Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Golden Compass, a short review

It was pretty to look at, but the story was softened too much to not frighten children like the book properly did. I give it one thumb up, 6 stars out of 10, a score of 5.5, and a couple approving nods at the uber-cool daemons. Other than that, it's sort of familiar fantasy, with the girl playing Lyra the best (and least overly dramatic) acting in the film. I'll probably pick it up on DVD just because I like Pan that much.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Videogames Not Played in 2007

I don't have any of the latest generation gaming systems. Yay, poor wins! It's just me and my Playstation 2/Nintendo DS hanging out. That's okay. I still like 'em a lot, and there's plenty of fun games to play on them. But this does mean I miss out on the big name games of year as I don't know anyone with a Wii (keep your comments and thoughts clean!), an Xbox 360, or a Playstation 3. So, I present to you my Top 10 Videogames Not Played in 2007:

10. Bioshock (Xbox 360). As a hardcore RPG fan, this one sounds yummy. A vast and rich underwater city, with role-playing elements mixed comfortably against shooting elements. Graphically, it looks stunning. I'm curious about the big dome-headed monsters and the little girls that follow them around all doe-eyed. This one hurts not to play.

9. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS3). I play guitar and yet have never played a single one of these games. They do appeal to me, but forking over the money for the game AND the special gigantic controller make me a bit hesitant to pick these up. Still, they look like a lot of fun and from what the Internets tell me...they are.

8. Mass Effect (Xbox 360). I want to play this for the story. Epic space opera, blue-skinned aliens, and multiple dialog threads. Looks pretty, too. Alas, this is almost as far away from me as the moon.

7. Crackdown (Xbox 360). The YouTube clips of people leaping buildings in a single bound and tossing flaming cars across highways make this less-than-serious action-adventure romp look like a whole lot of fun.

6. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (Nintendo DS). Um, a portable semi-sequel to one of my all-time favorite RPGs? Thank you! This one was released a little too close to the holidays to allow my budge for splurging, but it looks interesting. Not a straightforward RPG, but one mixed with some strategy elements. Makes me think back to the good ol' days of playing Command & Conquer for hours upon hours. Only this time you probably get to control some Moogles. Win-win, I say.

5. The Eye of Judgment (PS3). Yes, I play card games. Yes, I play videogames. Yes, I've been waiting at least ten years for the perfect blend of the two to come around. Is this it? I don't know. But it sure looks like a good time, depending of course on who you are playing and how fun the rules are. Plus, Penny Arcade likes it and that's good enough for me.

4. Odin Sphere (PS2). I'm an old-school gamer at heart. Sure, one could argue this as choice as well, seeing that I choose not to spend the money of the big, fancy systems...but I really do like simple gameplay and 2D graphics. The crisp colors and amazing animation make this side-scrolling RPG desirable to me. It looks like a living, breathing piece of manga or something. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

3. Halo 3 (Xbox 360). I'm notoriously horrible at FPS games. That said, I've only ever played the single player portion of the first Halo and did moderately okay. Never tried the second one. Seemed like the trilogy's end got a lot of hype. I just sat and watched like a rock.

2. God of War II (PS2). Though I've yet to beat the final boss in the first God of War, I enjoyed everything leading up to it. The puzzles are fun, not too challenging, and a good break from the button-mashing battles. I'm a sucker for Greek mythology, and I thought about getting this one the day it came out, but thought the price tag was too steep for a PS2 game. I'll wait for this one to turn into a $20 Greatest Hit.

1. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3). This one looks to be everything I'd ever need in a videogame: an open-ended fantasy world, lots of towns and cities to visit, hours of gameplay, total freedom, magic, great graphics, replay value, you name it. Why, cruel gods, why haven't I played it yet? WHY?

There you have it. What game came out in 2007 that you want to play, but haven't yet?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Diet Soap #1 review

Oh, hey. My last review of 2007, of the genre-defying, anarchist Diet Soap #1, is now live at The Fix. Check it out!

LOTR: The Third Age

So, I bought this for $6.00 on a splurge of boredom over the weekend:

It's pretty insulting to the films, even more so to Tolkien's work, but it's mostly entertaining. In this linear-as-a-line RPG, a second fellowship follows the path of that of the original one, fighting most of the same baddies and really just making more or less of the same comments that Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, or Boromir might've made. The battle system is similar to Final Fantasy X, with characters taking turns based on actions, and the leveling up system is tediously mediocre. You gain a level, you get two points, you assign them to whatever attributes you desire. Rinse, lather, repeat.

And repetition is key here. I'm not even out of Moria yet and I've fallen comfortably into using the same battle tactics to defeat goblins and trolls. So I do that, gain a level, go to the new battle, gain a level. There's no towns to wander and shop in (isn't that, um, consider a sin in an RPG?), and everytihng is loosely tied in by cinematic movie montages narrated by Gandalf. Which, I'll admit, are nice to listen to.

I guess I'll be fighting the Balrog soon. Yeah, you know...the one that fell down the chasm. I wonder how'll EA will work that into the second fellowship's journey into sore losership.

So, $6.00 well spent? Probably not. But it gives me something to do when I don't want to do one of my 7 billion others things needing finishing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10 Books of 2007

It's the end of the year, which means the top so-and-so lists are going to be coming out quicker than a dozen labor-abused elves toasted on extra spiked eggnog. Er, I don't know what that means. This is the first of a few lists I have brewing, and as always, mileage may vary. So many books to read, so little time to read 'em. I tried counting up how many I went through in 2007, but gave up around 55 or so. I'm going to be geeky and keep an actual spreadsheet for 2008 cause...I'm a geeky bibliophile.

Anyways, here are the Top 10 Books Read in 2007:

10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

A girl I once knew used to joke that I'd buy any book with a dragon on the cover. I never argued with this, knowing it to be about 94.6% true. So when I discovered Tooth and Claw was not just a book with a dragon on the cover, but a book entirely about dragons...well, I forked over my cash.

A mix of Pride and Prejudice with a thousand smart, intuitive Smaugs equals a moving book about family, money, and power. I actually suggest anyone curious about this to go in with some generic expectations--dragons breathing fire at one another, caves of gold, greed ruling all--and its amazing how all that is twisted and contorted into something totally unexpected. Walton doesn't shy away from alien customs and traditions, instead embracing them and using them to fuel her characters on. My only complaint is that it became hard to truly "see" some of these dragons for more than just big, talking lizards. Still, I've read nothing else quite like it.

9. The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald.

I'm not big on romance novels, but toss some star-crossed lovers into outer space with a bunch of mysterious alien technology and a few bad-minded military members and I'm engaged.

The story is of Lieutenant Jodenny Scott leading a problematic crew and Terry Myell trying to escape past actions. Also, internal politics and Aboriginal cultural influences. The book kicks off with an explosion, continues to keep a pace filled with conflict after conflict after conflict, and does not tie everything up nice and neat in the end. Some threads will surely be examined more in its sequel, but what The Outback Stars does right is close in on the relationship between one Jodenny and one Myell. They're off-and-on, brooding about this and that, worrying about the minutiae of daily life and the stressful minutiae of daily military life, all while keeping their shit together. It's a fun time, despite some of the heavy themes. I like to think of this one as space opera with a ton of heart.

8. Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell.

Ah, this one is science fiction with an erratically pumping heart. Not a honest-to-gods direct sequel to Buckell's debut Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, at first, feels like a completely opposite experience. There's aliens keeping people as pets, dozens of spaceships, invisible armies, an escape via wormholes, and so much more. Nashara, an enhanced living weapon, may hold the key to saving humanity from the oppressive rule of the Satrapy.

Here's what I said in my review back in June: Well, Ragamuffin is fun, and with Buckell being a master of the short chapters it's a fairly fast read. I definitely suggest those that enjoy action-stuffed science fiction with a whole lot of cool to it to pick up this book right now. Postmodern space opera has never been so good. It's got a rich balance of characters, apt dialogue, and enough life-or-death moments to keep readers flipping pages.

I fully stand by that now, as well as realize that I'm itching real bad for the next book, Sly Mongoose, to come out.

7. Bone by Jeff Smith.

This took me forever to get through--not that I minded. The Bones get run out of Boneville, lost in a valley, and become integral parts in saving a land from a great and terrible evil. Plus, there's humor and a varied, engaging style of art to stare longingly at. Epic would be one word to describe Bone, as would awesome and super-duper-doo. The Bones themselves are fun, likable creatures despite their flaws; Fone Bone is blinded by love, Phoney Bone is one greedy sack of bones, and Smiley Bone is no swifter than a rock. But them, plus Ted, Rose, Thorn, Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures, and the Great Red Dragon all mesh together really well. There's never a moment where you look at the art and see a cartoon Fone Bone staring at a more realistic-looking Thorn and think, "Gee, that looks odd." Cause it doesn't. This is a must-read for any comics fan.

6. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.

This one came recommended to me from my sister, and needing a bit of young adult to fill the void that was left after I rushed through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (notably missing from this list)...I thought to give it a shot.

It's a dark science fiction story about cloning and what it means to be human, rather than an animal. Our hero is Matt, a young boy cloned from the drug lord Matteo Alacrán. He will, ultimately, play a pivotal role in shutting down Opium, a fictional country set between the United States and Mexico. Very interesting stuff, surprisingly deep for a young adult book. Meaty issues of turning poorer people into eejits (zombies), the notion of family as possession, and the constant reminder to Matt that he is nothing more than a savage beast make The House of the Scorpion a chilling, disturbing, and captivating read.

5. Gradisil by Adam Roberts.

I read this one over the summer and originally thought that I had a lot to say about it. It's epic in scope, spanning a troubled family's generation, dealing with space realty, war, and politics, focusing on murder and revenge and...but by the time I'd finished it felt like everything that could be said of Gradisil had already been written. And by better writers. So I remained quiet, despite many scenes in the book replaying silently in my head.

Gradisil is the story of the Gyeroffy family--namely Klara Gyeroffy and Hope Gyeroffy. A big part of the novel takes place in the Uplands, a settlement in the lower Earth orbit where the rich can spend voraciously and buy a docked home. The tension starts when a tenant seeking a hideaway murders Klara's grandfather in order to steal their Upland house. The book is split into three sections, with the first being the most rewarding. After that the pace is dimmed, but everything still culminates nicely, making Gradisil an excellent piece of hard science fiction, and making me even more impressed because I absolutely cannot stand hard science fiction.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert.

Well, what else can I say that I didn't already say in my review of this SF masterpiece? The worldbuilding and layering is simply phenomenal. The characters, for the most part, are intriguing, especially when Herbert already reveals most of their secrets to the reader. Sandworms are pretty cool, too.

Eh, I'll just take the summary again from my review: I really liked the world of Arrakis and its politics, but found everything fairly slow going. The story is mostly a big buildup to an end that has already been revealed to the reader by the prophecy that goes along with Muad'Dib. Too much focus on superfluous thoughts and constant questioning of everyone's intentions. Still, Dune is what it is--a classic coming-of-age story where science extends itself beyond the reach of imagination and giant spice-producing worms control the sands. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, what with all the omniscience, but still a solid read that every fan of science fiction should tackle at some point or another.

3. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.

Hidden, underground worlds? Check. Chock full of Russian folklore? Check. Lots of neat birds? Triple check. Really, people, this is a must-read.

What I said a month ago: I was lucky enough to read this before it was released, and I've been wanting to talk about it for awhile, but...sometimes it takes time to let these things sink in. Structurally, the book is different from what I normally read. The focus, one might say, is on the woman Galina, who witnessed her recently pregnant sister turn into a jackdaw and fly away. She sets out to find Masha and the reason why this has happened. Along the way, Yakov, a quiet police detective trying to figure his shit out, joins her in the pursuit for answers. What they discover is a world beneath Moscow, a hidden place, where people hide and creatures of Russian folklore flourish. Sort of like how I enjoyed the historic legends and tales more than the true plot in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, I found the characters Galina meets underground, along with their pasts, far more intriguing than anything else in The Secret History of Moscow. Go, Father Frost! Still, the culmination of Galina's search is downright heartbreaking, making this the book that has stuck with me the hardest so far in 2007.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Marvelously written, this Ekumen novel is all about crafting a living, breathing planet brimming with odd customs and cold weather. Beautiful prose, striking images, a heartwrenching tale of love and understanding, a total flip of gender roles...this book does it all and beyond.

Here's what I wrote in October: This was good. Very, very good. A heavy read, and I'm still absorbing a lot of it. I think I enjoyed the myths of Winter and the Ekumen far more than the actually relationship between Genly and Estraven. The whole gender-changing race was quite interesting, and I can see how it would've impacted the field so effectively nearly thirty years ago. I'm glad I finally read this--though it's not the first work in the Ekumen series I've tried--and now I can say I've read four Hugo-winning novels.

1. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin.

Here it is, ladies and gents. My number one book read in 2007? Yup. I picked this up almost immediately after finishing A Clash of Kings, wanting more, more, more. Boy, did I get it! So much happens here that I can't talk about because it would spoil anyone who hasn't read it, but MAN. I thought I'd been caught off guard in A Game of Thrones yet here I was merrily reading along when WHACK someone is dead and then STABBITY another one is dead and the THWUNK dead dead dead.

This is epic fantasy at its best, where nobody is safe and the limits are pushed. Every chapter was another reason to stay awake reading, to stay up on edge, to feel nervous for whoever you were reading about whether it's a young, crippled boy or a bravely foolish mother. I'm saving A Feast for Crows for an upcoming vacation, but I doubt it could top everything that happened here. Which, if you haven't picked up on it yet, is a lot of shtuff. Martin writes with an attentive eye to detail, something that I appreciate and a technique that truly helps to immerse the reader into his world of Westeros. Fantastic all around.

Honorable Mentions
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Selling Out by Justina Robson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Well, there you have it. Go on, tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word of the year

"w00t" is named the word of year by Merriam-Webster Inc., and all I have to say to that is: Ha, you bunch of grammar n00bz just got pwned big time!

But seriously, w00t? I use it all the time, but that doesn't make it good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Not dead

Hi, blog readers (all four of you). No, I'm not dead. Just very busy, both mentally and physically. Will try and post some things soonish. Blah blah blah...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All things published in 2007

So, everyone seems to be doing this. Here's what I had published in 2007:

  • Way too many book reviews and short fiction reviews at FantasyBookSpot, Tangent Online, and The Fix

I'm pleased with the year, and there's some leftovers that have sold and should hopefully be published in 2008. Onward like a thing that moves on...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Latest draft, yay

Well, taking a break from the novel tonight to reach first draft on a new short story, "The Working Girls," at 2,477 words. There's some suck in it still to remove, but it's nice and weird and a little homage to some people I once knew. No worries, they'll never figure it out. I promise you that.

Dang, it felt good to write something not set in a magical city of undead people for once in a long time. I will get back to the novel now that I've gotten this out of my system.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Crap Man

Okay, Tin Man sucks. Giving up after 17 minutes. Bad acting, bad dialog, bad plot points. I'd rather be reading...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The final stats

Well, November is over...and with it NaNoWriMo. I did not win. Then again, I did not do NaNoWriMo. I did National Writing Month (or NaWriMo for those that can't get enough acronyms in their daily lives), the goal being to simply write every day for thirty days. I set a minimum of 500 words a day, knowing that if I hit that I'd net myself a nice 15,000 words to the novel-in-progress.

Here's my numbers:

Day 1 2,273
Day 2 1,053
Day 3 1,046
Day 4 533
Day 5 2,367
Day 6 1,539
Day 7 514
Day 8 1,765
Day 9 913
Day 10 562
Day 11 553
Day 12 1,005
Day 13 586
Day 14 590
Day 15 1,354
Day 16 606
Day 17 0
Day 18 548
Day 19 524
Day 20 524
Day 21 646
Day 22 516
Day 23 584
Day 24 554
Day 25 723
Day 26 516
Day 27 505
Day 28 568
Day 29 603
Day 30 572
Total 24,642

Not bad, I say. Only missed writing one day and I blame that on beer, bars, and Philadelphia. Towards the end of the month the writing got harder as I edged closer to the final section of the book because everything before it was just push, push, pushing forward. Once I got there I had to actually sit down and think about some of the happenings and how to make them work. But I'm glad I did it...and I'm happy to take a little break from forcing myself to write every day. Sometimes I just don't want to, especially with the 9 billion other things I try to do.

Anyways, that's that.