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Robin C. "silver_blue"

Page: 1 | 2
by Alissa Quart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A subject that needs addressing...but maybe not like this., 30 May 2003
This review is from: Branded (Paperback)
"Branded - The Buying and Selling of Teenagers" sees Alissa Quart focusing on the increasing pervasion of corporate marketing to teens and pre-teens. She examines the harm that such efforts can cause to children, arguing that it forces youngsters to act in a more 'adult' way far too quickly, and isolates individuals who do not subscribe to opinions on the 'right' labels, stars, movies, etc.
There's no doubt that this is an important subject for study. Quart's book focuses its attention on the United States, though the foreword for this UK version pays lip service to the situation in this country. And much of what Quart argues strikes a chord - it's easy to believe some of the examples and arguments that she puts forward, because they reflect the fears of many adults.
Unfortunately, those arguments are put forward in a simplistic and judgmental way, and by failing to back up her comments with any evidence beyond the anecdotal, Quart loses credibility. The vast majority of her arguments are based on personal opinion, or are supported by nothing more than evidence of single events taken in isolation. There is no attempt to demonstrate credible support for her claims regarding trends in youth marketing, and the exploitation of teens. Quart claims that the standards of dress, image and personality set by corporate marketing are forcing more and more teens into financial difficulties, eating disorders, steroid abuse, and other problems caused by their desire to fit in. These accusations may very well be true - but there is no evidence in this book to support this, other than vague speculation and isolated examples.
Quart seems to have failed to research her subject, and is instead relying on her preconceptions of the issue. Her belief in her argument sees her using rather spurious examples to support her arguments. One particularly obvious example is her deconstruction of teen movies. This would have been much more credible if she had shown any evidence of having identified the satirical nature of many of the films and scenes that she mentions. For example she points out that in the film "10 Things I Hate About You" there is a conversation along the lines of 'I like my Skecher trainers, but I love my Prada handbag'. Quart suggests that this scene is encouraging teens to express their emotions in terms of labelled products - whereas in fact the whole scene is poking fun at label obsession. She uses the film "Clueless" as an example of this branded inanity, and fails to understand that the whole movie is a satirical observation (as Jane Austen's 'Emma', which the film is based on, was). I found it difficult to read parts of this book without thinking that Quart was forcing the 'evidence' of her examples to fit her argument (or simply failing to understand that evidence) as opposed to conducting deeper research.
Its a pity really. Quart obviously has strongly held beliefs on this matter, and she writes in a pleasantly accessible style. But without supporting evidence, much of her argument comes across as shallow. There is a very simple claim at the heart of this book - that children are too young to be targetted in the ways utilised by marketing companies. I tend to agree with Quart on this point - but attempts to change this situation should be more objectively argued and strongly backed by evidence, otherwise they lean towards sensationalism rather than genuine debate.

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12
The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12
by Robert Jordan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent start to a series., 14 May 2003
I'm not going to make any comments on the series as a whole for this review, for the very simple fact that I haven't read it yet.
Impatience at continued waiting for the next instalment of the frankly superb Song of Ice & Fire series by George RR Martin meant that I needed another high quality fantasy epic to keep me going. I'd heard a lot of good things about Jordan's long running series, even some people claiming it was superior to a Song of Ice & Fire, so it seemed the logical choice. And after reading The Eye of the World, it definitely appears to be the right choice, too.
Like many first volumes, The Eye of the World takes a little bit of time to get going. We are introduced to Rand al'Thor and various other characters who seem destined to play a major role in the whole series, and when events get going after the Winternight sequence, the story starts to get hold of you very effectively, pulling you in deeper until you are desperate to find out what happens next for each character.
Jordan writes well, and effectively manages to follow several parallel story threads without harming the experience (splitting up the main group of characters is a difficult challenge for an author to overcome, but Jordan achieves success). He has obviously taken a long term view of the story from the very start, and this allows him to take a more considered approach to events rather than rushing through and leaving too many loose ends.
There are definitely a few flaws, however. Some of the names are rather cliched - the most annoying to me being the references to Artur Pendraeg. If you are going to semi plagiarise character names from other fantasy books, it might be better to avoid such obvious ones as King Arthur. Another point which might have been improved is the portrayal of the three main characters in terms of their importance. On one level it seems as if Jordan is trying to keep the roles of Matt, Perrin and Rand, and their relationship to Ba'alzamon, secret. But on the other hand he completely telegraphs the fact that Rand is going to be the primary character. I'd have preferred a little more suspense in this before matters became clearer.
Thankfully those faults are easily forgiven, though. Better to pay attention to the qualities of Rand's struggle to come to terms with his doubts and questions about his past, or Perrin's difficulties in accepting his own destiny. I also particularly like the way in which you, as the reader, feel that you are learning about the world in tandem with Rand, Perrin and Matt. They know little about the world beyond Two Rivers, and their surprise, awe, or fear can be experienced as you read.
All fantasy writing is, to some extent, derivative. Most fantasy literature, particularly of the epic style, revolves around a battle between good and evil, and features magic in varying forms. Jordan's work is no different, but it does carry it off with a certain style. It is, in my opinion, not nearly a match for A Song of Ice and Fire, or The Lord of the Rings, but Eye of the World is an excellent start to the series and I'll be following the rest of the books with interest.

No Title Available

174 of 227 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Loses the spirit, though a great cinematic achievement., 29 Jan. 2003
In The Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson successfully managed to achieve two things. He made a superb movie, and he stayed faithful to the spirit of Tolkien's work. In the second part of this epic trilogy, The Two Towers, Jackson has only managed to achieve one of his two targets. He has made a great movie, but he has lost the spirit of the books. And watching the film as an faithful adaptation (as Jackson claims it to be), I found that frustrating, unnecessary, and quite a disappointment.
If you DON'T have a good knowledge of Tolkien's work, and you are simply following on from the first film, then The Two Towers is certainly deserving of five stars. It is a great cinematic achievement. The choice of New Zealand as a setting looks ever more the right decision, as the rugged and beautiful scenery fits exactly with the spirit of the movie. Jackson has also learnt when to use CGI and when NOT to use it - a very important skill. As a result, the whole appearance of the movie is a convincing combination of fantasy and reality. The scenes at Helm's Deep rival the awesome Moria of the first movie.
Similarly, the majority of the performances are strong. Ian McKellen continues to capture the combination of power, kindness and humility that is Gandalf. Viggo Mortensen is similarly good as Aragorn. Miranda Otto gives, in my opinion, one of the best performances of the film as Eowyn, and really succeeds in portraying the sadness and strength of that character. It's a pity that the performances of Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Eomer (Karl Urban) are somewhat wooden and disappointing. Elijah Wood continues to convince as Frodo, while Sean Astin continues to disappoint as Sam. Every performance pales into insignificance against the true star of The Two Towers, though, and that is Andy Serkis as the voice of Gollum. The torment in Gollum's mind is acted to it's fullest, and the CGI character (modelled on Serkis' movements) is brought to life by a truly wonderful performance.
I think I probably know the books too well. I need to make one thing absolutely clear, though, I have NEVER expected a literal remake of the books, following them to the paragraph. I completely understand that Peter Jackson needed to take a certain amount of leeway with the story in order to create an effective film experience. It's something he achieved to near perfection in the Fellowship of the Ring. And it's something he fails to do in The Two Towers.
Jackson takes liberties with the story that are unnecessary. At times they are superfluous, at worst they go against the spirit and events of the books. A number of examples spring to mind - a warg attack that is not to be found anywhere in The Two Towers book, 'tragic' scenes involving Aragorn, the appearance of the Elves at Helm's Deep, the initial refusal of the Ents to act before Merry & Pippin trick them to convince them, the discussions between Elrond & Arwen, etc. And most annoyingly of all, for me, the portrayal of Faramir. His persona and his actions are at complete odds with his portrayal in Tolkien's book, and in the film he only finds redemption and honour in the very final scenes. I really can't understand why this change was made.
Indeed, there seems to be little rhyhme or reason for the changes that are mentioned above, which is just a selection of the more major irritations for me. I can understand and appreciate changes that are necessary for the film format, which help to move the story along, but there were many changes in this film which seemed pointless and took liberties with Tolkien's vision. They don't add to the film, and all they do is take away from the faithfulness of the story.
But as I say, maybe I have too close an affinity to the books, and have read them too many times. Certainly I know that I'm in a tiny minority when I criticise this film. As a movie experience it is fantastic, and on some levels I wish I could have watched it without the knowledge of the story that numerous readings of Tolkien's work have given me. If that had been the case, no doubt a five star rating would have been given. But it annoyed me by taking unnecessary liberties with the story, and in that it failed utterly to live up to the high standards that Jackson had set in The Fellowship of the Ring, a superior film.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2009 8:29 PM BST

SimCity 4 (PC)
SimCity 4 (PC)

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still very good. But flawed and complacent., 20 Jan. 2003
This review is from: SimCity 4 (PC) (Video Game)
It has been a while since I last played SimCity, but picking up the latest instalment I thought it would be worthwhile to offer an early review of it.
I would hope that by now everyone knows the concept of the SimCity games. You are the mayor of a city that has yet to be built. Through landscaping, zoning, budgetting, dealing with traffic, water, electricity, garbage disposal etc etc, your aim is to build a perfect city, where the citizens are happy and everything works and makes a profit. And as anyone who has played any of this series before will know, it's an utterly addictive game where you can lose hours of your life trying to satisfy thousands of virtual citizens who want their garbage taken away on time.
And so we've reached the fourth instalment. It looks gorgeous - the day night cycle, the dynamic graphics that show not just the type of buildings, but their condition - giving you an instant idea of how that zone is developing (or otherwise). All the controls that you would expect are still present, and the new interface is nicely designed (along the lines of The Sims) and is very intuitive.
So, what's new?
Well the most important development has to be the regional aspect of play. It works like this - on the initial screen, you see a landscaped region divided into maybe 40+ squares of different sizes. Each square is a seperate development, in that the 'Mayor' mode will be based in a single one of them at a time. But, developing from the concept of 'neighbour cities' in SC3000, the interaction between all the seperate areas is highly important. In fact, you'd be better to think of each seperate 'city' as a region of a large metropolis. So if you want to build up a commercial centre, then you can build neighbouring areas that focus on industry or residential matters, and they should balance and interact. Cities can buy and sell services such as electricity, garbage disposal, etc, and citizens will commute to their neighbours.
...which all sounds great in theory. But in practice it has a few problems as far as I can see. Firstly, it makes it VERY difficult to get started. The balance that comes from having neighbours that deal with different aspects is all very well, but in that case how do you successfully build the FIRST city? All those services, and consumer demand, etc, that comes from neighbouring cities requires you to BUILD them first. Which means that initial development ends up being a case of building lots of small districts, and then making a massive redevelopment once they are established, so that different areas focus on farming, or commerce, or heavy industry. Once you've done that, things do start becoming much more enjoyable and accessible, but it is a STEEP learning curve and may annoy a lot of players. It certainly makes the game less accessible than previous versions.
Did I say that the regional nature was the most important development? Well, in all honesty, it's really the only development. Any other 'additions' are generally of a cosmetic nature. The idea of putting your sims from 'The Sims' into the game is all very well, but it's completely irrelevant in gameplay terms. Yes, they'll tell you about traffic problems, or pollution, but absolutely no information that you can't get from the various graphs, overlays, and city advisors. There are various new disasters, and a rejigged terrain editor - which is useful but a little clumsy - but no groundbreaking moves forward. And why on earth did Maxis take away the random map generator - it's infuriating?
Tech wise it's a real drain on hardware. The minimum specs may just about manage it, but you'll need 1Mhz +++ as soon as your city starts growing, and it will still drag with poor scrolling. There are also specific issues related to Radeon video cards, which you should check up on before buying the game.
Simcity 4 is wonderfully addictive. But it's wonderfully addictive because the concept is so good already, not because this new version offers any particularly great steps forward. It's tougher, certainly, and looks better. It's more than a simple cosmetic update, but not a great deal more. If you've liked Simcity games in the past, then you'll definitely enjoy it, and if you're new to the genre then if you persevere you'll benefit, but it's a bit disappointing because Maxis seem to have been a bit lazy about really putting in a lot of new effort into a successful series.

American Pie 2 [DVD] [2001]
American Pie 2 [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Jason Biggs|Shannon Elizabeth|Alyson Hannigan|Chris Klein
Price: £0.95

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A film to watch if you don't mind curling up in hysterics!, 16 Jan. 2003
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: American Pie 2 [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
The original American Pie was certainly the pick of the various teen 'gross out' comedies that came out of the US a few years ago. Largely due to virtuoso performances from Sean William Scott as Stifler, and particularly Jason Biggs as Jim, plus a greater semblance of plot that its contemporary movies, it was a hilarious experience.
Well, the whole gang is back for the second instalment. And impressively, the 'whole gang' means exactly that, with every cast member of note returning for the sequel. Its a year on from the first movie, everyone has finished their first year of college, and it's time to return home for the summer break. Of course, twelve weeks is a long gap to fill, so the five guys decide to rent a house at the lake in the hope of wild parties, beautiful women, etc, etc.
Generally the film follows the same formula that made the original so successful. It's a bog-standard 'coming of age' plot with a mad comedy twist to it, that doesn't worry about supposed boundaries of taste, and is all the funnier for it. It's a film that's going to be remembered for particular scenes rather than as an overall story, although it does make more than a token effort to build up some relationship subplots following on from the first movie.
The best scenes are once again stolen by Jason Biggs as Jim, with admirable support from Eugene Levy as the most embarrassing dad around - but one who genuinely cares for his son. Biggs is great in these movies, exactly right for the role, although I hope the signs that he is becoming typecast in this type of role are wrong. The fact that he's been compared with Adam Sandler, who's 'star' outings (with the exception of The Wedding Singer) have been utterly risible, is something to worry about. At the other end of the spectrum from nervous and unconfident Jim is Seann William Scott as the uncouth, arrogant, and generally repulsive Stifler. I've seen politically correct criticism of the American Pie movies pointing out that Stifler is homophobic, which seems to miss the point that Stifler is supposed to be a moron who people hate. It's to Scott's credit that he manages to make Stifler such a 'likeable' sad moron!
Disappointingly, Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) are all underused in comparison to Jim and Stifler. There are slight moves towards developing subplots regarding the three, with Oz and Heather trying to maintain a long distance relationship, Kevin wondering if there is still a future with Vicky, and Finch awaiting the arrival of Stifler's Mom, but none of these plots are followed up and remain background at best. Something of a missed opportunity. I don't really understand why they made moves towards developing these parts of the story if they weren't going to follow up. It's actually more frustrating than if they hadn't included it at all.
The only really strong female role is Alyson Hannigan's excellent reprisal and expansion of Michelle, the band camp geek/dominatrix. She really plays this double character superbly well, and also has a major role to play in the development of one of the movie's main plot strands. Natasha Lyonne is underused again as Jess, while Vicky (Tara Reid) and Heather (Mena Suvari) have really little more than cameos this time around.
American Pie 2 will, just as with the first film, make you laugh like crazy, even on successive viewings. It's kept all the successful ingredients of the first instalment, and although I may gripe about a failure to expand upon the plot, it's simply a hugely entertaining experience to watch, and one that's guaranteed to put you in a good mood.
The DVD quality is very good, sound is excellent, and the extra features are well worth having (some of the outtakes in particular are excellent).

Mission : Impossible 2 [2000] [DVD]
Mission : Impossible 2 [2000] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Cruise
Price: £1.26

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable escape, better that MI:1, and....Nyah., 13 Jan. 2003
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The supposed 'complex' plot of the first Mission Impossible movie was a bit of a mess, and the whole film unfortunately descended into a rather dull and uninspiring affair. Yet with name recognition and a big name star, it of course made a mint at the box office, and hence the sequel. Whether they just couldn't think up another complex plot, or couldn't be bothered, MI:2 is a much more action oriented film than the first.
Nevertheless, what there is of a plot serves well enough to hang the rest of the movie on. And the rest of the movie consists of some thrilling action sequences, as you'd expect from John Woo, a relatively convincing romantic interest with the absolutely stunning Thandie Newton, and an excellent use of sound, something else Woo rarely fails to achieve. Of course there are massively flaws. Hunt's team is all but ignored in order to focus the action on Tom Cruise, while some of the scenes and effects push the boundaries of belief just a little bit too far.
In terms of the cast, Tom Cruise is basically Tom Cruise. He could do this kind of role in his sleep, but does the 'hero' thing competently. Anthony Hopkins in his cameo is suitably calm but callous as head of IMF. Dougray Scott is surprisingly effective in the villain's role. The real star of the show is Thandie Newton as Nyah, though. Not only is she perhaps one of the most beautiful leading ladies in a movie for a long time, she's also an actress of real quality, which still shines through despite the shallowness of the movie as a whole. It's also nice to see a black actress playing a romantic lead in a major Hollywood blockbuster (MI:2 being made a long time before Halle Berry's 007 role).
It's never going to win any awards for deep thinking. But it's a big Hollywood sequel with a big Hollywood action star, so what would you really expect? I think it's a very effective movie - the action sequences are excellent, the acting is of a good enough standard to lift it above the usual no-brain action-fest, the sound is superb, and it works as great escapism.
The DVD is also good value, being packed with features including some lightly self-deprecating pieces which is nice to see.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback

46 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insanely entertaining and thought provoking., 10 Jan. 2003
I grabbed this book off a shelf, never having heard of Murakami before, a few years ago before taking a plane to Greece with some friends. We were celebrating finishing our exams, staying at a tacky resort and basically drinking and sunbathing, but after a couple of days I found myself ducking out of bar crawls to head back to my room to read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle!
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is a bloody difficult book to explain. There are so many different, and seemingly bizarrely unrelated, strands to the story. The only real constant is Toru, the main character, and as with many other works by Murakami he is a somewhat passive presence, trying to get his head round the flurry of unusual events, emotions and observations on life. His life is turned completely upside down, but rather than over-focusing on the strange goings on, we also have beautifully written pieces about such banal events as making pasta. On one level the Wind Up Bird Chronicle is almost fantastical in nature, so bizarre are the events, but Toru acts as a grounding force. His doubts, worries, and an imagination that all too often causes him pain, are very normal aspects of any person. It is his very mundanity and passive nature that allows the events to occur - many of the characters he meets simply because he doesn't have anything else that he could rather be doing, and therefore expands his mind and perspective.
Toru as a character provokes sympathy, but it is the events around him that provoke our interest. As a character he is purer, for want of a better word, than the central character of other Murakami books. In some ways he is simply a convenient centre on which to secure the rest of the story, which at times threatens to scatter out of control. Yet I became so convinced by the view of the story through his eyes that I felt quite close to him as a character, and felt that my own reaction to such events would be similarly bemused, or self doubting.
The Wind Up Birds Chronicle IS a confusing book. There were many times when I had to go back two or three pages to reread, largely in a case of 'double-take' - I wasn't sure, or couldn't believe, that something was happening in the way it was described. But considering the various strands, it's an impressive achievement to draw them together as effectively as Murakami does. This book is, in my opinion, a true classic.

Blood - The Last Vampire [2000] [DVD]
Blood - The Last Vampire [2000] [DVD]
Dvd ~ YŻki KudŰ
Price: £3.98

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Style and atmosphere. Wish it was longer., 10 Jan. 2003
Blood: The Last Vampire is a wonderfully atmospheric experience. From the opening scenes - where we're introduced to, and given what tiny smattering of information is explained about, heroine Saya - to the conclusion, the art, voice acting, and soundtrack send shivers up your spine.
VERY little is explained in Blood. In all honesty, there's very little to suggest that vampires are involved at all, bar a few comments and a scene near the end of the movie. Loose ends abound throughout the fifty minutes, and you never really have long enough to understand WHY things are happening. If all that sounds quite negative, however, it isn't. Blood instead gives you the feeling that you're not SUPPOSED to know what the hell's going on. It seems important that only Saya, and to a lesser extent her government agency colleague, have any knowledge about the issues surrounding events in Blood. As a viewer we are cast more in the role of the school nurse - dragged into a series of events that make very little sense but will stay in our minds for a very long time.
Blood: The Last Vampire doesn't make sense as a plot. It starts, things happen, and then it ends, without a noticeable beginning, middle, and end. To effectively achieve the sense of combining confusion and excitement, its short length is just about right. After first viewing I had questions swirling round my head, issues I wanted to be answered. That didn't leave me with a sense of being cheated, though, it really acted as a catalyst to spur imagination.
The DVD quality is good - sound and picture are strong. Not many extras, and considering it's being charged as a full price DVD for an anime lasting less than an hour it's a tad expensive. But Blood is very well worth a viewing.

South Of The Border, West Of The Sun (Panther)
South Of The Border, West Of The Sun (Panther)
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very pleasant read., 10 Jan. 2003
I am a great fan of Haruki Murakami, and his reminiscent, first person prose is a joy to read even in translation.
South of the Border, West of the Sun is a somewhat more lightweight story than some of his other works. Certainly there is less plot than in the likes of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, or Norwegian Wood. And although Murakami's work often leaves loose ends and questions unanswered, this story leaves more unknowns than you would expect.
As ever, the writing is a joy to simply read. By this I mean that, beyond the story itself, Murakami's style of prose is enjoyable in itself. Philip Gabriel's translation captures the light touch of Murakami, although perhaps not with the same skill as Birnbaum, who has obviously built up a much longer experience of dealing with the author's body of work. The story itself is, as usual, reminiscences and observations by the central character, vaguely linked by a common thread and chance events that drive the story along. As is also common with Murakami's work, the supporting cast of characters are mainly women, deceptively strong characters, while the main character Hajime is deceptively weak-willed. His struggle with his feelings about the significant women in his life is well observed, although I felt more sympathy for them rather than Hajime himself.
There were a few flaws however. In particular, I never particularly felt convinced as to the bond between Hajime and Shimamoto. There seemed to be a lack of sufficient reason as to why their feelings remained so strong over a seperation lasting more than twenty years. Murakami has explored this theme of long held feelings before, but with more convincing relationships. Here the initial childhood relationship seems rushed through, so I never felt that the link was so strong as to cause such influence on the later parts of the book. Although the passages between the pair are beautifully written, in the back of my mind the relationship felt a little unconvincing.
Generally though, this is another wonderful read from Murakami. The simplicity of the story also makes it more accessible than many of his other works, with the exception of Norwegian Wood. Rather than concentrating hard, as I sometimes find myself doing with his other books, with South of the Border, West of the Sun, I let the story wash over me and enjoyed it immensely.

Camarilla Guide (Mind's Eye Theatre)
Camarilla Guide (Mind's Eye Theatre)
by Jason Carl
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but so-so usefulness for the average player., 21 Nov. 2002
The Mind's Eye Theatre books are invariably well written. They are clear, descriptive, and excellent reading material. Similarly, beyond the 'Laws of the Night', their usefulness for the average player is somewhat debatable.
The Camarilla Guide is essentially split into three main sections - a description of advanced disciplines for Elders, a description and explanation of the hierarchy of the Camarilla - including rules of Court, the Archons and Justicars, Anathema and the Red List, and advice for storytellers. It also includes information on the differences between elders and younger vampires, and a selection of character templates.
The average player participating in a Camarilla game is unlikely to be an elder and, considering that IC they will also probably be unaware of any of the advanced disciplines, this section is somewhat superfluous. Of course, if you've just achieved enough prestige points to create your own elder, then it's probably a godsend, but otherwise its a big chunk of the book that seems somewhat redundant.
The in depth description of the organisation of the Camarilla system of courts and elysium is very well written. It gives excellent roleplaying ideas for starting characters, and generally gives you a good understanding of most of the things that you SHOULD know IC, as well as a few bits and pieces that you probably wouldn't. To be honest, though, a great deal of the information is what I learnt within a couple of games anyway.
Perhaps the more useful information is the description of elder mindsets, and the different ways in which elders, ancillae, and neonates view the world. I especially liked a small section which examined the differences in elder and neonate approaches to influence usage. It can be difficult to get your mind round just HOW different elder vampires are supposed to be, but this is a useful tool to help you understand.
Not being a storyteller, I won't comment deeply on the city creation guide, save to say that it looks pretty comprehensive and helpful.
I enjoyed reading this guide, but I'm not sure how useful it has been to be in game terms. It's filled in a few gaps in knowledge, but a lot of what I've learnt is stuff I can't use IC anyway (although always good to know). I'm not sure why anyone other than a national level ST is going to need to know information of Methuselah level disciplines!
Enjoyable, good, but of limited usefulness in my opinion.

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