29 October 2004

Some Books I Have Read Recently

Just a few books that I have read recently and want to say something about

The Miocene Arrow by Sean McMullen. This is in fact the second book in his "Greatwinter" trilogy but stands alone fine - I read the other two some time ago. I've liked all his books but this one stood out. The bizarre social arrangements in this version of post-apocalypse North America are gloriously detailed - a society of feuding nobles who duel in their fighter planes. There's a lot of lovely deadpan humour (reminding me of Jack Vance) and a good story. The only gripe I have with it is that when he explains some of the crucial reasons the world is like it is (including what caused the apocalypse) it just seemed silly to me. Still, despite the shaky foundation, a great read.

Darwin's Ghost by Steve Jones. This is an updated Origin of Species. Jones has set out to basically write the same book that Darwin did, with all the discoveries since then as well as what there was to work with in the nineteenth century. It's a very lucid read, a good description of what natural selection is and how it works and it has a huge number of interesting little snippets of natural history. I got the copy I read out of the library but I think I need to buy one for the bookshelf. It also made me realise that I really ought to get around to reading the original, something I have been intending to do for about a decade now.

The System of the World
by Neal Stephenson. Finally I have finished his Baroque Cycle - it's quite a relief. It's a good story (all three, that is) but I really think Stephenson needs to resist his urge to write huge amounts of tangential detail. Usually these tangents in his books are interesting and/or amusing, but they're getting to be more and more of each novel. And also to outweigh the actual story.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. His best book for quite a while. Really funny and he seems to be back to reflecting bits of the real world that are more interesting than other recent books. Or maybe just more interesting to me. The main character is one of the better protagonists too. And Lord Vetinari does a lot of stuff in this one, which is always enjoyable.

22 October 2004

Different Kind of Gaming: Evil Genius

Evil Genius is a computer game in which you are - in essence- a Bond villain, trying to achieve world domination from your evil lair on an uninhabited island.

It is brilliant.

The gameplay is good, challenging but never too hard (and with some nice systems that allow you to recover from mistakes) but the thing that Elixir Studios have done best is the humour. The animations for your minions as they do their jobs around the base, the evil missions you send them on to gain notoriety in the world ("club some baby seals" is one), the traps you build to catch agents investigating your base, they're all hilarious. Hell, I sat and watched the animation in the background of the save game screen for five minutes, it is so funny (it's some guys in scuba gear doing synchronized swimming to the jazzy background music).

Very much from the Sean Connery-era James Bond or Austin Powers sort of spy film, but done just perfect. I recommend it.