Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review of The Warehouse by Rob Hart

It’s been a week and my mind is still turning over the ideas inherent to Rob Hart’s 2019 The Warehouse. Talk about creamy brain candy. Spinning a (fictional?) Amazon-esque future into an Adam-Smith, late-game, capitalist scenario, the novel raises a huge number of questions that touch upon the majority of aspects of 21st century existence in ways we consider sacred. Is it as rigorous as it could have been plot-wise, perhaps not, but what what’s there is inciteful enough—in a good way. (It’s also extremely insightful, in case you thought that was a slip.)

The Warehouse follows the lives of three people, leading up to a key moment in the history of The Cloud. An ultra-mega corporation unlike any the world has ever seen, The Cloud started as an Amazon-esque online shopping portal, but evolved into a global, corporate entity unlike humanity has ever seen. Through the hard work and acumen of its founder and leader, Gibson Wells, the company finds its fingers not only in almost every key pie that consumers have the possibility of spending money on, but also in the government organizations which regulate and deliver some of our most valued services and utilities.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Cardboard Corner: Review of Dead Men Tells No Tales

To this day, the best Pirates of the Caribbean movie is the first one (the one before Disney sunk their teeth in to suck the dollars from it with a franchise). It’s no Citizen Kane or Blood Diamond, but in terms of light entertainment, it’s a solid mix of humor, fantasy, cutlass duels, undead skeletons, and of course, pirates fighting over power and treasure. Capturing something of the feel of the movie in board game form is Dead Men Tell No Tales.

A cooperative game for two to five players, Dead Men Tell No Tales sees players exploring a burning ship, trying to loot as much treasure as possible while preventing the ship from exploding underneath them. The fires burn hotter all the time, not to mention skeleton fighters protect the ships’ treasures, meaning it’s not easy being a pirate. But if you want to get rich…

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review of The Artifical Kid by Bruce Sterling

Science fiction is often unfairly unburdened with the expectation of predicting the future when in fact the majority of sf is just trying to tell a story that uses what’s known in the present to extrapolate upon a future or alternate setting. Science fiction is not in the business of futurism. Yet still, a number of books and stories have described situations or scenarios which have become reality. The usage of technology for the public broadcast of personal life is where Bruce Sterling’s The Artificial Kid (1980) accidentally, or at least partially so, becomes a prophet.

In the future, humanity has spread across on the universe, and on the planet Reverie it has created for itself a future, hyper-corporate, neo-Victorian version of itself. Twirling nunchukkas through the streets of its largest city is the Artificial Kid. A reality tv star with waves of fans, the Kid is surgically altered in ways today’s plastic surgeons may dream of but don’t yet have the technology for (plastic hair, faux-skin, muscle healers and the like), all in support of his combat lifestyle. A mini-swarm of drone cameras following him wherever he goes, the Kid films his encounters with a rival gang, then edits the material later to be published and sold to his fans. It’s during one of these encounters with the gang that things get out of hand, and the Kid finds himself outside, far outside his comfort zone.

Console Corner: Review of Wasteland 2

Mad Max without the spiky cars? Radioactive cowboys and robots? Cyberpunk in a nuclear wasteland? Somewhere in the middle of all of these ideas is the nexus which encapsulates inXile Entertainment’s Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut (2015). A mix of sci-fi and western tropes which produces something standing on its own, the game is a deep, story-based rpg experience that is by turns futuristic and historical (at least from the perennial perspective).

It is decades in the future after a nuclear war has left humanity scattered with varying degrees of technology functioning and not functioning. Some old school and some new, things like water and electricity are hard to come by even as there are new albeit rare forms of science that twist anything resembling John Wayne into science fiction. Reduced to tribes and communities, people try to survive in the desert of Arizona as best they can, scrabbling for supplies while dealing with warlords, cults, bandits and raiders. Life isn’t easy in the desert wastelands, if it ever was.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review of The Year of the Ladybird (aka The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit) by Graham Joyce

They are increasingly rare, but there are still examples of books whose titles molt crossing the Atlantic. Graham Joyce's The Year of the Ladybird (2013, UK) became The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit (US). And it's clear why: the US has ladybugs not ladybirds. The better question is: which title fits this fun novel most?

The setting is 1970s Britain in a coastal village, and at the outset the reader is introduced to David as he begins a summer gig working at a family holiday resort. Organizing children's games, helping set up events, and otherwise chipping in as he's able, he comes to know the resort's odd assortment of characters. From one of the attractive dancers to the snaggle-toothed stagehand, the creepy owner to suave singer, David slowly becomes part of the crew. He also meets a macho, aggressive man and his huddled wife, and in the process gets himself into a fair bit of trouble—trouble that only exacerbates itself as nationalists, disappearances, and a plague of ladybirds/bugs invade the resort.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Non-fiction: Review of The White Sniper: Simo Hayha by Tapio Saarelainen

Like a lot of reviewers, I struggle with objectively reviewing a book vs. injecting strong emotion, and more terribly, expectation. With Tapio Saarelainen's biography of Simo Hayha, The White Sniper (2016), that conflict came front and center. I will start with what I was hoping for, and follow up with what it is.

With The White Sniper, I was hoping for a biography that told stories of the Finnish winters of World War II through the eyes of its most lethal sniper, while digging into the psyche of a man who could calculatedly, coldly kill hundreds of people one by one. What effect did that have later in life when the war was over and “normal life” returned? Was he a soldier doing his duty, did it extend from a place deeper, or something else? And the war stories, of the hundreds of kills, surely some must have happened in unique circumstances, or unraveled in unplanned fashion—the stuff of drama which can make for good historical reading. Most war stories happening on the front lines or back at the base, rarely do we get a look into the quieter sides of war, like sniping.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review of Paradise Sky by Joe Lansdale

Different writers are to be read for different reasons, and with Joe Lansdale it's a combination of style and edge. I almost wrote 'plot' instead of 'edge' , but upon closer examination it's larger, the qualities—the edge—of dialogue, story, and character which draw the reader's attention and have them bought into what are could be standard story entrees—tragedy, revenge, drama, mystery, etc. Paradise Sky, Lansdale's 2015 western, is a steak knife, sharpened to a bleeding edge.

Paradise Sky is the story of Willy Jackson. Set in East Texas a couple years after the Civil War, Willy is a young black man trying to make it as a farmer when he runs into a little bad luck on the way home from the store after having a gander at the figure of a lady hanging wash. Her husband not pleased at Willy's wandering eyes, he gives chase with a noose, and Willy goes on the run. Tragedy ensuing, the young man is forced out of his town and on the road. With little to his name except an old horse and a busted revolver, Willy's luck improves shortly thereafter, and he learns the ways of the world. Good luck not lasting forever, however, it isn't long before the winds change again, and every bit of learning, plus a little good instinct, is needed to stay alive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review of Graveyard Shift and Other Stories by Stephen King

It's probably quite fair to say that in the 70s, few if any people were thinking Stephen King would become a franchise, a thing unto itself in the publishing industry. I doubt there are many in not only the US but the globalized world who have not heard of the man. But with one of his first collections, Graveyard Shift and Other Stories, it's tough to tell.

The titular story kicks this short collection off. Classic (in my opinion completely vanilla) horror, “Graveyard Shift” tells of the crew and foreman working the night shift at an aging mill. Rats in the floorboards, all hell breaks loose when cleaning time comes and the men need to go below floor. King shows a little of the flair that would go on to make him literally a household name, nevertheless, this cannot stop the story from feeling like cheap television. Another cheap bit of content, “The Man Who Loved Flowers” at least does a good job of setting the reader up, then pulling the rug out from under their feet. For those who make it to the rug, gotcha! And that's it...

Review of The Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy by K.W. Jeter

Note: this review is not for a single book, rather for the three novels, The Mandalorian Armor, Slave Ship, and Hard Merchandise, which comprise the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy. I will not be spoiling any of the details of the latter novels in the course of the review.

About the same time Star Wars: A New Hope hit the big screen, George Lucas opened the gates to tie-in fiction. Relatively unknown and with not many examples, a couple decades later things changed with the publication of the Thrawn trilogy—episodes VII, VIII, and IX in novel form by Timothy Zahn. Evolving the Star Wars storyline in wholly organic fashion yet remaining faithful to the characters and ideas that made the movies so popular, tie-in fiction took hold and the universe exploded on paper. Numerous authors and projects were commissioned thereafter, including K.W. Jeter to write a trilogy about Boba Fett, now known as The Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy: The Mandalorian Armor (1998), Slave Ship (2001), and Hard Merchandise (2002).

Friday, February 5, 2021

Review of The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Despite that more than a century has passed since the wild west was the wild west, stories set in the era continue to put asses in the seats—perhaps not in the same numbers as a few decades ago, but there isn't a year that goes by that the western genre sees participants across all media. Coming at the reader with bbq sauce dialogue, a hand of jacks, deuces, and kings as characters, and an undeniable authorial voice is Joe Lansdale's The Thicket (2013).

Tarantino with a splash of Cormac McCarthy and Texas drawl, The Thicket tells the coming-of-age story of sixteen-year old Jack Parker after his family is hit with one piece of bad luck after another. A pox descending upon Jack's town at the outset, it quickly takes his mother and father, leaving him to abandon his family farm with his grandfather and younger sister to start a new life elsewhere. Tragedy besetting their journey, Jack is left alone, burning red with revenge. A classic Western setup, what follows is a bloody manhunt that sees Jack collect a hard-edged, unlikely set of characters who have their own stake in the game.

Console Corner: Review of Star Wars: Squadrons

Note: This review will be for the Squadrons single-player campaign only, no comments on multi-player.

I am of the Nintendo generation, a console I received at age twelve and played for several years. I eventually also bought a Sega Genesis, but around the same time I also received my first desktop computer (Windows 3.0!!) While I did use it for word processing and other school related activities, for sure it was also used for games—Dangerous Dave, Corridor 7, Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, etc. I also played X-Wing. And while lamented the simple graphics, they didn't stop me from completing the game. (I still distinctly remember beating the whole game without cheat codes, except the final, f#$%ing Death Star trench run. Damn trench run...) Twenty-five years and multiple generations of Windows later, X-Wings are finally back in video games, this time in EA's Star Wars: Squadrons.

An arcade dogfighter, Squadrons takes advantage of the Star Wars universe by putting players in the cockpits of eight famous Rebel and Empire ships. From X-Wings to TIE Fighters, Y-Wings to TIE Bombers, and four more, players take pilot roles on both sides of the fight throughout the single player campaign. The prologue is set in the middle of Star Wars: A New Hope, but the remainder of the story takes place just after Return of the Jedi as the Rebels look to clean the galaxy of what remains of the Empire. The story bouncing back and forth between sides, the player gets access to different ships and more powerful weapons as things progress. Escalating nicely, the campaign gives players a strong taste of what the game has to offer should they want to move to multi-player where I imagine the competition gets even fiercer.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Review of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

There is the internal smile of appreciation. There is the light chuckle to one’s self. There is delightful giggling inside. All of these happen reading Terry Pratchett. The meta-mixing. The word play. The authorial voice. The double-entendres. The slap-stick. And there is the laugh out loud funny—moments that cause the reader to break the sacred silence of reading with actual-to-goodness, honest mirth. Certainly there are many Discworld books which have caused me to break this “fourth wall”, but perhaps none as much as Hogfather (1996).

In the days leading up to Hogswatchnight (the Disc’s equivalent of Christmas) in Ankhmorpork, things seem to be going as normal, that is, until a mysterious… thing shows up at the Assassin’s Guild with a massive sum of money in hand, and the most unique target whom they want dead. But things come off smoothly to the public, at least initially. With Death assuming the role of the Hogfather in the jolly man’s absence, children’s holiday wishes are heard, gifts are delivered, and the world seems to go round. Until it doesn’t. Susan Sto Helit hot on the trail of just where the Hogfather has been taken and getting to the bottom of who wants the Hogfather eliminated is an adventure that could only come from the pen of Terry Pratchett.