I’ve read them both and like them. Today’s Gnome Stew article was about the various 5e products that are out and how they interact.

Long story short: I’ve read Lost Mines of Phandelver (the Starter Set adventure) and Hoard of the Dragon Queen (the adventure that’s being run this season for D&D Encounters). I like them both and am eager to see the system in action.

The system feels very familiar right away; it really does have a “best of” feel, with extensive borrowing from 3rd edition, some stealthy borrowing from 4th edition, and the gritty feel of 2nd edition. At least, on the page and as reported by others. I may join a game or two this weekend down at Strategicon to get some play experience.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I disliked this story, mostly due to POV choice (I really didn’t like the main character and the portrayal of his madness.) It also suffers due to a very different depiction of women’s roles; the reduction of women to bit parts and supporting characters is noted by the author (he mentions a revival of the sergalio, to “protect” women’s virtue).

The fun bits, like jaunteing, drove a lot of the action, but I’m not sure how much they added. In the end, I felt sorry for the main character’s experience, but viscerally disliked the man he became, most of the people he interacted with, and the overall society. Despite those dislikes, I could see that it was well written and thought out; if you don’t dislike the character in the first fifty pages, you’ll probably enjoy the book. [The partial redemption at the end also rung hollow... maybe because it didn't feel earned?]

Anyway, it’s a classic, but like many classics, I enjoy modern writing more. I recognize some of the aspects that were magnified later in cyberpunk, and appreciate that it may have made a good starting place for future writers to explore from.

Wetware by Craig Nova. Maybe I’m just grouchy; this book didn’t quite hit for me either. Part of the issue was the date (a few iterations of artificial life have passed by 2029), but most of it was the POV. The story was often written with access to the POV character’s mind–but their thoughts were abstracted to the point that they didn’t feel like thoughts.

The main character’s fugue/addiction and the later callbacks to it are done pretty well, but in the end I didn’t care about the characters beyond a vague sympathy. It’s not that they’re repulsive in a Game of Thrones sense… it’s more that they’re flat and blindered, despite their genius.

In the end, it’s not terrible, but not one I’ll recommend.

22. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: DnD, Roleplaying · Tags:

Rob has a thorough, interesting review of the 5e Player’s Handbook, section by section. He caught some interesting things and made me pay attention more when reading through it myself. His summary post with links to the twelve individual posts is 5e PHB Roundup

On the subject of 5e, I prepared for the first D&D Encounters session last Wednesday. We decided not to split the table of 7, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next week requires a second GM.

Useful links for public play and 5e generally:
5e Basic Rules PDFs, Adventurer’s League Resources
D&D Adventurers League Organizers, on Wizard’s website.
On G+ Adventurer’s League and Adventurer’s League: Far West

Spell Sorter (google doc)

Other cool stuff for 5e:
Table Tents for 5e Pregens, Generic Table Tents, Form Fillable Adventurer’s Logsheet,
Adventurer’s League Player’s Guide.

Dungeonscape looks like a 5e Hero Lab, designed for tablets.

Merrick’s Musings, a well written Australian blog with good 5e articles.
Frank Foulis for general 5e, especially play. Mike Schley, for cartography. Ultanya for monster conversions.

16. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. This book reminded me strongly and favorably of LeGuin’s Ekumen novels. Karen Lord does an excellent job of developing interesting cultures, and getting deep into them.

The novel is told from two point of view; one the local, the other the refugee. Delarua is the guide, but she has discoveries to make–including about herself and her past. Dllenahkh is the refugee; he comes across as grounded and experienced–it never feels false. You can feel his concern under the surface (in Delarua’s chapters); his doubt and concern are constant but don’t become one dimensional.

This is not action adventure; there are a few tense moments, but most of the book’s pleasure is exploring interesting people, on an interesting planet, and seeing how they’ll learn to share and evolve. I understand her first book, Redemption in Indigo, is quite different. I look forward to reading it soon.

16. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , , ,

Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite by Barry Deutsch. This is the second Hereville book. It’s a quick, fun adventure. It felt more unified but “less deep” than the first, but that may have been due to familiarity with the characters. Well, and Mirka’s relationship with her step mom is much less fraught.

If you liked Hereville, this is a nice continuation. I’d read the original first.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. The end notes mention that this book was originally self published–it has a very professional feel and few obvious errors.

The book is mostly what it says on the spine; it’s about a group that hunts supernatural creatures. The book starts off strong, with a mild mannered accountant who has a very unusual and terrifying day.

The second phase of the book is also solid; here Owen goes through training and learns how to hunt monsters. The romantic interest seemed strained at this point… and it kind of wobbles at the same level of not quite right throughout. The basic training is handled well; we get to know the whole incoming class, which ups the stakes when they risk being monster food.

During basic training, the major flaw that develops is that Owen loves guns. He is an expert (important to the book), but also rattles off extensive details about every gun he touches or witnesses. Over the course of the book, it’s a lot of pages of enthusiasm that I don’t really share. It felt very like creating characters for Shadowrun, and listening to the people who love guns discuss sights, gas vents, trigger modifications and the like. In some ways, it’s a little like Harry Dresden explaining magic… and, like Harry and his magic, Owen’s gun obsession defines him.

Once they hit the field, it becomes an action movie–and, actually, I could see this being more to my taste as a movie. The critters are bad to super bad, Owen is destined, and you know how Dresden gets mangled near the end of each of the first few books? Owen gets mangled a lot too… but magical healing lets him get mangled in many different ways. When he recounts the wounds he suffers four days straight, I signposts just how often “hurt the main character” is used in the toolkit.

In the end, it wasn’t a bad book. If the sequels were on hand and I didn’t have more desired books ahead of it in my queue, I’d be interested in seeing how the author develops. Given a stack of great books, though… this series is unlikely to get checked out of the library.

08. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: ,

Sharp and Marked follow Clean, a book about a recovering drug addict/telepath who works with the police in a dystopian future.

Sharp does a good job of presenting normal appearing cases in the foreground. They almost feel like a day-in-the-life, but it’s clear that good police and interrogation work aren’t the only dimension for Adam. The world of the police and politics gets further defined, as Adam and Cheribino (and now Michael) tackle a few apparently unrelated cases… and we, the readers, learn a bit more about tech control in this world.

Kara and the guild loom in the background; well, they come to the fore when Adam is investigated as a consequence of the first book’s events. We learn a bit about the Guild Enforcers and their absolute and looming authority… but the development is more on the mundane side. We get a better feel for everyday life in this post-crash work; the budget and political priorities feels like they’d ring true even today. Adam’s addiction remains a major theme that’s handled well–it’s ever present but rarely takes over the story.

The end feels a little artificial with the way the strings all come together so thoroughly, but it’s not that great a stretch. Throughout, though, Adam really does feel like a guy with so many things going on that he’s not going to be able to keep all of those plates spinning. Stress, frustration–and in this book particularly, lingering consequences, all add up to a guy who can’t please everyone but does an amazing job given how many ways he’s pulled.

In Marked, Adam has more of his telepathy, which is nice–it makes it feel more like the suggested high level concept (psychic investigator). This book delves much deeper into the telepath side of things; while Alex is juggling police commitments, a call from Kara near the start of the book plunges him into the Guild and its struggles.

There’s good world building, as we encounter the various guild factions and learn how they interact in their own spaces. The guild/tech theme from other books remains a strong current in this one, though we also learn about contagious madness and other unique threats to telepaths.

Over the course of the book, several true things change, leaving Adam in a very different position at the end then at the beginning. It’s a nice progression; book 2 kicked off with a lot of consequences from book 1, and Alex at the end of book 3 is in a very different place for finances and romance than he’s been before. There’s no sense of episodic writing or of a story not fitting in a very specific time in his life. It seems like the last few years were a bit of stasis, but everything is changing now. I am looking forward to book 4, Vacant, due out in December.

07. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. This book is supernatural from the start; a van stalling out at an intersection leads to Lauren picking up a missing girl flyer… and being haunted by her ghost. It’s a tricky look at school, relationships and understanding, finding a quest (or tilting at windmills)… a very baseline real world with challenges, and school in the backdrop. There’s a twist that amplifies the book and encourages you to look back on the events from other characters’ perspectives. I recommend it to Jennifer, and anyone else who is looking for good YA fiction. (Though you need to be able to handle some depressing/concerning elements–among other things, teenage runaways and abduction are a very strong theme.)

Mistwood by Leah Cypress is set in a fantasy world, and thrives there. Our protagonist is The Shifter, who comes to protect the prince and struggles to recover her memories. Isabel, the shifter, emerges to find that her reputation precedes her, which her memories come only when prompted. The alienness of the shifter, the bubbling conflict that lurks behind the scenes until Isabel gains enough skill to start unraveling the secret that no one is talking about, and the conflict in loyalties all resonated. The pacing is non-standard, but the book is plenty short to keep its drive throughout. (This book also has a twist that flows from those lost memories. It’s pretty well handled.) For a first novel, I thought it was great and look forward to reading her next book. [Though, honestly, this story is told and told well... I'd rather read about a new situation than continue a short time after the book ends.]

25. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags:

An excellent second book, following Brilliance.

The characters continue to develop; we see the aftermath of Cooper’s dilemma at the end of Brilliance, a few months later. The cost of doing the right thing is a big theme through this book. On one level, this book has less action; Cooper may have the instincts of a field agent, but he has more responsibilities. Near the end, however, we’re back in the thick of the action. Cooper has

One of the great subplots is the Cooper’s relationships. Ironically, the kids he sacrificed so much for last book are less on stage… but his romantic relationships involve interesting juggling.

It doesn’t end on a really high note, but the struggles of book 3 are well outlined. I devoured this one very quickly and look forward to the next!

13. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

I recently re-read God’s War, by Kameron Hurley. The first time I read it, I finished feeling a little flat and disappointed in myself. The main character, Nyx, is an earthy, pungent, no-nonsense mercenary–much more Black Company than the high fantasy mercenaries who always fight for good. The world building was very interesting, but the world’s fully immersive, so there’s a lot of wondering at the strangeness and trying to keep afloat at first on a first read.

On reread, I enjoyed the book much more. I remembered some of the good that Nyx shows later; that helped me empathize with her up front, before she gives you much reason. On reread, I also remembered more of how the world worked, so I was able to spend more time appreciating the elements–and noticing how everything, from the economy, roles, and everything else hangs together so very well. Long story short, this is a book well worth reading twice.

The series continued in Infidel; I rolled into it immediately following God’s War. There’s a jump in time and teams that makes sense. Everyone is older and more successful in their own ways, at least as the book begins. Tirhan turns out to be an interesting society on its own; it’s more than a blend of Nasheen and Chenja. It feels so much more like a first world society, rather than one collapsing from the weight of depopulation and war.

Faith continues to be important, and I liked the new characters for everyone; Rhys’ boss and wife are each interesting to discover, and Nyx’s new team has two well developed characters. The lingering impact of Nyx’s past gets explored, and the Bel Dame history gets brought to more light.

I ended this book very interested in finding out what’s next for this poor world.

Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance was a very interesting “brilliant kids remake everything” book. (It’s much more than that, but that’s the broadest hook. That societal backdrop–kids who were a step ahead evolutionarily–made me first think of Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain. Writing this, Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear also came to mind.)

Cooper makes a great, conflicted, lead for the book. He’s one of the oldest Brilliants, someone raised before the Academies became common. He works for the DAR, specifically Equitable Services–which is as Orwellian as you suspect. It’s a grim vision of adaptation to the new reality of “kids” who dominate every field they touch.

His relationships, the shifting sands of his understanding of the world, his interaction with his mentor, with the gifted whose paths (and gunfire, and…) he crosses, and the world at large all feel right. He’s deep in a clandestine game, which makes it feel very spy-thriller at times, but the brilliant/gifted angle keeps it close to sci-fi.

I picked it up from the library because of the big idea piece for the second book, A Better World. Which, now that I’ve read Brilliant, looks even more interesting.

For a different dystopic future, I turned to Clean by Alex Hughes. It’s a partners in the police force book, with the primary POV as a telepath. The world building is very interesting; there are flashes of very cool future elements, but a notable lack of computing. As the book progresses, we learn more about both the Telepath’s Guild and their relations with the rest of society, and the Tech Wars, which are the cause of the uneven technology of this future.

The crime part of the novel gives the book a familiar feel, but the first person POV does a great job of embedding us in this Atlanta. It’s a mess, of course, but the history that’s led to the current society makes more and more sense and hints and explanations are dropped. It looks like another couple of books are already out, so I’ll pick them up and see how everyone deals with the drama of the last quarter of this book.

26. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain is post-technology sci-fi, where people have colonized a distant star, but lost the technology (due to war). The resulting society is interesting; in the Capitol there are a number of forces who remember a star faring era, but the leadership and common people live no more advanced than riffles and trains.

One twist is that the local culture is Caribbean derived; the language has propagated forward, with regional variations. Similarly, the aggressors are Aztec, but manipulated by aliens to have strong reinforcement in their ways of sacrifice.

The conflict between the two is interesting; all of my sympathies were on the Caribbean side, but the peeks we get at the life under the Aztecs makes them understandable. John deBrun is interesting; I found myself doubting and disappointed in him–just the way he and other major characters view him. The reveal near the end is okay, but the resolution of the ship seemed arbitrary. (Well, the final run, at least.)

In the end, I’m mildly curious about the next books in the series, but it didn’t inspire “must buy now”. Though the galactic situation that was setup is quite interesting, and was barely touched on in this book.

Death Sworn, by Leah Cypress, was a fast, fun book. It’s YA, with a solid protagonist, who really does have a reason to mope. Her struggle to uphold the responsibilities placed on her, and her navigating of the assassin’s society, were all captivating. Her big breakthrough–in figuring out how her whole mission had been manipulated into being–was a surprise to me, but made perfect sense in the resulting conversation.

The relationship between the two main characters was very interesting and felt authentic; their sense of duty to their organizations, suspicion at the setup, confidence in their own abilities, and such all worked very well. The Empire has just enough threat–and the characters seem to have an appropriate for their age lack of understanding of the details of the Empire’s modern nature and recent acts–that I’m interested to see what we learn about them.

If I’d had the sequel on hand, I’d have immediately begun reading the next book. (Admittedly, that’s true of most books… but I did enjoy it. And its low complexity made it an easy read.)

I picked up my Winter and Spring issues of Boom: A Journal of California and finally read them. Both were engaging on their main topics; Winter’s theme was The Future, and included articles about how California has often stood in for “the future” for authors. An article about sustainability was excellent, and dug under my perceptions of what sustainability should be trying to maintain and how it’s measured. It seems intuitive… which is how is escapes from being challenged on its underpinnings.

Spring’s subtitle was THE WORLD IN CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA IN THE WORLD. It felt more loosely connected, but I enjoyed most of the articles. (Bring the World to California felt a little too like an informercial–and the hard parts were signposted instead of solved.) This issue felt dreamier, more reflective, though the border article was concrete.) I enjoyed them and renewed for another year…

Summer will bring “What’s the Matter with San Francisco.” I’m curious to see what they’ll see.