Saturday, April 25, 2020

Review of Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

Shorter review: if you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you’ll definitely enjoy Caliban’s War (unless you are a space opera connoisseur, sensitive to the slightest details that affect a universe—but even then...)

Longer review: If anything, author duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck’s second entry in The Expanse series Caliban’s Wake (2012) shows the success of the first novel was not a fluke. Like Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War is the perfect genre beach read. Story purpose is always clear, yet often moves in organic yet unpredictable ways. The characters are on the right side of 2D, making their plight relatable. And the plotting between the character viewpoints never allows the narrative to slow, even when there isn’t any direct conflict on screen.

But Caliban’s War is not a repeat of Leviathan Wakes. It takes the characters from Leviathan (specifically Holden and crew), plucks a couple key characters from what was the background of Leviathan, puts them front and center, then evolves the wider setting to its next logical point in a story that is an equally entertaining, page-turning read.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Review of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Space opera, oh space opera, thy lights are so delightful. Space opera, oh space opera, thy popularity so frightful. The market shines with endless sales, bestsellers that never pale… In fact, we are literally one century into the space opera phenomenon (one-tenth of a millennium giggles the nerd). And it shows no signs of slowing. The latest star atop the Christmas tree? James S.A. Corey’s (pseudonym of author combo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) Expanse series, of which the first volume is Leviathan Wakes (2011).

Readers dropped into the action and not released until the final page turns, Leviathan Wakes begins in situ with a woman’s desperate situation. Captured by what she thinks are space pirates, she can only listen from her jail cell aboard ship as her fellow crew are tortured and killed. But when all goes silent, the woman is forced to escape her makeshift cell. What she encounters is perplexing. A distress beacon drawing a nearby ice hauler, captained by James Holden, to the scene, what he discovers is even more confusing. No time to ponder the situation, an attack occurs that sees Holden having to drastically reevaluate his situation—the polite way of saying run for his life with a handful of fellow crew. And the hunt is on. Holden desperate to survive and relate to the rest of the civilized solar system what he found, the group who attacked are just as desperate to stop him to ensure their nefarious plans can go off as planned. The implications eventually discovered to run deep, will human life in the solar system survive?

Hopefully crack doesn't kill...

Due to coronavirus, and the increased time at home (read: lots of work in the garden that I probably should have done over the past several years but haven’t until now), I have been devouring the Expanse universe, more precisely works by Daniel Abraham. Four novels, three short stories, and two television seasons of The Expanse in four weeks, plus a novel in The Dagger & the Coin universe. I think it’s fair to say it’s an addiction. (I’m currently in the middle of the fifth Expanse novel…) A wonderful balance between character and plot (i.e. it’s highly entertaining without being too condescending in its treatment of dialogue, behavior, culture, internal monologue, etc.), it’s the perfect half-minded reading while trimming hedges, spreading fertilizer, turning over the compost pile, raking winter’s leftover dead leaves and twigs, staining the kids’ treehouse, making minor repairs to the shed, firing up the lawnmower, removing weeds, clipping water sprouts, getting bicycles ready for winter, priming the lawnmower, building raised garden beds, kicking birds out of the kitchen ventilator, cutting grass, tilling soil, planting vegetables…

this is all a warning—a way of saying there are a number of reviews upcoming that are all from the mind of Daniel Abraham, and for the Expanse works, the mind of Ty Franck, also. Hopefully crack doesn’t kill. The exercise in the garden should at least give me a fighting chance.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review of The Vagrant by Peter Newman

Cut through the noise” is the latest metaphor I’ve heard describing authors and publishers’ attempts to get sales in this age of market saturation. And while there is no magic formula, there are certainly a few tried and tested techniques that seem reasonable: prose appropriate to the story being told, good pacing that includes high and lows at expected and (properly) unexpected plot moments, and characters we can relate to. Sharply defined or imaginative settings also help, but are not the be-all end-all. How then does Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant (2015) cut through the noise—ear-splitting uproar—of fantasy on the market today?

A breach has appeared in the Earth, and demonic creatures have emerged, wreaking havoc upon the land and people who live in the future world. Humanity sent their bravest and strongest to fight, including the singing sword Malice, but were defeated. Now the land lies in ruins. People fight for scraps of food, bodies are taken over by the demons, . But through the cratered landscape walks a silent man, the Vagrant. A child carried in the crook of his arm and goat tapping along behind, he is on a mission that no know of save him. As the demonic horde learns of his journey, they attack with all their force. (How was that for cover copy? Does it help if you imagine it being read by the movie trailer narrator?)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Non-Fiction: Review of The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covery, and Jim Huling

For the unaware, when I’m not wearing my super-hero blogger spandex, I work in IT (wearing IT spandex, you know…). Specifically, I work for a manufacturing company, which is a lot different than working for a company whose main business is providing IT services. Rather than being a core function that drives value and profitability, IT is yet one more gaping mouth sucking up overhead costs. The business has their own priorities, many of which are of the quick-get-it-done-now-or-the-world-will-burn-down variety that really stretches my spandex. While I do my best to avoid it, I see how many of my colleagues are sucked into this swirl of whack-a-mole firefighting. Naturally, this results in a lot of frustration. People don’t feel they are working on truly value-added projects, or believe that many things which should have more priority are getting it, let alone ideas that actually come to fruition.

I’m not here as a paid-proponent of Sean Covey, Jim Huling, and Chris McChesney’s The Four Disciples of Execution (2012) as a way of combating the situation described above. But I can say that even at a bare minimum, its ideas and main thrust should be at least a springboard for thought to anyone in business looking to get out of the swirl of a persistently reactive work environment that is full of good ideas that don’t often become reality.

Console Corner: Review of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

I’m not sure Tomb Raider has reached the Mario-spectrum of its life—able to boast a game in nearly every type over decades, but it has covered a number of them.  From puzzler to action adventure, mobile to console to PC, old school Playstation to latest school PS4, the evolution of Lara Croft in gaming has numerous waypoints.  Zooming in on the arcade feel of an action/puzzler is 2014’s Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris from Crystal Dynamics.

Cooperative for 1-4 players (local and online), Temple of Osiris is a top-down isometric game that tries to marry the best of Tomb Raider puzzles with fast-paced, arcade style action, all set in an (extremely) pseudo-Egyptian setting.  Boiling the Tomb Raider formula down into its most fundamental ingredients, the game sees players using a basic set of moves to find and open gates, traverse moving and moveable platforms, gun down fantastical enemies, solve environmental puzzles, and defeat bosses—all linked by the thinnest of stories as Lara and her friends attempt to take down the evil god Set.  Good for drop in and drop out, the game is fast and furious shooting with brain teasers, nothing deeper in terms of story and character.