Review: Elantris, Part 1 of 3

Elantris, Part 1 of 3Elantris, Part 1 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of Sanderson’s earlier books and it’s exploring similar themes as Warbreaker, so while I’m enjoying it, it’s definitely not as good to me so far. What does it share with Warbreaker? The idea of divinity on Earth vs a god you can’t see, humans becoming divine, and an arranged marriage between royals who haven’t met. What’s weaker from Sanderson’s lack of experience – The Prince seems to be a bit of a Marty Stu so far – a little too perfect in every way.

But there are lots of things I like so far:

Sanderson writes some pretty able women – or at least has in these two books. In this book (contrasted to Warbeaker) the marriage is the princess’ idea. Her father’s actually initially against it, but realizes it would be good politically. While in the new court she uses her brain to manipulate others into giving her what she wants or needs. (Manipulate has a bad connotation, but she’s not malicious) She gets into a metaphorical chess game against the priest in which they’re each trying to outdo the other. And the princess gets herself accepted into a group of nobles to formulate a plan to save her new city.

I like the idea of the AIs that allow a fantasy skype in this world. As in the later Discworld books, I think there’s something interesting that comes from modern tech in a medieval or Renaissance world. So while most fantasy stories can count on a slow movement of information as a plot device, a world with these AIs allows for faster communications. It also serves as an information retrieval device.

So far, across these two novels, Sanderson has also proven adept at starting off with a cartoonishly evil antagonist who then becomes more of a person with complicated morals. I’m enjoying the information we’re learning about the high priest and how he’s trying to make this city’s conversion as bloodless as possible. It makes his fanatical acolyte all the more dangerous.

It’s fun to have the 3 chapter structure where you see the same event or aspects of the same time period through each of the three viewpoints.

Finally, I really like the inclusion of the princess’ uncle’s family. I like the comic relief of his kids. I like how it shows just how much her uncle has grown and changed. And I am enjoying the fact that it’s a modern blended family which doesn’t happen too much in fantasy (at least the way it’s been depicted in this first book). He has step children with whom he has a regular relationship (not some fantasy hatred of step-children). Also, the uncle is a great chef from having traveled the world and so he does the cooking. Overall, it’s a continuation of the refreshing modernity in a fantasy novel that isn’t urban fantasy.

So much can go so wrong with three different people planning independently and with their goals seemingly at odds. We also have the 3 month timer before an invasion or destruction or something. I’m looking forward to it and perhaps parts 2 and/or 3 will get a higher rating.

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BBQ Danielle’s Marinade Chicken

A week or so after the smoked chicken, Danielle did her marinade on a whole chicken we’d cleaved in half. I cooked it on the Weber Kettle at an average of 350 F and it came out GREAT! I did a 2 zone setup with the dark meat facing towards the fire. I took it out when the breasts were 160 (which was approximately 180 for the dark meat – which is the temp most people like dark meat). Look at how juicy that came out!

Chicken BBQ'd on the Weber Kettle
Chicken BBQ’d on the Weber Kettle

Review: The Making of Prince of Persia

The Making of Prince of PersiaThe Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this as part of a bundle – probably Storybundle as I’ve bought nearly all their video game bundles – and I had put it off in favor of other books because I don’t have a strong connection to Prince of Persia (POP henceforth). My family was working poor until I was getting into later elementary school, by which time a lot of computer game industry had lost its first “death” to the consoles. By the time I was playing computer games, it was mostly just RTSes hanging on and we weren’t anywhere near the Steam Renaissance that would make the PC the best place to play games again (except for bad ports).

But a couple months ago, I sat at my computer and took at look at my To Read list on Goodreads and the 400-odd unread ebooks in my Calibre database I’d bought because, “how could you not buy 15 books when they’re about $1 each?” So I made a plan to try and satisfy my need to read newer books with my need to read the books I’d purchased (or face my wife’s wrath at wasting money on books). So I basically sorted the books by date added to Calibre and selected (approximately) one book per bundle (or free release from Tor.com’s ebook club) and when I got to this bundle, I decided to take a look at these journals.

While I was never an Amiga gamer (see above), I’ve read plenty of how it was the superior machine in terms of what it could do at the time compared with Macs or IBM-Clones (what we now call PCs) and yet management ran it into the ground and we were left making up for progress all these decades. Likewise, BeOS was superior to Windows and Mac when it came out, but MS used their anti-trust strong-arming to keep it from taking off. So I’m already used to the idea that the best don’t always rise to the top. Nevertheless, it was frustrating to see how Mechner was thwarted and we almost lost this amazing contribution to video gaming.

Mechner had Broderbund as his publisher – one of the giants of computer gaming at the time. I remember everyone having Print Shop Pro. I remember playing Carmen Sandiego at school and eventually owning it when my family got a computer around the time I was 11. They merged with Sierra, maker of my favorite adventure games as a kid. But they didn’t know what to do with this action game. And they refused to give Mechner a promotional budget. I’m sitting here in 2017, knowing how great this series becomes – I played a bit of the Xbox version when my brothers had it one time when I came home from college. It is the spiritual ancestor of the Assassin’s Creed series. It ends up becoming a movie. Just goes to show it doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is brilliant if you don’t have the right support. (Spoiler: Eventually he gets the right support)

Who should read this book? Anyone who’s interested in the game development scene of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time when one person could put together a great game and by allying himself with just a few others, produce an incredible game. Since these are his journals they’re very personal, not technical so I think you can enjoy it even if you’re not a technical person.

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Review: Star Wars: Dark Empire

Star Wars: Dark EmpireStar Wars: Dark Empire by Tom Veitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I said in one of my status updates, this is no longer canon as Disney erased the Extended Universe canon when they took over the franchise. I’m not bothered – we comic book fans are used to canon being changed and alternate universes. I can still enjoy the story.

What’s interesting is that this is a radio play based on a comic book. If I remember correctly, it’s by the same people who did the NPR radio play of the original trilogy. The voice acting is a little wooden, but Billy Dee Williams stops in to do Lando and his acting is great.

The story is interesting, but seems a little rushed when taken out of the context of a comic book. The idea of Luke toying with the Dark Side, given his family history is interesting.

One thing I don’t get about this storyline is that only Leia and Han’s kids are potential Jedi. Yet, before Vader killed the Jedi, there were tons of Jedi. And no reason to think it was hereditary.

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June 2015 Video Game Report

The Witcher (3 hours): Finally had some time to get back to The Witcher. It definitely isn’t the type of game where you want to have long gaps between playthroughs. But there isn’t much I can do about it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (30 minutes): Scarlett just asked me if we could play Sonic. So we tried to get past the third world for a while, but I kept slipping up.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3: Sonic and Tails fall into a world I can't get them out of
Sonic the Hedgehog 3: Sonic and Tails fall into a world I can’t get them out of

Aladdin (30 minutes): Then she asked me to play Aladdin. I got further into the game than I EVER did in my youth.

Aladdin for the Sega Genesis
Aladdin for the Sega Genesis

Review: The Pen & the Sword

The Pen & the Sword (The Ballad of Nick & Mina 1)The Pen & the Sword by Jonathon Wolfer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think all the problems I have with this book can be summed up with one sentence. This book needed an editor. If it had an editor, it needed a more experienced one. I am not going to fault someone for small spelling errors and grammar mistakes -I make them all the time in reviews and blog posts. But there were a lot of grammar issues, especially apostrophe use. Still, what an editor would have done is tighten up the story a bit.

Now to what I enjoyed about this book. It was fun to see a book take place in the eighties. This also allowed the main characters to be without the net, cell phones, or social media. All of those would have complicated the story inn an unnecessary way. The conceit is pretty interesting – a two-person Buffy story. In fact it’s almost Buffy and a gender swapped Willow, but that wouldn’t do justice to the creativity in display here. After all, Nick has powers in his own right. Once I start thinking of it in those terms, however, the school scenes seem less superfluous.

This book didn’t see me in fire the way Wool did, but the world is interesting and I really like Mina’s personality. In the real world a teen me would’ve wanted to befriend her and wish we could get together.

Additionally, the pacing issues I felt were less is an issue once I got to the end. This is clearly meant to tell the entire story over a trilogy. The sequel is not “More adventures with Nick and Mina”. It is the climax to a sorry begun here. Not my favorite style, but the pacing is probably ok over three books.

The significance of Mina’s name was not lost on me.

Well, on to the sequel.

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The MPAA members know damn well there are legit uses for bittorrent….

….but pretend there aren’t.

Main quote:

In some ways, this is so incredibly shortsighted. Here Sony is so committed to the idea that torrents can’t be shown to have any legal, non-infringing uses (even though there are plenty), that it won’t even allow its own staff to experiment with ways to use the new technology to their own advantage. But just the admission in the email alone shows that Sony’s top execs know damn well that there are legitimate, non-infringing, uses for BitTorrent, and they’re deliberately trying not to use them just to make BitTorrent look much worse than it is.

Way to make me feel old, Spotify. #ThrowbackThursday music today is from when I was in high school and beginning of undergrad.

2014 Blog Stats

WordPress sent me my Jetpack stats email for 2014. Here’s what they said:

A Small Change at the ends of the Posts

I’ve been working with my host to try and figure out why my relatively low traffic site has been having issues. So I’ve rejiggered WP Super CACHE to work well on the site and I’m using Cloudfare on most, if not all, of my WordPress blogs. Yet I’m still getting some periods of time where the site’s offline. So, after many years I’m getting rid of Sociable and YARPP (which produces related posts). YARPP, in particular, if often called out as a plugin that requires a lot of resources. Here’s how things looked before I changed it:

YARPP and Sociable
YARPP and Sociable

Now I’ll be switching to WordPress.com’s Jetpack equivalents. Hopefully that helps. If it jacks everything up, I can always switch back.