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

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Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
9:15 pm
Books: Assassins, Dragons, Bricks, And More

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

These fantasy novels were, I believe recommended to me by my boss. I got halfway into the first volume, and promptly ordered the next two, 'cause OMG. A six-year-old boy learns he's the bastard son of the heir to the throne. The only safe role he can play in life is to be a King's Man: an agent of the throne or, more bluntly, an assassin. Court politics and tragedy ensue for the next 1500 pages. Gripping, interesting worldbuilding, recommended. (Individual titles are Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest.)

Dragon's Winter and Dragon's Treasure by Elizabeth A. Lynn

I enjoyed rereading Lynn's Tornor trilogy recently, so I dug up a couple more of her fantasies. (I accidentally read them in the wrong order.) They are set in a fantasy world where some people are shapeshifters, able to turn into wolves, hawks, or dragons. The dragon-blooded protagonist of these books is a local king, who must deal with bandits and betrayal. They're quite good, but they are obviously the first two books of a trilogy, and Lynn has said she's unlikely to write the third, darnit. I may keep the first, as it's a good novel in itself, but the second may go into the giveaway bin.

A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel by L'Engle, Larson

A perfectly good adaptation of the classic novel, though I'd like if it had been in full color. The adaptor makes good use of the medium.

The Emerald Key by Daigle and Sternberg

For some reason it took me a long time to get through this steampunk horror novel. Our heroine is Ember Quatermain (daughter of AQ), who must deal with necromantic mysteries and dissolute charmers. While there's a lot in the premise to like, I never felt really engaged.

The Kobold Guide To Worldbuilding, edited by Janna Silverstein

A dry but solid guide to RPG fantasy worldbuilding though, again, it didn't really engage me.

Memories Of The Future by Wil Wheaton

Wheaton reminisces about the first half of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a lot of fun, and Wheaton waxes and wanes from fondly nostalgic to vituperative (regarding the very bad episodes). He and I are of an age, and I find his perspective very familiar. I hope for sequels.

A Million Little Bricks by Sarah Herman

A functional history of Lego, with just enough intriguing little secrets revealed.
Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
9:58 pm
Game Design, Age 4
My daughter and I are playing The Map Game. (A description of which may be found earlier in this journal.)

[Earlier we established that I make the rules for the monsters, and she makes the rules for her characters.]

Me: You defeat the fire elemental, and find a magic staff with a yellow gem... It shoots fire!
Roo: ...Can we decide together how the magic stuff works?
Me: Well, sure. It shoots fire, and it does something you decide.
Roo: It shoots fire, and [she takes a sandwich token out of her bin] it can shoot sandwiches!
Me: Sure!

[So, naturally, I engineer a situation in which she encounters a hungry catfolk.]

Roo: I will give her [pulls a fish token out] this fish.
Me: [whisper] You also have a staff that shoots sandwiches. I'm not telling you what to do, I'm just reminding you.
Roo: But she's not sure if it will shoot fire or sandwiches.
Me: Hmm?
Roo: She has to [puts hands together] to hope for it to work.
Me: She has to pray? [Her current character is in fact represented by a Seelah the Paladin mini.]
Roo: Yeah!
Me: Okay, maybe we could roll dice for that? [We use Fate dice.]
Roo: Yeah, she rolls the dice, and if there are pluses or minuses, it shoots something.
Me: How do we decide what it shoots?
Roo: ...If there are pluses, it shoots sandwiches, and if there are minuses, it shoots fire.
Me: And if there's both, it shoots sandwiches?
Roo: If there are both, it shoots both, daddy.
Me: [abashed] Okay.
Roo: [She rolls plus, plus, blank, blank.] I got pluses!
Me: [as the catfolk] Oh, thank you! I was so hungry!

...So, my daughter is pretty good at game design.
Saturday, April 30th, 2016
5:57 pm
Books: Nine, Mostly Comics

Dehliah Dirk And The King's Shilling

Volume two in this series, in which Dirk deals with fame, family, infamy, and choosing between reputation and friendship. They step back a bit from the fantastic elements of the first volume, here, but that doesn't stop the adventure.

All-New Captain America: Hydra Ascendant by Remender, Immonen

Sam Wilson is currently Captain America, and Marvel has not been shy in dealing with people's reactions to a black Cap. Racists (conscious and un) abound. This volume, however, particularly deals with one likely racist, Steve Englehart. When Sam Wilson was first introduced, he was as much of a paragon as any superhero; a brave, kind, social worker. In the mid-70s, Steve Englehart wrote a Cap story in which it was revealed that Sam was actually a former crook, "Snap" Wilson, reformed into a good man by the Red Skull's cosmic cube. Over the course of the next four decades, the Snap persona got retconned away in bits and pieces by an assortment of less-racist writers, and in this volume, it is made clear once and for all that "Snap" was the actual creation of the Skull. Sam is and always has been a good man, not a crook. He reflects, "'Snap' Wilson does haunt me. Not because it was ever true -- but because they expected me to believe it. That it was so damned obvious to them that's what I should have been. That they chose that story -- and for all the reasons they chose it."
In story, he's talking about the Red Skull and his minions, but this is actually a message about the misguided men (Englehart among them) who decided that the "real" story of Sam Wilson was that, as a black man, he wasn't allowed to be a saint, he had to be a thug.

Swords Of Sorrow by Gail Simone and many more

"Swords" is a massive crossover event featuring Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris, Vampirella, Jungle Girl, the modern Kato, Lady Zorro, Miss Fury, and a bunch of other characters Dynamite Entertainment currently has the rights to. A mysterious hero called the Traveller must gather heroes from across the universes to fight the Prince Of All Universes, and his allies, including Mistress Hel, Purgatori, and Chastity. This volume has the strengths and weaknesses typical of such crossovers (vagueness of motive, obligatory hero fights, irrelevant side stories), but the character interactions are fun, and often insightful. Of the dozen or so artists, all are talented, and some are even not overly cheesecakey.

Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology, edited by Sfé R. Monster

While not every story in this anthology is a winner, on balance it's a keeper. Recommended.

The Sleeper And The Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Interesting deconstructrionist take on Snow White & Sleeping Beauty, with lovely illustrations. Plus, twist ending!

Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic

I confess the greatest weakness of this volume is that it's too short. The multiverse has ended, and Doctor Doom has built a new Earth from the shards left behind. He rules over it with a fist as benevolent as he can manage, but everything is warped by his obsessions. A motley collection of heroes from the previous universes come to his world, and scrape together a revolution. There are lots of very clever bits, such as "I am Groot!" and "The title's not honorary." Though, I gotta say, I wonder if the cover was intended to be so blatant an homage to Crisis On Infinite Earths.

How To Draw Fantasy Art & RPG Maps by Jared Blando

This is primarily a guide to artistic techniques, not advice on worldbuilding. Within those bounds, it's excellent at what it does, with lots of advice on the best ways to represent mountains, rivers, seas, cities, and ruins; and how to draw decorative borders, heraldic details, and the like. If you're looking to create a prop for your roleplaying campaign, or a map to go in the opening pages of your fantasy novel, this is the book to get.

Savage Worlds by Shane Lacy Hensley

I confess I was expecting Savage Worlds to be something other than, basically, a lighter form of GURPS, but it fills that niche well. Given my background, I'll use GURPS instead, but that's not a vote against it.

Spacewreck: Ghostships And Derelicts Of Space by Stewart Cowley

In the 1970s, Spacecraft: 2000-2100 AD fired my young mind, and is one of the forces that set the course of my life. It was the first volume of the Terran Trade Authority series, and with my acquisition of Spacewreck, 40 years later, I now have the complete set. Few of the books have been as good as Spacecraft, but I imagine a portion of that is rose-colored nostalgia. This volume does have a weakness, in that many of the wrecks are "unknown kind of ship, wrecked in unknown manner". Seriously, a wreck can be dramatic without being mysterious. Still, there are story nuggets here to spark the brains of kids both 7 and 47.
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
4:42 pm
The Map Game
My daughter is young enough that reading and addition are still emerging skills. Nevertheless, I wanted to experiment with playing role-playing games with her. We've had some success, and she's named this game...

The Map Game


What you need for The Map Game:
  • The room tiles from Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin Quest. The advantage these have over other maps you can get for RPGs, is that the rooms come pre-filled with content such as altars, beds, goo, books, etc. It provides an instant environment which the player can tell stories about.
  • (You will also need the door/hallway link pieces from Munchkin Quest.)
  • Fate Dice. My daughter can read numbers, but not routinely add them. If I want to vary the power levels of her character over the course of a game, we can't do it in a way that involves addition. One could increase or decrease the size of the die, but Fate dice are simpler. If her PC grows in power, you just give her another die. In normal play, we only count the plus sides, and ignore the minus sides.
  • Minis of some sort. We use mostly Pathfinder pre-painted plastic minis, but there are a bajillion choices, including HeroClix figures and Lego minifigs.
  • Treasure and props. I mostly draw from Lego minifigure accessories, which are quite varied, and allow for the synergy mechanic I'll discuss later.
  • Health points for her PC. I use Lego studs, but glass beads would also work.

Setup

I allow her to pick out 15-16 rooms, and arrange them in a rectangle. Put the Entrance at one end, and encourage her to pick a "goal" room to put at the other end. (She usually picks the room with the comfy bed.) Connect everything with links. Attempt to manage the wall links and locked-door links so that they don't block all movement.
She has a bin in front of her where she can keep her treasure and health points. I started her with a club and 10 health points. She gets to preserver her treasure from game to game. She picks a figure to be her PC, and starts her in the Entrance.

Gameplay

She chooses which rooms to move to. Moving through a locked door requires a key. Most rooms contain a creature. Encounters vary:
  • "Hah hah hah, I'm going to eat you up!"
  • "You must pay one silver piece to pass!"
  • "Welcome to my shop, would you like to buy anything?"
  • "I am so lonely, I am going to keep you forever! (Unless you promise to find me a pet.)"
  • "I make potions! If you need a healing potion, I can tell you what ingredients you'll need to bring me." (Which always includes a banana.)
  • "You're my long-lost sister!"
  • Etc. I try to include as many non-violent options as possible.

Treasure

Treasure includes:
  • New weapons.
    • A sword adds a die over the club.
    • A magic sword adds another die.
    • A trident allows you to divide your dice between multiple target.
    • A ranged weapon lets you get in the first shot.
  • Shields. A shield protects you from one point of damage.
  • Silver and gold coins. The exchange rate is 1:3.
  • Keys.
  • Potion ingredients. (Especially bananas.)
  • Ready-made potions, including healing and polymorph potions.
  • Crystals, wands, etc.
I am going to try in the future to make it easier to physically combine treasures, since Roo invented that mechanic as a way to make things with new powers.

Combat

She rolls her dice, I roll a number of dice I deem appropriate for the challenge level and monster. Pluses the monster rolls come off her health points (modified for having a shield). Pluses she rolls might defeat the monster outright, or I might subtract one die from the monster per plus.

Further details coming...
Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
11:05 am
Books Read, 2015
Designers & Dragons: A History Of The Roleplaying Game Industry in four volumes, by Shannon Appelcline
The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume One
Oceanic by Greg Egan
The Courageous Princess v1-3, by Rod Espinosa
Raygun Chronicles, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Valor's Trial and The Truth Of Valor by Tanya Huff
Star Wars: Outbound Flight, Scoundrels, Allegiance, Choices Of One, and Survivor's Quest by Timothy Zahn
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
Shock: Social Science Fiction by Joshua A.C. Newman
Jack Kirby: A Personal Look by Jeremy Kirby
Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke
Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers by Wendy N. Wagner
Beyond The Shadows by Brent Weeks
Earthsea 4, 5, and 6 by Ursula K. LeGuin
Engineering Infinity and Edge Of Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Star Wars: Rogue Planet by Greg Bear
Web Of The Witch World by Andre Norton
Sing The Four Quarters by Tany Huff
Requiem, edited by Yoji Kondo
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Eternity's Wheel by Gaiman, Reaves, and Reaves
The Worlds Of Clifford Simak
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
The Atumnlands Volume 1, by Busiek & Dewey
The Multiversity by Grant Morrison and many artists
Chainmail Bikini by divers hands
Lumberjanes v1 and v2 by Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, and Allen
Little Robot by Ben Hatke
Princess Ugg v1 and v2 by Naifeh, Wuginigh
S.H.I.E.L.D. by Waid, et al
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Nicholas St. North And The Battle Of The Nightmare King by William Joyce & Laura Geringer
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson
The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole
From Here To Timbuktu by Milton Davis
How About Never — Is Never Good For You? by Bob Mankoff
The Infinite Loop by Colinet, Charretier
The Green Leopard Plague by Walter Jon Williams
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
The Sandman: Overture by Gaiman, Williams, Stewart
The Chronicles Of Tornor by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Almuric by Robert E. Howard
Starfarers by Poul Anderson
A Second Chance At Eden by Peter F. Hamilton
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Secret History Of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

The raw count there is 68. I'm counting the listed comics TPBs as full books, but there are also many comics (and other titles) I didn't review or record, so let's call it a round 70, which is comparable to recent years.
Friday, January 1st, 2016
4:19 pm
Books: More Deck

Almuric by Robert E. Howard

I wanted to read this thanks to its presence in The Immortals Of Science Fiction. Whilst it has some interesting set-pieces, it's typical Howard fare.

Starfarers by Poul Anderson

In a universe where STL travel has reached a high level of efficiency, a crew of explorers set out on a 10,000 year journey to the only known signs of alien life. Meanwhile, we get glimpses into the changes happening to Earth civilization back home. This is more a book of jumbled ideas than a novel, but some of the ideas are interesting. It's also a demonstration of how the Singularity is so difficult to write about, that even good authors will avoid it at large cost. (There's no singularity here; technology when they get back home hasn't changed much.)

A Second Chance At Eden by Peter F. Hamilton

A collection of (mostly "clever twist") stories set in Hamilton's Confederation universe. Recommended.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

A short novel about a ship full of soldiers and prisoners that gets cast far away from their civilization, and must build a new one from people who hate each other. Recommended.

The Martian by Andy Weir

What, I need to review this? I nearly skipped work rather than put it down. Highly recommended.

The Secret History Of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

This is a fascinating history of Wonder Woman, William Marston, early 20th century feminism, and (importantly) early 20th century feminist SF, a topic I was direly ignorant of before. Indeed, I suspect many SF fans are ignorant of the history of feminist SF prior to, say, James Tiptree, which has colored the field much for the worse. I have more to say on this topic, but not the time right now.
2:27 pm
Books: Clearing The Decks
Quick reviews of the final books read in 2015:

The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole

I read this largely for its relevance to the gothic genre (and thus to SF, fantasy, and a lot of other genre fiction). I can't say I much enjoyed it, but it was illuminating, and the feeling of brushing up against things large and dark and angry was well done.

From Here To Timbuktu by Milton Davis

An entertaining AU pulp novel with POC protagonists, though it suffers from a few plot flaws. (Like, a trip by zeppelin from Atlanta to London, by way of New York, that apparently only takes a few hours.) Recommended.

How About Never — Is Never Good For You? by Bob Mankoff

By the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, this is both an autobiography and a discussion of the business of cartoons. Recommended.

The Infinite Loop by Colinet, Charretier

This is a graphic novel about Time Police, which I originally though had an incidental lesbian romance. Actually, it's intensely about gay rights, and erasure of gays, using erasing things from time as metaphor and literal threat. Recommended.

The Green Leopard Plague by Walter Jon Williams

A fine collection of short stories. Recommended.

Embassytown by China Miéville

A novel about the difficult of translating an alien language, and the problems that arise when you dramatically alter people to fit that need. I didn't quite enjoy it like I have some of his earlier works, but there are some worthy questions in there.

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

Banks' final SF novel. Towards the end, there's some discussion about how the events of the novel will be recorded as "just another incident the Culture's ships got involved in, and patted themselves on the back about", and indeed it felt to me very much like "just another Culture novel". The final revelations are not revelatory, nor do they change much of anything, and the big event of the book, a civilization Subliming into the next level of existence, is not really explored. Mildly recommended.

The Sandman: Overture by Gaiman, Williams, Stewart

This graphic novel both fills in the cracks and questions about the Sandman, and opens up whole new realms to explore. It's mostly a prequel to the original comic, involving what Dream was up to before he got captured. Apart from an annoying fridging, very recommended.

The Chronicles Of Tornor by Elizabeth A. Lynn

I was not old enough to appreciate this series when I first read it 30 years ago. It is an interesting fantasy world where homosexuality and other forms of queerness are incidental (which was almost unprecedented in 1980). The three novels are set generations apart, and are interesting snapshots of an evolving society, particularly its relationship to psi powers and a certain form of combat. Recommended.
Thursday, December 17th, 2015
7:37 pm
Books: Princes & Inquisitors

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

This is a lovely cyberpunk-ish post-apocalypse novel set in Palmares Tres, a Brazilian arcology in a world recovering from global warming and a plague that killed almost all men. Our heroes are young artists (in a world where "young" means "under 30", since people can live for centuries) who get caught up in the local politics where kings are media celebrities who get ceremonially executed after a year. There's a lot in here about generational conflict and where true power comes from, and it does not shy away from issues of race. Recommended.

Nicholas St. North And The Battle Of The Nightmare King by William Joyce & Laura Geringer

This is the first book in the series which inspired the movie Rise Of The Guardians, but it doesn't quite hit the same notes as the movie does. Mildly recommended.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

A fascinating study of Judaism and social class in an alternate late-19th-century New York. Our young hero discovers he has magical ability in a city where magic is strictly regulated, and promptly gets drafted into the NYPD inquisitor's office. The novel is a tour of New York's social strata and history as our hapless hero gets bounced around from one crime scene to the next, until he finally develops a bit of a spine. First in a series, recommended.

The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson

A novel of toxic masculinity in a tryannical future. The universe is slowly being colonized by slower-than-light ships equipped with instantaneous teleporters. (So a ship which has been traveling for 1000 years can cycle its crew back to Earth whenever.) Earth rules over its colonies tightly and harshly, and all of our heroes are damaged by this. They get sent out to a ship on the frontier, and then things start going wrong... Of its era, and seems to be caught between the horror of men warped by patriarchy, and an inability to imagine alternatives, even in the face of scientific wonders, the stars, and beyond. Not especially recommended.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
11:36 am
Arisia Schedule 2016
My current panel schedule looks like this:

Saturday, 7pm: Does The Real World Belong In Games? 'Our panelists will discuss whether "fun" is necessarily opposed to "social commentary", and games that have successfully combined the two. Can we use "it's just a game" to avoid discussing the extreme violence in games or the ongoing questions about how women and minorities are treated in the industry?' (Moderating.)

Sunday 1pm: Building A Polyamorous Home

Sunday 5:30pm: Why Do We Cheat? 'Cheating happens. We break our promises, we play with people and things we've promised we won't, we eat things we know we've agreed not to, we booty-call exes we swore never to speak to again. Is it inevitable human frailty?' (Moderating.)

Sunday 8:30pm: Worldbuilding For Games (Moderating.)

I'm currently also scheduled for a Friday 5:30pm panel, but since that is explicitly outside the availability times I set, I'm going to have to bow out.
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
Books!

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 Inheritance 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
Scrollin'
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.)
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