld of many of the main characters is the planet Corneria in the Lylat System.

This had led to some confusion among fans. In 8-Bit Theater, the FF location is called Corneria, explained as being named after its main export, corn.

What I’m wondering is whether there’s any reason why the SF Corneria, described as an Earth-like temperate planet, couldn’t be the same as the FF1 world.

Yes, it’s inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, but who knows how many centuries passed in between the two? And even though FF1 doesn’t have any talking animal characters other than the dragons, some other FF games do.

Posted in Comics, Conspiracy Theories, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Monsters, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freelancing Isn’t Free

This thread on Twitter says a lot of what I’ve been thinking in terms of the gig economy. I don’t have a lot to add, but when has that stopped me before? I’ve seen a few links to this podcast on Uber, which is run by a super-sleazy guy who does everything he can to undermine the competition and screw over his own employees. Except he technically doesn’t see them as employees, but as independent contractors, so he doesn’t have to provide them with benefits or anything. He’s even trying to use that to get out of responsibility for sexual harassment from drivers.

Well, hey, their name technically just means “over” or “above,” but it’s hard not to be reminded of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

But even if the company were operating entirely on the up and up, the idea still bugs me. I suppose there’s nothing theoretically wrong with freelance work to earn extra money, especially if you were going to be driving anyway. But in a society where it’s difficult for people to find work that pays a living wage, the money isn’t really extra for many participants. I’ve always been wary of jobs that pay commission, or that are allowed to pay less than minimum wage because you get tips, even though tips are voluntary. Having to always be on the lookout for work might be even worse. Sure, there are people who have gotten rich working on commission, but there’s very little security on the way there. There’s a reason why a lot of people who do gig-style work have to have day jobs. So it kind of scares me that this kind of thing is becoming more common even outside sales and creative professions.

And I’ve never been that keen on riding in a stranger’s car either, although it’s not that I’m afraid so much as that it just seems wrong. I generally still believe in public transportation, despite all its flaws. There’s also the factor described in this New Yorker article, highlighting businesses that celebrate unhealthy working practices despite the fact that they have the resources to fight against them. Does anybody really think it’s a good idea to be working when you’re in labor? I’d understand if Lyft swept that kind of thing under the rug, but instead they hold it up as an ideal. I’ve seen Fiverr ads on the subway (the work of someone trying to please their boss, I’m sure), and they’re creepy as all get-out.

Remember when George W. Bush told someone working three jobs in order to support her family was doing a fantastic, uniquely American thing?

First of all, I’m pretty sure there are other countries where people are forced to work multiple jobs. But more importantly, he didn’t even seem to realize that this was a problem, that people don’t usually WANT to work three jobs, that they do so because they don’t have a choice. The upper classes have gotten rich from exploiting others for much of history, but did lords tell serfs that what they were doing was fantastic? Well, maybe they did; I don’t know. Unless you really love your job, I don’t feel anyone should be living to work; you work so you can live. It seems obvious to me that, in this uncertain age, people need more job security, not less. It’s worth noting that advocacy for self-care appears to be on the rise, but it’s pretty hard to care for yourself when uncertainty over work gets in the way.

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Bleed for the Mead

One Norse myth I can’t recall coming across before reading Neil Gaiman’s retelling was about the god Kvasir and the origin of poetry. Since poets were the ones telling these tales in the first place, it makes sense that they’d give some kind of divine defense for their craft. The story starts at the end of the war between the Aesir and Vanir, when both groups of gods decided to seal their pact by spitting into a vat. And because the minds of Teutonic deities work in strange ways (these are the ones who built the world out of a giant’s body, after all), they shaped the saliva into a god named Kvasir. He was the wisest of all of them, and I’m not sure what that says about the influence of saliva on brain power.

Two jealous dwarves named Fjalar and Galar invited Kvasir to their home, then they killed him and mixed his blood with honey, creating a mead that would provide poetic skill.

These same dwarves killed a giant couple, drowning one giant and then crushing his wife. Their son Suttung sought revenge on them, and they offered the mead in exchange for their lives.

When Odin learned about this, he found work on the farm of Suttung’s brother Baugi under the name of Bölverk. asking for a sip of the mead as his wages. While Braugi had no claim on the mead, he agreed to do what he could to convince his brother. He failed, but when Odin found out that Suttung kept the mead inside a mountain, he tricked Braugi into drilling a hole in it, and then entered as a snake.

Odin seduced Suttung’s daughter Gunnlod, who was guarding the mead, and she agreed to let him have three sips of it.

Using his godly drinking power (I believe Loki and Thor have also shown signs of having this ability), he drained all of it in these three sips, then escaped back to Asgard in the form of an eagle and regurgitated it into a vat. In his haste to get away from the pursuing Suttung, he pooped out a bit of the mead, and this is what inspires bad poets.

So when someone says a poem is shitty, that’s quite literal according to the Norse. Odin kept the rest of the mead to parcel out as he saw fit. So when someone is a successful storyteller, it’s because they drank from a mixture of saliva, blood, and honey that was regurgitated by a bird.

Picture by Helena Rosova
I’d advise you not to try making your own unless you’re a god, and probably not even then. The story probably ties in with how drunkenness can inspire some creative people, but it obviously doesn’t work all the time. It’s probably more the lack of inhibitions than the booze itself, anyway.

Source: Child of Yden
Kvasir actually makes another appearance in the tale of the binding of Loki, in which he’s the one who susses out that Loki has turned himself into a fish. Gaiman’s explanation is that Kvasir has come back to life, but I don’t know if there’s any classical source for that. It’s probably more likely that this was just an alternate version of the myth cycle where Kvasir hadn’t died. But you never can tell with deities.

Posted in Authors, Mythology, Neil Gaiman, Norse, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh No, Way to Go, He’s the Mayor

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Beth and I both used to play Animal Crossing for the GameCube quite a bit back in the day, but I hadn’t checked out any of the newer iterations. After seeing quite a bit about it on the Internet, I had the desire to get back into it, so I purchased New Leaf. It’s the Welcome Amiibo edition even though I don’t have any Amiibos, because that’s the one that’s currently for sale. I believe all versions of this game have the same basic structure (well, okay, Happy Home Designer is a little different). You’re a human who moves into a small seaside forest town of anthropomorphic animals. There’s no ultimate goal, but there’s a lot of collecting to do, and you can socialize with the different townsfolk and participate in contests. One of the main differences in this game from earlier ones is that you’re the mayor. The official back story is that you’re mistaken for someone else who was supposed to be mayor, who later writes you a letter saying you might as well keep the job. There’s none of that mess with elections or anything. Before you can actually do anything official, you have to get a one hundred percent approval rating, but that’s a lot easier than it sounds.

You can then announce public works projects (some of which are facilities the town started out with in other versions) and ordinances, although it costs money to do so. I currently have a fundraiser started for a well, and while I have received some anonymous contributions, it looks like I’m going to have to donate most of the money myself. This is while I’m also trying to get the money to to pay off our old pal Tom Nook for the house.

It’s not that hard to make money by selling things like fruit and fish, however, and it’s not like there’s any real pressure on you to pay at a specific time. One of the advantages to this series is that it’s very leisurely, the most tense thing that can happen being a bee attack. Even this does only cosmetic damage that can be removed by restarting, but it certainly SOUNDS tense, and everyone else in town mentions it.

You also can leave and come back basically whenever you like, although spending TOO much time away can cause problems. The game clock syncs with real-world time, which can be frustrating sometimes as businesses close at night and a lot of people have work or school during the day. I suppose you could alter the game clock, but that seems like cheating, even though I don’t think Mr. Resetti monitors this game unless you put him in, and I haven’t had that option yet.

I’ve also noticed a few inside jokes from the characters, like Rover mentioning at the beginning that he hasn’t taken the train since around 2002, the reaction to catching a sea bass being, “What? You again?”, and Blathers stopping himself before going off on tangents. I’m honestly a little sorry about that last one, as he’s one of my favorite characters.

My current neighbors include a deer, a gazelle, a monkey, a duck, two cats, a horse, and two frogs. What’s weird is that you can catch frogs even though some intelligent ones live in town. I guess it’s best not to think about it. There are several different personalities the animals can have, any their dialogue can vary quite a bit.

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Shock and Awfulness

These days, it seems like people are always outraged about something. Well, I say “these days,” but I’m sure it’s pretty much a constant. Still, the rabble had just gotten over Kathy Griffin holding Donald Trump’s disembodied head before we started getting stuff about Bill Maher saying the N-word and Reza Aslan calling Trump a piece of shit.

Oh, and there was some guy I’d never heard of making jokes about the terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert pretty much immediately afterwards. Does the Stephen Colbert thing still count as recent?

My own opinions vary, although for the most part I’m not all that shocked by much of anything anymore. Maybe I’m just desensitized, but the Griffin thing seemed neither outrageous nor funny. I did wonder about the legality of it, since the conventional wisdom seems to be that you can’t even jokingly threaten the President’s life, but apparently it’s a gray area. But really, John Waters could shock people by having Divine eat dog poop in Pink Flamingos, and now there’s poop-eating in children’s movies. Family Guy makes a recurring gag out of a pedophile. What’s really shocking these days? I suppose it’s possible that society just hasn’t thought of the next way to push the envelope yet. There are still taboos, but for the most part it’s not that you can’t talk about them, just that a lot of the time making jokes about them is punching down. I think that’s the thing with the Maher comment. I’m generally someone who doesn’t go in for censorship. I don’t curse a lot in print (I’m more foul-mouthed in person), but I also don’t do any of that “f**k” crap. If I’m talking about a word, I write the actual word. I used to think that way about the N-word as well, but I’ve seen enough comments from black people (the ones whose opinions really matter the most in this case) that they find it offensive for white people to use it even non-maliciously, so now I try to make an exception. I was a little surprised at Maher because I swear he said not too long ago that he wouldn’t use that word, but I probably shouldn’t be as he seems to be making an effort to be as offensive as possible as of late. I don’t know if he’s trying to remain relevant, get fired, or what, but there you go.

I generally supported Maher even after he’d started to get a lot of flak from liberals, but he just keeps doubling down on his stupider positions and largely ignoring the ones that actually made sense. My wife sent me this Esquire article on Maher last week, and it gets to the heart of a lot of what’s obnoxious about him. He’s always had extremists as guests, presumably for the entertainment value, but it seems like his interest in people like Milo Yiannopoulos goes beyond that. Instead of just letting him eviscerate himself like is recommended with his ilk, Maher instead tried to find common ground with him, and wants to have him back on the show again. Hearing alternate viewpoints is all well and good, perhaps vital in some cases, but that doesn’t mean you have to give a platform to those who don’t have a coherent argument at all. We all have the right in this country to say what we want to say, but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a national platform. And no, I don’t think Yiannopoulos is joking about his views. I don’t think he’s smart enough for that. I’m still not entirely sure about Ann Coulter. I’m kind of going in the opposite direction from Maher, in that I feel that so many Americans supporting a racist, sexist, totally incompetent con-artist is proof that they don’t need to be taken seriously. The way I see it, if you actually believed Trump was going to help the working class, you’d probably believe just about anything. Well, anything that doesn’t come from the liberal media or scientists, I suppose. And Maher’s Islam thing at first sounded like it was just about statistics, but he’s increasingly brought it outside the realm of facts. I have no idea whether his supposition about the majority of Muslims in the world supporting Sharia law is at all accurate, but he said he understands how Trump’s message resonated with Americans. Aren’t those both cases of people being convinced to go against their own interests? And it’s just over-the-top political correctness to apologize for potentially offensive costumes, but old white guys who date a lot of young women are being persecuted? That seems a bit skewed. And that brings me back to the idea of punching down, and how I don’t think saying mean things about one guy, President of the United States or not, is at all on the same level as insulting an entire minority group. Besides, EVERY President gets mocked and insulted, and most of them didn’t seem to talk about it in public. Trump has to launch a bevy of tweets every time someone mentions him on Saturday Night Live. That’s going to happen when you’re a public figure, even if you AREN’T horrible at your job.

As far as people like Aslan being fired, well, the networks can do what they want. But in a way, isn’t firing anyone who says something offensive an impediment to speaking truth to power? I’m not saying there aren’t lines that have to be drawn sometimes, just that maybe news shows shouldn’t be about the ratings, and should sometimes make people uncomfortable. Funnily enough, I think Bill Maher made a similar argument not too long ago. But then, the twenty-four-hour news channels are an anomaly in this respect, as there are so many up-and-coming anchors competing for those shows. Besides, we don’t always know the internal politics involved. Just because the official reason someone was fired is one specific comment, that doesn’t mean it was the ONLY reason.

Posted in Celebrities, Current Events, Family Guy, Humor, Islam, Language, Politics, Prejudice, Real Time with Bill Maher, Religion, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Myths and Misattributions

Tales of the Peculiar, by Ransom Riggs – A tie-in to the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series that’s actually mentioned in those books, this is presented as a series of old fairy tales. There aren’t any photographs in this volume, but each story is accompanied by a woodcut-style illustration by Andrew Davidson. They provide sort of a history for Riggs’s Peculiar world, combining its history with in-universe fiction. Many of them are presented as cautionary tales about misuse or overuse of Peculiar powers. A girl who can remove nightmares learns that that’s not always a good idea, and a boy who can control the tides reveals his powers to people who take advantage of it. One amusingly macabre story has a village of people who can regrow their limbs working out a mutual agreement with cannibals, only to get too greedy and start offering body parts they CAN’T regrow in order to get richer. There’s a tale explaining the origins of ymbrynes, and another one about how the pigeons of London fought against and then came to an understanding with humans. It’s a good read, although you’d probably want to read the main series first if you haven’t yet.

Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, by Garson O’Toole – I was able to download a copy of this for free with Amazon Prime. It delves into the origins of famous quotations, many of which are frequently attributed to famous people who either didn’t say them at all or expressed similar sentiments but in different words. It appears that it’s not getting very good reviews on Goodreads because the writing is kind of dry; it could easily have been presented in a more entertaining fashion. That said, it was quite interesting finding out how some of these sayings originated, and how they changed over time. It’s probably best read a bit at a time.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman – Gaiman gives a pretty straight retelling of some of the most famous Norse myths. There’s no real hook to them like in the Joanne Harris book I read a few months ago that retold them from Loki’s point of view, but it’s still entertaining. Part of that is because the old myths were already frequently amusing, often employing dark comedy. Still, I noticed what I thought was a more modern touch in some parts, as with this paragraph from “Freya’s Unusual Wedding”: “There were things Thor did when something went wrong. The first thing he did was ask himself if what had happened was Loki’s fault. Thor pondered. He did not believe that even Loki would have dared to steal his hammer. So he did the next thing he did when something went wrong, and he went to ask Loki for advice.” Gaiman’s take on Thor kind of seems like an ultra-violent Winnie-the-Pooh, if that makes any sense; his thinking is quite simple and single-minded. While I was familiar with most of these tales, I don’t think I’d read the one about the mead of poetry, which involves a god made of saliva being distilled by dwarves.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Fairy Tales, Humor, Mythology, Neil Gaiman, Norse | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment