Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bibliovile: Benchmarks of Nerdery

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World of Warcraft, Chronicle: Volume I, various

              World of Warcraft, Chronicle: Volume I is exactly what you’d think it is. It is the first of three volumes that chronicle the history behind World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that’s been in existence since 2004. In addition to the video game, there are also World of Warcraft novels, films, soundtracks, spin off games, and galleries of artwork. This particular book tells the origin story of Azeroth, the world in which I’m assuming the World of Warcraft game takes place.

            The book itself is basically a plot summary, and it would be a little silly to try and give a full plot summary of a plot summary, so I’ll just tell you the three main themes that I deduced from my reading.
            Chapter one is all about creation and transition. We learn about the Pantheon, a group of titans who bring order to the worlds as they search for other titans. In the first chapter of WoW’s history, creatures take charge of the world and promptly get tired of it, so they create other creatures to take care of the world for them. This repeats many times. Chapter two is all about destruction and war. One race will take power, only to be challenged and defeated by another race. This also repeats many times. Chapter three centers around the rise and fall of civilizations and races. Various cultures will try to build an empire from ruins, succeed briefly, but ultimately fail. Again, this repeats many times. If you want to know more about the actual happenings in the history of WoW, try playing WoW.  Or read this book yourself.
              There are so many things that I could say about this book, but the main idea that I kept coming back to throughout my reading revolved around a paragraph I read pretty early on: “The world of Azeroth has been shaped by hundreds of craftsmen, designers, artists, and writers since its earliest inception. It is the product of many talented hands and many passionate voices, all bent toward creating a world so rich in detail, theme, and characterization that ... well... you’d want to pull on your +6 Boots of Butt-Kicking and give your all to defend it.”
              That paragraph was on the first page that I read out of this book; jotting down the page reference was the first note that I took about World of Warcraft, and I think it sums up my thoughts about this chronicle just about perfectly. Thinking about all of the creativity, commitment, passion, and work that went into creating this whole fandom -- the history, the books, the game, the music, the art, etc. -- is mind-boggling. So many people love World of Warcraft so much and have spent so much time on it, that they’ve created this rich, detailed, multi-tiered and multi-platform universe, and that is really cool. But at the same time, reading that final phrase about +6 Boots of Butt-Kicking is so cringe-worthy and awful that I want to simultaneously laugh at it and also die.
Mick kinda sorta knew who this
guy was. What a nerd.
              And I think that’s really sort of the point of World of Warcraft, isn’t it? It’s about as high up on the list of nerdiness as you can get, right up there with Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. It’s the kind of thing that people probably don’t tell their co-workers that they’re into, for fear of being made fun of or mentally equated with a mouth-breathing weirdo from your middle school, and no one wants that. But at the same time, World of Warcraft is something that hundreds of people have been so enthralled with that they’ve been inspired to write novels, create detailed artwork, develop an in-depth history, and spend hours of their time and hundreds of their dollars to immerse themselves in.

              In the preface to the book, the editors mentioned that the history of World of Warcraft has been compiled from the work of dozens of different authors and game content-creators. This isn’t like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, where an entire extensive universe was created by one person. This was crowd-sourced, in a way. It was created by dozens of people who share a passion for something.
              It’s not my thing, to be sure, but I can’t bring myself to knock on it, because I can’t help but be impressed that something could inspire that much passion and dedication. So, good for you, World of Warcraft fans. Keep being excited about this, and enjoy all the cool stuff you made.


The Sweet By and By, by Sara Evans, with Rachel Hauck

              The Sweet By and By is what I assume people look for in the Gilmore Girls or Aaron Sorkin shows. Flawed characters talk very quickly at each other, although nothing much seems to change or get done. Once an episode, we get some sort of personal reveal or issue at hand but by the end of the half hour, everything is wonderful and back to normal.

              Our story is mostly about Jade and her mother Beryl, the two gems. Heyo. That’s almost like they’re named after gemstones. Does it count to make a pun if the pun was written into the dang book? Anyway, Beryl was an awful, absent mom, and now she’s dying so she wants to make up for lost time. Jade is cold and reserved, naturally. All in all, ya’ll, I can mess with it. It’s not GOOD by any means, but we’ve got ourselves a neat little set up of family drama.
              There’s not even the expected problems that come up from the book’s Christian genre rating. Some Christians in the book only belong to churches because that is what is expected of them. Others are true believers, but are still nice people. The nice people are not always the religious ones. Obviously, our main character feels the touch of the Holy Spirit because the genre demands it (and pretty much no other reason), but I feel that Christian books could be much worse.
              Jade even, through flashbacks, got married to her high school sweetheart, secretly. The teens are portrayed very accurately, meaning they’re absolutely dumb and intolerable. The adults in the flashbacks roll their eyes and put fingers to the bridge of their nose—these teens are supposed to look very dumb because hey, teens are dumb. The decision is very obviously based on the fact that the husband, “Dust” wants to have sex, but has been raised to be married first. I love love love love love love love that he was portrayed like the idiot who got it backward. Jade, who (admittedly meekly) suggests maybe they not get married and just have awkward sex instead, is portrayed like a character who, although making the wrong decision by the letter of the law, makes the right one in spirit.
              Later, she OF COURSE gets an abortion because we need a low point for her to always be scarred by, and this book treats clinics about like you think it would, though without much moral judgment. Jade comments that her doctors were counting body parts, which, I’ve never gotten an abortion, but that seems a bit extreme. The nurses are nice and the doctors are business-like; no one at this abortion clinic is portrayed as evil, which is another huge point high point for Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck.
              The characters in general, from Jade’s employee Lillabeth to her fiancĂ© Max, all seem three dimensional, with issues and lives of their own. This is a bit of relief from many contemporary Christian works, where the science teacher beats puppies in between his evolution lessons, while the preacher gets down on his knees to pray, unless he’s currently building eight houses for the homeless at once. Here, the pastor talks too much about golf, maybe spends too much money, but generally tries to do right by God, and I think that’s a fantastic thing.
Nice humanized portrayal of humans, authors
              The downside to this, though, is that you feel dropped into a real world where you’re not actually the protagonist. Sometimes, that can be good—I love video games where you feel a part something bigger than yourself. But in this book, you see subplots arrive and pass by without comment, like you accidentally looked in a neighbor’s bright window on your nightly walk. I want to see what those people are up to, please, it looked interesting! Nope, you’re going to have to just kind of imagine why Jade’s husband’s dad is a known adulterer and what effects that might have.
              I don’t know, ya’ll. The more I think about this book, the happier I am about it, although I did throw it a couple times. Mostly out of disbelief at teenager dumbness and Jade’s bad decisions, but, like I said, I think that was intentional. We’ve got to be a little sick of Jade and over her shenanigans so the conversion seems like a bigger, better deal. If Jade was generally good and fine, then her whole plot becomes null and void. She’s got to be a little sucky so that later, post-Jesus, she can be—HERE’S THE BEST PART—just a little bit better. She doesn’t immediately become Jesus 2: This Time It’s a Woman, she’s a person who is working hard to change her habits.

              Ya know, this book wasn’t good. But what this book WAS, was good. I don’t know. Maybe I needed to spend more time at Northern Iowa University, NIU, or Iowa U. Listen to the podcast, you’ll get it.

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