Book Reviews

Friday, August 28, 2015 - 20:52 by David

I have spent today trying different ways to review this book.

A straightforward unbiased critique of a young adult's fantasy story?

A potted history of my relationship with the books of this author?

Perhaps a tribute to the writer who has spent over 30 years of giving me a world to wonder over?

I can't do the first of these and do justice to the others. In fact let's make this simple...

Unbiased critique?

Not an option.

So I'm warning you now. If you want to read a scathing review, I'm not going to be able to do it. I don't mean that as a challenge or some sort of belligerent fist-shaking rant either, I'm just stating a fact. 

This is the last Discworld book. But you already knew that. I would go as far as to suggest that for the majority of anyone reading this, you may well agree that it should be as well. The series ends here, the estate of Terry Pratchett has decided that they don't want there to be any more. Personally I agree, you may not.

Every Discworld fan will read this book. Many will have finished it before I even started it yesterday morning, I suspect that there will have been trepidation much like my own. It is impossible to read this as a Pratchett fan without overlaying it with meaning. Like all of the Discworld books, there is Death here, life too of course since life always goes on in some form, but the tall thin fellow with the crop harvesting equipment has taken the author, and you can't forget it.

Death also takes another, which is something that sets this whole book in motion. This is not an unusual strand of story for the Discworld books, the demise of a character often sets off something new; in this case it leaves the world less protected. Unlike other books where the passing of a character goes unnoticed, the whole world is shaken. Everyone of importance is aware, many mourn, a spiteful few rejoice. Therein goes the problem. Elves.

Discworld Elves have been seen before, several times, the Lords and Ladies of the faerie realm, destructive, vindictive, vicious troublemakers. They've been slapped down before, defeated and humiliated, they all sit in their otherworldly dream palace champing at the bit to be let loose. Well not quite all. Their Queen remembers. She remembers the humiliating defeat at the hands of the little girl, Tiffany Aching. The Queen knows fear, her court sees this, a power struggle ensues and a new order is born, and it wants revenge, and the Elves want to be back on top.

Tiffany herself has new responsibilities, a bigger flock for a shepherdess to look after, more work. She is good at this, and because witches are human, she copes...just. Her attentions are stretched very thin, everyone is appreciative, it is just that others have ideas about how things should be done. You know. The Senior Witches...

Much like the Elves, getting agreement is not easy, with their customary and well known sense that 'All witches are right but I'm more right than they are'; everyone has an opinion, Tiffany just wants to do things her way.

Enter Geoffrey and Mephistopheles. A boy and his goat. A boy who wants to be a witch.

But Geoffrey isn't just any old nobleman's son on the run, he has a talent. He is nice. Supernaturally so. He is nice to people and they become nice in return. As ever in these stories the animals aren't just for show. Goat sidekick he may be but Mephistopheles is talented too, the most talented goat in the world.

Geoffrey also brings a new concept to the Discworld, one that revitalizes the old male population in these matriarchal societies.

There is an all pervading sense of change on the Discworld. The last few books have pushed into a more industrial age, there is still magic, but there is iron too. Whether or not Sir Terry did this on purpose to prepare us, or whether we are adding our own inference is probably open for debate.

One thing that hasn't changed is the nature of the Nac Mac Feegle, the little pictsies are, as always, spoiling for a fight. Their wish comes true in spades. But if the book has a central theme it is 'get along' learn how to accommodate, learn how and why people do what they do, be nice and it may well be returned, but never forget that if you break the rules there will be a reckoning. 

As messages go this is simple and powerful. It isn't an over the top flag-waving 'conform or be crushed' demand, nor is there a 'stick it to the man' finger in the air. This, for all its simplicity treads a fine line. There is room for individuality, room for change, just think of the consequences to others. Nothing is perfect, and on the whole people will let you do what you want and leave you alone if you let them get on with their own lives, just understand the consequences of trying to to impose your will on others, show a little empathy and we'll all be fine. 

Think about that message.

This is a book for 'Young Adults' , or 'People' if you will. You are a Young Adult from the moment you take your first breath, the elderly are often described as 'Young At Heart'. Who doesn't want to be young?  I'm not saying this is a world changing book, that would be crass. Look at Pratchett's body of work though. The themes are consistent, 'Live and Let live', 'People are Important - whoever they are', 'People can only tell you what to do if you let them', 'The best answers are not supernatural ones' and 'You might be able to pick on a lone sheep, but just try that with the whole flock...and their Shepherds...'. If more 'Young Adults' read these books and behaved like this then it would be a win all round. 

I'm a father with a young child. I will be starting her off on the Discworld soon. I hope she gets something from these lessons. She'll be a better person from it if she does.

From a writing standpoint, there is no drop in quality here. I couldn't tell that this was written under failing health which just re-confirms the master-of-the-written-word status I, and many others, have conveyed on Sir Terry for many years now. Relentless slapstick has never really been a staple of these stories. It was always characters to the fore, with humour from behaviour and the odd fantasy trope thrown in. I had a wry smile about woodsmen and their choice of underwear. This is as strong a Pratchett book as I have seen in a while. 

It is also full of characters from previous books, mostly witches and the obligatory wizard or two. Some are one-liners,some play much more central roles. This is a welcome development, it is always good to meet old friends, particularly if you know that you'll never meet them in new circumstances again.

I don't need to recommend this book to a Discworld reader. For anyone who has not read a Pratchett novel, treat yourself. Pick one . Some say 'Mort'  is the first true discworld novel. Before that the world is very different, more fantastic, less about the characters. 

I started my journey to the world on the back of a Turtle in a newsagent in my home town. I saw the release of 'Light Fantastic' when it first came out as a paperback. I picked it up and saw it was a sequel to a book my brother had brought back from his time at University. The blurb on the book told me it was 'Comparable to Jerome K Jerome at his best!'. I didn't have a clue. Jerome K Jerome, I'd heard the name, something to do with boats? The cover was bright, it had some sort of box on legs on it...

I was (and still am) a big Douglas Adams fan. A humorous fantasy writer called Terry Pratchett? How will this compare? Decisions, decisions? 

So I went home, book unpurchased. I dug out my brothers' copy of 'The Colour Of Magic' and started to read. The next day I was back in the newsagent pennies in hand (well actually it was pounds in hand, I'm not THAT old)!

So there it began. As an avid reader and devourer of any Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror book I could get my hands on I was a regular at the library. As soon as a new Pratchett hardcover hit the library shelves I would sprint down there, usually to be told that it had already been lent out. So the challenge began. Be the first, get there before anyone else. Then I realised others were reserving the books BEFORE THEY WERE RELEASED! The cheats! Well we could all play that game... And indeed the number of players seemed to increase with every book, until it was ridiculous, even reserving it in advance would mean weeks if not months of waiting. 

By now of course we were a couple of years in and I was a working man of (limited) means. Paperbacks turned into hardbacks, my bookshelves started to groan under the strain. If there's one book I regret not getting, it was a hardcover edition of 'The Colour Of Magic', an early one, a REALLY early one. A black cover with an illustration of a turtle on it with a couple of green and purple octagonal light flashes. Inside the dust jacket was a picture of the author, at least I think it was the author, this picture had a distinct 'Doc Brown' look, presumably before the advent of the hair-eating fedora. I think that the library sold it off for about 50p, I already had the book as the corgi paperback, what did I want the hardback for? I suspect I would be living the life I have never had a chance to become accustomed to if I had bought, kept and then sold it on. 

A few years later, I met a girl. A girl with the the remarkable ability to put up with me! She also had a book hunger, worse than mine. Books fled from her ravenous gaze, no tome was safe, I was strictly amateur hour. I thought I would buy her a Pratchett for her to try, she thought the same about me. I turned up to her student digs clutching a copy of 'Thief Of Time', she already had one. At that point I knew...we had two copies. Two copies of all of them. When your book collections combine you know it's love at first footnote.

Over time we went down to a single copy of each book between us, and developed a simple reading order for each new book. Me second if I knew what was good for me.

A house was purchased, dogs next, then marriage, then child. Throughout this, there were Pratchett books, around one a year. 

That era is over. Forty-One Discworld books, plus assorted sundries, all to enjoy over and again. To read to, and with, my daughter. I will be checking her future partner's book collection. No Pratchett - no relationship. Harsh but fair I think. 

But here's the thing. 

It's a big universe out there. A universe of infinite possibility, in a multiverse of infinite possibilities. Anything that can happen will happen somewhere and somewhen. There IS a turtle out there somewhere swimming in the void, carrying four elephants, a Disc and a whole heap of witches, wizards, policemen, dwarves, trolls, goblins and pictsies. It is still telling stories, we will never see them, but maybe the photons that bounced off Sir Terry will find their way there. These may pick up further tales, and transport them out into the universe, to orbit a sun somewhere for a few millennia while we all catch up. We might find a whole set of bookshelves, made of light, full of new tales. 

I'll see you there, and we can all queue at the library in the stars. I just hope some bugger hasn't reserved them all before I get there.

And then I will read and enjoy. 

After my wife has read them first of course.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - 18:25 by Ferg

I just don't get enough reading done.

It's a horrid, vile and uncomfortable truth I have had to accept since I devoured the first three Expanse books, acquired the fourth part and have barely managed to get past the second chapter due to various intervening delays.  It was, however, whilst driving around and quickly getting bored of my playlists (not an easy task given I still quite like them) that I suddenly decided to start forking out for audiobooks.  And lo, I was saved!  Once more the wonders of science fiction were renewed in my mind's eye as I drift through the countryside with parcels for the internet shoppers of Northern England.

This first review is something of a compilation of books: The Lost Fleet series by John G. Hemry, under the pen name of Jack Cambell, beginning with Dauntless, follwoed sequentially by Fearless, Courageous, Valiant, Relentless and ending the story ark with Victorious, under thel narrative stylings of Christian Rummel.

In a nutshell, this is bordering on a cross between military porn with a side of gratuitous lashings of quintessentially plausible spaceship battles, all neatly held together with the pretense of futturistic politics and character development in equal measure.  That's not to say I didn't lap it all up like a thirsty Bantha at the only watering hole for miles.  I got through all six audio books with some considerable speed despite my tentative first steps with the first book Dauntless.


This book, as with all galloping space operas, has the uneviable task of having to set the scene for the reader and actually hook the blighter within a remarkably harrowing number of initial paragraphs - a task I still decidedly dislike having to accomplish on my own.  Fortunately for the reader, Dauntless introduces the universe through the eyes of the recently revived, post-humously promoted Captain John "Black Jack" Geary, an officer of the Fleet some hundred years prior who, after encountering a surprise attack from a hostile force, known as the Syndicate (Syndics for short), purchased enough time to allow his crew to escape and go out in a blaze of glory... sort of. He had managed to get in to a damaged escape capsule and did a bunk as his ship exploded around him only to discover that the distress beacon and propulsion units had all been knocked out and was left to float in space until the beginning of the first book.

Geary, during his absense has rather annoyingly been turned in to a hero of yore and has become something of a legend and also the point in to which galactic IQs spontaneously plummetted.

He's picked up by the flagship Dauntless as the fleet is on its way to the Syndic homeworld and what is believed to be the conclusion of a century old war.  Things, however, do not quite work out as, at the beginning of the book, the leading character is thrust back in to the role of Captain and Acting Fleet Commander as the actual Fleet Admiral, along with many notable members of the brass are lined up and shot because... because Syndics are wankers, that's why.

And from this point forward, Captain Geary learns, much to his constant dismay, that the military he once knew and loved has actually devolved in to a pseudo-political mess of head-strong psychopaths with not even the faintest idea about tactics, even as a radical concept.  Space battles at this point are little more than the equivalent of tucking your head down, priming all your weapons and running directly at the enemy with all the care and regard for safety as one might discover in a suicidal eagle with a rocket up its bum.  Attrition is the name of the game and the game has absolutely no rules with regards to self-preservation.

Star Fleet they are not.  Not even remotely...

Derp Trek

Without giving away a massive amount of plot, Captain Geary is forced to come to terms with having to commanding his fleet which has been operating under a rather moronic amount of ship-by-ship autonomy, a militaristic nightmare political system that is determined by how terrifyingly thick the Captain of any given ship happens to be, an ongoing depletion of their stocks - from food to fuel, from ships to munitions, a positively galling amount of hero-worship from those that believe he has been returned to the Fleet by 'The Living Stars', the undulating relationships he maintains with various officers, the harrowing possibility of actually getting hoime and discovering that the drop in intelligence IS, in fact, universal and, linking all of  the books together, the threat that there is something else out there pulling the strings behind the galactic conflict in a most nefarious manner.

As the reader progresses through the books it is fair to say that the characters actually do start to grow on you, in the same way that one might find that certain lego bricks become more or less useful in the fullness of your design plan.  Some characters are evidently more charismatic or more efficient and, as a voyeur to Geary's mind set, it becomes clear to see that he's desperately trying to play with the cards he's been dealt, which, in truth is something of a mixed bag: from engineering officers who are good at their jobs but aren't very profficent at this whole 'command lark' to the belligerent and painfully annoying types that are clearly headed toward mutiny.  Fortunately, geary has several characters about him that also tend to be quite formidable, intelligent and competent as officers and specialists.  Each of these characters tend to fill certain niches for the story dynamic; awe-struck guides, paranoid political advisors, ship captains who either tend to be more savvy or more scientifically inclined.  Each one slowly but surely gets a moment to shine in one regard or another and becomes are more intrinsic part of the plot to greater or lesser degrees depending on their immediate roles.  This, however, doesn't stop them from getting killed on occassion.

Dauntless through to Victorious takes the Fleet from the Syndic homeworld on a tour-de-force through enemy territory, strategically stomping on enemy forces as they attempt to get home via various routes, desperately trying not to get blind-sided or ambushed by a significant enemy force.  This means detours, and quite a few of them - most of which require Geary to deploy the kind of reasoning that a commanding officer in modern military forces would not feel the need to have to explain to their subordinates.  But since the military of this fleet are entirely dependant on a crippled psuedo-political democratic shit-storm of incompetence, madness and good-old-fashioned suicidal tendancies it becomes of a question as to how long before Geary starts dumping some of them in an airlock just to get some 'clever' back in the room.

Picard does not Engage

Which brings me to the writer...

Meet John G. Hemry...

John G. Hemry aka Jack Campbell

This is a chap with a distinguished military history with the US Navy, ranging from gunnery control to intelligence.  While there isn't a fantastic amount of detail on these previous occupations (which comes as no big surprise) there is a critical familiarity of the military politics, protocols and terminology that is brought to bear in the stories, with, and in no short order, a clear and rather detailed look at how space combat would more likely play out across the gulfs of space.  His grasp of relativistic physics is quite clear when describing the space battles that dot the books and, if one were to, let's say, attempt to draw out the battle plans that Captain Geary divulges throughout the books (co-ordinates, positioning, relative velocity etc.) and effectively replay those battles with visual aids... (yeah?  so what if I did?) it becomes quite a tangible experience.

There's also the rather healthy avoidance of tackling religion as it currently stands: no one remembers things like Christianity, Budhism, Hindi or any of those other pesky contemporary explanations for life, the universe and everything.  Instead, Hemry / Campbell has settled upon a monotheistic priniciple of remembering your ancestors through the worship of the 'living stars', heralding to a more classical ideological reference one might recognise from the likes of King Arthur and his Knights or the Greek pantheon.  There are no deities, as such, but the suggestion that folks have come to the conclussion that all matter and energy goes back to where it originall y came from, namely the stars, and finding solace and spiritual tranquility can be found having an introspective moment with the memory of your dead, be they family or that last poor shmuck that got smashed in to sub-atomic dust.  It helped drive the stroy, gave characters the 'ooumph' they required to get on with stuff and also acted as a clear way to recap on any elements that the reader might require to be reminded of... usually suggesting that they were about to become relevant once more.

Add to this the plethora of examples of Geary dealing with his officers: continuously throughout the books, "Black Jack" is forced to maintain an aire of professionalism that, due to the reader's position, clearly irritates our tactical genius in the same way that one might refrain from hurtling in to a rage because someone of a less mentally agile nature has just stuffed their wet bits in to a power socket... again.

Luke vs Lightsaber

Not the point I was going to make, but for now this will just have to do...  ;)

His wealth and familiarity with the source material is a real bonus to the telling of the tale.  It hands the story another level of plausibility that science fiction really has come to rely upon given that the science fiction of yester year can now be openly mocked by even the least scientifically-savvy of fans... Yes, Star Wars, I'm looking at you.  I've ALWAYS been looking at you.  Mainly because I can't bring myself to glower at Lucas any longer...

Eeeuuurrgghh... just thinking about the walrus'-arse-for-a-face just makes me cringe...

So moving on...

Audiobooks have saved my life.  And since this isn't just a review of the books, it's a review of Christian Rummel, who sat down and has narrated the first six books at least.  Seriously, he may as well just go on and do the rest, he's half way there already.  And by the time you get to Victorious it's clear that Rummel has managed to get right in to character and is well and truly versed with the material he's been reading.  Heck, I suspect he might have even cared about the characters given that his vocal talents manage to find traction with each character with complete confidence by the third book.  I can only imagine the hardship of getting to grips with a narrative, finding your flow, dedicating a finitie number of hours in a day, trying to sound fresh as a daisy with each take and ultimately sounding as though you've accomplished the entire task with just one take.  After listening to various books now, along with other narrative styles, Rummel's depiction of the characters and their scenarios is nothing shy of an entirely admiral (see what I did there?) endeavour.

Christian Rummel

Rummel achieves a good inflection on character interactions whilst also offering a certain third-person-esque perspective when arriving at Geary's internal dialogue or his insights in to the advance in the cultural affectations.

All in all, a good yarn with sweeping space opera vibes.  And since the story takes itself as seriously as it needs to without having to drum up unnecessary drama to distract away from the goals the characters have set themselves, the story shifts along at a very good pace throughout each book, engaging the reader with each chapter.  Beware the technical parts, what few there actually are, unless you want to draw out diagrams and then try and replay them over Homeworld (Remastered)... you know... for research purposes or something... (WHAT!?!  I LIKE RESEARCH!!!).  It's worth noting that once you get to the end of Victorious, the story doesn't finish there.  There is another couple of arks to follow, one set amongst the Syndics and another set as the space-faring civilizations slowly, but surely, become aware that something or someone is finally getting sick of these slack-jawed space-thugs and fancies putting an end to the levels of stupid in the universe.

Yeah, because picking a fight with a race of people that, even after a century of warfare, can't actually finish the other side off, on either side, should at least speak volumes about their temerity, if nothing else... 

The Lost Fleeet was published by ACE Books.

The Lost Fleet, Jack Campbell, Science Fiction, Sci-Fi, Space Battles, Space Ships, relativistic physics
Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 13:38 by Emma

I would be remiss if I didn’t firstly point out that Seanan is pronounced SHAWN-in and not Shawn Anne. It is her pet hate.

Rosemary and Rue is the first in a series of books telling the tale of October Daye. October, or Toby for short, is a half Daoine Sidhe and her mother, a full fae, thought her name was quite normal. Prior to this book she established a happy life with her husband, had a daughter and works as both a PI in the mortal realm and a knight errant to the local fae Duke. In the prologue, Toby is sent on a mission for the Duke to save his wife and child from his twin brother. In an unfortunate turn of events she is turned into a Koi carp in the Japanese Tea Gardens, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

After 14 years have passed Toby returns to her normal form and life has moved on. Divorced from her previous existence, she denies her fae origins and retreats to a monotonous mortal life working on checkouts on night shift. Her origins do not want to be denied and the murder of a friend drags her back to her past. As Toby is forced to reconnect with the characters she left behind then we, the audience, get introduced to her past relationships and experiences.

Seanan McGuire is an incredibly talented, highly entertaining and engaging person who is an award winning writer, musician and artist. She is often restricted in producing extra books by her publisher, as the audience can’t keep pace with her, and is instead sent on holiday. I was prompted to read Seanan’s first novel in this Urban Fantasy series after having the privilege of interviewing her at EasterCon 2015. The book is very detailed on the various fae races which demonstrates Seanan’s love of folklore. Her knowledge has been enhanced by obtaining a degree in the subject and being the proud owner of an Aarne-Thompson Index.

I would recommend you read this book if you like Urban Fantasy and in particular if you like Jim Butcher, Benedict Jacka and Emma Newman. It is witty, entertaining and has enough unanswered questions to fuel a long series. I especially want to know if she will get revenge for her fishy encounter.

Seanan McGuire, Rosemary and Rue, Urban fantasy, Books, October Daye, Toby Daye
Saturday, October 11, 2014 - 12:37 by Ferg

Once more unto the void we go, threshing our way through the terrible and unforgiving storyline that is The Expanse universe.  And what a ride this book has been.
Which actually makes me really sad because, at the time of writing this review, specifically mid October, I am going to have to wait over half a year for the next installment to arrive in paperback!  I know, I could fork out those extra couple of quid for the hardback, but I've got all the previous volumes in the paper and I ran out of space on the bookshelves months ago.  Plus, I'm not a massive fan of hardback simply for conservational reasons - which makes me a massive hypocrite when it comes to the subject of roleplaying game rule books, but then again, paperback editions of a rulebook don't last long (how many copies of Cyberpunk 2020 did you go through?  My last copy doesn't have a front and rear cover and I'm pretty certain there's pages missing from either end to boot).

But I digress...
Abaddon's Gate is the third book in the Expanse series as written by James S. A. Corey, a writing team that includes George R. R. Martin's assistant, who, in my opinion, is producing significantly better work.  More about that, or not... not sure yet...
Today, I will be digressing a fair bit, by the looks of things, but that, I suspect, is my final word on Martin and GoT (unless, a certain website chief asks me to review his book(s) or something and gets me drunk enough to actually say 'yes'... and that would have to be pretty damn drunk: I'm a big guy and have been known to put a fair bit away and still walk a couple of miles to find my bed).

Let me get started with the title, or more specifically with the titles, because for a change I really like them.  As a lazy-ass writer myself, on occassion, I absolutely appreciate the challenge of finding a title to any given piece of work: for me, if the title doesn't just pop out there and then I have to stick with a working title until something comes along and, if I'm going to continue with this tirade of honesty, I'm appauling at picking titles.  And these are just so perfect for the frame of the stories behind them; Leviathan Wakes is the introduction of an entity that is impossible to comprehend for the characters and the civilization described, Caliban's War introduces the monsters that 'learned our language' but pale by comparrison to the political scene behind their very creation, and Abaddon's Gate simply is just that - The Ring is, as far as this book is concerned, a gate in Hell.  The titles aren't even particulalrly subtle by the time you reach the end of the book(s), they have captured the theme of the piece along with a literary or historical 'hook' that makes it sound just that little bit sexy.
The cover is an element I've never been entirely certain about - ordinarily, I love love cover art - it comes from paying so much time and interest in marketting and seeing movie posters and reading a lot of comic books: the cover is meant to sell you the book, it's entire design is supposed to scream amongst all of the other literature 'PICK ME! PICK ME!!!' and 'JUST TAKE ONE LOOK AT ME!  GO ON, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!!!', which is an oddity since so very little cover art these days grabs me.  Sadly, in the case of The Expanse series, I'm still not grabbed.  Maybe I'm just looking for something that's just not there or can't be seen because all you ever see first is book's spine and they're about as eye catching as a moldy potato.  That's not to say that the art work is bad, it's just it doesn't really convey anything to me... but hey, I'm not buying a book for it's cover art, am I...

Abaddon's Gate follows a considerably more spiritual theme; if Levithan Wakes was to introduce the future in general and Caliban's War was to show the political and corporate machinations, then the third book is to peer in to the spiritual upheaval that the introduction of an alien construct that, utterly defies the laws of physics as we know them, has on the general populace, and we get some fantastic insight in to that over the course of the story, especially as we follow several religiously biased characters throughout the story.
Again the chapters follow specific characters who are intrinsic to the plot's development, but in this book, one of those characters is a villain!

Once more, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are dragged, virtually kicking and screaming, in to the fray - Holden by this point entirely unconvinced that he wants anything to do with the Protomolecule construct that has been completed on the far side of Uranus; specifically a massive ring with an utterly black centre, and yet all the sensors denote that there is space beyond it, but not in our solar system.  Holden has decided he want sot be as far away from that thing as humanly possible and is willing to take fairly sketchy jobs in order to do it, however, due to a plan put in motion by forces unseen the Rocinante is about to be locked down at Ceres due to the Martian government wanting their warship back.  Enter a media crew who want to go to the Ring and Holden and the gang ultimately finding themselves en route to the one place they'd least like to be.
But that's not all for Holden.  He's now getting semi-regular visits from his old pal Detective Miller, or at least an apparition that screams protomolecule simulation of the dead detective, which for the reader is apparent, but for Holden and the rest it's not so clear, especially given the protomolecules ability to subvert the very laws of the universe by powers unknown.

Meet the Reverend Doctor Anna Volovodov.  She's a Christian priest operating out of Europa, a wife to her lovely wife and mother to her lovely daughter.  Her introductory chapter is a bit of an oddity for me, as Corey gives her a bit of an edge; this character is not a pacifist, especially since she's happy to tase a wife beater repeatedly and stitch him up for atttempted assault, but then she goes on to be the soul of the book, leaving her wife and child to go back to Earth while she is summoned by rich and famous types to head out to the Ring, along with a host of celebrities for entirely political reasons, and struggles with trying to find her niche within such a odd community.  She's an adorable character whose role in the story is not solely to provide a religious view to the universe, but in my opinion to offer an element of humanity and empathy to what will become a heaving bloodbath by the end of the book.  A voice of reason and a foil to the religious mandate of a celebrity priest, Hector Cortez, as they find themselves ultimately on opposing side of an etymological crisis, not to mention a particularly physical one.

And then there's Bull.  'Bull' is the new head of security aboard the Behemoth.  The ship that, in previous books, was the Mormon colony ship Nauvoo has been repurposed by Fred Johnson and the Outer Planets Alliance (O.P.A.) to be the figurehead of the new OPA fleet.  A massive warship witht he capacity to hold multiple ships within it and bristling with hard points, many of which are simply not up to specification, Bull's job on its shakedown cruise and the imminent mission of providing the OPA with a presence at the Ring is no easy task, especially when it becomes common knowledge that he's been stepped down from the XO position already and is an Earther on a Belter ship.  He is however supported by Sam in Engineering, who has a running relationship witht he crew of the Roci and is a character that the reader simply can't help but like.  He will however have to answer to the Captain, an officer in the OPA with a good record but concerned with how people see him, and the new XO whose protocols are specifically by-th-book and doesn't like fast-and-loose security work, something that Bull is actually quite proficient at.  I really liked Bull as a character and as the story progresses he become s more and more invloving, to the point where I was very much looking forward to his next chapter to see how he was going to manae those around him next, and he plays by a particualrly 'Ender's Game' playbook, I hasten to add.

Last, but by no means least, there's Melba... Melba Koh isn't Melba Koh.  She'd like to be Melba, but she's not.  SHe needs to be Melba in order to hide her true heritage, one that is already steeped in the blood of thousands of people and is pivotal to the previous development of the protomolecule in the system and the shenanigans of the previous books.  This character, wihtout giving too much away, is barking mad.
Not just a little crazy, she is bat-shit insane.
She has motivation, money, a plan (mostly) and the connections with which to bring about her ultimate goal: the humiliation and destruction of James Holden.  The hate she holds for that man is something akin to that of legends.  She has spent months concocting a plan to publicly destroy Holden for his activities in the last book, specifically, but she's been observing everything about him.  And not just about Holden, she's acquired dosiers on each member of the crew and the up to date schematics of the Rocinante.  Oh yes, she's determined to fuck their shit up something fierce.
As characters go, she's not particualrly two dimensional, which is a massive failing for many villains in stories because while there is a trend for writers attempting to give the reader a sense of justification for why villains do the horrible things that they do, it's easy to forget that the single minded focus of a person determined to ruin someone and then kill them is so intense that most other aspects of life, the universe and everything sort of bounce off them as irrelevent and therefore amkes them a two dimensional character by default.
Melba, however, is wrestling with her psychopathy, she kills and then regrets in one particular instance that furnishes her character with a wealth of empathy that I really wasn't expecting, she can justify the murder just fine, but her ability to come to terms with what she'd done and the fact that the victim was entirely innocent places her with something of a quandry as she develops through the situation.

This is, once again, a tremendous ride.  it's a slow start that is pocked with the occasional incident which adds minute flavours to the overall story, but then as a reader you find yourself quite suddenly thrown in to a world of hurt and then for the rest of the book it simply doesn't stop.  Without a particualr spoiler, the reader is following Holden as he is exploring the unknown with Miller's guidance, only to be accosted and forces the protomolecule to react in the most vivid manner it deems necessary.  Holden is in a safe place at the time (or at least safer than the rest of the fleet, by all accounts) only for the reader to be transported to fleet, via a new chapter and the experiences of one of the other characters (Anna, I think) and the chaos presiding over everyone and everything.
All of the books have contained a fair amount of graphic violence, horror and gore, but in this particular book it feels more intimate.  The bone crunchingly accute depiction of how physical force can turn the Human form in to floppy meat sack is harrowing in some cases and, it's fair to say, this book contains character deaths that will revolt the reader, not because of the way they've died, but more how and why.  There are fewer twists in the plot, but there are several logical reactions and they usher in a favourable rise in the intensity and suspense that the climax delivers with unwavering integrity.

Again, a well written story with a fantastic sense of intimacy and scale all thrown in to one managable and well paced book.  IF you've liked the previous two, this third installment will not disappoint.

Abaddon's Gate is published by Orbit Books and is also available as an E-book. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014 - 15:22 by Ferg

Is it fair to still give the same rating to the sequel, which, in part, could be considered to be better than the first BUT since I'm reticent to hand out more than one 10 Rating a year for fear of being marked 'too easy to please'?  Could I see how this work could have been improved?  Not really.  Could there be anything about the work that seemed 'off' or incomplete, as though it had been rushed or offer the opportunity for a childish slighting of some description just to justify my pathological fear of being judged dimly by my peers?  Perhaps, but I didn't spot it...

In fact, I feel it's fair to say that I'd already ordered the seuqel to Leviathan's Wake before I'd even completed the first book because I wanted to know where this was going and hoped, almost prayed to the Gods of Decent Fiction and Storytelling, that the sequel wouldn't just be that book that got turfed out of the publishers office because the first one did well and it'd sell alright just because the first one got rave reviews and George R. R. Martin's name got thrown on the cover.  To say that I am relieved and pleasureably saisfied would be a thorough understatement.

The book, sitting slightly shy of a proud 600 pages, starts approximately 9 months after the conclusion of Leviathan Wakes and follows the Crew of the Rocinante, under the dysfunctional command of James Holden, but while the first book hopped us between Detective Miller and Holden, Caliban's War flips us between Holden, a desperate father and botanist / biologist / ecosystems engineer Praxidike Meng, Gunnery Sargaent Roberta Draper and the UN Assistant Undersecretary and potty mouth Chisjen Avasarala.

If you read the back of the book, you're going to see comments that essentially compare The Expanse series to Star Wars -'If Leviathan Wakes was Star Wars... then this is The Empire Strikes Back...' and, to some extent, there's some truth in that, as long as you keep in mind that The Expanse story line is aboslutely nothing like Star Wars, the latter being based entirely on super science with power sources and technological miniturisation that never gets explained to any level of canon, while The Expanse revels in its plausability and distinct lack of 'hyperspace'.

What really brings Caliban's War to life as a book determined to provide a more epic flavour to the series is the inclusion of the politician Avasarala, a subject in much literature that can drive me utterly out of my mind with boredom.  Seriously, how does anyone get round to reading political dramas for fun?  How can you possibly be interested in it?  He said this and then drank some wine and then argued over that because he said, she said 'your mom...'.  Bores me rigid!  Until I met this grandmother, dressed in her brightly coloured saris, adhoration for her husband and her family and the filthiest, meanest vernacular I've ever met in a book.  It comes to her naturally like venom comes from snakes and violence comes from protomolecule infested rage-beings.  And it worked!  I thoroughly expected, judging by her prolific use of the foulest language used by an elderly lady, that it was to assist the writers conjure up this characer that would fit perfectly in to place with a book that doesn't leave a page spare.  It is also through her and Bobbie, the Gunny, that the reader is introduced to Earth and the future that awaits us in their universe, touching on topics like education, political mediation, military science, economics and interplanertary wheeling and dealing.  Not to mentioned that the two characters are a wonderful foil for one another.

The other character that the reader is going to spend a lot of time observing is the father figure and the books science consultant, Prax.  He starts in a bad place, hunting for his daughter on an ice station that is falling apart in a way that he can describe to the reader all too well, and thusly the reader realises exactly how entirely bad the situation is getting as Ganymede falls further and further in to disarray.  While being a somewhat impractical character and seemingly socially unpracticed, he lends to the crew of the Rocinante and the overall feeling of the book a sense of Humanity which some of the characters are slowly losing as they are tested by the resurgence of a new protomolecular crisis.

The whole while the adventure unfolds and the mysterious cabals get their nefarious shenanigans moving, there is a growing sense of dread and threat from the surface of Venus. For those that have not gotten round to reading the first book, I shall say no more, as, to be honest, it wouldn't make a bit of sense to you.  For those of you that have, it's safe for me to say that Caliban's War is a chance to really build on the strangeness of the Protomolecule and the critical threat it poses: no good news ever comes from Venus throghout the book, and in fact it spirals toward further horror and confusion.

While Leviathan Wakes contains a distinct horror flavour to it as the story progresses further to the terror that is 'The Eros Incident', Caliban's War doesn't.  It swaps out the horror for the political intrigue and the rounded focus on the major bodies operating in our solar system, namely the UN, Earth's Governement, the Martian Governement and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), with whom there is a brief visit to Tycho once more.  These crescendos find themselves exploding in to sudden a terrible acts of blood soaked violence and the threat of horror (if you really care to distinguish one from the other, that is).

In short, I loved this book and I was thoroughly over-joyed to discover that they hadn't just battered out a sequel but thought about their characters and allowed each of them to grow, especially Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex whose portrayals in the TV show have yet to be determined, though the inclusion of Thomas Jane as Detective Miller leaves a few interesting questions about how much money is actually getting sunk in to the project by the likes of Syfy whose track record with their own shows has been less than inspiring, but have promised a more loyal science fiction mandate for the future and The Expanse show could be proof of that.

Caliban's War is the second book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, published by Orbit, and is also available as an e-book.

ISBN-10: 1841499919

ISBN-13: 978-1841499918

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 12:30 by Ferg

Here comes a post-review mini-rant, but I swear I'll try to make this interesting for those of you that have absolutely no interest in the gaming industry... Wink

The gaming industry is a pig.  Heck, that's an insult to pigs...
The gaming industry is a... nevermind... there's a lot of insulting to be done at this rate, so I'm going to cut through there like a diamond D4 cuts through glass and feet - but as I have said on several occassions, the industry itself has suffered through periods of all the best reasons for not being popular as a hobby or as a literary piece:

1> They're referred to as Rulebooks.  When most folks seem to think of rulebooks, they think somewhere between a mathematics textbook with irrifutable, logical boredom and the slip of paper that explains how Snakes and Ladders works.

2> Once upon a year, the game Dungeons and Dragons caught on in an ealry interpretation of Viral Marketing - a sensation that even folks today are trying to duplicate with the occasional success.  And those that tried D&D were the NERDS!  Those folks that weren't in to football and going for a drink and a drive with their buddies...

3> If being Uncool was not enough, enter the corporate big-wigs who suddenly got this idea that the only way to make the gaming industry big was to create a universal rule system and then sell the license for its use to any company, thusly belittling the system mechanics of other games and their companies.  What could be worse than telling a Geek whose system is being underwritten by some foul corporate type and effectively replaced by some stale and clunky 'rollplay'?

4> And then, in the Age of the Geek, when computer games, sci-fi and all things fantasy drama couldn't be any cooler, the fore-mentioned big-wigs have gone quiet, or WORSE, they released Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition that failed so badly they actually reversed up, cancelled 4th and published an edition referred to as v3.5!

And people wonder why there's so little faith in the gaming industry and why few people actually get their own ideas to print...


Enter POSTHUMAN STUDIOS!!! (can I get a 'Hell YEAH!?)

Posthuman Studios, whose tag line on their Google entry was 'We make amazing games', is a creator-owned company whose founding members include four veterans of the industry who go on to say, 'the future of hobby gaming is the hybridization of analog and electronic play–whether that be at the augmented tabletop or online play; that gaming has been and always will be a culture of sharing, and that we must build the creative future we want to live in. You’re invited!'

If you're a seasoned gamer with an eye for the bigger picture and want to get published some day, this is the kind of company spiel that may be enough to give you a roaring hardcover.  Finally, a company that actually feels like they've stepped back to the theme 'by the players, for the players' and actually mean it!  But then I hear those skeptics out there, the seasoned ones that have seen all this hype before and shook their heads and watched as the Old Gods have fallen and watched the suns burn out... and with good reason: there's many of a body littering the floor of the Archive of Dead Games, murdered each in their own personal way - from (the other) Star Trek's corporate executuon to MERP's slow and painful demise.  But Posthuman did something entirely new, something that dropped the jaws of executives through the gaming corps. - they effectively made their debut title FREE!?!

What dark sorcery is this, you exclaim?  What fiendish act of love-inducing, wallet-sparing altruism is this that you speak!?!  That's right, the creative commons license, ladies and germs, has been used in such a way that any didgital copies of the game is free to share.  Entirely!  Having a copy of the .pdf file without having paid for it is... not a problem.  Go on, grab a copy, it's not tough to get a hold of one... (I'd drop a copy on here, but I don't know how and I'd really like to have permission to do it and, frankly, go find your own for pity's sake!).  If you want a copy of the hardback books, though, you're going to be pulling out your wallets / purses / subdermal flaps, but having said that to no greater tune than you would be for any other title.

Which brings me to the actual review... and, if you hadn't already noticed, I've given this game a 10.  I don't tend to do that... but Satan commanded me to do it and I shall always obey my Lord and Master in all his divine power...

Eclipse Phase has a very unique tag:

'Your mind is software. Program it.    Your body is a shell.  Change it.    Death is a disease.  Cure it.     Extinction is approaching.  Fight it.'

This is an all new standard of science fiction storytelling in an absolutely brand-spanking new universe in a faily plausible future.  Humanity has evolved and, effectively, has cured 'death' by result of the first major technological singularity - the ability to upload a human consciousness in to a computer mainframe and then download it in to another body, essentially allowing the individual to make copies of themselves or, more importantly, a Back-Up.  It's true, it you were run out of bodies and somehow get your Back-Up erased you would die a Real Death, but generally speaking folks are just not up to it and psychosurgery can often help an individual to overcome such personal qualms... for a price, of course.

But this all came at a terrible price... Transhumanity was killing itself: the the final years of 'Earth that was' (see what I did there?) saw it ruined by warfare, political upheaval and environmental crisis as the planet heaved under our weight and stupidity.  And while we threw ourselves out to our solar sysem in new bodies made of metal or biologically enhanced and altered variations to colonise and survey the darkness, the technology didn't stop improving.  It got smarter and deadlier until one particular 'weapon', the TITAN, an advanced artifically intelligent surveillance entity designed to bring a winning card to table, suddenly instigated a holocaust that will forever been known as The Fall.

The game is set 10 years later.  Earth is off limits - we lost the homeworld and anyone left down there is either dead or wish they were.  Since the Fall, Transhumanity have found alien devices, creators unknown, that have been popularly referred to as Pandora Gates - the rest of the galaxy being only an Event Horizon away, and we have been colonising like crazy.  It's the Wild Frontier again, but this time the predators out there aren't the odd coyote or rattler. Oh no, the TITANs are out there, along with other alien entities, most of which are being kept to some level of secrecy or another.  And Transhumanity, in some instances, is becoming more and more diverse in it's social, cultural and physical appearances.  With the development of nanotechnology and fabricators, new bodies and fewer physical limitations, there are floating cities on Venus, miners on Mercury, flotillas of drifting communities, remote asteroid habitats with cutting edge biomorph development developing Dolphins and Whales that can 'swim' in space.  All of this, while everyone wondering the same things: will we ever get Earth back?  Will the TITANs return?  Why did everything go crazy like that?  What will the next technological singularity be?  Who will control it?  Who will protect us?

Enter Firewall.

The game is a science fiction conspiracy horror platform that comes in 400 pages of full colour, fantastically written, thoroughly engrossing hardback (or at least is was for me, after I'd taken a quick peek at the .pdf).  To look at the cover, predominantly black with white lettering, the art band tells you everything you kind of need to know - a remote habitat in a sparse belt has an airlock opened and a segmented, prehensile tentacle-like limb protrudes with snake-like agility to grab a free-floating biped in a space suit who, if initial impressions are anything to go by, appears to have thrown themselves out of the airlock already to avoid some dark fate within.  An inspired choice for cover-art - as it leaves the player / GM with the note that it could just as easily be YOUR character that's in that situation.  And the book carries that sense of encroaching peril as you make your way through the source material.

The book opens with a a short story, 'LACK', to set a sort of tone and to make brief introductions to some of the features that are commonplace within the game environments, to then go on to a full and relatively thorough breakdown of the last 70ish years, the groups in play, corporations, The Fall, what is generally 'known' about the TITANs and where, what, how, who and WTF!?!  Thankfully, the writing is engaging with the running theme of seeing the world(s) through the eyes of either alumni of the various cultural overviews or through, first hand accounts and interviews or from the perspective of Firewall themselves.

So that's the second time I've done that!   Why do I keep dropping 'Firewall' in there like it supposed to make a difference?  Character Creation, that's why!

The game suggests that your first character(s) may well want to consider being Firewall Sentinels so that you can get good and immersed in the conspiritorial nature of the game and who better to get introduced with than by the most enigmatic bunch o the lot.  Firewall recruits secretly, over a considerable amount of time, using observational techniques that are so intrusive they know whether or not you'd betray them, shoot your own team-mates, sabotage the mission, go off on your own or any of the other 'non-comliant' behaviours players can get up to, and then, more often than not, hires them anyway.  Because they've got a plan, yo...  or do they?  Perhaps... perhaps not... (GET ON WITH IT!!!)


Firewall hires from every walk of life, so your Barsoomian Miner to your Venusian Politician, from your Scum Barge security officer to your Hypercorp tradesman.  No matter your political faction or your particular background, when it comes to doing a job for Firewall you may well have to put your personal vendettas and agendas aside in order to survive the job at hand.  The Character Creation process thankfully gives you the sense of the sky no longer being the limit, and with my first character being an Uplifted Chimp who'd been created in a brinker asteroid belt lab, who now inhabits the body of a Bouncer Morph, goes on salvage ops and treasure hunting and hacks systems (a genius, treasure hunting ape that hacks... it was too good to be true!), I was left with the sensation that it would be a mind-blowing session to play with that character.

Choosing bodies, backgrounds, factions, gear and all the other variables that come with a diverse selection of potential character profiles can, for the beginning player, be a little daunting - this is not a game you can just throw yourself in: a GM could probably do with having a bit of experience under their belt to get new players on board and writing the stories for such a piece could prove quite challenging, especially when it comes to the magnitude of scope available. Having said that, though, the game prefers a more intimate style of play, and many factors in the game er toward story event as opposed to rolling dice to determine the outcome; space combat being the most notable - combat in space is a matter of attrition: there are no energy shields, no Star Trek teleporters, no take a few hits before the hulls get damaged - this is physics, baby, and if a chunk of metal hits your stuff in a zero-gravity vacuum with speeds and g's that are considerably in excess of your own, expect to lose your air.  And your ship.  And hope you got a Back-Up recently...

The system is a percentile system, predominantly, but D10s can come in handy for events like damage tests etc.  It's streamlined and it's very easy to get to grips with for a new player, and the modifications to dice rolls are a playfully fudgeable element to the mechanic.  While the game does spend a chapter on combat, it is not the chapter you'll need to spend a lot of time on: MESH hacking, Mind Hacking, Async powers, exsurgent virus strains and the extensive gear section require a LOT more attention due to the chapters really only giving the players a taster of what they could have and stressing that they could, if they can come up with a blueprint and access to the necessary facilities and resources, build ANYTHING!  Your imagination is all that's holding back your story, character or campaign.

I'd say I would be careful about spoilers, but it's necessary to point out that there is a GM section at the back of the book that the casual player should consider NOT reading, but then that would be like saying 'here's an amazing book, but don't read between pages x and y because you'll screw up the stroy for yourself'.  In the case of Eclipse Phase, the story is NOT CANON after a certain point.  The session's GM decides why the TITANs went crazy, what the Exsurgent Virus is, who the Factors and the ETI are, what happened to the Iktomi, what Project Ozma is and all the rest of that.  Each GM may have a different slant from where the game would like to offer, but if you are simply a player and wish to read through that section of the book, go in to it knowing that if you're looking for the vaunted Secrets of the Games Master, you're going to find yourself looking for a tin opener and the GM's cranium because it's simply not as clear cut as that.

Conclusively, this is one of those games in the culture that really should be part of any GM / Players collection.  It is to Sci-Fi Conspiracy Horror what D&D was to high fantasy adventure, what Cyberpunk 2020 was to antidisestablishmentarianism, Call of Cthulhu was to steampunk horror and what Bobo the Dog Faced Boy was to Circus Freaks (thanks Robin Williams...).  It's a necessary addition and if you don't have it, in one form or another, then I feel it is fair to say that you're either no longer THAT interested in RPGs or you've gotten too comfortable with having your mediocre, corporate-spun RPGs fed to you.

Get it... you WON'T regret it...

 ISBN 10 - 9-780984-583508

ISBN 13 - 978-0-9845835-0-8

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 18:39 by Ferg

For those of you that like roleplaying games and have been following the evolution and success that is Posthuman Studio's Eclipse Phase books and universe, you may have spotted, if not already acquired with the relish and anticipation of their first and phenomenally well received Kickstarter funded  'players handbook' Transhuman.

Or, on the other hand, if you're anything like me, you not only eagerly awaited it, you scrabbled and fought to be amongst those that acquired not only the .pdf, but also the hardback edition so that you could mount it on you collection shelf like the prize that it was hopefully going to be.  And damn did I fight to get it.  I fought the A69, the roads of Newcastle and the hustle and bustle of the streets to get to the one place that I KNEW had it in stock (because I had phoned in, reserved a copy and swore that if anyone sold it by accident I would insist on eating the brains of the next person that [insert reason here]), namely Travelling Man, to whom my gratitude is effectively infinite for providing me with torrents of geekporn.  And lo, I descended upon the closest pretentious coffee serving establishment to devour what they were promising during the Kickstarter campaign.

The cover, again in the fashion of all the other books, it greets the eyes with some fantastic artwork offering a glimpse in to the chaos and sinister machinations of the Eclipse Phase worlds, dark and foreboding with a hint of imminent peril... and all before I've turned the front to be visited by the standard EP full colour 240 pages of sheer joy.

The back of the book offers a Package-based charatcer creation system and a random life path character creatikn system, expanded rules on the previously arguable and quite fudge-able rules regarding Flex-bots, Swarmanoids, Asyncs and Infomorphs. Add to that a selection of half-article, half-commentary on how to build a better Firewall operative, advice on investigation in-game, combat tactics, espionage and infiltration, for those of us that have seen a disgusting number of potential 'ninja' characters. And then, just to really sweeten the pot, they dumped in new morphs, gear, traits and backgrounds.

And boy, did they deliver.

Not since the days of Cyberpunk 2020 have I seen a lifepath character creation system so smooth and workable. You think you have the bearing of a character and then WHAM! it throws you a curve.  What started out looking like some schmuck born on Earth and found themselves mining ice in some slave pit in the belt becomes a Combat Async with the powers to tear a psychosurgeon's mind to shreds. A soldier cum assassin stuck working for an orbital military conglomerate suddenly finds themselves on the run and hiding themselves in a gatecrashing team to get as far away from the Planetary Consortium as possible. One kinute you're broke, the next you're holding on to an alien artifact worth a LOT of dosh but it might be a little suspicious... but do you care? Oversight has you pegged for a crime that you didn't commit... and then it turns out YOU DID!

The list goes on... thankfully.

But then there are the expanded rules, which, in my opinion, are not so much of a clarification as such as a selection of malleable suggestions (as it should be). The writers, who once again, approach each subject with a keen and in-depth confidence on those subjects to give the player and the gamesmaster a sense of being with the writer as it is discovered or reading a hidden report for their eyes only. They revel in the expansion of Tacnet enhanced sci-fi skirmishes, delivering a visceral and physics orientated BLT sandwich (Ballistics Laden Trauma) of implied modes of death dealing if the charatcers feel even remotely confident (or daft enough, or both) to tackle whatever abominations the players are facing... assuming bynthis point, the players have not become the abominations themselves.

Speaking of potential hiccups, the expansion on the Asyncs, specifically the overview for what it means to become and the ultimate realisation of the charatcer being an Async is both horrifying in its potnetial for character development as it is enlightening. For the experienced gamer, playing a character whose defining characteristics include mental disorders, can find it quite challenging, even for those who have played games such as Kult or Call of Cthulhu, to name but two, but Eclipse Phase doesn't change gear from its original approach in the core rule book and leaves the negative traits as being really down to the players to really find their own personal expression of what those disadvantages are, but at the same time offering plenty of sympathetic, yet in many ways clinical, advice on how these elements should be portrayed. And as an Async, that is pretty much a large part of the character...

Returning to the charatcer creation as a whole (and the bordering on phenomenal amount of personal playtesting I've put it under, to the current total of random pc and npc charatcers generated numbering close to 100)  it good to know that there is an inspiring amount of room for the player and gm to mold an interesting and thoroughly compelling character using all three systems should it be required. The more you use these systems, the quicker you realise that a few choice photocopies of certain pages will help save you book from impending damage, or your screen from 'smudge-finger'(tm).

They've thrown in more pre-generated charatcers, the new morphs, backgrounds and traits to really plump out the book with a critical explanation of each throughout the chapters and exemplify those modelswhich ddoesn't hurt the mystique of the gaming environment one bit. The articles on making investigative stories more complex, yet simple to run, is based entirely on the game-writer's grasp of developing the crime / scenario / mystery and how the game mechanics can be best used to makemthe players really get the sense they are discovering the dark secrets of the Eclipse Phase universe.

And again, the artwork throughout the book is atmospheric and absorbing, from card players in a seedy club chilling out to the gore strewn anguish of some poor sod tearing himself apart due tomsome unseen tormentor. 

Once more, Eclipse Phase, and therfore Posthuman Studios, have delivered an outstanding product with incredible narrative and gaming potential to whatever type of group you're running for or with. This book is an expansion and will mean absolutely nothing to those that have not got access to the core rule book, but the other publications, while obviously useful to the gaming experience, are not required. Having said that, Transhuman does accumulate all of the information for all of the other books and offers in page referencing to the book required should you wish to really discover the vibrant and terrible expansions that the game has to offer.

ISBN 10: 9780984583560

ISBN 13: 978-0-9845835-6-0

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 13:16 by Ferg

I really don't get to read anywhere near as much as I would like and that gets coupled with ever diminishing reading speeds as you get 'out of practice'.  Suddenly there just isn't enough time in the day or night to get in to the book you just paid for and got kind of excited about in the book store... and yet, something brought me back in to the bookstore anyway (predominantly graphic novels, to be honest) but I just can't help myself just to look a few shelves up and take a gander at what else is floating on through the collective readersphere.

On this occasion my eyes fell upon the spine of Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse 1) by James S. A. Corey.  Never heard of you...

Slapped on the front of the book, right at the top, almost to compare with the title of the book itself (which is, in my opinion, a grave insult to any book) the commendation of George R. R. Martin himself: 'kickass space opera'.  I nearly put the book right back there and then based solely on my loathing for Martin's only notable work.  But the cover is a pretty blue and, on the back, as part of my book-teasing ritual goes, I still read the blurbs and the basic gumpf about the story, already expecting thorough disappointment and a quick trip to the shower when I get home.  Charles Stross likens it to the epic works of Peter F. Hamilton...  Oh really?  The back of the book offers a nice, vague splash of what's going on - we've only managed to colonise the solar system, everything after that is simply too far away and we're not THAT advanced yet...  Two primary characters, one an XO on a water mining and transport hauler, the other a cop employed by a corporate security company tasked with keeping the peace on the Asteroid colony of Ceres, both destined to meet as intersystem shenanigans kick off: the promise of planetary disarray, vile and horrid machinations, dead things and more.

Okay... Test one is passed!  You have me looking inside the book, teach me something!
Turns out that James S. A. Corey is two guys, one of which has worked with Martin previously and, likely currently as an 'assistant'.  Well, I shan't hold it against them, but the sliver of fear drips back in to me like a saline I.V. feed as the idea of being exposed to more GoT-like drama doesn't endear me one bit.

Okay, so I hit the teaser page - it's all or nothing.  Books have often had the little teaser-hook page at the beginning for this very reason: the cover, the quotes, the writer and the synopsis have left you unsure of whether or not you should commit your money and time to this book, both of which are of paramount value so this shit had better be worth it.  Well, it checked out... I took the chance.

The writing style is free-flowing, uninhibited by the scale of it's surroundings (namely the vastness of space) with a constant reminder that space is BIG and not awfully friendly.  Dialogue is fun and punchy, with character interactions that actually made me laugh out loud - not something that often happens with a book and myself; I'm ordinarily able to float through a book and utterly absorb it but without a shift of vocal expression.  In this case, not so: I found myself laughing with some of the dialogue, answering back to the characters as they divulged their intnetions and agendas, even being so much as actively non-plussed when certain characters died.  What made things even more engaging was that I became aware that this book was one I was thinking about during and after reading it (hence this review).  I found it inspiring and little crazy, not to mention that there's a rumour that someone's looking at turning it in to a TV series with Thomas Jayne playing Joe Miller (the cop).

Ultimately, the book had been so fast paced, so plausible in its understanding of flinging things through space, consistant in its characterisation and, where it needed to be, horrid and funny without regret or hesitation, that I found it increasingly hard to put down.  In fact, I got to the point where I was having late nights sitting up in bed with a naughty little night-light presenting page after page of relentless science fiction.  Coupled with the fact that I am seemingly going off medieval / fantasy literature to the point where I have all but wrapped up Saga on it 26th chapter and wondered whether or not I would write stories again given my personal constraints, Leviathan Wakes has really powered up the old main fusion drive and placed my imagination in to a gravity couch for some high-g maneuvering.  If nothing else, it's offered me a real host of different tangents to consider, especially from the'living in space' line of thinking.

I don't care for comparing entertainment to other entertainment, but in the instance that I can find a compelling arguement not to do it, Leviathan Wakes reminds me of a cross between Clarke's 2001, Haldeman's The Forever War and Posthuman Studios' Eclipse Phase.  All of which I thoroughly adore.  So much so, I've already acquired the following book Caliban's War with teh promise of Abadon's Gate and Cibola Burn to follow, with rumours of more to come.

If you like science fiction with a touch of horror, a simplified political hot-pot and an entirely gut-wrenching, physics-abiding jaunt through our own solar system, then this could well be the book for you.  I'd give it a 10, but until books, games, movies and such make me do something that would otherwise never happen, 9 will have to do...

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Published by Orbit Books

ISBN: 978-1-84149-989-5

Also available as an e-book.


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