Review: Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

First Line: Murder on the wind: crows and ravens wheeled beneath a heavy sky, like spots of ink splashed across a leaden canvas.

I had totally forgotten about Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds until it arrived at the library and I read the jacket flap which immediately had me excited to read it.  The book features the creation of literal Nazi Supermen, super-powered Nazi soldiers experimented on as children, facing off against a talented everyman spy who just so happens to be backed up by a small cabal of British magicians.  It is an alternate history title, a sub-genre I don’t flirt with too much, that features an inventive plot, dynamic characters, and a grim tone that serves the setting, and subject matter, perfectly.

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Tuesday Music Post: Notes on a Show

I deferred yesterday’s Music Monday post so I could write something about the concert I went to last night.  Seeing as how I’ve managed to attend at lest 1 concert every month since January I have wondered, frequently, if it is something I should write about.  Since the nominal goal is to hit at least 1 concert a month for the year (yay, New Years Resolutions!) there will be more concerts to come and I suppose something ought to be said.  Yesterday, on a Monday of all days, me and my good friend Val trekked out the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ (one of the oddest locations for a moderately sized music venue) to catch Flogging Molly.

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Review: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Empire in Black and Gold
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pyr, 2010 (orig. UK 2008)

Empire in Black and Gold the first in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, is a book that has been on my radar since it first released over in the UK back in 2008.  Thanks to the fine folks at Pyr we have a nice, shiny, US edition in trade form (the UK first printing was a mass market) with some splendid new cover art that is far more dynamic and lively then the original printing.  While I don’t typically harp on covers all that much that last is important since I think the US cover (both for this volume and the rest of the series) does a better job of conveying the unique elements of the series.
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Review: The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg

The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg
The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg

The Spirit Lens
Carol Berg
Roc, 2010

First Line: Philosophers claimed the Blood Wars had irredeemable corrupted magic.

In the Renaissance like kingdom of Sabria failed magician turned librarian and cousin to King Phillipe, Portier de Savin-Duplais is tasked by his royal brethren to root out the traitors who have attempted to take his life.  What follows is a solid mystery tale within a beautifully realized world fraught with tension between science and magic.  With The Spirit Lens Berg has created a fantastic new setting and kicked off what looks to be an entertaining and original series.

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Music Monday: Mega Man Rocks

The Megas, Get Acoustic
The Megas, Get Acoustic

I’ll be honest I’ve never beat any Mega Man game. In fact I can probably count the number of hours I’ve spent playing Mega Man games and still have a couple of fingers left. Both facts which my love for music from Mega Man all the stranger. Or maybe it isn’t that strange given the Japanese title for the series: Rockman. I would go ahead an argue that Mega Man has some of the best video game music in any series today as catchy and head bob inducing in its 8-bit glory as any modern rock song is today.

All of this is to highlight my musical selection this pollen infested miserable (re: beautiful spring) day: Get Acoustic by The Megas. The Megas are, surprise surprise, a Los Angeles based rock band who sing songs inspired by, and structured, around the songs from Mega Man 2. Their first album Get Equiped, released in 2008, is a grand tour through Mega Man 2 in epic hard rockin’ fashion, but I think pales in comparison to their acoustic version Get Acoustic, that released back in March.

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Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: A Fallout 3 Post

Warning! Vaguely rambling nerd rant ahead!

Anyone visiting here knows I love Fallout 3.  In 2008/2009  THE most enjoyable gaming experience I had.  Indeed, it soaked up almost as much of my time as this year’s Dragon Age, perhaps more since I paid for more of the DLC for Fallout 3 then I have for Dragon Age.  This year, after an Easter visit to the Washington D.C. area the desire to play the game stuck me once again.  After arriving home I eventually dug out my DVD and reinstalled on my PC running Windows 7 (having ditched the clunky Vista this year).  Things went smoothly, I took a deep breath and reinstalled the Games For Windows Live client, and even purchased Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta since I had yet to play either of those DLC packs.  Once everything was installed and patched I loaded up the game and, on arriving at the main menu, clicked New Game.  Despite having played the opening section of Fallout 3 a number of times I couldn’t quite shake the tingle of anticipation and the wash of nostalgia as I remembered that first step from Vault to Wasteland.  The loading screen popped and then blackness.

I stared blinking at the nothingness on my screen and waited…and waited.  I’m sure it was bare minutes but it felt longer when, with a sigh, I mashed CTRL-ALT-DEL (as an experienced PC Gamer an act that is near reflex, can be done in the dark, and requires only one hand) and popped open the task manager.  The “Not Responding” sitting next to Fallout 3 seemed to mock me.  I ended the task.  I tried again.  Same results.  With trepidation I opened up Firefox and began to delve into the muck and mire of the gaming forums.  Turns out Fallout 3 does not support Windows 7 at all. Indeed Bethesda doesn’t seem inclined, or are at least silent, on whether it ever fill.  As game at least a year old the development process is over and patching the game can’t be a priority.  The first sentence means that whatever problems I have I won’t get any help from Bethesda.  Digging deeper into forums I find a host of other problems, not all related to Windows 7 (if that is even the root of my problem), crashes and other bugs mostly on variety of systems powerful, moderate, and mediocre.  I manage to track down a couple a threads about the Fallout 3 Black Screen of Death and perform those arcane incantations and ritual sacrifices (disabling an odd video codec, updating GFWL, reinstalling, uninstalling over video codecs, etc., etc., etc.) that requires.  Nothing works.  I haven’t quite given up, a copy of gparted, a Vista install disc, and a cavernous second hard drive stare at me even now…though I hope those will only be a last ditch effort.

I am fully understanding of the complexities of PC Gaming.  OS, processor, motherboard, graphics card, and sound card are, absent RAM and hard drive, the 5 main components of a computer.  Just those five components creates a staggering number of possible hardware configurations.  No studio can plan for every possible permutation of PC thus no PC Game is perfect.  The possibilities are just too great.  But developers typically try to roll out the broadest, and most stable game they can (at least in an ideal world).   Amidst the cacophony of praise heaped upon Fallout 3 I see little mention of it’s monumental failure at stability.  The game is just about 18 months old now so it isn’t exactly fresh in peoples’ minds, but the marketing machine trundles forward thanks to continuing development of Fallout: New Vegas over at ObsidianFallout: New Vegas will be using the same game engine as Fallout 3 New Vegas is being developed by a developer whose catalog of games, while certainly entertaining, are among some of the less stable in recent memory; Neverwinter Nights 2 in particular was not the most polished of creations.  So to say I’m worried, as a PC Gamer, as to exactly how stable Fallout: New Vegas will be is probably something of an understatement.

None of that is really helps with the $100 worth of software (game plus dlc) that is sitting more-or-less useless on my hard drive.   To make my issue more bizarre are the other forum-goers claiming that Fallout 3 is working just fine on Windows 7 for them.  Now I know that Windows 7 is relatively new but according to the most recent Steam Hardware Survey (an unknown sample size, unfortunately) 24% of participants are running Windows 7 64-bit, combined with 32-bit Windows 7 brings the total to 35%; just 3% behind Windows XP and 12% more then Windows Vista.  Furthermore, according to netmarketshare Windows 7 has climbed just past the 10% in overall OS market share, trailing the older Vista by only about 5.75% (again, XP still dominates amongst windows users).  I know that most games don’t get patches 18 months (Diablo II being the most notable exception) out but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow.

I still hold out a barely glimmering hope that I will get Fallout 3 working again but this has so far been a painful embittering experience and the only thing that keeps me tied to the PC is my burning hatred for console controls.

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan
Delacorte, 2010

First Line: My mother used to tell me about the ocean.

Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a post-apocalyptic bildungsroman…with zombies.  Mary is teen living in an a village surrounded by the titular forest.  The world as we know it is gone as an unexplained event  has given birth to the Unconsecrated (zombies) and hordes of undead seemed to have caused society to collapse.  Mary’s village has no contact outside the fence the protects its borders and whose values and knowledge are dictated by a stern and religious order of Sisters.   A series of events unfold and the fences are breached sending Mary and a handful of others on the run towards the desperate dream of the ocean; only half-remembered by Mary through stories her mother used to tell.

I’ll say this before I go on, since talking at length about this novel is difficult to do without some spoilers, if you’re looking for a taught, tense, and chilling tale of growing up in isolation with the constant threat of death (death that might wear a familiar face) beating on a thin fence every day then The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a novel worth checking out.

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Review: The Warded Man by Peter Brett

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man
Peter V. Brett (twitter, website)
Del Rey, 2009

The Warded Man is Brett’s US debut just released in Mass Market (originally released last year) this year prior to the second volume in this series The Desert Spear. The Warded Man takes place in society overwhelmed by a culture of fear thanks to nightly attacks by demons who rise from the Earth. The story centers around three characters Arlen, who wants to fight demons; Leesha a young woman apprenticed to a herbalist; Rojer an apprentice jongleur whose family was murdered by demons.

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Review: The Black Hand by Will Thomas

The Black Hand by Will Thomas
The Black Hand by Will Thomas

The Black Hand
Will Thomas
Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 2008

First Line: I stepped across the still of the conservatory, glass crunching under the heels of my boots, and steadied my Webley pistol with both hands, reluctant to step inside.

The Black Hand is what happens when one combines the allure of the 19th century detective with the skill and tendancies honed during the height of the hard-boiled error. Inspector Barker is a 19th Marlowe with kung-fu skills and a pair of inseparable sunglasses. Llewelyn, Barker’s apprentice is the slightly sarcastic, somewhat snide narrator whose voice dominates the novel. It is perhaps a little odd, and certainly unique amongst the crime and detective novel’s I’ve read thus far, that the narrator of the novel is not the quirky detective hero but rather his sidekick. Of course, calling Llewelyn a side kick is not entirely fair, he is slightly more to that. He is Barker’s apprentice, yes and he certainly isn’t as off-beat as his boss but he is still a unique character in his own right.

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(very) Late PAX Post

It is likely no small coincidence that PAX, the shorthand name of the Penny Arcade Expo, is also the latin word for peace.  As Wil Wheaton stated in his epic keynote (the second!) thanks to Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, Robert Khoo, a legion of Enforcers, and a veritable army of attendees PAX is geek for home.  As Jerry stated in his own post-PAX East post:

We call it PAX East to distinguish it from the other one, it helps to make discussions about them possible, but I’ve been to every one of them and I can tell you:  this was just PAX.  Whatever entity you create when you attend, and when you play, was present in the same unaltered form we discerned years ago.   It is our task to honor it.

As an attendee of PAX Prime (as the Seattle show has become known) in 07 and 08 I couldn’t agree more.  While I browsed my twitter feed while at the show I couldn’t help note some griping about the lines (particularly from a one Rabbit).  While I agree that the lines were occasionally ridiculous I think something should be said that there is something different about lines at PAX over other kinds of lines.  Whether it be impromptu games of Mario Kart DS, elaborate pipe cleaner sculptures, or the entertaining styling of the folks from Get In Line Games PAX lines are, in addition to being a place to wait for an awesome event or panel, a place of community.  Nothing evidenced this more then the line on Saturday when the crowd, prompted by nothing more then a song we all recognized, spontaneously burst into song:

What that video doesn’t capture is the chorus of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that followed the crowd as we marched towards the main theater; even after we left the overhead speakers behind.  Sure PAX East 2010 was crowded as hell but at least it was crowded with several thousand friends (well, except for this douche).

I didn’t spend a ton of time on the Exhibition Room floor, but managed to catch a number of smaller titles that really sparked my interest.  Myself and several friends had a blast playing Slam Bolt Scrappers over at the Indie Showcase; it is some sort of Tetris, tower defense, beat ’em up that is perhaps one of the best party games I’ve played in years.  Monday Night Combat, think Smash TV meets Team Fortress 2, looks like a frickin’ blast.  The gorgeously rendered silhouette world of Limbo was at once beautiful and disturbing.  Nvidia’s demos of 3d technology were sweet and far more impressive then I could have hoped but still tethered to glasses.

Every panel I went to pretty much rocked.  Stephen Totilo of Kotaku and N’gai Croal had an interesting panel on 10 Best Games of All Time, sort of a Video Game insider meme that looks like something everyone should be watching.  The Musical Guests panel was as entertaining as ever, the Penny Arcade Panel was hilarious, and the keynote made up for the fact that I missed Wil in 2007.  And the concerts…man…epic is even the right word.  Special nod to Video Game Orchestra and their “Vampire Killer” mix of Castlevania music; simply amazing.  Now I’m back at work and while the world around me is bit dimmer absent of PAX I am secure in the knowledge that I now have a second home here on the east coast.  See you guys in 2011.