A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Attentive readers may remember my review of A Game of Thrones from last year and wonder why I bothered to read the sequel after I clearly didn’t enjoy it very much. The problem is, once I start a novel series, particularly one where I have to invest so much time to just finish the first book, I feel I have to see it through to the end. I am mildly interested to see where it all goes (especially as so many people seem to love the adaptation) and so that’s why I kept going into the second installment.

And you know what? I’m glad I did keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that it was amazing and I certainly don’t count it as a favourite – but I could tolerate and even enjoy it throughout most of the time I spent reading it. I felt that the first book started to become more interesting towards the end and that trend of being more interesting continued.

I liked that the characters were all quite complex and had different motivations. It was interesting to see the different ways that they interacted with one another. Tyrion in particular was very interesting and I was always glad when there was a chapter focusing on him, because he was always pulling the strings and trying to manipulate events for the greater good. I also found myself a lot more invested in the storylines of Arya and Sansa, but I have to admit that they were pretty distressing too. A new group of people called the Faceless were also introduced and though their role as small – I was fascinated. In my opinion, they’re the best part of the series so far.

But as much as there was a general improvement with the overall quality of the novel, some of the issues from its prequel are just as bothersome here. I’m sure there’s not a single female character whose breasts aren’t described – often repeatedly – every time they’re in a scene. The female characters also all seem to have a bath every single chapter too. Martin just seems to write female characters in embarrassingly creepy way.

Then there’s also the fact that so much time is wasted describing the clothes of different characters and on little pieces of scenery. The book is about 800 pages long (excessive) and it probably only really needs to be about 500, but so much time is wasted describing the colour of the doublets of side characters, the interiors of buildings and the size of thirteen year old girls’ breasts.

The ending seemed a bit sudden, as it did in the first book, as if each novel in the series is just one giant chapter in one overall story, rather than a book of its own. Still, I am interested to know what comes next, so despite the flaws, a small part of me does look forward to the next book…

Rating: 7/10

Buy it here.

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The Dreamer Awakes

I had a very interesting dream the other day – one which I may eventually adapt into a short story, but for now it will make a nice blog post.

In it, I was riding on the bus with a friend of mine at the end of a pleasant evening out. I was heading home and feeling good. Things took a turn for the strange when a man riding on the bus started talking to me.

“It’s time for you to leave the simulation,” he said. “Prepare yourself, this will feel weird.”

Before I could say anything, my friend grabbed my arm and said “Make sure you don’t forget anyone. We can only survive in your mind.”

Then I experienced a sensation which I can only describe as being the opposite of slowly falling into a pleasant dream. I felt almost as if I was being sucked out of a dream – finding myself in a sensory deprivation tank.

I was let out and found myself inside a small, clinical building. Through the window, it looked as though I was in the countryside somewhere near Corsham.

The man then explained to me that I was being used to help in a murder investigation. I had been in a simulation for ten years and placed in a situation where I every person I would befriend was a suspect. All of my friends, in fact, were people who I had never met in reality. I only knew their digital copies in the virtual world.

They used this method because by building friendships with people over ten years and earning their trust, I would be able to provide a thorough insight into their minds. Everything that had happened in the last ten years had been engineered to measure their responses to certain things. Every moment recorded.

I felt a little sad thinking about a world where none of my friends had actually known me and I asked a few questions about how each of them were. Many had been dismissed as not likely to have committed the murder and they told me about their lives over the last ten years, most of which was very nice – if a little bittersweet.

I started to think about the people in the simulation. If they were autonomous copies, to what extent where they less than real people? They believed that they were real and I had formed a real connection with them. Just because it existed in another layer of reality made no difference to its significance.

When the man left the room, I took the opportunity to slip back into the simulation – and so the dream ended. It’s very weird for it to have had such a solid ‘plot’ as that, but I liked it and wanted to share it! It was one of those ones which made me feel a little emotional when I woke up.

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Bone-chilling Terror

It was late at night. I had decided it was time for bed. I headed into my housemate’s room to say goodnight. I thought it was going to be a small and pleasant interaction – but I was wrong. With the witching hour close at hand, the two of us were about to have a bloodcurdlingly terrifying experience.

We noticed that the light was shining upon the wall upon something we’d never seen before. Something so terrifying it chilled us to our very cores. It was, in fact, perhaps the greatest evil to exist in the world and it was there in the bedroom. Many would be driven mad by the sight of it – others might weep, others still might scream. I’m not an easily spooked person, I’ll happily wander around the woods or the streets in the middle of the night (even abandoned buildings) but this really unnerved me.

For you see, by an unfortunate twist of fate, we saw upon the wall – actually, we decided that it was probably best not to write about it publicly. So that’s the end of today’s blog post. I thought that by building it up so enormously, you’d all be less disappointed by the lack of climax. Needless to say, we both managed to get out with our lives. I’m sure your imagination will fill in something much more horrifying than I could write anyway – so, I thought, why would I write an ending when they can make a much better conclusion themselves?

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Donkey Kong Classics

Of the original Donkey Kong trilogy, it’s probably Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. which are the most well known. Donkey Kong Classics gathers together these two iconic games on one NES cartridge.

The original Donkey Kong is pretty fun. It’s the game which introduced the world to Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline – all of whom have gone on to have lots of later appearances. The controls might seem ever so slightly stiff compared to modern standards, but it doesn’t take too long to get used to. I really enjoy the 8-bit art style (especially Donkey Kong’s original design) and it’s a fun game to play when I have a spare few minutes. Unfortunately, this version of the game is only three levels long (missing the ‘Pie Factory’ level) which is a bit of a shame. The game is very short and not something I’d play again and again, but nice to take for a spin from time to time. Read my full review of it here.

Meanwhile, I don’t enjoy Donkey Kong Jr. quite as much. Some of the gameplay is based around climbing around on vines, which feels really slow and isn’t quite as fun. Donkey Kong Jr. also feels a bit sluggish to control. I do like Donkey Kong Jr. himself and the fact that Mario plays a villainous role. The ending is also pretty nice. Again this is a very short game as there are only four levels and I revisit it much less frequently than I do the first game, but it’s still kind of nice. Read my full review of it here.

So it’s nice that these two games have been packaged together – particularly for those who are fans of either Mario or Donkey Kong (or both). It’s a bit of a shame that Donkey Kong 3 is not included, but I suppose that NES memory limitations might be the issue. It’s also a shame that whenever the NES Donkey Kong games are re-released in Nintendo’s various e-shops, they only include the individual versions of the game – presumably to get more money out of us.

Overall, it’s a couple of slices of Nintendo history. Neither have aged perfectly, but there’s still something to enjoy in them both.

Rating: 6/10

Buy it here.

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A Cosy Moment

Yesterday evening, it was pouring with rain, quite heavily. In my living room, we had the lamp on – filling the room with a dull, comfortable light. I’m at the top floor in an apartment building in Bath – outside in the dark void of night I could see all the twinkling lights of the city below – I sat in silence. It was, perhaps, one of the cosiest moments of my life.

I was inside, in the modern construction of a building, while rain and darkness reigned outside. A mixture of nature and human-made constructions. My favourite city against the natural elements with me safe inside. I felt lucky to be alive.

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Female Versions of Male Characters

A common trope in fiction is for male characters to be re-imagined as female characters. To be honest, I think this is a fairly lazy approach to writing female characters. It feels as though writers who employee this too liberally are writers who think to themselves “Well, I can’t actually come up with any ideas for female characters, so I’ll just make this male character a woman and call it a day.”

But, having said that, it’s not something which is inherently bad and I do think that it can actually be done well. Two of my favourite fictional characters have both had female incarnations (The Doctor from Doctor Who and Link from The Legend of Zelda) so I wanted explain why it is that I feel like these examples were done quite well.

First, let’s look at Link, or Linkle, as his female counterpart is called. Link isn’t just one person, but rather, many people spread out across the history of the kingdom of Hyrule. Whenever evil poses a significant threat to Hyrule, a Link will be born and grow up to become the hero who vanquishes it. As there are already lots of different Links who are clearly different people, why wouldn’t one of them be female? The idea that the hero would always be male is probably a little sexist anyway. It simply provides a means through which the different Links can be more distinct.

The only issue with Linkle, is that I think they were a little too nervous when they created her. For one thing, her name. Linkle. It sounds kind of silly. I get that they need to distinguish her from the male Link who already appears in the game just called ‘Link’ (there are five Links in the game), but her name is a rather silly one. As if they’re saying “Don’t take this too seriously, it’s just a joke! We don’t really think a female Link is a good idea.”

This is coupled with the fact that the story offers some ambiguity as to whether or not Linkle really was an incarnation of the hero. In my mind, she absolutely was, but I feel like this was intentionally included to appease people who would be stupidly angry about the idea of a female Link. So their heart was in the right place and it’s a good step forward for the series, but they just needed to be more confident with the idea. I feel like these minor niggles will be ironed out next time Linkle appears (or next time they make another female Link.)

Now for the Thirteenth Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord and when a Time Lord dies, they are able to live on by having their body completely regenerate. They look totally different and act totally different, but at their heart, they’re the same person. It had already been established that Time Lords could change sex during regeneration, so it fit perfectly within the setting when the Twelfth Doctor regenerated into the Thirteenth and found that they were now a woman.

I really admire the way that the Thirteenth Doctor was written. When she was announced I was somewhat concerned that there’d be embarrassing jokes about changing gender and that the whole thing could go pretty poorly. Thankfully, my concerns were completely ungrounded. The writers for Doctor Who were not at all self-conscious about changing the sex of their protagonist and barely even acknowledged the change. They kept going without skipping a beat and I completely accepted her and grew to love her as much as all the other Doctors in no time at all.

So when you have characters who would have a legitimate in-universe explanation for changing sex, then I think writers should go for it and not worry too much about what their audience will think (which I fear hindered Linkle somewhat) because that self-consciousness will probably be harmful to the writing. Personally, with characters like these, if they can end up changing sex, I think it makes them a little more interesting and opens up the doors to a wider variety of stories. It works best in fantasy and sci-fi settings.

Meanwhile, if someone wanted to make Sherlock Holmes a woman and so wrote The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, I’d just ask myself why they wouldn’t just create a new female detective character. (And I’m aware I’m saying that as someone with a webcomic character called Girlock Holmes – but there’s more to her than that, trust me!) If the change of sex adds an interesting new dimension to a character we already know, then it can be an excellent idea. If you’re just doing it for the sake of it, then I think a new character would be a better idea – but, who knows? There are exceptions to every rule and while certain thing are more likely to be done well than others, I am always happy to be pleasantly surprised.

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is one of those big name authors who I feel like I should have read more of, but who always gets sidelined by whatever other author or genre I’m obsessed with when the time comes to choose my next book to read.

About five years ago, I read Pride and Prejudice. It was honestly pretty good and some of the characters left quite an impression on me. When I started Sense and Sensibility, I remembered how I’d quite liked Pride and Prejudice and hoped that I’d have a similar experience this time

Unfortunately, I was never really drawn into Sense and Sensibility. Even though I only finished reading it a couple of weeks ago, I have had to double check the characters names on Wikipedia because they’ve all left such a weak impression on me.

The story follows two sisters (Elinor and Marianne Dashwood) who both experience a heartbreak and who both respond in very different ways – sense and sensibility. Looking back, I feel like a large portion of the book was Elinor trying to make Marianne feel better about her heartbreak. I never particularly felt like the stakes were very high or that there was much tension and so I was rarely enthusiastic to read the next chapter.

In its favour, I have to admit that it did start to become more interesting towards the end. There were ulterior motives for certain characters behaviours which I certainly didn’t expect, but which made for a nice pay off after sticking through it all the way to the end.

Having said that, I did spend most of my time reading this bored and unengaged. If you want an introduction to Jane Austen or nineteenth century literature, I don’t recommend this book. I don’t like to tell people not to read any book, but if that’s what you take from this – who am I to object? (Thanks to my housemate for helping me finish that sentence.)

Rating: 4.5/10 (Sorry, Jane.)

Buy it here.

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International Friendship Day 2019

The 31st of July is International Friendship Day and this year I spent a long time on a big project which I was pretty proud of. I wanted to share it in today’s blog post.

That’s eight rows of eight friends all in a solid square. It took me an awfully long time to put together! In fact, it was originally a project for International Friendship Day 2019. I started drawing people in May or June 2018 and wanted to make a collage of lots of people – it took longer than I thought and some people took multiple attempts to get right. In fact, there’s a good many of these that I’d like to redraw – but I don’t think I could ever get it ‘perfect’ in part because I keep making new friends!

Here’s a break down of everyone in the picture, moving from left to right:

Top Row:

  • Davey: The first close and long-lasting friend I ever had. I’ve known him since I was four!
  • George: The second close and long-lasting friend I ever had. I’ve known him since I was five!
  • Kieran: An old primary and secondary school friend and a good Christmas time dinner companion.
  • Chris: Down to earth, sociable and a friend since primary school, it’s always a delight to cross paths with him again.
  • Sarah: A secondary school friend. Though we have sadly drifted apart, there was a time (circa 2009) that she was one of my very closest friends.
  • Dani: Thrust together by boring cooking classes, Dani and I became good friends. Our paths seldom cross these days, but I am always glad when they do.
  • Louise: In my last year at school, Louise was a good friend who would always look out for me. Though our time together was short, I will always be grateful of her.
  • Laura: A friend from throughout secondary school. We had some good times sitting together in certain classes.

Second Row:

  • Will: Originally just a friend of a friend, but we decided to cut out the middle man and become straight up friends. Decent, reliable and an excellent dinner companion.
  • Dalfino: A fixture in life, like the moon or the sun. Dalfino has been a friend for fifteen years – making more regular appearances in my life than anybody else.
  • Christian: Kind, polite, mild-mannered – all qualities I admire in Christian. I’m glad to see him over dinner from time to time.
  • Sam: An old school friend who I feel like I became better friends with after school rather than during – a welcome addition to many meals that I organise.
  • Mike: Friendly, appreciative and with a good sense of humour. I feel the term ‘good bloke’ was made specifically for people like Mike. I’m glad to see him over dinner from time to time.
  • Jon: An old school friend who recently got back in touch through the many meals that I organise – and a welcome reunion it was.
  • Matt: Until 2008, Matt was among my closest friends – then he had to move to Saudi Arabia. I hope for a proper reunion at some point…
  • Milo: An old school friend from whom I’d rather drifted apart – until recently when he showed himself to be an enormously caring and reliable friend.

Third Row:

  • Beth: An old colleague and friend who suffered under the same tyrannical boss some years ago. She moved away a few years ago, but I hope to see her in the future.
  • Elle: Another former colleague – Elle was with me when I left an old tyrannical boss. She moved away to travel the world. I’m sure our paths will cross again one day. I used to like saying “Hello, Elle” because it sounded like LOL.
  • Edward: Calm, considered, responsible, grouchy, intelligent, reservedly affectionate and just about one of the best people to spend time with. The only person to ever visit my in hospital.
  • Sarah: The very first colleague I became good friends with and the golden standard of friendly colleagues (in my eyes). Sarah remains a good friend to this day.
  • Gareth: A former line manager and someone for whom I have the greatest respect. The model image of a professional adult who remains friendly, approachable and inspirational.
  • Kayleigh: Friendly, considerate and empathetic – another person I am privileged to have worked under.
  • Ankita: I used to manage Ankita (kind of) and though she was technically a ‘virtual assistant’ she soon became a genuine friend.
  • Tom: A fellow fanatic of anthropomorphic apes and the most recent person for me to grow to consider a friend.

Fourth Row:

  • Naomi: A friend from my university days. There were many times when she was very caring and supportive of me and the two of us shared many pleasant experiences – for this I am very grateful.
  • David: I don’t know if I’ve met anyone so similar to me before. We shared many adventures together, but have been separated by circumstance. I feel his impact still and I know that one day we will have more adventures.
  • Rhinowater: Loveable, reliable, anime-watching and video game playing companion. Every Friday and Saturday for the past seven years, we’ve chatted online for hours. Storytelling extraordinaire.
  • Tulin: Well traveled, down to earth, working class, world weary, supportive, considerate, stroyteller, writer, artist, wanderer. They don’t often make people this good.
  • Sophie: The perfect housemate. Empathetic, endlessly considerate, writer, reader, wanderer, librarian. Half of Sopham.
  • Oscar: Probably the person to make me laugh more than anybody else. Pro-gamer and eater and reviewer of McDonald’s Double Cheese Burgers.
  • Chloe: Jewellery maker extraordinaire and an excellent writer. With a solid knowledge of all the best pop culture and keen insights and understanding of others, Chloe’s among the best people to spend time with.
  • Liam: Smart, funny, wise, helpful, caring, considerate. There are a lot of reasons to love Liam – he also has a nice video game collection.

Fifth Row:

  • Sam: Kind, friendly, approachable and a master of the world of tabletop games. I owe many a fun evening to him.
  • Alex: Gentle, kind, friendly and a friend since 2008. Promoted from internet friend to real life friend in 2016. Always a delight to sit and talk to.
  • Mairi: Was once my best internet friend and is now one of my best friends overall. Funny, energetic, smart – I always love visiting Mairi. Plus, saving the world as a coastal scientist.
  • Rory: Calm, considered, gentle, empathetic – a friend since 2008 and one of the best I have. People don’t get much better than Rory.
  • Egan: I have learned very much from Egan and he has always gone out of his way to be friendly and supportive. Though he has sadly moved to Australia, I look forward to visiting him…
  • Ben: A friend since secondary school and a reliable dinner companion in adult life. He and I used to write about what it would be like if the two of us were obnoxious billionaires. The body count was pretty high.
  • Hayley: One of my very best friends in secondary school – then we drifted apart… but then we drifted back! A sign that a solid friendship can survive a few years without contact, and a lesson for me to not let them happen again.
  • Tasha: We went to school together – and then interestingly then became good friends as adults. Tasha brings a good energy to any social event.

Sixth Row:

  • Rini: I worked in a call centre for a time. It started to be a lot more enjoyable when Rini started and I had someone nice and friendly to laugh and joke around with.
  • Suzie: Protective and caring, Suzie is a good person to know. She fed me lots of delicious blue berries and oranges while we worked together.
  • Sophia: With just the right mixture of youthful enthusiasm for life and a healthy dollop of world weariness, Sophia is such fun to spend time with and provides intelligent reflections and insights too.
  • Stefanie: I remember chatting with Stefanie into the night while working in a call centre: the calls stopped coming late at night, so we’d fanticise about food.
  • Elaine: Caring and supportive – keen to fight the rules of society! A former co-worker who sadly moved away.
  • Patrick: Excellent office singer. Friendly, comedic and exceptional fellow bus commuter. Bonus points for solid video game knowledge.
  • Becca: Friendly, lovable, easy to get on with – another call centre co-worker I was very fond of and who I hope to cross paths with again some day!
  • Mike: A schoolmate turned co-worker. Full of energy, fun loving. My favourite unexpected bus encounter of all time.

Seventh Row:

  • Amy: Master of sarcasm. Creator of the world’s best cupcakes. Hard crack dealer. Alberta strangler.
  • Kat: Professional, caring, pro-active, knowledgeable, learned and one of my favourite lunch companions. Part of the Social Media Team in my heart.
  • Stephanie: Expert writer, kind, hard working, friendly, easy to talk to, knowledgeable, considerate, complimentary and another solid lunch companion. Other part of the Social Media Team in my heart.
  • Jess: Proper Jesster. Jessex girl at heart. Raver. Socially conscious. Future owner of the Jessica Lear Foundation of Global Conservation. Coming soon to an island near you.
  • Dan: Embodiment of the term ‘people person’ easy to get on with and highly loveable. I replaced him in the same job twice as he went to literal and metaphoric greener pastures.
  • Anthony: One of my university lecturers – an excellent writer and teacher, an ecobardic storyteller, friendly and fascinating.
  • Rachel: Former university classmate – friendly, converational, easy to get on with. I hope our paths will cross again soon.
  • Christy: Friendly and supportive partner of a friend – introduced me to a delicious lemon drink. Good at leaving first impressions and then good continued expressions.

Bottom Row:

  • Emma: The vlogger Myrmidryad and a former classmate/friend. Intelligent and well read – never fails to entice my enthusiasm for reading and writing.
  • Emma: We have dinner once every four years. A pretty unique arrangement.
  • Greg: A very gregarious individual.
  • Alice: A solid gold email penpal.
  • Aliena: A friend of a friend, turned internet friend. Supportive and open – a master of erotic fiction.
  • Earl Hamner: Sadly dead. My favourite author. He once invited me to dinner and said he might write a post for this blog. RIP.
  • Colin the Cow: Finger puppet, webcomic star, gender moo-id icon, wordplay master, beloved by all.
  • Trusty Water Bottle: Holder of water – giver of life. This blog is named after it. Friends since 2008.
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Where have I been?

Loyal readers will have noticed that I’ve not updated my blog in quite some time. In fact, this is the biggest gap between posts since the Trusty Water Blog launched in 2011 – and why? Well, I have had a pretty significant life update!

In my recent time capsule blog post, I mentioned that I still live in Corsham, but hoped to move to Bath one day. Well, I never would have guessed that just three months later I would be living there! I’ve always wanted to live there and now that dream has been realised.

I was just strolling home from a swim one day when my dear friend Sophie texted me to say she’d come across a particularly appealing property for rent and wondered if I’d be interested in living there with her – I was and a few weeks later I was moved in!

I’m delighted. In my head, I’d always imagined that living in Bath would be absolutely amazing and it’s something I’d thought about and romanticisied for years. In so doing, I ran the risk of creating an unattainable ideal which reality would never live up to. As it turns out, I didn’t do that at all and living in Bath is just as good as I always imagined. Every second is another bite out of the delicious cake of life and my appetite is infinite.

My general levels of day to day happiness are so much higher and it’s made all the better by the fact that I live with one of my very best friends. I am so pleased with this development – my first month there has been fantastic and I eagerly await all the months and years to follow.

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How You Could Bring Back The Waltons

I recently started a new watch through of The Waltons – my first in a little while. My good friend Liam was kind enough to put every episode onto a hard drive for me so that I could watch them easily enough whenever I wanted to. Of course, I already have the DVDs, but it’s nice to have the episodes stored in another way too.

Once again, I find myself loving every second and also feeling sad that it’s all over. Though some people think it’s gone for good, I still think that there is still some capacity to bring back The Waltons. Here are a few ways that I think it could be done satisfactorily:

  • Next Generation: Many of the adult actors are sadly no longer alive, but I feel like doing a ‘next generation’ style reboot. One of the children (probably John-Boy) could have a family of their own, with them as the grandparent. It could be set in the 80s or 90s and give us a whole new era of stories!
  • Novels: These could be set during any era of the show’s history and cover things we never saw before, for example, John-Boy’s travels around the world or the things which happen in the gaps between the films.
  • Audio-books: A similar idea to the above, but they could be read by Richard Thomas! Then we’d have something more of the character there.
  • Prequel series: Have new actors playing the grandparents in their prime. We got lots of references to the old days, so lets now see those references extrapolated and properly acted out!
  • Remake: My least favourite choice, but I’d still watch it and probably love it if this happened.

Hopefully, before long, we’ll see at least one of these happen. Or, at very least, John-Boy Walton in Super Smash Bros.

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