27 June 2006

The Eagle's Prophecy by Simon Scarrow

The sixth in the series about centurions Cato and Macro. Just as good as I remembered the earlier ones, good action and conspiracy here. I was pleased to find from the author's website that he has finished the next one, so I won't have to wait too long. I really wanted to just keep reading when this finished, though.

It doesn't help that he's setting up for a fairly long sage - the two heroes are steadily becoming trusted officers of Vespasian and enemies of Vitellius, meaning that the climax of the novel is likely to be the civil war in which the latter was briefly emperor and the former succeeding him in the end.

Great stuff.
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23 June 2006

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Not really but almost a sequel to his first novel (Old Man's War), this one returns to the same universe a few years after those events and share's a few characters.

This novel deals with the other side of the Colonial Defence Force, the Special Forces. They're nicknamed 'the ghost brigades' because they're engineered super-soldiers based on the genetics of people who enlisted but died before they were called up. These people are born into adult bodies and educated largely through their 'brainpal' internal computers.

With all that setup, you can see that this is going to be a story about what it is to be human, the ethics of creating people for an unpleasant job, and where their duty lies. Scalzi addresses these issues thoughtfully and has some interesting takes on parts of it. This also makes it a rather more serious novel than the first, although it's got some humour too.

On top of all that stuff, it's a good military sf novel, with some good action and a backdrop of interstellar black ops and war.

Highly recommended.
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20 June 2006

Actual Play: The Shab-al-Hiri Roach

We have played two sessions of the Roach, and have just one event left before Pemberton University is left to attempt to recover from our depredations.

The first session was a bit stilted. This was, I think, a combination of not really knowing what feel was intended and due to a lack of clear direction when setting scenes. By the end of the first session we were going a bit crazy, which helped things (I feel that my character devouring a doctor who was trying to calm him down after the Roach's command him really got us going there). In the second session I made sure people setting their scenes told us what the conflict was intended to be, so we could play towards it. This is really important too.

The rules run nice and smoothly, really encouraging you to come up with bizarre plans to get your characters' reputation up. I was particularly proud of my dude getting a die from his academic specialty - "Yiddish immigrant poetry" - in one scene. Absurd stuff like that really makes the game work.

Another player learned an important lesson that all prospective players should heed - even if it seems really cool, voluntarily becoming roachbound is a fool's game. That said, the extra power it gives you is awesome. We've all been pretty much steamrolling the rest of the faculty and town with our insidious roach cruelty...

I thoroughly recommend this game. It's hilarious. Just remember to start the conspiracies and murders early! And the more outrageous they are, the better.
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Night Watch

IMBD link: Night Watch

Really cool urban fantasy horror film. It's from some dudes in Russia and is going to be the first of three. Takes a bunch of fairly overused ideas (vampires, for one) and builds it's own mythology that's familiar enough to follow but also has some nice original ideas. It also rests pretty clearly on people just making choices, too. There's light and dark 'others' - that is, magicians and shapeshifters and vampires and things. However, the light and dark ones didn't really seem all that different insofar as they were all just people. It just happens that some of them have nasty magic powers and some of them have nicer ones.

It felt like what the Hellboy film should have been. Gritty, messy magic heroes fighting the good fight against messy, nasty magic bad guys. The action scenes were intense and exciting, although sometimes perhaps a little frenetic.

Well worth a watch.
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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Another reread. This one was better the second time. Fforde has an amazing ability to write the most hilarious, outrageous insanity. The jokes range from characters with silly names (Thursday Next, Landen Parke-Laine, etc) to bizarrely elaborate (e.g. the cultlike Baconians knocking on doors to convince people that Bacon wrote Shakespear's plays and then occasional returns to various similar theories, including all the details the real conspiracies do). Phenomenally good stuff.
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13 June 2006

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Second read of this one. Good, modern treasure hunt story.
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The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré

A good espionage story, in which a new and untested British agent recruits a tailor as an informant. Unfortunately the tailor like to tell everyone whatever they want to hear, regardless of whether it is true or not. Bad things ensue.
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05 June 2006

Singularity Sky by Charles Stross

Another re-read. Still good, although not as polished as his later novels.

01 June 2006

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind

Pretty good anime. Predicable plot 'twists', constant shots up the heroine's skirt and a rather blah ecological message do not detract much from the cool images and action.
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The World's Fastest Indian

Nice, light, fun film.
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A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

I was initially not keen on reading this as I thought it would be too depressing (being about four suicidal people). However, it turned out to not be. Well, no more than any of Hornby's books. A good story and some great characters. Well worth a read.
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