Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a solid, enjoyable science fiction book that was recommended to me by a friend. While in the process of consuming it, I did not have the "Oh my gosh, I just love this" feeling, but it was pleasant enough that I have started reading the second book in the series.

First, I must admit that the setting was right up my alley. It is far enough in the future to have many aspects of everyday human life be very different than what we experience now. But it is not so far that you couldn't imagine things actually progressing in that direction. A lot of the action takes place on space ships or space stations, yet it is always described in ways that made me feel like I could fit right in.

Second, I did enjoy several of the main characters. They had some depth and surprises to them that kept me interested, despite the fact that they didn't always make the right decisions.

However, the small downside for me was that there were not quite enough characters. Or maybe just not enough factions involved to completely dazzle me. Don't get me wrong; as I mentioned, there were some surprises along the way. But the overall plot moved in a fairly predictable direction, with things ending pretty much the way I would have expected.

I really want to give this book only 4.5 stars, but this site doesn't allow for half-stars. It falls just short of what I'd consider a "top" rating because I don't think that I would read this book over and over again. However, I'm letting my rating sit at the full 5 level, since science fiction is my favorite genre and this is definitely a story I would recommend to a friend.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Great North Road

Great North Road Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book because it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It has a number of interesting characters and world details that entice me to read it again sometime in the future.

I'm familiar enough with Peter F. Hamilton to expect his science fiction to be based in an interesting setting and filled with lots and lots of characters. In fact, it was with a certain amount of dread that I avoided this book for awhile because I wasn't ready to dive into an epic story. After consuming several chapters, I began to realize that this particular book is not quite as expansive as some of his other tales, and I was pleasantly surprised at being able to jump into the narrative quickly.

Also, although this is set in the future with many familiar aspects of science fiction (space travel, colonization, DNA manipulation, miniature computer technology), the heart of the story is a murder mystery. That small twist on the theme kept me really intrigued through the first two-thirds of the book. Once the killer was revealed, I experienced a small let-down, but still enjoyed the rest since by that point I was invested in many of the characters and their stories.

The biggest 'problem' I had with this book has to do with the fact that I didn't actually read it; I listened to it in audio format. The reader did a good job overall with the narration and even a decent job with the character voices, however, he had a strong accent (Scottish maybe?) that made it hard for me to understand him from time to time. I found myself confused by names a few times and getting locations mixed up in my head. However, since the book was so long, rather than rewind and listen to a portion again, I would just let the story continue on and figure things out after a few more paragraphs. This is part of the reason I want to 'read' it again -- hopefully the next time I'll pick up on some details that I may have missed, especially since I know now where the action is headed.

One final plus for this particular story: it was nice to have a heroine with my first name.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Redshirts

Redshirts Redshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Basically this book is just average. It is averagely written, with average humor, average characters and average humor. I was hoping for something like the movie 'Galaxy Quest', but this didn't quite live up to that. It wasn't all completely bad, but I've forgotten most of the details already.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Review: Year Zero

Year Zero Year Zero by Rob Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, then you'll like this book. It has that same, "people of Earth are silly and manage to avoid planetary destruction through inadvertent ineptitude" feel to it. There are a few key differences, first that the author is American, not British, so this story is set in New York and has a slightly different humor to it. Another difference from HHGG is that it was written recently, so it includes some very modern references that were refreshing. Finally, although the main characters are not heroes per se, they are also a bit more competent that their counterparts in HHGG, which means they actually end up using their wits a little more than blind luck to win out in the end.

Definitely a book I would recommend.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Old Man's War

Old Man's War Old Man's War by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't have much to say about this book. It didn't really pull on me strongly in any one direction. I thought the writing was well-done and the story-telling was very well structured. The universe felt kind of "Star Trek" to me though -- you know, like a late 70's or early 80's TV show. Although there is a lot going on in the background, the focus was just on the main character and his small group of friends. And they had very little impact on the world at large. Furthermore, the "science" to this fictional story seemed a little too good to be true, while at the same time having just the right sort of limitations for an interesting drama. Not serious drama mind you; just a little bit of interesting drama.

In the end, I'll probably come back and read more of the series when I don't have anything else grabbing my attention, but it can wait.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Once-in-a-Lifetime Story

I recently had a busy weekend where I wanted to be in two places at the same time. I didn't finalize my plans until almost the last minute. I debated back and forth on my decision. But around 4:40pm on Saturday my gamble paid off big time.

Most of you know that I am a gamer and a geek. When I recently switched jobs and lost a lot of vacation time, I prioritized my trips for this year based on how much gaming time I could squeeze in. Therefore, my early April plan to attend PretzCon was important to me because it was a cheap, close trip I could take where I could play lots and lots of games. I actually pre-registered for this convention a full year ago had been looking forward to it for a long, long time.

The difficultly arose when I learned that Wil Wheaton was going to be here in Kansas City the very same weekend as PretzCon.

Although I'm not a big fan girl of many celebrities, Wil Wheaton is the one exception. Starting with my teenage adoration of his character Wesley Crusher on Star Trek Next Generation, continuing through my enjoyment of his blog and books like Just a Geek, my respect for him as a person peaked when he started the YouTube show Table Top where a group of geeky celebrities get together to play games. Obviously, this last bit really hits home for me. So even though I don't care or pay attention to other famous people, Wil Wheaton is the one whose schedule I pay attention to.

In fact, I have tried on a couple of occassions to see him at other conventions. But similary to Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, whenever I plan to attend a GenCon, Origins, or PAX, for some reason Wil has other plans or has to cancel at the last minute. On the other hand, those times when Wil's schedule has been confirmed for one of my favorite gaming conventions, I have usually been busy with family or work. So this recent conflict with PretzCon felt very typical to me -- the one time that Wil Wheaton will be visiting the city I live in is the same weekend that I had plans to be somewhere else.

In the end, I split the difference. I attended PretzCon for one day and then came back to Kansas City for the two days of Planet Comicon. Once I figured out that I was going to gamble on a chance at meeting my favorite geek personality, I decided to help out my local gaming convention, KantCon with manning the Gamer's Haven Library for board game check-outs. We also were handling the sale of raffle tickets at a chance to play a game with Wil himself.

Saturday morning, my friends and I woke up early (despite playing games until late the prior evening) to drive three hours from Omaha to Kansas City. We were all a little sad at leaving so soon, but everyone agreed that although PretzCon would be back again next year, there was no guarantee as to when Wil Wheaton might come back to Kansas. I rushed home, grabbed some lunch, dropped off the rental car, and practically raced to get to Planet Comicon in time for my scheduled shift to help out the Gamer's Haven Library that afternoon. Once there, I checked out the raffle box, and it looked like only a couple hundred tickets or so had been sold so far, so I bought a few ticket for myself just in case. As the day wore on, more and more tickets were being sold. We didn't realize this charity game had been advertised so well. Again, I debated on what to do and decided that I could spend the cash I had been saving for Wil's signature on these tickets instead. The proceeds were all donated to the Hero Initiative, so I figured even if I didn't win, it was for a good cause.

Let me cut out some of the boring details at this point -- my friend noticed that I was losing hope as the raffle box continued to fill with more and more tickets, so she purchased some more on my behalf. In the end, I had a total of 50 tickets out of a box that contained around 1,260. The drawing was scheduled for 4:30pm on Saturday and the game itself to start at 6pm. The rest of that evening is still kind of a blur.

Obviously, I won one of the precious five slots available to play a game with Wil Wheaton. The game we played was Space Cadets, a cooperative game where each player is a crewman with the responsibility of one or two stations of a starship. I manned the Helm, and Will Wheaton managed Engineering and the Jump drive. Although we as a group did succeed our mission, my terrible maneuvers did more damage to our ship than contact with the enemy. I was rightly embarrassed, but still had a great time.

So in the end, my gamble to leave one gaming convention in favor of another comic book convention, turned out to be the right choice. I even was able to personally give Wil a custom dice bag I made for him. It had the Enterprise D on the outside and the colors of the Wesley Crusher grey sweater on the inside. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of it.

Instead, I have Jon Hook and my friend DaNay to thank for the photographic evidence below. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Existence

Existence Existence by David Brin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked a lot of the science fiction in this book, but it felt much too abstract for me. In fact, it took me longer than usual to even get 'interested' in the story. Usually, with a new book, I'll dive right in and become engrossed with the characters within the first few chapters. With Existence, I don't think it was until around chapter 25 that I decided I would stick it out until the end. Up to that point, I was considering not reading the entire thing.

Part of the difficulty might be that I was listening to the audio format of this book. Based on what I heard, there are sections that are quoted chapters from some other book like an encyclopedia of sorts. It took a few chapters for me to figure this out and get used to the different perspectives. It also didn't help that these excerpts were often of an erudite nature and far too abstract to hold my attention. I kept yearning for the story to get back to the action.

Another problem was that there were too many characters introduced too quickly before I could really settle in with a particular point of view. And then the story spanned a length of time that necessitated old characters dying and thus the introduction of more new characters. In the end, there were a few narratives that I enjoyed, but nothing that really stood out.

I think overall the subject matter of this book is just too philosophical for my personal taste. I prefer to watch individuals or small groups go through a story arc, rather than humanity as a whole. Yet all this being said, it was a well written book and an interesting setting.

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