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review 2017-10-23 02:48
Star Wars Aftermath: Empire's End
Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Sta... Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy) - Chuck Wendig

This is going to be short because I cannot bring myself to care anymore. The stakes were high. I didn’t care. People died. I didn’t care. People lived. I didn’t care. One of the reasons I freaking hate Wendig’s third person present tense writing style is that it makes me feel distanced from the characters and the action, like I’m reading stage direction for a play I've never seen. I still think he’s a decent storyteller, but he’s just not my cuppa. And I’m glad my favorite characters made it out. But even more than that, I’m glad it’s over with.

 

Please, Powers That Be, don’t let this man write more Star Wars novels. My lifelong Star Wars obsession will compel me to buy them and read them, and that will most definitely propel me further down the path of the Dark Side.

 

Nobody really wants that.

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text 2017-10-21 22:41
Game/Interactive story review: Tacoma

 

I suppose you could call Tacoma an adventure game, although it more of an interactive story than a game. There are a few instances where you need to figure out people’s passcodes, but they’re so easy to figure out that they don’t really count as puzzles.

You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to Tacoma station by Venturis, the company that owns Tacoma. A short while ago an accident happened and the station, which had housed six human employees, one AI named ODIN, and a cat, is now abandoned. Your job is to explore the station and retrieve AI-recorded data and ODIN’s wetware.

The AI-recorded data takes the form of recordings that your augmented reality device allows you to see as though you’re glimpsing into the station’s past. All the characters are represented by colored silhouettes of themselves. You can rewind and fastforward in order to follow different people and occasionally access their emails and other files.

I can’t say too much about the story because it’s fairly simple and it’d be too easy to give everything away. The big question, as you’re playing, is what happened and whether anyone survived. Although you play as Amy, you aren’t privy to her thoughts. She knows more about the situation and what’s going on than you do, but it’s okay, because nothing in the game prevents you from taking as much time as you’d like in each area of the station. Just make sure you don’t leave a particular part of the station until you’ve done everything you want to do - I’m fairly certain you can’t go back or, if you can, AR data will no longer be accessible in that area.

As you travel through the station, you learn more about each of the characters: E.V., the station administrator; Clive, the operations specialist; Natali, the network specialist; Roberta (Bert), the mechanical engineer; Andrew, the botanist; and Sareh, the medic. You also get to see them interact with ODIN and, if you purchased the game through Steam, you can try to find the station cat in order to get one of the Steam achievements. I had fun trying to think of where the cat might decide to nap in each area, although I did worry that I'd end up witnessing its death. (Spoiler:

the cat makes it through just fine.)

(spoiler show)


The cast is diverse, both in terms of race and sexual orientation. As you look through their belongings (to whatever degree you’d like - I was curious and it didn’t feel too creepy, so I looked through every drawer and locker I could), you find out more about how they all got along and what their problems and issues were. My favorite character out of the bunch was probably Sareh, who had anxiety and panic attacks due to an event in her past, but who was still competent and professional despite that. I really liked her and ODIN’s interactions, even as I worried about ODIN being the only one she could confide in.

As someone who loves AI characters, I enjoyed ODIN and I loved the role he played in the story. I did find myself wishing for a bit more from him - players don’t get much of his perspective until the very end of the game.

Tacoma is very short. Even though I spent quite a bit of time exploring and looking at unimportant things like random packages, wrappers, and coffee mugs, I finished the whole thing (minus a few Steam achievements) in about four hours. That said, my biggest complaint about the game wasn’t the length, but rather how playing the game affected me physically.

When I first started, I couldn’t play for more than 20 minutes or so before developing headaches and nausea. I tried messing with the Gameplay and Graphics settings, turning off “head bob” and trying out different FOV settings, but it only seemed to help a little. The best solution I found was actually remembering to wear my glasses while playing. I don’t usually wear them at home and rarely wear them while watching TV or playing games, and it almost never causes a problem. In this case, though, it turns out they were vital. They never completely got rid of my headache and nausea problem, but without them I’d probably still be creeping my way through the game in 20-minute increments.

All in all, this was a simple and fairly short story told in a fascinating way. I loved getting to find out what happened in bits and pieces via AR data, files, notes, ads, and emails. Although I found myself wishing that the story had been a little bit more flexible and allowed for other endings, I was happy with the one ending players were given.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-10-21 18:31
Artemis
Artemis - Andy Weir

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I loved “The Martian”, so of course I was bound to request this one. To be fair, I didn’t enjoy it as much, but it was still a good, fun read in several ways.

I found the characters in general likeable enough, in definite ‘shades of grey. The ‘heroes’ of this story are seldom all white, and go about their business with good intentions and shady ways. The businessman who moved to the moon to help his ailing daughter, but is a crook on the side. The economist who almost single-handedly set a whole country as the only entry point to the Moon, and won’t shy away from closing eyes on criminal deals as long as they help keeping Artemis afloat. The city’s policeman (Artemis has something like 2,000 inhabitants, minus the tourists, so Rudy does the job) who’s keeping order by breaking a few arms at times if he deems it’ll be a better punishment than prison. And, of course, Jazz Bashara herself, porter by day, smuggler by night, of sorts, running her little operation with no one the wiser.

(Granted, not everyone is a complete a-hole here, Jazz’s father for instance is a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t want anything to do with his daughter’s shady side; on the other hand, Jazz clearly has him to thank for her own ethical side, the one that makes her never renege on a deal, and puts her in the (trustworthy criminal’ category, so to speak.)

The story itself starts in a fairly typical way for heist stories: Jazz needs money, her criminal activities aren’t bringing in as much as she needs, nor quickly enough, so when a dangerous but particularly juicy deal comes her way, she shoves her qualms in her pocket and accepts it. Only it turns out she’s bitten more than she could chew, and finds herself embroiled in an almost conspiracy, forcing her to gather all her wits, resources and allies in order to find a way out. All in all, the kind of story I like to read: maybe not the most original, but with high potential for action, fun, quirky characters, and, well, capers.

There isn’t as much technical detailing in this novel as there was in “The Martian”, so it’s definitely not hard to follow. The whole caper(s) resting on scientific knowledge and using the moon’s gravity and peculiar sides to work within the plan, that was really interesting for me. Maybe the welding-related descriptions were a little too long at times, though; at least, I didn’t care as much about those as I did about other scientific explanations.

I liked the overall diversity in Artemis. This small city has, from A to Z, a multicultural side that I think worked well, and didn’t rest on the usual ‘Western world colonises space’ (Kenya and its space company holds the entry door to the moon, Artemis’s administrator is a Kenyan woman, the policeman is Canadian, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, many of Jazz’s contacts are Vietnamese or Slavic, etc.).

I wasn’t totally on board with the way Jazz told the story, though. The wit didn’t work as well here as it did in “The Martian”, mostly, I’d say, because there’s too much of a dichotomy between Jazz’s ‘voice’ and her age: sometime in the middle of the story, we learn she’s 26, but from her tone, attitude, expressions and way of being, I would’ve thought her late teens/20, and not older. There -is- an immature side to her character, so in itself it’s not like her voice doesn’t fit at all, yet it didn’t feel ‘right’ either.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Disregard the author’s previous best-seller, take this story as it comes, and enjoy the heist parts, the assembling of Jazz’s motley crew, the description of Artemis, and the outings on the Moon in an EVA suit that can spring a leak just any time due to the characters attempting bold moves and daring rescues.

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review 2017-10-20 16:51
Love and Physics
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

I reread this for the Classics for Beginners group read via the Audible audiobook narrated by Hope Davis. The audio format was a good idea. I was able to do other things and still experience the story again as an adult. While it definitely feels of the time period it was written, it didn't feel that dated to me. I will divide my comments into sections because that seems like a good approach for this book.

Characters

The characterization is in my opinion the focus of this novel. The main characters include Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, Calvin O'Keefe, a slightly older boy that goes to Meg's school, and the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Secondary characters include Meg's mother and father and brothers, and the various beings that they encounter on their journey.

Meg's characterization is complicated. At times she is unlikable because she tends to be moody and somewhat whiny. This is understandable, so a great degree, considering how her father disappeared and she misses him, and also her awkwardness as a person. Meg is brilliant when it comes to mathematics, but her social abilities are lacking.

Calvin is a character that balances Meg in very good ways. Calvin is a young man of words and communication. His ability to get along with everyone is crucial on their journey. He is able to understand people and talk to them on their level. And he's a very humane person. He takes the time to understand that brilliant people often don't bother with.

Charles Wallace is a special young boy. His intelligence is off the charts, frankly eerie. This never explained. However, his unique persona is at the crux of this novel. The great evil that they encounter happily tries to explain his specialness for its own purpose.

Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which are strange ladies that Charles Wallace and Meg become acquainted with, and help them on their journey to find their father. They seem like eccentric women but they are so much more. The relationship that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin develops with them is one of loving support.

Meg's mother Katherine was not in this book very much. I wish we had seen her viewpoint more, but that wasn't the goal of the author. Meg's father Alexander plays a bigger role, but he is more ancillary compared to the three kids. He is their motivation and he's the catalyst for the story. The two twins Sandy and Dennys are used more as a contrast to Meg and Charles Wallace, because they are the relentlessly normal offspring in the family.

The evil beings in this novel are nebulous, not really explained, but definitely threatening. I think there are some very philosophical aspects that go alone with the concept of evil in this story that will attempt to delve into shortly.

There's another character that I can't get into without spoiling this review, so I will just say that Meg encounters a being who becomes a bit of an analogue for her mother and father. She connects to this being and gets a necessary sense of acceptance and caring that she hasn't experienced for some time due to the situation of her father being gone, her mother also being a scientist and having three other brothers with which she has to share attention.

Plot/Storyline:

This is a science fiction novel with a healthy dose of philosophy and a debatable aspect of religion/spirituality. That last part would depend on a person's viewpoint on the subject. Meg and Charles Wallace are essentially on a journey to find their father, and Calvin comes along for the ride. They travel to other worlds using the concept of tessering. This is something that Meg's mother and father stumbled across, but the Mrs. W know a lot more about doing right. Because this book is written for a younger audience (late tweens to teens), the danger that the kids encounter is there but it's not illustrated in detail. Nevertheless, you get the idea how dire the situation is for the kids.

Themes/Philosophy:

"A Wrinkle in Time" is a novel about family, sacrifice, relationships, and the concepts of good versus evil. I will attempt to explain what I got out of the novel, probably imperfectly.

Being intelligent is a valued commodity. I think that L'Engle seems to want to say that being smart in and of itself brings along with it some challenges and doesn't protect a person from its consequences of solve all the problems that they might have to deal with in their lives. I believe this is well-illustrated through the struggles of Meg, Charles Wallace, and her mom and dad. Dad might be brilliant, but his brilliance alone cannot save Charles Wallace. Meg might be a math genius, but it doesn't make her excel in school or get along better with others. On the other hand, Calvin is a well-balanced person who is intelligent in his way, but also has emotional intelligence and is gifted with needed communication skills.

Meg shows how we must conquer our fears and do what needs doing in spite of them. Sometimes we go into situations knowing we are out of our depth, but this is inevitable. We have to just be present and do what needs doing, and if we're blessed that's enough. Meg also illustrates how we can strike out in our pain at others because of our suffering. With maturity comes the understanding that we all have struggles, and hurting others because we're in pain never achieves what we desire. She learns to temper her fears and frustrations and to focus on the goals and objective. I think that's a very good lesson for people of all ages.

Charles Wallace shows the cost of arrogance. He thought that because he was crazy intelligent and very unique, that would be all he needed to conquer the enemy, but it only got him into a worse situation. Arrogance can definitely write checks that we can't cash.

The concepts of spirituality are present in this novel. Many times, characters quote Bible verses. The true nature of some of the character makes me think of celestial and demonic beings. The theme of self-sacrifice, agape love, and sacrificial love is at the heart of Christian ethos. I don't think anyone could deny that these definitely point to the Christian faith of the author L'Engle. However, she doesn't force a telescopic view of the world through Christian theology on the reader. She cites and includes some philosophic concepts that more orthodox-thinking Christians would have a hard time with. She doesn't put Christians on a higher level in society than non-Christians who have also made important contributions. Also, science is a big part of this novel. On a personal level, I didn't find a believe in scientific concepts incongruous with spiritual belief, but this is not the case with fundamentalist Christian believers. For that reason, they would not like this book. Also, narrow thinking Christians won't like the idea that the Mrs. seem like kindly old witches.

Some Shortcomings of This Novel:

I would still give this five stars because I still love this book and it's also from nostalgia of when I read it many years ago. Meg's temper tantrums could be problematic. Also, there is a scene where Charles Wallace is very violent towards his sister that might be upsetting to some readers. The conclusion is a bit too abrupt for my tastes, quite honestly. I've found that to be the case with many books I've read lately. I said earlier in this book that it doesn't feel that dated. I'm sort of wrong in the sense that the concepts of family are very traditional. Meg feels like she can't go on without having her father's presence (as though he is a lodestar for his family). That in itself is not a bad thing, but modern readers who didn't grow up with this sort of family probably wouldn't connect to this. Also, when they go to Camazotz, it feels like "Leave it to Beaver" on steroids. Very traditional, 1950s sort of view of life. There is no allusion whatsoever to multiculturalism or the concept that all families don't look the same. I did like how L'Engle makes a point that this sort of societal design is sterile and kills any kind of ingenuity or joy of living.

Is This Science Fiction?:

That's a question that will inevitably come up for a reader. I think it definitely is science fiction. Google defines science fiction as: "fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets." Under this definition, it would be difficult to argue against this being a science fiction novel. A huge aspect of this novel is the concept of physics and using it to navigate through 'wrinkles' in time. Also, the book involves traveling to other planets and exploring what life on those planets would be like. Also how advanced science technologies would change life as we know it. The thing that might trip up some readers is the equally strong aspect of philosophy to this story. I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive. In fact, they can go hand in hand. Good versus evil is at the root of most good fiction. And this is played out endlessly in everyday life. Sometimes, it's subtle. Many of us can argue that we don't meet truly evil people, but when you do encounter evil, you always know it deep in your gut. If you haven't read this book, you should decide for yourself and let me know what you think of it as a science fiction book.

I would recommend this book to readers who haven't had a chance to explore this book. I liked the audiobook version. Hope Davis is a good narrator, and she acquits herself well in styling each character. Many years after my first reading, it's still one of my favorites.

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text 2017-10-20 12:24
Reading progress update: I've read 346 out of 448 pages.
Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Sta... Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy) - Chuck Wendig

I've already stated (twice? three times? more?) how much I freaking hate Wendig's writing style. I guess I should have taken a break between Life Debt and Empire's End because it is reeeeeeaaaaaaaally irritating me now. Especially when I come across sloppy crap like this:

 

She feels the ship drift downward, drifting as it goes.

 

It DRIFTED while it was DRIFTING. The DRIFT was so DRIFTY he had to say it TWICE in the SAME SENTENCEYOU GUYS. THIS IS ME RIGHT NOW:

 

 

 

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