Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Thieves World Short Story Review - Sentences of Death By John Brunner

Title: Sentences of Death
Author: John Brunner
Year: 1978
Pages: 23
Rating: ★★★★

Ah, John Brunner. Between 1970 and 1975, Brummer penned 9 novels. Some of the finest works of SF.  In 1978, his short fiction work, Sentences of Death was the first short story of the first book in the Thieves World collection. And what an open piece it is. 

We meet Sanctuary's gritty streets and self-made fortunes through the eyes of scribe Melilot and his young protege Jarveena. Using forgery, blackmail, and mistranslation, Melilot fits right into Thieves World with his stable of scribes for hire. Through Melilot's exploits, the reader is introduced to what makes Sanctuary tick and what those ticks do to the people in the city, young, old, and in the middle. The children are the core of commerce in Sanctuary, much of which is exactly what one with think of trade in children. Jarveena is dragged right along with her master's plots. 

It's grim. 

Jarveena, Melilot's latest scribe has business and vengeance on the mind. A chance encounter pits her against the captain of the guard, Aye-Gophlan and his men who took everything from her. Jarveena craves vengeance and boy, does it work. As if having the criminal mastermind of Melilot at her back wasn't enough, she encounters the mage Enas Yorl who simply seals the deal for her.  

The story revolves around a magic scroll that none can read. This little monkey paw of a device winds a tortured path through the story, running from a street urchin scribe all the way to the Prince of the city. 

As per the typical fare for Thieves World, winning isn't always a good option as Jarveena and Enas Yorl discover. Sentences of Death is artfully crafted and while grim, is an excellent primer for Thieves World. 

In the review of these stories, I'd like to link them back to classic D&D. While scribes don't exactly fit as a class of D&D character, the function could be fulfilled by Magic-Users, Clerics, and of course, Thieves. Enas Yorl is accursed, which is an interesting take on a magic-user. Some of the other magic in the story hints at Dimension Door and Polymorph (large writ) while Aye-Gophlan's behavior and beliefs tend to model closely to poor characters just trying to get a leg up while being deluded as to their station in the story. 


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode VI Reveiw

This evening, I had a chance to watch Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode VI. 

Now that this thing is over, I can't wait to start spending some time playing games. This evening, I mulled over what I saw while weeding the garden. 

I mention the garden because that is what a long-time series becomes. What came before is recycled into what comes next. However, in shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi, the creators have to thread the needle. Can you plant one more thing between what the viewer knows from before and knows what came after? 

The show cannot upset what happens in either direction. Obi-wan can't really change from what he was, nor can a lot of new characters pop up without causing a disruption in the original material. 

In this show, they manage to do things nicely. Roughly, but nicely. 

They had to run with the Inquisitors because of the background already established. I personally think it was a bad call to let the Grand Inquisitor get benched for a while, but this pushes a more modern, realistic view of combat. 

Back when I was a kid, I wasn't sure what a lightsabre could do because they actually didn't say. Loose hands for sure. Being cut in half wasn't an option. They didn't do that back in 1977 or any of the 80s. Personally, I thought that perhaps a lightsabre had a stunning feature. Not many characters went to the ground in a splatter of blood. 

In this current iteration of the Star Wars story, we get into what happens when someone gets tagged with a lightsabre. Many people get stabbed, but for some stupid reason, they don't stay down. That really isn't surprising as the Empire has monopolized everything, including medical care. However, old-timers like me want to believe that one good sabre strike is the end. Not especially realistic, but reasonably based on the first 3 films. 

Two things that this point of view does not take into account are easy and cheap special effects plus most of the people doing the stabbing are sadists. They didn't mean to kill, therefore they didn't kill anyone. Mmm. Unsatisfying as it is a completely different type of character and process than what the viewer is used to. The cheap special effects are cool to look at but often don't further the story because the story wasn't about a body count. 

One thing this last episode does well, mirroring the original films, is what I call "IF-THEN" storytelling. Star Wars rarely invokes "simultaneous" events. We see the clock progress as this bit then that bit. Maybe they happen at the exact same time, but the audience doesn't know it and doesn't need to know it. This episode uses that in spades. 

At the outset of this episode, all of the teams are together. Vader and the Inquisitors, Ben and Leia, and poor Reva out on her own. It doesn't take long for Ben to leave Leia, Vader to ditch the Inquisitors with Reva limping along on her own. 

Divided, the matchups begin with Ben and Vader's duel being the most exciting. As their duel progresses, Leia finds her way home, and Reva finds Owen and Beru. But the storytelling doesn't make it explicitly clear if all three of these events are happening at the same time. It's actually refreshing knowing that the incoming calvary charge doesn't have to be timed to the millisecond. The heroes get there when they get there because that is what heroes do, not because they planned it that way. 

The storytelling creates these opportunities. And in this particular episode, that is all the story has to do. We get all that was promised at the outside of the series, a rematch between Vader and Ben. It was well done and satisfying. 

Beyond that, nothing else is needed. I don't see any word on a season 2. This was promoted as a "mini-series", so there may not be a strong need for season 2. The other part of it is Obi-Wan Kenobi was supposed to be a movie. This series was maybe 4 and a half hours. Chopping out an hour wouldn't have done the story any favors and perhaps adding an hour would not have given the viewer more quality. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't care if there is another run of the show, as I felt this really satisfied. Plus there might be a chance that the new Ahsoka Tano series could give us another glance at Anakin and Ben in a different way. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode V Review

 Welcome back. It's Episode V. 


Watching the episode. I finally caught on to the Roman numeral labeling convention. So will this episode be similar to The Empire Strikes Back? 

A little bit. There are all kinds of backstabbing and payouts in this one. First, Reva is promoted to Grand Inquisitor. After tracking and cornering Ben and Leia as they journey down the path, Kenobi negotiates with her to buy some time. During this encounter, Reva reveals her connection to Vader and the Jedi. 

This episode is short and sweet. While Vader engages in a very brief siege of the proto-rebel base, we get a smidgen of development in the form of flashbacks of Anikin and Ben training. These scenes are pretty and forward the story in the current episode. There were light touches of de-aging, but mostly the script runs MacGregor and Christensen as they are. Angles and makeup appear to be the main tools of youth. I liked it as it avoids the uncanny valley which tends kick in hardcore when you see a sudden age jump as decades are shed in seconds and minutes. It was a good call. 

Anyway, Reva's role in this story is revealed. She is the stalking horse, the creature that obscures the real threats. Interestingly, everyone knows this but her. One backstab after another knocks Reva back to her lowly spot in the gang of Inquisitors. This was a far better play than the typical promotion equals death that tends to happen in these stories. 

One other quirk of this episode is the treatment of weapons fire and injuries. It has a lot more in common with the rough Rogue One film than it does in the original films. First, there are a few people with physical shields used to block blaster fire. It works, but not really well. Second, we learn that lightsabre strikes can be either really deadly or maybe just a flesh wound. Vader himself has shown what losing a limb or four does to a person. Given the medical resources of the Empire, there must tons of scarred and grizzled stormtroopers. Anyway, if you get shot or sliced, it appears that being in the Empire might help more than a rag-tag bunch of rebels. 

All in all, this episode ran quick. 40 minutes felt like 15. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Ms Marvel Episode 1 Review

 
Ms. Marvel... I had to Google this one a few months back. On doing a bit of background research, I came to the conclusion that being a 50-year-old, white, bald, fat guy, with children, I was not in the demographics of this show. 

A truer statement could not be made. 

So, why review it? I watched the first episode and I hate it. And it's great! 

I'm going to ignore the whole writer's team and Disney aspect for a while and just talk about the character. Who, what, why, when, and where. 

The young woman who is about to take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel is a 16-year-old, immigrant from Pakistan living in Jersey City a few years after the blip. I am foggy on the whole Marvel timeline, but this is 5-10 years in our future. She has a loving family, goes to a good school, and is surrounded by excellent, well-meaning people and a crowd of folks who don't get her. 

The problem with Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is, there isn't a lot to grok about her. She's 16 and she loves superheroes. Who doesn't? 

Well... my wife. 

Out of this one-dimensional girl, we get 45 minutes of high school high-jinx. Not your typical TV high school high-jinx, but a series of characters who are loving caring people who just want the best for Kamala, which does not include a high fashion superhero get-up. Ya, know, typical adults and well-balanced friends. 

It's ground-breaking but not particularly woke or whatever. It's rock-solid writing by the staff. The characters seem like fully formed real people, which serves and progresses the story well. I am beginning to suspect that this is not a superhero story at all. It's a coming-of-age story, where superheroes aren't what you think they are... important. 

Because this TV show doesn't fit in the mold of a superhero origin story, it actually does very well. It's odd and offbeat. Superimposed on the surface of the show are all of Kamala's hopes and dreams, in cartoon form. The production quality of these interjections suffers from a rare problem. The quality is too good. It's not especially distracting but somehow fails to integrate with the characters and story. When the actors are asked to act out these imagined plot lines, the show really shines. The humor and delivery are a lot like Ant-Man, which is not a bad film to emulate. The results of these live action intercessional pieces pay handsomely, like little nuggets of gold. 

If this was a full-length feature film, I'd stop right there. Five Stars. 

But it isn't a feature film. Ms. Marvel is one of these odd 6 part mini-series on D+ which may or may not develop into a full series. That is baffling in my mind. 

We are on to Disney. I totally understand why they picked this format. Fear of Failure, plain and simple. "We meant to a 6 piece storyline, and we're done. We don't have to do more." vs. "Wow, this sucked. It was a bad idea and it's going in the garbage bin." 

I'm looking at you, Falcon and Winter Soldier. It had a lot of potential, but after a while, I pulled a Bender and shouted "Do a flip!". Horrible that I feel that way. It really had potential but didn't stick the landing. And Disney doesn't have to worry because it was just a mini-series and nothing "important". Just filler content for a new streaming service. 

So, we have a superhero show that isn't really about superheroes. Disney nailed the meta on this as superheroes are an ever-present feature of Kamala's world, but have nothing to do with who she is. Her friends and family are who she is. 

There is a gritty narrative under the surface, about what worldwide disasters (Covid... the Blip, pick) do to children. When it comes to kids, it's beginning to look like telling them made-up fears screws with their perception of the world and colors them for life. 

I survived, the Cold War, the Next Ice Age, AIDS, Y2K, Global Warming, COVID... the list goes on and on. I survived, you survived because none of these are really world-ending events. Not even close. Sure we've got bombs that can turn a patch of earth into a glass as hot as the sun, but we are humbled by the fact that we cannot build enough to damage the planet in any meaningful way. Sure, lots of people die but life goes on. 

Ask the birds, formerly known as dinosaurs. 

Thankfully, Ms. Marvel keeps this concept on a low simmer. You can see it, and feel it, but isn't directly addressed. The viewer merely needs to know that's a thing. A big thing, an ever-present thing, but not the topic of this story. 

So, here we are with a character and story that refuses to be deconstructed like a superhero comic. No tragic backstory, no war, no calamity but one. And it's an amazing calamity. 

Kamala shows up at Avengercon and meets her arch-nemesis, a tall blue-eyed, blonde-haired classmate that loves Captain Marvel as much as she does. And how does that go? Both girls' biggest dreams and worst high school faux pas of showing up in the same outfit come to pass.  

Instead of being a monster, Blonde Captain Marvel walks up to Pakastani, Muslim Captain Marvel gushing with joy, not anger, not jealously, but straight-up joy. Because normal humans don't get angry when meeting their dreams. 

This whole episode reminds me of every parent-teacher conference I've ever hosted. You know, the one where I have to tell a parent that their child is good, well-behaved, caring, driven, compassionate, and is a pleasure... no, a privilege and an honor to have in class which garners the response: "But B in math..". Screw the math, your kid is amazing because you are awesome parents. These conferences happen way more often than you could possibly know.  

As much as those students aren't my children, this show is not my show. Disney needs to get real and not "do the math" on this series. It's meant for kids, it's meant for a particular class of kids, and they should be damn happy to have it. If they do the math, this will end like Firefly, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

So let me end by slamming the door on future reviews of this show. 5 stars, but it isn't for me. Unless something changes, there doesn't need to be another review. 

The End. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Oops! Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 4 Review

This week flew by. In fact, I thought Thursday was Wednesday. It isn't. 

So, here is this week's review. 


This episode stars Reva, Kenobi, and Leia, with a brief visit by Vader. This episode picks up where the last one ended, Ben and Vader are in serious need of healing. Our old friend the Bacca Tank appears in two different forms. 

Meanwhile, Reva has Leia where Leia wants her. The little princess tries to dance with the Inquisitor and does a remarkable job at it. Unfortunately, too many hijinx with the dark side end up in pain and torture. A child couldn't see that coming. 

Moses Ingram is an excellent villain and foil to Leia. They manage to verbally box each other into surprising corners. Ingram as Reva reveals an incredible amount of understanding of Leia's situation and makes many plays at getting the child to reveal some secrets. It doesn't work, because Reva is an Inquisitor and lets her passions get the better of her. 

The scrappy heroes throw together a terrible plan to invade the Sith Castle in the Mustafar system to free Leia. Indira Varma aka Tala takes the lead and runs the mission save the girl from certain death. I find her very boring, which is actually excellent. She's a spy, she's too dull to notice. It works for me and works for Kenobi, too. 

Much of the rescue involves a series of callbacks to other shows and movies. From the prequels, we get a water world and a tiny breathing mouthpiece. I mentioned the Bacca Tank already, it was used to creepy good effect. Ben tricks stormtroopers with imaginary noises while Tala leaves her communicator on a table like C3PO. My favorite is Ben savaging two stormtroopers like Ahsoka Tano did in the Mandolorian. Snowspeeders make a comeback. 

While I found this episode to be lackluster, the real star is The Force itself. Or at least how it works. At various points, people use and misuse The Force to disastrous effects. Reva finds out that it doesn't work on people who are telling the truth or are at least not telling a lie. Leia also finds that she can protect herself from imagined threats by belief, but all the belief in the world doesn't protect her from getting kicked around. Vader and Ben discover that being aware of each other is rough. 

This sort of undoes some of the worst Force appearances in the most recent 3 films. First, it makes a precedence for telepathy or at least extreme clairvoyance. We got that through "feelings" in the original films, through blurry images in the prequels, and in the last 3 films, full-on mind-melding. Ben and Vader engage in it in an unwelcome and disturbing way, which support's Vader's anger and Ben's fears. 

It also shows how useless The Force is when one cannot imagine the true events occurring. This is greatly amplified when a dark-sider doesn't have the focus or enough information to act, yet acts anyway. It is a slight nod to Ben Solo being a stupid villain, meaning someone who had zero awareness of their actions and how they would be taken by others. 

Personally, I loved Kylo Ren because he was not a Sith Lord and was not bright at all. It was really shocking to see someone completely out of control for no good reason other than that was simply what they were. This is kind of in the vein of Shakespearean villains who engage in evil stuff because they are evil, not because anything special happened to them. 

I'll give this episode a smidgen over middling. 3 of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi - Episode 3 review

 Oh, so much ground to cover for a Wednesday. But Ben comes first. I'll save the other exciting events of the week for the weekend. 


Episode 3 picks up where the last episode ended. Ben and Leia are on the run from the Inquisitors. This episode is odd because it solidifies what happened in the Clone Wars cartoon while seeming to undercut what happened in Rebels. There are a ton of shout-outs to both series in this episode. 

In the last Episode, Reva betrayed the Grand Inquisitor and makes a powerplay with the rest of the Inquisitors. She jumps in the driver's seat and takes the Empire for a spin. She manages to locate and isolate Ben and Leia, which of course leads to typical Empiric missteps. Often, Star Wars plays these types of events for laughs but Ben's encounter with stormtroopers is anything but funny. The two heroes end up on the short bus with a bunch of stormtroopers which could have been played for laughs but instead, we get sorrow and tension before the stormtroopers learn to just walk away. 

Meanwhile Third Sister, or Reva if you like, tries to get the Empire back on Ben's track. She is only partially successful. This is what I like in a villainous character, driven but totally luckless. Reva and the other Inquisitors are forever stuck in a battle of brawn more than will. Where the others are ruthless, Reva is honest. That is one of the most dastardly traits of a villain. She has an awareness of what the Inquisitors are and doesn't fully mean to emulate them. Much to their pain. 

The big cameo is Vader's appearance, a direct result of Reva's power-grabbing stunts. It's a pity that the other Inquisitors are unable to learn from past mistakes and can only emulate important actions. Which leads to vying for power and bad ideas.  

Emperor Claudius

I've had a theory since seeing Rogue One, which is weird because Rogue One is in Obi-Wan's future. In the original three Star Wars films, Vader was a beast. There was nothing scarier than that black suit and dark breathing. But it comes at a cost. There is only so much energy he has to spend. When not in the suit, he's in the tank just trying to be ready to get in the suit. He is worn out, exhausted from the constant pain of his injuries. This was very evident in Rogue One and to a lesser extent, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It comes back in Obi-Wan Kenobi, as Vader sits on his throne. He is more Claudius than Conan. 

He's not his best by any measure. Perhaps a better analogy would be Vader and Tiberius. 

This is the Vader we get in Kenobi. While weak, he dominates the stage, making everything seem small and cramped. This episode opens up the world when Leia and Ben are on the road through deserts and mines, but everything collapses in when they are being stalked by the Empire. 
As the trap closes on Ben and Leia, the scenes take on a more realistic tone. The lightsabres are back to being physical objects as they were in the first 3 movies. Their glow is powerful, almost overdone pitting Ben's blue light against the red of Vader's blade. There is not a hell of a lot of swordplay here. The two battle like boxers coming off the ropes, which makes a lot of sense. Ben is older and Vader is maimed. 

Like the last episode, a lot of smaller characters make their way into the action hinting at a much larger world. Like Rebels, these people play a role they do not completely understand. We don't have a rebellion just yet. But boy is one brewing up. 

The episode ends in a cliffhanger as Reva almost captures what she needs. Curiously, she ends the episode spouting kindness and reassurance, which is the last thing you want from a villain. 

I look forward to the next episode. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 2 Review

I'm struggling with these spoiler free reviews. There is a practical point where I have to assume the reader has seen episode 1 and the trailer.

So I guess it would be fair to say to you, dear reader, there will be some spoilers after the title card.

OK before I dig into the spoilers, I have to mention that I might not be the demographic this show is targeting. Or I'm exactly the targeted demographic. 

This series is obviously light on the budget. It comes across more like the newer Doctor Who episodes. This type of TV makes wonderful memories of cowering behind the couch while also speaking to the child viewer. Not only does it have that non specific fear vibe, the quality is not your typical CGI to insane levels that Star Wars is known for. It doesn't quite drop into the Three Walls of a Star Trek set, but is more akin to the more adventurous scenes of more typical science fiction shows. 

It has some of the glow of Bladerunner and Tron, while also having the gray cardboard concrete of any number of movies and TV shows from my youth. I kind of love it. 

And now on to the story. Thank God there is a story beyond "and Ben sat in the desert for 10 more years..." I was expecting Hutt and Sand people. And I am really glad they tapped the Inquisitors as villains. Reva, the Inquisitors' very own watergirl for all the respect she gets is devious as she is evil and ruthless. Not a supervillain by any measure, but she gets the job when it comes to luring Ben out of the desert. 

Ben ends up on a world where privacy is king. What had been a hindrance to the Empire is now shared equally with the hero as he hunts for the kidnapped 10 year old Leia. I hear the actress is actually 8 and I see that she is excellent. 

One of the funny things about Star Wars is, the galaxy is old and things are often presented as "it is because we say it is". In this episode, we get to see why something bad stuff is simply glossed over. The Jedi are truly dangerous to society at large and the embodiment of this is not the Inquisitors or The Jedi, but Leia. Pay close attention to her actions and activities and try to imagine how bad an untrained force user is in the world. 

Anyway, Ben's mission is simple. Get the girl home from a sad-sack world that is all the worst the Star Wars galaxy has to offer. 

There are a few cool cameos in this episode Ewan's daughter and a certain rockstar. Neither is particularly jarring at first glance, but Esther Rose McGregor lands a gut punch line if you figure out who she is. She's someone's daughter. 

And we are back to children. Ben has to win over this precious princess in order to save her from the villains. This is where the writers duck and weave and throw a crackpot idea to separate Ben from the princess. The results are fun, but the whole idea was bad. It's the one disappointment I had. 

As we approach the end of this episode, hope is snatched from the jaws of the Dark Side. Every character would or could have been a beast that either gets owned by their own actions or actually turns out to be a little more heroic than the audience would have believed. It plays rather well. 

On the other hand, as Leia and Ben make their escape, there is a moment of fear. This is the moment where Ewan McGregor pulls off some of his best acting, in a show that doesn't lack good acting. We get the see and feel the moment Ben realizes Anakin is out there. 

I was disappointed by the 35-minute run time, but hey, this was essentially a two-part which ran for 80 some minutes. As I understand it, this show will drop on the typical Disney Wednesday. That means the next review will be in less than 3 days. I can't wait. 

And now the ad. Find your favorite figures at GameStop.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode Wan Review

 The title card says it all. 


It's 45 years later and the story is again riding on Obi-Wan Kenobi and friends. When Star Wars first came out, it was groundbreaking and unlike anything that had been done before. So unlike prior films, it was accidentally planted in the realm of science fiction, like that other groundbreaking series, Star Trek. 

Well, it's never been science fiction. It's pure fantasy in a technological world. Which is very different. 

This time out, we get to see Obi-Wan and the Empire at odds with each other when both are at their worst. The time periods in Star Wars have always been shakey to me. Rather than think in years, it's better to just run with "this show is before Star Wars and after the prequels". Nailing down years in a galaxy far far away and a long time ago is rather difficult and really the series does not suffer for it. However, there are a pair of very obvious clocks in this series in the form of characters. 

Since this is before Star Wars, we get to see a different type of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sir Alec Guinness made Old Ben the stately figure we all grew up with. He hated every moment of it, no matter how much we loved him for it. Back in the prequel years, Ewan McGregor was forced into the mold of what Sir Guinness gave us and I really enjoyed his interpretation of what this old war hero was all about. But it wasn't exactly what I expected of Ewan McGregor. He seem hemmed in by what had gone before. 

With this new series, we see a new, new side to Old Ben. It will be no spoiler for the reader to talk about the prequels. With just under 7 hours of content, the prequels covered a lot of ground. It introduced a younger Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council then ripped them away as the Republic shifted to the Empire and the Sith destroyed the Jedi Council.  

The next 7 hours of film, the original 3 films, give the viewer the old washed-up version of the Jedi which has faded into legend and myth. To this, we can add some unusual choices for bridging material. Three cartoon series have filled in the gaps to some extent: The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch plus two live-action features, Solo and Rogue One which ducked away from Jedi story entirely. The viewer should be very aware of what the Empire has been up to all this time. It's quite a lot really and all of it is bad. 

This series should answer the questions we do not know the answers to, where has Obi-Wan been all this time? 

The last time we saw Obi-Wan, he had delivered Leia and Luke to adoptive parents with an uncharacteristic smile. It was very strange to see Obi-Wan's world completely destroyed and his only hope in the hands of two children he would not see as prospects for change for many decades. That unnerving smile at the end of the prequels didn't seem reasonable but in light of what was happening to Obi-Wan in the series, it could have been either a complete mask of his true disgust or indicative of being on the horrible end of a complete breakdown. 

After seeing the first episode of this new series, I think perhaps that it is the second. Obi-Wan has suffered a very real breakdown and the smile was merely an indication of how broken he was at the end of those stories. This new series starts with a very slow slog through Old Ben's life as he performs the most mechanical and boring duty: survive on a wasteland planet and hope that nothing bad happens to Luke. Of course, that is not where the episode ends. There are some important evolutions to Ben's duties and outlook on life in those 50 minutes. 

Rather than tell you about this or that plot point and spoil it for the reader, I will merely point out which aspects of the show I enjoyed. First, the first episode was written by Stuart Beattie and Hossein Amini of Pirates of the Caribbean and Gangs of New York fame. Respectively, of course. I cannot stress how far away from the laughs of Captain Jack Sparrow Ben is, and I can happily report that Obi-Wan Kenobi is not nearly as gritty as Gangs of New York was. Thank the Maker!

With this material to work with, the series director could deliver the typical rich setting that Lucas was known for in the first three Star Wars films. However, rather than CGI the crap out of everything, there are a lot of practical effects which reminded me of both the original three movies and TV shows like Dr. Who. A lot is done with very little, which is nice to see in a Disney production. As much as I like Disney, there is something to be said about economy in storytelling.  

Being made for the small screen, the scope and extent of the stages needed to be limited. I am pretty certain that there is CGI I couldn't see in every scene, but hey, that's the best type of CGI. The story is a limited one from Ben's point of view and the nature of made-for-TV actually hints at far wider vistas than what the show delivers. The viewer's impression is that the edges of the screen simply lose details. There is not a cast of 1000s, a lot of scenes are filmed top down so as to hide the edge of the stage. and sometimes, the detail simply peters out at the edges. 

That's actually great. 

It calls back the original movies while also having a psychological purpose. Ben is so burned out at this point that he is far beyond kiting checks Big Lebowski style for trivial amounts. His world has collapsed to just what the viewer can see. 

Actually, it's less. 

As the first episode progresses, the viewer receives a very different rendition of the character than McGregor gave 20 years ago and a wildly out-of-character performance relative to what Sir Alex Guinness gave us 45 years ago. It's not surprising that this would happen, because Ben is neither one of those characters in this series. What will be fascinating to see is the transition between old and new Obi-Wan and how that comes to be. 

I look forward to episode two. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Iron Buffalo Coffee Review and a Swag Plug

I had a chance to stop into Iron Buffalo Gaming yesterday and picked up a bag of fresh ground coffee. The place was rockin' at 4 in the afternoon. 

Anyway, Iron Buffalo Gaming has a coffee "problem". Well, not a real problem, but a strong sense of good coffee. They had the coffee bar open and it smelled wonderful. They are also able to do many other styles of drinks, such as an oatmeal latte.

They have a slot on their website for ordering coffee, but right now they are not in stock. I'll update when it becomes available. 

I was in a hurry, so I didn't have time to hang out and have a cup. That and they have a mask policy in place, so I had to take mine home. William, the owner ground it on the spot so it was totally fresh. Not that it would be old or stale being made over at Tipico Coffee on Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo, NY. You can't get fresher coffee than that. 

This brew is a light roast. 

My son and I had a cup after dinner and it was great. While advertised as a light roast, it is full-bodied with a delicate persimmon overtone. I love saying "PERSIMMON", I've always wanted to say that. 

As promised, I have some swag to share, too.

A few months ago, I started offering some small items on Red Bubble, including these great coffee mugs. They are typical mugs that are perfect for relaxing with a good coffee. They are 11 ounces or 325 ml. which is just the right size for quality coffee. None of the wacky, "Venti® Americano, Starbucks Coffee" crap. 

You don't need 20 oz. of good coffee to be satisfied. I have this hysterical Starbucks monolog about "a venti what?" that I do when I go to Starbucks. It hinges on venti is Italian for 20 but Italians have been on the metric system for ages, so I want "venti litri di caffè americano". 

Enough joking, on to the commercials! 

These two mugs are available for a little over $16 on Redbubble.com, but if you order two the price drops to a smidgen over $13 each. I have both white and black available. The design is called "Rockets into Adventure". You are probably familiar with this design from my Pandemic Disaster posts. 

The black cup is pictured to the left, with the bag of coffee and a small hint to my next review. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Review - Iron Buffalo Gaming. A game store with a coffee problem.

Name: Iron Buffalo Gaming (and Coffee!) 
Location: 656 Millersport Highway, Amherst, NY 14226
Phone: (716) 541-0336
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ironbuffalogaming
Website: https://www.ironbuffalogaming.com/

Coffee and games are two of my favorite things and Iron Buffalo has them both. I love this shop and not for the excellent coffee smell that permeates everything. We have some great gaming shops in the area but this one is my favorite for the coffee connection. 

Iron Buffalo has a great assortment of games, D&D, OSE, X-Wing plus paints, dice, and other gaming supplies. The last time I was in there, it was the height of COVID and there was no coffee. Local places have been taking a pounding from this crap. 

I somehow managed to not take any pictures when I last visited, which I really regret. The inside of the building is wonderfully laid out, with everything having its place. It is so easy to find what you need. I am planning a trip tomorrow or the next day, so maybe I'll not forget myself and take a picture or two. 



I hear scheduled events will return Friday, March 18th, so check them out on the web or their Facebook page. As I understand it, Iron Buffalo still has a facemask policy, so be prepared. If you follow them on Facebook, you'll get status updates which include event scheduling, new products, and other fun stuff happening there. 

One of the things that blew me away was they had an actual copy of Old School Essentials' Rules Tome. My wife gifted it to me for Christmas. This is one of the reasons you need to shop locally for things, whether it's a shop like Iron Buffalo or your local shop. It keeps the chain intact. A little shop investing in a tiny book floats at least two different companies and keeps the industry going. And it's more than "going" if a non-gamer like my wife can pick out a great game at a local shop, sight unseen from my dinner time blatherings.  

If you are in the Western New York Area, you have to check this shop out. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Inaugural 2022 Post

Welcome to 2022! The year of Time Runner and Soylent Green. 

As promised, I will continue to do science fiction and fantasy book reviews. Last year I was heavy on the sci-fi so this year I hope to swing the other direction into fantasy. 

It's January 2nd and I have already burned most of a $75.00 B&N gift card and a good chunk of another gift card. And read a book, Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds. I have a couple of other books lined up for review this year, classics like Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Deviltry and a newer title, After Dark by Michael and Shell DiBaggio. I also have Aurora Rising, Permafrost, The Winds of Gath for my Traveller friends and Sanctuary for you murderous thieves lurking out there. 


Lastly, I have picked up about 7 game titles from Noble Knights and DriveThruRPG to round everything out.

I hope you stay tuned this year. Join me on a year of epic reading. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review - Lenovo 300e Chromebook

We've got a lot of Chromebooks going on here. This one is my daughter's Lenovo 300e which is ostensibly to be used for school work aSometimes, anyway. Notice the power cord. It typically isn't charged when it needs to be. 

Children...

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 11.6 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768
  • Processor Model: Intel Celeron 
  • Processor Model Number: N4000
  • Processor Speed (Base): 1.6 GHz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 32 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon R4
  • Operating System: Chrome
  • Battery Life: (up to) 10 hours
This Chromebooks greatest weakness is its strongest feature: the storage space. Being designed for Education, children should not be saving stuff to the hard drive. The machine is meant for the cloud. And as a cloud-based machine, it does very well. The wi-fi is solid, as is the Bluetooth. 

As a sub $300, sometimes sub $200 machine, it has some lacks which make it a true cloud machine. There is no HDMI or Ethernet port. 

The speakers are mildly ok, which is actually desirable in the classroom. It does have a headphone jack which is the preferred method of listening for students. The stereo headphone jack also has microphone capabilities. The screen has the same performance factors as my HP-14dk1000 laptop in a smaller format, locked in at 1366x768. For schoolwork, this is just fine due to the assumed connectivity issue. Students won't plug into their phones and such for images of high enough resolution to make a difference. 

It has 2 USB A and 2 USB C ports, where one of the USB C ports is used for charging. Battery life is great if your child charges it. It also includes a standard camera and microphone, built-in. They are fine for Zoom or Google Classrooms. The lappy is rounded out with a micro-SD card slot. 

Normally I don't mention the frame or case, but the frame is solid with no flex and the case has a variety of textures for easy gripping. 

Performance is nice for basic Google Drive Work. It will run good-sized videos at a decent rate. At least for 1366x786 resolution.

As an educational laptop, it doesn't have guest mode or other features. It is a managed device. If you purchase one of these "refreshed" or used, it should be unassociated with the school district. If it isn't, I would suggest returning it. School districts have a protocol in place to release products for "refreshed" or "renewed" sales, it's worth money to them. If you find your "renewed" Chromebook has an administrator account, it is probably one of the zillion computers lost or misplaced by a child. It probably won't be worth the effort of "fixing" it even if you find such things to be trivial. 

Try a reputable reseller if at all possible. 




Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Review - Acer CB311-10H Chromebook

I have several Chromebooks to support my websites and my kid's educational needs. I will be looking at the Acer CB311 series of machines, but today I am reviewing the Acer CB311-10H. 

The black CB311 on the left, as compared to another 311 model on the right.


Display size: 11.6 Inches
Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 Pixels
RAM: 4 GB
Hard Drive: 64 GB SSD
Graphics Coprocessor: Intel UHD Graphics 600
Wireless: ‎802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth

This is a sub-$300 machine, very often coming in at a little over $225 on sale. It's a lightweight machine for basic computing. At 2.42 lbs (1.79 Roman Catholic) the 7.83 x 11.65 x 0.71 inch machine feels solid. It even passes my one-hand carry test, where the machine still responds to the keyboard and trackpad while walking around. It doesn't flex at all. It's a rubberized, bombproof basic. 

The wi-fi is good and it has built-in Bluetooth capabilities. It features two USB ports, a pair of USB C ports, one of which is for charging, a micro-sd card reader, and a headphone jack. There is no large card reader or Ethernet port, which really shouldn't surprise you at this price point. 

The 11.6-inch diagonal screen feels well proportioned to this laptop but is on the small side. The resolution is capped at 1366x786 which isn't horrible on 11.6 inches. It plays video well enough but you can forget about 4k even though the dual processors and graphics card could maybe do it. It is also not a touchscreen, so there is that.  

The standard laptop camera and mic pair are fully functional and work rather well. However, you won't be mixing A/V on this machine without Linux. 

The one kick in the pants right out of the box is the speakers. It has two but they seem very poor on the first boot. Oddly, if you run the update they actually improve. I am not sure why this is, but it was a nice save by Acer. Granted, these are laptop speakers. Don't expect too much. Running Youtube or YouTube Music natively is nice and the machine does an adequate job of audio rendition. It's not like you work in a dance club. 

The other downsides are the lack of a mic jack, HDMI, and the previously mentioned Ethernet port. Well, it was cheap. USB do-dads are an option but I only use an external mic even though the internal mic and camera are nice. 

The CB-311-10H is not a touchscreen unlike other 311 models. 

Additionally, the lappy runs Android Apps and of course has all of the Google Drive features that are standard on modern Chromebooks. I also have Ubuntu 16.04 running in Crouton, so while the 4 GB of memory seems light, it is functional for basic work. 

All and all, this basic sub $300 laptop earns a solid 3 stars. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Review - In The Hollow Of The Spider Queen

This review needs a little background or perhaps a disclaimer of little background. I picked up this game set off the indy rack at Gather & Game, a local shop. Unbeknownst to me, there is a  whole game system out there called "Powered by the Apocalypse". 

I had zero awareness of this ruleset and at this moment, I can't decide if "In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" or "Powered by the Apocalypse" needs a 5 gold star rating. 

Yes, there are games I simply don't know about thanks to a vibrant OSR and general explosion of gaming systems available. 

Perhaps both need 5 gold stars. By the time I complete my 52 reviews for 2021, I'm sure we will know. 
Title: In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
Rule Set: Powered by the Apocalypse 
Year: 2021
Author: Aaron M. Sturgill
Publisher: Trail of Dice Games
Pages: 60 pages, plus character sheet and 3 color maps. 
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen

"In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" is an intriguing concept, just reading the back cover. It is a DM and one-player hexcrawl game based on old-school crawls. 

Whoa. Sign me up.   

Now for the twist, the rules are meant for one referee and one player but are scaleable so that up to 3-5 players can join the fun. 

And there is no need to wait. The set comes with one character sheet and a 3-page explainer of how to create a character. Like D&D, characters have a couple of stats to populate. Your character will have a spread of points that are positive, negative, or neutral. In addition to those, you have Resolve and Hit Points that are modified by two of the stats you previously selected. Gather your gold, pick equipment and answer some questions to start playing. 

This system uses an XP clock that turns lemons into lemonade. If you botch a roll, you fail but also fill a tick of the XP clock. Get four ticks, receive one XP point. XP is used to gain many advantages, so taking a risk is usually always worth it even if you fail your roll. Languages use the same sort of clock to create a dynamic scale of proficiency. 

In the DM's section, we get the core rules plus details on the world or Continent as the author calls it. By the rules, this set is a little more complex than combat. The set has an interesting system of Resolve vs. HP loss, which means that players can be defeated (or not) by something a little more complex than an axe blow to the head. Should the hero die, there are options for continued gameplay. 

The Continent is populated by various races or factions all spelled out on their own page. Each page has a detailed description, a helpful list of names and rumors which apply to the race or faction as a whole. Each page builds on the last to create a great history and background of the world the players will explore. In this case, less is more. 

What is so impressive about this little book is the fact that so much is rammed into 21 pages. There is still half a book to go. 


Page 22 introduces the movement rules. This is a hex crawl, after all. Characters have 3 starting locations. Where your player(s) will go is based on the questions they answered in the creation process. Random encounters are linked to locations, delivering the DM information as they need it. After that, the lands of the Continent are described. Within those descriptions, there are more random Encounter tables paired to locations with the lands. Again, necessary information is provided only when needed. 

To flavor and enhance gameplay, the ruleset comes with 2 Appendices and an index. Indexes seem to be a highly underrated feature in the digital age but are amazing when you have a physical copy. 

I am amazed that for just $16, this book does everything as advertised on the back cover. You can pick up either a physical copy or a digital one at DriveThruRPG for a few bucks less. In looking at the author's website, this is not an either-or proposition. If you find a physical copy, you can request a pdf at the website.  

Friday, November 5, 2021

Live Another Day Or Buy Mac A Drink (Computer Review)

I don't like to do computer reviews on TheseOldGames.com as I already have a website for computers, software, and hardware called unpwnd.com just for that purpose. However, since this is a website for Old Games, sometimes a post about computers comes naturally. 

And this is one of those rare computer-themed posts. To support These Old Games, I maintain a Blueberry Mac iBook released back on July 21st, 1999. This thing is 22 years old and still ticking despite some serious carnage done to it. Here are the specs as they stand today: 

Processor: 1, 300 MHz PowerPC 750 (G3)
FPU: Integrated
Bus Speed: 66 MHz
RAM Type: PC66 SDRAM, 144-pin PC66 SO-DIMM memory modules.
RAM Installed: 64 MB onboard plus one 512 MB module for a total of 576 MB.
RAM Slots: 1
Video Card: ATI Rage Mobility (2X AGP) with 4 MB of SDRAM.
Built-in Display: 12.1" TFT
Resolution: 800x600
Storage: 10 GB internal, 32 GB external plus a secondary 128 GB external drive
Optical: 24X CD-ROM
Modem: 56k v.90 Standard Ethernet: 10/100Base-T
AirPort: 802.11b
USB Ports: 1 (1.1)
Battery Type: 45 W h LiIon
Battery Life: 6 Hours (more with a  RAM disc, like 24 hrs+)
OSes Installed: 9.2.2 and 10.04 Kodiak.
Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.5 x 11.6
Weight: 6.7 lbs (3.04 kg)

I suppose the first question I should answer is, what is the boot time on 20+-year-old computer? About 2 minutes with all of the control panels and extensions turned on. See for yourself by watching the video below. 

With everything turned off, it boots much faster but I virtually never do that. 

So, what do I use this thing for? Gaming, writing, drawing, and CAD. A lot of what you see here and on my other websites is written on this machine. I also listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. 

By way of example, I wrote all of my Traveller posts using this computer, which included some wireframe designs. My first ideations for the Devil Fish freighter started on the Mac and were transferred to another, more modern machine for improvements. All of the writing was done in Word and the basic outline for the ship was done in RayDream Designer 3. 

Long before I used this machine for my websites, I was using a machine very much like it to create whole books. My father's games, like Knight Hack were written on a 512K Mac and then converted several times until they reached their modern form. 

The interesting thing is, when combined with a Linux computer and some PDF software, I can bring my whole DriveThruRPG library with me on the Mac. Yes, that's right. Your modern works can be opened (usually) on a 22-year-old computer. Sometimes it balks, but most of the time it just works. 

Surprisingly, I often don't need to tweak anything in the PDFs for Adobe 3, 4 or 5. I am running a lot of older Adobe software, so if I do encounter a glitch I can usually tweak it via the Mac itself. There are some rare cases where nothing can be done to "fix" or "convert" a file to something the Mac can read. I just deal with it.

I will grant you that images are not so smooth on the iBook due to the 800x600 display. They look like they're printed on canvas. Nothing can be done to fix it, but usually, it isn't a problem worth mentioning. 

So, what can't I do with this 22-year-old machine? I can't print. Using the internet is problematic. There is software that will get me on the web, but it doesn't handle .CSS well. Believe it or not, this machine shows up as a Nokia cellphone in Google Analytics due to the handling of the emulation of the browser. 

This particular iBook has an Airport card. Theoretically, I could connect wirelessly to the internet but I would have to use an old router. As in a router old enough to have security issues, so I don't do it. Part of the process of using this machine is it forces me to create backups. While I am not an insane security nut, I do love my backups. These occur naturally by moving files to my 32 GB USB drive or the 128 GB external drive. 

Ironically, I had been creating DVD backups as a part of this process but they did not survive the house fire which did not consume my Mac, the USB drive, or the external drive despite being dowsed with fire, water, and presumably a massive power surge as the fuse box and wiring burst into flames and failed. The DVDs incinerated, right next to the hardware that didn't. How does that happen?  

To be honest, using the internet on this machine is a poor experience so I try to avoid it. I do have a local copy of Wikipedia on the 128 GB hard drive. I can access it with Netscape Navigator which is totally crazy to see in 2021. My copy of Wikipedia is wildly out of date as it hasn't been updated in years, but it works well enough for basic research. I sometimes connect for games, which seems to be less problematic as they are old enough to not break. 

In my next post for unpwnd.com, which will be written on this Mac, is about loading Linux via Crouton to a Chromebook. 


The great thing about writing on this machine is the intimacy. I don't have updates running, firewalls popping, no Facebook or Mewe starving for my attention. It's just me and the words, not the world. It's really nice to "unplug" without actually unplugging. My first cause for getting into computing decades ago was for problem-solving, speed, and automation. The superiority of a computer over a word processor or typewriter is amazing. The ability to make digital art is complementary to physical production and allows for techniques and ideas that can't be done on paper alone. Add in that an electronic product can be created for sharing or printing is really great. 

To me, this production is what computing is all about and this iBook still produces. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Review - How to Make War By James F. Dunnigan

Title: How to Make War
Year: 1982, 1993, 2003
Author: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

This review covers one of those things you know, but don't really know. How to Make War by Jim Dunnigan reads like an RPG. James Dunnigan is an author, a military-political analyst, a consultant, and a wargame designer. He designed games for Avalon Hill and founded Simulations Publications Inc.

Despite being both a gamer and historian myself, up until this review I believed that Jim and James Dunnigan were two different people. It explains a lot. 

How to Make War is not a gamebook but a guide to war. While the title is focused on current military affairs, each section is applicable to many different eras of warfare. The intent of the book is education, not practical military knowledge. A quick read-through will greatly enhance the reader's background knowledge of what it takes to produce a war, productive or otherwise. 

Structurally, the book's 29 chapters are divided into 8 parts. Each part covers one major aspect of warfare. In order, they are: 

  1. Ground Combat, 
  2. Air Operations, 
  3. Naval Operations, 
  4. Human Factors, 
  5. Special Weapons, 
  6. Warfare by the Numbers, 
  7. Moving the Goods, 
  8. and Tools of the Trade.
A lot has changed over the years, and the effect of these changes has yet to percolate down to the battlefield level. Mr. Dunnigan takes a shot at predictions of how new technology will change the battlefield while presenting data from past conflicts. Everything is incremental. 

Since the Big One and The Second Big One, wars have become smaller and more politically complex affairs without losing any of their characteristic violence and horror. What changes are the speed and sophistication of the destruction along with the long-lasting effects of these conflicts on humanity. Sadly, Mr. Dunnigan points out that many humans feel that the aversion to war is a lost opportunity to right some sort of wrong. 

While much of the book deals with the hardware of warfare, the important bits are political drives and logistics of the attempt to meet those drives with real-world resources. To paraphrase Mr. Dunnigan, "amateurs think of tactics while professionals think of logistics." Nothing plays out worse than declaring a goal that cannot be obtained. Don't make threats, make promises. 

Mr. Dunnigam walks through the lives of those who will fight and why in addition to the hardware they will use. Starting with the infantry in Part 1, the readers follow the cans and can'ts of each resource available to the would-be warmonger. Aircraft are quick; quicker than a ship but not as quick as a satellite. They land someplace between the two when it comes to delivering hardware, information, and personnel to the front. 

Human factors address by the book covers the reasons people will fight, their leadership, and the intelligence resources available to both. When humans are involved, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head, and whoever considers that fact first has more control over who will be victorious. Additionally, since virtually all armed forces will find themselves at peace most of the time, what do you do with them? 

One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is the application or refusal to use so-called "special weapons". The chemical, biological, and nuclear crowdpleasers. Yes, they are the big stick but taking out whole environments for weeks, months, or decades at a time might not be the victory one craves. On a more limited front, other special weapons are used to wage war in space. Special forces engage in brief, limited-purpose engagements. Circling back like the last chapter, militaries are able to engage in activities that are just as hostile as any conflict without using arms. Relief operations are a standout feature quelling or fueling the desires of war in an enemy, as is training foreign troops and waving the flag. 

Part Six covers logistics and attrition. Or the real reasons no one attacks without good reason. Part Seven pairs nicely with Part Six as it covers the costs and ability to transport to the tools of war. The final part in this section covers tried and true weapons and considers the untried technology against what the future may bring. It's interesting to see the reality of logistics weighed against the speculation of what may come. 

I've noticed two knocks against this book from other reviews that I completely disagree with: the lack of sources and the American-centric reality it presents. 

This is not a textbook, it is a reflection of the lifetime of study. It's all right in the title "How to Make War". It is a study of why wars happen and why they often fail to result in positive outcomes for both winners and losers. Sources over reflections would make this a textbook. The tact of this book is how costly war is in every term; a textbook on that topic would cause the reader to utterly miss the point of the book. 

The second point, the American-centric aspect is merely a reflection of the United States Budget placing warfare over all other things. Yes, we win wars due to insane spending which has many obvious costs. No, those wars often don't benefit anyone long-term and often have disastrous consequences. Or more humorously, America winning a conflict simply allows the losing side access to Red Dawn on Netflix, resulting in a lot of non-English speakers leaving to say the word: "Wolverines!". And if you think about it, war is about as cute and cuddly as a wolverine in your pants. A circumstance Mr. Dunnigan covers completely. Don't mistake the numbers for the reality of the situation. 

5 gold stars of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Introduction: How to...

If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times. The 1981 Basic Edition of D&D is my edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Before that, I had the 1979 AD&D books which seemed a little opaque to 7 and 8 year old me. But by 9, I could grasp all of the ins and outs of the Moldvay set. 

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

At 49, I set a challenge of reviewing 52 gaming culture significant titles. I've done novels, movies, game modules, supplements but only a handful of rule sets. The reason is pretty clear, how does one review old or new products which emulate old games? Everyone should know everything about them already. 

A month or so ago, a reader whom I shall call Blackrazor gave me dozens of books to replace the ones I lost. Additionally, he threw in a bunch of things I have never seen. By way of thanks to my readers, I want to review them. 

This loops me back to my original observation that everyone who plays these games should know them. So true. 

Back in February of this year, I reviewed The White Box by Atlas Games. This product isn't a game, it's a developer's tool to create games. In that review, I mentioned that the vast majority of essays written for this title explore the pedagogy of games. Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching. 

This nicely brings me around to this little piece of artwork: 


The Moldvay version of D&D was meant to teach from the book, as opposed to the methods used in the prior editions. It's a fine distinction, in intent, scope, and for my purposes, a perfect distinction.  

OD&D, Holmes, and AD&D e1 are very fine games, but they were not designed and developed as the Moldvay books were which is very evident in terms of play and players. These three sets were designed with the intention that one person would own the books and that one person would teach the rules. Moldvay on the other hand, explains the rules with an almost boardgame approach so that players pick a role and act on it rather than the exploration of roles (and rules) that older editions supposed. 

It's the method of teaching that changes between editions. Players were always cautioned against reading the DM's material. But in a generic sense, meaning they shouldn't metagame. Knowing the rules was always encouraged, but defining which rules were in play was the purview of the DM. So, when players hit those OD&D-type games, they often knew how to run a game even when in action as a player character, but they learned directly from the person hosting the game. In B/X the rules themselves teach. 

Going forward, I hope to review several B/X sets from the point of view of how the rules convey the pedagogy of the game. 

I have 10 more entries for my 2021 review series, if I could make whole rulesets half of those, I think I will have succeeded in this adventure.  

HP-14dk1000 Laptop Review

Normally I would place hardware reviews over on Unpwnd.com but this one is special. It makes my website and games go. 

This particular HP is only available from Best Buy. At the $299 price point, you know this isn't a gaming machine. 

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 14 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 (HD)
  • Processor Model: AMD Athlon Silver 3000 Series
  • Processor Model Number: AMD Athlon Silver 3050U
  • Processor Speed (Base): 2.3 gigahertz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 128 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode
  • Battery Life: (up to) 8 hours
This laptop isn't a powerhouse but is adequate for webwork, minor photo editing, and lightweight games. 

For some buggy reason, Best Buy's spec sheet proactively shoots this laptop in the foot. It is not a 2-in-1, does not have a touch screen, a keyboard backlight, or a voice assistant. In my mind, these missing features actually define a functional laptop, so they aren't really lacking. I expect a phone or a Chromebook to talk back. I expect a drawing surface on a tabby. Not so much on a laptop. Not having these features is a-okay. 

The one stat that jumps out at me is the screen resolution. 1366x768. That is the finest screen of 2002, it's a weak point. In the image below, the desktop looks sharp due to the vibrant colors of the photo. When you go text on white, the weakness of 1366x768 is pretty apparent. 


It does have three other flaws, all of which revolve around the keyboard. The layout is "creative", placing the question mark on the bottom row, arranging the navigation keys vertically down the right-hand side of the keyboard and the trackpad doesn't have much in the way of palm rejection. It's really annoying, like $300 dollars annoying. 


On the plus side, the keyboard is responsive. The boot time is very nice and storage space is more than adequate at 128GB. Four GB of memory is kind of on the low end, but it's enough to run multiple tabs, GIMP, or Inkscape. The trackpad has actual buttons which are nice.  

The port arrangement and loadout are really great. It has 2 USB, 1 USB-C, HDMI, a card slot, and an ethernet port. While these are all pretty standard, but having all of them on a budget frame is surprising. 

A handful of items I missed. This laptop has great speakers for a subpar machine. Streamed movies actually look good on this machine. Neither is "brilliant" but this is more than what $300 should get you. The battery life is a quandary to me. I've had sessions where it pooped out in 3 hours and others that lasted all day long. I suspect that A/V software stresses the poor thing too much and text-only operations don't tax it at all. 

All in all, I give it 2.5 of 5 stars. 

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.>

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