Posts Tagged ‘1001 nights

03
Jan
10

Ted Chiang – “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” review

Like any good boyfriend, I have an uncontrollable urge to push good science fiction on my geeky girl of choice. After sort of striking out with Neuromancer, I have rallied the troops by recommending a Ted Chiang short story. I like it so much I decided to push it on you as well.

You can find an audio recording that is performed quite well by James Campanella for free here. It’s about an hour and ten minutes long.

Who’s Ted Chiang? It’s okay, I hadn’t heard of him either. He’s a science fiction author who has only written a few stories, published at an incredibly slow rate. However, he’s won and been nominated for a truly ridiculous amount of science fiction awards. Each story has been truly labored over… and you can tell. I’ve read four or five of Chiang’s stories, but my favorite by far is the one I have linked above.

It’s a time travel story. Wait! Don’t run if you don’t like time travel stories! It’s a very different kind of time travel story. It’s told in a kind of Arabian Nights sort of way, cloaking the science fictiony aspect of the story in the words of myth and legend. If you don’t like time paradoxes, you can actually rest easy here. I won’t spoil too much, but just know that you should give this one a shot even if time travel isn’t your thing.

“The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” feels like several mini stories that are all connected. It tells the tale of many people that use a “gate of years” to go through time and details the effects that their travel has on their lives, and more importantly, their understanding of their lives. The narrator himself also journeys through the gate of years, giving the story a sense of immediacy so it doesn’t just feel like several tales being repeated for you to hear.

The real beauty of this story is that it’s just as much about storytelling as it is about time travel. It’s about the effect (or lack thereof) that a story can have on a person. It’s about fate, the prewritten “story” of your life, and how many people attempt to rewrite their own story, improving themselves along the way. Of course it’s also left to you to ask yourself, would you change your destiny? Meet yourself? Rob yourself?

It’s a tiny little story, but the characters are all surprisingly strong. I can’t help but mentally compare this to Steven Erikson, the author of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. He can have you spending time with characters for hundreds of pages and you don’t feel you know them like you do the few people in Chiang’s story. Granted, Erikson’s characterization has gotten better in the second book, which is the one I’m still on, but that is for another review. This story makes you understand and care for it’s characters in a truly tiny amount of space. It’s really something to admire, especially in a science fiction story, where many people read just to get to the “gotcha” ending or the preachy moral.

A quick word about Campanella’s audio version of this story… it rules. He narrates it almost like The Prince from the Sands of Time video games, giving it an authentic sort of tone. The male voices are all really good; my only complaint would be with his female voices, as a few of them sound a little chipmunkish. To me though, this is absolutely the way to experience the story… so go listen to it!

31
Aug
09

It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home…

I’m not going to review Inglourious Basterds. I’m just going to tell you to see it.

Today’s post is going to be on “Tales of the Arabian Nights”, a board game reprint from Z-Man games. The original was quite popular as far as I’ve heard, but I never played it. This version is an expanded and improved version.

The game is a “storytelling game”. There is a winner at the end of the game, but it’s more about the ride and the story than anything else. It’s a board game though, with rules… there’s no roleplay or larping involved, don’t you worry. Think of it like a gigantic choose your own adventure game.

You pick one of several classic arabian nights characters (I went for Aladdin in our game) and you pick a set of skills, then you wander around the land and achieve quests and have adventures, hoping to pick up destiny and story points along the way.

The adventures are randomized in all kinds of weird ways, but you’re presented with an encounter, such as “diseased hag” or “vengeful prince”. From there, you must choose a reaction from a set of possible things you can do. You pick one, and then flip in a gigantic book to find out what happens (again, think choose your own adventure, or a better version of the encounters from Arkham Horror).

This moves along at a really good pace though, and the book is pretty well written. The style is supposed to imitate the old 1001 nights stories, as well as some of the situations and cliches involved with them. It has over 2000 possible paragraphs that each have slightly different responses to each possible situation.

All kinds of wacky things can happen to you. In our game, one character got lost in the desert, then wounded, and then grief stricken. Another player became the Vizier, but then got his sex changed when he pissed off a genie. I stole a ring from an old lady and managed to get a pet monkey that was really a genie in disguise (very appropriate for Aladdin).

The events and so on can be quite random, but it’s not a game that is meant to be played with any serious strategy in mind. It seems like it will be a great game for joking around while playing, and telling stories. Quite often, the bad things that can happen to you will give you just as many story points as the good things, just with other negative effects tacked on.

So, it’s unlike anything else in my game collection… which is enough to justify it for me. With all the randomizing factors and the sheer volume of encounters, I don’t think it will get old anytime soon. It was a huge hit during my first play of it, even with the occasional rules question or two… I can’t wait to play it again.

Perhaps I’m biased just because I got a pet one eyed monkey though…