Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

The sequel to Too Like the Lightning, this depends on the first book quite a bit. (It really reads as the second half of a book that was too big to fit under one set of covers.

It’s still inventive, but less amazing now that it’s building on the familiar. The world’s messy and getting messier, but the novelty of the arrangement of powers is less compelling. There are exciting developments–the story feels even more like Bridger and Jehovah are the stars everyone circles, though we don’t get to experience much on screen time with Bridger.

The world’s falling apart. We learn about everyone, and some of the additional information significantly changes who we thought we saw before.

The two books cover a week. The very last chapter jumps ahead by a few months and sets the stage for a series tackling the developments and changing world going forward.

Tanith Lee’s Claidi Journals

Wolf Tower has three sequels: Wolf Star; Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing.

Long story short, if you liked the first one, the next three should be right up your alley. Wolf Star has Claidi acted on again as the prime mover, but she takes over protagonist duties and drives the book to its conclusion. Wolf Queen really plays up a new opponent; poor Claidi’s pretty desperate for most of the book, but the ending’s a huge relief and feels like closure.

The 4th book, Wolf Wing, stretches a bit more. The world’s hybridization of science and magic “goes big” with its focus on Ustareth. The world is filled with more tests and weird new races… which is great for a book focused on the genius inventor/mad scientist Ustareth.

The four books hang together well and offer a compelling conclusion to Claidi’s tale. In the end, they’re approaching a newly stable situation that wraps around well to the first book.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

I can see why this book was a highly praised classic. It’s a good book that skirts the edges of hard sci-fi, particularly with concerns like relativity. It’s a great soldier’s eye view of the world–though the details are sometimes a little shortcut, it makes the book a compact and powerful read.

There’s some very nice sleight of hand with society and its changes in the background, allowing only the nearest future to be clearly defined, but the remainder to give a strong impression.

Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee

The first of a 4 book series. Claidi is a handmaiden servant to a self-involved and sadistic mistress. Eventually, the routine of the quiet and isolated Garden she was raised in is disturbed… forcing her out into the forbidding wastes.

It’s a novel filled with exploration–and true exploration, not conquest. Claidi is young and sheltered in a world that doesn’t make allowances for it.

She’s a good companion and interesting to explore the world with. It’s a blazing fast read; I’ll pick up the next three books and expect to gobble them down quickly.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Another excellent book; it’s the first one written, and the one that A Closed and Common Orbit follows. There are a number if differences–primarily in the number of POV.

The big point of overlap between the two books is Lovelace; in this book Pepper is a minor character who crosses their paths twice. The Wayfarer is the center of this book. It’s a great mixed race cast, with subtly alien aliens. Everyone has motivations and ties that bind and quirky histories that come out over the course of the book. It’s only as I write now that Firefly’s crew comes up as a comparison. The tech is different, but the primacy of a small crew’s interactions is a common heart.

Spread over the extra characters, it feels less introspective and philosophical–but it’s still more about getting along with others in a strange but tolerant and friendly universe.

It’s a great book, and the overlap with A Closed and Common Orbit is minor enough that reading them in either order will work out well.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

A very interesting world, slowly revealed and deeply complicated. It’s incomplete–the book creates great forces, reveals how intertwined they are… then runs out of pages. If you’re in for the trilogy, though, it’s a fascinating future– foreign feeling, with strange holdovers and tremendous differences from a “future” imagined from today’s society.

The ties of Mycroft to the beating heart of everything feel a little too neat and tidy… the world feels oddly constrained or contrived to be so subtly steerable by so few. Hopefully the next books will expand on why a bit.

I enjoyed it and can see why it bowled people over. I’m certainly interested in reading on.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford

An interesting look at the advantages of resisting the urge to put things in order, to spend time on organizing instead of doing. It has 9 chapters loosely compartmentalizing broad categories of experiences that sometimes get better when they’re disorganized.

Creativity is largely focussed on the professional, among experts. If you’re good enough to react well to a random push (like experienced Jazz performers and other musicians), a random push or novel constraints can force you to pay attention to the world, or break unexamined habits, or just get you to strive in a new direction.

Collaboration is largely again about experts; Paul Erdos features strongly. He’s a brilliant mathematician who hops into novel mathematical subfields, learns enough to understand their current problem, and draws on his extensive experience with other subfields to see if they offer an approach or solution. It’s almost like Mandelian hybrid vigor.

Workplaces is about the folly of taking away resources–like desks, walls and chairs–and trying on ideal order. It’s also about (and parallel to) the life of buildings–an adaptable building, particularly one that doesn’t need permission to alter–gets altered to solve what needs solving. Perfectionists, particularly of the clean desk or no personal possession sort, often destroy morale and deprive their members of the tools they need to reach their tasks–or just to feel control of their space.

Improvisation, much like Creativity and Corroboration begin with highly skilled members who have honed their craft in controlled circumstances and meticulous effort, then throws them into situations without the time to prep. Their expertise is revealed, honed by the practice… with the bonus that they’re more responsive, since they’re reading the room, not reciting honed notes.

Winning is about taking advantage of your comfort with disorder to undo those who require order and sense. Rommel and Amazon both get laudatory treatment–taking advantage of the moment can be huge, if you’ve judged the moment correctly.

Incentives bring bureaucracy and human behavior into conflict. If you use simple measures, it’s easy to beat the measure but not improve the system. Great examples.

Automation is a warning; when we turn the routine over to machines and let machines smooth our experiences, we’re terribly out of practice when the machine fails. Amusing when it’s GPS and time to break out a paper map, deadly when airline pilots lose autopilot and fly-by-wire and the plane suddenly doesn’t respond as expected.

Resilience is about how much we want to believe that orderliness is good–broken windows and hoaxes along similar lines are believed because they mirror common sense.

Life is a hodge-podge, but mirrors roadway design and unmarked roundabouts. Even children respond well to cues–a dangerous playground is treated more cautiously than a foam mat. And creativity–like plywood forts–can blossom if they’re left unsupervised. Plus other interesting tangents about Franklin’s inability to conquer messiness, avoiding overcommitment, etc.

All in all a quick, if breezy book.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This book is set in an interesting future; one with aliens and friendly compatibility, but also humans chasing profit and breeding children because they’re cheaper than machines.

The POV characters are great–very distinct windows into the world. The legal structure, the holes and “we can decide better than politicians” really comes through, but not in a libertarian dystopia way.

For most of the book, we’re navigating the current day with Lovelace, alternating with flashbacks to Jane’s childhood and teen past. It becomes apparent at some point that the Jane of the past is who Lovelace is crashing with… and just how much Jane must have gone through to get to the present that we see.

There’s a lot about picking your future, the nature of AI, thinking about the mind/body duality, friendship… it’s a book filled with interesting people making hard choices. I really liked it.

Evidently, this is book 2, parallel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, or at least somewhat overlapping. It was good enough that I’m going to seek out 1… and probably 3, if it’s in the pipeline.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

A great, fast reading book–I believe it won the 2016 Hugo for best novella.

It’s a book about children who step through portals to other worlds, and how they cope after returning.

Nancy is a great main character; in fact, my only real complaint is that the book introduces multiple POV… that don’t seem worth adding. The initial scene from Eleanor West’s POV made sense as a frame for the story, but the rest of the hopping didn’t seem worth the tradeoff–the information was staged so that Nancy soon discovered whatever the new POV character experienced.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a dark twist on returning home and finding that home falls short. Wonderfully written–it’s hard not to read it in one long gulp.

RPG-a-Day, Week 3, Days 15-21

15. Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
I used to be a huge system tinkerer. I loved looking at games, figuring out which system I could steal from game A and plug into B. In high school, I clipped out Stormbringer’s skills, and brought them into D&D. It mostly killed any reason to be a thief… but also gave people not laughable chances of success at skills, unlike the poor thief.

Over the next 15 years, I enjoyed creating game systems, which lead me to the Forge, which taught me how narrow my experience in gaming was. While I still tinkered and created a few systems for home use, I mostly turned into a game consumer–shopping for indie games and their intriguing systems.

Jennifer brought TV back into my life, greatly reducing the time that I used to spend in the lonely fun of scenario and game design. Game design proved similar to my novel writing ambitions… I realized that with my limited free time, I’d rather read books and play games that others had sweated over, or spend my time creating a great scenario for my group, instead of a game for the world.

16. Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
This is kind of the flip to #15. At the moment, I’m not much of an active game modifier—partially because I want to try out the game as designed before I begin twisting dials. Though… I really can’t resist, thinking further. Even Diaspora was drifted in a Fate Core +” the designers talk about it this way these days” direction.

PTA is great, particularly with the three-flip tension build and clear new examples. Similarly, Psi*Run is great right out of the box—while there’s some meeting of the minds components (scope of powers, etc.), it works perfectly as written.

An easy answer is D&D 5e. I run mostly AL content, so consistency with other tables is a big deal—and I’m happy to not adjust things too much for my table in specific. If you make a bunch of stompy people—great! You crush the foes without breaking a sweat and get to feel accomplished. If you talk your way out of the fights? Great, we can get to the next encounter instead. Trusting the system and running RAW seems to solve so much.

17. Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
This is a question with a dozen answers, depending on definitions of “owned” like do I only count “intentional buys” or does “picked up for inspiration”, and “it was on sale, so I thought ‘what the heck’ and picked it up just in case” count? (Or, worse… all the games that are hard drive clutter but never even looked at!) Similarly, there are too many games that got barely-tried… like, we made characters, but lost interest before the game started.

So, cutting an arbitrary swath, I’ll go with two. The first is Dust Devils; I picked it up relatively early in my hanging around the fringes of the forge. It sounded interesting, but I was in the middle of two long term games, so never made a serious pitch to play it. Similarly, while I may have borrowed it once for something, I’ve never really run or played The Questing Beast. It’s still on my want to play list, but never comes to mind. Maybe I’ll drag it along to an upcoming RPG meetup… or even Strategicon, for use in Games on Demand. Hmm…

18. Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
19. Which RPG features the best writing?
20. What is the best source for out of print RPGs?
21. What RPG does the most with the least words?