Friday, December 8, 2017

Dex (video game) review


    One of the elements which often gets ignored in modern gaming is the indie game. With so much focus on the Triple A games being released every year, those created by smaller studio are impulse buys and "until I have something else to play" at best--at least for most gamers. That means some surprising gems have been overlooked. One of these gems is one I'm going to take a moment to talk
about.

The combat isn't too far from Double Dragon.
    Dex is a side-scrolling Metroidvania best described as "Symphony of the Night and Deus Ex." You play the role of Dex, a blue-haired cyberpunk heroine who is woken up one night by the world's worst assassins. Narrowly escaping them, Dex finds out she is a genetically engineered super-soldier who has a connection to one of the world's two artificial intelligences. This messianic destiny is far off and the majority of the game is trying to survive on the streets of Harbour Prime.

    Harbour Prime is a dirty graffiti covered hellhole inhabited by gangs, prostitutes, and thugs who wander the streets along with ordinary citizens. There's a lot of side-quests available for Dex to participate in from rescuing a young man from sex trafficking, robbing smugglers of cybernetic parts, and dealing with an attempt to patent food so as to force independent restaurants out of business. About 80% of the game is the sidequests and that's a good thing because the main quest is fairly straightforward while the sidequests all have multiple endings as well as different ways to approach. My favorite was an aging pop star dealing with a loony fan and both of them seeing the potential of cybernetic vocal chords to create a new career. You can side with the pop star, the loony fan, or arrange so they kill each other for shits and giggles.

I love Harbour Prime. It's a wonderful setting.
    The writing is the best part of Dex with a lot of lowlife criminal stories that are entertaining as hell. These are the kind of things which Deux Ex: Mankind Divided tried and failed to create convincingly. Ironically, it's the main quest which is the weakest of the stories since choosing to side with the godlike A.I. or the evil corporation is just a repeat of the original Deus Ex (or Neuromancer for that matter).

    The art design for the world is extremely well done. Harbour Prime has all the feeling of a proper cyberpunk setting with horrific bombed out slums, a sleazy Red Light district, and a fantastic district for the super rich. It reminded me a bit of a much-better designed Final Fight and I appreciated the fact you could fast travel between all the districts at will. Despite being limited in graphic budget, the place is well-done with lots of hidden nooks and crannies to explore.

Harbour Prime has a huge amount of personality.
    The voice acting for the game is top notch and there's numerous really well-done cutscenes which make use of art set pieces that give the game a nice comic book feel. All of the game's characters are well-realized from the Americana obsessed gun store owner to the somewhat disgusting cybernetics doctor who takes liberties with unconscious patients (sadly, you can't kill him for this). I was particularly interesting in the brothel madame Lilly who is a subversion of your typical human trafficker.

    The biggest flaws of the game are the fact combat is extremely basic and a broken boring hacking minigame. Even the developers commented the hacking minigame sucks. The RPG elements actually make both harder. For example, you can't kick until you upgrade your melee skill, for instance, and that's just ridiculous. The combat can thus be summarized as punching guys and rolling out of the way of their counterattacks until they go down. Using guns is barely viable as they don't do that much more damage than punching and quickly runs through ammo.

The sleazy elements are perfectly developed.
    The problem with this is the hacking mini-game is the least enjoyable part of the game and feels more like Space Invaders meets Gauntlet versus the rest of the game. It didn't become tolerable until I upgraded my Hacking stat to maximum. The game would have been massively improved by making the hacking game optional or giving some way of getting past them without having to do such a serious gameplay change.

    Dex, herself, is a great character and someone I wouldn't be unhappy to see become the star of a series of games. She doesn't speak much but what she does creates a mysterious and fascinating character. I admit to playing her as a professional thief, lover of prostitutes, and killer with a heart of gold. Others may go for a more heroic build.

Great comic book cutscene art.
    I was fond of supporting cast members Decker, Tony, Richmond, and Raycast. While they could have had one extra female character among the five hackers who form the group opposing the Complex, I will note Dex is the lead. I also like how the game often comments on how Raycast is untrustworthy and yet all the characters trust him--only to be have whether that trust be justified or not revealed in a genuinely surprising way. I actually grew to like all of the characters and cared about their fates.

    In conclusion, Dex is a surprisingly great game which got lost in the indie slush pile. A sequel is unlikely but the Dreadlocks team have continually updated and enhanced the game since its release so perhaps all is not lost. It's kind of funny that a tiny studio in the Czech Republic made such a delightfully cyberpunk game. With CD Projekt Red's upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, maybe there's just something about post-communist life which draws people to cyberpunk.

8/10

Monday, December 4, 2017

Assassins Creed: Origins review


    ASSASSINS CREED: ORIGINS is a bit of a late review because I've been taking my time with this game. I often have very positive first impressions of video games, only for my opinion to start to go down in the long haul--especially if they botch the ending. Fallout 4 is a game I really enjoyed but the sheer staggering number of half-measures ruined the experience for me. I also loved Deus Ex: Mankind Divided but the ending was a crash-landing on what was previously a great ride. 

    I finally finished Assassins Creed: Origins and have given myself a couple of days to ponder what I think of the story.  Overall, I think AC:O is a massive return to form for the franchise and probably the best installment of the game since Assassins Creed: Black Flag. However, it's not a game without some serious flaws which drag down the experience from being equal to Assassins Creed 2 (which remains the gold standard by which all others are measured).

Bayek is one of the most entertaining and well-developed of Assassins.
    The premise is a new modern day protagonist, Layla Hassan, is investigating the life of the first Assassin Bayek of Siwa. She's done this by breaking into his tomb and plugging him into the Animus. Bayek and his wife Aya are on a mission of revenge against the "Order of the Ancients" who killed their young son. While you get to play as Aya a few times, you mostly play Bayek and follow
him on his open-world quest to do good while tracking down the Order's members.

    The best part of the game is where the game diverges from the traditional AC formula. They tone down the First Civilization elements that have been dragging down the series since AC3. They also more or less wholesale copy The Witcher 3's rules in order to make a vast open-world which includes many interesting side quests. Bayek and Aya are fascinating personalities with the former being deeply religious as something new to the franchise (that primarily consists of irreligious protagonists).

    While revenge is an overused plot to motivate characters, Bayek and Aya are real in their grief as well as how it affects them. The death of their son has resulted in a rift between them and not even Kill Bill-esque vengeance is going to heal it. I also love the beautiful architecture of Ptolemy Egypt, which has been resurrected in all of its ancient glory. You can visit the Library of Alexandria, climb the Lighthouse, and visit much older monuments. The ability to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza to its top is worth the price of admission alone.
Bayek and Aya have a wonderful relationship.

    Even so, the villains are a bunch of one-dimensional targets with the fact they're just proto-Templars making me wonder what it would be like for Assassins Creed to have another opponent for once. Part of what made Black Flag so interesting was your targets were, by and large, other pirates or slavers. The treatment of historical personages in this installment is worse than usual since they go with a very stereotypical treatment of some of the period's most fascinating personalities.

    Julius Caesar is an arrogant one-dimensional tyrant and Cleopatra is a whining party girl who schemes with Pompey at one point. Her brother, Ptlomey, is treated as a dictator himself despite the fact he was a puppet ruler. Her sister is just outright excised from the story. Julius Caesar is a controversial figure in part because while he was dictator of Rome, he was also a man who spent large amounts of his personal fortune trying to win the common man over. Given Brutus was a man who loathed the common people, it seems strange seeing him as a champion of the early Assassins.

Eagle vision becomes literal of this game.
    There's a few acceptable breaks from reality like the fact we don't see the massive amount of slavery at the time since that would force our hero to either be anachronistically against the practice or lose him much of the audience's sympathy. We also get an early period for the Assassins' origins that keeps them locked in the present day versus making them responsible for all of history.

    Do I have any complaints about the gameplay? To an extent, yes, that the wholesale absorbing of the Witcher 3's gameplay doesn't really work for the setting. You should be able to sneak up and stab someone or drop on them from above so they die. Doing so and them getting back up doesn't make any damn sense, ditto when you shoot them in the head with an arrow.

    If you go after a target while underleveled, you might as well be fighting an indestructible tank. That means AC:O isn't so much a stealth game as a fighting game. The fact you have to constantly level up your weapons also feels silly in a "realistic" setting. As such, you have to do a lot of sidetreking in order to get to the end of the game. On the plus side, we do have a great new advantage in gameplay with Semu the Eagle. Bayek, for whatever reason, can see through his pet eagle's eyes and this allows you to mark targets as well as discover secrets about locations before planning your attacks. I also applaud the removal of synchronization challenges with the game allowing you to kill targets however you want.

Cleopatra is modeled after Elizabeth Taylor.
    There's also the fact the final portion of the game is played with Bayek's wife Aya who is not possessed of any levels of special equipment. While this is what I complained about earlier, it's a jarring gameplay shift and you've spent the entire time focused on getting your equipment to maximum then it's going to feel a trifle frustrating. You want to kill your final target (which is admittedly the mother of all assassinations) with your special Sword of Ptah +40, not a random bronze dagger.

    The map is huge and when I mean huge, I do mean huge. More of Egypt is detailed than I ever thought possible with Alexandria, Memphis, the pyramids, the Sahara Desert, rocky coasts, and the Nile all giving it a massive open-world feel. There's some flaws in this, such as the fact Alexandria was the second largest city in the world at the time while it's barely a map dot of a few key buildings in this game but acceptable breaks from reality. There's a staggering number of locations spread across the game. Plus, I do appreciate the opportunity to outfit Bayek in Pharaoh armor as well as riding around in a bling-covered camel.

A bit too much melee. Not enough stabbing from behind.
     A warning for those who hate microtransactions, Ubisoft did provide the game with a "pay to win" function that allows you to buy all the difficult-to-acquire skins and materials you need to max out Bayek's equipment. As gouging customers go, though, Ubisoft is doing the least offensive version possible since none of the stuff they're selling is necessary to win the game. I bought some cool outfits and they cost about $5 each. It's a far cry from gating away, say, Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker like some of the companies we know.

    In conclusion, Assassins Creed: Origins is a great Assassins Creed game but it isn't the best in the franchise. The game feels a little too much like a Dungeons and Dragons-themed fantasy RPG versus what the series has traditionally excelled at. The characters are likable but the portrayal of the time period is mixed. I'm glad I got the game and am glad I played it to the end but they could have gone a bit further with it.

8/10

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The United Federation of Charles 2017 Book Awards

Hey folks,
 
Sculpture of HP Lovecraft by Bryan Moore/copyright 2009.
It occurs to me that I have reviewed a staggering amount of stuff here on my blog but never was so arrogant to give out my own personalized awards. Well, I've decided to be every bit as arrogant as that decision deserves. This is going to be a collection of awards presented to those works of media that I feel like stood above the rest this year.

You may wonder why I'm presenting a bust of H.P. Lovecraft as my award. Well, for two reasons, the first is the World Fantasy Awards aren't using it anymore and second since this is just a picture of a bust that costs nothing--I might as well actually make it look good.

All of the contest awards are judged and presented by me with no input involved. I am completely fair in my judgement and will explain why I made the choices I need. If you have a problem with my decisions, well, it's just a blog award dude. I know a couple of these authors but that has not influenced my vote and even if it did--it would still be more honest than Hollywood.

Best of 2017


I might as well get the big award out of the way before anything else. After all, it's the one everyone is looking forward to.

Winner: The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah Wolf



I confess, I was actually back and forth on this one because there were a lot of incredibly good books which came out this year. Generally, the awards went to either Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames or Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. It kind of annoyed me this one didn't get nearly the attention it deserved.

The Dragon's Legacy is a massive book which takes place in a fantasy version of the Middle East and China that discusses the nature of everything from family as well as what to do when the world is ending (and there's not a damn thing you can do about it). Deborah A. Wolf's prose is amazing and she deserves every bit of success she can get.

Runner Up: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames



What? I didn't say Kings of the Wyld didn't deserve all of the praise it was getting. I just thought it wasn't quite as good as The Dragon's Legacy. It's a hilarious story about a bunch of over-the-hill mercenaries which combines Dungeons and Dragons with This is Spinal Tap. Saga is one of the great collections of heroes in fantasy fiction--and I mean all of it--that it's a shame the book ever had to come to an end.

Best Grimdark


Why best grimdark? Why not best grimdark? If you love gritty and dark fantasy (and you know I do), there's nothing better. Besides, it's what I enjoy reading the most and if you're going to do a book award then you should have categories which reflect your interests.

Winner: A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden



I confess I was surprised by this one as well since, like The Dragon's Legacy, it was a bit of a sleeper hit compared to some other works out there. However, this book is frigging dark and wonderful. The story of the last monster in the dying age of paganism, it has an amazing knowledge of both Norse mythology as well as history. The characters are fascinating but flawed with no one having a claim to good but many having one to evil. Everyone who loves their fantasy bitter and bleak should pick up a copy of this. The fact it ends up on a ray of hope is perhaps the most surprising thing of all.

Runner Up: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob Hayes 


I feel like kicking myself for not giving Rob Hayes the award here but A Gathering of Ravens was so good! Even so, Where Loyalties Lie really is perhaps my "favorite" book of the year. It's got pirates, grimdark, intrigue, sexy pirate wenches, and moral ambiguity up the wazoo. It comes in second here and third for Best of 2017. You'd be a fool not to buy it as well as its sequel The Fifth Empire of Man.

Best Independent Fantasy

Why Independent Fantasy and not Fantasy in general? Well, I think it's better to acknowledge the people who may have fallen through the cracks. Plus, there's been a lot of really good independent fantasy I've read this year.

Winner: Darkstorm by M.L. Spencer




Darkstorm is probably the sleeper hit of my year because it's just damned good no matter how you slice it. It reminds me a bit of the D&D fiction I used to read religiously at my local Waldenbooks in highschool. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and so on but with a lot more edge to it. The story of a coming apocalypse, two feuding brothers, a beautiful young mage, and how the heroes will NOT succeed in saving the world. Darkstorm is actually a prequel to the rest of the series but I have to say it's better by a mile (and I liked the others).

Runner Up: Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehman



This was a particularly tough one as while I liked Darkstorm most out of all the independent fantasy novels I read this year, there were a lot of other really good ones. The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, which I look forward to being published by a mainstream publisher, and Faithless by Graham Austin King both qualify.

In the end, though, I'm inclined to give this one to Ulff Lehman for the fact he managed to craft a multifacted dark epic fantasy which contained some truly great characters. He came within inches of toppling Darkstorm but I have to say I liked its prose just a wee bit better. Still, an impressive accomplishment and I hope people will pick this book up.

Best Independent Sci-Fi


Same for Independent Fantasy, there's just so many good books out there written by those unencumbered by the machine. Indeed, I actually had to split this award into two given my reading tastes.

Winner: Mercury's Son by Luke Hindmarsh


Where to place Mercury's Son is a work which confounded me for a lot of times because I fully admit to knowing Luke Hindmarsh. I also read the slightly-less awesome version of the book followed by its much more awesome re-write. I'm judging on the version currently out now, though, which is just pure awesome.

So, take my award with a grain of salt but I couldn't not give it to him because it was the sci-fi book I most enjoyed this year. Independent or otherwise. What is Mercury's Son about? The story of a dark and dying Earth, a theocracy, and a cyborg with no memory. There's so much good dystopian fiction out there, it's amazing I can say this is the best right now.

Runner-Up: The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman



I actually had this one as the winner for a bit because it's such a beautiful space opera with intrigue, social conflict, love, and war. The similarities to the 70s Battlestar Galactica only increased my enjoyment along with its Flash Gordon-esque grandeur. There's some parts which stumbled but I still felt this was an amazing work.

Best Cyberpunk


What can I say? I love cyberpunk so much it needed its own category.

Winner: Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher



There was really no contest for this one as Ghosts of Tomorrow is among the best cyberpunk novels ever written: comparable with Snow Crash, Neuromancer, and Altered Carbon. It's the story of the brain trade of the minds of children in a world where A.I. scans are a premium market but can only be made once from the living (something quantum mechanics says may actually be possible). It's dark, extreme, beautiful, and insane all at once. It also has a cowboy samurai cyborg assassin.

Runner Up: West End Droids, East End Dames by Brian Parker



West End Droids is an interesting addition to this list because it's actually the third book in a series and you don't see too many sequels winning awards. However, this is a great story about cyborgs, crime, as well as casual police corruption in a cyberpunk New Orleans. Zach Forrest is a great character and watching him reach his limit with the men who are supposed to watch is back is great.

Best Cthulhu Mythos 

It's a bit unfair to give an award to a genre completely made of pastiches but H.P. Lovecraft IS on the bust and he's already upset with me for profiting from his work. So, I'm going to appease his ghost with this category.

Winner: The Statement of Andrew Doran by Matthew Davenport
 


There's a lot of crappy Lovecraft pastiches out there and very few novelists bother to take risks. So, really, it was down to either The Statement of Andrew Doran or Winter's Tide for the best of the year. Matthew Davenport wins, in the end, because his novels involved punching Nazis in the face and finding the girl of your dreams actually is just a product of sorcery.

Runner Up: Winter's Tide by Ruthanna Emrys


Is it right to do a story where it turns out all the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft were misunderstood victims of government persecution and racism? Well, maybe, maybe not but Ruthanna makes a powerful story about the last surviving member of the Deep One hybrids after the Innsmouth raid. Not quite as good as the original Litany of the Earth but damn close.

In any case, hope you enjoyed!

Covers for Winter of 2017 and all of 2018's books

Hey folks,

When you're commissioning new art for your books, it's sometimes better to buy in bulk or you can potentially get caught with your pants down. The artist for The Bright Falls Mysteries, Lucifer's Star, and Wraith Knight (Alex Raspad) has retired for instance. Thankfully, at least Lucifer's Star has all of its covers taken care of!

I thought I'd share some of my upcoming works' art, though, which gives you something of a sense of what's in the pipeline.

AGENT G

I've finished the manuscripts for AGENT G: SABOTEUR and AGENT G: ASSASSIN which will be coming out this December and hopefully this February. Audiobooks are planned for both with Jeffrey Kafer. As you can see by the art, though, I have at least two more books planned for this series and possibly more.
 

Agent G is the story of a sci-fi cyberpunk assassin who had his memory wiped by his employers. A cyborg hitman, he's developed far more free will than they're comfortable with. What happens next? Well, you'll have to read to find out. Will all five books be available at the end of 2018? I certainly hope so!


Cyberpunk Wars

This is a collaboration of mine and only the first book is to be expected late 2018 (so the other two are being posted prematurely) but I'm excited for a spin-off series from my AGENT G books, set twenty years after the first of them. The Cyberpunk Wars follows Colleen Patrick and her Runner associates as they deal with the corporate warfare which dominates the devastated technologically advanced but war-torn 2040s. These will be written with my favorite collaborator Michael Suttkus (Lucifer's Star and The Bright Falls Mysteries).


Eldritch Ops.

ESOTERRORISM was the first book I ever published but it was delayed for over two years due to company politics then got caught up in a kerfuffle that forced me to move onto other projects. Now, thankfully, the series is in the hands of Amber Cove publishing and it'll be possible to release the sequel.
 

Eldritch Ops. picks up a year after Derek Hawthorne has found himself as one of the most powerful men in the House. Unfortunately, his position means he has to stomach daily corruption and evil to keep the organization's power intact. After intervening one too many times to the right thing, he's sent on an impossible task: to make peace with the Vampire Nation. Instead, he finds out he may be the powder keg that starts a war to save humanity.


Lucifer's Nebula

The long awaited sequel to LUCIFER'S STAR will be available this Winter and is almost ready now. I'm particularly proud of this one as Cassius Mass is one of my all-time favorite creations. This novel picks up a year into the Insurgency led by his clone and Cassius' misguided attempts to stay out of the war finally backfiring.

 
The Tournament of Supervillainy

THE TOURNAMENT OF SUPERVILLAINY is the 5th volume of the series and a novel which will be subject to a retool as it's going to be twice the size of previous volumes. Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless: The Supervillain without Mercy has come to one inescapable conclusion: being a supervillain sucks.

Unfortunately, the world needs a villain more than ever as the time-bending god Entropicus has begun a tournament across the Multiverse to determine who will wield the power of the Primals and rule the universe forever. Gary certainly couldn't say NO, could he? Guest starring Agent G, Cassius Mass, and Jane Doe! Plus appearances by a huge number of other characters you may recognize like Cal Stringel and the Shadow Master!


Wraith Lord 

See the same situation with Esoterrorism but benefiting from the help of Amber Cove! What is the world's only decent undead abomination turned demigod doing to make his tyrannical Good-ruled world a better place? Well, it turns out trying to take over the world's largest city as the start of an invasion!

He has reasons, though!


Check them out as they come out!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

SCPD: The Case of the Claw by Keith DeCandido review


     SCPD: THE CASE OF THE CLAW by Keith Decandido is an excellent work that I wish I'd known about earlier. The reasons are three fold. The first is that I'm a fan of Keith Decandido's writing with things like his work in Star Trek and World of Warcraft being ones I've often enjoyed. The second is that I was a big fan of Gotham Central which this series superficially resembles. Readers of both my reviews and novels will also know I'm a huge fan as well as producer of prose superhero fiction.

    SCPD, for those unfamiliar with it, is a series chronicling the activities of the Super City Police Department. The Case of the Claw was published by Crossroad Press and seems to predate Super City Cops, which is a series following the same characters and universe but is a separate trilogy. Confused? Eh, that's just how the system works sometimes. In any case, I'll be picking up the later due to my extreme enjoyment of this volume.

    The premise for the novel is Super City is basically a kind of City of Heroes-esque universe in that superheroes are bright, colorful, and famous but not entirely a part of the day-to-day lives of your average citizen. While they're dealing with alien invasions, Dimension X, and other matters--the regular police are still dealing with things like muggers as well as pimps. Worse, the regular police also have to follow up every one of the superheroes' cases as well as investigate the supervillains with none of the credit.

    This comes to a head with the return of a mass murderer named the Claw, who has a history of being a spree killer in the city. The superheroes are remarkably tight lipped about this one and have closed ranks, which makes the cops suspicious even as the body count keeps piling up. Our protagonists are the gumshoes and flatfoots of the SCPD. The Homicide and Narcotics Detectives who walk the beat where folk like Spiderman or Superman exist. It was a great idea in Gotham Central and it's a great idea here.

    The protagonists occasionally verge on stereotype but in superhero comics, that's not necessarily a bad thing. They're meant to be familiar archetypes of police officers and the casual mixture of 70s Dirty Harry-esque cops with 80s-esque buddy comedy cops as well as modern techno-savvy ones makes it feel like an eclectic mix you'd find in Metropolis or Gotham City.

    I saw the twist with the Claw's identity coming from a mile away but that's due to my familiarity with the tropes of comic books. It wasn't the "truth" of his identity which was the point either but how the various characters reacted to it. You could tell how disappointed and shocked some of them were by the discovery. That kind of emotional beat is rare enough in the superheroes genre and all the better here.

    In conclusion, this is a great book for those who love superhero novels and something I recommend to people who enjoy taking advantage of prose fiction. In this universe, superheroes and villains can die or change or be disgraced forever. It's not limited by the conventions of the unlimited comic publishing cycle and all the stronger for it.

9/10

Friday, November 24, 2017

AGENT G: INFILTRATOR Kindle giveaway and ESOTERRORISM re-release!

Happy Black Friday, folks!

The first bit of good news is Amber Cove is having a HUGE sale on their books from November 24th to Monday 27th! Numerous novels of theirs are going to be available, free of charge, on Amazon Kindle including Agent G: Infiltrator!

“Black Technology has made murder a billion dollar industry.”

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters,” and for the right price, they’ll eliminate anyone. They’ve given up their families and their memories for ten years of service with the promise of a life of luxury awaiting them.

Agent G is one of these “Letters,” but clues to his past are starting to emerge while he’s on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the Society’s most dangerous competitor. In the midst of all the violence, subterfuge, and deceit, he’ll need to keep his wits about him and trust sparingly.

After all if an organization will kill for money, what would they do to keep the truth hidden?


Agent G is my "pre-cyberpunk" novel about a cyborg assassin which I consider to be one of my favorite works. It's sequel, Agent G: Saboteur, is coming out at the end of the year and I hope everyone will pick up a copy of this book so they can enjoy the latter. Audibook fans should also note the audiobook only costs $2 if you pick up the free ebook copy first.

Other books I suggest you pick up from Amber Cove's Thanksgiving Day sale are Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery by Jim Bernheimer, Technomancer: To Beat the Devil by Michael Gibson, and Villains Rule by Michael Gibson. All free of charge!

There is another bit of great news for this Turkey Day and that is the re-release of Esoterrorism! Esoterrorism was my first novel and remains a favorite with readers. While the kerfluffle with Ragnarok remains a sore subject, I'm very pleased Amber Cove has decided to pick up the slack with my urban fantasy spy novel. They've also lowered the price to 3.99, which is something I hope will entice new readers to pick it up. The sequel, Eldritch Ops, is going to be released around the same time as Agent G's sequel.

There are no good guys in the world of shadows...but maybe some bad men are better than others.

Derek Hawthorne was born to be an agent of the Red Room. Literally. Raised in a conspiracy that has protected the world from the supernatural for centuries, he's never been anything other than a servant of their agenda. Times are changing, though, and it may not be long before their existence is exposed.

When a routine mission uncovers the latest plan of magical terrorist the Wazir, Derek finds himself saddled with a new partner. Who is the mysterious but deadly Shannon O'Reilly? What is her agenda? Couple this with the discovery that the Red Room has a mole seeking to frame Derek for treason and you have a plot that might bring down a millennium-old organization. Can he stop the Wazir's mission to expose the supernatural? And should he?


Pick up your copies today! Or at least Agent G since the price is right there for anyone.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline review



    READY PLAYER ONE is a combination of Willy Wonka and Snow Crash. It's kind of funny that this description appeared in a review of the Washington Post, except this was "Willy Wonka and The Matrix." I don't blame the Post for getting this wrong because there's not that many well known cyberpunk works in the mainstream media.

    However, the similarity to Willy Wonka is strong: an eccentric billionaire leaves his vast fortune to whatever child can solve his mysterious test of character. The big difference is that it is a cyberpunk dystopia and full of a massive number of 80s references anyone under the age of thirty-five will be hard pressed to get.

    Plus, how many young adults have seen Revenge of the Nerds (which didn't age well due to the rampant horrifying misogyny). On the other hand, the obscurity of some references (Buckaroo Banzai!) is part of the charm. It's a book about finding an Easter Egg in a video game but which is full of countless Easter Eggs.

    The premise is Wade Watts is a teenage hacker who lives in the dystopian cyberpunk future of the 2050s. Global warming and an expenditure of all the world's oil means the planet is a wasteland but humanity continues to thrive thanks to the existence of the OASIS. Halliday, the Willy Wonka figure above, made his clues in the form of 80s pop culture so Wade has devoted most of his young life to memorizing as much of it as possible so he can be the one to win the contest.

    The biggest flaw, if you can call it a flaw is the fact this is obviously made for adults who had their childhood in the 80s yet written like a YA novel. It's a little weird, also, because it references everything in the 80s rather than any certain topics. You'd think there'd be one thing he didn't like from the time period (correction, there is, a feel good song he describes at the end).

    The second biggest flaw is the story is pretty paint by the numbers. The main characters search the OASIS (a virtual reality internet) extensively for clues, run into the bad guys a few turns, there's a relationship with a girl before a breakup then reunion, and everything works out in the end. There's perhaps one or two twists but I think the story feels a bit rote at times.

    I actually think part of the issue I have with this book is the fact I like just about every character more than Wade himself. Art3mis and Aech are both characters with more interesting stories than Wade himself as well as more genuinely heroic. I also was more intrigued by the villain and wanted to know what his deal was. There were times the book also skipped over interesting story beats while giving us only exposition in return.

    Despite this, I found the book to be fun. The pop culture references are usually awesome and if I could have a Delorean time-machine, a Firefly-class vessel, my own personal asteroid, and an unlimited free internet with access to a cyberpunk universe as well as all the 80s nostalgia I could get--I might never want to leave too.

6/10