Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review of Peacemaker by C.J. Cherryh

It's here—I think. The wheels within wheels, conspiracy wrapped in conspiracy wrapped in conspiracy that began with the space mission's return to Ateva in Conspirator, has moved, wandered, excited, summarized, and sometimes repeated itself through eight novels to Protector. But with Peacemaker (2014), I think we have an end to the plot eight novels in the making.

And what grander place to end matters than with an exceptional set piece? Events taking place over the course of two days, in Peacemaker the shadow guild is finally confronted—in their home. Bren and his entourage tasked with the confrontation, bullets fly, blood flows, and ultimately a society must reset its views to security and leadership.

Cardboard Corner: Review of Robinson Crusoe

Regardless books, video games, or otherwise, I try on this blog to review things for what they are—not precisely in isolation, but preferably not side by side in versus mode. But with Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on a Cursed Island, I find the task difficult. You see, Arkham Horror: The Card Game has killed Robinson Crusoe for me. The games were left on an island, attacked by creatures, and only one survived. To solve this, the only thing I can think to do for this review is to look at Robinson Crusoe, birth to death.


Sustained internet buzz and an interesting premise were the primary reasons I bought Robinson Crusoe. The game has been routinely cited by many as one of their favorites, and the idea of getting through various scenarios cooperatively while telling your own story on a deserted island seemed worthwhile. And indeed, after getting over the massive rulebook hump, there was some fun to be had.


In juggling the tasks while trying to stay ahead of the curve that constantly threatens to slide you off the island, my wife and I enjoyed our games. Collecting supplies, feeding people, building shelter, fending off wild animals, surviving the weather—it’s a true challenge that does a good job of evoking theme and gives a real sense of satisfaction and teamwork when successful.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review of Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

A few years ago I read an impacting short story, the type that is at once so familiar yet moves in so unique of a direction that it begs to be noticed. The underlying mood disquieting yet mysterious, I put a mental flag beside the author’s name should I ever encounter them again. The story was “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck, so when the chance to get a collection of her short fiction appeared, I jumped. This asks the question, is “Sing” representative of Jagannath:Stories (2012), or a one off? 

Jagannath opens on “Beatrice”, a story whose title ultimately holds the key to its message. What begins as a story of a man's love for an airship, slowly, steadily, yet surprisingly, becomes one of abuse. What follow is one of the best in the collection, “Some Letters for Ove Lindström”. In this story, the reader gets a first-hand view into a daughter's letters to her recently deceased, alcoholic father after years apart. On the uncanny hand, the reader is treated to liminal fairy tale like a sliver of the newest moon, resulting in touchingly sentimental piece that retains its mystery and longing. A small paean to rural domesticity and simple love, “Miss Nyberg and I” is a brief story, perhaps more anecdote, about a strange little animal that grows from the soil complementing a budding relationship.

Cardboard Corner: Review of Game of Thrones: The Card Game (2ed)

I am one of those crazy people waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish his A Song of Ice and Fire book series before watching the tv series Game of Thrones. While the two most recently published books have cut my confidence Martin is able to finish the series in as strong a fashion as it began, I hold out. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy other Game of Thrones content, and that includes Fantasy Flight Games’ living card game second edition.

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game is a card-driven strategy/combat game, or, as can so romantically be expressed: dudes on a table. Players take turns marshaling their characters and assets, afterwards turning them loose in various forms, including espionage, power, and direct combat, all in an attempt gain power. The first player to earn fifteen power, wins. Interestingly, the game can also be played with three or four players and be just as viable, something relatively unique in the world of card-dudes on a table.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Review of The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford

Somewhere in the ether there is the definition of American letters. Holding court are a number of writers—Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and others. The list added to with time, I think it's time to consider Jeffrey Ford. One of the first pieces of evidence I offer is The Drowned Life (2008).

The collection kicks off with the title story. “The Drowned Life” is the story of Hatch, a normal man running the rat race of lower middle-class life, trying to keep up with bills, his job, and the necessities of family. Giving up one day, he sinks into Drowned Town, and there sees life from a different perspective. A metaphorically story dense with both overt and unobvious allusion, Ford nails the never-ending game of catch-up poorer Americans play. A spot of flash fiction, “Ariadne's Mother” symbolically seats Ford's rather cynical view on being a writer in the 21st century. “The Night Whiskey” is a weird—perhaps Weird—tale of a town wherein a deathberry grows, and every year the inhabitants celebrate by drinking a little of the liquor distilled from it. Strange things happening while drunk on the strong spirit, even stranger things happen one particular year when a new Harvester is needed. Not Ford’s best work, but a solid story. While less a story and more a mind map of remembrances of encounters with the ubiquitous little insect, “A Few Things About Ants” ends up in territory beyond memory in an interesting way.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review of Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Occasionally, very occasionally, while reading book I would have the thought: Why hasn’t anybody written a story about near-future designer drugs and the impact on the individual and humanity? Used here and there, but most often as devices rather than focal points, it wasn’t until coming upon the premise for Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty that I held out hope the 2014 novel might be ‘it’. Having now read the story, was it?

A dynamic, edgy story, Afterparty tells of Lyda and her quest to find the center of distribution of a newly created designer drug she calls Numinous. With repeated, scaled use, Numinous converts and re-routes synapses and linkages in the human mind to the point they become real, at least in the schizophrenic sense. Gods and deities coming to life in users’ minds, those who don’t know any better come to take them pieces of existence. Churches naturally the most likely to exploit such ‘symptoms’, Lyda takes it upon herself to locate the source and put an end to it once and for all.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Review of Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Regardless what the reader thinks about the quality of Nemesis Games, fifth book in the Expanse series, it was a clear waypoint in terms of the series’ direction. Where the first four books had unmistakable, linear progression outward and away from the solar system and into other galaxies, Nemesis brought things back under the sun. Earth having been bombarded with asteroids (a la The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), it’s up to the next book, Babylon’s Ashes (2016), to see what remains once the ashes clear.

The Expanse series to date all about character viewpoint, Babylon’s Ashes possesses the most yet. Along with every crew member of the Roccinante (save Naomi) “Corey” also puts on the table Filip and Marco Inaros, Fred Johnson, Chrisjen, Anderson Dawes, Michio Pa, Praxidike Meng, and others. It’s through these viewpoints that Babylon’s Ashes cleans up the events of Nemesis Games, then sets the stage for the final four books in the series. In order to accomplish this, alliances must be made and broken, and old vendettas tested in fresh political waters.

Cardboard Corner: Review of Arkham Horror: The Card Game "The Dunwich Legacy" Expansion

Note: This review covers the deluxe expansion The Dunwich Legacy, as well as the six Mythos packs which complete the campaign, but will not contain any spoilers save the roots of story which introduce the campaign as a whole. All cards and scenario details will be untouched.

This is it—the portal, the nap beside the river that leads down the rabbit hole, the slip into another dimension—where disposable assets, otherwise known as dollars, hopefully exist. If you’re reading this, it’s likely the Arkham Horror: The Card Game base game has scratched an itch, but not hard enough. It still itches, and you’re looking for a better way to scratch it. The Dunwich Legacy deluxe expansion, and the six mythos packs which complete the campaign, may be just the sharp edge you’re looking for.

“The Dunwich Legacy” is the first Arkham Horror campaign released after the base game. It starts with players investigating what seems a relatively ordinary occurrence: two professors from Miskatonic University have disappeared. Going to the University, investigators question Dr. Armitage to learn more. One professor last seen around the university’s academic building and the other at a local speak-easy, players then have a choice which they’d like to locate first, and the adventure begins. It perhaps goes without saying that, what at first seems “a relatively ordinary occurrence” slowly escalates into a situation anything-but. The investigators’ health and sanity tested to the max with each new scenario, it comes down to the wire—cosmic wire?—if they will survive the horrors they discover. Small towns, it seems, old big secrets (but not in any David Lynch sort of way).

Friday, December 4, 2020

Review of Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente

There is a penchant today for writers to take classic stories of the past and re-write them, subverting any perceived or real underlying political values by replacing them with early 21st century, liberal/progressive views. Good writing a natural act of rebellion in many cases, many of these stories have caught the attention of political-minded readers. One of the strongest representatives of this penchant, and having become something of a poster child how to go about deconstructing older fiction, is Catherynne Valente’s novella Six-Gun Snow White (2013).

Feminist fairy tale set in the Wild West, Six-Gun Snow White maps the familiar Disney story onto America’s 19th century from social, cultural, and gender perspectives. Born of a forced marriage between a rich, white land owner and a beautiful Native American woman, Snow White grows up with one foot in both worlds. But when her mother dies and her father re-marries a prudish East coast woman, the teenage girl is forced to put both feet on the white side. The expectations eventually becoming too much, something has to break. And break it does for young Snow White; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review of The Starry Rift ed. by Jonathan Strahan

Fiction in the 21st century has torn down a lot of barriers. Where children’s, YA, and adult fiction were once distinct, today they bleed into one another. (I won’t get into the maturity of some fiction labelled ‘adult’, but certainly there is an argument to be made that the blending started a long time ago.) Nevertheless, it’s important to inform the reader off the bat that Jonathan Strahan’s 2008 anthology The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows is YA.

Unfortunately, I discovered this fact late in the game. After the third story, I was thinking Hey, these stories seem too simple, too immature to be explicitly for an adult mind… But knowing many books marketed to adults do not possess any more maturity, I plowed ahead but with senses tingling. It wasn’t until halfway through I decided to check, and sure enough, it was marketed for teens, forcing me to go back and re-evaluate the stories, which I don’t think I always successfully did. Bottom line is: if I were a teen interested in sf and fantasy, would I enjoy these stories? Answer: likely yes. A few, unlikely…