31 May 2008

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

This is a strange sort of graphic novel. I got a copy after reading a lot of positive stuff about it here and there, and also reading about the in-development roleplaying game based on it.

So, it's about medieval mice. They have a whole little medieval republic, with villages, blacksmiths and what have you. The main characters are members of the Mouse Guard, a kind of military order charged with guiding mice between towns and protecting them from predators.

It reads sort of like a fantasy story - more like that than a historical adventure - because the other creatures that the mice fight are in effect monsters for them. The story is fast-paced, dealing with a mouse traitor and our heroes discovering what is going on about that. It feels very short, very much just the first chapter of a bigger story (annoying, as the second volume is not due until the end of the year and there are four promised).

The biggest strength is the art, which is absolutely fantastic. The world of these mice is brought vividly to life, together with the scale of things they have to deal with (such as a snake in the first part). The fights look great, too. A lot of things that seem rather silly if described in words, but the art pretty much makes them work.


I really enjoyed this. It was a great take on a giant monster movie, and the thread of the character stories that tied it together added a compelling human side to the whole thing.

I can see why people found parts of it implausible, but overall it seemed to me like these elements were necessary to the story. The tale of the people who just evacuate to safety right at the beginning is not interesting, even if these people's attempt to save someone else in the disaster zone is absolutely crazy.

Also, I'm glad I saw it on video. I think the constant motion of the camera would have been terrible at the cinema.

Various Hellboy stuff

I'm looking forward to the second Hellboy film, so this week I've rather immersed myself in Hellboy media.

I rewatched the first film, and enjoyed it. I'm not sure about all the decisions they made but they certainly nailed the look and feel of the comics just right. From the shorts I've seen, the second looks like it will be better.

BPRD comics: The Dead, The Black Flame, The Universal Machine and The Garden of Souls. I'd read just a few of these, mainly borrowing a random selection of the monthly comics. Reading the whole of the stories, and in order, was a big improvement. The Black Flame and The Garden of Souls stood out, building up the mythology of Hellboy/BPRD in the former and Abe's history in the latter. Great stuff.

Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others is a selection of Hellboy stories from his past, like The Chained Coffin and Others. Some really fun ones in here, although I find the collections a little of a letdown compared to the stories that move the story along.

Last Stand At Majuba Hill by John Wilcox

This is the fourth Simon Fonthill novel. It's good, but not as good as the third. Some of the characters and parts felt a little forced in this one.

Exploring Prehistoric Europe by Chris Scarre

Half coffee table book, half travel book. It covers fifteen important prehistoric sites in Europe, with a good discussion of why they are important and review of what is known about them.

26 May 2008

In A Wicked Age As A Player

This week, one of the other members of the group gave GMing a shot, so I got to experience In A Wicked Age as a player. Compared to most games, the difference is not so huge. The game felts pretty similar, just replacing one set of things to think about (what scene next? which NPC to throw at the PCs?) with another (now what do I do to get what I want?)

I had a lot of fun, with my character (Omid, the Strongest Man in the World!) pulling in a combined win/loss that was really neat - he got exhausted out of the chapter in the same conflict in which he finally won his love. Omid's going to be back a couple more times, too.

25 May 2008

The Merchants' War by Charles Stross

Number four in the merchant princes, this one moves along pretty fast and with a lot of excitement. There's a lot of plotlines, making it a little hard to follow until you remember who everyone was. Probably this one will reward rereading just after the first three. The setup for the next one is pretty good too, I'm looking forward to it.

24 May 2008

Matter by Iain M Banks

I really enjoyed this novel. The cover blurb calls it a Culture novel, but really it's about people on a low tech world, with only one main character part of the Culture (and she came from the same world as the others originally anyway).

The story explores the place of the low tech people in Banks' galaxy, driven along by a plot about local politics and some machinations of other factions that are intertwined with it.

One other major plus is that it didn't have any of the kind of fascinated description of horrific acts that many of his earlier stories did.

18 May 2008

The Quest for Origins by K R Howe

A good overview of what the current opinions are on the way the Polynesians colonized the Pacific Ocean. Howe also covers historical and alternative (i.e. crazy) opinions on the same topic. The book is an easy and short read, and packs a lot of information in there. There's a little bit of a New Zealand focus (probably as Howe is a New Zealander, plus he mentions it as especially interesting in that it's the most recently inhabited piece of the world).

16 May 2008

The Cassandra Complex by Brian Stableford

Although this is the fourth of the novels in the emortality series, it comes first in time. It's set about 2040 and deals with a mystery to do with early research into the technologies, against a background of the beginning of what the later stories call 'the Crash'.

The story here is more interesting for what it informs of the later stories than on its own. Specifically, some of the twists and turns get pretty implausible by the end. Of course the mystery is really there to highlight issues about the human reluctance to deal with things (such as population growth and climate change).

15 May 2008

The Fountains of Youth by Brian Stableford

This is the centrepiece of the emortality series, and was the one that I remember most strongly from my previous read of the books.

It's an autobiography of Mortimer Gray, one of the first generation of true emortals. Although his life takes many twists and turns over the five or six centuries that the book covers, the thread that runs through is his work writing a history of death.

This allows Stableford to blend the story of Gray's life with his commentary on how people of the past (including us, obviously) dealt with the omnipresence of death. This is interesting stuff, too, and a hell of a lot more deep and thoughtful than most science fiction.

In the background is the huge scope of future history that Stableford has built these books on. This world-building is, to my mind, a lot more plausible than most. There are a few places in which massive, implausible (or unlikely) events occur, but I find that the way he describes society reacting to them feels right. For instance (this will come up more in my review of the next book) the almost totally ineffectual reaction to the climate and (in his world) population crises of the twenty first century.

A great piece of work. Read it.

10 May 2008

The Architects of Emortality by Brian Stableford

This is the second volume in Stableford's future history of emortality. This one is set at the cusp of change, when the first true emortals (i.e. humans who will not age) are coming into their own, and those with around two centuries assisted life are very conscious they are the last generation of humans who will die of old age.

The story is framed as the investigation into a bizarre murder, and is just as gripping the second time around (perhaps mainly because I'd forgotten the reasons for it all).

The Golden Compass (film)

I finally got around to watching this on dvd. I enjoyed it - it seemed to be a good adaptation to me. The screenplay was perhaps a little heavy handed at times but overall it kept faithful to the story as written. The visuals brought to life Lyra's world very effectively, too.

08 May 2008

Iron Man

This film has pretty much no surprises but is good for what it is.

Robert Downey Jr makes Stark his own, and it's his charisma and humour that really carry the film. The suit is good too, and the fights. The plot is both shallow and easy to ignore.

As an interesting note, this film lacks any shaky fake hand held camera work. The fights are traditional, and you get to see everything happening in it's full glory.

Inherit the Earth by Brian Stableford

Due to a dearth of other interesting looking books at the library last visit, I grabbed the first four of Stableford's emortality series to re-read. If you haven't come across them, they deal with the development of life-extending and ultimately aging-prevention technologies and the way that these affect human society over the next few thousand years.

This is the first, and was just as good as I remembered it being. Knowing what comes after, the events in this one are overshadowed by that future history, which adds a sort of evanescence to the characters and events.

06 May 2008

A Traveller's Guide To Mars by William Hartmann

This book has the form factor and layout of a typical travel guide, which is a neat gimmick. Inside is a really interesting, detailed explanation of what we know about Mars, up to 2003 or so (when it was written). It also has a fantastic selection of photos, many from the Mars Global Surveyor.

Hartmann takes a tour by region, in each one telling you a little more about what we know (or speculate). The tour covers areas of interest - both the obvious places to laypeople (e.g. Olympus Mons) and those that are geologically important. He starts with the oldest parts of the planet and works his way to the youngest, overall.

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

This is a hard-boiled fantasy novel. The tough-talking swordsman hero is great, and the mystery he must solve (bringing up dark memories of his past) is entirely the sort of thing you might expect. It works surprisingly well (and in many ways better than the Dresden Files).

01 May 2008

Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

I wasn't particularly taken with the first book in this trilogy, but this second volume gives back all that was promised in that story. Possibly as good as the Farseer trilogy, recommended for those who like good fantasy stories.

This one also takes all the seemingly straightforward cultures of the first book and shows enough of each that they take on a lot more depth (and, at the end of the day, they all seem terrible). The protagonist spends the whole novel stuck between two of them, being required by both to destroy the other. He does not have an easy time (which I guess is pretty standard for Hobb - she's very nasty to her characters).