5 great books I’ve read lately

It’s been a good while since I’ve done a book report, so here are five pretty great books that I’ve read lately:

(1) Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien De Castell

The second of the Greatcoats series is — if anything — better than the stellar first entry. This is a fantasy remix of the Three Muskateers set in a land ripped apart by political divisions and war. Every chapter kept adding on more surprises, twists, and cool plot developments as the three Greatcoats go on a mission to try to secure the throne for a very young queen. There were at least two moments in the novel that had me literally standing up and cheering, they were that good.

(2) The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

This is the second book of the Red Queen’s War, which is in turn the follow-up to the Thorns trilogy. I’m not sure if I like this series better than Jorg, but it’s heartening that the journey of slippery Jalen and stout Viking Snorri continues, even if the point of the trip seems a little flimsier than the last time. Lawrence seems to love protagonists who aren’t good guys but have moments of redemption, and I will say that there were a couple of moments here that surprised even me.

(3) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart

I’m on a big hermeneutics kick lately and have fallen in love with this textbook that aims to clearly explain how to read, understand, and properly interpret scripture. It’s more of a high-level overview than a weighty, in-depth tome, but there’s a lot here that I’m even learning, years after seminary. I’m also looking forward to perusing the follow-up, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, at some point.

(4) Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Holy carp, this novel bowled me over with how incredible it is. A girl gets ripped away from her village life to spend several years in the service of a grumpy wizard who is waging a one-man war against a malevolent forest nearby. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book — apart from The Ruins — that made me genuinely disturbed and afraid of plants the way this does, and I was entranced by how much character development and plot there is. Seriously, this is like three or four books crammed into one. Cannot wait for the sequel.

(5) The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Wow, seems like I’m reading a lot of second books here! This is the second part of the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, a fantasy saga about three children of an assassinated emperor who is — supposedly — using them from beyond the grave to save the kingdom from destruction. Each of the children (the monk, the fighter, the leader) have really interesting stories this time around, and this massive book went by in the blink of an eye.

Battle Bards Episode 57: Blade & Soul

blade_and_soul_conceptart_B4TtXSyl finally realizes a long-held dream to cover Blade & Soul on Battle Bards. Truly, this is the highlight of her life, the apex of her existence, and the sunshine beams through her kitchen window. It’s pretty groovy for the rest of the bards, too, as the threesome enjoy this Asian soundtrack and vie for their favorite picks.

Episode 57 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme” and “Cheerful Festival”)
  • “Silverfrost Mountain/Main Theme”
  • “Little Shepherd”
  • “Boss Gorilla”
  • “Black Pirates”
  • “Shadow in the Sunset”
  • “Kun Theme/Character Creation”
  • “The Pot Thief”
  • What one did we like best?
  • Mail from Rory: Taylor Davis
  • Jukebox: Destiny (“Excerpt from Hope”), The Sims (“Verisimilitude”), SWTOR II (“The Final Battle”)
  • Outro (featuring “Fly Into the Sky”)

Listen to episode 57 now!

Nostalgia Lane: Windows 95

winWerit reminded me today that it’s the 20th anniversary of Windows 95, the game-changing OS that lurched PCs forward. It was of course buggy and problematic — this was a Microsoft product, after all — but it was also quite significant.

I had grown up using DOS for most of my childhood, although when I purchased my first PC it came with a copy of Windows 3.0. That’s not a typo — 3.0. I got a free upgrade to Windows 3.1 a couple of months later and used that for a good three or four years. This was back when I was getting over my mistrust of mice — cursor keys were good enough for me, thank you very much — and wrapping my head around graphic menus with movable icons instead of a fixed text menu. The numbers one through 10 were good enough for me, thank you very much.

So fast-forward to 1995, my second year of college. We all had these laptops as part of some new initiative to equip every student with a computer (in 1995 it wasn’t taken for granted that everyone would have a PC), and our class being the first wave, we had these incredibly ancient, clunky machines that we loved. They ran Windows 3.1, but when Windows 95 came out we were informed that we could get a free RAM upgrade (from 4 to 8 megs!) and get the new OS. So that’s what I did.

Windows 95 wasn’t as huge of a leap as going from DOS to Windows was, but it was still a bit of a tech shock. The big feature was the new “start” button that kept all of the applications tucked away in nested menus, which was a nice change from the cluttered screen of Windows 3.1.

I liked being able to customize my desktop a bit more with Windows 95, although I probably overdid it with whatever I could find on the internet. And it wasn’t too long that we were so comfortable with 95 that going back to 3.1 was painful.

Marvel Heroes’ Mystic Mayhem is a dud


I almost typed “Marvel Heroes’ Mystic Mayhem is a dude,” which would have probably confused readers more than I intended, although it would have been an interesting intellectual exercise to dig myself out of that headline.

Anyway, if you haven’t been following Marvel Heroes as of late, the developers brushed off an old feature — the Limbo zone — and repackaged it along with a new event, Mystic Mayhem. The event was billed as sending players into hell (or hell-lite), a tip of the hat to David Brevik’s own Diablo, and conducting an epic war against demons. For loot — crazy, great new loot.

I was actually pretty excited about this, especially since it’s the first new event in a while, but after several hours with it over the weekend, I have to stand by my assessment that this is a waste of an event.

For starters, the event was pushed out in a rather buggy state, forcing Gazillion to fix it on the fly. Lots of people were saying to avoid it on Friday night and wait until Saturday, when the demon bosses were nerfed enough so that they weren’t one-shotting heroes left and right. But even with those fixes, it wasn’t that great of an event.

Aside from random demon mobs populating patrol zones (which some people were farming), the core of the event was hopping into Limbo and attempting to take down a series of bosses before their individual timers were up. Beat all of the bosses, including the end boss, and you’ll get… a rather lackluster lootsplosion as well as a follow-up quest. This quest — of which there were a few varieties — had players going throughout the game to kill various bosses, nothing special but quite time consuming. I had to fight through cosmic terminal Doom, something I never do unless I particularly hate myself that day.

If Limbo is successfully defeated AND you take the time for the follow-up, then you get a handful of coffers, the treasure chests for the event. Now, I won’t lie. There is some pretty good loot to be found in these things. I got a unique ring with summoner stats for Squirrel Girl and a summoner artifact for Doctor Doom. But there’s also a lot of forgettable loot and loot with way too much RNG going on, stat-wise, making a lot of coffers pointless.

So if you wanted coffers, you either did the Limbo thing for the guaranteed drops (at a cost of a good chunk of time) or farmed bosses in MM/ICP with the hopes of seeing a coffer drop. I did both, and both were largely wastes of time and frustrating. Now, I don’t need to be rewarded for every little thing I do in this game, but when I’m fighting for 40 minutes and have yet to see a single coffer drop, then I feel that there’s a bad time:reward ratio going on.

And Limbo is so dang bland with a boring layout and no story that it could be nondescript grey hallways and nobody would notice. I did find the bosses to boast cool designs, but again, with no narrative going on they’re just meatshields like the rest.

Mystic Mayhem is also incredibly unfriendly to anyone who isn’t a well-geared level 60. This isn’t an event for the entire community, just a portion of it, and that doesn’t sit right with me.

The one thing that pleased me was seeing a few additional power points the first time you run a character through Limbo. And one of my guildies got one of the ultra-rare legendary scroll drops, entitling him to a costume, hero, and other goodies.

But after playing this for a couple of days, I’d rather be back with Odin’s Bounty or even a good old-fashioned Midtown Monday. At least then I feel like I’m getting a little return for my time and effort.

Retro Gaming: Star Trek 25th Anniversary part 7

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Trek 25th Anniversary. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

We’re getting close to the end of this game — just two missions left! With the wonderfully named “That Old Devil Moon,” the Enterprise is off to the Alpha Proxima system where a pre-warp civilization where two races used a missile defense system to nuke their planet back into the industrial age. With the Starfleet observation post offline, it’s time to investigate.

Naturally, the second the party beams down Scotty calls to say that the transporters are offline and will continue to be so for an hour. Shuttles? Who ever heard of shuttles? Apparently not this game. Kirk does his usual thing by disregarding advanced technology in his pockets and grabbing a rock instead. What is up with this game and rocks? Should just make them Starfleet standard issue, really.

As the away team investigates the door concealing a mysterious power source, Scotty calls again to say that a virus has now disabled the phasers and tractor beams. But what about the beer dispenser, Scotty? Priorities, man!

de3Yes. Of course I did. I certainly wouldn’t stoop to looking up a walkthrough or anything. What are you suggesting, pointy-ears?

So in a previous mission we had a race all hot for base 6 numbering, now we have a base 3 race. STOP TRYING TO TEACH ME MATH STAR TREK.

de4The long and the short of it is that the moon’s missile defense system is now back online and trying to re-nuke the planet, not realizing the war is long over. But the Enterprise can’t destroy the moon since it’s a god to the people. A god who is about to rain radiation and fire upon them, even so.

Uhura reports that the virus is disabled and the ship has phasers back online… sort of. More than 10 missiles launched at a time and the Enterprise won’t be able to intercept.

de5Because this is so much more fun than photon torpedoing a moon from orbit, Kirk makes fake ID cards with a laser drill and some nearby rocks. Next stop: Miami Beach!

de6Or Kirk uses the ID to get into the control room for the missiles. It’s amusing to me that this alien civilization that has had no contact with our own has the same symbol for radiation.

The ending to this mission is a big disappointment — to tell the truth, the whole episode is pretty lackluster in puzzles and narrative. I mean, this is supposed to be about racing to prevent a nuclear holocaust, and yet the most exciting thing Kirk does is connect a wire from one computer to another. We never even see a missile launch!

Retro Gaming: Star Trek 25th Anniversary Part 6

fe1(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Trek 25th Anniversary. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

This time around it looks like we’ll be doing a Klingon episode! A bunch of the bumpy-heads have gotten into a frenzy over something happening on one of our worlds, so the Enterprise needs to figure it out before there’s a full-scale war. Again.

fe2Oops, not so bumpy headed after all. Forgot, this is the old series. Anyway, as much as it’s fun to antagonize Klingons, they outnumber Kirk three-to-one, so a fight is naught but suicide.

Taraz here says that they’re chasing a “genocidal criminal,” which if Klingon must mean that he’s their emperor or at least the head of the local PTA. He agrees to let Kirk track down the criminal and bring him to the Klingons within 12 hours. With that pressing time frame in mind, Kirk heads off for a long nap and a raquetball session with Christine Chapel. Finally, he beams down with 30 minutes left on the clock.

fe3Naturally, the away team immediately bumps into good ol’ Quetzecoatl, because if Star Trek taught us anything, it’s that everything the Enterprise finds in the galaxy somehow relates to Earth and our history. Earth is number one! Earth is number one!

fe4Miffed that Kirk isn’t fawning all over him (probably because he is not a nubile lady between the ages of 18 and 29 with a soft-gel filter over her face), the Aztec god banishes the crew to… a pit. Way to be imaginative, ancient deity. Kirk passes the time by — seriously — picking up a snake. I love how it sits all nonchalantly in his inventory, nestled between the tricorder and phasers. “I’ll be here when you need me!” the snake hisses.

fe5This was a nice continuity touch — in the Star Trek universe, baseball fell out of popularity after 2042, although Sisko did his best to drag his crew into playing it and talking about it all of the time.

fe6Kirk uses his trusty rocks to knock down some vines and climb out of the pit. The team then meets Q’s priest, who must have the most boring job in the world of standing in the middle of a jungle on an alien planet with a spear. Kirk shows him a snake and then — why not? — beans him twice with rocks. The priest falls unconscious and Kirk is subject to a wrongful injury and aggrivated assault lawsuit.

qe1The away team arrives at Q’s home, which for the life of me looks like Yoda’s hut on Degobah. Anyway, Q is impressed that Kirk has overcome all of those significant obstacles, like… getting out of a pit, braining his guard, and scaring a swamp monster away with plants. Dude, you are one easy-to-impress god. Q also claims that the Aztec’s misunderstood his command for “self-sacrifice” as just plain ol’ “sacrifice.” So that’s some history for you.

Q asks McCoy to remove a gland from his neck that gives him his godlike powers. While the surgery is underway, the Klingons show up and demand that Q be taken to court for his crimes. Well, it turns out that those crimes were promoting a peaceful philosophy on a Klingon planet, after which the government killed all the Klingons rather than have them become hippies or somesuch. This local government overreached and now wants to cover up their crimes, using Q as a scapegoat.

qe2At the trial, Kirk intervenes and asks for a warrior’s trial, which means that he (and the away team) have to overcome a test to prove their worth. Well, it’s really just there to get the killed, but Kirk ain’t having that.

qe3Before too long, Kirk stumbles upon the AI of the planet (don’t all planets have these?) and turns the tables on the Klingons. Now THEY are on trial for the genocide, and Kirk beams back to the Enterprise as the guy in charge is executed. As for Q, he gets to go home and think about what he did.

SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire’s most exciting new feature revealed


AUSTIN, TX — BioWare, creator of Star Wars: The Old Republic and industry innovator in capitalizing middle letters of studio names, announced to the world that it had one major feature up its sleeve for the upcoming Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion.

“We are proud to reveal that BioWare has been working on cutting-edge wound animation technology and will be implementing these exciting advancements with Knights of the Fallen Empire,” Studio Creative Director James Ohlen said.

The new tech will allow studio animators to add an additional pose for wounded NPCs and heroes, bringing the count up to two. Ohlen revealed that not only will characters whose legs are shattered, bellies shot up, and heads caved in by lightsabers instinctively clutch at their left-hand side — but now be able to grab their right-hand side as well.

“Truly what a glorious age we live in,” he said. “This will allow our storytelling team greater flexibility for those inevitable moments where players’ psychopathic characters callously inflict grave injuries on bystanders and office drones in the name of building up ‘dark side points.’

Players are invited to try out the new injury animation on the test server by attacking a clone of Corso Riggs.