Recent Books: May 19th

The Martian, by Andy Weir. An enjoyable book, very good physics feel and plausible problems. It’s a mostly solo adventure, a bit of a shipwrecked feel updated to really hostile environs. There some good internal development and a number of interesting peripheral characters. It’s well done, though it lacked the total Wow! that many reported feeling from it.

Basically, it’s a great disaster repair struggle; lots of competent, creative problem solving. It only goes wrong in the Earth chapters; the sustained attention on his plight struck me as… very surprising. Particularly sustained over so many months. (A 20 day countdown, I could envision getting a chyron, but sustained year plus interest seems… difficult in this distractable world.) The politics of mission control seem reasonable, though the characters feel much thinner.

Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. A fascinating near future; the world has gently shifted its focus to India and Africa. The cultures are interesting, as are the parallels between the two stories. It’s weird and surreal (particularly the modern Meena story), while Mariama’s story is more steadily straightforward, though from a younger viewpoint.

Actually, this review lends a great pull quote: My experience reading The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne can be boiled down to: this was an amazing novel until it wasn’t anymore. I loved the world and setup; the characters, particularly the unreliable narrators, were interesting. Meena’s story was the one I most identified with, which makes her breakdown revelation at the end incredibly bitter. Mariama’s story was less engaging, probably because she was so young and (after making the decision to flee) so acted upon.

While this one only mostly worked, I’ll be interested to see what else the author puts out in the future.

Several issues of the Fate Codex. (Mostly a quick reread and skim for my upcoming Fate Deyrni scenario.)

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. I’ve only begun reading it now.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien De Castell (reread). I’d forgotten that I’d read this before. I wonder what I’ll find on the new read through.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

A brief trip into out of the land of fantasy and science fiction. This book is scary in an “everything hangs together so plausibly” way.

It’s the story of a girl from ages 12 – 16. It’s a tale of alienation and peer pressure, of the stories you tell and the stories you live. Anna path is disheartening (drop out to become a waitress at 16), but it flows realistically from her relationships with her mom and everyone around her.

Anna, her mom, and most of her friends are in untenable places that are big enough to swallow lives. We all know the dissatisfaction that can creep in, the hollow that wants filling. Anna’s journey is quiet and painful in many places, but it rings hauntingly authentic.

I was going to mention that the book does this without invoking abusive parents or siblings, which is true… but there is a scene of disturbing rape in the quiet hours after a party that could be triggering. If you can handle that, it’s a book I recommend to everyone.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars was an interesting book, full of anecdotes. Unfortunately, the book is almost entirely “Life in the Void”–history and interviews with former astronauts, but not a lot of the science specific to a Mars expedition. (There is a lot of overlap–in many ways, Mars is just an even longer weightless journey–but if there are special unique to leaving the Earth’s neighborhood concerns, they kind of fell away.)

It’s a great book for people interested in space flight today with a side of missteps along the way. If you’re interested in people and the trials of food and waste receptacles in space, it’s really your book. Unfortunately, the title had me anticipating something different.

Three Recent Books

I recently read three books; here are quick notes that I may later expand.

From the library, Federations an anthology by John Joseph Adams. Skilled, consistent, mostly sci-fi, but the actual Federations/political angle wasn’t as dominant as I expected.

A recent purchase: Fantasy Issue 58, the Women Destroy Fantasy! special issue. This was more mixed, with 4 new short stories, 4 reprints, a novel excerpt, and several discussions, essays, and other non-fiction.

An old book that I stumbled across was Angry Black White Boy or, The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay by Adam Mansbach. While Macon is pretty far out, I understand the stereotype the author is calling on much better now. In some ways, I’ve felt the same strain to belong in a more significant way that being acknowledged as separate but harmless. (Though my experience is usually as a man on the fringes of feminist discussion.)

Bookwyrm 2015

I had a nice time at Bookwyrm, though there was a bit more of a “working” feel than the cons of my imagination. The first slot I was backup for walk-ins; I prepped City of Danger, but wasn’t needed. Instead, I got to play in a game of The Queen’s Cavaliers run by the author. It came off very smoothly in the GM’s hands; I was impressed by the level of differentiation between skills, well handled via card references and a quick reference page. There’s enough system that it’d take a while to master, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Saturday afternoon, I finally got to play Lady Blackbird with Patrick, Will, and a couple visiting from Southern California. I liked it! I can see why Patrick would like to try the system with a little more time; a con slot was quite rushed, especially with rules explanations.

Sunday morning, I was signed up to play in Jeff’s Dr. Disco vs. The Agents of F.U.N.K.. Unfortunately, we had a bunch of last minute walk-ins, and our “on standby” GM hadn’t played 5e or finished reading the adventure. So I ran instead; a couple (and James) played at the start, but Keith and his son soon joined us.

The first mini adventure’s fight was quite difficult–though, in part, because they approached the tower in small groups, which denied them the chance to power through their foes quickly. They saved the kidnapped boy, but were dropped in the process. Fortunately, the adventure mentioned a pair of guards nearby, who weren’t up to a fight, but could at least treat the wounded.

The second mini adventure was a better story, but the kid was acting out; I think he was frustrated by the first adventure’s finale. (So was I.) So there was a lot of his character spiking the scenario and taunting his dad’s character. A less fun finish to the morning.

The afternoon slot I ran Psi*Run. I had a split of 3 experienced and 3 new players; we did fine. Afterwards, a few players mentioned that their creativity was low since it was the con’s last slot. Still, it was a fun session, and the characters mostly got to ends that their players liked.

All in all, it was a good weekend of gaming. (Though I do look forward to playing an Agent of Funk one on these days!) We were pretty wiped by the end, but enjoyed hopping out to join the organizers afterwards. Before next year we need to decide how to get in gaming; this year, the booth did fine on Saturday (because Jennifer was at it most of the day), but Sunday’s sales were bad because we were both GMing the morning slot, and both played for at least part of the afternoon slot, leaving the table bare. Maybe scheduling an employee to run it for a slot, or just having the table present one day, not both… we need to figure out something for next year.

Cool map trick

Dave Younce originally shared:
I found the next town map for my D&D game thusly:
1) go to https://www.mapbox.com/editor/#style
2) select ‘Pencil’ style
3) find someplace suitable; in this case the NW coast of France somewhere.

This map will stand-in for Leilon in the Forgotten Realms, which has no port but is coastal. Several other features of this little French town make it work well for what I have in mind.

PTA: Plundering Pitard IV

On Friday, a group of us got together and pitched a new network retro-scifi TV show. The show we described is pleasantly hokey (but not in a way that the characters acknowledge), with futuristic ray-guns and robots that mean well but don’t have the finest motor control.

The series stars Lt. Johnny Coburn, Commander Hank Houston, Alginon Rockefeller III, Willhelm Wolfgang Muler, and KRNCH-E.

We played one round of scenes after finishing the pitch.

The show started off with the silver bright spaceship landing, sinking slightly into the soft ground. The gangplank dropped and a line of suited figures in classic bubble helmets strode forward and down the gangplank. Coburn kept an eye out for danger, Houston posed for the cameras, and Willhelm held up a sampling rig, while Myrtle… coughed and started to topple. Alginon and KRNCH-E made themselves scarce!

Houston caught her, while Willhelm unhooked his air supply and fed it into her suit. Coburn leveled the swaying grasses with his raygun. Myrtle was rushed to the medical bay where quick analysis revealed that cyclotoxins were responsible. The ship was buckled up tight…

(Missing Scene?)

The next scene involved KRNCH-E and Muller setting up atmospheric purging stations around the ship. Eerie green lights and clouds of purified fog billow around the ship.

Lt. Coburn struggled to get approval to adequately secure the compound. An electrified chain link fence was erected to form a secure perimeter around the ship; Coburn was unable to get authorization for the six turrets that would create a secure space, but two were allowed. Somehow, he’d make it work.

Alginon decided to get mining analysis underway; he convinced Houston to send ten marines to escort Gerald, the mining geological expert, to the nearby mountains. Hours later, panicked cries came in over the radio from the scout team–but the transmission was abruptly cut off.

Huston and his simmering second in command, “Big” Dan Anderson, led every marine to the site of the ambush. A radioed call from base warned of disaster from everyone’s absence, and mentioned impressing civilians into running the turrets. Huston peevishly ordered five men to scour the area for the bodies of all of the fallen, while he hustled back to base with the remaining 25 soldiers.