Damage Time by Colin Harvey

A very interesting book; a bit confusing at first, until you come to realize that Pete Shah’s job is to delve into recorded memories… so some of the interstitial chapters are from his professional research and only tie indirectly to the main plot.

There’s a strong theme of memory and identity, and how they’re linked. It’s not abstract or musing–it’s an interesting police procedural with weird tech. The big tech is memory recording and dissemination–basically simsense and BTL–but there are other strong elements, like the expensive personal transportation due to climate taxes, flooding and sea walls, etc. There’s also reference to a great thinning of the planet by plague a generation or two ago.

I liked the world building, the continuity of existing cultures, even with the remade map of this near future. The world is grim, but by no means hopeless.

I really like the changes to Pete as he rebuilds himself; near the end, he points out just how much of the impact of tragedy is lessened when you don’t viscerally remember the reasons you love and hate. The cat and mouse between Pete and Kotian is setup at the beginning and delivers by the end.

The Watch by Anna Kreider and Andrew Medeiros

A very interesting game; I read it in PDF. It’s an Apocalypse World game that reminds me of Apocalypse World, with strong influences from Night Witches. (Missions feel very similar, though I like the streamlined version of just dealing with complications.)

The setting is great; it’s a fantasy world without Fireballs and Wishes. The characters are women of the watch, who resist the machinations of the Shadow–which has possessed the soldiers of the land, and turned them against our heroes.

The system is written boldly, clearly identifying the themes, and noting that there are reasons that they’re boldly calling out toxic masculinity, foregrounding women as heroes, etc. There’s clear direction that this may affect the players strongly; the X-card is cited as a bare minimum to keep the players at the table safe as they explore these dark themes.

The MC guidance gets very direct, explaining what the Shadow is, how it manifests, and guiding the MC to make some choices to guide their characterization of the Shadow and the influence. The missions are very reminiscent of Night Witches, including the roles (and corresponding rolls) that characters take during the mission. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like failures spin off more rolls with further bad consequences, as sometimes happens in Night Witches missions when trouble begins manifesting.

I really like the idea of this game; while it’s strident in places, I think the game benefits from the clear explanation of what underpins the Shadow and the setting.

Reading along, I found a few small copy editing errors, but nothing that was tough to work around. It was much less jarring than, say, the first copies of Rise of the Runelords.

Champion : a Legend novel by Marie Lu

A solid completion to the trilogy. A few months have passed, and the trio are engaged in the highest levels of guiding the country… which is about to get attacked.

Day and Eden have largely detached and are living in SF; they’re trying to recover from their ailments. June is struggling to act with the senators to craft a response to the nation’s problems… and to support Anden. (This continues to be an issue in his relationship with June.)

There’s a bit of getting the band back together, a dangerous and deceptive plan to save the Republic, a visit to the futuristic feeling Antarctica, etc.

It’s a less thrilling conclusion, to me, but still a solid end to the series. (Though the act of stripping Day’s connections and recent memories at the end felt like a bad Dallas riff.)

I have another book in the world titled The Young Elites; I think it’s set a generation after these turbulent days, when the global and political realms have shifted significantly.

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.