Daily Archives: March 26, 2008

Reviewlet: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

No spoilers here as, amongst other people, Zoso hasn’t had a chance to read it yet.

I’ve just finished reading the third book of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. The entire series has been an astonishingly enjoyable read from start to finish. There’s plenty to talk about and I hope to craft a more substantial discussion later on, once more people have had a chance to read it. However, if you’re looking for a new fantasy author to try, I couldn’t recommend Joe Abercrombie highly enough.

This is, however, a reviewlet, so how to describe the book without giving things away? Well, Abercrombie helps with that too (the man thinks of everything), by having one of his characters provide a small description of what the book is not:

‘I’ve been trying to get through this damn book again.’ Ardee slapped at the heavy volume lying open, face down, on a chair.
The Fall of the Master Maker,’ muttered Glokta. ‘That rubbish? All magic and valour, no? I couldn’t get through the first one.’
‘I can sympathise. I’m onto the third and it doesn’t get any easier. Too many damn wizards. I get them mixed up one with another. It’s all battles and endless bloody journeys, here to there and back again. If I so much as glimpse another map, I swear I’ll kill myself.’

In the First Law trilogy there are wizards, but not too many; there is but one traditional heroic journey, and although it is bloody, it is not endless; there is little magic, but also little valour; and there are no maps.

Joe Abercrombie has taken many of the best parts of Tokien’s work and turned it on its head, creating an audacious adult fantasy work that would be better suited to the direction of Quentin Tarantino than Peter Jackson if it was ever adapted for film (one can only hope).

As I mentioned earlier, I hope for further discussion in future posts, but for now take this as one highly recommended trilogy.

Reviewlet: Halting State by Charles Stross

I first heard about Charlie Stross a few years back when, within the space of a couple of days: I’d been browsing around e-books and found he’d made Accelerando available under a Creative Commons license, I was Googling around Githyanki for some reason (I think they’d turned up in Neverwinter Nights 2) and found he’d created the AD&D version of them, and then an old schoolfriend blogged about enjoying the paper version of Accelerando. That all led me to his rather splendid blog, and with further meanderings to evidence of extraordinary geek cred.

Ironically, though Accelerando has been sitting on my PDA for a couple of years now, I still haven’t got round to actually reading it; I started with A Colder War online, then The Atrocity Archives, wonderful spy thrillers with added Cthulhu Mythos. Towards the end of last year, he released extracts from Halting State, a near-future novel that starts with a robbery in an MMOG. Say no more, obviously I picked it up straight away. Well, OK, not quite straight away, I got distracted by something (probably the next thing that turned up in the RSS reader) and forgot for a bit, then got as far as sticking it on my Amazon wishlist (or “vast pile of stuff I’ve found references to somewhere or other that look brilliant, but I can’t just go ahead and get the whole lot what with, y’know, money and time and storage space all being finite and that, and so it all piles up and then you go to actually buy some of it but get paralysed by choice and it’s a toss up as to whether you abandon the whole idea and play Peggle or frenziedly click for a while then pass out coming round only when a postman knocks on the door with a parcel of several books, a 2Gb memory card that you don’t strictly need but heck for less than a fiver it’d be rude not to, a coffee maker, a sonic screwdriver LED torch, that Medieval Total War expansion pack you never quite got round to at the time, and an electric toothbrush”-list, as I like to call it. Though I’ll concede “wishlist” is slightly snappier.) Fortunately I then saw it in a bookshop in town, where paralysis of choice was reduced to a slight limp of minor indecision, and I made it out with just Halting State. And a small selection from the 3-for-the-price-of-2 offer. And a large cappuccino and a muffin from the coffee shop. And a novelty bookmark.

Anyway! On to the actual book. Halting State chucks you straight in to 12-years-from-now very skillfully; I can’t remember anything sticking out and shouting “it’s the FUTURE with LASERS and JETPACKS and stuff”, the changes are mostly subtle, and utterly believable. Stross’ Tech Lab article for the BBC is a good primer for some of the ideas. The initial set up, in the extracts available from his site, is slightly hard going as you’re introduced to a lot of people in second person narrative switching between three characters. After that, things settle down a bit and you start to get a handle on what’s going on, but then stuff really kicks off and we’re off down the rabbit hole, keep your hands and feet inside the carriage. I’m going to need to give it a second read, as the twists and revelations come pretty thick and fast.

It’s quite jargon heavy, and if you’re not up with MMOs and techspeak you might struggle, but I loved it. If you’re a MMOGer, and you like near future thrillers, what’re you waiting for? Add it to your wishlist now! (And don’t forget that four gig USB stick while you’re there…)

Warhammer Online blogger beta invites.

Nah, I’m just kidding you.

I just thought it’d make a change from all the other blogs reporting the same piece of WAR news, with five lines of editorial about how this is, or is not, an outrage. Or the effect this will have on the future of gaming on the iPhone and Japanese portable toilets. Or the various theories about how this latest delay will cause a critical desalinisation point and destroy the WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.

Is all this fuss purely because this appears to be the only MMO on the horizon that will achieve anything of note, and thus stands a remote chance of keeping a decent number of subscribers for more than the first month?

Is it because the Marketing Flayer has attached its warped, sucking tentacles of hype so securely onto the juicy consciousness of the Big Blog Brain that the only output now is a soft theta waveform stuck in a feedback loop of marketing based babble? Do people now march in shambling zombie unison (I’m talking proper zombie marching: slow and limping, one arm held out in front, jaw slightly open and drooling; we’ll have none of these high speed, contact lens wearing ravers who’ve had 150mA of AC attached to their buttocks, thank you very much) towards our succulent-looking WAR hero, who’s just trying to survive the constant attentions of the slavering masses, and has to gently persuade them to back away using the Chainsaw of Cancelled Closed Beta, and the Winchester Rifle of Suspiciously Absent Dev. Forums, while psychotic Mr Marketing turns on all the lights in the hideout and plays loud music, to attract more attention because he has a death wish?

Hmm, clearly I’m ready for a Shaun of the Dead MMO…

Look. It got delayed. Again. We know this because every gaming news site worth a tuppence ha’penny selection of pick’n’mix candy is going to have reported on it. Discuss something else for Robert G. Ingersoll’s sake.

If anyone in the Google Reader development team wants to work on a search-based tagging system that lets me ignore certain posts, so that my feed doesn’t fill entirely with one hundred or more posts on a vastly repeated subject with no more than two lines of tagged-on ‘commentary’, please feel free to contact me via the following address:

Help! I Seem To Be Drowning In A Sea Of Twisty Blog Posts, All Alike.
Hucking Fell,

Like a true Nature’s child.

I can’t help prodding these things when I see them going around the various blogs. I try to answer them honestly. And I always come out as an apathetic tree-hugging hippy loafer. Next time I do one of these, I’m telling it that I’m four feet tall, have bulging muscles everywhere – including on my eyebrows – and that my hobbies include chopping up things with big axes, and drinking the blood of my enemies.

I Am A: True Neutral Human Druid (4th Level)

Ability Scores:

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character You Would Be.

Or just make one up, and then you won’t be disappointed.