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
2. Bird by Crystal Chan
3. If you find me by Emily Murdoch

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
2. Bird by Crystal Chan
3. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WIlson

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

Reviews 2015

1. Blink once by Cylin Busby
2. Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
3. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
4. The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly
5. Bird by Crystal Chan
6. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
7. If you find me by Emily Murdoch

Friday, January 9, 2015

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Flamethrowers

Ah, yes, the quiet and peace of the pre-holiday season. Exactly the right time to hand out some flamethrowers and assault guns and ask four of my players to do their best and kill the fifth one.

Fog is an adept and wants to add another initiation (a certain magical technique). That requires some sort of test and since he has a mentor spirit, Crow, it should fit at least loosely to the goals and rules of that spirit. Crow hates senseless waste, of things and life, but on the other hand he is not greedy and does not put things over life. From there, I went to creating a situation where lives were carelessly wasted and where greed was a definite option instead of stopping the waste.

Here things get a bit wild. We're in the wastelands around Chicago now and Fog has been scouting for the night, so he's away from the group. The first hint that not all is well is a deer that jumps into the road, its fur on fire. Fog has a WTF moment and drives on (failing several perception tests). Then a couple of shacks by the side of the road go up in flames and he sees people running out. One of them gets shot down by a couple of soldiers? Black OPS? Shit, this looks like it's straight out of Starship Troopers. But he doesn't have much time to think about it because a woman with two kids are running towards him and he lets them climb on his bike and hightails it out of there.

One of the kids loses his grip, but Fog can't slow down, he's getting shot at, the bike is hit. Things are personal now. He still has no idea what is going on, but he's pissed and so he lends the woman the bike and goes off into the woods to find someone to ask some serious questions.

Meanwhile, the group who paid a lot of money for their Starship Trooper experience are having a good time. They don't know for sure where they are, but who cares. There are Bugs to shoot at, they have alcohol and drugs and they get to handle real guns (which don't shot at other players, but at everything else). They have been told that everything inside the compound is fair game and admire the highly realistic special effects.

I was not at all sure that Fog's player would go through with this. I had not been kind to him when I made the stats for the other characters and their weapons. Since it was supposed to be an initiation test, there had to be real danger. But the wager paid off and we had ourselves some beautiful player versus player gaming. In the end, Fog fought and killed almost all the others, even though the prospect of just getting the hell out of there with some top-grade armour as loot was tempting. Crow will be pleased and even a little impressed.

I love the fact that I can do stuff like this with the group. Tell one player: please wait outside. Hand basic character sheets to the others, explain the situation and then just lean back and enjoy the resulting mayhem. No: oh, this is Fog, we cannot kill him. Or: nah, come one, we want to play our own characters, not let one player have the spotlight for the evening. No-one takes any aggression outside of the game, but when they play, they play hard.

This is not something you can do too often, but once in a while it's fun to do something a little different with the game. Whether it's a situation like this or playing another game inside the other, like we did when we played a game of Dread and Shadowrun at the same time.

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal and Fog wrote about the whole thing here