The Unnatural Inquirer

After slogging through The Host, I needed something lighter, more throwaway.  Luckily in my reading pile I had book 8 of the Nightside series by Simon R. Green, The Unnatural Inquirer.

When I tell people about these books the only way I’ve found to describe it is that they are like a book version of a film noir movie set in a city of demons and angels and magic and monsters.  It is pulp.  There is no heavy introspection or examination of the human condition.  John Taylor, the main character, fears no evil when he walks through the valley because he is the baddest mutha in the valley.  So to speak.

Anyway, this addition to the series is more of the same, which if you like them is a good thing, and if you don’t like them it isn’t.

Putting Down a Book

It is not often that I will actually put down a book for good.  I mean, I have never finished — don’t hold this against me — The Lord of the Rings.  I’ve read Fellowship probably five times and Two Towers three times, but I’ve never read Return of the King.  I just get bored.  I almost didn’t finish The Once and Future King, but I powered through.  Dune was another rough one.   Not too long ago I posted about the First Law Trilogy that I waded through.  There are books that I have put down, a number of them in fact, but I usually go back eventually and finish.  I swear, I will read Return of the King before I die.

But there are rare books that I have put down and never intend to go back to.  Recently I’ve run into two and both of them have to do with the writing itself, not the subject matter.  The first was Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow.  The story itself is something I would be interested in, and I’ve actually heard good things about the series, however, the author decided that her main character’s profession would be called a “necromance”.  Even now my spell checker is telling me that I’ve dropped an “r” off the end.  For whatever reason, she went with this spelling, and it bugs the crap out of me.  It happens just often enough in the text that it pops me out of the story and back into myself where I commence screaming “ER! ER! NecromancER!”  I had a similar problem when reading Dead Witch Walking about that author’s choice to make up her own swear words, but I was able to gloss over that.  For some reason this use of “necromance” is something I just couldn’t get past.

More recently I made a stab at reading James Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.  At first, the description of a superhero book sounds like it would be right up my alley.  However, I might have skipped it had I read the red box on the inside back flap of the cover.  It reads:

In the spirit of the most enduring hit movies and books, James Patterson has written this story for readers from ten to a hundred and ten. Special care has been taken with the language and content of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.

I’ve read a number of Patterson’s books, but mostly his more adult murder mystery stuff.  Going into this book with that mindset I was terribly disappointed and felt like I was being talked down to.  The story itself was interesting enough, but the simplicity of the language intended to be good reading for kids as young as ten just left me with an odd feeling.  I can’t say for sure that I’ve put this book down for good, but I definitely probably won’t pick it up again until I have a ten year old to read it with, either as a bedtime story or something we share and discuss.

So… have you ever put down a book? Why?

The Graveyard Book

Quite often, books fall into one of two traps.  The first is “everything happens all at once”, this is because they want to tell a story and they want to tell you all of the story, but they don’t want to drag it out over years, so instead everything happens in a short period of time.  A normal person is suddenly thrown into a mess and over the course of a few days the world is saved.  The second is “all the boring parts too”, this being where in order to tell the whole story they tell you the whole story, years of a character’s life when large chunks of it are irrelevant.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is how you tell a long story without falling into either trap.  This is the story of Nobody Owens, a boy who loses his family and grows up in a graveyard.  His tale is told almost as a collection of short stories rather than as one long novel, but there is a common thread throughout and keeps it from being just a collection of shorts.  Like a stone across the water, we skip through Bod’s life as he has encounters and experiences that shape him, all the while hiding from the world and the man who might still be looking to kill him.

This book was a fantastic read, and perfect for the month of October and the Halloween season.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t.

Made To Suffer

I’m a huge fan of Robert Kirkman’s series The Walking Dead.  Not huge enough to pick up the single issues, but enough to buy the trades.  I’ve been sitting on Book 8 entitled “Made to Suffer” for some time now.  I bought it off Amazon when I was buying a few other items and decided to throw it in the box.  After finishing up The First Law, I found myself between books and decided to go ahead and delve back into the world of zombies.

Two words: Holy Shit!

If you don’t want anything ruined for you, stop reading now.  I mean it.  Stop.

Still here?  Good.  What Kirkman does here takes a serious set of balls.  For seven volumes, he has gotten us to know these people, to care for them, and in part this has been done by inflicting small tragedies on them.  Small, I say, in comparison to the enormous one of the world succumbing to zombies to begin with.  But all that we have read so far is nothing compared to this volume.

I couldn’t put the book down.  Volume seven had ended with an attack beginning on our survivors’ prison home, but eight leaps back a bit and shows us how the attackers arrived.  For the first section of this book, you know where it is going, but getting there is no worse off for it.  Once the attack begins, you find yourself wondering how the hell they will survive this, and bit by bit and piece by piece you see their plan form, you see that they are going to make it.  Then Kirkman punches you in the gut and pulls the rug out.

Book nine is sitting on the shelf next to book eight, but I told myself I’d read another book or two first, to spread out the zombie awesomeness.  But it is taunting me, and I don’t know how long I can hold out.

Good Reads

Several of my friends have been using Good Reads for a while now, and I finally decided to sign up.

This is me.

I’ll still be keeping my book list and reviews here on this blog as well, but hopefully Good Reads will turn up a recommendation or two for things to read in the future.

Illusions the Game

The first Round Table of 2009 is as follows:

Putting the Game Before the Book What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first? In a time when bits of Dante’s Divine Comedy are being carved out and turned into a hack-n-slash game, I find myself longing for intelligently designed games–games with a strong literary component–not merely literary backdrops. So rather than challenge you to imagine the conversion of your favorite literature into games, I challenge you to supersede the source literature and imagine a game that might have tried to communicate the same themes, the same message, to its audience.

So, anyone who knows me well knows immediately what book I picked, but as fast as I picked that book I also ruled it out.  My first thoughts were of how impossible it would be to make a game that illustrates the same message.  I then spent several days trying to pick another book, another piece of literature, something else… but it was a fruitless search, and I knew that in the end I would have to accept the challenge and try to design a game with the idea that it existed in the same place as the book had the book not existed.  I racked my brain looking at computer games and card games and board games and schoolyard games and everything I could think of to craft my game out of, and it was then that I realized that it didn’t matter.

First, allow me to introduce you to the book, which I feel is one of the finest if not the finest piece of literature ever written, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.  The story is about a man who decided to get away from the life he had and trying to figure out what live he wanted by getting in a biplane and taking up barnstorming (flying around, stopping at small towns and offering to take people up while you do turns and loops and whatnot for a small fee).  This man, Richard, has an unlikely meeting with another barnstormer, Donald, who is the Reluctant Messiah of the title.  Richard is a man escaping the world because of all the restrictions in it, and Donald is a man escaping the world because the people refuse to see it has no restrictions.  Donald teaches Richard that the world is nothing but illusions, that anything is possible and that the only limitations anyone has are the ones they insist upon themselves, and the only things that really matter are entertainment, learning and other people.

For our game, let me start by paraphrasing a quote often found on the back cover of the book:

Here is
a test to find
whether your mission in game
is finished:
If you’re playing,
it isn’t.

If Illusions were to be a card game, it would be like Mao, only it isn’t just the dealer who knows the rules and unveils them, everyone participates.  If Illusions were a schoolyard sport, it would be like Calvinball.  In fact, if you look around, other variations of the “make up the rules as you go along” game exist for pretty much any medium.  Even MMOs have their sandboxes (Second Life, etc), and even in more rigid MMOs (World of Warcraft, etc) the game itself has no defined end and it is up to the player to decide under which conditions they consider the game to be “finished”.

Of course, getting people to want to play a game that has no rules (but potentially has all rules) is tough.  Without the rules, most people won’t know what to do, and whether they realize it or not, their dislike of the “game” is probably tied to its similarity to “life”.  The game is what you make of it, as much as life is what you make of it… and that is the point.  In whatever form the game were to be presented, a player could easily make up a rule that allows them to instantly “win”, however the question isn’t whether or not they won but if they enjoyed it, if they got something out it.  Maybe by throwing down the “I win” card in the first round they do get something out of it, they smile, they laugh, and yet if they do it enough they might find that no one wants to play with them anymore, which itself is an opportunity for learning: if you want to play with other people, other people have to have the opportunity of winning.

As you make up and play with new rules, you discover how they affect you and those around you, and you can find which rules lead to the most fun in the game, for everyone, and those are the rules that you will end up keeping around.

Back in High School, a group of friends and I would play cards at lunch.  On days when people were angry at stuff we sometimes played Egyptian Ratscrew (though we used the F-word instead of “screw” because we were teenagers), but that could lead to much pain, so more often than not we played Mao (mentioned above).  And while one guy was the one who brought us the game and the initial set of rules, each dealer was allowed to craft their own set, as long as they named it (so that players could file rules learned under a heading for later play).  We had tons of fun making up rule sets and yelling at others when the rules that were made stunk (the lunch monitors had to drop by and ask us to quiet down at least once a day as we got into heated disputes).  In the end, the rules that stayed and made their way into every dealer’s set were the ones that made people laugh, even when they forgot the rule and got penalty cards.  By the time we crafted the master rule set that we settled on (called “Neo-Einteinian” if I recall correctly), players no longer cared if they won or lost the game, they just loved playing it, and to me that should be the goal of every game.

So, as you can see, I deviated from the stated purpose of this month’s Round Table as I didn’t actually design a game for my book, but I think that’s because the fundamental message of the book is actually the fundamental message of game design in general.  The creation of any game is an exercise in the game of Illusions.

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99 Coffins

Having previously enjoyed David Wellington’s Monster Trilogy, and the first of his vampire books, 13 Bullets, I was eager to pick up his second vampire tale, 99 Coffins, when I managed to find one on the shelf.

Let me take an aside here and laud some praise on Borders Bookstores.  Traditionally, I’m a Barnes & Noble guy, or even a patron of Book-A-Million.  Their prices always seem to be better.  Or when something is hard to find and if I can manage free shipping, Amazon is my go to site of choice.  However, when it comes to picking up Horror books, Borders really does jump above other brick and mortar book retailers simply because they have a Horror section.  See, when you go look for Horror in most stores you have to hunt for them.  Stephen King and Dean Koontz, because they are well known, you’ll find in the Fiction section along side Tom Clancy and other novelists.  But a lesser known author is more likely to be found in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section.  It makes see what is new in Horror a difficult task.  Not so at Borders.  Walk right in and wedged between the Sci-Fi/Fantasy books and the Romance, you’ll find the Horror in a little 4 or 8 foot section all its own, and organized just like every other section… hardcovers and trades and new releases at the top with shelves of paperbacks below.  Heaven.

Anyway… 99 Coffins picks up pretty much where 13 Bullets left off.  Our intrepid vampire hunter, not feeling so spritely after the last book, calls on our heroine again.  This time, it seems so fellows digging around in Gettysburg uncovered a crypt of sorts, and inside are 99 coffins containing 99 vampire skeletons missing all 99 hearts.  But there is evidence… there might have been a 100th coffins.  Vampires are afoot at America’s Historic playground.

Of course, I love the book.  As good as the first, perhaps even a tad better.  Honestly, I was worried.  After the downward turn that Wellington’s second Monster book took in quality, I thought maybe he just might have problems with the middle acts of his trilogies, but 99 Coffins turned out quite well.

Now I just need to wait for the third book, Vampire Zero, just four short days after my birthday.  The anticipation may just do me in…

Summer Knight

As is evidences by my reviews of the three previous books, I like the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  So it should be no surprise that I enjoyed book number four, Summer Knight.

Although, I must admit, after reading about an angry wizard, werewolves, and vampires, an impending war between faeries just didn’t pull me in as well as the previous books.  Butcher’s concept of faeries living in the Nevernever is alien to me.  Sure, he’s touched on them before in the earlier books, but I’ve never encountered them outside of Butcher even close to the way he uses them.

Still, an enjoyable read.

Grave Peril

The third book in the Dresden Files series, Grave Peril, is more of the same of the previous two books… and that’s no bad thing in my opinion.  The first book was a bad wizard, the second was werewolves, and this time around Harry tangles with ghosts and vampires.

Well done, Mr. Butcher.  Well done.