Two quick #reviews and an update

UnknownREVIEW THE FIRST:  Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.  This is going to be one of those reviews that is mostly complaining but then I tell you to read the book anyway, so just be prepared for that– it’s just that the weird stuff is more interesting.  Doomsday Book tells a story of a time traveler sent from 2048 to 1320.  In this future, time travel is part of how historians do their jobs, for the most part, although certain periods are considered too dangerous to send people back, and the machines they use to do the time travel are calibrated in such a way as to deny people travel if sending them back will cause paradoxes.

So Kivrin, one of the main protagonists, gets sent back to 1320, and then all sorts of shit goes wrong, including an epidemic in the “now” timeline (causing a massive quarantine) that may have been caused by sending her back.  Which is impossible, which kind of complicates things.

This book was published in 1992, but reads like it was written in the fifties or sixties, in that  other than time travel and some weirdly inconsistent advances in medicine the author appears to have anticipated exactly zero societal changes that were actually brought on by advanced technology.  Like, the internet existed in 1992, even if it was mostly AOL and local BBSes at the time, and most houses had a computer.  Willis appears to have believed that computers were a fad that were going to go away.  So her notion of future is kind of weird and charmingly retro, but her notion of past is excellent– the bits of the book set in the fourteenth century are phenomenally interesting, enough to make it much easier to ignore the weirdnesses of what is supposed to be 2048 where they seem to still be using rotary phones.  Which never work.   At times it almost seems like they’re going through operators to connect phone calls.

It’s also enormously and charmingly British, so be prepared for that.  The book won all sorts of awards, and it’s a great read, but be prepared to chuckle condescendingly at it in a couple of places.

51SX5APRP1L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The second book of John Scalzi’s Interdependency series, The Consuming Fire, is out and I finished it today.  I liked the first one a hell of a lot– no surprise, as Scalzi has been a favorite for years– but didn’t write about it here.   The Consuming Fire suffers from a slightly meandering first third and takes a bit to get its legs underneath it but once it does it’s off to the races.  I like the basic premise of this series a lot– the Interdependency is an intergalactic human civilization (no aliens in this universe) headed by an Emperox, who is both a political leader and the leader of the church, and the different smaller human societies are joined by what are called Flow streams, which (more or less) are wormholes that connect one chunk of space to another and allow a properly-equipped ship to move substantially faster than light.  This has allowed the Interdependency to exist, as many of their civilizations can’t fully provide for themselves and so trade is absolutely necessary for their society to exist.

In the first book, the Flow streams started collapsing.  This is Bad.  In this book, it becomes clear that what first started out as a couple of lone scientists screaming about the slow-moving ecological and societal catastrophe (sound familiar?) has now become a real and present danger to human civilization.  The good thing is that the Emperox is on the side of the scientists.  The bad thing is that virtually no one else is, and the political machinations going on throughout the book are complicated and (ultimately) really satisfying.  Scalzi’s humor is on point throughout, although he’s kept a trend from the first book of giving spaceships really weirdly anachronistic names– there is a ship called The Princess is in Another Castle, for example, and I feel like there was one in the first book named after a Beatles song.

Still.  S’good.  Read it.

spiderman_negativeUPDATE:  I keep almost abandoning Spider-Man PS4, to the point where I’ve declared myself done with it at least twice and I keep going back to it.  It’s one of those frustrating games that keeps having bits that are entertaining and fun as hell and then four seconds later you’re screaming at the screen because of the absolute bugfuck stupidity of whatever Goddamned dumb thing the game is insisting you do next.  The research missions, in particular, so far are damn near unforgivable– they can be ignored, but I’m bad at ignoring shit in games like this and so far each research mission has found a new and different way to be absolutely insanely annoying in some way or another.  I’ll be perfectly happy to make it through the rest of the game without another fucking car chase, too, which are never not terrible.

Also: I think I mentioned this in my previous piece about this game, but guys?  Spider-Man doesn’t kill people.  Ever.  The only character more fanatical about not killing people than Spider-Man is Batman, and even that is only true for properly understood versions of the character.

This game has a reward for knocking 100 people off of buildings.  Like, there are occasional big fights on top of skyscrapers (in itself, kinda dumb) and the easiest way to be successful is to use moves that knock the bad guys back a lot because most of the time they’ll go sailing off the edge of the building and they’re dead.

No.

I will probably end up finishing this, but much like The Witcher 3, another game that I hated initially and only completed out of spite, I’m going to hate it about half the time I’m playing it.  But Read Dead Redemption 2 comes out in a few days and I need this one done and dusted by then.  So I need to beat it this week.

In which we build, ctd.

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Something happened today that, somehow, hasn’t happened yet, despite the fact that the boy is in first grade: he woke up feeling sick, and I decided to call in myself and keep him home for the day.  By noon my plan had been shown to be less than wise; a headache so bad that it had him swaying in the morning had given way to, well, nothing, and I’m finding myself fighting off a slightly delayed case of con crud.  I think it’ll run its course today and be done tomorrow, but I’m definitely low on spoons, if you know what I mean.

We spent the morning in Minecraft again, and I added a floating cabin, complete with waterfall and a manmade lake underneath, plus the totally-made-up flaming magic rocks that help it float– the floor in the house is actually made of glass covered in carpet because glass won’t burn and nothing else I was putting down was keeping the fires from getting through.  All of this is across the river from yesterday’s efforts.

In the background there is another floating fountain made of emerald.  Yes, there’s apparently a theme in this world; much like IT, everything floats down here.

Less mangled children, though, I suppose.

I’ll try and write something that isn’t about Minecraft tomorrow.  If nothing else, I have a book review or two to write.

In which we build

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I had plans for a post tonight, but instead the boy declared it was going to be Minecraft Night, so we each sprawled on the couch with an iPad in hand and made stuff.  I decided to go with an elemental shrine theme, building a pool with an infinite waterfall, a fire shrine, a nature garden (which was as close to “earth” as I could come up with) and a glass house in the sky only reachable by flying but providing an awesome double-slime-diving-board down to the lake below.

The boy only went with one element, shamelessly stealing my glass sky house idea, but then did it twelve thousand times as interesting as mine, so I think he wins.

So yeah.  I didn’t manage much of a post but I think I spent my evening pretty damn well.

Spider-Man PS4 first impressions

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… because, sure, let’s mention Spider-Man in every single post this week.  I’m not a geek or anything, no.

I’m … fifteen percent, I think, into the new Spider-Man game; enough to have a solid early idea of what the game’s about but not far enough that my opinions have to be taken all that seriously just yet.  But what the hell; I don’t really wanna talk about my job or politics, I can’t talk about my current Sekret Projekt other than that I have one and I’m not gabbing about it, and nothing especially funny has happened yesterday so I may as well gabble about video games.

And here’s the thing, so far: this game right now seems to be at its strongest when it’s a webbing around New York simulator; moving anywhere is a simply ridiculous amount of fun, to the point where I’m frequently ignoring crimes and activities in favor of just seeing what the most ridiculous way I can get from point A to point B is.  The combat is okay so far; the balletic, combo-heavy style that these guys pioneered with the wildly overrated Arkham Asylum series works a lot better with Spider-Man than it ever did with Batman, so combat looks really good and fits the character.  That said, the first big boss fight with Kingpin is utterly ridiculous and basically involves endlessly beating on a damage sponge with no health bar over and over until the game decides to trigger a cutscene and move on to the next part where you endlessly do the same two moves on a damage sponge.  I really hope all the boss fights aren’t like this; they’re gonna get tedious really fast, and also Kingpin just isn’t that strong.  Kingpin is not a “throw you through three walls and bash you through the floor” character, guys.  He fights Daredevil.  This version of the character fights like he could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk or Thor, which is just stupid.

Also: I keep accidentally doing terrible, not-Spider-Man sorts of things to people.  Spider-Man is one of those “doesn’t kill” good guys, right?  Which is kind of a problem, because I have a bad habit of doing air combos on bad guys and punching them off the sides of buildings.  Very tall buildings.  Where I can only assume they fall to their deaths, because there’s no “web them and save them” animation happening after I do that.

I once accidentally threw a car door at a civilian, which was, if nothing else, kinda mean.  I didn’t mean to!  I swear!

This game also has a case of Call of Duty syndrome.  And, okay, it’s a stupid thing to complain about, I know, because video game, but New York is not been and never has been quite this crime-ridden.  I mean, holy crap guys, it’s a wonder anyone lives here.

(What’s Call of Duty syndrome?  Play Call of Duty on the highest difficulty level.  You will die.  You will die over and over and over and over and over and over again and you will only eventually be successful by virtue of the fact that you can come back to life after you die.  I am then forced to conclude that Call of Duty is harder to survive than actual war, because no one can survive Call of Duty on Legendary and lots of people survive wars.  Members of my family have!  I’m only alive because my grandfather survived World War II!)

But, again:  webbing around is fun.  And I’m gripey about some other aspects of the game but they keep adding new fun ways for me to beat people up and we’ll see how things go as the game continues.  I also (and this may mitigate my annoyance with the Kingpin fight) am kind of enjoying some of their alterations to the “standard” Marvel canon– Peter is working with Otto Octavius, who isn’t Dr. Octopus yet, and Mary Jane Watson (who is adorable) works for the Daily Planet.  J. Jonah Jameson appears to be some sort of right-wing podcaster or radio host now, which I can work with, I suppose.

The boy loves it, by the way.  It’s the first PS4 game I’ve let him play, so he’s relying a bit too much on handing me the controller, but he’s having a blast with the web-slinging.

More to come later, assuming I don’t get distracted by Dark Souls II and play that instead.