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.

03. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: FATE Games · Tags: , ,

I just spent too long tracking this down, so I’ll keep it here for reference.

fate-core-important-links
Community Fate Core Extensions

Mousguard via FAE: Guard Mice Accelerated

Doyce: Gaming with Kids, and FAE tutorial

From Making Stunts, is a stab below, leading to a randomized version by Fred Hicks called Stuntmaker.

STUNT TEMPLATE

Still confused on how to make a Stunt? How’s this handy chart- just match one of the WHAT’S with any appropriate WHEN:

WHAT
Grant +2 to a specific action using a specific skill…
Switch one specific skill with another specific skill…
Add an action to a skill (ex. you can now Attack; now Defend)
Ignore a simple rule (ex. can’t use a skill twice in a challenge)…
Add a +2 opposition to a specific thing (ex. block moving; writing in code)…
Grant a 2 stress hit…
Cause a mild consequence…
Create an Adventure (no free invoke) that takes a Fair +2 roll to remove …
Upgrade a boost to an aspect (with free invoke)…
Switch ANY skill with a specific skill (Requires TWO “Whens”)

WHEN
…when attempting something that’s your speciality (ex. expert on Languages)
… in a specific circumstance (ex. when you’re On Fire; when you’re Surrounded)
…once per scene
… when you pay a Fate Point
… when doing a specific action (ex. Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, Defend)
… when you succeed with style for a specific action (Attack, Create an Advantage). This replaces a Boost, and is optional.
… when you invoke the aspect related to the stunt (this costs an invoke or fate point, and replaces the +2 bonus.)

Ex. I have an evil witch. I match the “cause a mild consequence…” with a second half. “Once per scene” would work. Or if I want more color, maybe, “when you succeed with style (instead of a boost.” I like the second one better, as it means her bonuses are other’s downfalls.

When in doubt, the safest, easiest stunt template is “+2 to a specific skill, when doing a specific action (overcome, create an advantage, attack, or defend) in a specific situation.” For example, “My Little Burro”: +2 to Drive when Creating Advantages when in your favorite humvy, “Burro.”

Fred Hicks: That’s a good list. My only quibble is the “when” option of “… when you pay a Fate Point” because paired up with a lot of the WHAT’s it’s not really different from not taking the stunt and just spending the fate point on an aspect invoke as needed. Typically when I have a stunt cost a Fate Point, it’s because it’s granting a 3-shift equivalent benefit or something else pretty potent instead of the standard 2-shift equivalent benefit.

29. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

A familiar to me trilogy; this is probably my third or fourth read through.

The first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, was very strong. Moon builds a realistic feeling world; it has a technological feel similar to the middle ages/stock fantasy, but the political structures vary. There’s also magic… but this is a grittier world, with magic mostly on the sidelines.

What’s particularly good about this–or, at least what is presented convincingly to me–is the soldier’s eye view, beginning with basic training. It has a fantasy gloss, but concentrates on the details–the drill, tedium, and lifestyle. The book is tough on its characters; they’re mercenaries, fighting in war, and anyone can die. That emphasizes the low-key feel of the world, even when it becomes more driven and magical in the second half.

The second book, Divided Allegiance is still well written and grounded. It suffers a bit, as Paks quickly leaves a military setting and flounders a bit in her choice of companions. Brewersridge proves a great way station in the center of the book; Paks’ adjustments and changes get worked through nicely. Once she’s off to Fin Panir the book changes tone again, and again once they’re on quest. It’s a series of tricky transitions; I rooted for Paks to make it through, to adjust to each new setting… but there is a bit of repetition to the feel, since she keeps having to start from scratch in new contexts.

The end of the second book is horrible; it prompts you to immediately pick up the third book, to reassure yourself that the end isn’t as bitter as we’ve experienced. It’s hard to imagine waiting a year with that depth of disappointment… I wonder how many people abandoned the series after book 2, unwilling to pick the series up a year later when book 3 came out due to a hazy memory of distaste left by the ending.

Once you’re past that, the third book, Oath of Gold gets things back on track pretty quickly. Pak’s unusual path, including her crippling by fear and pain and its unusual healing, strongly sets her on a “not your typical Paladin” path. Her investigation, fumbling, dedication and final sacrifice (and its odd side effects) all combine to make her a very non-standard in SF hero. Very well done, as a trilogy–I really enjoy the series.

24. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books

The Stars Change was an interesting book in a quickly sketched universe. The setting is an interesting one; a university planet several generations after its founding. The elapsed time since the founding allows the local culture and religion to drift from their real world roots, but keeps it close enough in time that the source shines through.

I asked for the book after reading the author’s Big Idea piece; rereading that article, the book did a good job on delivering on her promise. The world makes sense, and I really liked the cultural underpinnings that tied the characters together. I’d forgotten that her goal was to write something light and sexy… the sex, especially, continued into the final product. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it’s more central to the story than most SF that I’ve read.

The heroes of the tale feel mundane in a good way… the aliens are alien, but everyone is just an average person, you know? It’s a tale of communities and individuals doing what they can, despite serious constraints, rather than unfettered heroes with tremendous resources solving everything.

I’d heard a lot about The Walking Dead; we sell a few board games with the theme and I have friends who rave about the TV adaptation in in my facebook feed. Jennifer picked it up a few years ago, but I put it off. It’s a graphic novel, which I’m slow to promote to the bedside reading stack… mostly because it’s slower for me than streaming text. And I never quite pick a level of picture-reading that makes me happy; I’m tempted to slide over the pictures at text reading speed, but sometimes there are interesting subtle things going on in the panel. In the end, I try to hit a sweet spot, where I view the pictures in enough detail to appreciate them, but read through quickly enough that the plot keeps a good flow.

I like the story, particularly the emphasis on the people who just don’t cope well. It makes the story feel more grounded–and lets less ridiculous levels of bravery shine, instead of getting buried in endless one-upsmanship (in body count or whatever).

Rick is a good character to carry us through; his sense of responsibility makes him an attractive point of view for the world. As the episodes continue, he faces challenges that he cannot meet and his personality proves similarly warped by the emerging world. Several times he pays a terrible price; his resilience is amazing but believable.

The story isn’t over, but Volume 3 doesn’t appear the be out yet. Compendium 1 has a great break point to end it; Compendium 2 is a bit more stream of story in its ending. I look forward to continuing the tale when the next chapter is collected. (I like his belated realization, near the end of the second book, about what goals a larger community can take on.)

24. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags:

This is a pair of collections of her short stories; I think they’re all reprints, but some (particularly in Volume 1) were new to me.

I started with Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands, which has mostly her science fiction short stories. The Rule of Names was new to me (a fun short story set in the East Reach of Earthsea), as were the following four stories of the collection. It’s hard not to be a fanboy, but all of the stories are crisp and beautifully written. The first stories are familiar, The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas is often reprinted, with great reason. Semley’s Necklace was interesting; I’d read it before, but I was more willing to read it from Semley’s perspective, which improved it for me this time around.

I think I’ve read First Contact with the Gorgonids before, but enjoyed her wry pokes at Jerry this time. So many others were familiar, but it was good to read them again and have them in one place.

Volume One: Where on Earth got off to a strong start. I really appreciated collecting the Orsinian tales; the second Orsinian story is much stronger for following the first with the same characters. Many of the remaining stories were familiar, and most were quite strong. Ether, OR was another story that was new to me–and quite enjoyable, with interesting characters dealing with a very unusual but understated problem.

There’s a really interesting piece at the end, Half Past Four. I might have gone crazy trying to line everyone up, if I hadn’t vaguely remembered her warning in the introduction explaining how the story came about.

This was a pair of books I’ll reread again; it’ll probably take a few reads to get many of these onto my favorites list… but I suspect some will clear that high bar.

08. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags:

This book is about Oak Ridge, a government city created from bare Tennessee clay, where much of the Uranium for the atomic bombs was enriched. The book shoots for an everyday worker’s point of view, which is tricky given how secret the project was–most people had no idea what their job was doing, much less what the process overall was supposed to accomplish.

It’s a good story, well told. The chapters alternate between “the girls”–a set of six or so women in various roles and their efforts, and a “big picture” chapter where some aspect of the overall Manhattan Project is laid out in more detail.

It doesn’t have the narrative hooks of a story, particularly since it’s a three year slice of their lives and the only “endings” were marriages for some of the workers. In the end, it’s a good book, well written, about the back end of a crazy complex and sprawling project.

02. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books

Now that I’ve finished the Wheel of Time, I can finally get to all of the cool books that I got for Christmas.

One of my most anticipated was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It’s a pretty far future book; told from the point of view of a ship wide intelligence that operates ancillaries. The book really worked for me. While it’s on the space opera end of the spectrum, One Esk is a character that I can relate to–it’s not all super humans or the force in this future.

The resulting society is interesting too; one interesting parallel was the allusion to Rome and how things became difficult when their engine of conquest ran out of highly lootable enemies on their frontier. This was the first book in a trilogy; I’m eagerly awaiting Ancillary Sword. (Jennifer did run into a problem in reading it; the reviews I’d read talked about the multifaceted character, which set me up to eagerly see how it would be implemented. Jennifer went into it blind and struggled with the novel for several chapters, until the timelines and points of view clarified.)

The second novel was Angel Falls by Michael Paul Gonzalez. It was okay, but was over the top in ways that didn’t work very well for me. The story was interesting, and is probably more interesting with a deeper religious background; the characters feel a little flat, but probably play off of a more detailed view of Eve, Cain, Abel, and such.

In the end, for me it was a read once and pass it on book. Not poorly written–really, it’s what it says on the back cover. I think I just was in a specific mood when I asked for it… and wasn’t in that mindset when I got around to reading it months later.

I’ve just begun The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. So far it’s a little slow… but I’m still getting to know the characters.

14. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: ,

I was wrong.

The flaws that prevented me from enjoying the Wheel of Time a few years ago, it turns out, were due almost entirely to the delay between books and my lack of willingness to reread/refamiliarize for clarity.

The pacing isn’t perfect (over 100,000+ pages, it’d be surprising if it was). but the 14 books make for a great experience. Now that the series is complete, I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone interested in a sprawling world grand fantasy.

The end delivered on the build up and promise of the initial books. Thinking about the transition, it’s clear that Sanderson worked hard to emulate Jordan’s style–and succeeded brilliantly. There were minor differences, but none that I couldn’t chalk up to Jordan writing at his best.

These two books are action packed. The world is ending and the heroes aren’t quite ready for it–but there’s no time.

Rand’s acceptance of his fate and developing wisdom feel earned; it’s great to see the other characters so surprised by his development and rapid change.

Perrin succeeds at embracing the wolf, but struggles appropriately. Master Luhan’s advice near the end rings true–as does Perrin’s surprised realization about his restraint.

Mat remains Mat, even when he is called upon to be the greatest general the world has known. His duel with Demandred is extensive (in page count), but it has to be. So many good people die, but that emphasizes the incredibly high stakes, and… honestly, if many more had survived, it would have strained credulity.

Again, the series was well done and the conclusion was earned. The characters went through an immense amount, but remained sympathetic, interesting, and reacted authentically throughout.

The end is final enough; there are projections toward the future, threads left hanging… but it’s a new world. I do wonder if anyone will bother with fan-fic after the series’ end… so much was resolved that seeing how people react to the great events would be fascinating, but you can’t match the excitement of the last battle without feeling derivative. [Well, that, and given the tremendous slaughter, the whole world needs trauma counseling.]

08. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Game Group, Roleplaying

Years ago, young V’shtok was known among his people as a healer. He was proud to earn a name so young; he underestimated how much of his rise was due to family influence. V’shtok was hunting in the mists when he came across a wounded elder, Ak’okkta. Pride and impulse encouraged him to treat the elder, alone, without supplies–a critical mistake. Ak’okkta never recovered use of his arm.

V’shtok fled his homeworld, abandoned his name in humiliation, and studied starships. His skill with machines is often mentioned, but claiming the name he deserves for his skill might expose his past. He burns to be named once again; merely “Gand” is bitter, choking him on memory.

Worse, last month he crossed paths with Forr Zybysh, a cousin, who invoked his old name with clicking contempt. Zybysh used the name in every sentence… and promised to “introduce” V’shtok to the community, destroying his newly built life with childhood’s shadow.

Quagg Ktk’tok agreed to do “a little favor” for Zybysh–if Zybysh would travel on without destroying “Gand’s” hard won reputation. The gleam in Zybysh’s compound eyes promises that more favors will follow…