Tag Archives: archaeology

1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum (Visual Novel)

By Black Chicken Studios

My rating: 4 of 5

1930, New York City: Prohibition is in effect, and the Great Depression is making itself known across the country, but for wealthy heiress Scheherazade Keating (Sadie to her friends), other things are much more immediately important. Having just graduated valedictorian of her high school class, Sadie is ready to make her mark, embarking on a whirlwind college degree in archaeology that includes on-site work at a variety of digs around the world. Incidentally, she’s following in the footsteps of her parents, a pair of famous (now missing) archaeologists . . . . She’s also following a trail of clues that may (she hopes) lead to more information about what’s happened to her parents. And she’s not afraid to break a few rules of society if that’s what it takes.

How to describe Scheherazade . . . it’s honestly a pretty unique experience, although there are similarities to a lot of other stories and games in certain aspects. It definitely plays like a visual novel–nice backgrounds, music, character pics, text describing what’s happening, and choices for the player to make that influence how the story progresses. You could, I suppose, even compare it to an otome visual novel in some senses; there are certainly several romance paths that can be pursued, if desired. But it’s entirely possible to play with purely platonic relationships as well. I actually loved how much good friendships were a part of the story. Mechanically, the game is also almost a princess-maker sort of game in that you have to choose how to spend your time, different choices build different skills, and your skills influence how certain challenges resolve. There’s actually a good bit of challenge to the game mechanics if you really want to play to meet certain goals; however, there’s also an easy mode that basically lets you focus on the story. And Sadie’s story is pretty interesting in a pulp novel sort of way. She’s a very strong character, and an amusing one to read–even if her ridiculous wealth tends to make you forget how bad life is in the world at large for a lot of people. But then, she’s more ridiculous than even her wealth, getting caught up in chases, digging in the dirt, getting into arguments, and suchlike. And there are actually a lot of interactions with people of a variety of stations in life–lots of interesting relationships to build. On the whole, I really enjoyed playing Scheherazade and found it to be an interesting slice of an era as well as an exciting romp around the world and a fun exposition of a fascinating character.

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Love Hina (Manga)

Mangaka: Ken Akamatsu

Status: Complete (14 volumes/5 omnibus volumes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for fanservice/nudity

Keitaro Urashima has devoted himself to attending Tokyo University in order to fulfill a half-remembered promise he made with a girl when he was just a little kid. But, being a bit hopeless in general, he’s managed to fail the entrance exams twice now. What’s more, his parents have kicked him out of the house. Lucky for him, his family owns Hinata Inn, which is actually fairly near the university, and he is able to stay on there as the manager . . . only it’s not actually being used as an inn anymore, but rather as a girls’ dormitory. So now, poor Keitaro–who has trouble even speaking with girls–finds himself living in the same building as five girls . . . which should be a dream come true, but with his luck, it’s likely to be more trouble than anything else.

By the author of Negima (which I love), Love Hina is also something of a classic shounen manga, although (in my mind) not nearly so much so as NegimaLove Hina is essentially a new adult romcom, at its core. And yes, the love story between Keitaro and Naru is cute and sweet and funny . . . but a huge part of the manga is these two trying to actually figure out how to tell each other their feelings. It’s kind of too much, especially with all the back and forth about Keitaro’s childhood promise and his insistence on making it into Tokyo University, even without really knowing what he wants to study or anything. Keitaro himself becomes a more interesting character as the story progresses, somewhat, but at the beginning he’s honestly a pretty stereotypical self-insert sort of character. Which I guess fits the ecchi harem sort of story that we have at the beginning. And fair warning, this is definitely an ecchi, fanservice-filled sort of story with lots of hot springs nudity . . . not particularly more graphic than is typical of a shounen manga, just lots of it. The girls in this story are what really makes it shine, though. They are quite the group of characters, with larger-than-life personalities and all sorts of quirks. They’re a lovable group though, and certainly fun to read. I would love to call this a slice-of-life story, and it really is at the beginning; however, the further in we get, the more fantastical things become. You’ve got island princesses and flying turtles and secret sword techniques . . . let’s just say that it gets more bizarre the further you get into the story. And yet, there is definitely content that makes this a proper new adult story as well–the challenges of dealing with complicated emotions, trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, accepting responsibility. These are the sort of things that make this story not just a self-insert harem fest or a quirky fantasy but also a relatable story about growing up. So yes, Love Hina has things about it that I don’t love, but at the same time, it’s still a really good story that’s worth the read.

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The Golden One

Author: Elizabeth PetersThe Golden One

Amelia Peabody Mysteries, volume 14

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The year is 1917, and the war is beginning to make travel extremely difficult. Not that that’s about to keep Amelia and her brood out of Egypt. Defying any danger with a stiff upper lip, the Emersons make their way from England back to their archaeological digs near Luxor, only to find that local tomb robbers have discovered a previously-unknown tomb . . . one they suspect might be royal. Of course, the family deems it their duty  to find this tomb and protect it before the robbers completely clear its contents. Meanwhile, the family is kept busy on other fronts keeping Ramses away from the War Office and their attempts to bully/persuade him into doing more secret service work behind enemy lines. Amelia’s certainly got her hands full–and couldn’t be happier!

As with all of Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, The Golden One is a delightful admixture of mystery thriller, archaeological adventure, and historical romance of the best sort. Her portrayal of the setting is detailed and skillful without being burdensome–you get what you need to appreciate the setting, but she doesn’t spend pages on unnecessary description. The balance of the historical setting–the war and such–against the Emersons’ personal lives and interests is also excellently done, suiting the largely first-person style of the narrative. I also enjoyed in this volume having the contrast between Amelia’s own first-person voice–very Victorian, feministic, and full of personal witticisms–and the extracts from “Manuscript H” which are told in third-person from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspective. The generation gap is clearly evident, and the contrasting perspectives are easily distinguishable and provide additional helpful information about what’s happening at any given time. Also interesting about this particular volume is the duality of the plot: one thread focusing on Ramses’ mission into the Turkish lines as a spy of sorts, sandwiched between two other sections focusing on the Emersons’ archaeological work and attempts to find the new tomb. It’s a bit unusual for these stories, but it works quite well. All in all, I think The Golden One is an excellent archaeological mystery for anyone even remotely interested in that genre, as well as for anyone just wanting an exciting and engaging story. Also of note, as this is the fourteenth volume of the series, it definitely includes numerous spoilers for previous volumes, but if you don’t care about that, there’s certainly enough background in the book itself to read it independently without needing to read the others first.

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The Hippopotamus Pool

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody, volume 8

While not including any of her beloved pyramids, Amelia Peabody’s work this season does promise to be most interesting. Emerson claims to know the location of an untouched tomb–one of a queen, no less! A find like that is bound to be fascinating for a team of archaeologists like themselves . . . but it’s likely to be equally interesting to other, less savory elements: crime lords, tomb robbers, the press. Still, if anyone can bring these historical treasures safely to light, it’ll be Amelia and her family.

I can’t think of one of Amelia’s adventure that I haven’t enjoyed, but I think The Hippopotamus Pool is particularly appealing. While there is a certain element of danger and crime, it doesn’t dominate the story to the extent that it sometimes does (Amelia and Emerson being highly prone to attract the shadier sides of Egypt). Thus, the story is more able to focus on archaeology itself, as well as on the family relations of the Emerson family and the societal issues present in their day. In this volume, Ramses and Nefret are just getting into their early teens–which makes for all kinds of interestingness, particularly since Ramses is totally in love with Nefret but she’s not willing to acknowledge him yet. And of course, this is the volume that introduces David, the third member of my favorite threesome in Amelia’s stories and an all-around great guy. I think The Hippopotamus Pool has wide appeal–adventure, suspense, family, social and cultural complexities, history, and archaeology to name a few–and I would definitely recommend it.

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The Deeds of the Disturber

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody Emerson and her small but eccentric family are home in England for the summer. It should be a nice break from their work in Egypt–shopping, socializing, writing various professional works. And it might have been, if that dratted mummy at the British Museum and all the rumors of ancient curses arising about it. And of course the ubiquitous reporters stirring up said story and making claims that the Emersons are going to track down the truth behind the rumors (which of course they will, but without the reporters’ help, thank you very much). Not to mention the two rather detestable children of Amelia’s brother that the Emersons have promised to look after for the summer. But really, none of these extrinsic issues can really be blamed, right? I mean, Amelia draws such problems to herself as naturally as honey draws flies.

As always, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories are a stirring mixture of romance, adventure, Egyptology, mystery, and a feminist rebellion again the Victorian norm. The Deeds of the Disturber is set, unlike most of her books, in England itself rather than in Egypt. This gives it a different feel for sure–more like Sherlock Holmes, but with a female perspective and an Egyptian influence. What I love about this volume the most is probably, well, Ramses. To be honest, from the time he’s old enough to have any influence on happenings (which is a lot younger than you’d expect), he is the life of this series in my mind. And from mummification experiments to unusually astute observations, from clever disguises to saving the day in the end, Ramses is a delight–albeit a sometimes pedantic delight. Amelia and Emerson are, of course, also quite enjoyable to read; however, I find their part in this particular volume  somewhat less enjoyable because of the amount of time spent questioning marital fidelity instead of teaming up against the forces of evil and all that. Soap-ish and dull in the extreme to my mind. Still, for those who enjoy Victorian mysteries (and especially those who have appreciated other of Amelia’s stories), The Deeds of the Disturber is likely to be an enjoyable read.

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Stargate

Written by Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin/Directed by Roland Emmerich/Music by David Arnold/Starring Kurt Russell & James Spader

Linguist and Egyptologist Daniel Jackson is in rather a bad spot in his career, largely due to his holding some rather atypical ideas regarding the origins of the pyramids. So when the government offers him a job translating some hieroglyphics and other text, it’s rather an offer he can’t resist. Not that he really wants to, once he sees the original source–a huge stone ring proclaiming itself to be a “stargate.” And after Daniel solves the other symbols (which had been baffling the others for ages) in a matter of days, they are able to activate the gate, sending a team through on a mission they will never forget.

In terms of geeky movies that I absolutely love, Stargate has to be at the top of the list. Not only is it great science fiction (which it is), but it’s also just a fantastic story. I love the Egyptological element–I’ve seen several sources attribute the pyramids to alien sources, and (while I obviously don’t believe that) I find it makes great fiction. What really makes Stargate stand out in my mind, though, is the characters, the acting. The entire cast is quite good, and the characters they play are a nice mix–enough to bring in a blend of action, adventure, psychological angst, romance, and humor. But Daniel makes the story, in my opinion. He is the sort of person I’d like to know in real life–nice, super-smart, socially inept, and not exactly able to deal with the world at large. Basically a geek and a dweeb of the best sort. Stargate is definitely on my recommended list for anyone who likes science fiction, but I would note that even those who don’t care for the genre are likely to enjoy this simply for the story.

Note: This review applies only to the original movie. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the TV series, and frankly, I despise it. They ruined Daniel’s character–making him far too cool, for one–which basically destroys the whole point. So just watch the movie and leave it at that, okay?

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Crocodile on the Sandbank

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Single, unorthodox, decidedly strong-willed, and (following her scholarly father’s death) wealthy, Amelia Peabody decides to travel–both for personal enrichment and to get away from all the fortune hunters who she finds are inspiring her to cynicism. On her way to Egypt via Rome, Amelia picks up Evelyn, a stray kitten of a girl who quickly becomes her dear friend–the sister she never had, one might say. Upon reaching Egypt, the two young women find a world of wonder with which they swiftly fall in love. Matters become a bit more complicated, however, when Evelyn also falls in love with Walter Emerson, a young archaeologist there . . . particularly as this archaeologist’s older brother (who goes simply by Emerson) and Amelia seem to have an immediately antagonistic reaction to one another. What with one thing and another, Amelia and Evelyn end joining the Emerson brothers at their dig in Amarna, moving in to one of the pyramids there. And of course, Amelia’s not going to sit quietly while rumors are circulating that the site is cursed . . . nor while mummies walk in the night!

I absolutely love Crocodile on the Sandbank, as well as every other Amelia Peabody story I’ve ever read. The characters are extremely strong–in less accomplished hands, they would likely overwhelm the author entirely. Yet here they are written with a deft skill and never failing humor that drive the plot forward relentlessly. The story is fun, exciting, and with the perfect blend of suspense and predictability for a delightful mystery/adventure novel. One of my favorite facets of this book is actually the historical/cultural aspect: it is set almost entirely in Egypt in the late 19th century and is rich with the flavor of this era, down to the naming conventions of the day. Additionally, there is abundant reference to archaeology, historical figures, and even to ancient Egyptian history and culture. Crocodile on the Sandbank is both thrilling and thoughtful, making it a historical mystery that is several cuts above most of its so-called peers.

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