Audio Review: By Schism Rent Asunder

By Schism Rent Asunder

David Weber

Macmillan Audio, 2008
For me David Weber’s Safehold series lacks the sparkle and draw of his Honor Harrington series while at the same time managing to be a compelling and well-written series.  The basic premise of the series, of which By Schism Rent Asunder is the second book, is that while fleeing a technologically a group of human were sent to live on an Earth-like world and having their memories wiped we to build up society from pre-industrial times over many generations.

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Halcyon Days of Youth

While look for the final components of my Jayne Cobb costume I picked up a Nerf Maverick as my sidearm of choice.  A cooler person might have went with some kind of replica air pistol or something but well that seemed like a particularly bad idea on my part.  Anyway the Maverick is a damned fun little toy, especially for the $9 I paid for it!  Talk about value!

Anyhoo while browsing the toy section of a local Target I was struck by how hard it is to find (re: impossible) toy guns nowadays.  A fact I readily understand, but a bit curious none-the-less.  Anyone in their mid twenties probably remembers these:

For better or worse we’ve come a long way from realistic replic waterguns (anyone remember Airheads?). Nerf is still making a handful of awesome products to fuel backyard battles.  The Maverick, Recon, and the motorized Vulcan (a frickin’ Nerf machine gun!) are leaps and bounds beyond the Nerf toys I remember.

The King in the Kitchen

Little fact people don’t really know about me: I like to cook.  Though, if you saw me in the kitchen you probably think I was there under duress given the rather prominent scowl you’d see on my face.  I might like cooking but I don’t always find it relaxing; at least when I’m cooking for people other than myself.  I’ve tried a few new things in the kitchen the last few weeks that I thought I’d share (NO! Not that! Get your minds out of the gutter!)

Last weekend it was a recipe from La Tartine Gourimand that I found via Serious Eats: Cocunut Milk Mussel Soup.  It isn’t a cheap dish to make, though most of its price is a result of the safron and the mussels.  Truth be told I was hoping for a bit of a bolder flaver than what I got but overall it was rather tasty and while I won’t claim the pictures on the site represent my final product they aren’t as far off as I’d feared.  It is a damned attractive and really tasty dish to make that while a bit time consuming (the de-shelling of 2/3 of the mussels the main hitch) certainly worth a try.  In the future I’d consider forgoing the safron and going for a bit of a Thai blend, perhaps replacing the thyme or shallot with lemongrass and the safron with some green or red curry paste.  In truth it might come off as a bit more like a traditional thai curry but might be worth a try, regardless.

I also made sliders.  My first attempt was a near disaster.  I don’t recommend fitting a square paninni press (from Pampered Chef) into a round pan then covering it to produce steam.  Getting to my burgers involved a hammer and a screwdriver.  I did manage to save both the pan, press, and burgers so all was well.  They were damn tasty too!  I would have preferred an iron skillet…but couldn’t find mine.  I’m of the opinion that 80% lean chuck makes some damned fine burgers; especially of the “griddle” variety.  I also carmelized some onions to top off the burgers.  I tried both Pepperidge Farms dinner rolls and Martin’s dinner rolls.  Both worked well but I think I preferred the slightly larger Pepperidge Farms rolls.  Also, the second time I made them I skipped the steaming process which, truth be told, I’d like to try again.  Next time around I’ll be sure to try for the iron skillet.  Also, I fully admit that this meal lacks in nutritional value but is both easy AND delicious so you health nuts can go screw yourselves.

I also made the tried and true grilled cheese via Tyler Florence. I highly recommend that recipe and will ad that Vermont Bread Company’s unbleached white is the way to go in pre-sliced store bought bread department.

Last but not least on friday I tried the omlette recipe over here, though I made the recommended switch to goat cheese and was pleased with the results.

JDATE- It’s not what you think

JDATE, or John Dies At the End, is the wonderfully awesome web-book by author David Wong.  Unfortunately, as of 9/30/2008 it is no longer available for free!  The print version, released by the awesome fellows over at Permuted Press, has skyrocketed to a startling $200 in value.  It turns out that Mr. Wong has also been picked up by Thomas Dunne Books and the publisher (a division of St. Martin’s Press) will be re-releasing the book to the masses sometime in 2009.  I admit I’m catching the news a bit late and kicking myself for not finishing reading the sequel; though it looks like it might still be here.

I’m also a bit distressed that the Permuted Press edition, seemingly worth $200, is sitting on the shelves here at the library.

If you’re curious you can check out my review.  My preffered sound byte: “John Dies at the End was a fun read, reminding me of that first magical time I saw Hellraiser.”

Also keep on eye on the JDATE homepage as some sort of big reveal on Halloween.

I really do think that JDATE is something special and hope Mr. Wong has tons of success with Thomas Dunne and inevitable big marketing push behind the new edition.

Review: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, read by Gerard Doyle (Audiobook)


Written by Christopher Paolini

Read by Gerard Doyle

Listening Library, 2008

Paolini’s first novel Eragon was the book that brought me back to world of audiobooks and while I skipped the audio version of Eldest I decided to give Brisingr a try.  In the first two volumes I found myself equally entralled and frustrated by Paolini’s characterization of the main hero Eragon.  My frustration wasn’t helped by Doyle’s frequently whiny vocalization of Ergaon either and both those elements continue here.  Thankfully, however, the majority of that is relegated to the first portion of the novel and the stronger second half seems to me a stronger more cohesive whole than the first.

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Review: Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont

Return of the Crimson Guard

Ian Cameron Esslemont

PS Publishing (Bantam), 2008 (UK)

While Steven Erikson handles the “main”   of the Malazan world his friend and co-creator Ian C. Esslemont handles events elsewhere.  In his first novel, Night of Knives, Esslemont details the genesis of Malazan Empire as we know it by dealing with events surrounding the “death” of the Emporer and Dancer due to the machinations of Surly, the woman who would become Empress Lasseen.  The timeline for Return of the Crimson Guard fits somewhere just after Erikson’s The Bonehunters and deals with the titular Crimson Guard and their vow to see the Malazan Empire fall.

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Witcher Impressions

A few weeks ago I purchased The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, I’m still not very far in the game but wanted to share some impressions before I’m distracted by other things.  Running on an enhanced version of Bioware’s Aurora engine the game looks and moves great.  There is some of striping in some of the cutscenes but I’m not sure if that isn’t something on my hardware end or the game engine itself.  The guys at CD Projekt did an absoultely wonderful job of milking the Aurora engine for all its worth creating something wholly different than what had previously been seen in Neverwinter Nights 2 (also running on the Aurora engine).  The motion captured animation for Geralt looks great as well.

Combat in The Witcher is in real time.  Your attacks come in three flavors strong, fast, and group and are spread across two different types of weapons steel (for human and beasts) and silver (for monsters).  Typically you’re sticking to one attack type and one weapon type.  Combat operates similar to a QTE, click an oponent to attack when your cursur has a flaming auro click again to start the second part of a combo.  While this lacks the click-frenzy satisfaction of Diablo 2 and is more similar to the timed powers of a MMO like Guild Wars.   Your combat prowess is aided by spells aquired through stone monoliths scattered across the landscape.  As of right now the most useful spell Geralt has the chance of disarming, dazing, or knockdown enemies in front of him which is handy when surrounded.  Other spells include a shielding spell, a fire spell, and a trap settings spell (I don’t have all the spells yet) none of which have proved quite useful.  There is a dodging system as well (double tapping a movement key) that is fairly effective….when I remember it’s there.

Combat and Magic are enhanced by a potion making system.  As of right now this is one of my major complaints about the game.  Potions are an integral part of survival but I often find that a single-minded need to track down ingredients often detracts from the rest of the gameplay.  Also the need the purchase books to held identify herbs you can harvest puts a major hamper on your funds; though doubtfully integral to the game overall it is still a bit annoying to blow anywhere from 200 to 600 gold on a book I read once then sell back to the merchant for a tenth of the price I paid.  I would have been happier if I could find potions available from merchants or dropped by enemies.  The potions typically have long lasted effects (almost an hour or more in most cases) but the lack of potions with instaneous effects, healing in particular, makes some particularly sticky combat situations a real drag.  I’m only in Chapter 2 so that might change.

Chapter 2 reveals another flaw in the game, in my opinion at least, Geralt’s lack of social skills.  Much of Chapter 2 involves “interrogating” people about their involvement with Salamandria (a nefarious organization) which, as far as I can tell, involves dialogue options to accuse or exonerate a character…and that’s it.  I guess I need evidence to further the investigation but the lack of any sort of non-combat related skill system means my dialogue choices frequently feel far from organic and too obviously scripted.  Another problem with dialogue, it always forces me to sheath my sword.  Since all the stuff is in-engine I understand the necessity but it is frustrating when a dialogue or cutscene leads to combat the enemies already have weapons drawn while Geralt is left with his head up his ass.

I am thoroughly enjoying the time-delayed decision making, wherein decisions I make now effect the plot and gameplay much later, and have already screwed myself once as a result.  Honestly I find myself intentionally making “bad” decisions just see what will happen down the line.  Mostly recently I let a cannibal live in the hopes that he will provide aid/information down the line; we’ll see how that turns out.

As I said I’m only in Chapter 2 and right now the plot is interesting but is taking a back seat to gameplay.  I expect things to progress as I get deeper into the game but right now the allure of combat and the deficiences in the game’s (lack of a) skill system are major distractions.  As of right now the reasons behind the game’s 80ish score of on Metacritic are fairly obvious and, at this early junction, I’d have to concur with rating the game in the low 80s.  It’s early to say that with any finality and I’ll post again when I hit the endgame.

Shup up John Conner!

John Connor (Thomas Dekker) the poor bastard, is perhaps verging a bit into Wesley Crusher territory.  As the youngest character he is, at present, the show’s weakest link.  Having recently finished Just a Geek, Wil Wheaton’s second book, I kind of feel for young Dekker who seems to be (like Wheaton) is a victim of how his character is being written.  His pouty emo act in the first two episodes cheapens the character and reveals little of the future saviour of humankind we all know and love.  There are some redeeming moments…ok, I admit that the real redemption of the John Conner scenes in episodes 1 and 2 are a result of his interaction with the adorably disaffected Riley (Leven Rambin).  From their initial meeting at school in episode 1 and their magazine browsing trip in episode 2 (ok, again I admit i was seriously distracted by the dress scene in that same episode, shut up) these remain the only time John’s emo, I’m-a-sad-future-hero character was palatable.  Episode 3 was a little better, John seemed fairly confident in a search to find the missing Cameron (Summer Glau) while seeming to have dropped his angry-emo act.  The preview for next week looked like we might see some more John redemption as well.  I also feel compelled to point out the the last episode’s revelations regarding Cameron certainly tie into the (rumored?) plot of the upcoming fourth Terminator movie.

Ratings are suffering (this show is not alone) but I’m certainly enjoying my time with it for the moment.

TV Review: Californication

No, not the Red Hot Chilli Peppers album, the tv show of the same name on Showtime.  I was flipping through Comcast’s On Demand screen last night looking for something to watch when the annoying voice that I typically ignore mentioned that Showtime had free episodes of Californication available to watch.  Less than a minute later I was watching the first episode (hilariously edited for content).  What feels like minutes later I had watched the first five episodes and had to restrain myself lest I forgo sleep entirely.

The show focuses on the shambles of displaced writer Hank Moody.  Moody is a cantankerous, manipulative, self-destructive individual overflowing with self-loathing.  Yet he is endearing as well, he obviously loves his daughter and her mother (his ex-girlfriend) but is so full of himself, and hatred for himself, that his behavior constantly gets in his way.  The dialogue sparkles with a snappy attitude and is generous in laugh out loud moments whether they be an ironic turn of phrase or a bit of slapstick amusement.

The shows pacing is excellent with each half-hour (22-24 minute) episode flying by in what feels like no time at all.  The show both revels, and pokes fun, at the Hollywood lifestyle at once embracing and a shining a light on the absurdities Tinsel town cliches.  Moody despite constantly spewing vitriol at and about Hollywood types is a bit of a cliche himself: the self-destructive, disaffected writer railing against the banality of society at large.  It isn’t a bad thing, however that might sound, and Moody is able to strike some sort of balance between the reality of his own life and the life he thinks he should have; a balance that sets him apart from the typical cliche.

Special mention should go out to Madeline Zima, who plays the sociopathic daughter of Hank’s “nemesis” Bill.  Zima, who I last remember as the youngest daughter on The Nanny, manipulates and tortures Hank in frequently and amusing and always uncomfortable ways.  Madeleine Martin, who plays Hank’s daughter Becca, is also of worthy note.  Her acerbic wit and love for her mess of a father often cast her into an almost parental role.   Becca Moody, despite her mature attitude, is often a victim of the actions of the adults around her and I find it interesting that he role as her father’s caretaker and go-between between her parents, has forced her to sacrifice her childhood.  At the same time her ability to find enjoyment and fun in life despite her parent’s shitty situation, is a testament to her strength as a character.

I’ve always been a staunch believer in David Duchovny’s ability as a comedic actor (I admit to thinking he was pretty good in Zemekis‘ Ivan Reitman’s Evolution).  Few of his past projects took serious advantage of his dead pan delivery and pitch perfect timing but both are honed to perfection in Californication.  Season 1 is out on DVD and I highly recommend giving it a shot.