The Warrior Prophet by R Scott Bakker

The second book in the series, an excellent continuation from the first. He doesn’t make the mistake of expanding the points of view too greatly.

Long story short: if you liked the first book, the series gets better. The hard work of figuring out the overall situation is over– now you get to see how everyone deals with tough circumstances. Some of it is surprising– very surprising.

Weather Warden by Rachel Caine

Thanks to Stacy for the loan!

I enjoyed the first three books of the series: Ill Wind, Heat Stroke, and Chill Factor. They all have a very different feel but share being fast, fun reads.

Joanne goes through a lot in these books. In the first book she’s on the run, hunting for a hidden ally… and facing a devastating clock; she’s dying to a corrupting demon twisting within. Her balance and resourcefulness in the face of her many challenges is wonderful and completely engaging.

The end of the first book sets up the second– but the hope you’re left with at the end of the first is swiftly tempered. It’s a dog eat dog world, and she’s completely reliant on others for her sustenance. The book wanders a bit, but the core relationships are solid and well done. The end is very incomplete– really, it’s just an open hook for the third book. The resolution, returning her to normal life is a little vague and… obvious, but it mostly works.

The third book is a bit more “normal life” despite the unusual circumstances. There’s some appealing flashbacks that do a good job of explaining more about Joanne and where she came from. The additional development is nice, though the rape and interrogation scene was disheartening. (More disheartening that it had to happen in her storyline; she had plenty of motivation without it.) This time the book resolves clearly, then tacks on an open hook to the 4th book.

A slew of library books came in so I set the series aside for now– but I enjoyed them all.

The Darkness that Comes Before by R Scott Bakker

A pretty good book, filled with intrigue. It was almost set aside; the prologue felt very fan-fic, with a super heroic character, cut off from everything, overcoming outrageous odds and completely manipulative and dispassionate. Fortunately I stuck it out and got much more appealing characters in the next several chapters.

The book has the struggle intrigue rich books always suffer; there’s a complex set of interactions and history that the major players all know, but the reader has to get introduced to them as transparently as possible. The author does a good job of not info dumping intensely, though separating the dreams and history from the book’s current day is tricky the first time it comes up.

In the end, I liked the characters– they are all flawed, but most have extenuating (or at least explanatory) circumstances. The nebulous evil is very shadowy– we only come to certain proof at mid-book (from a minor character’s POV, and at the end (for the movers and shakers).

The book doesn’t even pretend to come to a real conclusion; it ends on a turning point, but there’s no clear break or circumstance to ground it. Despite my grousing, I do want to look up the other books in the series and see where the characters wind up. The end of the world’s a good place for drama…

The Darkness that Comes Before by R Scott Bakker

A pretty good book, filled with intrigue. It was almost set aside; the prologue felt very fan-fic, with a super heroic character, cut off from everything, overcoming outrageous odds and completely manipulative and dispassionate. Fortunately I stuck it out and got much more appealing characters in the next several chapters.

The book has the struggle intrigue rich books always suffer; there’s a complex set of interactions and history that the major players all know, but the reader has to get introduced to them as transparently as possible. The author does a good job of not info dumping intensely, though separating the dreams and history from the book’s current day is tricky the first time it comes up.

In the end, I liked the characters– they are all flawed, but most have extenuating (or at least explanatory) circumstances. The nebulous evil is very shadowy– we only come to certain proof at mid-book (from a minor character’s POV, and at the end (for the movers and shakers).

The book doesn’t even pretend to come to a real conclusion; it ends on a turning point, but there’s no clear break or circumstance to ground it. Despite my grousing, I do want to look up the other books in the series and see where the characters wind up. The end of the world’s a good place for drama…

Beyond Heart Mountain by Lee Ann Roripaugh

A short, beautiful collection of poems. The book is organized into three parts, with the middle being a collection of poems from the perspective of internment camp survivors. They’re fascinating and intertwine; one is a sister worrying about her brother (sent off to the no-nos camp), another is from the brother explaining why he couldn’t say yes. They’re heartbreaking, fascinating little glimpses of life.

I love this style of poetry and look forward to reading more. Sadly, this is the library’s only copy of her poetry.

GenCon games

I tried out four new RPGs, most of which I’ve been following casually since development– and one, Burning Wheel, which I’d owned but had been too intimidated to run without playing. After playing it, I think I could run it– and would enjoy doing so. Dresden was fun– very like I expected, but it was great to see the other players go “click” when they got Aspects. The game was crazy and over the top by the end, when it all sang. The GM took some chances, but they paid off beautifully, and really reinforced the feel of the novels. Star Wars was very well run intrigue– and I accidentally got to play the straight man– the only guy no one had a hold on. So they kept me in the dark– as a player and PC both– and it was a blast. Of course, it didn’t end quite right… my dice went on a hot streak and the rebel defectors fell to my blaster. 😉 Pathfinder was interesting; it’s exactly as advertised– a slight cleanup and extension of 3.5. I was able to play confidently from my character sheet, despite never looking at the book.

Meeting writers of blogs and RPG books was less exciting than I’d anticipated. Despite following people for years, it’s all one way, so conversations really stalled at the “nice to meet you” stage. Which, really, is fine– I’d never pushed to make them closer before, and a con with so many new faces wasn’t the place.

Conversely, finally meeting the people I’ve been writing with for a couple of years was neat. We didn’t schedule enough together time– I could have spent a day, easy, in camaraderie, but we were all trying to fill our GenCon, most were traveling with other friends, and so on. Still, it was great to meet them, the same night we won the Ennie– which was nice. The ceremony was too long, and Pathfinder’s roll of victories (something like 11 of 21 categories) got a little embarrassing after a while. The workshop the next morning was great– I’m not a huge public speaker, but it was very comfortable passing the conversation and questions back and forth, due to our years of interaction. Winning a silver Ennie was great– I think it caught us all off guard. Selling out the 50 con copies of Eureka was gratifying– all the way through the design I though the product category was a long shot because so little system neutral stuff does well. I was pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise– though some of that was due to our sights not being too large.

Open board gaming was a way to fill the cracks; it was interesting to see which games were popular enough to maintain tournaments years after their release. The Rio Grande room was great– they had a roving demo staff who would come up to you when you sat down at a board, and would walk you through the first couple of turns. I got to try out several new games, which was a nice spot of fun. They also had Dominion’s new expansion, Prosperity, which really broke the mold of the first few sets. It’s intentionally inflationary, and I suspect that it won’t mesh well with core sets Dominion– or, rather, that games using Prosperity cards will feel more like Prosperity than core Dominion.

I blew off a game for more dealer’s hall roaming Sunday. The dealer’s hall was impressive, sometimes overwhelming. Each time I’d hit an area I’d see new booths I’d somehow not noticed on the previous pass. Given my biases, it was more amazement at the variety of goodies out there than the need to buy much that struck me… but the IPR booth was dangerous, particularly when a designer pitched their own game.

Sunday morning we also got a very quick demo of Battles of Westeros, FFG’s new “Battlelore” core set. We all liked it right away, and I think it’s a lot like a Euro-game version of most tactical minis games; about a 90 minute play time, simple but deep rules, with lots of room for strategy but a strong influence by luck. We bought BoW and it’s been a frequent play this week. We have the rules down pretty smoothly now, and once the new game luck wore off for me, Jennifer enjoyed it too.

It was sometimes overwhelming, often fun in a small way, sometimes fun in a huge way, and simply an amazing experience. I have no idea when I’ll get to go again, but I hope it’s some time soon.

More on the RPGs (from the original post):
Burning Wheel was great to see in play; I’ve long owned it, but had been intimidated by the rules. I now think I could tackle it.

Dresden was great– I love the novels– but what really made it sing was watching the non-Fate players “get” Aspects. We did some crazy big, crazy cool stuff. I’m going to steal the GM’s big marker and index cards for keeping track of scene and city aspects– having them in front of you reminded you to tag them for awesomeness.

My Star Wars game involved some really well run intrigue. It was great to play with my normal Star Wars GM– he’s long run it, but hadn’t had a chance to actually play. Winding up the accidental straight man, and rolling incredibly lucky just when the story required that I not do so was great.

Learning byswarm’s “Dark Golden” world and Pathfinder was neat. The easy grapple rules really were impressive, and familiarity from long play of 3.5 made it relaxing.

Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader

A lot of short snippets– random lists of facts, two page articles on a lot of interesting topics, longer articles on vaudville and other quirky topics. There’s a lot of readers digest like articles– strange laws, stupid burglaries, accidental discoveries– plus odd facts about toilets and sewers to fit the overall theme.

It was fun, entirely light– and entirely forgettable. There’s very little I retained– well, remembering freeform. Perhaps, if something specific came up in conversation, I might remember something more, but I don’t consider most of it added to my stock of knowledge. (Other than the extended series on the Mayflower, which was particularly interesting.)

Alcestis by Katherine Beutner

A fascinating take on myth, grounded firmly in historical Greece. The world is alien but dimly familiar; the encircled and separated world of women, the grim brooding of a father who still blames his daughter for the loss of his wife in her birth, sisters and rivalries, and the terror of getting shipped off to an entirely new world to join her husband that she knew for only an afternoon previously.

Her decision to intercede on her husband’s behalf is surprising– it doesn’t come from an excess of love the way you’d imagine. Her time in the underworld is bold, deeply marking– and annoying, given how she’s treated. Passion comes in the least likely place– and returning to the world above is a sacrifice, not liberation.

The men are alien and distant, separated by her status and the difference between the reader’s and the characters’ mores. It’s a fascinating look that encourages me to dig deeper into Greek literature.