Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook

The Dragon Never Sleeps
Published by Night Shade Books
Author: Glen Cook

Glen Cook is best known to fantasy fans for his grim and gritty series the Black Company. This book shares some of those elements but being a one-off science fiction piece, brings its own flavor to the reader.

The story takes place in a far off future where technology is advanced but also haphazard in that it doesn't seem evenly distributed nor even in all areas. Some things, like cloning, for example, are known but are not held by many even in this far off future.

Aging is still a thing even if slowed. But those aboard the 'Guardships' as they are known, have their minds and memories copied and benefit from being almost timeless. Those of the noble house use of cloning is odder. They allow 'Others' to be made of a 'Prime, ' but if that 'Prime' is killed, then the 'Others' are often put to death. There is an element of criminality to an 'Other' trying to pretend to be the 'Prime.'

Regarding mastery of the flesh, though, humanity has 'Artifacts.' These are 'not people' but are made by people. One of those we are introduced to is Midnight, a fairy style human whose purpose is to pleasure men and strangely enough, acts as a bit of conscious to those with far more weighty matters on their minds.

The Guardships themselves are fantastical ships that serve until destroyed. During that time frame, they can even grow sentience.

The navigation of vast distances is covered by 'The Web.' It's an ancient artifact so old that no one knows where it came from, but it continues to be discovered by more and more races.

Humanity is old here. They are a 'primary' race if not the primary race. Their mastery over much of the setting is rarely directly challenged in any meaningful way thanks to the Guardships. There are hints; however, that humanity is far from its prime. Humanity is spread so far that there are holes in its bureaucracy that will never be filled as long as they only use humans.

And Humanity was never alone. There are others races like the Hu. One of the brilliant war masterminds of the Hu, known initially to readers as 'The Turtle' is one such individual. His race scattered by their defeat at the hands of humans so long ago that the Turtle's emergency into larger schemes is seen as a noteworthy thing by those who man the Guardships.

Others are not as detailed as the Hu, who are not that detailed, to begin with. There are numerous bits we glance at but never get any deeper details.

Glen's writing style here is crisp and to the point. Chapters can range from a paragraph to a few pages but rarely longer. The cast of characters is so huge that you may find yourself flipping back and forth to determine which group of characters is acting at the time.

The groups also move among each other. The Hu Turtle, for example, starts off in a bad part of town but by the end, has encountered all the major players. The author doesn't mind skipping chunks of time either. When you're dealing with long-lived races and others who can clone themselves or are effectively immortal, the scale of how far reaching the action is, is not measured in days, or weeks, but in years.

One gets the feeling reading it that Glen could easily have expanded the setting with more details but as it stands, it's a solid one book entry in Glen's writing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Kickstarter Thoughts 2/20/2017

Recently someone attempted to kill themselves after facing the ire of the internet on a late project where the person interjecting came off as offensive. When I say this project was late, I'm not talking days, weeks, or months. It was also a large project with some people investing hundreds of dollars if not more.

This is a terrible thing. No one should feel so harangued that they attempt to take their own life because of it.

Someone whose works I've purchased and will continue to do so when they meet my own criteria, as a KS creator, suggested that Kickstarter put in a method to allow producers to block backers from backing their creations to avoid any drama.

Literally creating a 'safe space' for themselves.

Kickstarter has many things going for it. It's a great marketing tool. The event itself serves as a potential way to build community and brand awareness.

To cut part of that potential audience off because there are some bad eggs out there seems counter intuitive to what Kickstarter does. Let strangers give you money for ideas that may not pan out.

1. How are you going to know who to band? What would Kickstarter's criteria be? Some blank, "Prevent Funding?" Are creators going to get together and pass along lists of evil backers? Are they going to create a list of Republicans to keep them from engaging in the Kickstarter Process? States that voted for Trump? And what happens when that list goes public? Because on the internet, everything eventually goes public.

2. What happens the first time a gay person is blocked and doesn't sue the creator, but sues Kickstarter? We live in a very litigious society in America. Lawyers sue people all the time. But lawyers go after the money. The money is not in some dude's $20 grand RPG. It's on Kickstarter itself.

3. In some ways, you're rewarding 'rude' behavior because now the person, if they want to buy your product, doesn't have to deal with the whole uncertainty of Kickstarter. They just go into a store and buy it. Note there is no HIGH GROUND here when this happens. It's not that the creator doesn't want the money, they just don't want the 'potential' hassle of dealing with people who may be assholes.

4. People are complicated. From the conversation, "I have multiple Kickstarters under my belt. I've never had an issue dealing with them, and my comments have never been an issue." So comments on your Kickstarters have never been an issue? So there is literally no problem on your own Kickstarters. This is some sort of preemptive tool. And what if someone was a bastard on one of the threads because they spent $1,000, the creators of that KS have lied and delayed and taken off with the money? Not everyone is a saint all the time. What if this person who's a bastard in that Kickstarter has already backed several of your games with no problem? Do you block them on the 'idea' that everyone should be good and noble all the time? Cause remember it's not about getting that particular person's money which you'll gladly take at the retail or even direct sales level later. It's about not dealing with the hassle of bad customers. 

5. People Change: Now here's the thing. The person's already said they have no problems on their own projects. They still want the money even if it comes later on. So what happens when your project, your biggest project ever, is years late? And you've stopped providing updates? And those updates you have provided have turned out false? Your 'safe circle' will turn on you. The best way to avoid 'trolls' is to well, finish your projects ahead of time and go above and beyond what you were selling in the first place. As the creator here already noted, they have NOT had any problems.

6. People will Circumvent Your Protections: Joe is a bastard. I'm blocking him. Joe tells Frank, "Dude, hook me up." Gives Frank the money and Frank use his own credit card to back the Kickstarter. Kickstarter is late, lies, etc... If Joe would have been a bastard under his own id, the chance of Joe not using Frank's id to be a rude asshole, especially if it's a higher end item? Are very low. 

7.Unintended Consequences: You block person A because he's 'bad'. Person A is popular in Circle Y. Person A tells Circle Y. So now you've got fans of person A attacking you for blocking a supporter of the cause. This happens all the time. When you engage with the internet, you're never just engaging with the one person, the one idea, the one topic. You are engaging with the internet. 

8. Where does it stop? So person B has backed your kickstarter. It's late. Person B is stirring the pot. You don't like that. You block him. This automatically refunds his money and blocks him from posting any more. You don't need him anymore anyway right? Your idea, that you didn't take to the bank for funding, still managed to get more than enough so screw that particular backer. How dare he question you and your methods after all eh? 

There might be a germ of a good idea there but among the things I've love to see Kickstarter do, like more accountability form the creators including being able to you know, report a late project more than once, this idea of "blocking the people I'm petitioning for money" is way low on the list.

So how far off my rocker am I here? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The City: Gaming Inspiration Points

The City  can easily be used as the source of bits that can be used for gaming.

1. Unique Weather Events: In my review, I mentioned that the countryside suffers a record-breaking deluge of rain. It kills thousands and displaces tens of thousands.

2. Elements Pertaining To Events: "In the Great Storm the rains had come down too hard and fast for the sewers and storm drains to cope, and the narrow streets of the Armoury had become raging rivers. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had died in the flash floods, drowned in the seething streets or trapped helpless in their homes. It was rumoured that the City's gravediggers could not respectfully lay to rest all the corpses, and that after dark for weeks afterwards carts rumbled through the night carrying the dead out to the Salient to be dropped in the sea."

"It was a battle such as she had never known before, a battle in slow motion. Both sides were handicapped by the water and thick sticky mud, but the Blues had somehow managed to get themselves armed and organized with astounding speed. the City warriors were groping around in the knee-deep water, trying to find swords, breastplates, spears and helms. Meanwhile they were being attacked by waves of Blueskin soldiers."

A huge weather event can change the landscape. It can make a one verdant forest a burned out plane. It can make a dirty road a knee-deep mud pit. Use the unique elements to throw some curves at the campaign.

3. Named Locations: "It was built more than five hundred years ago for a companion of the emperor. She loved all beasts and birds and creatures of the sea, and you will see many throughout the house. It is called the House of the Creatures of the Earth." That sounds like a place for an adventure.

There is also bringing the name of a location to it's purpose. "If the emperor's feasting hall as designed to impress, then the Serpent Room was intended to inspire unease. It was not a huge room, on the scale of the Red Palace. It was wide, but quite low. And everywhere, on ceilings, floors, walls and furniture, were snakes. Painted, carved, stuffed, and live slithering ones in glass tanks.... "I imagine that its designers, whoever they were, hoped to arouse fear in visitors, to put them at a disadvantage."

4. Tattoos As World Building. "He heft a large tome and read, "Cryptic Codes: Formal and Informal Insignia among Armed Men." This segway into "Over the course of the morning the old man tracked down three of the smaller tattoos he had remembered on the corpse's body, and found that the soldier had served with the 24th Vincerii, and the Emperor's Rangers, two decades before, who then called themselves the Lepers, and he had fought at the Second Battle of Edyw. A distinguished service, indeed, although there was little to stop any fool of an impostor having the tattoos insribed. But Bartellus remembered the many old wounds on the man and believed his tatooedd friend was an authentic soldier."

By having tattoos associated with specific events, people, places, and times, the world gains more depth and dimension.

Stella Gemmell's first solo novel, The City, is filled with various bits just waiting to be yanked for gaming purposes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The City by Stella Gemmell

The City
Written by Stella Gemmell
Paperback $16.00
Kindle $9.99

Stella Gemmell may be known to some as the co-author of Troy: Fall of Kings, but most people who have read fantasy will recognize her as the wife of David Gemmell, an author known for his action packed sequences.

The good news is that Stella Gemmell is a solid writer in her own right. I had not read Troy. I had no interest in the story. I was always more of a fan of David's other series, the Drenai.

I didn't know what to expect from the City. The description makes it sound intriguing, however.  An immortal lord, the emperor, has ruled the city forever. The City is engaged in wars against all comers, and the lands around have suffered from it. Where forests used to be, now it is barren. Where grass grew, now rock.

So several factions seek to bring down this immortal emperor. In some ways, it reminds me of a cross between a fantasy version of Warhammer 40K and the Elric series as we have these rare beings who mingled with humans and their descendants have vast psychic powers that can destroy any opposition in the blink of an eye.

Stella brings out the rare natural events. "There had never been a storm like it, in all the City's ten-thousand-year history. It swept in from the north-east one bright sunny morning, and by the evening, when the deluge mercifully stopped, thousands had been drowned by the waters, and tens of thousands were homeless."

These powerful events propel the action forward in ways that might not have otherwise occurred. It may sound forced to some, but history is littered with such events including a molasses deluge in 1919.

Stella also brings out little details that make the city come alive.  "The white cats of Lindo did not like to get their paws wet and had migrated to the upper levels - the roofs and upper stories, the bridges and buttresses which supported the crumbling buildings. They abandoned the damp streets and waterlogged cellars to the black rats, only coming down at night to feet.

"Many of the cats were still pure white. Over the centuries they had often mated with lower feline orders but their bloodline was strong, and when a deviation occurred - brown paws or a ginger mask - it would disappear again in later generations. They mated often amongst themselves, and raised their kits in the nooks and crevices of the crumbling chimney stacks and rotting leaves of the north side of Blue Duck Alley."

In between the ancient city and the vast events happening, we are introduced to numerous characters including Shuskara, a former general, as well as those Shuskara comes to care for and raise as his own, such as Emly. We see those who struggle against the emperor, as well as those who fight for him. It's a vast tale and takes over 500 pages in hardcover to tell.

The City doesn't dabble in high fantasy. There are no battles where wizards riding dragons come in to save the day. There are tough tattooed soldiers fighting on the front lines. There are odds and ends of a chaotic battlefield. There are a few strange beasts in the land, such as the gulon, a feline creature.

It's not the same as David's work. We don't see the same type of indestructible soldiers we do in say, Legend, but we do have heroism and heroics aplenty.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Discoverers by Paul King

The Discoverers by Paul King is another of those books I snagged from Half Priced Books off of the dollar rack.

The novel starts with the fall of Constantinople, a famous event in 1453, that created crisis and opportunities. While some trading families lost their fortunes due to former trading shores being cut off, others took this opportunity to expand their own ventures.

In the era when religions waged war against another when crusades took men from their homes to across the seas, we see that not all who fight on one side or another are righteous. One of the main characters, Giovanni Ruggi, loses his love while defending Constantinople not to the invading Moors, but to Christians who betray the cause to loot and plunder.

The mix of nationalities and the strains of having so many different people ply the same trading routes comes through not only in how the characters interact with one another, but how they grow as characters. Judging individuals based on their own actions as opposed to where they come from.

The act of piracy itself is no stranger to some who take to the role with a 'gentleman' style, leaving those who ask for mercy alive, and by those who are merciless and kill all, leaving no survivors, claiming that their newfound wealth is from their skills as a merchant.

Paul King's writing is solid if a bit wandering. He takes a long time to bring his cast of characters together, and the wrap-up happens quickly when it occurs.

His style brings to life the ships of the era. The attacks of pirates, the uncertainty of nature itself. Will the winds blow today? Is the ship using oars? Can patience be rewarded?

If you're interested in seeing one take on how one writer handles sailing, exploration, merchants, and other bits from the era of exploration, the Discoverers has some enjoyable bits to it.