May 12 2011


Category: books,materialism,reviewsSami @ 2:11 pm

So, a couple of days ago, I got a package in the post from Angry Robot Books. I was mystified. I opened it, and there was a slip reading, “With Compliments.”

And then I remembered: Matthew Hughes offered copies of the book to the first 25 people to e-mail him, promising him they’d blog about it in return. I did just that, and apparently I was one of the first 25, because I got one – and the book doesn’t even get released until the end of this month.

Somehow I’d forgotten all about it until the book arrived. Still, I did promise to blog about it – and I will. This is not that blog entry because I haven’t finished reading it yet, although I am a chunk of the way into it. (You can read the first 10,000 words at Mr Hughes’ webpage. I’m a bit further in than that, but it’s enough for you to get a solid idea of what it’s like, I think.)

It’s been a long time since I read a new novel – I’m quite a rereader of fiction, and an extensive devourer of new non-fiction. I’d forgotten, therefore, the feeling I hate that is part of why I so rarely do read new novels: the twisting, anxious feeling that I don’t know what’s going to happen, and yet there’s this complicated situation the characters are in, and – aaaahhh!

Plus novels are so long, something I don’t care about once I start reading them, but which seems daunting at the outset. (For the same reason, I hardly ever watch movies.)

Anyway, based on my impressions so far, if I were to condense my forthcoming review of this book into one of those, “If you like X, you’ll love Y,” statements, I’d put it this way: If you liked Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, you’ll probably enjoy The Damned Busters. It’s not quite so apocalyptic – since, at least in part one of this trilogy, it’s not so far actually about the Apocalypse – but it’s the same kind of interestingly pretty-much-accurate-yet-unusual approach to theology and myth combined with wit and humour.

I like it, but I suspect I won’t love it until I’m rereading it, and can appreciate it, engaging story and clever writing alike, without that anguished tension of not knowing what’s going to happen.

I have to say, given I essentially have a review copy of this book and an obligation to review it since I promised to blog about it, I’m somewhat relieved that it’s actually good.

I have some other books, too, but I actually paid money for them. I ordered some books from Amazon UK all of two days ago, taking advantage of the free shipping that now and for the time being extends to Australia, and they arrived today.

I have:

The Wonderful Future That Never Was, by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics: visions of what the future would be like, from the first fifty-odd years of the magazine Popular Mechanics. Because that kind of thing is the kind of thing I utterly adore.

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists & Secret Agents, by Alex Butterworth. Radical politics circa the turn of the last century, written as a sort of non-fiction novel.

Molotov’s Magic Lanter: Uncovering Russia’s Secret History, by Rachel Polonsky. Begun when the author was given access to Molotov’s private library.

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufforth. “Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties’ Soviet Dream.”

Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962, by Megan Prelinger. I’m fascinated by the advertising of past eras – commercial or propaganda, but especially, really, propaganda, or propaganda-adjacent activities.

If I ever do get around to doing postgraduate work in history, one of my nominal thesis concepts is: How Vera Lynn Defeated Hitler: The Home Front of the Second World War, and it will be about the frequently-disregarded issue of how and why British civilians, especially the women who shouldered a burden that was almost without precedent, held it together and in doing so brought down the Wehrmacht.

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Jul 27 2010

Game Reviews: Osmos, Frac/ture

Category: materialism,video gamesSami @ 3:47 pm

These are not new games, I know; not the point.

Osmos: PC, Hemisphere Games

I picked this up in the Steam store because it looked interesting; I’d been browsing through the indie games. It may have been on sale, too, I don’t remember, but it’s currently priced at $9.99 and I think it’s worth it.

It’s deceptively simple in its mechanics, and almost meditatively soothing to play. A gentle, melodically liquid soundtrack accompanies you as you control a sphere of matter, attempting to absorb other spheres of matter while avoiding being absorbed. The rule is simple: bigger spheres absorb smaller spheres, adding the smaller sphere’s mass to their own.

You direct your sphere’s motion by clicking in the direction you want it to fire a little blob of its own mass; this goes shooting off, and imparts some movement to your sphere in the opposite direction.

Of course, when your ejected propulsion mass hits another sphere, the absorption effects still take place, and the kinetic energy it had is also absorbed by that sphere.

The levels with a second animate sphere opposed to yours, and the ones where all the spheres are orbiting a central point, get complicated, but it’s all surprisingly intuitive.

It’s rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

Frac/ture: PS3, Lucasarts

I bought this on sale at Gametraders, because it was on sale and looked really, really cool. It’s a third person shooter, but it has a twist: your character has an additional weapon called an Entrencher which raises and lowers terrain. (Various grenades also have terrain-altering effects.)

In theory, this could be very very cool.

In practice, it’s *quite* cool, but is let down by a few things.

1) The actual damage-dealing weapons often feel incredibly ineffectual. I play a surprising (to me, since I used to think I didn’t like them at all) number of shooting-type games, and there’s a balance I’m accustomed to between the required number of hits an enemy should take to die, the accuracy with which I’m hitting them, and the grade of weapon I’m using.

The weapons in Frac/ture appear to have appalling range and accuracy, which is odd given that the player’s character is a representative of an army with some incredibly high-tech gear, and to be seriously underpowered relative to the strength of the enemy Pacificans. It’s frustrating to be hitting a standard mook with a hail of bullets at point-black range and finding oneself unable to kill him without having to retreat for cover a couple of times. It’s also frustrating to unload an entire clip of ammunition into one standard mook and find oneself unable to kill him before needing to retreat to reload.

This makes combat against multiple enemies tiresome, especially since on those occasions when your character actually has allies accompanying him rather than sending him off alone to do absolutely everything himself, your allies are completely useless.

2) It can be annoyingly difficult to get certain terrain challenges to resolve at all. In early stages, you will, for example, be required to throw a spike grenade (which makes a spike of half-molten-looking rock emerge from the ground) in a certain place to shift a grating to form a ramp, or similar things. All well and good, except getting the grenade to land in precisely the right spot for this to work can be incredibly finicky.

The sole saving grace is that if the grenade doesn’t land somewhere useful it will generally not detonate and you can pick it up again, but this isn’t much consolation as you search various different launch points and angles from which to throw the grenade so that it will land in the precisely correct place under the grating.

3) The sound is unbelievably buggy. At some point between a few minutes and an hour or so after you start playing the game, it overloads itself and starts making speaker-threatening failure noises. This would be bad enough, but the sound is actually quite important to gameplay. (There is a subtitles option, but it excludes rather a lot of the dialogue, and is therefore pretty useless.)

The sound issue is probably the most frustrating. The issues with the weapons and so on can be annoying, but I’ve still been having a lot of fun with the game… until the point where it just dies on me.

So, sadly, I can’t particularly recommend Frac/ture to those without a fairly strong tolerance for restarting battles and restarting their consoles. It’s rather a disappointing effort from Lucasarts.

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Jul 01 2009

Things of Recent Note

Category: materialismSami @ 1:21 pm

So, for various reasons I won’t go into here and now, I went from being absolutely living-on-kindness-of-friends broke to having money to repay debts, live on, and buy some things I’d been wanting for a number of years.

I bought:

- Gibson Les Paul Studio, wine red, with chrome furniture, and VOX Valvetronic AV50VT amplifier.

- Canon EOS 50D, with a Sigma 50mm/f1.4 lens, and a Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens, Speedlite flashgun.

Expect photos to keep going up regularly at the Gallery, though I may get around to posting selections on this blog, as well.

Since I also recently bought a couple of new bras, some accessories for the above, various storage boxes and the like for making my bedroom actually susceptible to being kept tidy, and so on, as well as repaying one debt, I’ve spent an amazing amount of money recently, and will spend more when I repay the others… but I am, at least, done with shopping for the time being, at least until I can force myself to go buy clothes.  (I hate clothes shopping, you understand.)