Quantum Break: Zero State is the tie-in novel to the action video game developed by Remedy Entertainment, the same folks who also brought us cinematic masterpieces such as Max Payne and Alan Wake. While it’s clearly marketed to fans of the game—and yes, I too did my stint in Quantum Break and consider myself one—I urge you not to write off this book just because you haven’t played it, or because you don’t think a “video game book” would be for you. Often these kinds of books get a bad rap (and goodness knows they deserve it sometimes) but I promise you this one is different.
From the very first page, I was floored by the stellar quality of this novel. I don’t want to sound like a book snob, especially since I consider myself a diehard tie-in junkie, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact this is a book based on a video game. I mean, it’s almost too good to be one? Needless to say, Quantum Break: Zero State surprised the hell out of me. Tie-in novel or not, it can easily stand on its own against any of the more mainstream or popular sci-fi thrillers out there.
The story stars Jack Joyce, a maverick who follows where his feet take him—as long as it’s away from his hometown of Riverport, Massachusetts where six years ago he cut ties with his older brother, the brilliant scientist William Joyce. Will is a genius, but his mind is also very disturbed. Growing up with him as a legal guardian was difficult, after their parents died in an accident when Jack was just a child. Will was withdrawn and consumed by his research, so his younger brother actually ended up being the one to support them both. It got even worse once Jack discovered that Will had secretly taken all the money their parents left them to use on his work after his own funding and research grants ran out, not to mention the massive debts with the local gangs and loan sharks. After years of cleaning up his brother’s messes, Jack finally said enough is enough. He packed up and left Riverport, washing his hands clean of Will and his crazy theories and problems.
But now, an email from Jack’s childhood friend Paul Serene has brought him back. As it turns out, Will’s theories weren’t so crazy after all. As a pioneer and top scientist in the field of chronon technology, Will has been consulting on a top secret project spearheaded by mega-corporation Monarch Solutions at Riverport University. Paul is one of the research leads on the project, and for some reason he wants Jack to come meet him at the Physics building so he can show him something that will change the face of the planet. Curiosity piqued, Jack agrees to go see his friend and thoroughly gets his mind blown when he realizes what is in the lab where Paul brings him. It appears that with Will’s help, Monarch had created a time machine…
You can definitely read this without knowing a single thing about the game, but some background information will probably give more context. In Quantum Break you play Jack, who gains time manipulation powers and uses them to fight the diabolical authorities behind Monarch. The flow of time breaks down and all hell breaks loose, creating all kinds of insane effects with the environment, including time stutters, time stops, time slowing down or speeding up, etc. As well, one of the game’s “hooks” include a live-action component. After each act in the game, an episode of a TV show will play out onscreen letting you see how your gameplay decisions have affected events and other characters in the story. As noted in the book’s foreword, there really is no “canon” version of Quantum Break, since you are going to be making a lot of in-game choices and in doing so create your own version of events. The game is about time travel and branching timelines, so your own playthrough will likely be completely different from another player’s.
This is why the idea behind this book is so brilliant. When I first read its description, I was initially worried that it would be a straight-up novelization—and who would want that, when you have the choice to actually immerse yourself in the cinematic experience that is the game itself? But here’s the cool part: Quantum Break: Zero State isn’t a true novelization because it is actually a combination of what’s in the game along with a lot more stuff that never made it in—think early story concepts, discarded ideas, or other elements that either weren’t used or abandoned because the developers couldn’t make them work for what they had in mind for the final product. It’s like an alternate timeline novel. As a result, you can read this book on its own without having even heard of Quantum Break! And if you have played it, you can also read this without feeling like it’s just a rehash of everything you did in game.
Like I said, the writing is superb and Cam Rogers’ prose is smart, punchy, and electrifying. As Remedy’s game writer and narrative designer, Rogers knows exactly how to capture the suspenseful atmosphere of Quantum Break, following through on the promise of action and thrilling fight scenes. The big theme here is also the time traveling aspect of course, and it is extremely cool, as are the powers that Jack possesses in game which are outstandingly described and utilized here in text. The story was indeed very different from my gameplay experience, but I found the version in this novel to be no less intense and exciting. I even liked that it gave me the chance to know some of the other characters better, most notably Beth Wilder.
Just for a second, forget that this book is based on a game, even if you are a fan of Quantum Break. If you enjoy sci-fi thrillers in general, and the idea of time traveling and superpowers sounds like a good time to you, then you must pick up this book. And if you happened to enjoy the video game too, then that goes double. This was all kinds of awesome, easily one of the best game tie-ins I’ve ever read, and heck, just a great time travel thriller all-around....more
I’ll admit, as cool as its cover looked, Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan did not initially grab my interest. Mind you, it’s not that I’m averse to the prospect of a 150-foot-tall Mecha wreaking havoc in my science fiction, but at the time I just wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for that sort of bombast and action. Thing is though, it turned out I was completely wrong, both on the nature of this book and on my early skepticism that the story might not be for me – because, as you’ll see, it absolutely was. There’s a depth to USJ that I did not expect, and it was this mix of profundity and thrilling suspense that made the book such a great read and audio listen.
Described as a spiritual successor to The Man in the High Castle, even if you have not read the Philip K. Dick classic, one can immediately surmise a certain set of expectations from United States of Japan. Yes, it is an alternate history novel, and it takes place approximately four decades after World War II in a world where Japan won the conflict and conquered America. History has been rewritten to praise Japan’s exemplary conduct in the war and most Americans now also worship the Emperor as a god. Anyone who disagrees or does otherwise is looked upon with suspicion, or disappeared altogether. Resistance has been reduced to a small group of rebels called the “George Washingtons”, freedom fighters who are continuing to find new ways to subvert the Japanese rule. Their latest tactic is a video game called “USA” that depicts what the world might be like if the Allied forces had won the war instead.
Eventually, the illegal game reaches to the attention of Captain Beniko Ishimura, the son of two refugees who were freed from the Japanese American internment camps at the end of the war. Ben’s role to censor video games ultimately leads him on a journey to investigate USA’s origins, putting him on a path of secrets, dangers and lies. Together with Agent Akiko Tsukino of the secret police, Ben goes looking for the rebels and discovers a whole lot more than he bargained for.
What I found most interesting about this book is its protagonist, a 39-year-old underachiever who has hit a dead end in his military career. He’s also indolent, cowardly, the worst kind of womanizer, and not even those closest to him will trust Ben as far as they can throw him. After all, this is a man who turned in his own parents for being traitors to the Japanese Empire. What kind of heartless monster does that?
But of course, there’s always more to the story. As events unfold, and we get to know Ben better, it becomes clear he is not the cold-blooded and deceitful snake his actions paint him out to be. In fact, he feels downright human, living an unambitious life and preferring to stay under the radar. In this world where the secret police can come knocking at your door anytime, when even the slightest or non-existent hint of dissension is suspected, Ben’s approach might in truth be the safest, smartest way to live. And after a while, our protagonist doesn’t actually seem like such a bad guy. Sure, Ben might be apathetic and faint-hearted, but he doesn’t seem capable of directly harming anyone. In time though, his character will develop further and make great strides, especially after he starts teaming up with Akiko. I was impressed at how both of them felt genuinely fleshed-out with complex, believable personalities. What’s on the surface is not always indicative of what’s on the inside.
At its heart, United States of Japan is also a political mystery-thriller. I enjoyed how the world was gradually revealed to us in all its horror and unpleasantness. It’s a dark tale, but fast-paced because of the perfect balance of action and suspense. The story holds an incredibly ambitious blend of concepts and themes, but never once did I feel that it was too much, or that any one element overshadowed another. I liked how the towering robots came into play and how video games had a significant role. Simply put, the plot came together like a well-oiled machine. Once you’re drawn into the intrigue, it’s hard to pull yourself out again.
My experience with the audiobook was interesting as well. This is the first time I’ve listened to a book read by Adam Sims, and I admit my first impression was not very favorable. However, either I got used to the narration or the performance eventually improved, because by the end, Sims’ reading didn’t feel as flat and there were more variations in the rhythm and inflection of his voices. It’s not the best performance I’ve ever heard in an audiobook, but it was more than satisfactory and I also thought Sims also did a good job with his accents and acting.
All told, United States of Japan is a fascinating venture into alternate history, and it is not to be underestimated. Highly recommended....more
Warcraft: Durotan is the official prequel novel to the Warcraft movie, set to hit theaters later this summer. As a fan of the game franchise, I almost feel like I have an obligation to go out and see this film, though whether or not it’ll actually be good remains to be seen. Call me cynical, but I’ve been burned way too many times by underwhelming movie adaptations, and so while part of me is excited to finally see one of my favorite games come to life on the big screen, I will also remain cautiously optimistic for now.
Still, I picked up this book because I knew I would want the background story. A lot of people don’t realize that Warcraft is more than just a game series—it’s also an immense, indescribably huge body of lore. Its world encompasses a countless number of locations and characters, and its history stretches back thousands upon thousands of years. And as much as I enjoy playing the games, in some ways I enjoy hearing about the stories even more. I love the epic tales of legendary heroes, reading about their great deeds and how they made their mark on the world of Warcraft and its history.
The Frostwolf orc clan chieftain Durotan is one of these legendary figures. The eponymous main character of this novel will also be one of the key players in the upcoming film, and this is the story of how he led his people out of the dying lands of Draenor to find their home in a new world.
When the book begins, Draenor is already on the brink of destruction. With the spirits of the elements weakened, winters are becoming increasingly harsher and the dwindling herds mean that the orcs will soon have to abandon their territory or face death by exposure and starvation. However, when a mysterious warlock named Gul’dan arrives with an offer to save them, the Frostwolf Clan decides to turn him away, preferring to maintain their independence. No stranger to tough times, Durotan believes it would be better to take their chances on their own rather than join the outsider’s “Horde”, especially since he does not trust the warlock. But while the Frostwolf may be one of the last clans to hold out, things in Draenor are going from bad to worse, and soon they too will have to make a decision on how to move forward, or risk dying with their homeland.
Believe it or not, finishing this book actually made me feel more confident about the movie. The events portrayed here offer us a solid foundation and a promise of some fantastic things to come. But then again, it’s Christie Golden. She’s written some of my favorite Warcraft and Star Wars novels of all time, and I knew even before going into this novel that it was going to be great. I’m beyond excited that this was everything I expected, especially since Durotan’s story was one that I’ve always wanted to get to know better.
I’m also pleased that this novel was entirely about the orcs. I say this even as a diehard Ally, as I honestly believe not enough attention is being given to the races of the Horde when it comes to media tie-ins, plus fantasy in general can be so human-centric. It’s easy to get caught up in the faction pride sometimes, reducing the “other guys” to nothing more but enemies to kill, but the truth is, orcs are a complex race with values deeply rooted in their society and culture. We get to see many examples of this in Warcraft: Durotan, as our protagonist realizes that being a leader is about more than just his strength and pride. Wisdom is just as important, as is compassion—even for your enemies. Durotan often finds himself torn between his honor and what he knows is best for his people, but knowing when to listen and when you have to sacrifice for the greater good are just some of the lessons he learns first as the Frostwolf’s chieftain, and then as a husband and a father-to-be. This book is simply filled to the brim with feels.
Kudos also goes to Toby Longworth for doing a superb job narrating the audio version. He has a very strong voice, great for reading fantasy novels and perfect for capturing the personalities of larger-than-life characters like Durotan. In addition, this audiobook was very easy to get into; at seven-and-a-half hours in length, I finished this one in good time, probably within two or three listening sessions. Finally, the audiobook ends with an audio excerpt of the “sequel”, which is the novelization of the movie itself, also written by Christie Golden.
If you plan on seeing Warcraft, I highly recommend picking up Warcraft: Durotan first, because it shows a larger picture and puts some of the movie’s events in context. Lore hounds will also love this book, especially if you want deeper insight into those who had a hand in shaping the face of Azeroth. All told, this is a wonderful, fascinating look into the life of Durotan, who is the loving mate of Draka, a contemporary of Orgrim Doomhammer, and the future father of one of Warcraft’s most prominent characters....more
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is definitely an audiobook you should avoid listening to in public, lest you want the people around you to think you’ve completely lost your mind. Folks generally don’t react well to someone bursting into spontaneous maniacal laugher, I find.
And to think, I almost let this gem pass me by! A book like this doesn’t technically fall under the Sci-fi and Fantasy purview, which is what I mostly read and review, but I could not resist checking this one out after learning about the MMORPG angle. From Ready Player One to Reamde, video games and gaming have been the inspiration for many works of speculative fiction, but of course not all gaming-related books are SFF. That doesn't mean I can't still geek out about them, though.
And geek out I did. If Nancy Drew were a millennial and grew up to become a gigantic mega super geek, you would probably get Dahlia Moss, the titular main character of this delightfully witty book. Thing is though, I can also see Dahlia being popular with more than just the geeky crowd; fans of underdog stories and readers who love rooting for the long-shot protagonist will be sure to love this book as well. Unemployed, flat out broke, and living off the largesse of her kooky roommate, Dahlia could not believe it when she was suddenly offered a job by some rich kid hiring her to track down a stolen object. Her only qualifications for the job appear to be 1) the one time she temped at a PI agency and 2) the fact that she has played Zoth, the massively multiplayer online game in which the theft itself actually took place.
That’s because the stolen object in question isn’t even a real object, but a bunch of pixels—more specifically, an ultra-rare spear that’s one of its kind in-game. It should be an easy enough job, Dahlia figures. All she has to do is to find out which of her employer’s guildies made off with the highly coveted weapon and call it a day. But then, that’s when things start to get weird. Jonah, the client who hired her, ends up dead the next day, skewered through by a very real, very sharp full-scale replica of the pixelated spear that was stolen from his Zoth account, right down to the very last gem stone.
Dahlia’s hunt for a thief soon becomes one for a murderer in this quirky little whodunit. Sure, our protagonist is not exactly the most savvy of detectives, but that’s all part of her charm, along with her propensity to leap into situations without thinking them through (this book isn’t titled The Competent and Well-thought Out Decisions of Dahlia Moss for good reason). She also has this bad habit of digressing a lot, but those runaway trains of thought often lead to hilarious asides about geeky pop culture and gaming references, so I let a lot of that slide seeing how Dahlia is a woman after my own heart. I also pardoned the character of her roommate, who is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, as well as the many times this story grew too silly to the point of absurdity. Still, I couldn’t believe how often I literally laughed out loud at Dahlia’s exploits. With me, that happens to go a long way.
Also, books about MMORPGs really get to me. Especially books about friendships in MMORPGs. Even if you don’t consider yourself this book’s audience, I think you’ll be touched by some of these relationships. I’ve known some of the people I play MMOs with for years and there’s definitely a unique culture among online gamers; tight guilds often have their own code and customs, which is even more pronounced on RP servers. Though you’ll likely never meet most of your online gaming friends face-to-face, you definitely connect with them on a whole other level (no pun intended). I love how this book taps into all that, and I totally found myself relating to a lot of the characters.
A final shout-out has to go to Lauren Fortgang, the narrator. I’ve listened to her work in the past (most recently in the audio production of Six of Crows) and it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. She has so much more energy as the voice of Dahlia Moss. Audiobooks are always so much more enjoyable to listen to when you can tell the narrator is really getting into the performance (this is why I loved The Martian audiobook so much) and this is most certainly the case with this book and Ms. Fortgang. All her sardonic inflections and snarky deliveries were spot on. Just a brilliant, brilliant performance.
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss was just an all-around fun book. You can bet I’ll be telling all my gamer friends about it, though I am also highly recommending this book to both geeks and non-geeks. Simply put, it’s awesome!...more
You have to hand it to Blizzard—when it comes to creating the coolest and most badass villains, they sure know their craft. Even those who are only peripherally aware of their wildly popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft should be familiar with Illidan Stormrage, also known as “The Betrayer”, but just in case a reminder is needed, we’re talking about this cheerful gentle-elf right here:
In a nutshell, Illidan is the story of how our eponymous character earned his epithet and his resulting release after 10,000 years of imprisonment, after which he then went on a tour of Outland, vowing to drive back the Burning Legion. But of course, his methods leave a lot to be desired, especially to those disturbed by Illidan’s recruitment of fel orcs, naga, blood elves, and other twisted undesirables to his cause. The self-proclaimed Lord of Outland even goes as far as to train his own elite army of Demon Hunters, putting aspirants through a number of grueling and barbaric tasks to weed out the best of the best. Illidan may be the only one who can stand against the Legion, but there’s also nothing to hold him back once he sets his eyes on a goal.
Of those who have never trusted Illidan and believe that letting him out of his lightless prison was the worst mistake the Night Elf leaders could ever make, Maiev Shadowsong is perhaps his greatest and most bitter detractor. Formerly his jailer, Maiev is utterly convinced that Illidan is orchestrating another power grab, so she starts amassing her own army of Broken and other denizens of Outland in order to put the Betrayer down once and for all.
Fans of World of Warcraft will probably recognize this description as the sequence of events leading up to and surrounding the game’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade (which, in my opinion, was the best WoW xpac). For a scatterbrained individual like myself though, who is frequently fuzzy on the lore and is forever forgetting a bunch of details behind the characters, timeline, and major happenings in the game because its world is just so damn big, these kinds of books are actually amazing in terms of providing a full and expressive narrative. That said, if you are new to the Warcraft universe, this might not the best place to start picking up the books. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a quick crash course on the history of Illidan and his army of Demon Hunters to get ready for the impending expansion Legion, then this is the perfect novel for you. Admittedly, the desire to know more about the story behind the upcoming new hero class was what spurred my own motivation to pick up this book. “You are not prepared”? Whatevs, I’m trying.
Illidan by William King pretty much does for the Betrayer what Arthas by Christie Golden did for the Lich King. Basically, we may already know the gist of the story, but the novelization gives us a deeper insight into the minds and deeds of WoW’s greatest big baddies. I got to know the character a lot more, and even when I didn’t agree with his warped ideals, at least I felt like I was given a reason to care and understand why he did the things he did. I also liked the portrayal of Maiev Shadowsong, whose hatred for Illidan is practically legendary. The fact is though, Maiev and Illidan may have more in common than she would like to admit. While it isn’t exactly a new idea, I thought this book did a really good job depicting their relationship by painting them as two sides of the same coin.
As far as I know, this is the author’s first novel in the Warcraft universe, and it was also my first experience with his writing. I was impressed, especially given that my expectations for media tie-in novels are higher these days. Even though I thought the prose was somewhat clunky at first, it smoothed out as the book progressed, and King also writes excellent fight scenes and gives those big battles the epicness they deserve. Illidan might actually be the best World of Warcraft book I’ve read in years, probably since The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, and I certainly enjoyed it more than a lot of the recent “character-focused” novels like Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, Wolfheart, or even the book about Illidan’s own twin, Stormrage.
In the end though, I suspect what will interest readers most about Illidan is the wealth of background information into the forthcoming Demon Hunter class. In this novel is a character arc about a Night Elf recruit named Vandel who is made to go through a horrifying and very brutal process to become a Demon Hunter. Are they giving us a glimpse into some of the content and quest lines we’ll be seeing in Legion, perhaps? There’s no doubt I’ll be rolling one, so I guess we shall all soon see.
Developed by Portalarium and directed by video game legend Richard Garriott, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is a game I’ve been following since it was publicly announced in 2013. In the spring of that same year, the project was also funded on Kickstarter, raising nearly $2 million. While the official launch date is still to come in late 2016, as a backer I’ve been able to dabble in early access, and so far I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve seen. So impressed, that I immediately added The Sword of Midras to my reading list.
(Note: This book is also sometimes known as Blade of the Avatar, which was included in serial format as a pledge reward at some backer levels, but they are not exactly the same as far as I know. The Sword of Midras is an “updated” version that contains some extra content—at least four extra chapters.)
If you want to find out more about the world in which Shroud of the Avatar takes place, then The Sword of Midras is a great place to start. Being relatively new to the game lore myself, I enjoyed learning more about the setting of New Britannia and the people who make it their home. This novel takes place approximately two hundred years before the game. It provides some history, introducing readers to a world that died during a catastrophic event known as the Fall. For a long time, those who survived managed to carve out a living for themselves in a land left wild and chaotic after the departure of powerful beings known as the Avatars. Then, the Obsidians came. Their armies subjugated the people using dark magic, and claimed that in doing so they brought law and order to the world.
The story follows a captain in the Obsidian Army named Aren Bennis. One day, while reconnoitering with a scout named Syenna, the two of them stumble upon a mysterious sword in an ancient ruin. Against the warnings of Syenna, who believes the sword could be cursed, Aren picks up the weapon anyway and is staggered to discover its magical properties—and the fact that he is the only one who can wield it. Unfortunately for him, there are plenty who have theories about the sword’s origins, but even more who want to use it for their own gain. And as the only person who can hold the blade without experiencing the negative effects, Aren finds himself caught in the middle of many conflicting agendas.
If you’re not acquainted with the world and the history from the game, that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying this book. It might, however, make this story seem somewhat sparse and conventional compared to other high fantasy novels. I’m guessing Shroud of the Avatar fans and lore buffs are the ones who will probably get the most out of this one, and it’s also rather light and reads very quickly. In other words, nothing really sets The Sword of Midras above other tie-ins of its type, so adjust expectations accordingly.
That said though, the authors do a great up keeping up an energetic pace, and I thought both plot and characters were very interesting. The book also sets up the historical context nicely, featuring some places that will be familiar to players of the game. I enjoyed the character of Aren, whom we spend the most time with in this story. He starts off as your typical Obsidian army officer, but gradually, the mysterious powers of the sword changes him, and makes him contemplate other points of view. A strong supporting cast also provides plenty of opportunities for fascinating relationships to develop.
Audiobook Comments: I was also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to listen to the audio edition of The Sword of Midras. Narrator Derek Perkins is new to me, but I knew right from the start that his voice would be a good fit. His reading made it easy to get into the story, even the slower sections that involve more descriptive detail (and there are plenty examples of this, especially when characters arrive at new places.) His dialogue is also animated and distinguishable, with emotion in all the right places, and I really have no complaints with overall his performance. Overall, this audiobook is one I would recommend, especially if you prefer this format for your lighter reads.
From what I hear, The Sword of Midras is only the first of a planned trilogy. I’m definitely open to checking out the next two books, and hopefully by then the game would be in full swing too, because I really enjoy spending time in this world!...more
Let me start my review of The Flux the same way I started my review of the first book Flex. There was some of this:
And then some of this:
As well as this:
By the way, if you haven’t read Flex yet, I highly recommend picking it up first because you’ll definitely want the complete ‘Mancer experience. If nothing else, getting the full rundown of the magic system will be worth it, because this series features some of the most intricate and unique concepts I’ve ever seen.
Imagine a world where magic is based around obsession. Love something hard enough—whether it be cats, cooking, or donuts—and it might just actually become your special power, giving you the ability to shape reality to your vision. As you can imagine, the possibilities are virtually limitless. For instance, protagonist Paul Tsabo (he loves paperwork, God help him) is a bureacromancer, and his friend and partner in crime Valentine is a videogamemancer (three guesses what her favorite hobby is?)
In The Flux, a third ‘mancer character also rises to prominence—Paul’s own daughter Aliyah Tsabo-Dawson. The events at the end of Flex might have turned her into the world’s most dangerous eight-year-old, but to Paul she’ll always be his little girl. It’s now up to him to hide Aliyah’s secret and protect her from those who will want to use her or do her harm. But Paul is living a double life himself, hunting rogue ‘mancers for the government by day and brewing magical drugs by night. To make matters worse, there’s now a new power-player in town called “The King of New York” and he’s got Paul and Valentine in his sights.
Like its predecessor, The Flux was pure geek escapism. In general I still think Flex was the better book, though I liked certain aspects of this sequel more. For one thing, Valentine plays a much bigger role. I remember being so excited when I realized that was her on the cover. She’s my favorite character in this series, and not just because she has great taste in video games. I am totally in love her offbeat personality, and her confidence also makes her a force to be reckoned with. Because of her, the plot is also heavier on videogamemancy. Needless to say, I was right where I wanted to be. We’re talking loads more gaming references, which to me was one of the best things about Flex. Gamers will no doubt experience multiple nerdgasms while reading this series, though in truth, I think anyone can appreciate the humor and action in these books.
Speaking of which, The Flux also introduces Valentine’s new friend Tyler Durden, whom I hope we’ll be seeing again soon in some way, shape or form. Yes, I said Tyler Durden. Didn’t I say the possibilities were limitless?
Okay, so maybe this book went just a tad overboard with the pop culture references. Which is why I’m thankful for the story’s focus on family again, especially the father-daughter bond between Paul and Aliyah. In this book, Paul faces the challenges of raising an angry and traumatized little girl, while Aliyah realizes that her father doesn’t have all the answers. If it weren’t for the emotional hurdles, ‘Mancer might have been just another entertaining yet hollow urban fantasy series, but the emphasis on relationship dynamics gives both the characters and story much needed depth.
Final thoughts on the audiobook: I started the series in this format, so I decided to continue in this format, and I am quite happy with my decision. Peter Brooke is fantastic with voices (especially with his New Yorker accent) and in my opinion the only character he faltered with was Aliyah. Granted, this probably has something to do with her written dialogue itself, which I didn’t find convincing. Still, there’s a very good chance I’ll do the third book in audio too. All in all, well worth the listen!...more
As soon as I heard about Arena, I knew I had to read it – especially after finding out its premise and learning about how the idea was conceived. As a lifelong gamer, author Holly Jennings was inspired by eSports and its role in the future of video games, as well as the current issues making waves in the industry today. Needless to say, my own fascination and love for gaming naturally led me to her debut novel, but I was also curious and excited to see some of these social themes would be handled in the book.
Turns out, Arena is about a lot more than its blurb promises. One part science fiction drama, one part action-packed suspense, and one part steamy romance, the book follows the trials and tribulations of protagonist Kali Ling, professional gamer and the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League. The year is 2054, and major technological advancements in virtual reality have vaulted video gamers into the spotlight. Once hooked into the system, players essentially become their avatars, participating in encounters that look and feel real. Player-versus-player arena battles to the digital death are broadcast live to the delight of millions of fans who see this as a harmless way to enjoy the brutality and bloodshed. The VGL Championship game has become the new Super Bowl, and its players are the world’s new celebrities.
Kali is living the life she’s always dreamed of, competing for her shot at the finals when suddenly her team, Defiance, is hit by two major setbacks. First, they lose badly in the opening round to InvictUS, a talented new team that has seemingly come out of nowhere to take the league by storm. Second, that very same night, Defiance loses their member Nathan to a fatal drug overdose. Traumatized, Kali is haunted by scenarios where she could have saved Nathan, if only she had seen the problem or done something differently. The guilt eats away at her, throwing her off her game. It also doesn’t help that Nathan’s replacement, Rooke, is proving extremely difficult to work with. Defiance now only has one more chance to win the championship, and no mistakes can be made. In order to get her team back on track, Kali will have to find her balance before she spirals further out of control, destroyed by the very thing she loves.
On the surface, Arena would appear to be every gamer’s private fantasy. Games feel more realistic and immersive than ever before. Players are able to literally step into their characters’ shoes, competing for higher stakes and greater rewards. Gaming, which once was a hobby ridiculed and looked down upon in the past as a frivolous waste of time, is now the most popular sport on the planet. There’s no longer a stigma associated with being a “gamer geek”; if you are good at the games you play, you actually have the opportunity to go pro and be worshiped by a legion of adoring fans. Holly Jennings plays up the intensity of the action, both on and offline. Every weekend, teams of five meet in the arena and battle each other for victory, but the rest of the time, they’re either training rigorously to maintain peak physical condition, or out there hitting the media circuit and club scene to maintain their image. Just because gaming has reached a whole new level, it doesn’t mean that the players have stopped roleplaying. The scope of it has simply expanded, with the RP happening in front of cameras for the entire world.
At the same time, the dark side of gaming rears its ugly head. In a lot of ways, Arena can be seen as an allegory for some of the problems we see in gaming today, like sexism and the stereotypes that gamers face. Kali’s gender and half-Chinese heritage is a point that comes up a lot in the course of this novel, sometimes as a barrier and at other times as a selling point to be used by Defiance’s team owner. The book’s narrative also encompasses the cutthroat world of professional sports, exploring the physical and mental stresses of trying to stay relevant in a world where fandom is fluid and heroes are disposable as yesterday’s leftovers. The VGL only wants to show its viewers the glamorous side of the sport, covering up scandals like drug use. Gaming addiction, which is an issue the gaming industry faces today, is addressed as well. Where does the fun end and the obsession begin? And when a favorite hobby starts leading to unwanted obligations, does that also take away some of the joy?
I really enjoyed this novel, precisely because it asks some of these important questions. However, I was also a little surprised by the Young Adult vibes I got from it. Some concessions were made, sacrificing the complexity of the plot as well as the depth of world-building. We get little about the world outside the limited sphere of the VGL that we see through Kali’s eyes, and the story is also on the relatively simplistic side with a predictable ending that ties things together a little too neatly. There were some inconsistencies in the plot and character motivations, such as the team owner’s insistence that the team going out to party instead of staying in and training, when training is the clearer path to success and victory. Staying visible for the sake of the sponsors is important, but I imagine it would matter even more to the sponsors to have their teams win. I also wondered at lack of media coverage for InvictUS. They are the rising stars killing the competition, and should have been the ones dominating the magazine covers instead of Kali and Rooke’s love life, yet no one seems to know who they are or where they came from because details like that are overshadowed by the heavier emphasis on the story’s romance. In some respects, I feel this novel might appeal more to a teen/YA audience, despite its more serious concepts and older protagonists. This isn’t necessarily a criticism though, since I can see Arena as a book with great adult and YA crossover appeal, and I also frequently delve into the YA genre. In the end, despite some minor bumps along the road, I did have an excellent time with this story.
All told, this was a lot of fun. Arena is a powerful and dynamic multilayered experience: pure excellent popcorn entertainment for the win, with some deeper themes to chew on for the bonus round. If you’re a gamer or a reader with a passion for fiction about video games, you have to do yourself a favor and check this one out. Holly Jennings’ debut is a fast-paced, gripping read that will keep you turning the pages....more
From Star Wars: X-Wing to Star Wars: The Old Republic, high-profile Star Wars video games have been inspiring their own novel tie-ins for many years. In the spring of 2015, gamers and readers everywhere were delighted to learn that the highly anticipated Star Wars Battlefront will be getting the same treatment.
This book, titled Battlefront: Twilight Company, tells the story of the eponymous Rebel Alliance army unit also known as the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry. Recruited from all over the galaxy, the men and women of this ragtag outfit have very little in common, save for one thing – a fervent desire to fight the Empire. In the wake of the Alliance’s first major victory at the Battle of Yavin, the rebels are pressing their advantage, making the push into Imperial territory. However, the enemy has increased its presence on the Mid Rim worlds, ready to stamp out even the tiniest spark of resistance before it can spread, and Twilight Company has little choice but to fall back.
The central character of this novel is Sergeant Hazram Namir. While other units have perished, Twilight Company has always survived by rallying around their charismatic commander Captain Micha “Howl” Evon, whom Namir dislikes but grudgingly respects. However, after the capture of Imperial governor Everi Chalis, Namir seriously begins to doubt Howl’s decision to offer the prisoner protection in return for what she knows about the Empire’s tactics. Namir does not trust the former governor, and worse yet, her capture seems to have drawn some unwanted attention from some of the Emperor’s closest agents, including quite possibly Darth Vader himself.
In many ways, Battlefront: Twilight Company is in keeping with the tone and style of several other recent book releases in the new Star Wars canon. We’re moving away from the big players and main events of the universe to delve deeper into both sides of the Galactic Civil War. This book can be considered a “boots on the ground” look at life as a soldier in the Rebel Alliance, with Twilight Company illustrating the examples of the types of men and women who join the rebellion. It also shows the Alliance in stark contrast to the rigidly hierarchical and highly ordered Empire. Still, there is a method to the madness; many scenes show how the rebel army solves its problems in irregular albeit very effective ways.
In Sergeant Namir, we have the familiar stereotype of the jaded, hardened soldier. Unlike a lot of stories featuring this kind of character though, Namir never really changes his views or experiences any big epiphany, not even by the end of the book. But even if he fails to endear himself to the reader, it’s still a refreshing change to see a rebel fighter in a Star Wars novel who isn’t a hundred percent dedicated to the cause. For Namir, every war is the same. All he wants to do is survive and protect Twilight Company, which is why unlike a lot of his comrades, Namir does not blindly accept orders from Howl or his other superior officers if he feels they are threat to his people. There’s something to admire about that.
That said, there are other aspects of the book which I felt were weaker. Many of the battle scenes felt overly drawn out or contrived, probably a hat tip to the Star Wars Battlefront game more than anything. On the one hand, exceptionally detailed descriptions of the fighting gave a very good sense of what was going on. But often, these action scenes also lacked a certain spirit or cogency. As a result, I constantly found myself thinking, “This is something I’d much rather be playing than reading.”
Then, there’s the structure of the narrative. We jump around in time quite a bit, with frequent flashbacks to Namir’s earlier life. There are also the handful of chapters scattered throughout the book following the perspectives of characters other than Namir or the soldiers of Twilight Company. These characters, including the story’s main villain, don’t really get the chance to become fully developed. I hate to say it, but in many respects, they feel very much like video game characters, NPCs who are conveniently slotted in for a cutscene or two.
Issues aside, however, this was still a pretty solid debut for first-time novelist but longtime comics, games, and short stories writer Alexander Freed. I’ve read dozens of Star Wars titles including all the adult novels in the new canon so far, and Battlefront: Twilight Company is well above average. It’s not for everyone, but I would definitely recommend it for diehard fans of Star Wars and Star Wars Battlefront enthusiasts. If nothing else, reading this book has gotten me even more excited for the release of the game, so that’s one major goal achieved!...more
At first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiplAt first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiple narrators were involved in this project, and for the most part the actors and actresses were all well-matched to the stories they read. All the narrators delivered impressive performances, considering how not every story here was written in a conventional style, or at least in one that would easily translate to audio.
The stories themselves, though, were another matter. Press Start to Play was a good anthology, but I admit I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I’ve always been picky with short stories, but I really thought my interest in the topic of video games would help me with this one, but in the end this was just a very average collection, with most stories falling in the mediocre to good range. More disappointing is the presence of a few stories that only had a tenuous link to the subject, and even a couple that I felt had no place in an anthology that should be a celebration of video games. That said, there were a handful of exceptional ones that I felt really stood out. For a more in-depth analysis and my feelings for each story, see below:
“God Mode” by Daniel H. Wilson – 2.5 of 5 stars The protagonist of this story is an American studying abroad in Australia. He starts dating a fellow American student named Sarah, who one day suddenly fall and hits her head, and all of a sudden the stars in the sky start disappearing. I think the ending was meant to be more heartfelt and profound, but the delivery really fell flat. Quite frankly, I was disappointed by such a mediocre opener for this anthology, and even now I can barely remember that many details from this first story.
“NPC” by Charles Yu – 2 of 5 stars The title of this story gives us all the clues we need as to what it’s about. What happens when an NPC experiences an epiphany and isn’t sure if he wants to be something more? This was an interesting premise, but sadly neither the story nor the character was fleshed out nearly enough to be interesting.
“Respawn” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – 3 of 5 stars A regular guy discovers when he is killed that his consciousness has “jumped” into the body of his killer. This story reminded me a little bit of Claire North’s Touch. It was a cool concept, and I would have liked to see it carried further, but whether it really belongs in a video game themed anthology is debatable.
“Desert Walk” by S. R. Mastrantone – 4 of 5 stars This was a nifty little ghost story, which started out one way and ended in a way I totally did not see coming. When I started this anthology, I expected to get a lot of different kinds of stories, but I admit I didn’t expect anything with a horror element. This one was pretty awesome and creepy.
“Rat Catcher’s Yellows” by Charlie Jane Anders – 3 of 5 stars One of the best things about this anthology was getting a chance to read work from authors I’ve been curious about for a long time. I enjoyed this story, at least in the beginning. It’s a quirky and interesting take on a social game and a subset of its players with a unique disease that causes dementia. I was a little disappointed by the ending, though. I’d thought there would be more and was surprised when the next story started up.
“1UP” by Holly Black – 3.5 of 5 stars This was another story by an author I’ve wanted to check out for a while! Three teens go to the funeral one of their online gaming friends, and find a text-based game that he wrote on his computer. It turns out to be a clue to solve his apparent murder. Again, I loved the premise but this definitely would have worked better as a full-length novel. What a great YA mystery it would have made!
“Survival Horror” by Seanan McGuire – 2 of 5 stars I suspected and later confirmed that this story is based on the world of McGuire’s InCryptid series, which I confess I know absolutely nothing about. No wonder I felt so confused. To be honest, I hate finding these types of stories in anthologies like this, because as hard as the author tries to catch you up with the world and who’s who in it, it just doesn’t feel the same. If you are familiar with InCryptic you might find yourself enjoying this one, but personally I felt no connection to any of these characters and couldn’t make myself care what happened to them.
“Real” by Django Wexler – 3.5 of 5 stars I’m a big fan of the author, so I was pretty excited to read this. Our mysterious protagonist tries to track down the creator of a game that lets its players feel involved by using social media to discover demons and hidden runes. The idea gave me ARG vibes. A very cool story with an interesting twist ending.
“Outliers” by Nicole Feldringer – 2.5 of 5 stars I think I would have liked this one more if I had understood it. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too technical. The main character is a woman who is obsessed with a game that tracks weather patterns for the government, and was even willing to skip her brother’s wedding to play it, which really didn’t help me sympathize with her.
“End Game” by Chris Avellone – 3.5 of 5 stars I thought this was fun! A very interesting execution using the idea behind text-based games, but unfortunately, all the suspense eventually built up to…a fizzle. This is one of the biggest issues I find with the stories in this anthology; so few of them have real or satisfying endings.
“Save Me PLZ” by David Barr Kirtley – 4 of 5 stars A sweet little story that starts with a young woman named Meg getting in to her car to find her ex-boyfriend, Devon. The real world and the virtual world collide as she is tasked to embark on a quest to rescue him. This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
“The Relive Box” by T.C.Boyle – 3.5 of 5 stars A bittersweet story about a character obsessed with using a device called a Relive Box to keep experiencing the joys and heartbreaks of his past, meanwhile ignoring his daughter and his work in his very real present and future. I like its sad message about why we might want to relive old memories instead of going out to seize the day, creating new ones. It ended rather abruptly, which was my only criticism.
“Roguelike” by Marc Laidlaw – 4 of 5 stars Repetitive and simple, but oh so hilarious! Again, it makes use of the text-based game format to tell a little tale about a very persistent resistance and the fates of all their doomed agents. The story reads like an elaborate joke, but I loved the punchline. I found it very enjoyable in spite of myself.
“All of the People in Your Party Have Died” by Robin Wasserman – 3.5 of 5 stars A darkly comedic tale about The Oregon Trail as a game of life lessons to prepare you for the death of all the people you know and love to tragic accidents, and just bad shit in general. The character in this story discovers the game and becomes obsessed with it after the game starts doing strange things. I really liked where it was going, but then everything started unraveled towards the end. Definitely didn’t like the second half as much as I did the first.
“Recoil” By Micky Neilson – 4 of 5 stars This was one of the more complete and coherent stories in this collection, and the author created a very suspenseful atmosphere to boot. Jimmy is our protagonist, staying late at the office to test a new game, and suddenly finds himself in a hostage situation. This story also had a twist ending, but this one I actually liked. Another of my favorites in this anthology.
“Anda’s Game” by Cory Doctorow – 3 of 5 stars Anda joins a band of elite girl gamers and kicks ass in the virtual world, but in real life she is an average and unassuming schoolgirl. Her online teammates are everything to her, but then something happens that might jeopardize all her newfound happiness. An interesting story about taking a stand for what you believe in, but not one that really stood out for me.
“Coma Kings” by Jessica Barber – 3 of 5 stars A touching but depressing story about two sisters who bond in game, but one is in a coma so she has to play via an implant in her brain. For the protagonist, this is the only way she can have any interaction with her sister. I enjoyed the premise and thought this story showed great promise, but I wish the ending had been stronger and more meaningful.
“Stats” by Marguerite K. Bennett – 3 of 5 stars Don’t you just hate it when your stats get nerfed? The character Joey in this story is not a very nice person, so I didn’t feel too bad for him when his body started changing. I love the attitude behind this story, and it was okay in its execution.
“Please Continue” by Chris Kluwe – 1 of 5 stars My least favorite story yet, and frankly it annoyed the hell out of me. Essentially it was a warning not to let gaming take over your life, but it came across really preachy and pretentious. The message is good, but why go about it in such a clichéd and uninteresting way? And oh, yet another unfunny application of the old “arrow to the knee” joke. How awkward. By the end, this didn’t even read like a story, more like a lecture from some nagging parent. It didn’t feel like a good fit for this anthology.
“Creation Screen” by Rhianna Pratchett – 3 of 5 stars Speaking of stories that have messages about becoming too obsessed with gaming, here’s another one. However, it was much more creative and elegant than “Please Continue”, and the beginning actually amused me a great deal. I happen to be one of those finicky MMO players who take an inordinate amount of time trying to get my character “just right.”
“The Fresh Prince of Gamma World” by Austin Grossman – 3 of 5 stars A gamer gets transported to an alternate world which has experienced a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a pretty interesting story, though once again, it didn’t fully engage me or stand out. I enjoyed the premise and setting, and perhaps I felt a greater affinity for it since Gamma World takes place in a post-apocalyptic Boston and I happen to be neck-deep in Fallout 4 right now.
“Gamer’s End” by Yoon Ha Lee – 3 of 5 stars The title of this story should tell you something about what it is about, i.e. the use of war games for training. Nothing much I can say about this one, other than it was okay but didn’t blow me away either, and nothing about it really stood out.
“The Clockwork Solider” by Ken Liu – 4 of 5 stars Alex is a female bounty hunter who captures a runaway named Ryder to bring back to his family. This is the first time in this anthology where I actually felt something more than ambivalence for the characters in a story. It’s another one that uses text-based gaming for its premise, but I found it philosophically deeper and a lot more thought-provoking than all the other stories in here.
“Killswitch” by Catherynne M. Valente – 3 of 5 stars In this story, Killswitch is a game that starts off like any other first-person adventure game. But it doesn’t end that way. I liked what this story had to say about games versus real life, about having one shot, one chance to experience a moment before it becomes a memory. I appreciated its poignant message, but for some reason I had a very hard time staying focused throughout. Maybe it’s just the style in which this story was written, but I found it really hard to connect to the prose.
“Twarrior” by Andy Weir – 3 of 5 stars This is a real short one, and feels more like snippet or an introduction to a bigger story, but hey, it got a few laughs out of me and that counts for a lot in my books. Andy Weir is one funny guy.
“Select Character” by Hugh Howey – 4 of 5 stars Play as thou wilt—a message I strongly support. Maybe that’s why I liked this one so much. It’s a very enjoyable story showing how different people approach games, and reminds me a lot of the conversations I’ve had with others about different gameplay styles. Only one thing matters: that you play the way you want and have fun doing it. Also, be open to other gaming styles. Sometimes when you play only one way, you might even miss things that you’d never have known until you talk to someone else who has a whole other perspective. What a great story to end the anthology....more
Okay, I loved Flex. And not least because there was some of this:
Oh and also throw in a bit of this to boot:
But wait, maybe I should back up a bit. You want to know what the story is actually about. Well, welcome to the world of Flex, where it’s actually possible to love a thing so much, the power of your obsession can kick the laws of physics in the ass so hard that reality literally comes undone. This is what gives rise to the many different kinds of magic users. You get illustromancers. Deathmetalmancers. Collectomancers! Or even videogamemancers. In the case of Flex protagonist Paul Tsabo, he loves his job as a number-cruncher at his insurance company SO MUCH that he’s turned paperwork into more than just an art. He’s become a bureaucromancer, and this means he can work magic on anything in the world, as long as what he needs is logged somewhere on paper.
Thing is, if you’re not a ‘mancer, you can still use magic. Distilled magic can come in the form of crystallized Flex, a powerful drug brewed by ‘mancers. But working ‘mancy and using Flex can cause one hell of a blowback. Maybe with the power of Flex you can twist reality to match your vision – but only for a time. After the effects wear off, the backlash called Flux will hit. Because if there’s one thing the universe hates more than anything, it’s being bent to a magic user’s will. It will fight back with a vengeance, and you can bet the universe always wins.
So there’s a good reason why the general public doesn’t trust ‘mancers; the effects of their magic defy normality and prediction, and chaos typically follows where they go. For this reason, Paul has gone to great lengths to hide his bureaucromancy. But now there’s a dangerous ‘mancer known as Anathema out there, brewing some very powerful Flex. It’s causing a lot of accidents, a lot of deaths. One night, Paul and his daughter Aliyah become Anathema’s victims when a Flex user in his apartment causes a gas main to blow up. Paul’s ‘mancy saves his daughter’s life, but the little girl still ends up badly burned. To come up with the money for Aliyah’s reconstructive surgery, Paul must find a way to use his bureaucromancy without causing the Flux that will make things worse. And to do that, he must find a mentor.
Enter Valentine. The gamemancer. My heroine.
First I have to tell you that I’m a sucker for any book or story that has to do with video games. When I discovered what Valentine’s power meant, I had myself a squee moment. Flex is one of those books that worked perfectly for me, because it hit that special sweet spot balancing a complex magic system with all-out fun. The world of ‘mancy is full of potential and the possibility of pretty much any kind of ‘mancer you can think of, but all of it still works within the confines of rules that make sense.
Flex is also a book that’s full of heart. After all, so much of ‘mancy and becoming a ‘mancer has its roots in emotion. It’s about love and obsession, both the healthy and unhealthy kind. It’s the idea that you can want or believe in something so hard that the sheer force of that power will make it happen. For that reason, ‘mancers aren’t always happy people. Some are lonely. Some are angry. Some are lost and afraid. When push comes to shove, their obsessions and resulting ‘mancy are literally their ways to escape from the real world. And when it comes to Valentine, video games as escapism is something I can sympathize with and understand. More often than not though, the magic just makes ‘mancers feel even more alone and marginalized.
And also, who can blame Paul, the father who only wants the best for his daughter, even if it means seeking out a killer to help him give Aliyah the chance for a normal life? Flex is a thrilling journey through the dark underbelly of the drug trade, but it’s also about friendship and devotion and finding acceptance. It’s also a story about the desperate hunt for an evil villain, but one that will also allow you to geek out big time.
And geek out I did. I also laughed. And screamed. No doubt about it, Flex is the most fun I’ve had with a book in a long time. I was so glad when the audiobook finally released, because I had been wanting to read it forever, in part due to the amazing things I’ve heard from other reviewers. Now I understand what everyone was raving about. I’m a bit in love with this book. Can’t wait for the next one! Highly recommended....more
It’s not too often I come across a unique and original concept in urban fantasy, but move over denizens of the world of the paranormal and say hello to a brand new breed of fae. The first book introduced us to John Golden, the protagonist of this clever, snappy series with an interesting mix of UF and techno-geek elements. He’s a “debugger”, an individual with special talents hired by corporate clients to go inside their computer systems in order to eliminate the gremlins, sprites and other faery creatures wreaking havoc on their networks. Needless to say, I loved this concept. It sure gives a whole new perspective on computer bugs, glitches and viruses.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, not long after I found out about John Golden, I heard author Django Wexler tease the next installment of this series. Not only was book two going to have a gamer angle, it was going to be satirizing the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. That MMORPG is, of course, World of Warcraft.
In John Golden’s universe, it becomes “Heroes of Mazaroth”. On what was supposed to be a routine debugging mission for a financial company, our protagonist somehow finds himself trapped in the game’s fantasy realm, suckered into taking the place of a Dark Lord raid boss, doomed to be farmed by a never-ending army of player-adventurers forever and ever…unless John and his sister-in-a-Dell-Inspiron Sarah can change the story and find a way out of this epic mix-up.
Simply put, these John Golden books a whole lot of fun. You can tell the author had a good time writing these books. Wexler has been in IT and is a gamer, injecting his own sense of humor and perspective of these topics into this series in a way that he can’t in his epic fantasy. John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is filled to the brim with all the right stuff which makes the urban fantasy genre such a blast to read. The pop culture jokes, and geek and gamer humor had me laughing out loud throughout.
“I’d seen some weird fairies in my time—driver-eating ogres, hydras made out of HR spreadsheets, a whole tribe of elves that worshipped the MS Word paperclip as a god…”
Sarah Golden is also delightfully hilarious, as always. She’s such a wonderful character. A distinguishing and highly entertaining feature of these books, her footnotes provide a running commentary on John’s adventures and misadventures, and let’s face it: there is no one more uniquely suited to give us insight into someone’s personality than his her own sibling, am I right? Sarah’s remarks often poke fun at John endearingly, and other times they give us more information about the world of the Wildernet and its fae. Either way, it’s great. The first book John Golden: Freelance Debugger has a bit of backstory about why she no longer has a physical body, her consciousness instead residing in a laptop, and it’s definitely not to be missed. I hope future books will continue building upon Sarah’s character, and the awesome dynamic between her and John in general.
What can I say? I just loved this book. You don’t need to be an IT person to get this book and you certainly don’t need to be an online gamer. But if you’re familiar with playing MMORPGs and World of Warcraft, there will be a lot of Easter eggs that will have you smiling. Gaming has been a long-time passion of mine, especially when it comes to MMOs, and WoW and I have a long and interesting history. I’ve played it for years and still work it into my gaming repertoire now and then despite the mountain of other MMO titles I play, so maybe I’m a little biased but I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth as soon as I learned its premise. But it really is a fantastically entertaining book.
Though Heroes of Mazaroth can absolutely be read as a standalone, I recommend reading both books in this series. John Golden is awesome and you’re going to get a lot of great background into the world. These are also quick, bite-sized adventures that can be enjoyed in a single sitting.
And now if you’ll excuse me, Warlords of Draenor is on the horizon and after this book I have a hankering to do me some LFRs....more
For fans of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, I don’t think there’s any other book coming out this year as highly anticipated as his second novel Armada. The new book is again a novel with pop culture references galore, but whereas Ready Player One was like a love letter to the 80s set in not-too-distant future, Armada takes place in present day with a shift in focus to all things sci-fi and gaming.
Needless to say, as an avid gamer with particular penchant towards massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, I must shamelessly confess to having a natural inclination to stories of this type; more than once, reading Armada made me wish that Eve Online and Dust 514 played like the games described in the book, or that Star Citizen was released already. And I think if you enjoyed Ready Player One, you might enjoy this one too. In many ways the two books are different, but in many ways they are similar as well — both are stories about average young men in the position to save the world, thanks to their super awesome Powers of the Geek!
We begin the story with an introduction to our protagonist Zack Lightman, worrying that he might be losing his mind. Staring outside the window during one his boring senior math classes, Zack spies a flying saucer in the sky, and not just any kind of flying saucer. The spaceship looks exactly like an enemy Glaive fighter in Armada, his favorite first-person space combat flight sim MMO. In the game, players from all over take the role of drone pilots, controlling Earth Defense Alliance ships to do battle with alien invaders. Zack’s been playing the game so much, he’s starting to think he’s hallucinating it in his real life as well.
Turns out, the good news is that Zack’s not crazy. The enemy fighter he glimpsed was as real as it could be. The bad news is, so is the Earth Defense Alliance and the war against the aliens. Governments around the world have known about this imminent attack for decades, and all the science fiction films and video games since the 70s have been preparing humanity for this very moment. Since their inception, online games like Armada and its companion ground-based first-person shooter Terra Firma have been training and honing the skills of potential recruits for the coming battle, right under everyone’s noses. As one of the highest ranked players in Armada, Zack is enlisted with other skilled gamers into the EDA’s forces.
It should have been a dream come true. In fact, the entire book reads like a wish fulfillment fantasy for any gamer who has ever wanted their favorite video game to be real, and to be the big damn hero of their own epic adventure. But still, Zack can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong. For example, if this real, why then are the aliens acting exactly like the way they would in his games and in all the science-fiction movies he grew up with? Zach realizes that life is imitating art when it really shouldn’t be – and it’s this concept that erodes the idea that Armada is just another version of The Last Starfighter but Ernest Cline style. Yes, the author has adapted that theme for his book, but at the same time he’s also subverted it, so that certain sections almost read like a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at what audiences today expect to see out of an alien invasion story.
The story of Armada is thus actually quite clever, despite it being undeniably cheesy. We reach a saturation point with many of its ideas – some of which border on the totally ridiculous – that frequently call for a good deal of suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part (and not least because entrusting the fate of the entire human race to a bunch of regular civilian gamers is a dubious idea; if you even spend three minutes exposed to the general chat of any popular MMO, you can kind of infer why). And yet, the book is also undeniably fun. Simply put, the cheese works. It worked the same way it worked for a film like Galaxy Quest which parodied a lot of well-known Star Trek and sci-fi tropes, but somehow in the end still managed to function incredibly well as its own action-adventure stand alone. The result is that it’s still possible for someone not familiar with gamer culture or references to sci-fi movies like Star Wars (of which there are many) to enjoy Armada. However, writing as an addict to online gaming and all things Star Wars, I think that in many ways Armada can also be seen as lovely tribute to fans.
It does seem, though, that Ernest Cline has chosen his target audience and defined his niche, pressing the same hot buttons that brought him success with Ready Player One. He employs similar gimmicks in Armada, appealing to the reader’s sense of nostalgia while loading the book with lots of movie quotes and injecting a similar style of humor. A lot would depend on the individual reader, of course, but whether audiences will embrace this shtick again or demand something different, I think only time will tell. We’re also focusing less on general 80s this time around, so I think the appeal will also be much narrower, and it’s possible that those who really liked Ready Player One might not find the same enjoyment in Armada.
All told, my own stance is simple: if you’re just looking for a fun read, you’ll get it in spades. While the plot and characters in Armada aren’t particularly deep, the book certainly isn’t aiming to be a literary masterpiece. Instead, it goes for broke, not caring how far it goes in its quest to provide the maximum entertainment value for your time. As a result, Armada ends up being pure, unadulterated escapism. I loved the book, devouring it as soon as I got my hands on it and I sure don’t regret doing so at all. I can think of no other science fiction novel coming out this summer that would make a better beach read....more
I'll start by saying that I've never read James Dashner before this, but I know his name is well known in the world of Young Adult science fiction with his books in the Maze Runner series. Why I chose to tackle this book instead of starting with The Maze Runner is simple: I was initially drawn to the gamer culture aspect in the description, and it sounded enough like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (which I loved) to make me even more curious.
There are definitely some similarities; the book follows Michael, a young man who spends most of his time in the VirtNet, a virtual reality network that offers total mind and body immersion so that anyone plugged in can experience any one of thousands of fantasy worlds like they are actually there. That's pretty much where the resemblance ends though. In Michael's VirtNet, a new cyber terrorist known as "Kaine" is purportedly hacking the code and trapping people inside games, so that in-game deaths lead to real life casualties and victims becoming brain-dead.
The best part about being in the VirtNet was never having to worry about risking your life, but now all that has changed. VirtNet Security forcibly recruits Michael, a talented gamer and hacker in his own right, to hunt down this dangerous enemy threatening the whole system. From here on out, the rest of the book is laid out in classic action-and-adventure format, where the hero and his two friends set out on a quest to find Kaine, picking up clues and investigating leads along the way.
The beginning had me pretty interested. The VirtNet system is very well described, especially with the setting of the game "Life Blood" serving as the opener. I loved the idea of how realistic and immersive these worlds are, and the infinite possibilities they present. The novel had a great intro, and a quick subsequent build-up to the main part of the story. I really thought this was going to be a winner.
But then something stalled along the way. The tight focus that was maintained throughout the first part of the book gradually unraveled, so that by the time we're in the middle chapters I felt that the story had lost its steam. It almost feels like the author had a clear vision of how the book begins and how it ends, but didn't really plan well for everything that needs to go in between. Michael and his friends' journey felt far too prolonged and lost its direction, leading me to ask myself several times while reading this, "Wait, what are they supposed to be doing again?"
To the book's credit, the ending did indeed hook me back in, but by then it was a little too late for me to feel the full impact. In any case, the big shocking twist at the end was certainly well worth it, though like I said, at that point it did not have the effect that it should have had. I also wonder if this novel would have been better served told in the first person; I think that would have given me a deeper connection to Michael's feelings, especially during that final revelation.
All in all, not a bad book, but I'm still debating whether or not I will pick up the sequel which is slated for a summer 2014 release. I very well may end up checking out The Maze Runner before I get a chance to read book two of this series....more
My thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for providing me with an e-ARC of Playing Tyler in exchange for an honFrom The BiblioSanctum.
My thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for providing me with an e-ARC of Playing Tyler in exchange for an honest review. When I read the synopsis for this young adult novel, it was the video game angle that initially piqued my interest. Being an avid gamer myself, I was immediately drawn to the story.
It begins with just a typical day for 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless. Tyler has ADHD, but has long stopped taking his medication because his older brother Brandon kept stealing it before landing himself in rehab for drug abuse. School's a struggle when none of the other students or his teachers understand what's going on in his life. Tyler's father is dead and his mother isn't dealing too well with the problems at home, so the only person Tyler can turn to is Rick, his friend and mentor at the Civilian Air Patrol.
Tyler loves playing video games, so it was a dream come true one day when Rick asks him to beta test a new flight simulator, which may also be Tyler's chance to get into flight school if he scores well enough. Even better, the designer behind the game is teen prodigy Ani Bagdorian AKA Slayergrrl, legendary International League Gaming champion. It doesn't take long for the two of them to strike up a romantic relationship. However, just as Tyler think his life is finally on the right track, Brandon goes missing from rehab and it appears there is more to the simulator game than meets the eye.
Right away, I liked that this was a story about two teenagers who fall outside conventions when it comes to YA protagonists. Video gaming as a hobby is still often made a subject of ridicule in mainstream pop culture, with its enthusiasts portrayed as weirdos who don't get out much, which is why I love how the hero and heroine of this novel are both hardcore gamers. When you try to picture someone who is good enough to win championships at international gaming competitions, you don't typically think of a smart and beautiful 16-year-old female Yale student, which is why I think Ani is especially kick-ass.
Still, at first, I wasn't sure if I was going to get into this book. It begins with Tyler's perspective, whose ADHD made his narration a little confusing to follow, since the writing style is so abrupt to convey that his attention is all over the place. The positive side is that it's also very effective, because it made me feel like I'm actually inside his head. Tyler's sections do get a bit easier on the eyes after a while, once you start getting used to it. Ani's point-of-view, which alternates with Tyler's, also helped change things up a little and gave me the breaks I needed.
The story itself was a little predictable, perhaps, and yet still quite suspenseful, especially once you reach the final chapters. But one thing I wasn't a big fan of was the romance. I'm aware that having the element of a love story is a big thing and a wise decision in YA fiction these days, but quite honestly, I felt Playing Tyler could have been much stronger and better as a straight-up thriller suspense story.
Even just the gradual build-up of the relationship between Tyler and Ani would have been sufficient, without the first third of the novel devoted to getting them together. I felt that bogged down the beginning of the story somewhat, and that's really where I'm looking for a book to hook me and pick up momentum. Though, I do have to admit I found some of the awkward "first date" moments oddly enjoyable to read, especially with Tyler's penchant to say the wrong things at the wrong time. It was sort of funny and cute in its own way.
I would say this book would be perfect for its intended audience, which includes readers who like YA fiction as well as older teens, since it does contain mature themes and some instances of strong language. There's a good combination of thrills and intrigue, a very strong debut novel from a new author and an engaging read over all....more
I probably would have enjoyed this more if I was familiar with the iOS mobile game, or the Infinity Blade franchise in general. As it were, I've neverI probably would have enjoyed this more if I was familiar with the iOS mobile game, or the Infinity Blade franchise in general. As it were, I've never played it, I don't even know the first thing about it, so I was not surprised at all at how often I felt lost while reading this and at the many questions I had after I finished.
I admit I picked this up because it was penned by Brandon Sanderson. But despite being written by one of my favorite fantasy authors, I didn't find anything too impressive about this novella. The franchise isn't Sanderson's own creation so he obviously had certain limitations to work within and guidelines to follow. I could tell he wasn't "stretching out" as much as he could with his writing talents, possibly due to the fact that he didn't have his usual freedoms.
I'm proof that this book is readable even if you don't play or if you are not a fan of the game, but a lot of it will end up being confusing. As this short story is meant to be the bridge between the first Infinity Blade and its sequel, it is really meant for those who want more background into the story of the game it's based upon. ...more
Wow, shocker, a Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak that got more than a one star rating from me. Seriously, I'm floored. Like, really. After sufferingWow, shocker, a Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak that got more than a one star rating from me. Seriously, I'm floored. Like, really. After suffering through his last couple WoW novels Wolfheart and Stormrage, I was starting to think I might just be a glutton for punishment when I picked up Day of the Dragon, but to my surprise, it wasn't that bad at all.
Granted, that might not mean much since I'm using my special video game tie-in novel scale to rate and review this book, so take my praise with a grain of salt. Still, speaking as someone who'd pretty much given up on Knaak, I couldn't believe how much I actually enjoyed this! And that's despite his extremely annoying obsession with always referring to his characters by their hair color/profession/relationship to another character/anything else other than using that character's damn name like a normal person. Honestly, if I had to read something along the lines of "flame-tressed wizard" one more time, I was going to /facedesk myself into a coma.
Krasus and Rhonin are far from being my favorite characters, but it was nice to finally read the book that introduced them. I was also hoping to see more of how the romance first blossomed between Rhonin and his beloved wife Vereesa Windrunner, but apart from touching upon the attraction they felt for each other, they didn't really "get close" until the very end and it was practically a footnote. I think that was my biggest disappointment, whereas everything else in the story was pretty much par for the course because I was already familiar with that part of Warcraft history.
Anyway, I think I read somewhere that this was the first ever Warcraft novel, though somehow the writing in it seemed far better than some of Knaak's newer stuff. Its publication date as well as its place in the lore of the game world is what mostly drove me to pick this one up, and even now I'm still slightly amazed that I don't regret it....more
I'm sure I would have reviewed this differently if I hadn't played the games. As it is, the bulk of this book is simply a retelling of the events thatI'm sure I would have reviewed this differently if I hadn't played the games. As it is, the bulk of this book is simply a retelling of the events that happened in Assassin's Creed II and some of the memories in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and having played those, reading the book after the fact proved to be a vastly inferior experience.
This is why I don't usually read direct novelizations of movies or games, etc (with the exception of Star Wars: Ep. 1-6, but that's more about collecting the hardcovers more than anything). Why bother, when it's usually so much more satisfying to play the original video game, especially in the case of the action/adventure-oriented AC series? When I read video game tie-in novels, I expect more than just a rehash of events; I expect additions to the lore or the setting, even if they have to focus on other characters. Think the Mass Effect series or the Dragon Age series.
Otherwise, this book was relatively well-written. Oliver Bowden does a good job bringing the story to life with words, though the pacing felt a bit off. However, I can't fault the author much for story or plot decisions, as I'm guessing he had to stay as faithful as he could to game (another downside of direct novelizations), not to mention likely deal with a multitude of restrictions from Ubisoft.
My opinion? Skip this if you've played the game. Though, I have to say after reading this, I've gained a deeper appreciation for video-game storytelling. The industry has certainly come a long way in this regard, when the events of a game can actually be adapted into a realistic, legitimate and more than acceptable full-length novel....more
I'd thought the first book was dark, but wow, Freedom (TM) takes it even further. Anyway, high marks on the story, but downgraded to 3 stars because II'd thought the first book was dark, but wow, Freedom (TM) takes it even further. Anyway, high marks on the story, but downgraded to 3 stars because I can't say it was the satisfactory conclusion I expected. I mentioned in the review of Daemon that in the second half of the book everything seemed to wind down, and I had hoped Freedom (TM) would rekindle it again.
It didn't play out that way, unfortunately. Mainly, it was because I felt many of the characters we met in the first book were relegated to the background in Freedom (TM). for example, characters like Ross disappear for long stretches at a time while new ones I didn't really care for were introduced. Natalie Philips, pretty much the only female character in these books, also felt completely useless and wasted. Even the presence of Matthew Sobol appears to have diminished, and it was the all powerfulness of his Daemon in the first book that made it such a thrilling read in the first place.
What this sacrifice bought, however, was a more in depth look at the Darknet and in the lives of people living in these semi-cyber reality societies that we only got a glimpse of in the first book. The concept is kinda cool, actually -- sort of like living in an online game come to life.
Speaking of which, the science and technology has also been dialed up big time. Despite the sci-fi nature of these two books, I find it very interesting how half of the reviews I've read talk about the plausibility of such a scenario, while the other half find it too farfetched and unrealistic. Admittedly, I fall into the latter group, but then again I'm no software designer or network systems expert. I suppose it all comes down to the reader, and his or her interests and knowledge in the novel's topics.
If there's one big gripe I have about this book, it's that at times it could get very "preachy". I find this often happens with books involving groups of people trying to reconstruct civilization and build their own utopian societies. The author invests so much into describing the mission and trying to convince the reader, when really, I'm more interested in these ideas being shown rather than pounded in my face. In my opinion the time could also have been better spent, say, maybe developing the characters involving them more in the plot?
In any case, these two books constituted a very unique techno thriller, well worth the read....more
3.5 stars. A unique fictional take on the world of MMORPGs and video game AI. I liked this because in some ways it was very "Michael Crichton-y" in it3.5 stars. A unique fictional take on the world of MMORPGs and video game AI. I liked this because in some ways it was very "Michael Crichton-y" in its combination of action and thriller with science and technology, though I suspect that folks with extensive knowledge of programming and computer network systems will find some of the explanations and details in Daemon overly simplistic or flat out nonsensical.
The book doesn't really paint a very positive or flattering picture of gamers either, but I thought it was a fun read nonetheless, especially the first part of the book. Admittedly, the second half loses its steam somewhat, but then the novel had to go and end in an infuriating yet nail-bitingly intriguing cliffhanger, and so of course now I *have* to read the sequel.
In some ways, this book reminds me of Ready Player One, but it is much darker and more violent. Both novels involve filthy rich, reclusive, and renowned game developers who leave behind a legacy for their fans after their deaths. In RPO, James Halliday challenges the denizens of the OASIS to find the ultimate Easter egg by hiding a series of hidden clues and puzzles in the vastness of his virtual world. Fun! On the other hand, Matthew Sobol in Daemon is a psychopath who uses technology to kill people, relying on the news of his premature demise from a long battle with brain cancer to trigger a virus thst infects the internet, as well as using his games to recruit a secret army to cause chaos and anarchy to the world's economy and society. Diabolical!...more
While I may play World of Warcraft off and on, one constant is my interest in the lore behind the game, an interest that extends to pretty much all MMWhile I may play World of Warcraft off and on, one constant is my interest in the lore behind the game, an interest that extends to pretty much all MMOs I play, in fact. I’m always devouring every piece of lore and background information I can find, even if that means putting up with some not-so-well-written novels every once in a while. I’ve long discovered that looking for quality writing in most video game tie-in books is a lost cause.
Admittedly, I didn’t think Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War was going to pose much of problem on that front, because I’m generally well-disposed towards author Christie Golden’s works. The book’s eponymous heroine is also a major WoW character that I’ve always liked and followed with interest.
Indeed, if you’ve kept track with WoW lore and characters as closely as I have in recent years, I think some of the events in ToW will impact you in more profound ways than if you hadn’t. The story reaches back in time to touch upon several important points in Jaina Proudmoore’s history, just as it looks to the future and hints at upcoming changes in the expansion Mists of Pandaria. It lays the groundwork in explaining how the Alliance and Horde will end up discovering the new continent, and why the two factions will be battling when they do.
As we all know, Garrosh Hellscream is now the leader of the Orcs and the Warchief of the Horde, and he has decidedly chosen to walk a much darker path than his predecessor Thrall. The much talked-about complete and utter destruction of Theramore is his responsibility, as are many other terrible actions in this novel, so you’ll probably despise him. Still, not everyone in the Horde shares his views, and this has resulted in a clear split within the faction. Somehow, I have a feeling that this dissension in the ranks will play an important part in a future story line.
In any case, I’m aware that Blizzard has a history of altering their characters with every new expansion, but that’s not always a good thing. Female characters (e.g. Tyrande Whisperwind, Sylvanas Windrunner) especially always seem to receive the short end of the stick in this regard, so I was initially worried that they were going to change Jaina in the same way.
My concerns were unfounded. Yes, Jaina is changed, but in my opinion, for the better! She did witness her entire city being destroyed and all of her closest friends brutally murdered; I would have been angrier and more frustrated if she’d remained the vapid and naive pacifist sitting up in her little tower sipping tea and twiddling her thumbs while waiting for the day Alliance and Horde will lay down their arms and sing Kumbaya around a campfire. Instead, she has finally taken a stand. She’s still the strong and independent woman she was before, but now with an edge.
In truth, it was actually Jaina’s reaction to the aftermath that saved this book for me. As much as I like Christie Golden, I admit her writing style can be hit or miss; sometimes she’s so over the top with her WoW novels that the prose can be so contrived to the point of being borderline insulting. ToW was like this. In my heart, I’d almost given up on the book until I reached the story’s climax. After that, I just couldn’t stop reading.
Like I said, it wasn’t the writing, nor was it really the story’s events because much of it was already public knowledge. In fact, the best part of the book was the description of Jaina’s emotions — the grief, the suffering, the guilt and the rage — all of which were very raw and believable. Though her desire for revenge was frightening and terrible, I couldn’t help but sympathize and a part of me actually rooted for her to go through with her desperate need for vengeance. I even found myself liking Jaina more when she was ruthless and cold, because that’s when I felt a real personality starting to come through. It made her more real, which also makes her more likeable at least in my eyes.
Jaina also seems to have finally gotten over pining for Arthas. Speaking of which, there is a small aspect of romance in ToW, though I felt it sometimes got in the way of the story (like standing in the middle of the ruins of Theramore is where you choose to share your first kiss? Come on!) Regardless, I’m hoping that she’s finally found someone worthy of her, because we all know poor Jaina’s had pretty bad luck in the past when it comes to boyfriends.
In sum, writing-wise Christie Golden has delivered much better, but if you can put up with the mediocre writing that’s almost “fan-fic-y” in its hokeyness, I recommend this for fans of WoW especially if you plan on heading into MoP. I’m sure you can always get the whole story by looking up some two-line summary on some wiki page, but the canvas of emotions and feelings that you get from this novel is what makes it worth reading.
(view spoiler)[I leave some final random thoughts here because of spoilers, and also because I just don’t think I can wrap up a discussion about this book without admitting how upset I felt over Rhonin’s death; I was surprised that it affected me even more than Theramore being wiped off the map. I’ve never particularly liked the way his character was written by Richard A. Knaak, but at the same time he was always much more than just “that leader of Dalaran guy standing in the Violet Citadel.” He was a father and a husband, which makes me sad now, wondering would happen to his wife Vereesa Windrunner (and god knows that family has seen its fair share of heartbreaks) and their half-elven twin sons. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An unexpectedly well-written and decent read, considering it was a short story no more than about 50 pages. Given this is based on a video game, I wasAn unexpectedly well-written and decent read, considering it was a short story no more than about 50 pages. Given this is based on a video game, I wasn't surprised that half of it was descriptions of fighting and combat, but I was pleased to see that the other half also had some character development. There was even some of that lighthearted humor too, reminiscent of the game, and not too cheesy at all (well, at least in MY opinion).
As a further note, I'll admit I don't know much about the lore of TERA beyond the brief time I had with the game's beta, but nonetheless this kept me interested....more
This is probably one of the better Star Wars books by Drew Karpyshyn, which is quite a relief after the train wreck that I thought was Revan. It's amaThis is probably one of the better Star Wars books by Drew Karpyshyn, which is quite a relief after the train wreck that I thought was Revan. It's amazing what a good writer he can be when he's not being rushed. Now that he has left BioWare, I'm glad he left us with this before moving on to his future endeavors.
For a while we've known that Satele Shan, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order during this time in the Old Republic, has a "secret son." Theron Shan first appeared in The Lost Suns comic and now he stars in his own novel, which aside from featuring his undercover agent/operative awesomeness also reveals a lot about his parents' history and his own mysterious past.
I could tell Drew K had a lot of fun writing Theron's story. From experience, I find that characters in books based on movies/TV shows/video games, etc. very often read like caricatures and hardly ever feel like real people. However, I thought Theron had a clear personality right away, and even smiled to myself a few times at his wit. I also enjoyed the supporting characters, Teff'ith the Twi'lek whose weak grasp of Galactic Basic was a nice touch, as well as Master Gnost-Dural who fans of the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO will recognize as the keeper of the Jedi archives.
The story is pretty much your run-of-the-mill fare, but very entertaining nonetheless. There were the usual space combat and lightsaber battle scenes, but I was surprised at how well done they were. Drew Karpyshyn is very good at writing action, but I was even more surprised to see how well he tackled some of the emotional issues in this book. Like I said, he can be very good when given enough time to develop his characters.
One last thing I should note: I listened to the audiobook of this. Though I'm confident to claim Annihilation as a solid entry to the world of Star Wars novels, I have to mention the possibility that the quality of the audio version may have influenced my opinion. For one thing, it was my first experience with a Star Wars audiobook, so I've only just discovered the talent of Marc Thompson, who is probably one of the best narrators I've ever come across. His voices are simply phenomenal, and together with the sound effects and music I was just blown away....more
Hard to believe, but I have actually read worse. Which is why this book isn't getting the one star treatment from me that many other reviewers have chHard to believe, but I have actually read worse. Which is why this book isn't getting the one star treatment from me that many other reviewers have chosen to give.
But I'm probably being generous. After all, I was aware of the many errors and lore screw-ups that exist in this book, but I mostly chose to ignore them as I was reading. Granted, I give you that there were a few glaring, unforgivable mistakes. But quite honestly? You probably won't even notice most of them unless you're a hardcore Mass Effect fan going over the book line-by-line with a fine toothed comb. And a lot of them are so trivial that it makes no difference to the story anyway. I had the added benefit of reading the previous ME books a while ago, long enough for me to not remember the finer details anyway. As such, I was willing to let a lot of the errors slide.
Still. Errors aside, this book was just pretty bad. Mostly because it's poorly written, at least in my opinion. After all, how could a book with this much action in it yet be so boring? The writing is dry, unimaginative, unsophisticated, crude, clumsy. It's like Dietz barely even tried. To me, that's the biggest departure from the previous ME novels written by Drew Karpyshyn. At least you could tell DK cared about the IP; it's in the way he built up the world in the first three books, and in the manner he treated and developed his characters.
In any case, I found myself constantly drifting off while I was trying to get through this book, and was relieved when it was finally over. The way it went, I couldn't have cared enough to spot many of the lore mistakes while I was reading anyway, as I was too busy trying to stay awake....more
I'm sure I've said before that I would never read another World of Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak, and yet here we are once again. I guess I just nI'm sure I've said before that I would never read another World of Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak, and yet here we are once again. I guess I just never learn my lesson.
Of course, I had my reservations, but my interest in the game's lore and characters won out in the end, especially since I discovered from the title and description that this book was going to be focused on King Varian Wrynn. I never really cared much for him as an in-game NPC, but after reading the World of Warcraft comics he started to really grow on me. I was curious what this book would add to his character.
I really shouldn't have bothered. I have to say he's pretty unlikeable in this book -- petty, arrogant, pig-headed, annoying...the list goes on and on. The worst part is, it was done in such a ham-fisted way in order to make the flimsy plot work.
This whole book also reads like a very bad piece of fan fiction. I know I shouldn't expect that much from game tie-in novels, but I've actually read some pretty decent ones in recent years and I think my standards are pretty realistic and I'm not demanding too much. The problem, I think, is Richard A. Knaak; I'm just not a fan of his writing. Guess I'll just stick with WoW books by other authors from now on. Christie Golden, for instance, has written some that I thought weren't too bad. ...more
Decent. Surprisingly so. I'm a big fan of the Dragon Age games and I also read David Gaider's previous DA books -- even though I thought the first booDecent. Surprisingly so. I'm a big fan of the Dragon Age games and I also read David Gaider's previous DA books -- even though I thought the first book was stronger than the second one.
Well, Asunder is probably better than both. You can tell Gaider really took his time with this; the story is well told and the characters fleshed out and more complex than expected. New faces are introduced, while some old ones return, which made this book all the more enjoyable for me....more
I was born in the mid-80s so I probably missed out on more than half of the movie/music/game etc. references in this book. Didn't matter, I still enjoI was born in the mid-80s so I probably missed out on more than half of the movie/music/game etc. references in this book. Didn't matter, I still enjoyed the heck out of this. The story is rather simplistic, but once it got going i couldn't bring myself to stop reading.
I also loved how Ernest Cline described the relationships between the characters in the book. A lot of us online gamers can probably relate to the experience of making long-lasting friendships over the internet, the excitement and nervousness of meeting your online friends for the first time in real life but ending up connecting like you've known each other for years even though you've never met face-to-face until that moment, etc. I think he nailed that part perfectly.
A must-read for any MMO gamer, or anyone with a love for geek and pop culture of the 80s....more