Mike’s Prattle


Steven Brust – Jhegaala, Russell T. Davies & Benjamin Cook – The Writer’s Tale, Jack McDevitt – Omega, Baldur’s Gate/Tales of the Sword Coast

Posted by Mike on February 19, 2009

I don’t read as much as I used to anymore, which means the unread books on the shelves loom a lot larger than they used to, as my desire to read them hasn’t dwindled as much as competing interests have taken up more time. I think if I were to have the attention span to read more during breaks at work then I’d do a lot better, but I haven’t seemed to be able to do that in a while. Also, I tend to spend my extra home time working on incense stuff, goggling at my new HDTV (which really compounds the problem cuz it makes everything look 100 times better than it used to on a small 19″ analog), playing video games, with nephews etc. I guess I’m kind of lucky I’m not particularly social or inclined to larger gatherings (apparently a common Virgo trait) or going out; I didn’t really get the small talk gene I guess. Otherwise I’d be in serious trouble. But over the last year (or so, or less) I’ve manage to knock a few books out.

Jhegaala is the latest Vlad Taltos novel by Steven Brust, one of the few fantasy series I keep up with. Or maybe two. It helps they’re short, less than 350 page books, it helps they’re humorous and light hearted. Basically Vlad goes to his ancestral home to trace down his mother’s side of the family and becomes immediately involved in the political machinations of the area. Like most of the latter day Taltos books, things start out mysterious with Vlad one step ahead of the reader as he pieces together the intrigue, gets caught up in it and creatively solves the issue usually after getting walloped pretty hard somewhere in the middle. It’s the best of the last three books, but not up to the game changing nature of Issola and the other book or two that represents the most present of plots in the Taltos timeline (all the books jump around all over the place).

I heard good things about the Davies/Cook Writer’s Tale book which is sort of the writer perspective on Series 4 of the new Doctor Who. Series 3 is probably my favorite of the whole bunch to date due to the incredible last half of the series (some of the best TV ever imo), but Series 4 probably represents the best Doctor/companion interaction with Catherine Tate on board. It’s a pretty big book that clarifies a lot of the behind the scenes stuff but also prints some of the scripts, including the Voyage of the Damned Posiedon Adventure-take off Christmas Special which I felt to be the worst episode of the whole series so far, clever for sure (unlike so much of fandom I think Davies is a genius) and certainly a worthy writing exercise (Who as disaster movie) but typically bland as these sorts of movies are (Bad thing happens, group of characters escape, the ones you guess get picked off, drama ensues, almost everyone makes it out, ruminations over those that didn’t, the end). Davies is out as all get out which my liberal self thinks is really great, but it made it a little hard to relate (no book I’ve ever read has the word “arse” in it as much as this one) in terms of a personal connection (which receiving writing is so much of) at the same time it illuminated just how much certain urges really do drive a lot of writing. The best part, of course, is that it was terrifically honest up to the point they censored it given the audience. And as the book went on I shared the great news that Steven Moffat would be taking over the show and found myself looking forward more to those tidbits than those about the everything and the kitchen sink two part finale which was fun but a bit too crowded. A good read though, it’ll still be sad to see possibly the best era of the show come to and end (and I’ve been watching it since I was 5 years old).

Took me a long time to finish McDevitt’s Omega, which is the fourth in his Priscilla Hutchins series and in this one she takes something of a back seat as an administrator. McDevitt does space opera like technology almost stopped advancing in the Asimov and Heinlein era (with obvious big exceptions), with every new race and planet discovered amazingly comforming to Earthlike evolutionary standards, which is often the SF most of us grew up with, but seems to be less successful with every new iteration. I did like the first two in the series quite a bit and found them fast moving and intense; Omega takes forever to get off the ground with a shuffling of various parties in ships to get to the planet where a newly discovered alien race is weeks from being exterminated by the Omega cloud. The best parts for me were the infiltration by lightbender of the alien race, which is probably the thing that keeps bringing me back to books like this. I can’t really say I’ll be in a hurry to finish the last couple books of this series at this point since they’re likely more of the same, but at least after the first 200 pages it kept me interested. Maybe what also bothered me is that these characters are so whitewashed, everyone listening to Rachmaninoff and Debussy and growling “sonofabitch” and “godamit” like they were from, well, the same age and era of the author. It would be like me writing a story where everyone listened to early Chicago and electric Miles Davis and got every Family Guy reference.

I’ve also been loping along with the original Baldur’s Gate game, which took some adjustment as I don’t think I’ve played an RPG since I was young that had more than the party limits of Neverwinter Nights. I found it pretty strange as in a game based on the original Dungeons & Dragons, there are, well, no dragons (unless you count wyverns I guess) and just a smattering of dungeons, most of what goes on takes place in large wilderness eras where you have to crawl all over a map looking for sidequests. This seems to have been a hugely popular game during its heyday, but for someone who has been playing with much more modern AIs for NPCs, the game drove me insane constantly as full party movements would happily send 2 or 3 of my NPCs into the wrong rooms or, worse, traps, as if the AI was literally set up to make them do the most stupid things possible. However, even though I think I’m just a few big bosses from finishing up the whole game, I have finished the Sword Coast quests, including the horrific death gazing Tanarri, which took forever to finally nail as it turns your people into ghouls without a dispel magic cast. The thing that bothered me about this quest was that it’s possible to kill the mage summoning the beastie before she actually does, but then it’s impossible to actually finish the quest out, even though you’d think that would have been even more successful. But again, I’m just glad it wasn’t a Diablo II game stopper and so there was minimum vocal blistering even though I had to reload a bunch. Overall pretty fun, but felt I had to rely too heavily on walkthroughs so I wouldn’t waste hours combing over largely uninhabited swaths of wastelands. On the other hand it seemed to have almost Oblivion-length play time, although in this case it didn’t have me glued to my machine overnight with addiction.

Oh and I also ordered an Xbox 360. I’ve seen how pretty they are on HDTVs and my HDTV is super pretty as it is, plus my computer is finally getting just a little too old for cutting edge games like Fallout 3 and such. Plus it’ll likely mean more nephew visits. 🙂


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