Goodreads review • The Last Ringbearer

The Last RingbearerThe Last Ringbearer by Kirill Yeskov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Urgh. This was rough, even after starting off so well. The idea that the story of The Lord of the Rings is a romanticised tale of a war told by the winners is very intriguing. The Last Ringbearer makes ample use of this in the first half, playing out both new and familiar characters against each other. Mordor is a progressive technology driven place, while the Elves are conservative and steeped in the old manipulative ways of magic.

That twisting is great and it makes you hunger for more details, but even though it sets up an analogy to the original tale, it starts to crumble into overly detailed tales that keep their connection to the main tale very loosely. It’s almost like the writer finally gave in to the temptation of fan-fiction and ran with it.

Yes, the writing style is different and more Russian-like in rhythm (reminded me constantly of Roadside Picnic) but that works in its favour as a contrast to the original. It’s really the tale itself starting to forget it’s still connected to Tolkien’s placenta that renders this almost unreadable. Interesting as a curio, but I’d skip it in hindsight.

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The loyalty behind hazing

I’m going for a bit of a running theme here, but as I mentioned in this article, the roleplay between native and foreign inhabitants is under constant pressure due to normalcy. The article below from Aeon may actually highlight why the cultural differences are so hard to overcome.

Drawing on such research, Cimino’s automatic accrual theory suggests that hazing provides an important solution to a recurring adaptive problem faced by our species during our evolutionary history: how to accurately assess the intentions and quality of new group members.

Source: People are intensely loyal to groups which abuse newcomers. Why? | Aeon Ideas

Hazing then seems to be important as a universal test of loyalty. Not only a rite of passage, but also a bill of health on the qualities you have as a person. To reject whatever went before and accept whatever comes now. By that logic would more extreme “national” hazing rituals allow foreigners to be more accepted?

Somehow I doubt it.


“Amsterdam attempts to stem its tourist flood and regain its soul”

To add to the previous link about Airbnb and – to some extent – Amsterdam:

In addition to a recent agreement with Airbnb to restrict the length of time that people can rent out their homes to 60 days, city officials also want to cut back on opening hours and reduce the number of shops that cater explicitly to tourists, such as those selling cheese, Nutella and waffles. Another plan is to prevent tour buses having access to the city center and move the cruise ship terminal to another part of town.

Source: Amsterdam attempts to stem its tourist flood and regain its soul – POLITICO

It’s just marginally better than shouting “F*CK OFF, TOURISTS!” Why not incentivise other options within the Netherlands, rather than annoying and frustrating those who only visit Amsterdam?

Not that I don’t get tired and annoyed by the endless stream of Nutella-shops, but as soon as the money dries up, we’ll probably get people complaining about there not being enough tourists. Taking the pressure off Amsterdam could help in that respect. It’s not as if the country is too big for it.

Foreign roleplay and Airbnb

With Airbnb making a dent in travel-accommodations worldwide, you’d think their main goal was to provide cheap shelter. But no, Joe Hewitt thinks it’s something else:

And this, fundamentally, is what Airbnb is about. Belong Anywhere — it is aiming to not be an escape from the real world, but one of the few times you actually experience it. It has never really been a travel company. It sells roleplay — a form of entertainment that has more in common immersive theatre, gaming, books, and movies.

Source: Airbnb: a real-life Westworld?

Being able to “live among locals” was part of the draw of Airbnb. No “travel compartment” to temporarily live in – like a hotel – but rather more like a themed bungalow park accommodation. The potential conflict being that the theme is real and the disconnection of the traveller in question might generate problems; the traveller might not engage in the roleplay, but be contrarian.

Of course this is what (here in the Netherlands) makes people in Amsterdam protest against the “scourge” of Airbnb. The “doesn’t want to engage in roleplay” is also frighteningly similar to the protest against refugees moving to the Netherlands, regardless of economic, ecological, or conflict reasons. “If only they would be normal like any other.”

For both the traveller and the refugee this roleplay is essentially wanted (reside in the new environment) but also very stressful (change is hard). They might default to their original cultural selves when hidden from view and then increasingly in plain view as the roleplay becomes mentally tiring, giving rise to cultural friction.

Trying to solve cultural problems with governing laws only generates more friction and straight up dictates a more narrow way of life. You’d think we were collectively trying  to move away from such “ideals”. In that respect, the world might culturally not be ready yet for Airbnb and drop the pretense of constant roleplay.

“The Problem with Video Game Luck”

Luck, RNG (“random number generator”), or chance is now an incredible force within games. As a child, chance is fascinating and somehow rolling dice seems to still convey control. Games like Ludo and Game of the Goose lose their shine as children become more experience and discover the true amount of control in rolling dice.

Of course, in video games the equivalent of dice rolling is done behind the scenes and things become a lot more stressful. Somehow not being able to throw the dice yourself makes humans incredibly suspicious of the process, often crying wolf without reason:

“When I was working on online games, it was nearly impossible to convince certain players that the results weren’t rigged in some way. People came up with elaborate theories about how beginners were given better results so as to rope them into subscriptions, or veteran players would be rewarded with better results for their patronage, and so on.” At one point Kapalka published huge files, revealing hundreds of thousands of simulated die rolls, to persuade skeptical players that the results were truly random.

Source: The Problem with Video Game Luck

It reminds me of the collective cry of anguish with the release of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords years ago. This simple match-3 game used the results of your match to influence a role-playing game and then switched the game over to your computer-controlled opponent.

A bizarre effect popped up in that players (me included) experienced the computer-controlled opponent’s moves as “cheating”. It always felt like your opponent had better moves, or could somehow take a peek into the future and see what upcoming new blocks could be used. A match-up leading the computer-controlled opponent to perform multiple moves felt infuriating, while the times it happened to you constantly felt like catching up.

In contrast, World of Warcraft has generated multiple instances of people swearing they could influence the chances of getting a certain item by performing certain “rituals” in the game, leading to in-game superstition. (Another similar effect is people believing that Down+A helps them catch Pokémon more effectively in the eponymous games.)

The thing I’m worrying about a bit, is how generations of people growing up on these games and their systems will experience real-life “luck”. Are they setting themselves up for permanent frustration?