Some short #reviews

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SHORT REVIEW THE FIRST:  Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee. Funny story about this book: it’s the second in a series that is going to run at least three books– I think the third one was just formally announced– but it was the first one I bought because occasionally I’m an idiot.  One of the disadvantages of ordering damn near everything I read from Amazon is that once in a very long while I order a sequel to a book I haven’t read without realizing it.

So, anyway: the first book?  I three-starred it, once I ordered and read it, mostly because I couldn’t wrap my head around the technology in the book to save my damn life (all of the tech in the book depends on a common understanding of the calendar, except fifty times more complicated and weird and unique than that sounds) and as a result I didn’t get the book all that well.  It was one of those things where I didn’t blame the book– it’s not the book’s fault that it’s smarter than me– but I wasn’t looking forward to the sequel.

Well, despite still not really being able to wrap my head around the technology, I’m either used to it or it’s backgrounded a bit more in this book, because I’ve blazed through it and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.  I’m not quite done, so I suppose things could still go to hell– but I’m liking Book Two enough that I’ll probably revisit the whole series once Book Three comes out, and I think you should start with Ninefox Gambit and go from there.


SHORT REVIEW THE SECOND: The-WitnessI’ve talked about The Witness a bit here already, but now I’ve beaten it, or at least played it to the point where it does something that is so bullshit that I decided I wasn’t playing it any longer.  It ends poorly, but the hundreds of puzzles that lead up to that poor ending are of generally entertaining and challenging caliber, with most of them proving a level of difficulty and feeling of achievement that keep me moving and playing.  There were definitely a few that I cheated on (I don’t have ego about this shit any longer) but for the most part it’s one of the most solid puzzle games I’ve played in quite a while.  The ending is bullshit, but the game saves itself right before it pulls the bullshit on you, so if you’re of the type to be able to wait once you know the game is beaten, do that and go solve all the other puzzles that aren’t in the main, objective-based walkthrough.  Not a 10/10, but you should still try it out.


Horizon Zero Dawn.jpgSHORT REVIEW THE THIRD:  Now this one is a 10/10.  Despite the stupid name, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best games of this generation.  I got it at a stupid-deep discount for only $20, but I’d gladly have paid full price.  The premise is laid out pretty clearly on the cover there: you’re fighting robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow.  If you don’t reply “I’m in!” after reading that, you and I really can’t be friends.  The combat took a little getting used to but gets really interesting and deep after a while (any game that can have me regularly using five or six different weapons at different points of a big fight is a game with a good combat system) and literally my only complaint about it is that some of the animations are a little janky.  I never did get used to watching Aloy walk anywhere; they probably should have cleaned up that basic animation a bit.  The plot itself is dense and multilayered and fun, post-apocalyptic pre-apocalyptic done right, and they managed to remember that people of color will survive along with the white folk.  Extra points for Aloy herself, who is as compelling a character as I’ve played in a video game in quite some time– probably since Joel in The Last of Us.  This game is worth getting a PS4 for if you don’t have one, guys.  That good.

Odds and ends/proof of life post

polar-vortex-nasa-670-1I woke up the other day and consulted my watch to discover that it was thirteen degrees below zero outside.  I feel like we were largely spared polar vortex horror last year, for the most part, but this year has definitely picked back up on the trend of the last several years, which is that the weather at the end of Winter Break is horrifying enough that school being cancelled and the break being extended is at least plausible if not guaranteed.  The boy goes back on Monday, finally, and I think the weather will be back to winter-normal by then, mostly, but holy fuck has it been cold around here lately.  There’s maybe, I dunno, fifteen inches of snow on top of the house, too, which means that we probably got eighteen to twenty since it tends to compress under its own weight after a while.  On the plus side, the new car appears to handle pretty damn well on ice and snow, or at least the new tires I put on it not too long ago appear to have done their job.


IMG_6692.jpgIN OTHER NEWS: the Lumberjack Beard is dead; long live the Lumberjack Beard.  I don’t normally shed my winter beard this early in the year, winter having just barely started, but apparently the answer to this year’s beard question, i.e. “How long can I let this fucker get before it starts to drive me insane?” is about nine weeks.  Granted, I brushed it backward to make it easier to shave off for that picture, but this was easily the bushiest I’d ever let my beard get, and unexpected side effects were starting to crop up– like eating getting much messier and– and this one really surprised me– all that hair on my face actually making it harder to sleep.  I think if I groomed it a bit better it wouldn’t have been as much of a thing, but I’m a novice at this and wasn’t super interested in putting in the research time.  I’d intended to just dial it back but ended up going completely back to the vandyke that I keep on my face for the other eight months of the year.  I may grow it back right away or I may not, but I won’t be doing Full Lumberjack again anytime soon.


IMG_6678.JPGMy phone is starting to slowly fill up with pictures like this, and I’m starting to see grid shapes with arcane symbols and glowing lines on them every time I close my eyes.  My buddy James Wylder posted a shot to Instagram of a bunch of notes and diagrams he was working with as he was playing through The Witness, and upon discovering that the PlayStation store had it for $15 and deciding I could use a more cerebral break from Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nioh, I was in.  Two days later I’m hooked as fuck.  I’d compare the game to Myst, but Myst had a genuine story to it and this really doesn’t; the reward for solving puzzles is more puzzles and occasional frustration and headaches.  There have been a couple of puzzles where I’ve had to cheat to get through them and at least one where even when the answer is on the screen in front of me I’ve been unable to figure out why the right answer was the right answer, but for the most part it’s hitting a nice sweet spot for me– challenging enough that solving the puzzles isn’t automatic, but not so challenging that my rapidly-becoming-legendary lack of patience with video game bullshit kicks in.  If noticing that some vines near you are a different color from the other vines and then figuring out how to get outside and line your screen up perfectly so that the vines trace the right path on the grid in front of you, and then taking a picture of it with your phone because fuck that, you don’t seriously expect me to memorize this, do you? sounds up your alley, check it out.


I had plans to write fiction this week, but they were burned to the ground once I realized that I’d have the boy with me all day yesterday and today for the last two non-weekend days of his break.  I’ve been lazy as hell on hiatus since Tales came out but it’s time to get back on the horse.  Next Thursday, then, I will either officially begin work on the latest version of the sequel to Skylights or start working on my entry for this anthology or both.  Because battle poets.  

Book sales have had a nice little spike lately too.  After most of a year where if I was selling a book or two a month I was pretty happy with it, I’ve sold five books today, two yesterday, and twelve since Christmas Eve– and that absent any sales or any particular promotion on my part other than a few surprisingly well-received Tweets.   In an absolute sense that doesn’t seem like much to brag about but I’m still in holy shit people are sending me money for stories mode, and I kinda hope I never break out of that.

That said, if anybody else wants to keep the ride going, that would be awesome.  Reviews would be cool, too, especially of the three that aren’t even at 10 yet.  Wanna help me out?