Tuesday 27 October 2020

Book Review: Dead Moon by Peter Clines

Pros: lots of twists, some tense scenes


Cali Washington took the job as caretaker (burying the dead) on the moon to get away from her failed dreams. A month in, a meteor hits and suddenly thousands of dead start to rise. She and her co-workers must figure out what’s going on as they try to survive.

This is an engaging horror story that takes an interesting premise and runs with it. I was impressed with the number of twists the story had, as the characters learn more of what they’re up against. This isn’t a simple zombie story.

You’re introduced to characters in small batches so it’s easy to keep everyone straight. Lots of people die, which keeps the tension high as each encounter could be your favourite character’s last.

It’s a quick read, that isn’t overly gross or terrifying. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

The Phantom of the Opera: The Graphic Novel - Script, art, and letters by Varga Tomi

Pros: expressive artwork, faithful adaptation


Christine Daae’s astounds the Paris opera house with her voice despite having no teacher. Even her old childhood friend Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, is entranced. But she has a secret teacher, the opera ghost that’s terrorizing the theatre. The ghost is a jealous master, who demands Christine’s affections for himself.

This is an adaptation of the novel by Gaston Leroux. If you’re only familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical there are a fair number of differences. The general story is the same and Tomi’s adaptation hits all the necessary beats.

The art, though not my preferred style, fits the subject matter. The colours are subdued with a lot of dark shadows. Faces are very expressive. The author apparently did research for the book in Paris, and illustration of the opera house that begins chapter one is magnificent in its photo realism. The costumes and opera house are lavishly detailed. The ghost looks suitably horrifying with his red eyes and missing nose. The illustrations really bring home the horror of Christine’s position.

It’s a faithful adaptation of a great book.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Vintage Story: a Minecraft style survival game

 A few weeks ago my husband and I started playing Vintage Story, a video game that looks like Minecraft, and plays in a similar style, but which emphasizes the survival aspects. There's a limited lore implying a previous society collapsed (you find ruins of it all over with storage vessels containing some supplies and on rare occasions scrolls containing bits of story). 

The main enemy are called drifters, which come in different varieties, and every now and then there are 'temporal storms' which causes your screen to darken, the visuals to waver, and drifters to teleport in around you. The game also has animals that will kill or damage you (namely wolves, but boars and rams can do some major damage too). Staying underground too long causes the gear at the bottom of the screen to turn left. Apparently bad things happen if the greenish colour disappears (I know you start fading in and out but we haven't let it go out completely yet).

Survival is the real test though. The game requires you to progress through the ages of man, starting at the stone age - knapping stone and flint tools to get meat and wood. You find seeds via storage vessels and wild crops. Then you can start farming. You originally harvest ores from the surface and have to find coal or create charcoal to smelt the ores (burning plain wood can't get hot enough) so you can mine. Making a windmill helps with the smelting, but takes time as you need a lot of flax fibers to make the cloth for the sails.

My husband deals with most of the mining, metal working and building. I tend to do more of the animal husbandry (we've got bees, pigs, and chickens), farming, and cooking.

The game makers are very friendly towards moders, which is great as we had to modify a few of the metrics. We've slowed the hunger rate (it starts unreasonably high) and added a keep inventory feature when you die (I die a lot so this would have earned a rage quit from me otherwise). We've also got a mod that allows for chiseled features, which is how my husband made the exquisite balcony on the house.

The game goes through the 4 seasons in a condensed year, which is cool as the colours of trees and plants change in autumn, getting more faded and white entering winter with the lakes freezing over, then to green, and finally a burst of variety for summer.

I took some screenshots so you can see our farm. This is the back of the house. We have 2 ponds. Below the windmill are my leather tanning and food preservation barrels. 

The front of the house. I built my farm onto a lake so I wouldn't have to worry as much about watering it. Off to the right, just out of view, is my apiary, also on the lake. Make sure to fence off your farm as the bunnies will eat your crops otherwise (and the 2 high fence areas are because we found out in winter the snow makes the ground high enough for bunnies to jump over a 1 high fence). 
A close-up of us on the balcony! You don't get to fully customize your characters - there are only a few model options. 

While trying to find salt for food preservation (found in deserts WAY to the south, like a real world hour's worth of walking to the south) we found jungle trees. I brought home some saplings, vines and flowers to create a little oasis near our farm. This shows the full play screen (the green gear, inventory, map and stats are from the basic game, the upper weather/time chart is an added mod, though the time can be accessed by hitting 'c'). 
My jungle without the extra info, and a wolf that tried (and failed) to eat me.

Like Minecraft it's an open world building game/adventure. It's a massive time sink (so keep that in mind) but also a lot of fun. The game costs 15 Euro and is available on PC, Linux (with some fiddling - check out their system requirements for info), and Mac (though apparently they won't be updating Mac OS after 2020).

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Book Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

Pros: great characters, lots of political intrigue, slow-burn romance, standalone


Twelve years ago the queen disappeared. Her sons, and many others, believe the tyrant king had her executed in secret. Rebels are stirring up trouble in the royal city and Prince Esvar is tasked with quelling it. But in administering a small justice, he chances upon Anza, a member of the rebellion. Years before, in collage, Anza stole two forbidden books: one a book of poetry, the other the queen’s journal. Negotiating various levels of politics, the two are drawn together even as the city is pulled apart by the king’s policies.

The book is told from three points of view: Anza, Esvar, and Queen Mirantha.  The queen’s entries are done in a different verb tense, so it feels more remote and historical rather than the third person action the other two used. Both women are highly educated and competent in their roles, which made the book feel delightfully feminist in some ways.

I loved all of the main characters. They each have flaws and do their best despite challenging circumstances. There’s so much political intrigue and second guessing motives and actions. The book does a fantastic job of showing how people survive prolonged abuse and fear, how they compartmentalize and cut themselves off from their emotions. It also does a great job of showing how difficult resisting evil can be.

The romance element is small but develops organically and was highly satisfying. Both characters have had past relationships and are very reasonable in their expectations, which I appreciated. Anza is bisexual, a state that goes without notice (indicating that in this world it’s considered normal).

There’s no graphic sexual or violent content, though rape and prostitution are mentioned. There’s so much grimdark fiction nowadays that I enjoy finding books that leave me feeling uplifted instead of depressed.

This was a fantastic book. I read it slowly so I could savour the intrigue. It does get intense at times. It’s a standalone novel, which is great if you don’t have time (or desire) to read 3-15 books. I highly recommend it.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Books Received in September, 2020

 Many thanks to the publishers who sent me review copies in September.

The Phantom of the Opera: the Graphic Novel by Varga Tomi - I LOVE the Phantom of the Opera (book, musical, etc), so this graphic novel is right up my alley.

Everyone has heard the whispered tales of the phantom who lives beneath the opera house, the mysterious trickster behind all the little mishaps and lost things. But no one has ever seen the monster . . . until now. When the promise of blossoming love lures him out from his intricately constructed hideaways in the labyrinthine building’s walls and cellars, a hideously disfigured artist trains the lovely Christine to be the opera’s next star for a steep price. Does she choose her newfound success or her beloved Count Raoul? This doomed love triangle threatens to combust when a tragic death, a series of betrayals, and increasingly dangerous accidents cast the players of The Palais Garnier into a heart-wrenching horror story that will echo through the ages.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the iconic gothic romance, is retold with all the spectacle its legend demands in this devoted graphic novel adaptation that marries stunning artwork with Gaston Leroux’s haunting prose.

The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson - 2020 has eroded my interest plagues and zombies. I started this and it just wasn't working for me. But tastes differ, so maybe it'll work for you.

Stranger Things
meets World War Z in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.

Turner Falls is a small tourist town nestled in the hills of western Oregon, the kind of town you escape to for a vacation. When an inexplicable outbreak rapidly develops, this idyllic town becomes the epicenter of an epidemic of violence as the teenaged children of several executives from the local biotech firm become ill and aggressively murderous. Suddenly the town is on edge, and Lucy and her friends must do everything it takes just to fight through the night.

Machinehood by S. B. Divya - This book hits on several areas of interest to me so I'm looking forward to giving it a read. Out in March, 2021.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?