Category Archives: Words

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse

Change of pace!

I think I want to run a game, but I haven’t figured out what yet, since nobody wants to play 1st Edition AD&D. A while back, I got the first in the End of the World series on a whim, knowing it would be a series, and that their hook (aside from multiple scenarios per book, each such book centered around a different theme) is a game system that allows you to play yourself, just as the world is beginning to end. In this case, due to one flavor or another of zombie apocalypse.

So, the system? Is a little overly complex, for my taste. And okay, a careful reading of the previous paragraph makes me sound like I’m high, but the fact is, familiarity and nostalgia forgive a lot of complexity. But much more importantly than that is whether your simple, elegant system is successful at being simple and elegant. This one might be, if I’m comparing it to a game from 35 years ago where every rule is an edge case, but I’m comparing it to a homebrew system I stole from Ken Kofman like 20 years ago, and by those standards, this one is pretty hacky. So, y’know. (Also, I’m a lot pickier about rulesets these days, when nostalgia isn’t a factor.)

The far more important part of the book, therefore, was the 75% that followed the rules, in which five apocalyptic scenarios were explored. Each section has the player POV description, a description of what’s really going on, multiple plothook ideas, NPC/monster stats, a timeline of the apocalypse from minute one to year three or four, and then a post apocalypse section for roleplaying into the world that exists beyond the end of our world.

These? Were mostly good. I think there was only one scenario whose genesis and result I liked both of, but that doesn’t mean it would be impossible, or even especially hard, to mix and match. For reasons of potential game spoilers, I won’t go into what their scenarios actually are, but there were definitely some pretty good ideas scattered throughout the thing. Enough to make me want to buy more books in the series, if I can ever find them used. I doubt I’d run another zombie game? My only really successful GM experience was from one, so it’s probably better to try something different.

But I do love me a good apocalypse, so.

Assassin’s Quest

So, I have read a Robin Hobb trilogy. I definitely in a way had expectations that were met, but mostly I still think I didn’t. If that makes as much sense as I think it does, well, I blame the malort but will also elaborate by way of apology.

Assassin’s Quest starts off the way you’d expect, as a good old-fashioned revenge story against a man what done someone wrong. Fitz has been poisoned, betrayed, beaten, and ultimately murdered, and he ain’t gonna take it anymore! (I’m being flippant on purpose, partly to downplay and/or avoid spoilers, but also because it occurred to me while thinking about this that you could tell the same story if you are Quentin Tarantino, albeit with a spectacularly different outcome.) And that difference of outcome is I suppose the point, since about a third of the way through, Fitz’s quest changes suddenly and unpredictably from assassination to magical travelogue, and eventually, well, it would be all kinds of spoilers to explain, but if you are wondering whether the meat of the trilogy is resolved in one way or another, the answer is yes.

I liked the book, and in fact the trilogy as a whole (although the book less so). Pacing issues are the main reason, and again most of the rest would be a spoiler. But at the same time: if I care enough about characters in a story to be unhappy about where they end up, that is more of a positive thing than a negative. Which is the elaboration I promised above.

I’ll read more.

Bullet

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Honestly, that would probably be the right place to stop the review, but I just want to complain more, I so do[1]. Spoilers for Bullet, an Anita Blake novel from maybe 2010?, are a free-for-all from here on in. I will mostly be describing the first half of the book, mainly because the second half goes off the rails and becomes all but indescribable.

Scene one: Anita and her main squeezes (so, like, four of them?) head off to an art school dance recital, partly to reintroduce the characters but mostly so Anita can get a dose of guilt from a four year old and his catty mother about how much sex she has, and with how many people.

Scene two: one of the four dudes I mentioned earlier is in a snit because another one of the four dudes I mentioned has been refusing to bang him, since Anita might not like that. They decide to have a six-way (another dude, who has been on the outs with Anita but who is important to the local power structure, showed up to help) to prove to the pissy guy that he is loved.

Scene three: No, wait, they were all compelled to have the six-way by a dead vampire progenitor who it turns out isn’t dead and wanted to use the lust sex magic to take over Anita’s body and live again. But they noticed in time and stopped them, hooray!

Scene four: Some werelion that is pissy Anita won’t pick him exclusively (instead of the two vampires, two wereleopards, and werewolf that made up 5/6 of scene two, not to mention the random other folk she does on the regular) shows up and has beaten some of his pride members nearly to death since he thought maybe she’d banged them too. She uses some of her sex magic to save them before they die, only a vampire who uses death magic has showed up remotely to make them eat each other instead, and in the process of using her sex magic against his death magic, we devolve into instant full on orgy, which nobody can remember when they wake up.

It is important to note that maybe 12 hours have passed so far.

Scene five: That one werelion is still pissy, and picks a fight that results in a lot of people getting hurt, and someone else dying (maybe one of those four people from the beginning?! oh noes), and Anita shoots him in the face so much that he cannot heal from it, what with his head being fully destroyed. Presumably it is this scene from which the title arises? I have no way of knowing.

Scene the second half of the book: Anita is numb from the horrors she has seen, which are apparently just scene five? I’m numb from the horrors I’ve seen too, which comprises maybe rather more of the book by volume. Anyway, the remainder of what happens, in no particular order, are that she exercises off her aggression / numbness[2], finds out about someone taking out an open assassination call on her and the main vampire and the werewolf, uses creepy necromancy powers to drain the lives of some volunteers to save someone else (which makes sense that she would gain a lot of power from that) and then uses inverse creepy necromancy powers to refill the lives of the people she had mostly drained (which makes her completely nonsensically filled up with even more power, instead of drained herself), finds out about a rotting vampire in Atlanta that has gone mad and started killing everyone, and bangs a lot of weretigers because that will be important to them having enough power later to defeat the progenitor vampire that was apparently supposed to be the plot of the book; only after 400 pages of various people negotiating poly relationships, the author realized the book was too large to get bogged down in plot resolution.

It is important to note that maybe 28 hours passed total, and certainly not more than 36. It is also important to note that I have aged five years from the life-draining powers of this book. I didn’t read the third Robin Hobb assassin book partly because Mary was behind (she’s very much not, anymore) and partly because I wasn’t sure I could take more misery.

Well, I am now looking forward to misery that the author intended to induce, since it will be a nice change of pace!

[1] I’ve complained about Ms. Hamilton’s authorial ticks at length, so I shan’t do so again, especially when there’s plenty else to worry about.
[2] Yes, both were a problem. Don’t look at me!

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain

After Tim Seeley wrapped up his Hack/Slash series, some other folks decided to pick up the torch, I guess? I’m a bit disappointed that they were not more successful at it. Partly because it means this probably really is the last book, and partly because it’s nice to see Cassie Hack treated as a fully realized character, instead of as a fully realized character who is obliged to dress like a goth pin-up for no internal reason.

But mostly because Son of Samhain could have been a legitimate next chapter. The supernatural serial killers, the Black Lamp society, all of that really is over. But the literal monsters that we never knew until know were lurking behind the scenes? They’re tired of playing second fiddle, and the new war lurking over the horizon’s horizon promises to be bigger than anything Cassie has faced before. Basically, if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural had a crossover in a world where nobody had ever heard of either of those things, this is what it would look like. And that’s not a bad space to be in!

Plus, the literal meaning behind the slightly metaphorical title promised to unlock even more never explored chapters of Cassie’s future life. Not to mention that the child himself was reasonably cool, too. Alas.

 

Royal Assassin

I’ve been sitting on this review for better than a week, because I just have no idea what to say. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I could easily sum up Royal Assassin in a single sentence. But that sentence would just be incredibly spoilery, and I’m not sure how else to talk about it without doing that. So here I’ve sat, not writing anything, but instead turning it over and over in my head, since Mary is still like half a book behind me so I can’t start the next one yet anyway. And I honestly might wait longer, gorging on comics all the while, except that my newest device is having touchscreen problems and I’m maybe about to have to ship it off for repairs, so, uh… yeah.

The thing about Assassin’s Apprentice is that it’s dark and grim from start to finish. The Fitz starts off as an unwanted bastard, learns of his secret royal parentage (but in the “still totally a bastard” way, not the “gonna end up the king of everything” way that usually happens in fantasy), trains to become an assassin (I mean, like you’d expect. It’s right there in the title!), and makes friends and enemies along the way. In the end, he faces a challenge and comes out beat up badly, but successful.

(There’s more to the review behind this cut, because my god the spoilers just explode everywhere.)

Continue reading

Deadhouse Gates

It has been a stupidly long time since I finished listening to Gardens of the Moon. Literally over a year! Like, how is that even possible? (Answer: obviously, I don’t spend enough time listening. Particularly, what should be an obvious commute activity is mostly taken up by a radio show that I continue to enjoy greatly.) But: I did finally finish my reread (relisten? both are technically incorrect) of Deadhouse Gates. I definitely reacted differently from last time, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I have guesses, but there are a lot of variables, so.

The primary thing is, the Chain of Dogs. I have always remembered that tale, and I know it made a huge impression on me even then, due to documentary proof. This time, it took pretty much last place. I was most interested in Fiddler and Kalam’s quest to have an, um, discussion with Surly. As for Felisin’s path… I would be better able to discuss my new reactions if I remembered what my old ones were, but I definitely found her sympathetic despite her best efforts. But yeah, Duiker and the refugees: either knowing the outcome in advance deflated the tension entirely, or else something about the performance undercut it. I’d bank on the first one, though.

As usual, most or all of the secondary and incidental characters were fully realized (as honestly is the world, despite my sometime inability to fully understand what I’m seeing). Including one Iskaral Pust, upon who I partially based my most recent RPG character. I very much look forward to continuing, and I suppose I can, now that I’m not behind on reviews again. Maybe I’ll do a better job on the speed, this time?

I’m pretty sure my friend Kenn had read at least a handful of these prior to his consecutive reading of the full series, and I’d be interested in whether his thoughts parallel any of mine, here, assuming he remembered the individual volume well enough. Alas, he has no way of knowing that this review exists.

Storm Front revisited

I probably just shouldn’t bother to review audiobooks, because of how I take so long to finish them. Anyway, Mary and I decided that a good book series to do a reread of while in the car together without a podcast backlog would be the Dresden Files.

I think what caught me off guard most about Storm Front is how icy the relationship is between Dresden and Murphy. I didn’t remember exactly what happened in the book, but hadn’t forgotten enough for a real shock at any point, except for that. It’s funny how far Harry has come, though. He really did start off as just a magical P.I. in the phone book, with no friends except Bob and… okay, most of the same magic toys throughout, but the no friends and no prospects thing is an adjustment.

Oh, and I luckily remembered I intend to estimate how much time has passed in this series, which means it behooves to me document that this episode was set in May of year zero, when Harry is… haha, like anyone mentions ages. I’m guessing late 20s to mid 30s, though?

Twilight Children

On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.

Later, they chill some mutants.

So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.

My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)

Cold Asylum

On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants[1]), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time[2] from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!

[1] I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
[2] Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?

Deep Empire

If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.

So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.

Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense[1] this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.

[1] All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.