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Reading: The Lullaby of Polish Girls

The Lullaby of Polish Girls
The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lullaby of Polish Girls offers three different views of growing up Polish. Anna’s family fled Poland when she was young and started a new life in America, so she only experiences her hometown of Kielce in brief summer visits during the 1990s, where she forms lasting friendships with Kamila and Justyna, but spends most of her time in the U.S. pursuing her acting dream. Kamila is insecure, envious of the other two for their confidence or their beauty, but remains ever-optimistic that she’ll eventually get all the things she deserves (particularly the affections of her crush, Emil). Justyna is the cynic of the trio, ever ready to be brutally honest about how she perceives things or even to sabotage things for her friends if it ultimately serves her own interests.

The book presents their teen lives in flashbacks, the other half looking at their lives in the present of 2002. Anna’s career is reaching crisis point just as her relationship with the American Ben is falling apart, Kamila is still reeling from the revelation that Emil (who she has since married) is actually gay, and Justyna has just suffered a fresh tragedy in a life she already barely had control of.

To an extent then it’s almost six short stories that all form the parts of one larger one, three main characters each with their own present-day and flashback chapters, no character or story getting more attention than the others. Dagmara Dominczyk sprinkles Polish phrases liberally through the story, either simply using them when their meaning is obvious without a translation, or immediately translating it quite naturally within the text itself.

‘I can’t wait for next summer. You’ll be my girlfriend.’ Anna gasps quietly into his neck. She will not forget his words: Będziesz moją dziewczyną.

‘And you’re rubbing yourself while you think about her? What, are you a lezbijka, you little perv?’

Ultimately it’s a story about the comfort of friendship, how three women reach the lowest points of their lives but are able to find strength in people they’ve not spoken to in years, because that sort of friendship transcends time. They can argue and even fall out, but when things get really bad they’ll always be there for one another. It adds an air of optimism to what is otherwise three sad stories of people suddenly finding their lives slipping out of their control in ways they never could have foreseen, and which they would have been unable to cope with if they had to try and go through it alone.

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Review: The Cold Commands

September 4, 2013 Leave a comment

The Cold Commands
The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ringil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.

In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, trying to content himself by trading on past glories and bedding any man he could convince to let him do so, until he was recruited into a quest that required his particular skills. The events of that quest left him hollowed out and broken in spite of his victory, and with a hatred of slavery being just about the only thing he is still passionate about.

By the time The Cold Commands begins he has made an enemy of just about every slaver in the Empire and is running out of places to hide, while also having attracted the attention of dark powers he doesn’t understand and doesn’t much care about either. He ends up back in Yhelteth, home of the other two main characters of each book, fellow war heroes Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane.

However, they both have problems of their own. Egar is sexually and spiritually frustrated, unable to be with the woman he loves and with no purpose in life beyond harassing the local religious zealots. Archeth has received a dire warning of an imminent threat that could bring down the whole Empire, and has to convince the Emperor to launch a major expedition to a place that may not even exist, while also trying to manage Egar’s frustrations and Ringil’s lack of tact or respect for the machinations of empire.

At first it seems like it’s Archeth’s expedition that would be the core of the story, but her plans are overshadowed completely by Ringil and Egar, who manage to upset the tentative balance that is just about keeping the city and the nation from erupting into civil war. In the process they uncover a grave threat much closer to home, and that again needs somebody like Ringil to try and put a stop to it.

More so even than Takeshi Kovacs, main character of Richard Morgan’s brilliant sci-fi trilogy, Ringil is a broken, disillusioned man who knows that his actions won’t much matter in the long run. Like Kovacs though he still tries and he still fights, because what else is there? As long as he’s still alive he’s going to do his damnedest to be an obstacle to anybody who deserves to have their plans thwarted, who seeks to take advantage of people or start a war, because that’s what heroes do. It’s cost him every part of himself, he no longer cares about much of anything at all, but he’s still a hero and he’s a fantastic character for it.

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Adventure Time: Super Jumping Finn

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment
The skin is very Adventure Time, but otherwise this could be from dozens of different Flash games all over the web.

The skin is very Adventure Time, but otherwise this could be from dozens of different Flash games all over the web.

Image source: Developer Heavy Boat’s website.

Available as Amazon’s Free App of the Day over the weekend, Super Jumping Finn is basically a Flash game – in fact you can play a less-featured version on the Cartoon Network website – and one you’ve played before.

It’s one of those games where you try to hit something/someone as far as you can and attempt to beat your own records, most of the challenge coming from getting the timing right as you select the angle and power (though in Super Jumping Finn you only control the power, not the angle). Other than it using the Adventure Time art style and characters there’s little about it specific to the series, it’s mostly just a re-skin of a very familiar game type.

In this game there’s an actual goal beyond just getting as far as you can, tasking you with reaching the distant ice fortress to rescue the princess within. There’s a mass of upgrades to buy and a massive distance to cover that seems impossible at first, and it’s only once you’ve a bunch of upgrades and the sky is full of helpers that you start being able to cover great distances almost without trying.

Both the upgrade and achievement systems are a bit weird in their design, as most of the upgrades are for the helpers, which you have no control over as they’re spread (possibly randomly) throughout the sky, so there’s no guarantee you’ll hit a specific helper or be able to determine which of them will be best to upgrade first. I found it was best to buy the first level of each helper first (so that the sky is as full as it can be) and then focus on upgrading Jake instead, seeing as you can trigger those abilities yourself and are guaranteed to use them in every game.

The achievements can only be earned one per game and that goal is chosen for you randomly, so you could do all that you need to do in order to achieve multiple achievements in one session but it won’t count, as you can only achieve the one it has chosen for you that time. I managed to reach the final destination and win the game before getting any of the achievements for reaching any of the prior zones, for example. It seems like a fairly arbitrary way to stretch out the game’s length.

Super Jumping Finn is fun for what it is, but it doesn’t ever really reach beyond being a full-featured Flash game, and I wouldn’t have actually paid money for it.