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
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
I wanted to like this book, I really did. A month ago when I was so eagerly anticipating the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, I didn’t eI wanted to like this book, I really did. A month ago when I was so eagerly anticipating the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, I didn’t expect I would be starting a review for it this way, and I really don’t like having to be negative, but what can you do.
Granted, it is possible that my high expectations may have clouded my judgment. For one thing, I’m a big fan of Drew Karpyshyn — he wrote the Star Wars Darth Bane trilogy and also the Mass Effect novels that I found I really enjoyed. But more importantly, I’m also a big fan of the character Revan, having been obsessed with and emotionally invested in his story from the Knights of the Old Republic games. Still, I have a feeling that even the most casual of readers picking this up will find many problems with the writing and execution of this novel.
To be fair, I’ve been following Drew K’s blog for a while now, and on it he occasionally talks about the pressures of looming deadlines and the challenges of meeting them. His writing in Revan appears to be the latest victim of this restrictive time crunch, as it’s definitely not his best work. This is a shame for two reasons: 1) He’s usually capable of much better writing, and 2) I would have pegged him as the perfect author to tell Revan’s story, as he was intimately involved with the development and writing of the first KOTOR game.
Another reason why I think the book was a rush job is how well it started out in the first handful of chapters, versus how everything started unraveling and falling apart in the second half. I’d glimpsed some of the not-so-positive starred reviews prior to finishing the novel, and thought to myself, “Nah, this isn’t that bad.” But then I hit part II. And I began to understand.
First of all, in retrospect so much of the book felt like filler, lengthy exposition sequences and drawn-out descriptions. While I understand the need to bring readers up to speed with the events of KOTOR (for those who have never played the RPG or need a refresher — it’s been about 8 years since the game’s release, after all) I lamented the fact it came at the expense of scenes that actually required details and a more in-depth look. Instead, important action sequences and scenes that actually drove the plot forward or called for more emotion were completely glossed over.
Second, the book was so short. It’s not like there wasn’t enough to write about. Like I said, so much of the novel could have been fleshed out and made better. It just felt like the author needed it to be over and done with, fast.
Third, there was a very noticeable shift in focus by the end of the book. I thought I began by reading about Revan, but little by little, he started taking more of a background role, and by the final chapters it was clear the emphasis was more on the Sith character of the novel, Lord Scourge. I just found this odd, and I still don’t really understand the purpose.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty of Revan, which is one of the reasons why I couldn’t just toss this book aside. There will be answers to some big questions left behind by the ending of KOTOR and KOTOR II, and for this reason I don’t regret reading it at all. The Jedi Exile also plays a huge role, and it is in this book that she is finally identified and given a name — Meetra Surik.
However, speaking of characters, don’t expect many of the companions from the games to make an appearance. The three that get the honor are Canderous Ordo, T3-M4 and Bastila Shan. The rest like Mission Vao, Zaalbar or HK-47 are only mentioned in passing, or given some weak excuses why they couldn’t show up. Carth Onasi doesn’t even get a mention, and while admittedly he was one of my more whiny and annoying BioWare boyfriends, I couldn’t help but notice the snub. Ouch.
I don’t want to make it sound like Revan was all bad. I personally liked a lot of the dialogue, though I think I’m probably in the minority with regards to this. I definitely think dialogue-writing is Drew Karpyshyn’s forte, but while some lines might work well in a video game, I admit they don’t always translate well onto a page in a novel. Some plot points were predictable, but in general I enjoyed the story. And finally, like I said before, the book does manage to bring some form of closure. Sort of.
This does beg the question: Is closure — that is, a truly satisfying conclusion that emotionally invested KOTOR fans have been waiting almost a decade for — even possible for an epic story like Revan’s? Honestly, I believed the answer is yes. And I still do. Which is why I had such high hopes for Revan. Despite my biases, I still think it could have been the book to bring ultimate closure to the KOTOR series. If only Drew K had been given enough time.
So, to wrap this review up, you may find Revan interesting if you’re into Star Wars novels or game tie-ins in general. I say read this book if you’re fan of the character and the KOTOR games. You might end up disappointed, but you’ve come this far, so might as well finish up. Also read this book if you’re really into the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. There will be quite a few mentions of Revan and his adventures in the game, so knowing the character’s background might enhance the story behind those quests for you, but it’s definitely not required knowledge.
But if you don’t know much about the lore behind SWTOR and the Old Republic era and are thinking of reading this to get pumped for it, I would rethink that decision. For that, you’d be better off playing KOTOR....more
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