I Won’t Do That

So, in honor of Meat Loaf’s passing (and with Jim Steinman gone as well), I thought it appropriate to make sure everyone knew the truth of what Meat Loaf would not do, despite his willingness to do anything for love. I’ve actually known the truth since 1999, when Meat revealed it on VH1: Storytellers, which was also where I learned about Steinman’s musical “Neverland,” which finally made to Broadway a few years ago as “Bat Out of Hell.”

Anyway, at the end of each verse in “Anything For Love,” there’s a line that starts with “but.” The first is, “But I'll never forget the way you feel right now,” the second is, “But I'll never forgive myself if we don't go all the way tonight,” the third is “But I'll never do it better than I do it with you”, and the last one is, “But I'll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life.” In every case, this is followed by, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” He won’t forget the way you feel right now, he won’t forgive himself if you don’t go all the way, etc. It’s all a trick of the lyrics, because Steinman was brilliant.

And now you know!

Most Popular Authors

A meme asking which authors you read the most is going around. Now, I've only been keeping a detailed record of the books I've read since 2015, so I can give the numbers for the most recent seven-year period, then fill in some history.

In that time, I've read 241 books by 174 authors. Simple math tells you that most of those books were the only ones I'd read by a given author. The most-read author was actually John Scalzi, with a whopping 14 titles. Second place goes to Seanan McGuire with 11, and third is Neil Gaiman with 7. The top five is rounded out by Richard Roberts with 6 and Mike Carey with 5.

If I’ve counted correctly (going off memory and lists of their bibliographies), I’ve read 55 books by Sir Terry Pratchett, 45 books by Peter David (mostly Star Trek tie-ins). I suspect the only other author who’ll come close to either is Franklin W. Dixon, but that’s a house name that authored the 100+ Hardy Boys books I read in elementary school and probably represents a dozen different authors.

2021 Year-In-Review: TV I Watched

In terms of TV shows, I had a decent spread across streaming services, with a decent number of seasons of shows on Netflix, but also entries from Hulu, Amazon, HBOMax and Disney+. I also watched a lot of movies with a similar spread (22 that I logged, but I know I missed a few) and haven’t seen the inside of a theater all year.

Things that stood out included:

Cartoons: The second season of Harley Quinn and the first season of Invincible were both terrific “dark” superhero comedy. Young Justice Outsiders was excellent. Disenchantment stayed pretty decent. I also started The Way of the Househusband, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, and Transformers: War for Cybertron: Kingdom. I’m not sure if I’ll necessarily continue watching them.

Superheroes: I watched two seasons of Black Lightning; and one season each of: DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Titans, Doom Patrol, Superman & Lois, and Jupiter's Legacy. I also watched WandaVision and Loki. Jupiter's Legacy was a clunker, The Flash has gotten pretty dumb and Titans is uneven; but overall “superhero TV” was a pretty strong category this year.

Comedy: I finished out Brooklyn 99 and watched the second seasons of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and What We Do in the Shadows. I watched all three seasons of The Santa Clarita Diet. I watched the first seasons of Schitt's Creek, Fleabag and The Sex Lives of College Girls. I may need to find myself some new sitcoms going forward.

The only thing outside those major categories was Shadow and Bone (medieval fantasy), which was particularly interesting because Jethrien was tracking where the show and the books diverged.

I’m coming into 2022 with three more seasons of superhero shows and several Star Trek spinoffs on my backlog. I changed phone plans so I’m losing my free Hulu subscription, so I’ll have to decide whether to let it lapse, maintain it or bundle it and get Disney+ (which I’ve only been watching when visiting various relatives). And yes, I’ve heard about Ted Lasso.

(In ARR’s limited Youtube time he watches a lot of Among Us gameplay. He watched a lot of Pokemon, Captain Underpants, Storybots, and Larva on Netflix; plus Pinky and the Brain on Hulu. We also watched more Avatar: The Last Airbender as a family but stalled out again mid third season.)

2021 Year-In-Review: Video Games I Played

This was another big year for replays, but in a somewhat different manner than 2020—more of the games I replayed this year were hacks or randomizers so at least there was something new going on.

I did a noteworthy video game project: What the heck is on this $10 Retro Game handheld? Let’s find out!, an exploration of a cheap Chinese famiclone handheld and the 500 games installed on it.

I officially logged 19 new titles and I replayed 13 games (either the original or a hack of some sort), though that’s a little muddy because of where I drew the line of an updated game being “new.” I played an entire Steam bundle of point-and-click adventure games and a dozen other short games from bundles. I also did playthroughs of 14 other emulated NES and SNES action games, usually with cheats. I didn’t make any particular efforts to cull my various lists.

The most popular genres this year were classic RPGs and Metroidvania games, though there was a health variety beyond that. Gems of War once again accounted for the vast, vast majority of my casual game time and also virtually all of the gaming time on my Android tablet; but I drifted into a decent amount of Dr. Mario on my RG350, too.

Most of the games I played through were short. I only played more than 30 hours of two games: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age (Switch), and my replay of Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows (PC). The former caught up with my Hyrule Warriors record from last year, with 85 hours logged. (Plus another 50+ hours of ARR’s playthrough.) I got 20+ hours out of Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate Edition (Switch) and Gemcraft: Labyrinth (PC). The former actually saw significantly more playtime total in my house, because we played it as a family and ARR plays it with his friends.

The Switch remained our champion system. In addition to the games I already noted, ARR played a ton of Pokemon Shield and his own play of Dragon Quest; and we attempted New Super Mario Brothers U Deluxe for family game night but it fell flat. ARR also made very good use of my 3DS, playing Pokemon Y and Pokemon Ultra Moon. Everything else I played was either on Steam or an emulator.

ARR continued playing Minecraft Java edition, both with friends on Realms servers and solo. He also continued periodically playing Minecraft Dungeons (and various Lego games) and Letter Quest over Skype with my dad. He got a new Android tablet this year, which meant adding Plants vs. Zombies 2 to his lexicon along with a few less-notable casual games. He and his friends also really got into Among Us.

By genre, the games that I would say, “This is genuinely good, you should try it if you like the genre,” are:
• Classic RPG: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age (Switch)
• Metroidvania: Timespinner (Steam), Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Steam)
• Arena Fighting: Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate Edition (Switch)
• Puzzle: There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (Steam)

2021 Year-In-Review: Puzzles!

In late 2020, we got into jigsaw puzzles and family reading time as a way to spend our evenings, since we were getting Zoom burnout but still couldn’t go anywhere. Then I got my dad into jigsaw puzzles, which meant I got a steady supply of them, so we kept up the trend. I slowed down over the summer as things opened up again, but I suspect I’ll carve through a bunch more over the winter months.

We did seven 3D puzzles of various types: Crystal Dragon and Crystal T-Rex, Puzz3D King Arthur’s Camelot, a wooden Marble Climber, a wooden Asian Dragon, five cardboard Color-and-Assemble kits, and a wooden Stegosaurus.

We did thirteen 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles: Underwater Pokemon, 90s Comic Covers, Outer Space, Batman Covers, Pokemon in Boxes, Spider-Man Covers, Super Friends, Broadway Musicals, Superman Covers, Fads, Children’s Books, Jigsaw Breakfast Cereals, Pokemon Showdown.

We did three 500-piece jigsaw puzzles: Pokemon Starter Evolutions, Eevee-lutions, Drive-In Theater.

We did four 300-piece jigsaw puzzles, three of which came from the same set: Water Starters, Grass Starters, Fire Starters, and a separate general Pokemon picture.

So, that’s 20 “real” jigsaw puzzles. I also did speed-puzzle runs of three 100-piece jigsaw puzzles: Superman Covers, Wizardology, and Pokemon. I now have opinions about jigsaw puzzles, as there are some brands that actually try to make the puzzles interesting and fun (the officially licensed Pokemon puzzles are great at this; Springbok is also generally a very good brand) and plenty that just grab a random picture and layer a standard jigsaw grid on it, so you end up with a lot of smudgy, muddy colors and pieces that can almost fit in lots of the wrong places.

I also did nine Paint By Sticker paintings and one comics sticker puzzle. Those I can generally do in under and hour; but they’re pleasant and kinda zen.

2021 Year-In-Review: Books I Read

If I thought last year’s book list was disappointingly short, it has nothing on this year: 15 prose books, one of which was an RPG rulebook that I skimmed big chunks of. Some of that was getting a ReMarkable and reading scads of comic book pdfs. Some of that was my up-and-down moods as the year’s covid headlines played themselves out. And some of that was not having the time or energy to read much during the Dance of the Seven Contractors.

By type: 3 Kindle books, 3 other ebooks, 9 physical books.

The most common genre was sci-fi, then a smattering of fantasy and two memoirs. Seanan McGuire was the only repeat author, as I read two Wayward Children books.

Recommended standouts of the year included: The Martian by Andy Weir, How to Invent Everything by Ryan North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North and Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke.

Special recognition goes to Leah's Perfect Christmas by Catherine Beck, for both being a book I really enjoyed and also my wife’s first published novel.

On that comics front, I read the BOOM Studios Best of 2020 Bundle (18 volumes), a stack of physical trade paperbacks I bought (12 volumes), Moebius & More Presented by Humanoids Bundle (17 volumes), Back to the 80s with IDW Bundle (13 volumes), Hasbro Crossovers Bundle (10 volumes), Millarworld Bundle (12 volumes), and a full run of JSA from the late 90s that I pulled from my comics collection (10 volumes). So roughly 92 trade paperbacks or around 450 pamphlets.

I have no idea how 2022 is going to go, reading-wise. I’ve got a batch of new books I’m excited about and then a pile on my backlog that will hopefully catch my interest again.

Humble Sales Are Very Dangerous – Part Sixteen

Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Director's Cut - I bought and tried this as part of a bundle in 2016. I maintain that the third game was better in a bunch of ways, but I think my opinion of the difficulty curve has softened in the interim. I think my big complaint this time was that while the game feels very open, it’s actually really linear (without that many optional secrets) but completely lacking in direction, and very large for a game of that type. The fast-travel isn’t frequent or accessible enough for the number of weird corners things could be hiding in, and you have to go on semi-arbitrary item hunts far too often. The fact that Shantae’s hits never get stronger (just faster) and that bosses have way too much health is just icing on that. The series definitely improved from here; this game was still rough.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero - This isn’t really the Metroidvania-style game the last two games were—if anything, I’d liken it a bit more to a Kirby game. It’s stage-based, but you need to revisit/replay each stage multiple times as you acquire new abilities to find all the secrets hidden in them. Most of the transformation abilities and magical attacks from Risky’s Revenge return, plus a lot of new dances. I was uncertain about this at first because the difficulty curve is a bit steep and fairly front-loaded: This assumes it isn’t your first platformer game. As you acquire the special abilities, replaying the platforming sessions gets a lot easier; though there’s still a very annoying runner section after the final boss that you can’t lose, but you need to get perfect to win. This game is loaded with additional modes, including multiple challenge modes, arcade modes, and alternate story modes—you certainly get your money’s worth of replaying the same half-dozen stages over and over.

HuniePop 2: Double Date – I played the original HuniePop because it came in a bundle. I bought this on sale because I thought it would be mindless entertainment, and I wasn’t wrong. This picks up where the original ended, with the main character so successful at charming women, that he’s chosen to save the world from a pair of goddesses who are about to arise with terrible PMS. The only way to beat them is by charming them into a threesome, and of course he’ll need to get some practice first. This dumps most of the question/answer dating sim mechanics and complicates the money/XP system to compensate, but it’s otherwise basically the same game of giving gifts and playing match-3 until you get a booby picture. (This lets you set your explicitness rating for those pictures on a three-level toggle, but it’s R-rated ta its softest.)

Get In The Car, Loser! – This is probably the queerest game I’ve ever played, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it is most certainly not for everyone. You play as Sam, who joins Grace and Val on a road trip quest to defeat the Machine Devil before it awakes and corrupts the world. Sam is socially awkward and very much in her own head—the third act is basically her having an extended anxiety spiral. The Machine Devil cultists are all internet trolls—pretty much literally; their dialogue is conservative dialectics 101, with all the misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and ablism that entails. I had no qualms about smushing them into paste, let me tell you. That said, while the story was right up my alley, the mechanics are…not great. The battles are based loosely on Final Fantasy 13’s system, but very simplified; and the repetitiveness of them is only emphasized by there only being one battle song (that has lyrics). In Easy mode, your characters heal after every battle; in Normal you need to balance fighting to get money with attrition between rest stops because in-battle healing only gives you temporary HP. The level system is entirely equipment-based; if you equip everyone with upgraded items from one tier, the next tier unlocks in the shops (though that’s also gated by story progression and whether you buy the DLC). I think I would have preferred if “Story Mode” did away with the combat mechanic entirely; though several battles (particularly boss battles) do advance the plot. I suspect this was a very cathartic game for Christine Love to make in the current day and age; but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Overall: I think there’s a certain amusing irony in playing three games that thrive on male-gaze objectification, and then one that is strongly anti-misogynist and often questions the very concept of gender. But I enjoyed them all, so whatever.

The Last 2021 Books

I only read 15 books in 2021, and three of them were in the last week of December.

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanen McGuire – Each book is the Wayward Children series is about a child going through a magical doorway into another world and how that experience changes them. This one is nominally about a girl who loses horses and finds herself in a world full of centaurs, fauns, kelpies and other hoofed mythological creatures. This book was actually about the cruelty of little girls, about chosen family, about “othering” in general, and about the necessity of heroes. (I think there’s also some criticism of the “Great Man” theory in here too, but that’s more in-depth than I need to get into.)

The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko - Similar to many other sci-fi stories (The Long Earth and Fair Coin come to mind, of books I’ve enjoyed), this revolves around a person who finds a device that allows him to jump through parallel universes; which he uses to exploit the differences between them. Unfortunately, the reality of both his life in particular and the multiverse in general make that much more complicated than it seems. I really like the sci-fi aspects and give him credit for writing fairly realistic fight scenes (people get hit once or twice and don’t get back up) and trauma (characters who commit violence are clearly affected by it afterwards); but his characters don’t always have the most consistent personalities over the course of a larger work. John and John Prime bleed into each other too much when it clearly isn’t supposed to be deliberate. While this is a complete story that ties up the character beats, there is a much larger universe and mythos that it only scratches the surface of. As Melko likely intended, I’m going to buy the sequel.

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke - This book is written entirely as a series of Slack conversations, and features a man who has inexplicably been sucked into his office’s Slack workspace and can’t escape. This features workplace romance, incompetent bosses, unreasonable clients, mild sci-fi elements, useless automated help services, and extremely funny snark. Especially if you’re familiar with small-company “professional” Slack conversations. My only complaint is that the Lydia plotline gets pseudo-resolved but never really explained. But this is a fast read and super fun.

Quick Video Games Reviews

Power Blade (NES, Played on Nestopia) - A later-era NES platformer that straddled the line between being an explore-em-up and a Ninja Gaiden clone by having six stages, available in any order, that had multiple mazelike paths; and in each one you have to find the contact with a keycard before you could go through the door to fight the boss. The other gimmick was that you fought with an energy boomerang, and powerups let you through more and stronger versions. There were also power suits that gave you three free hits and, until you took them, let you fire a much larger energy crescent. The nonlinearity makes the game a bit longer because you need to search the levels and can screw yourself by navigating all the way to the door without the keycard. The bosses are standard fare and the powerups are fairly plentiful, but some of the platforming is really devious despite the lack of knockback. And the plot is throwaway: The machines that run our lives are out of control! Defeat them, Nova!

Cross Fire (NES, Played on FCEUX on PowKiddy Q90) - This is a relatively straightforward run-and-gun side-scroller released only in Japan, but a copy of it was on my PowKiddy Q90 and I tried it on a whim: Turns out that copy was hacked so that you had infinite health, so I played the whole thing. The fact that you start with just your fists and have to find and upgrade guns (but the enemies have no such limitations) makes the game hard to start and hard to continue from deaths, but it’s moderately entertaining for an alien-free Contra clone.

Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics 2 (NES, Played on Nestopia) - Despite featuring Mike time-traveling to fight aliens, this is markedly inferior to the original game. The movement is more granular than the grid, which is not actually an improvement because it makes it harder to line up with enemies, who often have weird hitboxes in the ¾ view. The dungeon puzzles are generally weaker (though the lack of instant-death dead-ends is appreciated) and the plot is even sillier than the original. Still, this maintained the edge gravity that made the platforming in the original stand out, and it’s a fairly fast play even with 9 chapters.

End of 2021 TV Shows

Legends of Tomorrow (Netflix, Season 6) – This show knows exactly what it is and starts off with an incompetent-but-well-meaning bang to remind you of that. There’s a ton of logic that totally falls apart if you squint at it (Gary’s been an alien this whole time? How did that work with the demonic nipple if his glasses are just a hologram projector? Or the times we saw him without his glasses?! Then again, him sleeping with Constantine still makes sense, because John’s into all sorts of weird shit and doesn’t kiss and tell.) It turns into the crack-fic show and I love it for that: They play football with the nuclear football! They have a bowling episode and a cowboy episode! John Constantine remains true to himself by making horrible life decisions that get lots of people killed, including himself! Gay marriage inspires the alien mushrooms to save the world! And rather than having a lot of hanging threads (they actually resolve most things nicely, with Mick going off with Kayla and John stalking off by himself), they just blow up the Waverider in the stinger and trap the group with Spooner’s mom in 1925 Texas. This show is fantastic.

Superman & Lois (HBOMax, Season 1) – Entertaining how you can start with the same one-sentence summary as Black Lightning (Experienced superhero raises his two teenage children while an adversary with longtime connections to his family advances plans for conquest) and change literally everything else. I like Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark Kent a lot, and I think he does a pretty good job at being a dad. Something that worked particularly well for Black Lightning—having the teenage characters make all of the stupid bad decisions so the adults can be competent—continues to work well here. It’s still early in the series, of course, but most of the bad decisions characters make seem reasonable and in-character for them to make without them being actively stupid. (I particularly like that Clark and Lois both get to be exasperated and angry and pissy at each other, but acknowledge and apologize and move on.) This season holds together pretty well as a stand-alone. Except for one episode with John Diggle and ARGUS, you couldn’t guess it was part of the Arrowverse—and they had to rewrite the established Clark/Lois history in the Crisis in order to get the sons to the right age for this series anyway. I’m cautiously optimistic for another season, though I’m afraid they’ll get into the annoying tropes if it goes on too long.

The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBOMax, Season 1) – Mindy Kaling was behind this, which I could have guessed both from the overall style of the humor and the fact that the Indian girl is the best character. The first episode is a little rocky and the “embarrassment humor” quotient is a bit high; that evens out as the series goes on. This is very much a dramady/sitcom; it’s funny but also pulls in a lot of “ripped from the headlines” fairly serious stuff. And sex, if you hadn’t guessed from the title. Because this is a new series: Collapse ) Recommended if you enjoy Kaling’s other writing credits.