Monday, March 16, 2015

Bird

Jewel cannot talk to her parents because ever since her brother Bird died, it's like they don't even notice she's there. And she cannot talk to her grandfather because he locks himself in his room and doesn't speak, ever. But she can talk to John, a boy she meets one day on top of the cliff her brother jumped from. And once they started talking, her family's silence and all those secrets it keeps hidden starts to unravel.

Bird by Crystal Chan is a book I put away a couple of times because I got so angry with Jewel's parents who are so caught up in their own grief that they don't even try to understand their daughter. But the story always drew me back in, I wanted to know what happened next, what's the deal with John (a black boy adopted by a white family), what happened to Bird and why Jewel's grandfather never speaks. Her grandfather is my favourite character, even though he barely has ten lines of dialogue in the book. Jewel finds it very hard to live with him until she starts asking herself why he's the way he is and they slowly start to connect.

Jewel come from a family that's part Mexican, part Jamaican and her background plays a big role in the story, Jamaican beliefs, culture and music. The first thing I did after finishing the book was go on YouTube and listen to the music mentioned in the book. I had never even heard of Mento before (although I had heard Mento songs, but never under that name). I always love it when books introduce me to new things.

Book 2 for both the Everything YA and Diversity on the Shelves Reading Challenge

Reviews 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Time of the Dark

Gil dreams of a world where the people have good reason to be afraid of the dark and where humans are struggling for their civilization to survive. She keeps seeing a wizard in those dreams and one day, the wizard sits in her kitchen, with a child he has rescued from that world.

I picked up The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly as part of a Humble Bundle and read it without knowing anything about it. I'm glad I did because it's, on the surface, just the kind of fantasy I really do not like at all. But it's extremely well written, even if the story of 'ordinary people must survive in a fantasy world' has been done so many time before and since. Gil and Rudy are very relatable characters and the wizard Ingold, let's just say I'd follow him into hell if I were in their place, too.

The Dark are terrifying villains. They are extremely hard to fight, you cannot see them coming and you never get a closer look at them throughout the book. There are hints of a more complex backstory to them and I always like that about a villain.

What really sold me on this book was Hambly's writing, though. It took half a page at most and I was lost in the world, even on the subway. Her prose is extremely vivid and she describes scenes for all senses. I appreciate it a lot when authors do that and I try to do it myself when I run a roleplaying game because it's a lot more immersive than just sight and sound.

When I looked Barbara Hambly up, I found out that she had written, among a lot of other things, one of my favourite Star Trek novels: Ishmael.. I used to read tons of these novels, but Ishamel still stands out to me even after, I don't know, twenty years. I absolutely plan on reading the rest of the Darwath trilogy and maybe the Benjamin January novels because those sound interesting - New Orleans in the 1830 and a free man of colour, a doctor and musician, as the main character.

Reviews 2015

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