Log in

Jonathan Woodward's Journal
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Jonathan Woodward's LiveJournal:

[ << Previous 20 ]
Friday, November 6th, 2015
9:21 pm
Books: Some Comics

Chainmail Bikini by divers hands

A nice Kickstart'd anthology of stories about girl gamers, by girl gamers, many of whom had to deal with heinous sexism. Worth a read for anyone in the gaming industry, especially in this day and age where misogyny is practically institutionalized in the industry. Recommended, though there's some predictable variation in quality.

Lumberjanes v1 and v2 by Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, and Allen

Girls go to camp. Girls make friends. Weird girls make weird friends. Weird girls have weird adventures when three-eyed foxes and secret caves start popping up. And does Miss Crumpet know more than she's telling? You betcha! A fun story about campers defeating evil through cleverness, friendship, and the occasional fist to the snoot, recommended.

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

A little girl finds a little robot, who has just escaped from the factory. They become friends, but then someone comes looking for their lost property... I picked this up because I like any story about technologically inclined little girls, but it may be a while before I let Roo read it. Our heroine's parents are absent or direly neglectful, and she makes some fairly awful decisions along the road to friendship. Still, recommended.

Princess Ugg v1 and v2 by Naifeh, Wuginigh

Another entry in the current rich crop of deconstructive princess comics, our heroine here, Ulga, is a princess of a pseudo-Norse civilization, living high in the mountains and fighting debilitating wars with the giants. They deicde they need to learn "diplomacy", and send her to Princess School to learn it. Since Ulga is short, broad, fiercely strong, lethal with an axe, but unfamiliar with reading and indoor plumbing, there's a bit of a culture clash. She eventually gains the respect of most of the other princesses, but her roommate is a Bitcherella who is slower to warm. And then a big conspiracy pops up, and the princesses need to save their kingdoms... Recommended.

S.H.I.E.L.D. by Waid, et al

This is an attempt to create a team something like the TV show's team within the Marvel Comics Universe. Coulson leads, May, Fitz, and Simmons are introduced, and the writing is as snappy as the show, but the plots are very different. Coulson's Captain America fanboyness is here translated into fanboyness for all supers, and his value to SHIELD is thus that he always knows who's the perfect super for a given job. We thus get fun team-ups and big fights that the show couldn't afford. Waid is ever-reliable (though his characters tend to speechify), and this is recommended.
Friday, October 30th, 2015
8:54 pm
Books: Seven

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

One of the finest novels I've read this year, this is a fantasy set in a delightful (if grim) bit of world-building. The ironically named "Stillness" is a continent riven by quakes, to the point where everything about the current civilization is built around ensuring something survives the next time they get hit by a Big One. The technology is vaguely Victorian, except that there's almost no infrastructure to support anything past medieval, so many of our characters live peasant lives, like a hundred generations before them. Our heroines must deal with unwanted magic, power over the earth, which is obviously both incredibly useful and incredibly scary. Issues of slavery, race, and caste are rampant. (Plus, there is homosexuality, transexuality, and polyamory in this world, all handled sympathetically.) I greatly enjoyed it, highly recommended.

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

While I enjoyed parts of this novel, it's basically about a father and son who have difficulty relating, and I frankly don't find that gripping reading. While it may be true that all families with problems are problematic in different ways, I don't actually think there's too many ways to spin this theme, and I've encountered it before. The time travel in the book is interesting, but its purpose is metaphorical, and the central tension of the novel didn't make me tense. Mildly recommended.

Eternity's Wheel by Gaiman, Reaves, and Reaves

Third in the Interworld trilogy, in which our teenage, dimension-hopping hero saves the Interworld organization from the combined forces of Dark Magic and Evil Technology, with the help of a sister time-hopping group. An interesting and mildly action-ful YA novel.

The Worlds Of Clifford Simak

A nice little collection of Twilight-Zoney stories, rooted in 1950s middle America (with all that implies). Most of them are about an Ordinary Man encountering a quirky alien (in the form of a skunk, a plant, a man with his shoes on the wrong feet) and forging a bond. Recommended, with caveats for its age.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Third in the Finsihing School series, about charming Victorian girls and the spy training school they attend in a gaslit fantasy Britain. This volume particularly advances the werewolf side of the plot, and much of it is set on a stolen train with our heroines disguised as boys. I had fun with it, and look forward to the conclusion.

The Atumnlands Volume 1, by Busiek & Dewey

This graphic novel is set in a fantasy world where the races are different anthropomorphic species, mostly mammals and birds. A conference of the floating cities meets to solve some problems with magic, and they end up summoning a strange savior... a human high-tech soldier. Catastrophe, betrayal, and politcs ensue. It's a good read, though I still don't completely trust how Busiek handles issues of race and class (which are particularly fraught in this book, with the buffalo bad guys being obvious stand-ins for Native Americans).

The Multiversity by Grant Morrison and many artists

This is an interesting graphic novel, except that it's not a novel, but a collection of stories. And it lacks a real ending. Morrison's interest here was in setting up a new multiverse for DC Comics, i.e., a framework for telling parallel-Earth stories that wasn't ungainly or unfettered, but was sufficiently cosmic. I think he did a pretty good job. In the endcaps of the book, a multiversal Justice League comes together to fight an insane Monitor and the Gentry, a group of post-Lovecraftian bugaboos intent on destroying hope and eating worlds. In the middle, we get seven short stories set on a variety of different Earths, each tangentially related to the superplot of omniversal destruction. All of them are fun, and most of them even make sense! We also get a guide to the Multiverse, complete with lovely Multiverse-map which bears a cursory resemblance to the D&D maps of the Inner and Outer Planes, featuring such locations as the Bleed, the Source Wall, four heavens and four hells, Wonderworld, Limbo, and the 52 Earths themselves. (But why, but why, are so many of the Earths manques of other publishers' worlds? There's at least two Marvel 'verses, a Wildstorm 'verse (which is especially weird since DC owns Wildstorm, and it's part of the DCU), a Savage Dragon 'verse, and a THUNDER Agents 'verse.) Recommended, but it's high geekery.
Monday, September 14th, 2015
7:32 pm
Books: Catching Up With Star Wars, Witch World, Four Quarters, and Heinlein

Star Wars: Rogue Planet by Greg Bear

A solid novel set after Phantom Menace, when Obi-Wan and Anakin are still adjusting to the Master-Padawan relationship. It shows that pretty well; Anakin is headstrong and full of anger, but he's also clearly desperate for a the new family that the Jedi (and maybe a living starship) can provide. Plus, early adventures of Tarkin, and some background to the Outbound Flight books. Mildly recommended.

Web Of The Witch World by Andre Norton

Second in a series about a man from Earth in a fantasy world that has gates connecting it to other worlds both SFal and otherwise. This one is half about relationship troubles in a culture where witches are not supposed to have lovers, and half about finding the origins of the big bads from last book. Mildly recommended.

Sing The Four Quarters by Tany Huff

A novel about politics, wars, and spies in a fantasy world full of spirits and bards. Our heroine is a skilled bard who also happens to be a disowned princess. Good stuff, alternately heartbreaking and funny, recommended.

Requiem, edited by Yoji Kondo

A worshipful collection of remembrances, put together after Heinlein's death. Not especially recommended to most audiences; read his works instead, if you're interested.
Friday, September 4th, 2015
7:38 pm

Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke

I recently re-read this minor Clarke classic about a cold war in space briefly flaring hot. It's interesting how civil everyone is. Very British -- right down to the sexual mores. Mildly recommended.

Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers by Wendy N. Wagner

A tie-in novel to the Pathfinder RPG, the plot is about a single mom ex-pirate viking dealing with an invasion of shapeshifters. Fun, light, mildly recommended.

Beyond The Shadows by Brent Weeks

The conclusion to the Night Angel trilogy, which I've read over a span of maybe six years. Lots goes on in this one, as all our minor heroes ramp up into world-shakers, just in time for the apocalypse. I like fantasy series about assassins, especially when moral dilemmas crop up, as they do all over the place in this one. Mildly recommended.

Earthsea 4, 5, and 6 by Ursula K. LeGuin

I recenetly re-read the original Earthsea trilogy, and decided to push on through the rest of the series. The last three books are obviously fix-fics for the first three, as LeGuin retcons the heck out of how magic works in her world. In particular, in the first three magic was the domain of men only, and preferably celibate men, and in these books that point of view is revealed to be fundamentally flawed. The climax of the last book is a bit anti-, but it nicely sews up the new understanding of magic. Recommended.

Engineering Infinity and Edge Of Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

While anthologies are not really my thing, these are both solid collections of modern SF. Recommended.
Monday, June 15th, 2015
6:09 pm
Books: Many

The Courageous Princess v1 & 2, by Rod Espinosa

These are the first two volumes in a graphic novel trilogy, set in the after-the-fairy-tales land of the Hundred Kingdoms. Our heroine is a young princess (descended from Aladdin on one side the the Charmings on the other) who is kidnapped by a dragon, and has to decide whether to play the role of princess, or actually change the world. Fun, pretty, my daughter likes it, and nicely walks the deko-reko divide. Recommended.

Raygun Chronicles, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

This is a Kickstart'd anthology of space opera stories, many of which are not space opera, and many of which reminded me of my own juvenilia, which is not an endorsement, but may be praising with faint damns. And, my goodness, many of these authors are nostalgic for Firefly...

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel about Bechdel's relationship with her mother, sequel to the volume about her father, which I have not yet read. It's intensely meta, since most of her relationship with her mother during the time the book was being written is, of course, about the book itself. The relationship itself is one of those strained ones you get between two smart liberal women who are nevertheless of two different generations.

Valor's Trial and The Truth Of Valor by Tanya Huff

These are the fourth and fifth novels in Huff's military SF series about Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr, as she learns some dark secrets about the war that has molded her life, and tries to break that mold. Excellent, recommended.

Star Wars: Outbound Flight, Scoundrels, Allegiance, Choices Of One, and Survivor's Quest by Timothy Zahn

I've been making an effort to read all of Zahn's Star Wars fiction, and these were the last five prose novels on that list. Flight and Quest are about a massive exploration spaceship launched by the Republic shortly before the Clone Wars, which enters Chiss space and encounters one of Zahn's signature characters, the military genius Thrawn. The first book is the expedition itself, the second book is Luke and Mara Jade exploring its wreckage, after the fall of the Empire. Allegiance and Choices are set during the Rebellion, and are about Mara Jade and a squad of stormtroopers, all of whom, despite loyalty to the Empire, not exactly the bad guys. And Scoundrels is a caper book starring Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando. All are quite good, all explore the various nuances of the Star Wars universe that Lucas doesn't, and all are recommended.

The Inheritnce Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

This is a fabulous new fantasy trilogy, revolving around an extremely dysfunctional family of gods, who tend to wander through human lives and wreck them. It's a testament to Jemisin's writing ability that they can remain sympathetic even after, for instance, slaughtering 30 humans just for being in the way. Jemisin was a guest at the last Arisia, and I chickened out of getting her autograph twice, but I'll not miss that opportunity in the future. Very recommended.

Shock: Social Science Fiction by Joshua A.C. Newman

Excellent little roleplaying game focused on exploring the future shock caused by SF ideas on society and people. I got to talk to Newman about it at Arisia, very briefly, and he said it was in part a response to Steve Jackson Games' Transhuman Space, which I did some work for. It's certainly better suited to the task of exploring mad ideas than the somewhat mechanistic GURPS system. Recommended.

Jack Kirby: A Personal Look by Jeremy Kirby

This Kickstart'd book consists of some rare photos of Kirby, "King Of Comics", some familial musings, and a previously unpublished teleplay of his, "The Frog Prince". (It's clearly intended for television, since it opens with a tight shot on a photo in someone's hand, with plot relevance.) The teleplay is an interesting mid-20th century story about family, dreams, and tragedy, and owes a bit to "Death Of A Salesman". Interesting, but not especially recommended.
Monday, June 8th, 2015
10:21 am
Multiverse Questions
Given that I like multiverses, but haven't been following DC Comics for a few years, could someone explain to me the relationship between Convergence, Multiversity, and Infinite Crisis: Battle For The Multiverse? And tell me which ones are any good?
Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
10:47 am
If just nine more people I read post something to LJ, than mrf_arch's too-wide photo will fall off the bottom of my friends page, and stop messing up my page width.

(Or I could post nine more times, but no-one wants that.)
Thursday, May 14th, 2015
11:21 am
Spinning Off The Awesome Supergirl TV Show Trailer
Here's a list of comics I read starring women or girls:
  • Princeless
  • The Pirate Princess (spinoff from Princeless)
  • Rat Queens
  • Captain Marvel
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Lumberjanes
  • Empowered
  • She-Hulk
  • Girls Und Panzer
  • Red Sonja (by Simone)
  • Saga
  • Cleopatra In Space
These range from kid-targeted titles like Princeless to the hard-R of Rat Queens.

There's no DC Comics on here because I quit DC Comics after giving the New 52 a fair shot. I believe Batwoman, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman all have merit, but I haven't touched them in years.

Some other titles I'm planning to get, but don't have yet: Thor "2", Star Wars: Leia, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, A-Force.
Monday, May 11th, 2015
3:57 pm
Morning Kid
This morning was one of mine to get the Roo up. I went into her room, said "Good morning, Roo." and opened the curtains to let some light in. She was still zonked out in her gecko pajamas, but she opened her eyes, saw me, and smiled. She reached out for me, so I sat down on the stool by her bed, and helped her up. She snuggled into my chest, as she does, smiling and sleepy and adorable, and I thought, "Well, jeez, I must be doing something right..."

(Note on today's outfit: Self-Rescuing Princess shirt, polka-dot ruffle skirt, fuchsia plaid pants, orange Hello Kitty socks, and multicolor neon sandals. Letting her dress herself is an easy path, but it can be hard on the ol' optics...)
Saturday, April 11th, 2015
4:16 pm
Books: Dragons, Menaces, and Math

Designers & Dragons: A History Of The Roleplaying Game Industry in four volumes, by Shannon Appelcline

This is an exhaustive, detailed, and somewhat dry history of the roleplaying industry. It is organized into the histories of publishers, then grouped into decade by the date the company started publishing RPGs (and then loosely arranged into categories based on nebulous themes like "used to publish wargames" or "universal publishers"). This means things jump around a little; the history of D&D starts out in the 70s volume, then resumes in the 90s volume under Wizards, then gets all its branches handled in the 00s volume for d20 publishers and Paizo. However, it's as good a sorting system as any. I, personally, found these books fascinating and nostalgic, but someone with less direct involvement in the RPG field could well be bored to tears. I also never caught the author making an error of fact, though my expertise is sharply focussed.

The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume One

My fondness for classic SF is vast and deep, and Hamilton has written some fine tales, but this volume of repetitive pulp world-in-peril stories from the 1920s bored me to the point I didn't finish it. I recommend sticking with his later work.

Oceanic by Greg Egan

This collection overlaps heavily with Egan's Crystal Nights, so this is only a review of the four stories not contained in that book. "Dark Integers" is a sequel to "Luminous", and is the tale of a conflict between two different branches of mathematics, with terrifying human cost when calculus stops working right. "Riding The Crocodile" and "Glory" are set in the same utopian universe as Incandescence, and are both about seeking out truth when the locals don't necessarily want you around. And, "Oceanic" is about neurochemistry and religion, and how to preserve faith when miracles have mundane causes. All are good, and Egan is always recommended.
Monday, March 23rd, 2015
12:38 pm
Hair Goes Where?
I am by nature a tidy and organized person, and my daughter is, well, three years old. So, she and I playing with the same Legos is a process of compromise. She has learned that when something is dropped on the floor, one has to pick it up immediately. I, in turn, am learning to be cool with the fact that my minifigures are never going to have the correct hairpieces again. Ever.

(She is currently very fond of putting rockstar hair and motorcycle helmets onto the Friends and Elves characters. She's a little disappointed that robot and alien heads sized for classic minifigs won't fit on minidolls. And she requires more jetpacks. JETPACKS FOR ALL THE GIRLS.)
Sunday, March 8th, 2015
1:46 pm
Books Read, 2014
Code Monkey Save World by Pak, Coulton, et al
Supergods by Grant Morrison
Anything That Loves, edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen
Eternal Flame by Greg Egan
The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Girls Will Be Girls by JoAnn Deak, PhD.
Too Many Women by Rex Stout
Women And Other Constructs by Carrie Cuinn
How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself by Robert Paul Smith
Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff
Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
The Sinful Ones by Fritz Leiber
Railsea by China Miéville
Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry
Batman: Murderer and Fugitive by Divers Hands
Mining The Oort by Frederik Pohl
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Gundam 00F by Kouichi Tokita
Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
The Winds Of Change by Isaac Asimov
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century v1 by William H. Patterson, Jr.
Ringworld, The Graphic Novel, Part One by Niven, Mandell, Lam
The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman
Marvel Masterworks: Warlock v1 by Thomas, Kane, Freidrich, Brown, et al
Atomic Robo And The Fighting Scientists (v1) by Clevinger & Wegener
Comic Book Babylon by Tim Pilcher
Marvel Masterworks: The Black Panther v1 by McGregor, Buckler, & Graham
Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether: Book I by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett
Warlock by Jim Starlin
Codex Born by Jim C. Hines
Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry (allegedly)
Star Wars: From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas (allegedly)
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
War Stories, edited by Gates & Liptak
The Arrows Of Time by Greg Egan
The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross
Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Unicorn Variations by Roger Zelazny
The Third Level by Jack Finney
The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton
The Practice Effect by David Brin
Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
A Confederation Of Valor and The Heart Of Valor by Tanya Huff
Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks
The Human Division by John Scalzi
In Search Of Wonder 3e by Damon Knight

The raw count there is 50, though some are short comics, and some I didn't finish. That's a very low number for me, but it was a busy year...
1:35 pm
Finishing Up 2014 Business: Books

Thongor And The Wizard Of Lemuria by Lin Carter

A Conan-clone, this is a thin but entertaining book, first in a series. I liked Thongor's quirk of, whenever he gets imprisoned, his first act is to try and wheedle food out of the jailer. Mildly recommended if you're into Conan-clones.

The Republic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Third in the Locke Lamora series, in this volume our gentleman thieves once again get blackmailed into using their powers for evil, and we learn a lot more about their history. The end sets up a nasty fourth volume. (Not that there wasn't plenty of nast in this one.) Recommended.

Space Trap by Juanita Coulson

A volume from the "Laser Books" series, this one is about two intrepid space scouts who get caught up in a first contact diplomatic incident. Our hero falls for one of the alien girls, etc. Feels a lot like it was written by a man in the 1950s, not a woman in the 1970s, but readable. Mildly recommended.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

Our heroine is a young woman living by the sea, who gets caught up in royal politics and inheritance, much to her annoyance, since she'd rather be left alone with her grief. I do like how McKillip sets up romantic expectations, then ignores or subverts them, rather than forcing her characters into worn tropes. Recommended.

Red Sonja by Gail Simone

Gods bless Simone for saving Sonja from endless repeats. This interpretation of Sonja discards a lot of her backstory, invents new stuff, and even gets her out of the chainmail bikini and into sensible clothes surprisingly often. And, she lives up to her barbarian background by being more interested in her next meal, drink, and bed than pesky things like quests. Nevertheless, she has a distinct sense of honor, and is quick to make bonds with the worthy. Very recommended.

Legenderry by Willingham, Davila, et al

This is a massively multicharacter steampunk crossover, featuring the Phantom, Vampirella, Zorro, the Bionic Man, the Green Hornet, Kato, Red Sonja, Flash Gordon, and others in a road trip to save the world. It's a bit much for one 7-issue comic book series, but it sets up an engaging world, walks us through it with Sonja's sister as our guide, and every hero gets a brief chance to shine. By contrast, the villains are sadly neglected — when Ming the Merciless' major contribution to a story is to sit in a committee looking menacing, he's being misused. Still, there's no shortage of fun here, and the sequels are already on the stands. Recommended.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

After a couple chapters of this post oil-dystopia, I couldn't help feel that it was just a reskin of some bad cyberpunk novel from the 80s, including the racism-in-the-name-of-multiculturalism and obsession with techno-whores. I didn't finish it.

On The Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds

Conspiracies and politics surround a trip to explore a giant alien artifact on an extrasolar planet. While the journey is worthy, the climax is very typical Reynolds. Still, I wasn't bored, and he uses tech in interesting ways. Recommended.

Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

This is an interstellar combo of capers, where the McGuffin is the crypto-keys to lock a doomsday device. The bad guys are creepy, and creepily familiar, the good guys are entertainingly flawed, and the climax is intense. Recommended.
Friday, March 6th, 2015
10:43 pm
Movie Review: Predestination
Predestination is the Australian made film based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story "All You Zombies". It has gotten little press, and I gather its American release was pretty limited. If I had to guess, I would say that this is due to some of its sex-n-gender themes, of which more below.

It is very faithful to the story. To a fault, even. The major expansion comes in the form of seeing a lot of the protagonist's life in flashbacks, and in the "Fizzle Bomber" subplot (inspired by an offhand reference in the story to a Fizzle War). Heinlein, I believe, would be pleased. Certainly more pleased than he would have been with Puppet Masters (dull) or Starship Troopers (re-messaged, among other faults). In particular, Sarah Snook deserves an Oscar, and has won an AACTA, for her performance.

Collapse )

There were moments in this movie that were heartbreaking, in ways that depended on its science fiction premise, and that's honestly the best endorsement I can give. Highly recommended.
Saturday, November 15th, 2014
7:01 am
Going Offline...
I'm shutting down my desktop PC for the move, and will thus be online less for a day or two. (Darn, restricted to the incredible piece of tech in my pocket.)
Friday, November 7th, 2014
8:04 pm
Books: More That Need To Be Packed

Unicorn Variations by Roger Zelazny

This story collection has been sitting in my to-review pile for awhile, so I don't recall specifics, but Zelazny is always very readable.

The Third Level by Jack Finney

Another collection, this one mostly focused on escaping the banalities of mid-20th century American suburbia — or, alternately, fleeing to it. There's the usual rose-glassed nostalgia for eras that were lovely to live in, if you were a rich white male, but it's still a good collection.

The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton

A near-future technophobic tyranny sets the scene. Our heroes fight, then flee to another world, with its own menaces, both alive and archaeological. Not Norton's best, and I always wish she'd use her female characters better, but still a keeper.

The Practice Effect by David Brin

An early Brin novel, in which our hero is stuck in an alternate world where tools become better the more they're used. Thus, rich people pay poor people to wear their clothes for them, eat off their dishes, etc. Our hero has some light sword-n-sorcery style adventures, triumphs over evil, and sets up a sequel, which never happened. Good "what if" SF, recommended.

Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

Hard-boiled detective adventures on Mars, often focusing on the questions of identity that non-SF pulp loved even without the aid of cloning, brain transplants, etc. The pulp trappings make it a bit sexist, but it's still worthwhile.

A Confederation Of Valor and The Heart Of Valor by Tanya Huff

These two books include three novels about space marine Sergeant Kerr, a woman who is very good at her job. I really adore them; the military details are good, the tech is consistent, the reasons why people are still using ground troops are solid, and the adventures are exciting. Recommended.

Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks

I wasn't sure if I was going to pick up v2 of this low fantasy trilogy, but it was on sale, so... Our assassin hero's life continues to suck, even as he gains more power and becomes more embroiled in international politics. And he just can't seem to get out of the game. Dark, not high art, but evocative and colorful. Recommended.

The Human Division by John Scalzi

The continuing story of the Old Man's War universe, in which humanity is trying to cling to its foothold in the stars with hostile aliens at every turn. Morally complex stories ensue. Recommended.

In Search Of Wonder 3e by Damon Knight

This is a collection of SF criticism, mostly dating from the 1950s-1960s. Knight is a fine critic, but my problem with his attitude can be summed up in one quote: "The humbling truth is that science fiction is only for the small number of people who like to think and who regard the universe with awe, which is a blend of love and fear. 'The public' does neither."

Oh, retch.

First, sir, you don't understand the word "humble", because this quote is not it. Two attitudes SF never needed, and certainly no longer needs, are A) that we are a persecuted minority, and B) that we are better and smarter than "the public". Both may have some slight basis in fact. Both do nothing good for the fan who believes them, or for the genre as a whole. (And note how many of the great SF novels are about the persecution of someone smarter or stronger than the persecutors. (Though that's not uncommon in other genres, either.))

The book also contains many, many instances of SF gatekeeping, where Knight defines SF as tightly as he can in order to say, "This book is not SF." I don't have much patience for that sort of snobbery. The boundaries of a genre are often where the most interesting work is done.

And along the way he redefines "sci-fi" to mean "science fiction I want to sneer at", thus tainting the harmless abbreviation for an entire generation.

So, eh, lots of useful criticism (notably his demolition of Van Vogt's The Players Of Null-A,) but it's surrounded by many bad habits of SF thought.
Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
7:30 pm
Books: Assorted That Need To Be Packed, Stat

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Yeah, Olaf, I get what you were trying to do, but it's just embarassing when you can visualize the vast sweep of the cosmos, but not a culture without early-20th-century race and gender issues.

War Stories, edited by Gates & Liptak

I helped Kickstart this excellent anthology of military SF, including a story by my old college friend Rich Dansky, fellow GURPS alum James Cambias, and Hugo-winning Joe Haldeman. Quite good, recommended.

The Arrows Of Time by Greg Egan

Conclusion of the Orthogonal trilogy, in this novel our weird aliens discover a planet where time is running backwards relative to them, and apply some of the physics to their own society, with disastrous results. A lot of excellent handling of foreknowledge, and the usual heavy alternate physics. Recommended.

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

Another entry in the Laundry series, with vampires this time. Lots of nifty spycraft, computer lingo, and yuppies dealing with vampirism in neat ways, but the usual anticlimactic fight, and a downer ending. Nevertheless, recommended.

Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson

I do love her short stories, though having every protagonist be a southwestern elementary school teacher gets repetitive. Still, she occupies a nice niche at the intersection of magical realism and SF. Recommended.

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Excellent and surprisingly readable novel about Russia's answer to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Our hero is a minor player in the Night Watch, which keeps an eye on the evil magical creatures of Moscow, maintaining the truce. And, over the course of three novellas, he gets jerked around a lot by both sides, since the guiding principle of both Night Watch and Day Watch is compromise. Dark, but recommended.
Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
9:59 pm
So, to my surprise, buxom_bey, taura_g, cathijosephine, and I seem to be buying this house. We were talking about buying a place together, and then this gorgeous Victorian went on the market, and we looked, and made an offer, and BAM.

I'm a bit Muppet-arms.

PS: If you are buying a house, and anyone suggests to you that you should write an introducing-yourself-and-your-family letter to accompany the offer, to make it more personal, DO IT.
Saturday, August 30th, 2014
9:52 pm
Cyberpunk Nostalgia
So, my office is having a charity book drive, and I always have a bajillion books to ex-cruft. This time, that included some RPG books, notably Iron Crown's Cyberspace, from 1989. It was part of the first wave of cyberpunk RPGs, alongside R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk and Fasa's Shadowrun.

I flipped through it on the way to work, dropped it in the charity bin... and the next day, plucked it back out of the bin. (While putting six other books in, to preserve karma.) I never played it, and can't imagine using its stat-heavy, chart-heavy system, but it mashes down my nostalgia button like a frickin' Duran Duran song.

(Okay, the critical failure charts are worth preserving, given that they develop a mean sense of humor every multiple of 10.)
1:54 pm
So, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edtion, Hmm...
My policy is to skip the even-numbered editions of D&D, so I picked up the new Player's Handbook when it came out. It's similar at its core to 3rd. For those of you only familiar with 3rd, I thought I'd lay out what I noticed. Corrections welcome. Anyone interested in this topic probably already knows this stuff, but I want to lay it for my own sake, too.
  • Everyone gets a proficiency bonus, which starts at +2 at level 1, and goes up to +6 by level 20, same for all classes.
  • This replaces base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, and skill points.
  • You get the prof. bonus when using weapons you are proficient in, skills you are proficient in, or saves you are proficient in, which is determined mostly by class, and partly by things like race, feats, etc.
  • Feats are optional. If the DM is using feats, anytime you're eligible for an ability score increase, you can take a feat instead.
  • So, practically all rolls are d20+relevant ability bonus+prof. bonus.
  • Strength is the relevant ability for melee (usually), Dexterity is relevant for ranged attacks (usually).
  • Skills are tied to a particular ability, but the DM can change that up under certain circumstances.
  • All saving throws are now just described in terms of what ability you use to make the save, skipping the intermediate step of Fortitude/Reflex/Will. So, technically, you now have six different kinds of saves instead of three, but it's actually simpler.
  • Any type of resistance to damage means you take half damage against that type. This is the only way to be resistant to damage.
  • Any type of vulnerability to damage means you take double damage against that type.
  • In some situations, you will have advantage or disadvantage on some rolls. Advantage means you roll twice and take the best, disadvantage means you roll twice and take the worst. (Advantage does not stack, disadvantage does not stack, and if they both apply, they cancel out.)
  • As near as I can tell, for skills and saves you're not proficient in, you never improve without specifically applying a feat or something.
  • The basic movement rules are gridless, but work fine with a grid.
  • Everything not mentioned here is also simplified. The combat rules are only 10 pages.
On the whole I think I like it. I'm not going to switch from Pathfinder (D&D 3.5ish), but it's a very nice simplification, and also very easy to make as much more complicated as you want. To me, a software engineer, it feels like the result of a really good refactoring of code, where you get halfway through the job and suddenly things just start falling away as no longer necessary, leaving an elegant core. It might be too simple, but that's a much better place to start.
[ << Previous 20 ]
WPage   About LiveJournal.com