Monday, February 23, 2015

Live Stream from ISS

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream So I recently found out that the ISS has a couple of high-definition cameras installed that livestream a view of Earth 24 hours a day. Enjoy. The website for this project - the whole experiment is run by high school students, who designed parts of the cameras and operate them.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Deadlands: Blizzard

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

last time

I've always hated travelling in the winter and I usually see to it that I have employment on some farm well before the snow starts. I didn't plan to start doing things differently now, but travelling with Alan and the others, hunkering down somewhere was not in the cards. We found our way to Downsville, like Etienne was ordered, and arrived there with the first snow.

People here make their living with fur trading and mining mostly and a lot of men camped up on the mountains, closer to the actual mine. The mayor of Downsville told us that they hadn't heard from the camp for a while now and that the last they had heard was that there was some kind of plague. The doc had already sent for drugs, but the stagecoach from Denver was overdue already. We agreed to go look for the coach and bring the drugs to the snow camp, if we could.

The weather got worse when we set out. It snowed, but the worst thing was the sharp wind. The cold sets into your bones in that kind of weather and you just can't get warm, not matter how many clothes you wear. If you work up a sweat or get your clothes wet another way, you die.

At least we found the stagecoach. It had slipped down a steep hill and crushed its driver. The horses were dead, too. At least there were no passengers. The drugs were there and none of them damaged, too. Elisabeth came down after me and almost threw Kenneth off the rope we were using to climb, she was that eager to reach the coach. It had valuables on board, money and other stuff, and when we didn't agree to take them with us, she tried to steal some gold coins, but I caught her.

We took the drugs and the letters for the mining camp with us and decided to make our way there directly. We didn't make it in one day and got caught in a blizzard in the canyon leading up to the camp. In the middle of the night, wolves attacked us - they were mangy and sick, maybe suffering from the same plague as the people at the camp, the winter wasn't nearly long enough for them to be in such bad shape. They bit some of us and some of the horses, but we all survived and came to the mining camp the next day.

Monday, February 9, 2015

RPG Blog Carnival: Game Prep

The theme of February's RPG Blog Carnival is How and Where I Write and/or Game Prep.

I improvise a lot during my sessions. But you do need some prep, even if it's only coming up with non-ridiculous character names or some cool photos of locations as inspiration. We play weekly, so I do bits and pieces whenever I find time, mostly on my laptop, where ever I might be at the moment. It all gets transferred to my tablet and/or sheets of paper stuffed into the rulebook and that I take with me to game night.

Actually coming up with ideas for scenarios and adventures is the hardest part for me. That's why I do most of that at the breakfast table with Mr Bookscorpion. He's a gamer himself, but I don't think that this is strictly necessary. I would just need someone willing to listen and to think about how the story could go. I throw ideas at him and he makes suggestions. Whether I take those up or not, explaining the situation to him and talking about where the group could be headed next helps a lot. Usually, I think about what we have come up with for the weekend, turning it over in my head until the rough edges are gone and then I go ahead and start the actual game prep.

The Carnival is hosted at Leicester's Ramble. Age of Ravens has a short survey about game prep, so if you have two minutes (six questions only), why not go and take it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ancillary Justice

Breq used to be a spaceship and had thousands of bodies. These days, she only has one and is trying to exact her revenge on the Lord of the Radch, who is responsible for the destruction of the ship.

I saw Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie mentioned on The Ferret and it sounded interesting, so I bought it. I was not disappointed. Breq or Justice of Toren, to use her ship-name, is a fascinating character. An AI that is used to seeing through thousands of eyes, to having complete command over thousands of bodies and now has to get used to having only one single body.

The story is told in flashbacks and it takes a while before it all starts to come together. That's a style I really enjoy, I don't need it all neatly laid out for me. The cultures I encountered reading this book were interesting and believable, Leckie did some solid world building. There are no big space fights, but the story is well-paced and exciting, with conspiracies and secrets all along the way. Nothing really is what is seems here.

Speaking of which. The Radchaai have no use for gender in their society, neither in looks nor in language. So Breq struggles to identify gender in other races and languages and she solves the problem by calling everyone female pronouns. That makes for an interesting reading experience - automatically, the universe is populated exclusively with women, until sometimes another character identifies someone as male in conversation. Breq herself has a female (non-Radchaai) body, but doesn't identify as either male or female.

I count the book towards the Diversity on the Shelves challenge - Breq has dark skin and so have the Radchaai. There's an option to turn the Ancillary trilogy into a TV show and I really hope they don't mess this up and the Radchaai remain dark-skinned and genderless.

Reviews 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Song of Kali

Robert Luczak comes to India to find out whether the great poet M. Das is still alive and whether the poem that has surfaced has indeed been written by that man. He quickly comes to realise that this will be a lot harder than he expected and may cost him more than just a little time and money.

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons is an exercise in othering. It's set in Calcutta and there is not one single Indian character who's really likeable or even just decent, with the exception of the main character's wife. But she's nothing more than a sounding board for Robert and doesn't really do anything. The description of Calcutta are not flattering, to put it mildly, which is kind of the point of the whole book that sets out to make the city into the villain of the story. I have no first-hand knowledge of India, but I imagine that people do get a huge culture shock, so yes, that explains some of it. But still, it left a bad taste for me, there are no saving graces in what the characters experience, it's all bad.

I also hated the relationship between the Robert and his wife. They rarely tell each other the truth, their daughter was conceived because his wife stopped taking the pill without telling him and he knows perfectly well that she does not want to go to India, let alone take their newborn daughter and still goes ahead with it.

After a couple of pages, I could pretty much see where all this was going. An American takes his wife and newborn child into a dangerous, mysterious city where neither of them speaks the language (his wife only speak Hindi, not Bengali) and the book is called Song of Kali. I wouldn't have bet any money on the life of the kid.

Having said all that, I have to admit that the story is well done. It's incredibly creepy at times, fast-paced and well-written. So I'm in two minds about this. Robert is not exactly a great hero or a likeable character - that would have made the whole book insufferable. Even so, I found the whole description of India bordering on racist at the very least. It's a bit like reading Kipling (and with much less excuse since the book was published in 1985). So read at your own risk.

Reviews 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Everything YA Reading and Diversity on the Shelves Challenge

It's January and that means signing up for reading challenges. I read so little last year, I make myself sad thinking about it. I'm not going to be overly ambitious, thought, and I'll only sign up to two challenges.

First, the Everything YA Reading Challenge. I'm reading a lot of YA literature anyway (for the job and because I enjoy it a lot) and I've been meaning to blog more about it.
I intend to read at least ten books for this challenge. Any YA book counts towards it. You'll find the links to all reviews below:

1. Blink Once

and secondly, the Diversity on the Shelves Challenge.

My Little Pocketbooks

The goal is to read more books by persons of colour and/or with persons of colour as the main character. I'm signing up for the second shelf: 7-12 books. Reviews will be below.

1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Blink Once

West wakes up at the hospital. he cannot really remember how he got there, but he's paralyzed and although he can hear everything that's going on, people seem to think he is unconscious. For the, he is on a coma. The only person who actually assumes that he's awake is the girl from the next room, Olivia. She comes to visit him, tells him what's going on outside and he falls in love with her. Seeing her again is his biggest motivation for waking up again. After an operation has restored his ability to move and communicate, he can't wait to see her again. But there's a mystery to Olivia.

There be spoilers from here on.

It's not hard to see that Olivia's story has a twist to it, I suspected as much right from the beginning. It was still a satisfying turn of events when West and I found out about here. Satisfying and heartbreaking. I wanted them to have a happy ending so much. The supernatural element of the story is not overplayed, which I liked very much. No explanations are given and both West and the reader have to come to their own conclusions about what happened.

It's book whose main protagonist does little else than lie in bed, but it's still a gripping read and I went through it in two days. There's something strange about Olivia and by the time the story reaches its conclusion, it has turned into a very eerie tale without ever resorting to shock effects.

Cylin Busby has a website if you want to know more about her - with awesome bee artwork, which makes me like her instantly.

Reviews 2015

Everything YA Reading Challenge