You can't rob Peter, Paul and Mary to pay yourself.
A nostalgic trip back to my youth, recalling the heady days of my first RPG experiences. If taken at his word, Barrowcliffe was MUCH more obsessed with D&D than I or anyone I knew ever was. He relates his experiences with a good bit of humor, but also an uncomfortable amount of introspection and honesty that turns into self-loathing. So unfortunately, an otherwise interesting autobiography morphs into more of a cautionary tale, which does the culture of RPGs a disservice. I liked it, but probably could have skipped the concluding two chapters.
I decided that I was going to finish reading the Dying Earth series. Here's my general take on it:
I think that these stories are brilliant compressions of insane ideas and experiments in language. Despite the fact that everything is so episodic, I was never bored or felt like there was a sameism to everything, because Jack Vance is a font of outlandish concepts. Still, Cugel was tough for me to stomach at times, and I really wish that Vance had focused on another character. The second Cugel book softens him considerably, which helped.
As usual though, Vance writes such masculine prose as to make Hammett and Hemingway question their potency. I highly recommend this to anyone that wants to read the fantastical over fantasy.
The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
I reread a huge chunk of this book as I'd put it down over a year ago and didn't really remember where I left off.
I have really mixed feelings about this. On one hand the book is populated by a number of brilliant vignettes, on the other hand Cugel the Clever is such an unlikable dick that I just about can't stand reading stories with him. In addition, while the first book certainly didn't have any binding plot, everything was tied together thematically. Here, it is just a crap episodic quest story, where the stories are tied together by the fact that Cugel has to move through the world to get back with the McGuffin. So, while the previous book felt interlaced, this is just another "and then this happened" story. That said, some pretty awesome stuff happens, and it is packed with Vance's crazy vocab and intricate conversations. It can be a little wearing at times as all the characters in the book are sociopaths, but it does help you not sympathize with most of the characters that Cugel screws over along the way. Tough call to rate, but it absolutely is a much better book looking back on it than it is experiencing it.
Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance
In this second Cugel book the edges of everything have been polished off a bit. That is both good and bad. Cugel is far more enjoyable and less of a villain, but the world itself is far less extreme as in the first quest south. There are still many crazy things that happen and as usual one has to awe at Vance's bizarre imagination, but even this is toned down a bit. This book is fare more about Cugel's various indentured servitudes and him trying to scrape a buck or two. Still, the rewards that you get here you just flat-out aren't going to get with any other author.
Rhialto the Marvellous by Jack Vance
This is probably my favorite of the four Dying Earth books, it has the cosmic outlandishness of the first book with the dry humor of the Cugel books. The three stories are more structured. And the characters while completely self-indulgent aren't sociopaths the way that every character seems to be in the first three books. This is easily the most charming of the series, and it makes me a bit sad that Vance spent so much time on the ignominious Cugel and so little on Rhialto and Co. This especially strikes home because every Cugel story is about Cugel, where Rhialto stories are as much about the rest of the Magicians as much as Rhialto.
Berlin: City of Smoke, Book Two by Jason Lutes
Because Lutes wants to cover so much material, I feel that this book isn't quite as punchy as the first one. But, it is still an excellent piece and a fabulous follow up to the previous work. Lots of great on-the-ground day to day history. Everything is personal and human. A people's take on the fall of the Wiemar Republic.
The art is stunning as usual.
I can't wait to see how everything plays out with our characters, but who knows when that will be, this came out 4 years ago...
Morning Glories, Vol. 1-3 by Nick Spencer (Writer), Joe Eisma
I'll just break these down by my reviews when I was reading them: Vol. 1. This series could really go either way. It is a little contrived turning The Prisoner into Lost with a touch of Battle Royale. If you can get into the story it works. It has a good build. It has great mystery. It is exciting and unpredictable. But, the problem is that all the characters are all sociopaths, even the ones that you are expected to consider particularly human (except perhaps the Japanese guy, but who knows?) When they were all introduced it was hard enough to like them (except perhaps the nice guy). But when they got to the scool one ever freaked the fuck out when they discovered that they were trapped in a hyper-violent testing ground. Sure, they were shocked when heads would explode, but no one ever cries out screaming "What is happening to me?" Instead they are talking about TV shows or how nutty it was that they were almost drowned by their teacher or how annoying it is that your roomie is trying to stab you. This all comes across as amateur writing.
Still, the story is intriguing enough to want to follow.
Vol. 2 I have really mixed feelings about the series. I find everything to be compelling, and I screamed through the trade wanting to know what happens, but the flaws in the first trade are even more glaring in the second. All his characters bizarrely don't seem to really care that they are trapped in an uber-violent prison only occasionally breaking out of their day to day school-life when the plot calls for it. The premise is so preposterous that it makes it really tough to love. This set-up makes Hogan's Heroes look like a hyper-realistic expose on prison life.
Yet, for how unlikeable the players are and unbelievable the dialog is, the story itself is engaging, and I couldn't wait to tear into the third volume.
Vol. 3 Ok, I'm still enjoying the series, but really I need to point out that it isn't until issue 17 until one of the students FINALLY asks "Why are we here?" It is a fun very readable ride, and while I'm glad that the writer gave in and decided to write his characters as if they were humans, rather than automatons, I'm floored by the writer's gall. Seriously, the end of issue 17 is how long it takes for someone to ask that? Absurd.
Anyway. The story gets a bit more fun. I just wish he had a better editor.
Castle Waiting, Vol. 1 & 2 by Linda Medley
Vol. 1 This book is so lovely. The art is astounding. And the stories are a placid explorations of our characters. Everything is a slow build revealing more and more about all those that live in Castle Waiting. The name is appropriate as Medley takes her time revealing the various intricacies she has planned to tell. Like any personal storytelling there are massive tangents that veer off wherever a story might reveal itself to be more intriguing. Soon the reader finds themselves reading backstories to characters in backstories, Medley even winks at the reader with a Scheherazade reference.
While there certainly is drama it is more on the lines of pastoral fiction one step away from James Herriot only with fairies, circuses, anthropomorphic men, wicked magic, highwaymen, and bearded nuns.
Vol. 2 Quite mysterious, this release doesn't have Linda Medley's name on it anywhere. I was pleased that she decided to spend more time with our main characters and reveal more of their backstory, rather than spinning off in tangent as she did in the first book (delightful as they were). But I was a little disappointed in the change from beautiful hand lettering to a serif computer font, and felt that there were a number of pages where she cheated the art. That said, even at her worst, the art is dramatically better than most artists, but the chunky line work stood out awkwardly compared to the gorgeous filigree that I'm used to.
All in all though, this whole series is remarkable, in that nothing much really happens, and yet it is always engaging.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Ok, I'd tried to read Labyrinths years ago and found it dry and boring. I thought that perhaps I just wasn't in the proper state of mind, or perhaps wasn't well read enough to get it. Fast forward to me thinking that I really should commit to Borges and give him a real chance.
I have to say that I'm having a hard time with this book. I'm about half way through and I only really like one story The Babylonian Lottery with The Circular Ruins being OK and An Examination of Herbert Quain fair.
Most of the time I feel like I'm stuck as some shitty academics after-party listening to the drunken rambling of a self-indulgent lit professor trying to make himself believe that he is the smartest guy in the room. I get the references, but most of this just isn't that interesting. It all comes across as clinical, with a tone of little Jack Horner self satisfaction staring at his thumb saying "What a good boy am I."
Being a staunch military, non fictional reader, I reread The Army of Robert E. Lee by Philip Katcher. He did a real good job analyzing this famous army. Otherwise, I've just been reading small, super detailed pieces concerning the Battle of Chickamauga and the Antietam Campaign for future publications of games. The Antietam Campaign is of particular interest as this game will continue my series for Clash of Arms Games. A series that I started in 1990 with the release of Mississippi Fortress, the Campaign against Vicksburg. This game will represent volume 4 in the series. If successful, volume 1 will be Jackson's 1862 Cmpaign in the Valley and volume 3 will be the Henry-Donelson-Shiloh Campaign. (Lee Takes Command was volume 2). Stand by.
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I finished rereading It last month, but that was about it. You can click on the link to see a long, self-reflective post about how much I liked that book as a kid versus how much I liked it this time, and some thoughts about why that's so.
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick - I had not read any of his works previously and since he said it was his best, I tried it. I'm not sure what to think of it. Was it a good book? Yes. I like how the overall plot worked out and thought the ending was great. But I'm not a big fan of how sad, pathetic and dark the character's lives are. I knew that going in, though. What else could I expect from a book about an undercover agent working inside a strong drug culture? It's good in a very uncomfortable way, but that makes it hard for me to recommend to anyone in particular. Don't do drugs.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - Now this I liked a lot. I was worried at first when I started reading it. I'm not really a fan of high fantasy with odd names, maps in the book, extensive history and detail, etc., and it looked like it might be like that at first. It's not. It was much as described in the excellent comments in last month's thread here in Chit-Chat. It has things I like in books like thieves, not too complex fantasy elements, and an awesome team that made me think it was a fantasy Ocean's 11 but on a much larger and more important scale. I liked it enough that I checked out the next one in the series from the library already.
Ah, summer, the time to read post-apocalyptic chaos.
The Walking Dead Read the first five books and am second in line for the rest from the library. I really am enjoying this very much.
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch - End of the world, I guess there was a plague? I enjoy young adult novels, but this one was a little TOO young adult for my tastes. Maybe the fact that it featured a father and son reminded me too much of the Road and it was so unrealistic compared to that.
Ashes by Isla Bick - Terrorists set off EMPs over the US killing many people, knocking out electronics and frying the minds of other people who turn into cannibalistic wild animals. Takes place in Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It's basically a zombie apocalypse book.
Oh, I liked this one. There were a couple cliche characters but I was willing to over look that because this book really creeped me out... in a good way. I was furious at the ending, however, then I learned that this was the first in a planned three part series. I had no idea! The ending is essentially a "To be continued..." so that's a little irritating, but I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment.
Temporary Insanity Over the Edge Some of My Best Friends Are Crazy
All baseball memoirs by Jay Johnstone.
These are just plain fun books to read. Johnstone is considered one of the greatest pranksters to play major league baseball, even to the point of being a little nuts. From locking Tom Lasorda into his motel room, to running a player's underwear up the centerfield flagpole, to buying a hot dog at a concession stand in full uniform in the middle of the 3rd inning, to changing into a groundskeepers uniform and dragging the infield during the 7th inning stretch, Johnstone's antics confounded managers, coaches, umpires, and other players with equal relish. Not that he wasn't a good player - he was - but he had a gift for not taking himself, or the game, too seriously. I loved reading these. In particular, because Johnstone played for the Dodgers, and I used to be a huge Dodger fan, so a lot of the stories are about players I grew up watching.
To repeat myself, these books are just fun to read. If you find yourself in need of a good laugh, you'd be hard pressed to do better than any of these.
In the wonderful game, Bonaparte at Marengo, this is how to get nasty Frenchies out of a village.
The Atrocity Archive by Charles Stross. The first in his Laundry Files series. Basically spy thrillers in a modern day where the Cthulhu Mythos is real. I enjoyed it enough to have just started the second book, which I already think is an improvement on this one.
Betrayer of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward Lerner, one of their Fleet of Worlds books. I love the new Known Space stories but am bothered by Lerner's use of some of the established Known Space characters, as well as one of the main plot endings. Ah well, fanboy frustration aside, it was a fun read and I recommend Lerner's Fleet of Worlds books.
From the formation of the Pistols to the formation of PiL (just), this is a great read. A maelstrom of chaos and big ego's, this book is a front-row seat insight into the cultural implosion that was the Pistols.
Will re-define your opinions on what it means to be a punk!
It's ok. A surrealistic trio of detective stories, somewhat connected.
Meh. Describes the life of a guy who managed a bunch of illegal betting houses. Nothing special and too few descriptions of the yakuza shenanigans.
It's entertaining, but I was a bit underwhelmed. I was expecting "one of the best sci-fi books" and got a childish story where 75% of the book is about the terrible suffering of a kid who can kick everyone's ass and is smarter than everyone else. In the end of a book we get to see the really interesting part, much too late.
I think that all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I’m certainly not, and I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
I mostly re-read the Hornblower series, plus a couple of Nero Wolfe mysteries. My wife,
Alex happens to be her ex-step-son (i.e. she used to be married to his dad). We ran into him at the local comic convention a couple of years ago when he was pushing his graphic novels, and she's kept in touch with him ever since.
It's been on the NYT best-seller list, and even got favorable reviews in Great Britain, and he'd never been there before writing the book. There's even a YouTube promo:
"I don’t believe in magic that works whether or not you believe in it!"
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest (Book 3) by Maryrose Wood - Another nice addition to the series. Very much in line with the rest - a touch of development of the characters and plot, with a lot of good story and humor in between. Recommended.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith - A set of mystery stories set in Botswana. An interesting, more human-focused and realistic variant on the typical mystery story; Mma Ramotswe (the main character) often makes you smile. Recommended.
The Guns of Avalon, The Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon (books 2-4 of the Chronicles of Amber) by Roger Zelazny - Finally picking this series back up again, I was pleasantly surprised to find it getting better the more I read. Corwin's cynical heroism gives the story a good spin. Currently reading book 5.