Monday, May 16, 2022

Non-Fiction: Review of No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson

My wife and I have two children (seven and five years old as of the time of writing this review). As with all parents, we struggle with bathtime, bedtime, playtime, homework, and the developmental challenges those situations often entail for small children. For the past couple months we’ve really been struggling with our youngest. At any moment, any time, and sometimes multiple times per day she has intense, emotional breakdowns. Tears, anger, shouting, name calling, hitting, breaking things, throwing things, doors slamming—the whole bit. Not liking how I was personally handling these situations, feeling that I had some negative influence in how they were turning out, I decided to do some research. Why were my methods not producing the desired effect? I found No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2014) by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Thank goodness for this lighthouse in the storm.

The answer to my question: love. I laugh. Of course I love our children, but it’s a matter of perspective and timing. I will not steal Siegel and Bryson’s thunder, nor do their book the dishonor of boiling it down to bullet points. But I can say the philosophy of No-Drama Discipline derives from empathic love, and how we communicate that through understanding and learning in our children’s most difficult moments. Key example: an emotional breakdown is not a moment to lay down the law, rather a moment to model and teach.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Review of Memory's Legion by James S.A. Corey

Just as methodically and competently as Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham published the Expanse novels, they likewise put out a similar rhythm of short fiction. Adding layers of lore that fans of the setting and characters can appreciate, the stories perform a number of functions, including shining further light on characters, giving more background for particular settings, and telling stories that characters in the novels occasionally menionted but were never put on the page. These eight stories have been brought together in one place as a coda to the Expanse series, Memory's Legion (2022).

Amos Burton has always been reticent about his past, and in “The Churn” the reader learns why (not to mention the reason behind the tattoo over his heart). A stab at noir given the manner in which Abraham and Corey crank up Amos’ signature reticence, Burton's tale is of turbulent times in Baltimore’s (future) history, and the role the young man played in organized crime and the people closest to him. An event referenced numerous times in the novels, “The Butcher of Anderson Station” finally tells what happened to Fred Johnson during his time in the UN Navy to cause him to be such a polarizing figure—OPA leader despised by the UN. As good a story as one might expect Franck and Abraham to write given the fictional hype, the reader can finally decide for themselves whether Johnson is villain or victim.

Console Corner: Review of Horizon: Forbidden West

Five years ago I did something I never do: I walked into a game shop and bought a AAA video game on its premiere day. In today’s world, this is a huge risk. Most big, AAA titles are not released in polished form. It’s much better for the player to wait six months for the bugs to be worked out and a smooth experience (as intended) to be had. And yet to my surprise, when I got home and popped the game in the console, everything worked. Like Nintendo games of old, I had purchased a fully-fledged, ready-to-go product. And what a product it was.

Of the hundreds if not thousands of games published, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the top 10 of the PS4 generation, and one of the greatest action rpgs of all time. Guerrilla Games looked at the field, borrowed the best bits and pieces here and there, then mixed it all into a story and world of its own. Horizon: Zero Dawn was influenced by some of the best games of the time (The Last of Us, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Uncharted 4, and others), and by creating its own characters and purpose, produced a game that is still talked about today—to the point a sequel, Horizon: Forbidden West was made in 2022. I also bought it on opening day.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review of The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski

Note: This review of The Tower of Swallows (1997), fourth volume in the Witcher series, is going to assume the reader has read the prior three books.

If you’ve read Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga this far, it’s likely anything I write will change your mind whether to push forward with the fourth, penultimate volume, Tower of Swallows. Then again, Baptism of Fire was such a weak book that you may think twice.

Fear not—or at least only a little, Tower of Swallows is likely the best book of the saga thus far. If the reader has felt a little sea sick trying to follow Sapkowski’s timeline and plotline, this book starts to braid all the pieces together in tighter fashion. It gives readers recognizable plot handles to hold in relationship to one another.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Review of Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre

Like many sf writers of the 20th century, Vonda McIntyre opted to take a successful novella and extend it. “Aztecs” was published in 1977, and six years later, readers were able to experience the novel treatment, Superluminal (1983). As with all such revisits, the questions are: how does McIntyre extend the narrative, and does it enhance the experience?

The opening of Superluminal is the novella “Aztecs”—which answers the first question; the novel picks up where the novella left off to tell what happens next. A woman, Laenae, comes to consciousness having recently completed surgery which replaced her heart with a mechanical pump. Necessary for long distance space flight, Laenae has sacrificed her body’s core to be one of the rare few who can call themselves “Pilot”. But that is only the first step. Fully understanding the impact of her decision requires a deeper look at relationships and people who have taken similar decisions as herself.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Review of Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

Note: This review of Baptism of Fire (1996), third volume in the Witcher series, assumes the reader has read the prior two books.

If there is anything Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series does well, it’s maintain internal consistency. The writing can at times go off on unnecessary tangents, issues with narrative flow pop up, and there isn’t a strong, overarching sense of social setting/place for the reader to relate to, but Sapkowski is at least consistent with these inconsistencies. What then does Baptism of Fire, the bridge book of the series, do to carry forward the Witcher torch?

If anything, Baptism of Fire is the most linear of the Witcher novels—an almost literal bridge from the second to fourth novel. Where the two prior Witcher novels shift in time and place, from this group of characters to that, from this castle to that forest, Baptism of Fire follows Geralt almost entirely throughout. And it’s toward the building of a merry band of men. Like an 80s novel, Geralt and company go from place to place, slowly accumulating a motley crew of elves, dwarves, vampires, and others. There are occasional scenes thrown in here and there to catch up on what is happening in other places in the land (Ciri, the emperor, the magicians, etc.), but by and large the novel is an extended cut-scene of Geralt as team leader.

Console Corner: Review of Railway Empire

I owned a Lionel train set as a child. I set it up and took it down many times, and even built some of my own terrain—bridges, tunnels, crossings, etc. I used to love going to hobby stores and seeing all the possibilities. I owned several magazines and would daydream looking at the immaculate sets people built in their basements. And to this day I think there is still some fascination watching the giant metal machines on rails. Naturally, what better place is there to realize a train dream than video games? Let’s take a look at Railway Empire on PS4.

Railway Empires is, among other things, exactly that: a sandbox to build a railway network to your heart’s content. Bridges, tunnels, freight delivery, express passenger trains, building a business and becoming a millionaire in the process—it’s all there. Much more rural in nature than urban, the game’s environments are broad scale rather than local. Players will be connecting cities rather than stations within cities, and managing many of the big business pieces which complement that—stocks, industry, train maintenance, employees, etc.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Review of Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford

I sometimes find myself asking the question: has it all been done? Are there are any truly original stories still being written in the 21st century? Have we seen it all and what’s left is just iterations? Deep in my heart I believe the answers to be ‘yes’. But in order to continue to enjoy the experience of reading, I’ve converted the questions to: how does the author iterate? With R.S. Ford’s novel Engines of Empire the answer to the question is not the same at its outset as it is upon completion.

Engines of Empire is a fast-paced, multi-p.o.v. novel that looks to Game of Thrones for structure and Golden Age sf for content. The story is largely focused on one family (like the Starks) and the dispersion of its members across a kingdom in conflict as tragedy inevitably pulls them apart. But where George R.R. Martin gives the reader reasonably well fleshed out characters, Ford opts for the Edgar Rice Burroughs type of 1D, occasionally 2D, characterization. Plot of prime importance, putting the characters through the paces of capture, kidnapping, conflict, court drama—all the things that generate narrative tension, is priority. For people who like such dynamic, entertainment driven books, the pages will turn fast.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Review of Machines & Men by Keith Roberts

Few contemporary science fiction readers know the name Keith Roberts. Which is a shame. When the history of the genre is written, his name is worthy of the pantheon. Evolving from H.G. Wells rather than Burroughs or Verne, Roberts always begins with the human element before extrapolating in subtly imaginative fashion a tweak to society, technology, environment, and other areas critical to the human experience. While not exemplary of precisely why Roberts is worthy of the pantheon, Machines & Men (1973), Roberts' debut collection, nevertheless shows where it all began.

Consisting mostly of novelette-length stories, Machines & Men is divided into two halves. You guessed it. Kicking off “Machines” and the collection is “Manipulation”. I have a dislike of tele-anything—telepathy, telekinesis, etc. (except teleology). “Maniulation” has them all. Thankfully, Roberts grounds this story of one man and one particular crush he has in psychological reality. More anti-hero than superhero, Roberts questions the use to which a person would put such abilities—when you know that you know that you know, but can do something about it, which is interesting.

Cardboard Corner: Review of World Without End

It’s interesting how habits in life ebb, flow, and evolve. I played board games as a child, not heavily, but we had a small collection. The hobby abandoned throughout my teens and twenties, it wasn’t until my thirties that (apparently) life slowed down enough to put me back at the table looking for social, fun tactile, and tactical experiences. A local music and book shop had a small collection of board games for sale, and one day we bought Worlds Without End (2009). Entirely the opposite of my current, research-based purchases, it was a lark, a whim. My brain seemingly starved of such experiences, we enjoyed the game for just being a game—no context, no media influence, no hype, just a game on the table. What do I think today?

World Without End is based on the (brick of a) novel by Ken Follet of the same name. A 2-4 player competitive game, it focuses on the years of Europe’s black plague. Heavy on resource and hand management with some worker placement, players try to build the city, but still able to do the following: pay taxes, eat, be filial to the church, and heal illness. Like the stereotype of Medieval existence, it’s a tight, starved experience (that is decided by victory points, natch).