November 10th, 2013


The Painter of Battles, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The titular Painter of Battles is a(n ex-) war photographer dealing with his experiences. He's given up photography and turns to painting, working on creating a huge mural that encapsulates war. Self-confessedly not a great painter, he's dedicated to this project as therapy or expiation. He's then confronted by a former subject, a Croat involved in the Yugoslavian wars, who tells the photographer about the disastrous effect the photo had on his life and that of his family. The man then vows to kill the photographer. But since this happens pretty quickly, and it's not a short story, no killing occurs immediately, and they smoke and drink and talk together over the next few days. There's definitely some good stuff, and it no doubt draws on the author's own experiences as a war journalist before he became a novelist. But I found it somewhat -- I don't know -- over-serious. It jumps in from the very beginning with some very heavy themes and soaks in them the whole time.


Big thumbs up from me. GTA IV was good, but most of the missions ended up being killathons. Even if it didn't seem likely: "COZzin, return for me this library book." --> [dozens of slaughtered mafia librarians.]

GTA V has a lot more variety to offer on the missions, and yet more variety in the overall world. After a long session of criminality, I like to unwind with a nice 9-holes of golf at (more or less) the Los Angeles Country Club on Wilshire. It's a nice little mini-game, and my one complaint is that there is only the one course. (I've played a little bit of GTA online, and while I might as well be a paper target in the gunfights, I'm undefeated at golf.)

An even better addition to the missions are a small handful of heists, which amount to supermissions. There may be some little side missions to get the equipment needed for the heist. And most of them offer 2 ways of succeeding at the heist, with different planning options, eg you can rob the jewelry store by a pretty straightforward skimasks and guns plan, or you can get some knockout gas and introduce it into the vents of the store.

The other big gimmick is that you now have 3 main characters to control. Usually you're only handling one at a time, following his little arc, but if you get bored of one, you can switch to another. And on some of the more involved missions, two or three of them can be on the job, and sometimes it's strategic (or necessary) to switch between them during a mission. Each has his own specialty: a driver, a shooter, and a maniac. On the whole it all works pretty well.

And yes, driving around 'Los Santos' is fun as hell, identifying all the parody landmarks. Cedars-Sinai = Mount Zonah. I think my favorite was driving down Vineland and running into not Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not, but Bishop's WTF?!

Yes, it's antisocial, crude, generally misogynistic, and one scene of torture really stretched the boundary a couple inches too far for comfort. I do think they fell down on not including a female character as one of the playable ones. I think the creators and writers, who are not dummies, and probably not (all) raving misogynists, could have really made something out of that.