Showing posts with label #ad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #ad. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Off the Shelf Review - Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I am a huge fan of Andy Weir, author of the Martian. Project Hail Mary is an excellent science-themed page-turner. 

Title: Project Hail Mary
Year: 2021
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 476 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet male, caucasian astronaut. He's adrift in space, destination unknown, mission unknown, name unknown. Weir rapidly builds our hero up in just 2 chapters without annoying the reader with the fact that he has no name or purpose. He also threads the needle with the hero to prove he isn't a recast version of Mark Watney from The Martian. 

Our astronaut is quickly introduced to two different problems. One is immediate, an inflated catheter in his... ah... you know. And the second more distant, an infrared glow around Venus. (Hey, I didn't write it. Well, I did but...) The second becomes the major problem of the story, no matter how immediate the other problem would be. Something is drawing energy from the Sun to the orbit of Venus. The sun isn't dying but the dimming will kill every living thing on Earth. If anyone is to solve this problem, one hell of a Hail Mary is needed. 

Here is our hero and his ship, the Hail Mary. Full of Dr. Grace. 

Weir likes solid science in his science fiction. He uses a couple of handwaves to get our hero into deep space. The major handwave is energy to mass ratios of fuel. Aside from that, I'm sure he took a couple of liberties with biology, but each choice was a smart, calculated one. In this novel, Grace and science are the heroes jointly. 

Weir uses Grace's memory loss as a convenient way to place him where he needs to be and then uses the resulting recovery of memory as excellently timed data dumps for the reader. It is used to great effect to expand the stage of the Hail Mary to a greater cast of characters than just Dr. Grace. The reader moves from the present to the past in a delicate dance of memory vs. discovery where Dr. Grace is first introduced to the world end cataclysm that he must prevent.  

And damn, some of these characters are excellent. Even magnificent. Eva Stratt is the quarterback of Earth's defenses. She is assigned the task of clearing the way for Project Hail Mary's success. Since success is not assured, Stratt operates on the principle that anything short of total annihilation is a path to success. Including a suicide mission to Tau Ceti to find out why this Earthly neighbor isn't dimming when all of the other stars are. And boy, is she a bastard. 

Many of the other characters are charming and likable, even when not compared to Stratt. But none are entirely squeaky clean. Weir builds a cast of believable characters, with very few unnecessary bit characters to muck up the works. Some of the characters are particularly odd, given that they want to go on a suicide mission. And some of that oddly is pretty shocking. But not terrible, in context.  

Dr. Grace encounters both wonders and surprises unimagined by the builders of the Hail Mary and each is used to excellent advantage to progress the story.

As a plot device, all of the science onboard the Hail Mary is off the shelf, except for the technology to place the crew in a coma long enough to survive the trip. That is the one point of failure on the mission. If the crew never emerges from the coma, the mission is a failure. Having no other option, that is deemed an acceptable risk. 

However, there is a sneaky backdoor point of technology failure introduced by the plot. First, none of the technology at Grace's disposal is any smarter than a laptop or more sophisticated than a college chemistry lab.  Dr. Grace isn't an astronaut. He doesn't do checklists or planning because he isn't trained to do so. And pays for it constantly. There is nothing there to warn him of the errors of his ways. 

While this would normally be a plot hole, the fact that Grace pays for his erratic and Rocky behavior every time builds tension and drama, all the way to the climax of the story. And it's a hell of an ending, which parallels Mark Waverly's transition from astronaut to teacher in the Martian.

While Project Hail Mary is a very different read from the Martian, the sense pedigree is there. 

I am slightly annoyed that I paid full price for this book at Barnes and Nobles, but it was a much needed date night. You can pick the hardcover at a good price at Amazon. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

Or you can do what I did for Artemis and grab the Audible version. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Review - This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover


Title: This Time of Darkness
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1980
Pages: 161 page booklets
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Born in 1935 between Canton and Alliance, Helen Mary Hoover was the daughter of teachers and naturalists. Her ventures took her from sea to shining sea, from LA to NYC before she settle down in Northern Virginia to write. 

This Time of Darkness is yet another book which sits in the middle YA fiction. It was published in 1980. Of all of Ms. Hoover's books, this one withstands time perhaps because it follows a simple formula of place and becoming. 

Meet Amy and Axel, two 10 year old citizens the City. Or maybe they're 11. Doesn't matter, no one in the City cares for these children. In one moment, they make a choice to escape the City, to go outside. In the rain. The City is like Corrasant turned literally on its head. Amy and Axel must use all of their resources to escape. As they climb the ramps and prowl the halls and corridors looking for the tunnels that lead outdoors, they discover the many secrets about the City and themselves. 

They are pursued by the Authority, Crazies and secretive Watchers on their quest to escape this dysphoria life and explore the great Outdoors. 

This Time of Darkness is a dark, but quick read. As you can tell from the description, this tale could be a sourcebook for 1984 or the Paranoia RPG.  

This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad


Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like This Time of Darkness, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Draft Review - Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set

I ordered this Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set to do a review. I noted a price drop on this from Amazon, so I am doing a draft review to share that link. 

Title: Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 2 64 page booklets
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my reasons for purchasing boxed sets of any kind is to get a condensed ruleset which allows me to sample the goods before making a larger investment. This box set comes with the rulebook and an adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak. Additionally, it contains: 

  • 11 dice, 
  • 6 character sheets,
  • DM screen,
  • poster sized map, 
  • 81 cards, 
  • a organizer box for the cards 
  • and codes for digital content.  

These rules are neat and well organized. The adventure is good, a rock solid entry into the world of Fifth Edition. I will probably do a review of that on it's own. The DM screen is perfect, with the DM facing size containing all of the tables and information needed to run the game easily accessible.  

I'm not used to having cards included with a D&D set. This is not some weird Magic The Gather fusion set. Most are cheat sheets for the players, including combat review, magic items, spells effects, and NPC info. 

The game works with the idea that this boxed set will be opened right away and used. While labeled for 2-6 player, the sidekick and NPC rules will make playing with just two people a joy. These additions are well thought out. If you actually had 6 players, the sidekicks can be put away or added in to pump up the action. Meatshields, GO! 

The digital content is coupon for 50% of a digital version of the PHB, a digital version for Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure and supplementary content for the adventure. 

At $20 bucks, I felt it was a steal before I realized all of the digital content available. The price just dropped, making it an even better deal. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Film Review - Thor (2011)

Title: Thor
Publisher: Marvel Studios
Year: 2011
Rating: 1 of 5 stars. 

Yeah, I review movies now. 

Thor is my all-time favorite Avenger. A Thor comic book was the first I ever bought. My favorite superhero, in general, is Beta Ray Bill, who is just a different sort of Thor. So it is with great shame that I have to admit Thor is one of the worst films in the MCU. Not the bottom, but close to it. 

But because of this film, this is what I do on Wednesday. 

And here lies the rub. 

Everything wrong with Thor has nothing to do with the story, the production values, or the actors. The name is wrong. It should have been called "Loki". For that one little change, I would give this exact same film, 4 or 5 stars. 

The title is the only problem. It's not about Thor at all. It's about Loki. Where the titular hero should be the one who grows, he does not. He's frozen throughout the film. In fact, not only is Thor not the protagonist, he's not even Thor for most of the film. Thor is full of great things and of himself. Which does not make a good film or character. 

A character needs to be brought to life by more than the light of the projector. In this movie, who's origin story do we get? 

Loki's, right from the first 10-15 minutes. 

When Odin is preparing his children to be king, who doesn't want to be a childish warlord, and who wants to be a ruler? Loki. You can see even young Loki knows better than Thor how to deal with people. You don't go around picking fights, even when you have an excuse. 

Who had flaws to be corrected? Thor who stands before the assembled court of Odin or Loki who is in Thor's shadow? Well, Loki. Thor doesn't realize that his large ham behavior is not valued by Odin. 

But Loki's flaws are bigger. The disapproval that Odin has for Thor is interpreted by Loki to extend to himself. He is a bit of the definition of a narcissist but had a few atypical traits such as self-reflection. Additionally, you can see that Loki knows his father is not entirely comfortable giving his own child, his firstborn the title of heir-apparent. Of course, Loki being Loki thinks he isn't even in the running. He is overwhelmed by Odin's disdain and worries. 

Loki evolves, Loki changes. Thor does not. Sure, Jane and Thor had a love story, which is as hamfisted as Thor is. There really seems to be no chemistry between the characters. He also takes a moment to assume the role of protector and guardian to the townspeople, but even that seems contrived. 

However, Loki's defense of his people is more nuanced. He becomes more like Thor, doing things that make him feel good at the moment as opposed to actually being good or wise. In the end, Loki was in it for the win, which by his own standard, he did. He crushed every obstacle in his path including Thor and Odin. Yes, it appears that he dies in the end, but that is exactly how a narcissist behaves. He suffered nothing and left everyone else wondering "what next?" And wham! does he deliver.  

It's why Loki is an anti-hero as opposed to a villain and why Thor makes a lousy hero in this film.

You can pick up the DVD at Amazon, which funds this site. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad



Or you can do the better thing and get a Disney Plus subscription, which is just free advice. Personally, I have the bundle with Hulu and ESPN which is about the same as buying a DVD a month. It's well worth the price. While I receive remuneration from Amazon when I share a link, I get zilch from Disney for the same. It's just good, free advice. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Stargate Universe Review


"What if you took Stargate and made it darker, sexier and edgier?", said no fan ever. This show swiped the best of BGS and mashed it up with some great music, in front of a gate. It probably wasn't very good material for Stargate fans. 

But it was a really good show. I'd give it 4 of 5 stars. 

The actors were top-notch, the pacing slower, the sense of discovery was put at the forefront. Probably too much at the forefront. They wiped their butts with whatever Stargate had established. 

But it was good TV and science fiction. They stole a couple of key concepts from the series that came before it and ran like hell with them. The communication stones from the original show were placed front and center in the plot. These devices popped up in Season 8 of Stargate. "Citizen Joe" was probably meant to be a "cheap, one-off " episode to save on cast and film costs, but it was frakking brilliant.  SGU took that simple idea and made the speculative science fiction and flipped it towards contemplative. What does it mean to be "someone" if you can trade places? 

Like that one episode of Stargate, SGU tries to get into the head of the watcher by leaning on the contemplative. Some of the time, it worked. There were a lot of misses, but you could see the direction the show was taking. 

The show has many callbacks to some hard sci-fi, stuff so hard that it often isn't recognized as sci-fi at all. My personal favorite episode was "Trial and Error" which is a close crib of The Defence of Duffer's Drift. Capt Young experiences a series of dreams where the ship comes under attack. These dreams are the Destiny's attempts to communicate with the crew directly to determine their capabilities. It doesn't work well because as a program, the ship was expecting a commander to have all the answers, not to be the head of a team that creates answers on the fly. Young was exposed to his own failings and it became personal. Very personal. 

Another episode zig-zagged from high action romps back to the speculative. In Season One the episode "Time", the crew finds a Keno camera that recorded their deaths in an alternative universe which provides some answers to their current situation, again ask "who are you, if it's not really you?" 

Much of this show asks the question, "What does it mean to be x?". While Stargate was probably not the best vehicle for this contemplative study, it was very engrossing. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy the item. #Ad


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review - ORVIS by H. M. Hoover

Title: ORVIS
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1987
Pages: 217
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Meet Tabitha and Thadeus, the proud owners of a lost robot named ORVIS. Except no one wants to own the poor little 'bot. Toby (Tabitha) and Thad decide to escape their parents and school to assist ORVIS find a home for himself. In the end, they discover the meaning of home and having care. 

While ORVIS is in the guise of a children's book, the topics covered are far more adult than Hoover's previous works. ORVIS is a former military robot repurposed many times. His final order is to destroy himself. 

ORVIS is not your standard combat droid. He's been to Venus and back. Think about that for a moment. The surface of Venus is hell, but the titanic atmosphere and relatively non-existent rotation would make launching from the surface more hell than hell. He is an indestructible machine with orders to end itself. 

Toby is a young woman with terrible parents who want upend her whole life by sending her offworld, alone. Thadeus is an orphaned spacer who will loses all of his friends if Toby leaves the school. The school is home, even though it is like "Hogwarts Community College".  

The obviousness of these three coming together for a common purpose is clear from the start. But their adventure leads them into scenarios beyond their own purposes. It forces them to consider the purpose of any man, woman or machine. 

Set entirely on Earth, these other-worlders explore what it means to have value and purpose with different eyes. 

I believe that this will end my series of H. M. Hoover reviews. I plan to write a retrospective post of these books in the near future. 

This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like ORVIS, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Building a Gaming Tool Kit, Rules Agnostic

To be truthful, this is an excuse to go shopping on Amazon. I thought I would share all of the stuff I accumulate for RPG gaming nights. This is the portion of the post where if you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

First things first, I have an addiction to notebooks. I always have one on me to write down new ideas for gaming and one at the table to take notes. 

The first item is tiny notebooks. These are 3.5" x 5.5" and have a loop for a pen or pencil. They look like miniature hardcover books.  

Next up, grid paper. I have stacks of these A5 Size 30 sheets journals. They are 8 1/4" by 5 1/2". Perfect for tiny maps. 


This next item was an accidental purchase, but still very helpful. Paper folders, 50 of them in multiple colors.
 
To top off the list of paper goods, I have reams of paper. This is perfect for printing character sheets and background information.

With all this paper, you'll need some writing implements. Let's start "basic" with pencils. Presharpened is the way to go. 

For a splash of color, I like these Prismacolor markers. They are duo-nibbed for fine and wide details. 


For outlining and other detail work, Faber-Castel's pens are perfect.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Review - The Winds of Mars by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Winds of Mars
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1995
Pages: 192* pages
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Helen Hoover was born in 1935, in Ohio. Her family home's basement that was dug back when Thomas Jefferson was president. From that humble beginning, she hopped from Los Angeles to New York City to finally land in Virginia. From 1973 to 1995, she wrote 16 published books. 

Mary Helen Hoover moves closer to home in this novel. As the name says, it takes place on Mars. Additionally, the story seems to set itself in a reasonable close time period to now. Say 200-400 years in the future. 

Annalyn Court is the daughter of the President of Mars, a man she has never met. She has been raised to take her appointed place in the elite upper class of Martian citizens. The question is, does she want that? 

The answer is not very clear. Starting with Court's earliest memories and progressing into young womanhood, she carves a path against her planned fate. Adventure and horror await and she clashes those who would make the average Martian subservient to the immortal upper class. 

This is one of my least favorite of Hoover books. First, it delves into YA horror and shock. Second, it has slightly dated itself through no fault of Hoover's. The fact is, Mars is now well known territory and her outdated information is rather glaring. There are fights, gunfire and bombings which is atypical for Hoover but handled very well when compared to most YA books about war. People die. Important people die. It's rough for a Young Adult title but nothing compared to the crap that is put out today. 

All of this running against some very child-like scenarios and characters. One of the standout characters in the book has a punny name: Hector Protector. He is the droid bodyguard of Annalyn Court. Almost three decades ago, such things were probably innovative; but now "Hector Protect Her" doesn't stand the test of time. It seems like a very fairytale addition to a book about a young woman coming of age and into her own on her own. It doesn't make sense. 

I happen to love the character Hector, but my daughter declares that he sucked. If only he had his own book because he is conceptually interesting but misplaced in a story about a woman growing up. It cuts the ending off at the knees. 

It is a quick and enjoyable read and available at Amazon. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

* Amazon lists this book at 126 pages but it seems to be more like 200. 



Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like The Winds of Mars, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30-day trial so you can test it out before you buy.