28 May 2006

Lots of new Hellboy & BPRD comics

I got three new reprints this week:

Hellboy: Strange Places by Mike Mignola
BPRD: Plague of Frogs by Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, Dave Stewart & Clem Robbins
BPRD: The Dead by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis & Dave Stewart

Strange Places is about what's happened to Hellboy since he quit the BPRD. It's weird stuff that explains (or maybe just hints at) what Mignola has planned for Hellboy in the rest of the series.

Both BPRD books are really about the same story: frog monsters get loose and the BPRD has to try and stop them. They also are building up the BPRD as something more than just Hellboy's sidekicks, which is all good. My initial impressions of these stories were that they were inferior to Mignola's work on Hellboy, but now I think they're just as good (although not exactly the same in style).
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Thud! by Terry Pratchett

Second read. One of Pratchett's best.
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22 May 2006

The Quantum Zoo by Marcus Chown

Small, easily digestible review of key concepts of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. Worth a look if you are interested. Plenty of neat facts and no mathematics.
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Voidfarer by Sean McMullen

Third in his Moonworlds series, this one takes a strange twist in being a fantasy take on The War of the Worlds. Some of the bizarre characters from the previous books are present when the first cylinders are launched and then land, and play key roles in the war against the aliens.

This book maintains the dry, absurdist humour that reminds me of Jack Vance (although McMullen's language is more modern) but also feels a bit more like Terry Pratchett in parts. This isn't to say that McMullen is merely replicating the styles of other authors - he brings plenty of good stuff himself.

A must read for fans of comic fantasy.
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18 May 2006

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

Finally finished this one. Nowhere near as interesting as The Voyage of the Beagle or The Origin of Species. There are a few reasons for this, such as the fact that so much more has been discovered about human descent since the book was written. Also, half of it is comprised of extensive evidence for sexual selection in evolution, something that I already know exists - I don't need to read hundreds of pages of examples about this. Still, some of the examples are interesting.
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Mind's Eye by Paul Mcauley

Really good thriller, dealing with a strange sort of mind control. Reminiscent of Tim Powers' Declare, in only good ways. Exciting stuff and some cool aspects to the mind control thing. Thoroughly recommended.
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13 May 2006

A Gentleman's Game by Greg Rucka

The first of Rucka's "Queen & Country" novels, this one deals with suicide bombings and assassinations. Exciting and generally great stuff.
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The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

This was my second read of this pair of books. They are very good.

Wolfe has here a fantasy story packed with cliches from famous stories about knights, and yet his writing is so good that you hardly notice they are cliches.

The first read of the story, I figured it was about honour. However, the second time it seems to be all about being a man. Honour is a part of that, but that's all.

One of the top fantasy stories ever.
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08 May 2006

Three Dooms - First Playtest

Tonight I ran the first playtest session of Three Dooms. It was fun, which is the main thing, but highlighted a few issues.

The big thing was that it ran way shorter than planned. Two elements fed into this. Firstly, two players couldn't make the game so we played with just three (which is less than the minimum - four). Secondly, I did the job of Doom Master (DM) badly, going straight for the conflict rolls rather than setting up scenes to get a lot of roleplaying going before doing the conflicts.

The first I can live with, obviously with not enough people the game will go faster. The first doom was also very tough on just two heroes, amd they did not defeat it. This is to be expected, because the mechanics are calibrated carefully for a minimum of three heroes. I'll put in some notes about playing with less - the aspects will need to be significantly weakened.

The second was just me being tired and forgetting how to play, really. The text even says the DM should build up to each conflict and how they should do it. I think I was playing it like Badass Space Marines, where a brief pause between fights is all that is required. I'll check the DM instructions to make sure this is covered properly. I think I'll also put in some more about how to build up stories for each aspect that give cool scene ideas.

What worked well was the driving and supporting emotions for the heroes and the way new specialties are gained (after losing a fight). The emotions gave an instant personality to each hero, built up by specialty gains in often unexpected but always pretty cool ways.

Our doom and aspects were fairly silly, but still had a kind of primal feel to them. So the ancientness was working okay there too.

Overall, I am pleased. The game as written is playable and fun, albeit with some flaws that need work.

02 May 2006

The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

Good fantasy novel about a family exiled from another dimension learning to live in the USA as illegal refugees. A few tragic bits, but overall very nicely written.
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