Work Marathon ’08

To any faitful readers out there noticing the lack of new posts: “I’m sorry.”

It’s the end of summer and some staff juggling at my part-time job left me with extra shifts.  Throw in my actual full-time job and one has a 7 day work week totaling over 50 hours.  Add in the fact that I’ve been doing that for about 3 weeks (I think I’m in week four, but honestly I’m passed the point of knowing for sure) and it’s no small surprise that I haven’t posted in 5 days.

I do have a couple of things for you coming up.  At the very least I’ll have a review of The Steel Remains up within the next week as well as a review of the debut CD from Scars on Broadway. Next week I’m heading out to Seattle on Wednesday for PAX.  It’s still up in the air whether or not I’m going to bring my shiny new Eee 1000H with me, but I’ll have pictures and commentary on my return (I’m sure my own meager opinions will be buried under the deluge of professional bloggers/journalists doing the same, oh well) at the very least.

Keep your eyes on the skies.

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NY Times Essay on YA Fiction

I don’t remember any kind of “Young Adult” fiction from when I was a teen.  Looking at the YA market as it is today I wish there had been such a thing.  Not that I didn’t find stuff to read back then, I did, but there are so many interesting YA titles out now that (while I will most certainly enjoy them as an adult) I would have liked to experience in my younger days.

The essay is by Margo Rabb and appeared on July 20th and is well worth a read for those interested in reading and literature.  Sherman Alexie (whose Indian Killer is one my favorite novels) has perhaps the most interesting, and perhaps unsettling quote, of the piece:

“One person asked me, ‘Wouldn’t you have rather won the National Book Award for an adult, serious work?’ I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A.”

Interesting stuff.  The essay can be found here, so head on over and take a look.

Landmark year(s) for RPG gaming?

Some of the release dates are a bit hazy but it’s looking to be interesting year for RPG video games. I’ll start with the big two:

Dragon Age, Bioware
I was initially put off this long developed title thanks to a crappy “story” trailer. I was later sated by the awesome gameplay trailer that looks like a 3D version of an old Infinity Engine game:

Great stuff. Release Date? Early 2009 is the best Bioware has offered. Far enough away for me to enjoy other gaming goodness coming down the pipeline. Check out the recent interview with Greg Zeschuk, Co-Founder, BioWare over at MTV Games.

Diablo 3, Blizzard
I shouldn’t have to say much here. Unlike some fans, I think that Diablo 3 looks pretty frickin’ cool. The major downside here is that lack of release date. Looking at the gameplay trailer for Dragon Age above and the Diablo 3 gameplay trailer I wouldn’t be surprised if an early (winter or spring) 2009 release date isn’t in the cards:

So what else is coming worth looking at?

NWN2: Storm of Zehir, Obsidian
Much like Dragon Age, the latest Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion plays to the fans of the old school Bioware/Black Isle games offering full-party customization (like Icewind Dale) and free-form dungeon exploration (like Chapter 2 of Baldur’s Gate 2 with its bajillion and a half side-quests). The wiki entry mentions it foreshadows the big cataclysmic events that precede the change to 4e Forgotten Realms. It is from the wiki entry so I don’t know how much stock to put into that. On the other hand Wizards of the Coast hasn’t announced any info on where the D&D video game license is going with the advent of 4e so tying the game closer to the Pen and Paper FR might make sense. Release date is supposed late 2008 but I wouldn’t be surprised by early 2009 as well.
Divinity 2, Larian Studios
The original game, Divine Divinity, was heckled for its rather silly name and accused of being a Diablo clone. The former I can’t argue against but the latter was rather unjust. Divine Divinity had more in common with Baldur’s Gate than it did with Diablo thanks to its focus on character and story over intense action. I never did beat the game, it was pretty massive, but certainly have fond memories of playing (and dying, frequently) and of the solid music backing the game. No release date as of yet.
The Witcher: Expanded Edition, CD Projekt
The game already came out in the states once already but the folks at CD Projekt weren’t happy with how things turned out so they decided to patch things up, fix the translation, throw in some new content and release the game. It’ll be available as a full retail product and, I think, as an expansion for current owners. A dark, adult oriented action RPG it was a game I wanted to play but missed out on in it’s initial release that I hope to catch again. Release date is mid-September.
Fallout 3, Bethesda
I’ve mentioned it before, if you don’t know about it you should.

There are other titles that I didn’t mention here like Fable 2, Too Human and a new game from old Gothic team, and I wouldn’t be surprised by new announcements and sleeper titles over the next few months but the above titles represent the titles I am most excited about.

Review: Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

 height=Ghost Road Blues

Jonathan Maberry

Pinnacle Books, 2006

Pine Deep, PA is the spookiest town in America; known nationally for its haunted hayride, quaint shops, and Halloween focused economy.  But Pine Deep hides a dark past and harbors a sleeping evil that, as Halloween comes nearer, begins to wake and spread a wave of violence and death.

Maberry’s Stoker Award winning novel opens with a flashback to a confrontation between the Bone Man (a guitar slinging, migrant worker, avatar for good)  and a man named Griswold (a serial killer and a perhaps something worse).  In this opening section good triumphs over evil, the Bone Man slaying Griswold, but only for a moment as the Bone Man is ambushed by locals and becomes the victim of small town bigotry and racism.  Bone Man, the hero, goes down in history as the killer when in truth he was the hero.  This blend of human horror mixed with the supernatural is something Maberry continues to expand upon throughout the novel.

Maberry opens the story proper with a classy bit that I won’t ruin, introducing one of our main protagonist: Malcolm Crow.  As is often the way in horror stories the protagonist is a bit twisted, a little sullied.  In the case of Crow he is a recovering alcoholic fascinated with the macabre.  He isn’t a bad guy but he is certainly odd.  A trait that follows with many if not all of the other characters.  As off-kilter as our hero(es) might be they don’t hold a candle to the villains.  Vic Wingate, a man who takes pleasure in beating his son and is also somewhat of a “disciple” and friend of the Griswold.  Karl Ruger, a career criminal with extremely violent tendencies and last, and perhaps my favorite villain, Tow-truck Eddie, a man who hears the voice of God thinks of himself as the Sword of God and does some pretty twisted things as such.

Maberry manages to create some truly interesting characters and shows a deft hand at creating gruesome and atmospheric scenes. Unfortunatley some of this is spoiled by pacing.  The disparate viewpoints of characters both good and bad drag a bit and, once things ratchet up towards the climax, don’t leave much room left for the explosive ending.  There are times when this slower pacing works, the tension of the hostage scenes with Ruger in particular benefits from the switching viewpoints of the parties involved, but the overall plot of the novel doesn’t really benefit from the snail like pacing.  That’s not to say the pacing ruins the novel, it doesn’t, but I think trimming a bit of the chaff (the novel weighs in at 476 page and, I think, about 140,000 words) might have made the book more of a page-turner.

By the time that climax comes you realize that there is no possible way all the stuff hinted at in the novel can possibly happen in the space that is left.  I knew going in that this was the first in a trilogy so I guess I should have suspected as much but I had hope that more of the cool, supernatural stuff hinted at throughout the book would have occurred in the book.  I was disappointed in the novel quite a bit, especially the ending, and almost skipped the (almost unnecessary) epilogue.

The writing was good and the plot interesting but things just didn’t mesh for me.  I had my issues with characterization as well and never really felt attached to protagonists of the novel and found the antagonists much more fascinating and felt Maberry’s writing was strongest when dealing with more horrific elements of the story.  Will I read the sequels?  Maybe, next time I have a long wait between other books I’m waiting for, but I’m not going to go out of my to do so.

Recommended?  I don’t know.  Maybe my disappointment with the story is clouding my judgement but for now I’m going to go with Not Recommended.

Random!

I dunno why I thought of this, maybe it’s seeing Bruce Campbell on Burn Notice weekly and recalling that iconic Army of Darkness line:

“Well hello Mr. Fancypants!  I got news for you pal; you ain’t leadin’ but two things right now. Jack and Shit… and Jack left town.”

Or maybe the damn song just showed up on my shuffle during a commute.  Anyhoo, check out Coulton’s awesome song Mr. Fancypants, also midi machines rock…..hard.

Warning! Information Science Ahead

I have a terrible habit of ignoring some of my work-related feeds in favor of the non-worked related video game or hardware enthusiast feeds but this morning I decided to actually read the headlines on my ReadWriteWeb feed and managed to fine not one, but two good articles.

The first, and most interesting, by Marshall Kirkpatrick, discusses the Semantic Web.  The article, Will the Semantic Web Have a Gender?, is what I read as one of the first (or maybe I’ve just missed those articles) deconstructionist arguments about the Semantic Web.  The article veers away from it’s titular focus and delves a bit more into the nature and definition of knowledge and looks at the viability of current epistemological leanings as they pertain to the development of the semantic web and makes for really fascinating reading.  The article isn’t particularly in depth but it is certainly thought provoking and well worth a read.

The second article, by Sarah Perez, discusses in brief the development of Facebook Connect. Facebook Connect is Facebook’s attempt to use their social networking service as a sort of hub for all your social networking needs allowing you to pull in and aggregate your various social networking activites.  My recent adoption of the Digsby client has definatley shown me the allure of that prospect and I will certainly be keeping an eye on that project.  Perez, also mentions how Facebook has changed quite a bit over the years from its initial exclusionary practices to a more open network.  Again interesting stuff that if your interesting in the social web either from an academic, profesional or personal perspective might be worth a read.

Anyhoo, I now return you to your regularly scheduled geek programming.

I can’t think of a witty title so I’ll just title this as what it is: Star Wars and Religion

Gamers With Jobs has a cogent and interesting article/reminiscence on the relationship between religion and Star Wars.  The comments are suprisingly, and happily, troll free (for now).  One poster in particular mentioned the idea of atheism vs. theism in Star Trek and Star Wars respectively; an interesting topic that I’d like to see explored by somewhere smarter and more involved than me.

Anyway, a nice little thought provoking piece.

The Middleman

I admit it.  I scoffed when I first saw the promos. ” A silly sci-fi comedy on ABC Family? ” I said to myself, “Man, that is sooooooo gonna suck.”

Well, self, you sir are an idiot.

I was dead on with the silly though, or maybe quirky is better, regardless of either word, the show works.  I struggle to find the right combination of words to describe the show properly so, in lueiu of failling miserably I’ll provide with a snipper from the L.A. Times review:

Our heroine is Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales), alliteratively named in the tradition of Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdock, Billy Batson, and Clark Kent. (Superheroic identities available on request.) A video-game-playing, comics-reading, deadpan millennial nerd girl — a type now in vogue if not yet in Vogue — she paints at night and gets by as a temp in the day, until she is recruited as a sidekick by the Middleman (Matt Keeslar) after he sees her attack a “hentai tentacle monster” with a letter opener. (The word “hentai” alone should raise goose flesh on certain viewers.) A square-jawed milk-drinker, exceedingly all-American in the way that spoof heroes often are, the Middleman is also a little dark, as if the clean-cuttedness were a kind of candy-coating on a potentially explosive soul. He has no trouble with violence.

I recommend you head over and take a gander at the full review since entertainment reviewer Robert Lloyd does a fantastic job of nailing what the show is all about.  I won’t mention everything he says there but only echo him with a hearty “Agreed!” and move on.

Monday night’s episode featured ghosts and had me laughing out loud a several points.  Try as might I couldn’t keep track of all the Ghostbuster’s references but was much impressed that they wen’t so far as to reference Tobin’s Spirit Guide, and even go outside the Ghostbuster’s universe proper with the inclusion of a Reitman Hall on the campus where the action takes place.   Few shows are as purely entertaining as The Middleman and if you’re suffering through the late summer television doldrums I highly recommend you give this little show a shot.

You also might try one of these, if you really like the show.  The season was shortened to 12 episodes and while the reviews have been good the ratings haven’t been too high (I think an earlier time slot might improve things), check out the Middleblog for updates on the show.

The Middleman airs at 10 PM EST on Mondays on ABC Family.

Review: Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson (audiobook)

Having discussed with friends their horrific experiences with some of the Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert Dune sequels, and discussing with other friends their animosity over Anderson’s Star Wars books I decided that I should give Anderson’s long running Saga of the Seven Suns a try. While I have yet to read any of the Dune sequels myself, and have only hazy memories of Kyp Durron and the Jedi Academy books I was none the less a bit concerned about what was in store for me here.

What I found was an impressive space opera full of mystery, action, suspense, populated by interesting characters and set in a truly epic scale. Hidden Empire displays some quality writing far more exciting and interesting than anything I remember from the Star Wars books I vaguely remember. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t without its problems but what problems there are exist more as a result of format and ambition rather than a lack of skillful writing.

Let me start with the major problem and the one that might make this book a little less accessible to the greater reading population: the cast. The cast is fricking huge. As a result from the outset you spend so little time with the diverse characters in the beginning of the novel that any sort of connection between the various character’s plots doesn’t become readily obvious until about halfway through the book. As a corollary the the chapter to chapter switches between each point of view don’t really let you build any kind of quick emotional attachment to any of the characters at the outset of the novel and it is only towards the end of the book (I’d say about the final third or so) that you ever feel really attached to any of them.

On the other hand Anderson does a fantastic job of giving each of their characters their own voice (aided by George Guidall’s solid narration).  From the youthful anger of Tasia, to the optimism of Nera, to the arrogance of the Mage Imperium there is refreshing amount a originality and individuality amongst the massive cast.  My personal favorites included Raymond Aguerra, and Margaret Colickoss.  It’s hard to go into specifics without verging into spoiler territory but Aguerra’s story featured some of the best political aspects of the story while Colickoss’ sections revealed an impressive level of world building involved in the history of the Seven Suns universe.

Now, the worst for last, there was a major weak point in the plot that I feel obligated to mention.  The early chapters of the novel show humans using an alien technology to ignite a gas giant into a full fledged world in order to thaw out moons to use as habitable colonies.  Immediatley after the planet ingnites multiple characters notice several spheres fly out of the now burning gas giant.  Later in the novel, when aliens start showing up on other gas giants to destroy and murder humans mining the atmosphere there I find the confusion over why the aliens are attacking to be very close to unbelievable; especially for the human leadership.   You lit a gas giant on fire.  Aliens fly out of gas giant to wreck shit up some time after.  Is the logistical leap not obvious?

Regardless I still enjoyed the listen and would recommend it to others, either in audio or print, despite its flaws.  While Hidden Empire doesn’t do anything particularly new Anderson did manage to create an interesting and deep setting to play out action, adventure, mystery, and drama on a grand scale.  While it lacks the intimacy of a more focused narrative the cinematic flair and enormous scope of Anderson’s story manage to draw you in and keep you reading (or listening).

The series is complete at seven books and it looks like most, if not all, are available in both audio and print.  Books 1, 2 and 3 are available from Recorded Books/Random House Audio while 4 through 7 are available from Brilliance.  The change in audio publisher means that George Guidall only narrates books 1 through 3 and I can’t stress just how much his performance adds to the book but I can’t imagine many other narrators living up to the quality of work heard here.