Expendabots

Expendabots logo

Expendabots logo

The Background

I’ve had an idea for a game in my head for a while, and I’ve been making notes (Workflowy is good for hierarchical note taking) so that even if I wasn’t going to use the ideas immediately, at least they wouldn’t be lost.  As an aside, programming takes up a lot of head space, so I think that decades of clearing my mind have given me a tendency to flush things that aren’t immediately relevant (this is also why you shouldn’t interrupt a programmer).  If an idea’s written down somewhere then I can feel safe enough to forget it – I think this is also why I’ve found that adding something to a wishlist feels almost as satisfying as buying it.

Anyway, last year I started working on actually building the game in Unity, but the learning curve coupled with my inability to concentrate on one project for long enough to finish it meant that I didn’t get very far.

Now I’ve returned to the project and I’ve decided to build a gameplay prototype rather than attempt the whole thing at once.  This should give me a shorter term milestone, as well as making sure that the core gameplay is fun and worth the larger investment of time. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review – Game by Barry Lyga

Game by Barry Lyga

Game by Barry Lyga

The blurb investigates:

In an effort to prove murder didn’t run in the family, Jazz teamed with the police in the small town of Lobo’s Nod to solve a deadly case. And now, when a determined New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz’s door asking for help, he can’t say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple–and its police force–running scared. So Jazz and his girlfriend, Connie, hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer’s murderous game.

I liked this book more than the first one because the setting isn’t restricted to Lobo’s Nod and because the murders being investigated are more interesting than just copycats.

I liked this book a lot, all the way until the ending, which I hated – it’s the most frustrating kind of cliffhanger where nothing’s resolved.  It feels like a cheap way to force readers to buy the next book.

I was also a bit disappointed with the direction the author took Jazz’ relationship with Connie – the first book sets up some secrets and drama but in this book it just gets easily defused which feels like a letdown.

Book Review – Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

The blurb deifies:

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods–perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured–then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear–which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

I liked the first book in this series, the second book not as much but this one was the best so far.

The mystery is good, the twists are good, the characters are good – at the end of the book I couldn’t think of anything that could be improved.

This book does share a common theme with the other books in the series (the unexpected consequences of the God War) which ties the books together, but apart from that the books don’t really overlap.  The one exception I noticed was a minor character from the first book also appearing in this one, although because the books aren’t published in chronological order it makes things a bit more complicated.

The first book seemed to be basically about a western god, the second book was about Aztec-esque gods and this one is about Hawaiian-esque gods.  The different settings and cultures in each book are interesting and add a lot of depth – it feels like the author put a lot of research and work into learning about them.

One thing this book had that the first two didn’t was a transsexual main character.  I thought it was very well done – not treated as an oddity or a stunt but just a fact of the character’s life (like Furiosa’s arm in Mad Max).  The author impressed me in the previous books by having lots of major non-white and non-male characters and in this book he’s taken it a step further.

Book Review – Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

The blurb races:

Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan’s office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble’s sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi’s? Or Cale’s?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can’t overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week?

At this point the series is well established and both the writer and reader are comfortable with the formula.

This particular book takes place in Charlotte (which I generally find less interesting than the ones set in Quebec), and the unique twist is that it has to do with NASCAR.

I don’t really like NASCAR or know a lot about it, so I expected that to be a problem with this book.  Fortunately it turned out not to be and I found the info dump about the history of NASCAR interesting.

As is often the case with the books in this series there was really no chance to figure the mystery out until the reveal, although there was one twist that was surprisingly obvious.

The “love” plotline didn’t get moved forward much at all in this book – the love interests appeared only briefly and not much happened with them.  On the up side this avoided the problems I often have with this plotline, i.e. the obvious misunderstanding and the unreasonable overreaction.

Book Review – The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The blurb remembers:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity–and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his “father,” he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

Overall this is a pretty good book, taking us into the Ghost Brigades that were teased in the first book.

What makes it more interesting than just basic military sci-fi is the plotline about putting the mind of a traitor into a genetically engineered soldier and letting him loose.  This is also kind of a weakness to the story because it’s obviously such a bad idea that I can’t imagine generals with a hundred years’ experience making such a terrible decision.

The book only touches on the first book in the series a bit – the main character from the first book is mentioned a couple times and a secondary character from the first book is also a secondary character in this one.  This has the effect of expanding the universe that the series takes place in while still feeling cohesive.

I like that the book didn’t have a Hollywood ending, but it did unambiguously clear up who the good guys and bad guys were which I think would have been interesting to leave hanging.

I get the impression that this series is either a tribute to or spoof of Heinlein, but I can’t really tell which.

Book Review – The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The blurb says:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

The fact that this is a fantasy based on Chinese history and legends reminded me of Long Price Quartet, but there really isn’t that much similarity.

For a long time in this book I wondered who the main character was, because there are a lot of point-of view characters.  Sometimes new points of view are added, often they die and sometimes this all happens in the same chapter.  After a good portion of the book I concluded that there was no main character and that this was more of a concept book than a character book.  Then later in the book the points of view got fewer and it became clear that there were two main characters and then it came down to one.  I don’t really mind the author playing with the points of view etc. but I don’t think the book was helped by it being unclear what kind of story it was.

Along with the large number of points-of-view, the many unfamiliar names made it difficult at times to know what was going on.

Somewhere in the middle of the book when I had concluded that this was a concept book, I thought I’d figured out what the concept was.  Then when at the end of the book it became clear that this was a more conventional story about the one character it was a bit of a letdown because the concept ending I’d imagined was better.

Speaking of the ending, although a huge amount of stuff happens in the book and everything is wrapped up pretty neatly, it did leave the door open for the rest of the books in the series, which made wonder anew as to what the arc of the story is supposed to be.

Book Review – The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The Dreams of a Dying God by Aaron Pogue

The blurb dreams:

Even for a charismatic pirate, three years is a long time to chase after an unimaginable treasure hidden in the ruins of an ancient city. But when the fabled riches turn out to be virtually worthless, the outraged crew mutinies and leaves their former captain for dead.

He is rescued by a mysterious king and transported back to a time of dwarves, druids, and fairies. Enchanting as it is, though, his only wish is to return home and find justice—but only the king has the power to return him…for a price.

Aided by a new and motley group of mystical creatures and misfits, he sets out on his quest, ultimately getting caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with—and in the process changing the course of history itself.

I keep saying that I have low expectations for Kindle Owners’ Lending Library books and that I’ve been surprised at how good some of them are, but this book is another example.  I think it’s probably because Amazon put the cheapest books they can find in the Library, which means there are a lot of self-published books, and those are of very varied quality because there’s no barrier to entry.

This book is certainly amateurish in places, but that’s usually in descriptions of situations or unrealistic human reactions.  The parts where it excels are imagination and originality.

Although I had read the blurb before I read the book, it had been some time so I was going into it with fresh eyes.  There were two times that the book surprised me with a major twist, and that was a big factor in making me like it.

This book is the first part of a trilogy, so predictably it left as many plot arcs open as it closed, but it was still pretty satisfying.  The other books in the trilogy have already been released, so there’s no wait to find out what happens.

Book Review – The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

The blurb apocalypses:

End times are here again

A half-human, half-angel with a bad rep and a worse attitude—we are talking about the former Lucifer here—James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has made a few enemies. None, though, are as fearsome as the vindictive Angra Om Ya—the insatiable, destructive old gods. But their imminent invasion is just one of Stark’s problems, as L.A. descends into chaos, and a new evil stalks the city.

No ordinary killer, the man known as St. Nick takes Stark deep into a conspiracy that stretches from Earth to Heaven and Hell. Further complicating matters is that he may be the only person alive who knows how to keep the world from going extinct. He’s also Stark’s worst enemy—the only man in existence Stark would enjoy killing twice—and one with a direct line to the voracious, ancient gods.

At this point I think the biggest problem with this series is its baggage – there are so many characters and so much history that this book spent a good percentage of its time just reminding the reader who everyone was and why they were wherever they were.

The other problem is that this book contains the climax of the past few books’ buildup, so I wasn’t sure what’s left for Sandman Slim to do in the next book but this one ends on a “next time on…” which basically tells us.

Having said that, if you liked the previous books you’ll like this one – everyone’s just being who they are.  As usual there are several fun similes and some snarky, clever wordplay.

Book Review – Surface Detail by Iain Banks

Surface Detail by Iain Banks

Surface Detail by Iain Banks

The blurb condemns:

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release – when it comes – is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

As I recently said, I really enjoy this series of books, so I had high expectations for this one.

Overall this book did pretty well living up to my expectations, although I think there were a couple of things that let it down compared to the previous book in the series.

The ending was a bit deus ex machina in that I’m not sure the actions of the main character actually contributed much to it.

Along the same lines there was an entire point of view character who I’m not sure contributed at all, to the extent that the characters in the book even comment on how she didn’t manage to really do anything.

Finally at the very end of the epilogue there’s a dramatic reveal, but it made no sense to me so I looked it up and it turns out that it was a reference to a previous book.  Since it’s been over a decade since I read that book, it wasn’t a connection I had any chance of making, which annoyed me a bit.

As is pretty clear from the blurb, the concepts that the author is exploring (in the context of his future universe) are revenge and death/afterlives.  I don’t think it has much application to us today, but it’s interesting to see his extrapolation of the issues we could face as technology makes things possible.

Book Review – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The blurb slings:

This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier western legend.

The Gunslinger’s quest involves the pursuit of The Man in Black, a liaison with the sexually ravenous Alice, and a friendship with the kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, here is stunning proof of Stephen King’s storytelling sorcery.

I sought this book out because it’s famous (or rather it’s the first book in a famous series).  I didn’t really know what to expect other than a tower and a cowboy.

Considering it’s a fantasy series it’s quite Stephen King – there aren’t many fantasy tropes and there’s an unusual amount of unexplained creepiness.

The story is mostly told in flashbacks (at one point recursive flashbacks three levels deep).  There’s nothing really wrong with this, although it’s a bit much to keep up with, but it leaves the main plotline pretty straightforward because so much of the writing has gone into the flashbacks.

The description of the desert was very vivid and the descriptions of the future (alternate?) Earth culture were interesting, although I think that was mostly for the mystery of wondering what’s going on.

This book reminded me a bit of Dune in that it has flashes of greatness but overall doesn’t have the same effect it would have done when it was first published.

As it’s the first book in the series it predictably doesn’t wrap everything up, although it does basically resolve its main plot arc.

Book Review – An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

The blurb geeks:

Ever since Martin Banks and his fellow computer geeks discovered that reality is just a computer program to be happily hacked, they’ve been jaunting back and forth through time, posing as medieval wizards and having the epic adventures that other nerds can only dream of having. But even in their wildest fantasies, they never expected to end up at the mercy of the former apprentice whom they sent to prison for gross misuse of magic and all-around evil behavior.

Who knew that the vengeful Todd would escape, then conjure a computer game packed with wolves, wenches, wastelands, and assorted harrowing hazards—and trap his hapless former friends inside it? Stripped of their magic powers, the would-be wizards must brave terrifying dangers, technical glitches, and one another’s company if they want to see medieval England—and their favorite sci-fi movies on VHS—ever again. Can our heroes survive this magical mystery torture? Or will it only lead them and their pointy hats into more peril?

In case it isn’t clear from the blurb, this is a humor book.  It’s mostly mildly amusing, but there were a few places that made me laugh out loud.

Pretty much the whole of this book takes place in a computer role playing game set up as a form of revenge on the main characters by someone they banished in the original back story.  This allows the author to point out some gamey things about computer RPGs (e.g. predictable enemies, inflexible conversation trees) and adds some variety to the premise of the series (as Atlantis and time travel did in the second book).

There was also at least one really cool subversion by the protagonists of the systems set up by the antagonist.  Not only was it extremely clever, but it showed that the author thought up the trap, thought up a way out of the trap and then thought up a way to repurpose the trap into something useful – it was very impressive.

This is probably pretty similar to the previous books (maybe less so the first one because we followed Martin’s point of view as he discovered the nature of reality) but there didn’t really seem to be a main character, just a group of protagonists with some major and some minor players.  It didn’t really cause a problem because for the majority of the book the characters traveled together in groups so there were only a couple of points of view.

Something that I noticed in the first two books was that it’s hard to tell a lot of the characters apart because they’re all pretty similar, have generic names and the author doesn’t spend too much time describing them in a way that distinguishes them from each other.  Of the half-dozen male characters one of them is asian, one is black and one is old – which should differentiate them – but they tend to have group conversations and only be referred to by name, so I still couldn’t tell you what name goes with which person.  This is still a problem in this book but less so because the characters were in two smaller groups so everyone’s identity and personality kept being reiterated.

For some (presumably publishing related) reason books tend to come in trilogies, so I just assumed this would be the last book in the series, however it didn’t read like the last book in the series.  Another thing that made me think this would be the last book is that the author has started a new series, but I guess maybe he’ll juggle them.