Monday, March 29, 2021

Review of Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

A few years ago media hype grabbed me and I purchased Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit. Dense diction and subtle theme, Lee seemed to want to write New Wave-esque space opera. Though perhaps a little too ambitious, I nevertheless tucked Lee away in memory as a writer with potential, and in the time since have encountered a couple of their short stories which delivered on the hope. Thus, when seeing a new novel come available in 2020, Phoenix Extravagant, I bought it sight almost unseen. Hmm…

But before the questions, Phoenix Extravagant is the story of the artist Jebi, and their quest for personal value living among a culture oppressive to their own. A Hwaguk surrounded by Razanei, Jebi learns the Razanei language and takes on the nationality in an attempt to become a renowned painter. Things not going as planned, however, Jebi ends up at a threatening, exploitative job—but with access to one of the most amazing pieces of tech the world has ever seen. Powered by art, Jebi is put to work by the oppressive Razanei, but not forever…

Friday, March 26, 2021

Review of Tracker by C.J. Cherryh

Can we finally put the plots within plots within plots within plots regarding the assassin’s guild behind us? Can we finally stop the seemingly unending attempts at kidnapping Cajeri? Can we finally give Boji a moment of peace in his cage? Can we give the battle bus a deserving break in the garage for repairs? The sixteenth book in the Foreigner series, Tracker (2015), says Yes! Yes! Yes! to these questions. (The battle bus does make an appearance for an airport trip, however.)

Indeed, Peacemaker seems to have finally brought to an end nine books’ worth of internal atevi machinations. In Tracker, the focus shifts back to atevi-human relations. On planet and off, issues on the human side of things that have been brewing in the background since Explorer (sixth book) decide to boil over in Tracker (good timing, no?). Is it all germane? Yes—almost all…

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso

This will not be a long review. I did not finish The Wolf of Oren Yaro by K.S. Villoso (2017). Too unfocused, too rebellious for rebelliousness' sake, and ultimately too unaware of itself…

This view is personal; I‘m sure there are many Villoso fans out there. Nevertheless, reading the novel I found: A) inconsistent, barely controlled writing, B) character action and emotion with little if any background or motivation framing them, C) scenes set in the most generic fashion with little to make them unique, D) spurious details which do not seem to add anything to atmosphere... Meh.

The Wolf of Oren Yaro feels like a hungry Chihuahua helpless to supply its own food. Tightly wound, turning on a dime as the moment demands, and with little thought to the details beyond its nose, it paces the yard but is never sated. Villoso seemed to be leading her main character toward self-awareness—a theme with potential. But the portion of the journey I read did little to distinguish itself as a singular piece of writing to attract the imagination or mind—to pull me along a “well written story”. Instead, it paced here, it paced there. It yipped and snapped at the moon, then jumped left. Then it... Eventually I stopped reading. Maybe you will, too. Maybe you won’t.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Review The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Gimmick” (noun): a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade. Such is the thought sparking in my mind reading the back cover of Claire North’s 2014 novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Could be an interesting gimmick unpacked to character and plot effect, could be a gimmick that is beaten like a dead horse with little else to support it … Which side bore out?

Groundhog’s Day but for a lifetime, Harry August bears the burden of reliving his life from the beginning every time he dies. Also burdened with a perfect memory, each time he is reborn he carries with him the memories of his previous lives. While initially finding his own way through multiple lives, often tragically, August eventually meets up with others similarly burdened. And while there is a chrono community intended to help and foster such people, there are certainly others interested in using their condition for more nefarious ends. And above it all, a threat looms that the youngsters are reporting back as: The End of the World <sound the doom>.

Cardboard Corner: Review of Outfoxed

Imagine sitting down to do a list of 25 of the following questions: X + 4 = 6. What is X? 3 – Y = 1. What is Y? It’s boring—educational for those whose math skills are still acquiring such logic, but eventually still boring. It’s so much better to use realia. We know there were six apples, and Sally ate three. How many did Johnny eat? But what’s even better? Answer: Sherlock the Fox chasing down a pie thief before he escapes. Helping small minds develop deduction skills in simple, accessible, and delightful fashion is the game Outfoxed.

In Outfoxed, one to four players take on the role of detectives, working together to discover which fox stole the pie. Choosing to either reveal suspects or search for clues at the beginning of their turn, players will roll dice to see if they are successful, and if so, have a chance to peel back a layer of the mystery. Fail with the dice, and the thief moves one step closer to escaping with the sweet treat. Once players believe they have enough clues and suspects to deduce who the thief is, they can risk it all by guessing. Guess right, and you win. Guess wrong, and the real culprit escapes to steal another pie.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Review of Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

There is in-your-face science fiction—silver screen splashes of action that slap the eyes and tickle the leftover child’s imagination. And there is science fiction of a more delicate variety, understated stories that look deeper into the meaning of existence—and possible existences. Thought experiments, social reorganizations, extenuating circumstances—all have the potential of digging into and exposing specific aspects of being human. Belief one of the wildest, wooliest, and most personal subjects possible, Eleanor Lerman’s Radiomen (2015) is one such delicate novel. The uncanny events, little green men, sentient (?) dogs, and the strange cult are just the guiding lights.

A bartender working at JFK airport, Laurie Perzin is introduced to the reader in middle-age after a rich youth, traveling, working, and generally living as she saw fit. Single, she enjoys her freedom, coming and going to work and enjoying her interests in her own peaceful way. Late one night, however, she decides to dial in to a radio show, and in the conversation that follows, a forgotten memory of her youth re-surfaces. The call having a ripple effect, not long after additional elements of her past resurface, including her and her since-deceased uncle’s hobby of radios. The uncanny emerging from the woodwork thereafter, Laurie finds herself in a place she’s never been before: her worldview challenged by aspects of existence she’d previously ignored. What does humanity do when presented with challenges?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Review of Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon

We can cut right to the chase. If the idea of a psychological character study of disturbing and empathetic proportions, all written in dynamic, tangential style, and with an undercurrent as to the story’s broader relativity does not seem interesting, look elsewhere. Otherwise, for readers who enjoy the unravelling of a mind in steak-knife prose, Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood (1961) may be for you.

Sturgeon never letting the narrative come anywhere close to routine, Some of Your Blood would be the equivalent of a well-edited movie. Part flashback, part autobiography, part document samples, part therapist’s notes, and part other forms of writing, the novel offers multiple perspectives into the life of George Smith. Born into a poor, abusive family, his consolations in early life are the joy he finds in nature, becoming a master hunter and trapper of small game. Taking an unfortunate direction in life after his mother’s death, he ultimately enters the army.  While there he gets some discipline, but upon release Smith discovers there is still an itch needing scratching.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review of Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay, you know him. He’s that guy taking real-world, historical backdrops and infusing them with subtle yet epic fantasy storylines. Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, River of Stars, these and other novels, while likely less known on the market in 2021, nevertheless successfully deliver operatic storylines with a heavy dose of sentimentality in timeless fashion. What then could Kay do in his one and only novel in a modern setting, Ysabel (2007)?

Loosely young adult, Ysabel is the story of fifteen-year old Ned Marriner. Son of a famous photographer, the reader meets Ned onsite in Provence, France as his father shoots an old cathedral. Ned meeting an exchange student named Kate as he bums around waiting for his father to finish the shoot, the two have a bit of a run-in in the tunnels beneath the cathedral while looking at Celtic ruins. Nothing coming of the uncanny event, Ned nevertheless becomes gravely ill when he and his father’s team approach the next day’s location, the site of an ancient Roman battle. Ned’s sickness fading the further he moves from the location, things seem to return to normal. It’s a repeat meeting at a cafĂ©, however, that pushes things over the top. The supernatural emerging from woodwork, Ned’s life is never the same. Question is, how long will that life be?

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Review of Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

In case you were living under a rock, Scandinavia has exploded with a milieu of thriller/criminal/horror fiction in the past decade (branded Nordic noir if memory serves). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo just the tip of the iceberg, there are a number of other writers producing novels of a similar mood—mysterious events, bizarre murders, sinister personalities, and of course, the bleak Nordic sun barely lighting a path forward. Possibly intentionally, possibly not, doesn’t matter, into this atmosphere Elizabeth Hand brings her own book of black metal with myth-infused murder, 2012’s Available Dark.

Hand’s 2007 Generation Loss introduced the broken “hero” Cass Neary. Washed up punk rock photographer, at a low moment in life she finds herself in small-town Maine, a threat looming as she tries to find some certainty in life. Seeing greater potential in Cass, five years later Hand follows up with another excellently unraveled, accidental mystery in Available Dark. Broke and confused in New York City after the events of Generation Loss, the drug-riddled, angst-bedeviled woman gets an offer she can’t refuse from a wealthy art patron: paid travel and a paycheck to go to Finland and verify the authenticity of a set of rare photographs. Heading to that cold, austere country, Neary performs her service. After confirming a set of chilling yet beautiful crime scene photos as authentic, she stops in Iceland to visit an old friend. Heavy metal, snow storms, a bizarre pair of brothers, and volcanic hot springs becoming an unwelcome part of her agenda, the situation finds a way to let her inner demons off the leash just when she thought healing was possible.

Console Corner: Review of Doom (2016)

I am of the Doom generation. Italics and a capital letter going a long way, no, we have not condemned the Earth to become a nuclear wasteland, but certainly some “traditional people” (trying to be diplomatic here) would point a finger at violent video games whenever the latest psychologically ill shooter kills a dozen or so people. The most violent of its day, 1994’s Doom was a first-person blast ‘em, smash ‘em filled with violent demon and labyrinthine puzzles. Popular to this day, it is a game that proves quality + simplicity can be a magic formula. A handful of sequels have been released over the years, and in 2016 a version was released for the PS4 generation of consoles. If the Earth hadn’t gone to hell in the twenty+ years which transpired since the first Doom, Doom (2016) proved there was still hope.

Remaining 100% faithful to its 1994 roots while taking advantage of technical possibilities in the 21st century, Doom (2016) is wholly informed on both fronts. Anybody who played the original game will quickly recognize its core presence in Doom (2016), and thereafter play with joy seeing how it is updated and implemented for the PS4. The new details and nuances are only the icing on the cake. Weapon and armor upgrades, new guns, 3D maps, music, multi-player, and other features, alongside the amazing new graphics, are all part of the package. I imagine there a couple of purists in the world, but I can’t imagine the majority of original Doom players not at least respecting and having a blast (no pun intended) with the reboot.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Starcraft II - 2020 Year in Review

Let's get the big stuff out of the way first. 2020 was a long site better than 2019. Point blank: Starcraft 2 was not overtly broken. Zerg was successful, but it did not dominate to the point an asterik is necessary for any premiere victory. How Stats won ASUS ROG in 2019, I don't know. We didn't have complete parity in 2020; save Trap's success in the last 2 months, Protoss struggled mightily. (Three years and counting, the last Protoss victory in GSL was in 2017.) But there was nothing approaching a feeling of inevitability... Zerg... zerg... zerg...

My notes for 2020 include the fact Europe is drawing ever closer to Korea in terms of talent. Certainly Korean stars are aging or going to the military, and almost zero fresh blood is rising to take their place. But at the same time, talent in Europe, and to a minor degree in NA, is meeting the challenge. Koreans still occupy the majority of success in non-region locked tourneys, but it's not always Koreans lofting the trophy anymore.

And of course no notes on 2020 can escape COVID. Rendering all tournaments online, audiences didn't get to see what zero ping looked like. All battles were micro time delayed, which may not be visible to the casual observer, but is certainly a factor to be consideredwhen looking at success. Players either adapted, or didn't. Secondly the feeling of being in person, of having Home Story Cup, of camaraderie between the players and community—all different. Webcams are great, but nothing like sitting on the other side of monitors from your opponent and feeling the energy of the crowd.

But enough of my notes, here are the year's awards: