30 July 2008

The Line of Polity by Neal Asher

This is a decent space opera. It has some silly bits, but the overall plot is exciting. The thing that I found most interesting was the idea of the Polity. It felt kind of like Banks' Culture, but in the very early years. People talk about the way the Polity has given over all government and logistics to their AIs, but it seems like this is quite recent. This means they're a local superpower, but only local.

The novel is centered around attempts to get the Polity to step in and 'fix' a world that is ruled by a terrible theocracy, so it plays with these issues a lot. Good stuff.

26 July 2008

Rules of War by Iain Gale

This is second in a series that reads like Gale is essentially trying to replicate the style of the Sharpe books (in a different age). Jack Steel, his hero, is similar to Sharpe in many ways although from a middle-class family rather than a workhouse orphan. He also predates Sharpe by a hundred years - this book is about Marlborough's campaign against Louis XIV in Belgium.

The story follows the historical military adventure formula, so there's not much unexpected in there. Gale writes well enough that this isn't a bad thing, and Steel has a streak of compassion (particularly when the city of Ostend is bombarded by the Royal Navy) that is unusual.

I'm interested to see where the series goes (and find that first novel).

Spider Star by Mike Brotherton

This is a science fiction novel with a very cool world. The story deals with some humans dealing with an ancient technology (including an expedition to find the makers and learn to turn it off). It reminds me of the Ringworld books, although the scale of the engineering is even bigger.

The characters were interesting too, with a contrast between a retired explorer, now family man, and up and coming explorer in shared command of the mission.

The story leaves a lot of the facts about the world implicit, only explaining those that the characters come to understand along the way. This feels quite natural.

22 July 2008

Geiger Counter - The Cylinder

(You're supposed to read 'The Cylinder' in ominous movie voice).

I took the playtest draft of Geiger Counter for a one-shot last night, as I was thinking of running a game at this year's Fright Night halloween convention. I'm also interested to see the similarities and differences with The Infected, given that they have pretty similar aims.

Overall, it was a lot of fun, with some good action/horror moments and a satisfying ending (with the villain of the piece escaping alive, and the rest left dead on the eponymous cylinder). I'm happy with it for my convention game, too.

The contrast with The Infected is basically characterization versus action. Infected focuses much more on character, Geiger Counter really seemed to make the actions to survive primary.

I really liked the way that quick scenes taken in turns really kept things going. Scenes that took more than about five minutes felt like they were dragging, which is fairly telling about the pace of things.

Drawing the map as you go was great too. Ours was a science fiction story, with humans exploring a huge alien cylinder. It quickly turned to chaos, with the entire artifact waking up hostile to the humans, as well as the things that lived inside it. The various groups trapped inside the cylinder did their best to fight off the menace and escape.

The conditions added a lot to the story too - there's a discrete list of things that can affect you after you lose a conflict - you can be injured or dead, but also lost, alone, hysterical, etc. Each has its own narrative effects and having these come into play added a lot of colour to the story.

Overall, the playtest draft delivered 100% on what it promised. I'm looking forward to the final version.

19 July 2008

The Path Of Revenge & Dark Heart by Russell Kirkpatrick

Reviewing these two together as I read them together. This series takes place seventy years after his previous trilogy. The story is driven by fallout from the events in the previous story, and also opens up the world significantly. It's interesting, and the novel thinks a bit more about the whys and wherefores of the events than the average (or even superior) fantasy novel. On the down side, there are some truly horrible atrocities committed in the course of events which are fairly hard to get through.

One aspect that I particularly liked is an exploration of the role of a dark lord (the adversary from the previous trilogy), and how his brutal methods of control over his empire may be necessary or superior to more gentle governance. That said, it's far from an apology for him which might be an easier way to play this sort of thing in a story).

Another thing I find puzzling is the maps. Kirkpatrick is a cartographer, so the maps are wonderfully made (plausible geography and professional quality). Despite this, they all seem to miss out the most important things I want a map for: the journeys that the characters take. I think maybe the nicest looking ones have been chosen, rather than the most illustrative.

Sixty Days And Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson

(I kept putting off this because I hadn't quite worked out what I wanted to say. It is apparent now that I don't know).

Anyhow, number three in the climate change series. It's good.

It's an odd combination of disaster story (i.e. what will happen if we fail to act) and optimistic one (i.e. we can save ourselves, if good people make the effort). Plus there's some basic family and romantic drama for the main characters.

05 July 2008

Casino Royale

Finally got around to watching this, and immediately regretted not doing so earlier. Very good, and feels a lot closer to the Bond I remember from the novels than the other films. Now looking forward to the next one (even though it has a silly name).

Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson

The second of Robinson's climate change novels. Good. More comments will follow soon, once I finish the third one.