Three stories in a day

Yesterday was the culmination of three storylines in three formats.

The first was the end of KOTOR, Knights of the Old Republic. Despite a few intention/controls issues, it really captured the feel of a good roleplaying campaign. It was the greatest investment of time, and payed off for it.

I finished Prodigy last night. It’s the second book in a YA series; it did a nice job of deepening the world and revealing more complexity. It was strong enough that I decided to get the other two books in the world, but I suspect that details will quickly fade.

The third thing I finished was The Customer is Always Wrong, a graphic novel. It read very quickly and felt near autobiographical. It was a surprising world, despite being so close to me in time and location… class, culture, and a decade made a big difference.

All three were great. I was particularly surprised at how odd it felt to complete three “storylines” in unrelated worlds and presentation styles. It certainly was indulgent–and felt so!

The Customer is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond

A series of well told tales; each chapter is a complete incident, but they stack up to make a very autobiographical feeling graphic novel.

I loved Madge and the various characters who came on stage–particularly her fellow employees, but also customers, her neighbors, and the various people who cross paths and collide with her.

I was surprised by the omni-presence of drugs in her circle–that’s probably a sign of my naivete and a decade’s difference; after all, I grew up in the era of the all powerful “Just Say No”.

In any case, it’s sweet, heartfelt, and devours in an instant.

Prodigy by Marie Lu

The second book, a sequel to Legend. It doesn’t start off as a great stand alone (it starts with them on the run, so you’ll want to understand who they’re running from and running toward), but it offers a solid conclusion. The conclusion marks a pivot–I can see a third book with a different mix of POV characters, though it doesn’t have to change.

The books kicks off with learning more about the Patriots, including meeting their leadership. The plan they present to Day and June is a YA level plot… which makes it rewarding when it’s later revealed that the Patriots, Republic, and Colonies are all more complicated than Day or June understand.

Tess really blossoms as a character and feel authentic. Day and June have a bout of trust issues–while it makes sense and doesn’t quite fall into the trap of being easily solved in one conversation–it still felt tropey as I read it.

The final sequence is movie ready action, requiring action movie like levels of disbelief. But it ends strong, with the characters changed and looking forward to much more adult and constrained responsibilities. (As I wrote this, I realized that their position at the end of this book isn’t dissimilar to Katniss and Peta the end of the Hunger Game’s first book.)

Anyway, I enjoyed it and it finished well. I’m ordering the next two books from the library.

Knights of the Old Republic

I completed Knights of the Old Republic at just under 50 hours of straightline story progression–so, probably 60-70 hours of game play. It was a very well written story, with interesting tricks to keep the feel of a wide open universe, while bottle necking you onto rails for a well scripted story experience at times.

Since the game is more than 15 years old, I won’t worry about spoilers much, though I’m not going to for for a detailed blow by blow description of all the plot point either.

It kicks off with some cut scenes, then dumps you on Taris, a big city built over an undercity. You have a quest–to find the other republic soldiers from your downed ship’s escape pods–but there’s a long period of acclimation, exploring, and getting used to the controls and interfaces. They’re pretty good about giving most generic people a generic title and a line or two of dialog, but giving detailed people a small dialog tree that helps you figure out your character.

There’s some running around and interfering with people’s lives, taking on small missions, etc., but you soon note that access to the undercity requires a passcard from the occupation troops. So, while you can wander around, if you want to advance, you need to pass through a specific plot element–but you need to cross paths with people who can help you make it happen, encouraging that exploration. Once through, you can pop back and forth between the city and the undercity, but the same format is followed–you can wander around the atrium to undercity, but to go further you need to pass through a funnel of talking to the people and helping them solve their zombie infestation. Then another opening up of options and exploring, dungeon style, and all the exploration and interaction you like, before stumbling on Bastilla and getting back on tighter rails.

When you flee Taris, you have a single destination, Dantooine. There, it begins with storyline heavy padawan training, but then opens the doors to range widely across the surface, exploring and getting into interesting trouble, finding new companions, and the like. It’s interesting, because it feels like you can miss so much more–this is from the era before they put an ! over the head of important people.

Eventually, though, you impress them enough to complete your training. From there, you have a choice of 4 worlds that you can tackle in almost any order–though there’s some guidance about leaving the enemy training center until last. Each world again has a mix of things going on, poised, waiting for you to break the status quo. They contribute to each other, and people on one world will refer generally to the overall actions you had on another world–but very generally, since it’s just what the news would cover.

After completing the four world quests, you’re shoved toward the finale… but they again get tricky and require a quest interacting with various planetary cultures before you can fix your ship and get on to the big space station. That’s a huge battle over many levels–very rewarding, though occasionally frustrating and it required more backtracking and loading from saves than most.

There were technical glitches at times, trying to run these old elements. Dantooine was terrible until I read some advice to set grass to off… and suddenly, it was much less choppy and frustrating. Similarly, turret actions were exciting, but going through three cut scenes before refighting a battle was quite frustrating.

There are excellent twists with your past surfacing (and a good reason for the blank slate amnesia), and your relationship with Bastilla and Carth holds up throughout. While you collect companions and have a chance to learn more about their pasts, many of them felt gamey–you chat with them, they relate something, then the conversation shuts down until you return to the ship and strike up the conversation, where they relate another nugget.

Despite that complaint, it was a good way to space out the discoveries and prevent you from getting overwhelmed. Fortunately, a couple of your companions don’t have extensive backstories to relate–but there are plenty who do. And, honestly, I liked their stories too.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and most of the game play. It was really well done.

Legend by Marie Lu

A fun YA book set in a dystopia that seems more the result of politics and climate change than nuclear winter or an equally dramatic break with today. Though, given the Elector’s control over information, who knows how much the world is accurately seen by either of our perceptive teens?

Day and June are both very sympathetic characters; incredibly skilled and to be looked up to from a raw potential POV, but also still victim to teenage gaps.

I enjoyed the first book and am a few chapters into its sequel, Prodigy.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

I hopped right in and enjoyed the world, but it feels slightly less deep than the other universes. Perhaps more time (and books) in the universe will help. The open ended ending–the resolution feels much less complete in one book than Scalzi’s norm–probably affected the way it felt.

The scale, too, is different. Instead of following a normal person for the universe around, we’re in the midst of nobility and the emperor’s court.

I bet that with another read, I’ll warm to the main characters further. Similarly, I like the interdependency as a universe; it feels like a screwed up world that we could easily stumble into.

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

An interesting tale tangentially related to Forever War–but it stands alone as much as it claims.

It’s a not too future with a fight between an imperialist America running a drug-war squared type intervention throughout the third world, remotely piloting mechs from the safety of fortified bases. Julian’s life bounces between his 10 day duty rotations and a scraping by life as a junior professor at home.

A couple of overlapping developments break the characters out of their comfortable lives and into the depths of scientific controversy and into a struggle with an apocalyptic cult. The final development comes from a crazy skew and seems to work too well… but it works.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

A well written book, with super engaging characters. Patricia and Laurence begin the story young; a big chunk of the book is written with Patricia and Laurence in 8th grade.

They’re both outcasts, each with their own niche–and each with overbearing parents who want to fix them. They become their own people with a lot of struggle.

When they reconnect, it’s exciting to see them confident and come into their own. Of course, the universe keeps it tough on them…

MJ-12: Inception by Michael J Martinez

It’s been a while since I read the book, so my review is a bit less detailed.

Long story short, I really like this take on superheroes and the beginning of the cold war. It felt like a complete book, but there’s a clear opportunity for sequels.

The heroes are of the “one exceptional trick” school of superhero, rather than each being a grab bag of awesome. There’s also a strong suggestion that there’s something… deliberate about the force that’s imbuing people with powers.

I do look forward to the sequels.

Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace

This is a fascinating book set “next week” or so. The characters are well drawn, though stereotype is pretty close to the surface for most of the characters.

It’s interesting to watch the wasps and their problems spread; it feels exaggerated but plausible throughout. The science takes center stage and feels plausible–and it’s nice to see scientists spending time on science, on screen.

The relationships feel a bit more artificial or plot convenient–back to plausible but not quite convincing. They’re not at the center of the story, but they work and get us a global viewpoint.

In the end, it was a pleasant read with explorers and scientists at the heart of the story, rather than action heroes. That’s pretty novel for a modern setting.