Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Goblin Tower - L. Spring de Camp

The Goblin Tower by L. Spring de Camp is a good book. It was written over 40 years ago, in 1968. I found the stylistic changes that have taken place in fantasy over the last 40 years rather interesting. On the one hand, the book could easily compete with modern fantasy. The characters were strong, the narrative was compelling and the setting was rich and detailed. The plot was also rather interesting, and I have to admit I haven’t seen it replicated since. Jorian is a mercenary who is accidentally selected to be the king of Xylar. This might not normally be a problem except for the fact that the king of Xylar is killed every five years. Jorian wisely made a deal with a wizard to get him out of the deal, but in return he was forced to steal a spellbook in a distant land. The thing I found most interesting, however, was the similarity it had with fiction that was written in much earlier times, at the turn of the 20th century. Jorian was a master story teller, and the plot of the book routinely came to a screeching halt as Jorian told tales of his native kingdom, usually to get out of a tight situation. As such, the book had the unusual mix of a modern high fantasy novel meets Arabian nights; complete with the obligatory (but short) nod to the real world when he uses Earth to take a short cut between worlds. I recommend it, though primarily to those who, like me, have fairly eclectic tastes. Those who prefer more mainstream or post modern fantasy may not like it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The book was surprisingly good, though it certainly wasn’t what I thought it was. I don’t know why, perhaps the last major motion picture that was released, but for some reason I thought this book had an element of the supernatural to it. It certainly doesn’t. Its definitely a gothic romance. Thus, when I say surprisingly good, I mean that it surprised me that I liked it. This is clearly the kind of book that they would (and apparently actually did) assign in English class, both for the beautiful prose but the fact that the thing is chock full of all kinds of literary references and techniques. Setting reflects theme. Characters are dynamic and yet comprehensible. The plot moves forward at an interesting yet methodical pace. I could argue that Ms. Bronte’s work could be released today and would actually be competitive on the market. To be sure, certain elements might seem a little stereotypish today, but even then, they’d still be successful. Despite the antiquity of the language, I found it intellectually stimulating and, like all truly great books, it made me think and had a little bit of it linger with me long after I was done reading it. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Philosophy of Super Heroes

The Philosophy of super heroes was a very interesting book. It is a collection of articles that explore philosophy and how it affects or is affected by super heroes. I think that the articles that did their homework interested me the most. That is to say, that some of the authors had a cursory knowledge about what they might have seen in movies, but some of the others had done quite a bit of research into the deeper lore of what they were examining. The first third of the book is a lot easier to read than the latter.

The three most interesting articles for me was the exploration of why Spiderman does what he does, why Superman does what he does, and the religious overtones of Daredevil’s Catholocism. The author postulated that the reason Superman acted heroically was as a way of connecting with people. And this makes sense really. He is the last of his race. And, when you think about it, being surrounded by people that look exactly like your people, but who are fundamentally different and also fragile, could make you hesitant to establish any kind of connection with them. By taking a direct hand in the world, by connecting with people by making a positive difference in their lives you can become a part of the whole. The exploration of “With great power comes great responsibility” was a fascinating breakdown of what makes something ethical or not. I can see why Jennifer enjoys Kantian philosophy so much. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I’m glad that I did. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Movie: Zombieland

It is quite fun. It is also quite gross at parts, but I think that this thing is a great deal of fun. It also shows how good ideas are kind of timely. A year ago, I was challenged to write a novel about Zombies. I realized that at the time there was a large void in the Zombie genre for protagonists that weren't morons. That was why I wrote Grenademan Vs. The Zombies. Before Zombieland, the main movies that did this were Army of Darkness (a classic but nearly 20 years old) and Shawn of the Dead (which was more of a parody.)

It is true that, like Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland has a bit of a comedic element, but despite that, Zombieland retains more of the true roots of the genre in my opinion. At no point do we really consider the scenario that they're in a joke. It certainly has humorous elements, particularly when they decide to spend some time at Bill Murray's mansion.

The heroes are human and flawed. And despite that, they don't behave like morons, which I greatly appreciate. They give an explanation about where the zombies came from, but it is shoved far into the background of the story where, quite frankly, it belongs. This isn't a story about the zombies, but instead the way it changes the people involved. It is a story of coming to terms with loneliness and the value that building societies can bring.

I greatly enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. Not for small children though.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dying Lights by Mark Argyle

I originally posted this review in 2003 on I also fixed the spelling.

The basics: Dying Lights is a game that gives you everything that you'd want in a complex space board game like Twilight Imperium, but with half the complex rules and several highly innovative features that help game play rather than enhance it.

The Story: I am a bit odd when it comes to board games, card games and the like. The story in these games is just as important to me as it is in the RPG, which is to say-everything. And the story of Dying Lights does not let me down. The rule book devotes 1/6th of its space to telling the intriguing tale, and helps set the proper mood of the game.

Basically, a bunch of jedi-like psi monks go about mucking with things that they only think they understand in order to create a utopia. As one might expect, this goes horrifically wrong and they end up corrupting the Galaxy's collective unconscious as well as psychically activating all the inhabitants of the galaxy. The practical upshot of which is; the galaxy goes nuts and several cracks in the universe appear, bleeding out all the spiritual energy in the universe.

The inhabitants rapidly come to the conclusion that in order to survive, they have to kill everyone else because the remaining psi power leaves enough for only 1/10 of the people living.

Game play: The thing I like most about the game is the proverbial shot gun tied to the heads of the players. While it has LOADS of flexibility (which I like) it also forces the players to act.

There are three campaign rounds in each turn. At the end of each turn, you loose psi (1 the first, 2 the second, 3 the third etc). Each player starts with five, and while there are ways to get psi in the game (not as easy as it sounds), you can see right away that it forces you to take action.

The game takes place on terrain cards laid out in a somewhat similar fashion to Twilight Imperium, with another set of cards that represent 'Fleet trees' or as the game calls them "Battle Groups". You then move these around on the battle ground and combat ensues.

I won't include all the details of the combat, but it is relatively simple and straight forward, yet also manages to include elements such as tech upgrades, fighters and heavy weapons. An aspect of the game I really like are the 'experience' cards that allow the Admirals of each fleet to gain traits like 'heroic' or 'ruthless' that affect play. The game plays for 2-6 players and the basic set (which I got) seems to support all, although supposedly you can 'customize decks' by manipulating cards, though this is by no means a collectible card game. Everything you need is in the box.

In short, I liked it. It is a game that has a lot of potential and at the same time plays relatively quickly.