Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Blog Fantastic 001: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea
Written by Ursula K. Le Guin

I discovered Le Guin’s writing a few months ago. There is a shopping centre near my apartment that has a bi-annual used book sale. I picked up the first of a two volume collection of short stories by Le Guin as well as one of her most celebrated science fiction novels, The Left Hand of Darkness. This short story collection, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, volume one, had quite the variety of genres and styles. It’s also quite interesting that some of the short stories here have serves as the basis for some of Le Guin’s later novels and series, specifically The Earthsea Cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Rocannon’s World.

One of my favourites was The Rule of Names which was the second story to be set in the world of Earthsea and establishes one of the more important elements of the series: the importance of true names in magic. The story takes place in a small coastal village where there is a village wizard who also serves as a school teacher and a healer. The little town is visited by a strange mage and with his arrival he unveils the dark and hidden secrets that, unbeknownst from the villagers, plague their quiet lives.

In this short story, Le Guin established the look and feel of Earthsea and also clearly identified one of the most important elements to the magic system of the series. It doesn’t hurt that she does all this in a humorous way and, for good measure, she includes a wizard or two, a dragon, a lost and stolen treasure, quite a bit of magic and a quaint, completely endearing, village populated with charming characters. It’s a spectacular little story and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Needless to say, this story along with The Words of Unbinding has made me want to read Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.  After several months I finally read the first book and unsurprisingly I really, really enjoyed it.

In short, the book is the story of Sparrowhawk, the greatest wizard in all of Earthsea. Well, in truth, it’s the story of how he became the greatest wizard in all of Earthsea. Ged, Sparrowhawk’s true name, found out at a young age that he possess great power and affinity for magic. Under the tutelage of his aunt, the village witch, he took his first steps on the path to becoming a magician. After finding a mentor, he eventually travels to a school for wizards where he trained several years. After attaining his wizard staff, Ged travelled the Archipelago and took on his first job as a trained wizard.

Said like that the story is quite simple, and it is. It’s in part because of the simplicity of the narrative that A Wizard of Earthsea packs such a punch. It’s a powerful story about growing up, power, pride, friendship and responsibility. As a young boy, Ged is prideful and arrogant because of the knowledge of his great power. He’s quick to learn magic but he does so without great effort. He’s quick to take action but he plows ahead without thinking. On more than one occasion his excessive confidence and desire to be recognized lead him to make brash decisions that forever changed him. During a particularly destructive event, Ged unleashed an Evil upon the world. Afterword, he is haunted and pursued by this Shadow which feeds upon his strength. Every time they encounter one another, Ged is left weakened and alone.

As a young boy he wanted his strength to be acknowledged and he wanted to be respected. Following the events that took place during his stay at the school for wizards, Ged wants nothing more than to be left alone for fear of endangering those he cares for and to be given a chance to banish the evil he let loose.

In the end, after much personal growth and hardship, Ged is able to recognize and accept his fears and doubts and he becomes a stronger person, and a stronger wizard, because of it.

Le Guin’s story is incredibly focused. A Wizard of Earthsea is about Ged. Unlike many books, the supportive characters are not given their own side stories. From beginning to end, Le Guin forces us to follow Ged on his difficult journey to wizardry and adulthood. I say forced because Young Ged is a difficult character to deal with. He’s unlikeable and part of me was happy when his actions forced him to look at himself in new ways. That may be harsh, but it feels true and some of the lessons in lived are learned with much hardship.

Le Guin also manages to create a world that feels rich in detail and history in few worlds. A Wizard of Earthsea is less than 200 pages but they’re a dense 200 pages. This book doesn’t feel bloated or padded because it isn’t. There is a trend in fantasy writing where longer is better and it’s not always clear to the reader that this isn’t always a good thing. I can understand that for writers, having invested so much time in creating and building a world with a rich and diverse history and cities and lands that are populated with different cultural and sometimes ethnical groups all of whom have their own legends and customs that you would want to include all of it in your stories. As for readers, I can also understand the desire to be so fully immersed in a world so wonderfully detailed, inviting and rewarding but we must careful not to overstay our welcome. The more time we spend in a fabricated world the most adept we become at seeing the cracks in the wall and the glue that holds it all together. Much like horror and violence in movies and television can and often is more effective when portrayed off screen; fictional realms in fantasy novels can feel more real and more substantial when it’s not explained to the reader in all its detail. It’s far more interesting to read a novel than it is to read a visual dictionary of a fabricated world.

With relatively few pages, Le Guin makes the world of Earthsea feel real. I can smell the salt in the air. I can feel the oppressive dangers of sailing in a storm. Ged’s

Magic in Earthsea:
Magic in Earthsea is about words. Magic isn’t set in specific, unbreakable ruless. It’s fluid, it changes depending on the circumstances and the magic that is being cast. Despite this seemingly undefined quality to magic in A Wizard of Earthsea, Le Guin manages to make it feel very coherent.

Magic is also about knowledge and understanding. Wizards, mages and archmages alike, all discuss and debate on the mysteries of magic. There are some set rules but the extent of those rules and the minutiae of the mystical arts are somewhat open to discussion. The way Ged resolves conflicts with magic makes sense within the boundaries set by Le Guin earlier in the book. I’m very impressed that she was able to conjure such a believable and organized magic system without having to pummel the reader with endless explanations. It’s structure yet it retains some fluidity. I guess you could say she did it with magic, by using words to shape the world of Earthsea before our very eyes.

The world of Earthsea:
Earthsea is a planeet composed mostly of water. The story takes place in a large Archipelago where hundreds, maybe thousands, of islands are in relatively close proximity to each other. Despite this relative proximity, different languages and social norms and yes, even different cultures, exist in different parts of the Archipelago. On some islands slavery is perfectly acceptable. On most islands, wizards and users of magic are considered to be very important people and often times a city or village has a wizard to lives and serves the townspeople. He’s the wise man and a healer and a school teacher all wrapped into one person. Their currency is magic and it’s how they make a living.

The people of Earthsea aren’t your average white guy. Ged’s skin, like that of most of the characters, is a brown colour. These are people who live on islands and sail the seas. Their skin colour reflects their living habits and their homes. The people of the Archipelago are often outdoors and their isn’t the milky white of maidens who live in castles or even the same as the pink colour of a knight who’s always wearing leather and metal armor. The climate of Earthsea is similar to that of the Mediterranean or even that of the Caribbean (well maybe not everywhere, there was some snow and sleet in one of the chapters). Ged’s mage friend, Vetch, and his family have much darker skin. Again, this is presumably a result of his village being on one of the warmer and southerly islands. My point simply being, that it’s refreshing that Le Guin’s characters aren’t all young white males.

It seems odd to me that women don’t play a larger role in Earthsea. There are female characters that play a role in Ged’s life and his adventures once he leaves the wizard school but they’re minor characters at best. As a woman, I was expecting a more prominent female presence in the Earthsea novel. Le Guin’s portrayal of women and their relationship to magic is also interesting. Women seem to be relegated to the role of village witch, familiar in low level magic and spell that any male child can master with relative ease. It’s possible I missed something, but I did not see any sign of women having any sort of presence at the wizard school. Le Guin never addresses why or if men are the only magic users in Earthsea other than some limit magic that are used in some day to day life situations.

As the first book to be read in my Blog Fantastic series of post, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin was an excellent read. It’s very clear to me why Le Guin’s Earthsea series is considered a classic fantasy series. With this first book Le Guin demonstrates her subtle and important skill as a writer of serious fantasy. I’d like to point out that my copy of this book was found in the Young Adult section at a large chain bookstore. I remember reading somewhere that Le Guin wanted to write this first novel specifically for the younger market. I think she succeed but she also wrote one of those somewhat rare books that transcends age and can easily be enjoyed but the very young, the very old, and anybody in between. I look forward to revisiting the world of Earthsea with the second novel in the series (whenever I get a hold of a copy) as well as rereading A Wizard of Earthsea.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Blog Fantastic: A Fantasy Novel Project - Introduction

My favourite fantasy series as a teen. Is it still good today?

I want to explore more fantasy novels. I really like fantasy as a genre. I used to read more fantasy books but for a while I was quite distracted by my post-secondary studies and comics. I’m done school now so that’s no longer a problem. I still love comics and I can’t imagine not reading comics but they’re very expensive and they take up a lot of space. I’ve read at least a couple fantasy novels every year but there’s always been something else. I want to focus on fantasy books for a while, at least a year or more.

I want to discover famous and important fantasy series and fantasy writers. I want to sample trilogies, small series and large series. I even have a few standalone fantasy novels I want to read. I also want to take the time to further explore series and authors I’ve sampled in the past.

I grew up reading Dragonlance books as well as a couple from the Forgotten Realms series. I followed a few of those others for a while. That’s how I first discovered The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. That’s probably one of my current favourite series, however, it’s been about ten years since I last read it. I’m definitively due for a reread. I’m hoping the series holds but I have my doubts I’ll consider them to be as good as what I originaly thought.

I’ve read some pretty well known books. Most recently I read The Children of Hùrin by J.R.R. Tolkien (you can read what I had to say here) and I really, really liked it. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit a couple of times. I’ve read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and will continue to read it as soon as the next volume is out.

At my brother’s recommendation, I’ve sampled some of David Gemmell’s work, specifically the Troy Trilogy and Legend, his first novel. I’m read a few of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels and I’d like to read more of those. I don’t remember them as being anything extraordinary but hey, they’re good stories about telepathic dragons who can also teleport. I remember there was an interesting dynamic between the dragons and their riders.

I’m going to start by reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series because I recently acquired the first book and because I’ve sampled some of her work last Autumn, specifically the two short stories that kicked off the Earthsea series. I’ll be writing something on the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, very soon. I’ve had some difficulty finding the second book so I might move on to something else while I acquire a copy.

The second book in Terry Prachett's hilarious Discworld
series. I never read the third book and that's a shame. It's
not a shame I stole the title for this blog project.
After that I might read some of David Gemmell’s standalone novels. I have two of them, Dark Moon and Morningstar. For the moment I’m content to stay away from exceedingly long series but there are a few I would really like to read. My father and a friend from back home are very big fans of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I’m going to have to check it out. I also have to read some of Brandon Sanderson’s work. He’s well known for being the author who finished Jordan’s series after his death. Apparently he’s quite the writer. Right before I moved out of my parents place to go to school, I read New Spring, a prequel to The Wheel of Time series. Now is the time to reread it and tackle the rest of the series.

The second large series I want to read is Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. He’s Canadian and it’s said to be a fantastic series. I haven’t read too much about it, so as not to spoil it for myself, but let’s face it, a huge fantasy series written by a Canadian is enough to entice me. Its definitively going to be a good long while before I attack this second large fantasy series.

I am worried that there will be a fantasy novel fatigue that settles in after a while. I’m planning on dealing with this by reading some comics here and there to clear my head. I’m thinking Terry Prachett’s Discworld series could also give me some good laughs and make sure I don’t take this project too seriously.

Here’s a list of series I would like to read:

The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Something, maybe a shorter series, by Tad Williams (I’m not sure yet, but something)
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
The Sundering Duology by Jacqueline Carey
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Now here’s a list of series I’d like to reread or further explore:

The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
More Drenai novels by David Gemmell
A Tale of Dunk and Egg by George R.R. Martin
More Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
The Ice Wind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore
More Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey

I’m well aware it’s an exhaustive list and it will take me a very long time to read all these books but that’s fine. I’m simply hoping to expand my horizons a bit and perhaps discover a new favourite series or writer. My first book, A Wizard of Earthsea was excellent and its clear to me that I’m off to a good start. My first post should be up soon.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Marvel Zombies review

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colourist: June Chung
Letterer: VC’s Randy Gentile
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Covers: Arthur Suydam

This is a story of an alternate universe were the entirety of the Marvel Universe is infected by a zombie virus. Most of your favourite superhero characters (name a few) are flesh eating monsters. Their only goal is to feed; their only concern is when they will feed next. The idea boils down to zombies with superpowers. It sounds good for about a second, after which it starts to sound like a pretty terrible ideas. It’s difficult enough to write good zombie fiction and the same can be said of superhero comics but combining the two together is just asking for failure. This comic should have been bad, it should have been terrible. Turns out it’s pretty good and very enjoyable.

In his introduction, Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame mentions a few of the story ideas he and editor Ralph Macchio had for Marvel Zombies. I have to say some of those ideas sound pretty darn boring or uninteresting. See, what makes this an interesting comic is that the zombies are the main characters. This isn’t a story about survival; it’s a story about learning how to live with never-ending hunger. The marvel heroes are nearly all zombified yet they remain true to their (alternate universe) selves. They still have their superpowers and they use them to their advantage. For example, Janet Pym, the Wasp, takes a chunk of flesh from a victim then shrinks to eat it. By shrinking down she can easily make a seemingly small morsel last much longer than it would have at her full height.

It also helps that Kirkman keeps the tone of the book rather light. This is still a very gory book and definitively not suitable to impressionable minds or the faint of heart. The story simply doesn’t take itself too seriously. Kirkman and Phillips included several nods to the Marvel Universe and its characters and often doing so in a humorous way. This alternate universe’s Iron Man is still wearing a helmet with a face plate that flips up, allowing the reader to see Tony Stark’s face. As a zombie, lifting the face plate allows him to feed while still wearing his helmet. You get several zombified cameos of Marvel characters even if they don’t play any significant role other than fan service. Things like Wolverine doing a fastball special with Iron Man’s upper half and having elements of well-known stories pop up here and there are all part of the fan service. You could convincingly argue that the whole purpose of Marvel Zombies is to delight the fans of both Marvel and the Zombie genre with a short and fun tale combining the best of both worlds. By keeping it simple, the creative team succeeds quite well.

Kirkman also decides to add some plot elements that could easily be, and have been, picked up for future instalments of Marvel Zombies. These plot points are of a more serious nature than the main plot of the comic and lead the story in a different direction. This direction is a more classic zombie story dealing with the continued survival of a small group on a zombie infested planet. Kirkman give it his own little twist but it barely has time to last. Essentially, it’s the zombies are gone . . . or are they?

My one main complaint is about the Marvel Universe villains. I think the main cast could have used a few villains. What’s the difference between hero and villain when everybody is a zombie? They all want the same thing now and it could be beneficial to all to team up. Not only that, but in a zombie apocalypse, who’s still complaining about old rivalries? They’re all got biggest problems.

Although it’s not the most important comic of the last decade, Marvel Zombies is a joy to read. It’s gross, it discusses at length what this type of zombie can and cannot do, and it’s got carnage by the hearse load and superpowered blast firing out of severed arms along with a heavy dose of cosmic energy. There wasn’t any meta commentary comparing the endless hunger of the undead and the seemingly endless demand for superhero comics from fanboys but it would have fit right in with the rest of this series. In the end, what makes Marvel Zombies and a few of the sequels a good read was the tone of the series. By keeping it fun and playing it fast and loose, Kirkman as well as the other writers to have played in the zombified Marvel sandbox, have written a few good mini-series starring some of the most beloved superhero characters, nearly all of them talking, superpowered zombies. I might review some of the other Marvel Zombies comics in the future. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

PokéJournal: Update 012

-I’m at the Safari Zone gates but I’m not going in just yet. I want to train some more before going in. I just feel like battling for a while.
This guy's pretty awesome.

-So there seems to be Pokémon here, at the gates, which I don’t own yet. There’s a nice variety of them, too. I seem to have caught most of them now, except for Diglett. I’ve seen one twice but I keep on knocking it out in one hit, my Pokémon are too strong. Since it’s difficult to find, I’ll keep training my Pokémon and I’ll give Exp. Share to Sandshrew so that she can level up a bit. Right now, she’s too weak to successfully reduce Diglett’s HP to allow me to catch it. Here’s hoping I see another one soon.

-Yeah, tell you what, screw Diglett. I can catch the guy later. It’s off to the Safari Zone for me.

-500 bucks to go into the Safari Zone? I guess that’s ok, for all the rare Pokémon I will find. It’s also a good price when you consider you get to keep all the Safari Balls that are filled with Pokémon you caught.

-Whoa, Kangaskhan! Those guys are aweso—and it ran away. Damn. Shortly after I meet another one, bait it, but no success.
What are you?

-Third Kanga and I tried mud this time. Nope, it just makes it angry.

-So I decided to give up on Kangaskhan for a little while and I head to other parts of the Safari Zone. I hit a streak of good luck in the swamp and catch some poison Pokémon such as Ekans, Koffing, and Grimer.

-Before I went in to the SZ, the owner gave me a test to do, catch a Geodude and show it to him. I was able to do it no problem. I showed it to him afterword and he told me he’s working on a second text and he’ll call me back when he’s thought of what will make a good test.

-Once more into the Zone, off I go! I start in the mountains because I want to catch a Larvitar.

-Alright, I caught a Kangaskhan! What a successful day at the Safari Zone.

-I’m in Mount Mortar and Sandshrew just evolved. Aw, yeah. He’s the same cute guy as before but now he’s spiky.

-I’m using the Dowsing Machine to find hidden items. So far I’ve found one Hyper Potion and one Ultra Ball.

This loser thought he
could be the next Giovanni.
-So far Mt. Mortar is pretty boring. The Pokémon are all around the mid teen levels and I own all the Pokémon. I’m essentially just running around finding all the items. I’m barely training since the Pokémon are so weak. It's kind of boring.

-Another hidden item found. This time it’s a Max Repel.

-There’s a random dude chilling in the middle of Mt. Mortar. All he has is a level 19 Slowpoke. No wonder he’s stuck here. Dude needs an Escape Rope.

-I caught a Mankey. It was the simplest thing. I tossed a Quick Ball and bam, done. It’s easier than using a Safari Ball.

-I feel like I’ve just been wandering somewhat aimlessly for the last little while and I think it’s time to get back into story mode. I run north towards the Lake of Rage to find Lance and his awesome Dragonite. He brings me to the weird shack at Mahogany Town. Let’s battle some Rocket Grunts.

-There are statues of Persian all over and when you cross paths with it there are two Rocket Grunts who show up and battle you one at a time. If my Pokémon were weak I’d try and avoid it but whatever, bring on the baddies. It's good training.

-I was hoping I would be able to cross the Persian’s path back and forth and fight the grunts more than once but it’s only a one time deal. It also gets a little monotonous after a while because the two grunts are the same. They just come back with their Pokémon all healed up and fight you again and again.

-I found a hidden Revive item!

I finally got myself a Machop.
He looks super cool. 
-I also found a switch that turned off the Persian statue alarm system. Some random grunt is telling me they have explosives in the floors! Why would you do that? This is your base of operation, dude. Do you like walking on explosive floors? You’re nuts!

-So it turns out this booby trapped floor is set with Pokémon and not explosives. I got freakin’ Voltorbs attacking me. Time for Sandslash to make himself useful, you know, other than being a mule. Aw, poor little Voltorb’s move don’t work on Sandslash, muahahahahaha!

-This time it’s a Geodude. Man, what other kind of Pokémon are in this floor? Yo, Team Rocket, do you guys have any strong Pokémon hiding in the floors? Ah, who am I kidding?

-Like an idiot I walked onto a teleportation circle thing. Where will this lead me? Right back at the beginning. I guess I’m walking on the booby trap floor again.

-Lance and Dragonite are on one of the floors. He takes the time to heal my Pokémon and then he runs off ahead of me. I’ll take my time and battle as many people as I can.

Dragonite is pretty cool but he doesn't really
fit as Dratini's final form. Visually, they
have nothing in common. 
-I found a Full Heal with the Dowsing Machine. I’m really enjoying using this thing. I wonder if I can find any rare or crazy items, like evolutionary stones or something.

-Does it seem odd to anybody else that when a Rocket Grunt loses a battle they give you prize money? I would think that a criminal just doesn’t give a crap.

-Hey, what’s Craphat doing here? Sup dude. I like your girlishly long hair. He’s all moody because Lance beat him and told him he doesn’t love his Pokémon. That’s what happens when you’re a mean trainer, bud. Dragonite takes a big shit on your day and Hyper Beams your weak Pokémon into oblivion.

-The leader here, Petrel, is a Giovanni impostor. Giovanni was the leader of Team Rocket in the first generation of Pokémon. Petrel had a Murkrow in his office and it’s running around now. I’m following it to the true leader of this operation.

-I just reached was seems to be the end of this Team Rocket adventure. So far I’ve mostly been using Ampharos and Sandslash but I’m switching Feraligatr to my lead spot. I want to let him fight some stronger Pokémon, you know, to let him stretch his legs a little.

-This lady, Ariana shows up with one of her grunts. They challenge me to a double battle but Lance comes along and backs me up. Come on Dragonite, show me your stuff!

Ariana, a Team Rocket Executive.
-Oh wow, Dragonite is at level 40 and Feraligatr is at level 39. Not too bad, eh Lance? All in all Dragonite was helpful but he only did damage every second turn because he only used Fly.  We win the double battle without too much effort.

-There is a machine sending out the powerful radio signal that made the Magikarp evolve into the Red Gyarados. The machine seems to be powered by Electrodes. I’m going to have to battle them. I could use Sandslash but I think I’d rather use Growlithe, because why not?

-Wait a minute, can I catch one of these? Let’s give it a try. Ampharos switches out with Growlithe and paralyzes Electrode. I catch it after two tossed Ultra Balls.

-Because I did a super job, Lance gives me HM Whirlpool.

-As soon as I exit the base I get a call from the owner of the Safari Zone. He’s got the second test ready for me. Well, I’m going to fly to Kurt so he can give me my new Poké Balls and then I’ll fly to the Safari Zone. Or maybe I’ll go to the gym.

Pokémon caught: Fearow, Gloom, Hoppip, Girafarig, Magneton, Machop, Grimer, Arbok, Ekans, Koffing, Lickitung, Mankey, Aipom,
Pokémon traded: None.
Gym Leader defeated: None.
Fights with Craphat (Rival): I met up with him in Team Rocket’s base at Mahogany, but he ran away because Lance beat him in battle.  
Evolutions: Sandshrew evolved into Sandslash.
Pokémon in party: Feraligatr, Ampharos, Growlithe, Sandslash, Pidgeotto and, Heracross.
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at level 39.
Lowest level in party: Sandslash at level 22.
Pokédex: 84.
Time played: 30:11.  

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Star Wars: Choices of One review

The cover to the paperback without titles.
I’ve written about my desire to familiarize myself with the Star Wars Expanded Universe on the blog before. I’ve done so by selecting and reading some Star Wars novels. I started with the original trilogy novelizations. After the original trilogy, I chose this particular book to read. (Note: even though I reviewed Death Troopers a while back, I read Choices of One before it.) I picked up Choices of One because I had read good things about Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, mostly the Thrawn trilogy. I was in a book store (no, they did not have the Thrawn trilogy) and I saw his name on one of the novels. I read the back of the book and it takes place during the rebellion era but the person on the cover is a woman I don’t recognize and she’s holding a light saber. “Who the hell is this?” I thought to myself. I was curious and so I picked up the book. So, Choices of One, a Star Wars novel by one of the more celebrated Star Wars novelist writing a story that takes place in between two of the original Star Wars movies. This should be good right?

It was good but not much more than that. You would have to be a big Star Wars fan to enjoy this and a big Timothy Zahn fan to really, really enjoy this. The biggest problem I had with the book was Timothy Zahn. I have nothing against Zahn as a writer. In fact, this is the first book of his that I have read.

Choices of One is a follow up or sorts to Zahn’s Allegiance in which he introduces the Hand of Judgement, a group of former storm troopers who travel the galaxies helping those in need. There are several plot elements that run throughout the course of the novel and they all converge at the end of the book. By writing it this way, Zahn writes a book with a slow moving plot. The real downfall to this approach though, is that some of the plot elements need to be set up early but we don’t have much to set up, that same story elements waits for the others to catch up in order to progress with the climactic encounter at the end of the book. Another upsetting element is that some of the plotlines are simply uninteresting or involve characters that are uninteresting.

Mara Jade and the Hand of Judgement are some of the least interesting characters of the book but they’re the most involved in the plot. I’m sure that fans of Zahn’s Star Wars novels had no problem with this; in fact, they probably really like the parts with Mara Jade. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. Mara is so bland and boring and because she’s written as being such a powerful Jedi, I found that there was never a sense of her even having to try to successfully complete her mission. She’s just going through the motions. Not only that, but if she’s such an accomplished student of the Force, why doesn’t she set off on her own? Why does she so passively do as the Emperor commands?

Rough drafts for the cover. Mara Jade is so uninteresting that the cover artist almost used the dreaded "backbreaker"
pose for Mara for the two covers on the right. "Only sex appeal can make Mara interesting to Star Wars fans!"
Apparently Zahn created the character of Mara Jade because he found there weren't enough female characters in Star Wars. I can agree with that but Mara Jade is such an uninteresting character. It was difficult for me to read some of her chapters because she bores me. I find Leia to but much more interesting. I also find that Zahn writes her better. If you’re going to take the time to address the lack of female characters in Star Wars, at least take the time to create an interesting new character.

The best parts of the book are the ones that focus on characters from the trilogy. Han and Leia are especially interesting as written by Zahn. He has a very good grasp on the characters and uses it to his advantage. Their chapters are the best but not because they’re doing things that are more interesting than the other characters in the book; it’s interesting simply because the characters are so well defined. I’m sure it was a challenge for Zahn to write the characters from the movies and keep them true to themselves but also true to when he writes them. The novel takes place between Episode IV and V, just a few months before the events on Hoth.

At that point in time, Han is trying to figure out if he and Chewie will continue to fight alongside their new friends in the Rebellion or will they go off on their own and resume their work as smugglers. It’s difficult for him because he genuinely cares for Leia and Luke. The decision is made more difficult by the fact that he’s also a good leader, even if he’s reluctant to admit it. He struggles with this throughout Choices of One and it’s something he continues to deal with in The Empire Strikes Back.

Leia also has something she’s struggling with. He ties to the Alliance are quite clear. It’s been a part of her character since her very first appearance. In Choices of One, she’s dealing with her confusing feelings for Han. Like in the movies, Leia continues to have to prove herself in extraordinary situations. It’s almost as if she has to work twice as hard to gain people’s respect. This is especially the case with Han and Luke who, much newer to the Alliance than Leia, don’t seem to take her seriously and sometimes even refuse to acknowledge how strong and independent she is. Even in the Expanded Universe there is an anti-feminist subtext. This is a boy’s galaxy and if you can’t wield a light saber or a blaster or if you won’t wear golden bikinis, you’re not wanted. Well, at least Leia gets the satisfaction of problem them both wrong in the future.

Luke is going through a phase of maturity and growth, both as a person and as a Jedi. Zahn does a good job writing Luke. He's barely had any Jedi training at this point and his inner thoughts reflect this. He tries to focus his thoughts with the Force but he attempts to do this without guidance. Luke is also learning that being a rebel means you sometimes have to do violent things to other people. He's killed before during the rescue on the Death Star and fighting in the Battle of Yavin. He hasn't really killed using his light saber before. I see it as something more difficult to do. Killing using a blaster or while sitting in the cockpit of an x-wing fighter puts distance between you and the target. That's not the case while using a light saber. He's still emotionally vulnerable during close combat because of his lack of training and his lack of experience. It's a nice way to demonstrate what kind of life Luke left Tatooine while at the same time showing the reader just how much more growth he has left to do. Zahn's got a good handle on the movie characters.

It seems that Zahn wanted the novel to focus of Mara Jade and Luke, to a certain point. The title of the book refers to a Jedi proverb “The choices of one shape the futures of all”. Who is the one? Well, it could be nearly anybody. If we consider when this story takes place, Luke is clearly the one. However, it seems clear to me that Zahn envisions Mara Jade as the one who affects the futures of all the other characters. She’s not only at the driving force of the story she’s also on the cover. That’s the fault of the book. It shouldn’t be about Mara Jade because she shouldn’t matter to the story of this “interquel”, she shouldn’t matter to the character development of Luke to such an extent. I think that in this particular case, it would have been much more interesting if Zahn had created a new villain to use just for this book. As such, Choices of One serves better as a prequel novel for Mara Jade, a character that first appeared in Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, than it does as a novel set between two episodes of the original movie trilogy. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

PokéJournal: Update 011

I have an Ampharos now, i'm
pretty darn happy.
-Once again I’m crossing the ocean. I could have flown back to Olivine but I’d rather train my Pokémon some more. It also gives me an opportunity to fish and maybe catch some water Pokémon I don’ have yet.

-Man, I’ll tell ya what. Once I’m out of the water I sincerely hope to never see a Tentacool again.

-Surprise, surprise. The first fish I catch is a level 20 Magikarp. Flaaffy beats it... and evolves! Finally, my very own Ampharos, yes! I can’t wait to be on land and see how it looks walking behind me.

-Oo, a Chinchou. I like that there are dual type Pokémon that share contrasting types. Chinchou is an example of this with its water-electric type. I also like that those dual type Pokémon aren’t too common. There aren’t several Pokémon with water-electric type, just Chinchou and his evolution as far as I’m concerned and that makes them stand out a little from the rest of the bunch. Huh, so electric attacks are useless against Chinchou. It just absorbs it all. I’ll have to use a different Pokémon to capture this guy. Too bad I can’t use my Thunder Wave paralysis strategy.  I sent out Pidgeotto (weakness to electric type? What are you even talking about? Shut up) and he used fly (what? I don’t want Chinchou to pass out!) a couple of times. I tossed a Net Ball and Chinchou is forever mine.

-Well hello Miltank. I am going to catch you! Wow, that was way too easy. Growlithe did some damage with Reversal. Since he was at full HP the reversal was pretty weak and Miltank was barely in the yellow. Ampharos then paralyzed Miltank and I tossed a Great Ball. Done and done. Let’s all go home and relax under a tree.

I battled Jasmine a little
early, but I beat her anyway!
-I go to the lighthouse and give Jasmine the medicine for Ampharos. Jasmine runs off to the gym. Shall I follow her? I should probably train some more. Her steel and electric Pokémon will probably kick my butt. Growlithe is really the only one who stands a fair chance and he’s only at level 29. Ah, what the heck, live dangerously and all that.

-The Safari Zone guy just called. It’s open! I’ll have to go there after beating Jasmine and catch a bunch of hard to find Pokémon. Yes, I’m excited.

-The Gentleman from the lighthouse (the guy who gave me enough money to buy a house after I beat him) is at the gym. He’s cheering me on to defeat Jasmine. This is getting creepy dude. I’m not your girlfriend. This relationship is starting to make me feel uncomfortable.

-Ok, so far this gym is incredibly lame. Nobody even fights you! There are no trainers. You just walk up to Jasmine and challenge her. Ok, here goes nothing...

-Growlithe vs. Magnemite. He’s one level above Growlithe. Fire Fang almost takes him down in one hit but Jasmine uses a Hyper Potion. Magnemite paralyzes Growlithe and its Thunder Bolt attack is too strong. I never should have gone to the gym! I switch out Growlithe for Feraligatr, he’s got the type disadvantage but he’s super strong so who cares. While Feraligatr takes some hits, I take the time to heal Growlithe’s status and HP. Feraligatr fainted (what? He’s a water type!) so I send Growlithe back out. Growlithe defeats Magnemite with Fire Fang.

-Growlithe vs. Steelix. Yup, I don’t see how this can end well for me. I should have trained my Sandshrew! Growlithe gets three hits in before he faints. I switch out to Heracross. Its Brick Break technique is probably super effective against a steel type. Nope, I changed my mind. I’ll revive Feraligatr. Steelix isn’t electric so he should have no problem fighting him. Feraligatr uses Surf and it takes out Steelix in one hit.
-Feraligatr vs. Magnemite. Aw crap, here we go again. How many hits until Feraligatr faints? Apparently only one. I send in Ampharos. He’s doing well, Magnemite is in the red. Jasmine uses another Hyper Potion. It takes several hits but eventually Ampharos wins. Phew! It was a close call, guys. Sure, I could have used another revive on Growlithe but they’re super expensive. I’m glad I chose to challenge Jasmine because I wooooon! Tra la la la, lee!

-My mom called telling me I have an item at the Poké Mart. It’s a Moon Stone! Awesome, thanks mom! It’s the first really awesome item she sends me. Ok, now go find a Fire Stone. My Growlithe needs to evolve.

-You know you’re training hard when the Pokémon you’re training runs out of PP for all his attack moves. Way to go Growlithe.

-All of a sudden I realize my money problems are over. I have just above 20,000. Moomoo milk on me, guys.

-I’m on my way to the Safari Zone and I’m taking the time to train some Pokémon while catching some new ones. I like finding hidden items. I just found a pearl on a random patch of sand in the water on the way to the Safari Zone. Gonna sell it for some moh-naaaaay!
I never saw a Shellder but I would live
a happy life if I never saw this guy
and his pre-evolution form ever again.

-Shellder, why are you so hard to find? Who cares where Shellder is, there’s a Sleelix staring me in the face! Oh no, he fainted!

-Now that I have HM Fly, I’m going all over the place. I’m currently in Ilex Forest. Since I put Geodude in the PC, I realized I no longer have a Pokémon who knows headbutt so I’m going to find the move tutor in Ilex Forest. He can teach Sandshrew how to do headbutt and then I’ll have a near perfect mule Pokémon for my party.

-I’m at the Cliff Cave on the way to the Safari Zone and I’m looking for Misdreavus which only appears at night. It’s pretty damn rare, at least in the Cliff Cave. I’ve only seen one and being an idiot I used a dark move on it, which is super effective. It fainted after one attack. Argh, I’m hoping to see another one.

-A while later I encounter another one, only the second Misdreavus I’ve seen so far. I swap out Feraligatr for Ampharos. I paralyze Misdreavus and I use Thunder Shock. Her HP is in the yellow and I toss an Ultra Ball. It’s a success. I’m very glad I got it.

You're too cute to be a pure Ghost
 Pokémon. And that fashion sense;
 look at the pearl necklace!
-Finally, I reach the Safari Zone. It didn’t have to take me so long but I was having a good time levelling up the party and catching common and rare Pokémon.

-Next time I play I’ll be heading into the Safari Zone and catching a whole bunch of Pokémon. Yeah!

Pokémon caught: Chinchou, Miltank, Golbat, Kingler, Graveler, Seel, Exeggcute, Machoke, Quagsire, Steelix, and Misdreavus.
Pokémon traded: None.
Gym Leader defeated: Jasmine. Were her Pokémon really that strong or was I too impatient and challenged her too soon?
Fights with Craphat (Rival): None.
Evolutions: Flaaffy evolved into Ampharos and Abra evolved into Kadabra. 
Pokémon in party: Feraligatr, Ampharos, Growlithe, Heracross, Pidgeotto, and Sandshrew. 
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at level 38.
Lowest level in party: Sandshrew at level 13.
Pokédex: Over sixty.
Time played: Over 23:00.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Five Review

The fifth book collecting Alan Moore’s legendary run writing Swamp Thing is the second collection of Swamp Thing that I haven’t read previously. So far, the first three volumes have been rereads for me. During my first attempt at reading Moore’s Swamp Thing, I had mixed feelings. I recognized the sheer revolutionary power of his first 18 months on the title but after reading several issues consisting of Moore commenting on the mythology of America, I gave up. It was too preachy and, at the same time, hollow for my tastes. Last time, in my review of volume four, I mentioned the greatness that is to be found in the second half of the American Gothic storyline and I was once again spurred to continue reading Swamp Thing.

Once again I encountered my main problem with Alan Moore written comics with the first two issues of Book Five: momentum. I realize that it’s unfair to Moore that I seem to dislike all the issues of Swamp Thing that are less than spectacular. It’s either an excellent issue or an ok issue when it comes to his writing on this book. The thing is that’s how these issues read. My read problem though, isn’t exactly momentum. Moore’s formalistic approach to writing comics sucks the life out of whatever it is his writing. There is little or no energy at all to his writing and when a comic he wrote does display some kinetic and energetic storytelling it’s more often than not due to his collaborators than to Moore’s writing. His comics are too rigid; they’re not allowed to breathe under Moore’s guidance. On some occasions this style works really well but other times the story just falls flat.

Swamp Thing vs. Batman? Yup, and this
is Moore's run changing into a lower gear.
After the last book’s issue #50, I was expecting issue #51 to be a quieter story and it is. The problem is that it a set up for Swamp Thing’s Space Odyssey that truly begins in issue #56, the last issue in this collection. But, as you can imagine, Alan Moore sets up the story very well and he adds some nice element to the Swamp Thing mythos and there are even several good character moments which should not be surprising after 20+ issues. Swamp Thing is one of Moore’s most contemplatively moody series I’ve read and that tone leads to quieter stories. I didn’t know it at the time but issue #50 marked the last bombastic Swamp Thing story that Moore would write (yes, I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds). The rest of the series is composed of quieter stories that still tell horrifying and moving stories about Swamp Thing and Abby Cable.

This collection turns the focus to Abby. The story deals with her relationship with the law after photos of her intimate relationship with Swamp Thing are revealed to the public in a newspaper. Swamp Thing returns from his war against Evil to find that Abby has seemingly disappeared. With these issues Moore juggles interesting character drama with Abby while also setting up an introspective journey through space for Swamp Thing.

An interesting thing about this collection is the similarities with Moore’s other comic work at the time, notably Watchmen with Dave Gibbons.  The similarities between issue 56 and the Watchmen issue where Dr. Manhattan goes to Mars are fascinating. I would really like to reread both those issue and discuss them further. For now, I’ll settle by saying issues 56 is one of the most interesting issues of Moore’s entire time as writer on Swamp Thing because of the way it encapsulates so much of what has already happened in the series and turning it against his main character in strange and frightening ways.

Swamp Thing is blue and he's alone on
a deserted planet reminiscing on the past.
Sound familiar? It should.
There are also similarities between Swamp Thing’s funeral issue in Gotham and the Comedian’s funeral issue in Watchmen (rain, a statue, people having flashbacks and what if scenarios intercutting the funeral scenes, one vigilante talking about another not quite vigilante). These elements may seem like elements that don’t share much with one another but it certainly doesn’t read that way. Was Alan Moore trying out storytelling techniques in Swamp Thing before leaving the title? Was it a way for him to practice before writing a work that was newer to him and maybe more important to him (I would argue Swamp Thing was ultimately more important to the world of comics than Watchmen). He seems to have done what he wanted to do on the title already. As far as I can tell, based on what Steve Bissette wrote in the introduction to volume 5 and volume 6 Moore’s story was being led in directions that Rick Veitch was more interested in and Moore agreed to go in that direction having done all there was to be done with horror in comics (no kidding).

In short, volume five goes off in a new direction for both the creators and the readers. Swamp Thing continues to be a very good comic even though it’s going through some changes in tone, characters and a change in art teams.  

Friday, 8 March 2013

PokéJournal: Update 010

Tauros is pretty strong for a normal type.
I wish they would develop a family for him.
You could get a little calf, then Tauros, then
some huge buffalo type thing. Yeah!
-I trained a bit in the tall grass outside of Olivine City. I also took the time to heal the Miltanks at the Moo Moo Farm and they gave me a TM and a Poké Ball Seal Case as a thank you. I also bought some Moo Moo Milk because it’s a great healing item.

-I caught a Tauros!

-Some guy in Olivine asked me if I wanted to trade a Krabby for a Voltorb. I agreed only because I have no clue when I’ll see a Voltorb. Then again, there could be a Voltorb in the lighthouse but it’s just easier to trade for it since I already have a Krabby.

-I tell ya, the nicknames these guys give to their Pokémon. I’ve never felt the urge to nickname any of my Pokémon. The only time is when I accidentally select to choose a nickname so I nickname the Pokémon whatever its actual name is. I do appreciate how most Pokémon traded in game are holding items, even if it’s just a berry.

-Cool, some guy in a house gave me a Good Rod. Now I can catch decent Pokémon when I go fishing.

-Ah! It’s Raikou, the electric legendary Pokémon! Go, Growlithe, go! Ah, who am I kidding, he’s at level 40 and he’s just going to run away. I hit him with a Flame Wheel and he runs away.
Growlithe went head-to-head with Raikou
and survived. Cus he's tough like that.

-Just a couple minute later, Raikou appears again. He’s kept the damage Growlithe inflicted on him just a moment ago. That’s pretty helpful. Once my Pokémon are stronger and I have Ultra Balls or Heavy Balls I’ll have to go hunting for it with a Ghastly that knows Mean Look or something.

-I’m off to the lighthouse. The Gym Leader is there and I’ll have to go find her at the lighthouse in order for her to return to the gym. Then I’ll kick her butt!

-Wow, I just fought a Gentleman in the lighthouse and he gave me 4,400 for beating him! I love battling with Gentlemen because they give you so much money. Oh yeeeeeah.

-It’s Growlithe vs. Growlithe! Mine’s at level 24, the other is at level 18. My Growlithe won even though the other guy used a Full Restore. Sucker.

-Whoa, there is a weird kind of 3D section in the Lighthouse. It’s impressive but it’s also a bit weird.

-I really like areas like the lighthouse. It’s full of trainers and they all have a nice variety of Pokémon types. It’s good training for my party. I’m also making some good money.

-For some reason, my mother’s called me several times now telling me she bought some items for me. The last time I was at the Poké Mart there were four different orders from my mom! There was three types of berries and one Super Potion.

-There is an Ampharos at the top of the Lighthouse that is sick. Jasmine, the Gym Leader of Olivine City, asked me to go to Cianwood City and get some special medicine to heal Ampharos. Man, all I do lately is healing other people’s Pokémon. Off to Cianwood, I guess.

-The way to Cianwood City is by the sea. I’ll have to use surf and fight tons of wild water type Pokémon and dozens of water type using trainers. It’s going to be a party and a half for my Flaaffy but I also want to take the time to train Feraligatr and Pidgeotto (I feel like I’ve been ignoring him lately). I don’t like travelling so much by water. There are so many darn water type Pokémon it gets a little annoying after a while. It will give me a chance to catch some Pokémon and work on the Pokédex though, that’s always a good thing.

-It seems like a weird choice to train Feraligatr in the ocean but he doesn’t care. He simply swims up to the plate and smacks his opponents around a little. Ice Fang isn’t super effective? Oh yeah? *Feraligatr bites them a second time, they faint, we move on with our lives*

-I got to Cianwood pretty quickly. The only time I used Flaaffy was to help me catch Mantine. Otherwise, Feraligatr is the only Pokémon I used. The Poké Center is right on the beach so I healed and then I went back out into the water because I missed a lot of trainers. There was lots of rocks and stuff to swim around and depending on the path you choose, you’ll inevitably miss some trainers unless you double back.

-Some guy in Cianwood gave me a level 20 Shuckle nicknamed Shuckie. It’s holding a berry juice. Now I can start my grand Shuckle experiment! I’ll probably wait until much later into the game, I bet this guy is a pain to level up. I’m still intrigue, though.

-Mere seconds later, I smash a rock and find a level 25 Shuckle! I fought it with Flaaffy (it was at the head of the party and I was too lazy to change Pokémon) and it took about ten hits to faint Shuckle.
This guy is awesome. 

-Score, I found a revive after smashing a rock!

-Another Shuckle battle! I use Charge in the hopes of needing less attacks to defeat it. Unfortunately, Shuckle uses Encore and Flaaffy is stuck using Charge. Oh, no. At least using Charge also increases the Special Defense. Man, encore lasts for turns and turns. When does it end? Flaaffy’s so charged he’s going to blow up the town.

-There’s one of the three legendary Pokémon, Suicune, chilling out on the beach. I spook it and it runs away. There is this guy who’s in love with Suicune and wants to catch it that pops up afterword. He wants to fight me and I’m happy to do so because he Pokémon are tough and it’s good training.

-I’m off to the gym. Chuck, the Gym Leader, is crazy. He’s meditating under a waterfall. Chuck uses fighting type Pokémon. I should probably use psychic or flying type moves but my Pidgeotto is a little weak to go up against these guys. Not only that, but fighting type have strong attack stats and Pidgeotto has relatively weak defense stats. It just doesn’t seem smart. Instead, I’m using Flaaffy to paralyze and they electrocute them. Flaaffy’s special attacks are doing some good damage. I’ll keep Feraligatr for the final fight with Chuck.

Chuck's gym was rather boring. 
-Overall the strategy worked well. Chuck’s Poliwrath was stronger than I expected. I wanted to use Flaaffy and use his electric type moves but all I could do was paralyze Poliwrath when he used Focus Punch and made Flaaffy faint. I had to rely on Feraligatr to beat Chuck and he pulled through. I used Agility to increase his speed and because of it Feraligatr always hit first so Poliwrath’s Focus Punch always missed (or lost focus or something). Unfortunately, none of Feraligatr’s attacks are effective against Poliwrath so they only did half the regular damage. That’s not a big problem though because Poliwrath wasn’t doing much damage himself and Feraligatr has good defense. The real problem was Chuck. He used a Hyper Potion on Poliwrath twice. I essentially had to defeat Poliwrath three times!

-As soon as I got out of the gym some random lady gave me the Fly HM. I used it on Pidgeotto. I think I’ll swim back to Olivine instead of flying though, I would like to train my party.

-Speaking of Pidgeotto, I have to say I’m kind of disappointed with him so far. I remember him being much stronger than what he is now. I might have to look into getting another flying type Pokémon to replace him. I might not, though. I have to look at its stats, the learn set and the TMs it could learn throughout the game.

-That’s it for today, I did a lot. Next time I’m off to Olivine where I will heal the Ampharos (and hopefully evolve an Ampharos of my own) and I’ll also go up against the Gym Leader.

I don't know what a pig monkey is but
Primeape is very cool.
Pokémon caught: Magnemite, Farfetch’d, Tauros, Staryu, Mantine, and Shuckle.
Pokémon traded: Krabby for Voltorb.
Gym Leader defeated: Chuck.
Fights with Craphat (Rival): None.
Evolutions: None.
Pokémon in party: Flaaffy, Heracross, Pidgeotto, Sandshrew, Growlithe and Feraligatr.
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at level 35.
Lowest level in party: Sandshrew at level 13.
Pokédex: 55.
Time played: 21:12. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Pokémon Spotlight: Shuckle

Look at that face. Even he's thinking
you're nuts for sending him out to battle.
My friend Keith and I were talking about various strategies you could use to build a strong Pokémon party. I jokingly suggested Shuckle but after a little bit of thought I started to wonder if maybe you could raise a Shuckle to be a worthy adversary in a battle. Let’s take a closer look at Shuckle and see if he could be a good Pokémon to keep in your party.

The most notable thing about Shuckle is its record breaking Defense and Special Defense stats. Here is its stat breakdown: 

I know how that looks at first glance. It looks terrible. However, look at the total stat. 505 for a total stat is good. I would consider anything about 500 a good total stat and therefore, in most cases, a good Pokémon. To put its total stat in perspective, Pokémon such as Machamp, Ninetales and Honchkrow all share a total stat of 505. The problem with Shuckle is do you train it to be a strong Pokémon in battle? There must be something about its defense and special defense that is worth our time… or maybe not?

Shuckle does not evolve from or into any other Pokémon. It’s a dual type bug and rock. It can have either Gluttony or Sturdy as a battle ability and it has Contrary as a hidden ability. Gluttony will make it eat a held berry at 50% HP instead of at 25% HP. It’s not super useful but considering the low HP stat, it could come in handy I’m sure.

Sturdy is a good ability for Shuckle. I would assume that because of its overall high defence it would still take a strong Pokémon multiple moves to defeat it. Because of that, your opponent might want to use a one-hit KO move (such as Horn Drill for example) to defeat Shuckle. Sure, one-hit KO moves have a low accuracy rate but you wouldn’t really have to worry about that because Shuckle’s attack and special attack stats are so low. I think your Pokémon is safe. Anyway, Sturdy protects Shuckle from one-hit KO moves! That’s a pretty cool ability.

Another strategy that could be used to defeat Shuckle is to use status affecting moves on it in order to reduce its defense and special defense. In Generation V, Shuckle has the Contrary hidden ability which reverses the effects of status moves. For example, instead of reducing its defense or its speed it would increase it. That’s really sneaky. I don’t think very many people would be surprised by Shuckle’s less than impressive battle abilities. Sturdy might be the only real useful one. No help here in making Shuckle a strong Pokémon.

What about his learn set though? Does he learn any useful moves? If not by leveling up, maybe he can learn strong TMs? Here’s what I’m thinking, if he can put his opponents to sleep and poison them or use Dream Eater he could defeat them over time without worrying about getting hit with strong damage. The slow and steady strategy might be the best thing for a Shuckle.  There are a few moves that are quite worthy of attention. The first being Safeguard. By using safeguard, Shuckle is protected from status affecting moves for five turns. You can’t poison him, confused, etc. for five turns and that’s cool.

Another interesting move is Bide. When using Bide, the user cannot select a move for 2 to 3 turns (selected randomly). However, after the movie Bid will do damage that is equal to twice that of the damage that was received during the 2 to 3 turn idling time. In addition to that, the damage that the user will deal is unaffected by the type and it can also hit Pokémon using Fly and Dig. Ghost Pokémon will also be affected by the move. Shuckle clearly has the defense and special defense to endure the idling time and the effect is a strong backlash of attack against the opponent. I wonder if this could be used with the next move…

Power Trick, is a psychic type move that allows the user to swap its defense stat with its attack stat.  This means that a Shuckle could temporarily have base attack stat of 230! That’s incredible! After using Power Trick, it doesn’t really matter what move he uses, the damage is sure to be noteworthy.

Some neat things about Shuckle:
In Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal, if Shuckle is given berry juice to hold it will eventually, over time, become a rare candy. That’s awesome! They’re called rare candy for a reason.

Because of his Power Trick move, a level 100 Shuckle is potentially the Pokémon that can deal the most damage with one attack. 

C'mon, look at this guy. He looks so fierce.

Although Shuckle’s stats leave a bit to be desired, his learn set is adjusted to accommodate that. Moves such as Bide and Power Trick are potentially very effective moves for Shuckle to use because of his stats. The problem with his learn set is that he only learns Power Trick at level 48, kind of late to do much good during a big part of the game. He does still learn some useful moves such as Safeguard (level 14), Bide (start), Wrap (level 22) and Rest (level 27). They are useful defensive and strategic moves. Shuckle can also learn some useful TMs. Being half rock type, it can learn such damage dealing moves as Earthquake and Stone Edge which deal quite a bit of damage on their own (or not, when your base attack is 10) especially when used in combination with Power Trick.

Although I am reticent to try using Shuckle in game mode, the fact that it can learn HMs Strength and Rock Smash, Shuckle would make an interesting mule.  I am interested in trying to level one up and using it for random battles. All in all, he’s not as useless as I initially thought. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Keith’s PokéJournal

Only wimps who don't appreciate
a challenge choose Cyndaquilas their
starter Pokémon. It's like choosing
to play Easy Mode.

Since I started my blog back in mid-January, I didn’t really have high hopes. I’m now approaching two months of blogging and I’ve already started to settle in a blog writing routine. I write comic, novel and gaming reviews (only one movie review so far) and it’s good. I don’t blog about everything, otherwise there would be no actual time to experience anything blog worthy or I would never sleep. Although I wanted to focus primarily on comics, I have been side tracked by newer versions of an old childhood favourite Pokémon game for my Nintendo DSi.

In fact, my regular PokéJournal posts have become the most popular posts on my blog! When you look at the numbers, it’s not really saying much but it’s still quite clear. None of my friends have taken it upon themselves to read any of the comics I wrote about but two of them have started playing a Pokémon game. It’s been years since either one of them have played one and it’s been fun for all three of us.

Call it strategy if you want,
it's a wimpy move to teach
this guy Thunder Punch.
Keith, a close friend of mine, disagrees with me a great deal when it comes to favourite Pokémon and overall Pokémon strategy. When I first started writing on Shared Universe Reviews, I had given him an open invitation to write a guest post. I extended this same invitation to a few friends who I thought would have something interesting to say and who I thought would complement what I’ve been writing about. About a week ago, Keith said something about writing a guest PokéJournal. I was so thrilled! Finally, a guest post! Well, he’s gone and 1Upped me. The guy’s created his own blog and he’s going to write a Soul Silver PokéJournal.

I recommend you check out Keith’s PokéJournal. I also recommend you ignore all that trash talk he put in his post. The guy has no idea what he’s talking about. Feraligatr for the win, sucker.

All the best, Keith, try not to give up once you realize how much time it takes to write the damn updates. You’ll hit a groove.