Discuss and rate the last thing you read

Hawki

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On Aunty (3/5)

I've got a sinking suspicion that I've read this book before. That in itself isn't a point in its favour. Regardless, it's another installment of the "On X" series, this time referring to the ABC, or "Aunty" - a term I've never heard used for the ABC myself, and one that doesn't even make sense given the acronym.

Basically looks into the political landscape surrounding the ABC over the last few years - accusations of bias, threat of privatization, all that. Honestly, the text jumps around a bit too much for my liking. And I find the stuff it alludes to, such as the broader media landscape and especially that in the US, more interesting than its core subject matter.
 

Asita

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I'm going to be pretty blunt with regards to spoilers here, because let's be honest, everyone knows the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde...kinda. I'll get to that in a minute. While not a bad read by any stretch, it's a tale that the common knowledge gleaned through pop culture osmosis is very detrimental to. Not to put too fine a point on it, it turns the story into a mystery novel to which you've already read the solution.

Contrary to what you may be familiar with through Hollywood and Broadway, the focal character is not, in fact, Jekyll, but one of Jekyll's friends who is worried about his wellbeing and the strong implication that this strange Hyde character is somehow blackmailing his friend. It's not until the final chapter that we even learn that Jekyll and Hyde are in fact the same person, so the common knowledge of that fact robs the story of a lot of its teeth. It's written as a twist ending, and the overwhelming majority of people take that twist as a given before they even open the book. If you see a character introduced as something approximating "Jekyll", you're basically counting the pages until their evil alternate personality of "Hyde" inevitably appears.

And this brings me to what I mentioned before, about how people kinda know the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde. While yes, they are the same person, Hollywood and Broadway have sold the characters as a split-personality, when in actuality Hyde is a mask that Jekyll uses to enact his darker desires without sacrificing Dr. Jekyll's friends, status, and reputation. During his letter of confession, Jekyll does increasingly refer to Jekyll and Hyde as distinct entities, but he also makes it clear through his horror whenever he realizes that he's involuntarily transformed into Hyde that it's always fundamentally Jekyll. Hyde is a persona he adopts for anonymity, not a split personality. It's even in the damn name. Mr. Hide.

Back to reviewing however. This is another story which you more to trace back its legacy. It's not a bad story, but when you're already so intimately aware of where it's going it is kinda dull. That said, it's also pretty short, usually clocking in at less than a hundred pages, so by all means, give it a quick read.
 

Agema

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SupahEwok said:
I wouldn't doubt that, I remember in my teen years of reading tie-in lit, those Salvatore and Star Wars books always claimed to be on the "New York Times best-selling list" or "from a New York Times best-selling author". I dunno what it would take to get on that list, but I presume it means some dosh for the author.

I think to an extent you can regard that as setting-based novels being buoyed by how positively received and popular the setting's brand is.
I think the danger is that the NYT bestseller list actually means something like being in the top 10 (20?) books per unit time (week/month?) and potentially even by genre. If you think about how many books are released per unit time and that sales normally peak shortly after release, getting onto the NYT bestseller list can be easier than might seem. And they only have to do it once. It is thought to be worth increased sales - that's why they claim it.
 

Agema

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The Warship - Neal Asher

Second book in whichever series this is. More high octane smashing around of massive warships with massive weaponry and hyper-enhanced beings and AI in non-stop, glorious, highly detail destruction. It's even more devastation-tastic and uberpowered than his stories normally are. This might not be great art, but it's certainly fun.
 

Hawki

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What We Know About Global Warming (3/5)

What we know about global warming is a fair bit, and if you disagree, go educate yourself. That said, you're not going to get too much of said education here, since the book is about 100 pages, and was published in 2012. That might not seem like too long ago, but considering the timeframes and boundaries established by the IPCC in 2016, and the book's calm, detached tone feels dated. While the science remains sound, I can't really sync this book with our current understanding of how dire the situation actually is. So, science is fine, social side doesn't do much. Also doesn't help that everything is written in Farenheit, inches, and feet. FFS America, get with the metric system already !
 

stroopwafel

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Picked up The Habsburgs during a trip to the Belvedere art museum in Vienna. Really interesting book full of pictures of historic sites and paintings related to the Habsburg dynasty that reigned much of Europe for over 600 years. Book details the entire bloodline but unfortunately doesn't go into much detail about it's more interesting rulers like Maximilian and Charles V who split the Habsurg dynasty into a Spanish and Austrian line. It does detail rulers like Leopold who were responsible for much of Vienna's gorgeous Baroque architecture. It concludes with the Habsburg duke Franz Ferdinand who happened to live in upper Belvedere and whose assassination as we all know triggered the chain reaction that would lead to WW1.

Also picked up Durer about the Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer. Durer and Caspar Friedrich are my most favorite painters of the Renaissance and Romantic era. One of the reasons I went to Austria was actually to see the original Rocky Ravine in the Elbe sandstone mountains though the Belvedere has a breathtaking art collection in general from the Medieval period to the Napoleonic era(that famous painting Napoleon crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David is also in their collection). My favorite painting of Friedrich is probably Landscape withe Grave, Coffin and Owl. Durer is probably best known for his masterpiece Knight, Death and the Devil.

https://www.artic.edu/artworks/11100/knight-death-and-the-devil
 
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Finally finished Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood [2017]. This one took much longer than expected because I've managed to fall into some serious time-wasting games this month.

So anyways, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both major players in the American Revolution and were close friends during the pre-war agitation years right up until Adams was elected president of the United States and the break in their friendship was finalized in many ways when Thomas Jefferson was elected after him. Their political, social and philosophical views were very divergent from each other, and the elections made them the figureheads for the Federalist and Democratic-Republican movements respectively. The stress lines in their friendship originated not only in their backgrounds (middle class New Englander Puritan versus upper-class plantation owning Unitarian agnostic), but their general views on humanity (Adams was the quintessential cynic on human nature whereas Jefferson held an optimistic view of human nature that bordered on the naive).

In their later years, a mutual friend who had maintained contact with both men separately, Benjamin Rush, was able to convince both men to begin writing to one another again and helped to renew their friendship. By the end of their lives in 1826, not only had they renewed their friendship with each other, but their friendship had been restored. Their letters, friendship and relationship are both the story in the forefront and the backdrop of the political changes and landscape of a very turbulent time. Wood does an excellent job not only of giving both men their due, but examining their weakness and blind spots in relation to their friendship/rivalry and the world around them. It's a fascinating read and I can highly recommend it.
 

Agema

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Howling Dark - Christopher Ruocchio

Oh lordy. This is not a bad book, but it's a long book. It seems not that large in page numbers, but the font is quite small, and it... sort of drags. It's the sequel to Empire of Silence, which I reviewed back on page 8 of this thread (post #258). Our borderline really quite annoying hero, Hadrian Marlowe, is off to secure peace between humanity and the alien Cielcin, consorting with all sorts of terrors from humanity's past along the way in the hidden planet of Vorgossos. And I kind of feel for the time and reading you put in, perhaps less happens than you might like. It's written as if a memoir composed by Marlowe many years later (and thus full of little interjections about events between the main story and the point of composition), and thus a fair chunk of that space is Marlowe talking about himself, how he's feeling, what he's thinking, or generally philosophising. And like I said, it's not bad. But... it's kind of drags. The hero is annoying as he has the clichedly typical character flaws authors always give to heroes when they don't want to besmirch them with immorality: righteous anger and naivety. It's never a good sign.

Anyways, if you like your space opera Dune-ish, or styled like a fantasy novel in space, go for it.[footnote]One blurb says grand space opera in the vein of Iain M. Banks and Frank Herbert - I have no fucking idea how anyone managed to put them in the same breath, except that whichever rent-a-quote supplied it probably just chucked some big names at it and hoped no-one would think about it too hard.[/footnote]
 

McElroy

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Johanna Sinisalo
The Core of the Sun

A satirical novel about an alternate reality in which Finland became an "eusistocracy", a kind of North Korea (or Republic of Gilead like in The Handmaid's Tale), but the state completely prioritizes the health and security of its citizens with total control of society, especially women. So the setting is a lot like The Handmaid's Tale. However in this alternate reality genetics work a bit differently, and thus women have been almost completely domesticated through a couple of generations of selective breeding (and eugenics) and conditioning by society. Like, the super-feminine and so-called tradwife behavior of the "femiwomen" is mostly instinctive with few exceptions such as our main character who has the looks of a femiwoman (colloquially called elois) but the mind of a "neuterwoman" (or a morlock, the definitions were inspired by The Time Machine in-universe too). Thus she, Vanna, is the voice of feminism.

The plot involves chili and Vanna's missing sister. It's a fun, and well-written novel, and it often gets pretty weird. The 1st person perspective switches between Vanna and her partner Jare, and the story is also told through stuff not unlike video game codex entries as well as Vanna's letters to her sister. It draws a lot of parallels from The Handmaid's Tale that's for sure, but in its absurdity Sinisalo's feminist angle is much more real. After all, the eusistocracy has elements in there that plenty of real people would implement right away if our "decadent democracy" wasn't in the way. And just like a real feminine "tradwife", an eloi can live a wonderful life fulfilling all of her dreams (as long as her husband won't ditch her for a younger model).
 

Drathnoxis

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Asita said:
Sherlock Holmes Series (A Study in Scarlett through Hound of the Baskervilles)

I've got very mixed feelings about this series. It's not difficult to get through or particularly unenjoyable, but neither would I say that it's especially well written or developed. And a good deal of this is down to the mysteries being terribly unfair and a lot of the tales being short stories that simply didn't have the time to properly develop. The facts and relevant clues of the case are usually withheld until such time that Holmes is explaining how he'd divined the correct answer. Worse still, Holmes immediately zeroes in on any and all relevant information, meaning that there's little tension. In a Study in Scarlet he figures out the culprit's physical description within minutes of arriving on the crimescene and handcuffs him within moments of seeing him in person. There's no suspense and there's no mystery. Admittedly, however, the series predates the convention of leaving breadcrumbs for the reader. With that being said, I found that the most enjoyable of the stories was Hound of the Baskervilles, in which Holmes had the least involvement and we instead see Watson reporting on everything he observes for much of the novella.

For me, the series kinda falls into the same category as Citizen Kane: It's worth looking at to appreciate its influence and legacy, but you have to go into it understanding that because of that influence it comes across as very dated.
I read through the Sherlock Holmes Series a couple years ago. I enjoyed it well enough, but it really does get tedious how perfectly amazing Sherlock is all the time. The only time he ever makes a mistake is when it was really actually something he meant to do all along and he was just acting like he was making a mistake. It's easy to solve crimes when you are omniscient and every little assumption you make is always correct every time.

Watson is entirely wasted as a character as well. He only really gets one solitary moment to shine in the entire series of stories where he saves Holmes' life from some horror gas.
 

Asita

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Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

There really isn't that much to say about this one. There might be some small variance in the characters here and there and some events that are cut out for streamlining the tale a bit, but the adaptations of it have been faithful enough that you probably know it front to back already, and that makes it a bit of a dull read.

Drathnoxis said:
Asita said:
Sherlock Holmes Series (A Study in Scarlett through Hound of the Baskervilles)

I've got very mixed feelings about this series. It's not difficult to get through or particularly unenjoyable, but neither would I say that it's especially well written or developed. And a good deal of this is down to the mysteries being terribly unfair and a lot of the tales being short stories that simply didn't have the time to properly develop. The facts and relevant clues of the case are usually withheld until such time that Holmes is explaining how he'd divined the correct answer. Worse still, Holmes immediately zeroes in on any and all relevant information, meaning that there's little tension. In a Study in Scarlet he figures out the culprit's physical description within minutes of arriving on the crimescene and handcuffs him within moments of seeing him in person. There's no suspense and there's no mystery. Admittedly, however, the series predates the convention of leaving breadcrumbs for the reader. With that being said, I found that the most enjoyable of the stories was Hound of the Baskervilles, in which Holmes had the least involvement and we instead see Watson reporting on everything he observes for much of the novella.

For me, the series kinda falls into the same category as Citizen Kane: It's worth looking at to appreciate its influence and legacy, but you have to go into it understanding that because of that influence it comes across as very dated.
I read through the Sherlock Holmes Series a couple years ago. I enjoyed it well enough, but it really does get tedious how perfectly amazing Sherlock is all the time. The only time he ever makes a mistake is when it was really actually something he meant to do all along and he was just acting like he was making a mistake. It's easy to solve crimes when you are omniscient and every little assumption you make is always correct every time.

Watson is entirely wasted as a character as well. He only really gets one solitary moment to shine in the entire series of stories where he saves Holmes' life from some horror gas. If Watson was occasionally useful it would have
I think BBC's Sherlock series did a lot better in many respects. Watson's still very much along for the ride, but in amplifying Sherlock's neuroticism and asocial nature, Watson became a grounding force that helped (re?)humanize him. Similarly, I did like how it at least sporadically showed us what Sherlock was noticing as he was noticing them, giving us the hints that allowed us to follow his logic when he started explaining their significance. This was done particularly well in the first episode "a Study in Pink" when he first sees the crime scene. Camera focuses on a clue, text appears explaining what Sherlock noticed. The series certainly has its flaws, but seeing that kind of detail made the case so much more enjoyable.
 

Hawki

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Asita said:
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

There really isn't that much to say about this one. There might be some small variance in the characters here and there and some events that are cut out for streamlining the tale a bit, but the adaptations of it have been faithful enough that you probably know it front to back already, and that makes it a bit of a dull read.
IMO, Treasure Island's place in literature is similar to Lord of the Rings. It's a work that set the template for the genre (in TH, our conception of pirates and our romanticzation of them), but is a bit of a slog to read on its own. Less of a slog than LotR, but it doesn't have that much depth. I recall when I read the text in secondary school as an assigned work, with the supporting material stating that a theme in the work is a loss of innocence (for Jim), but I never really saw it, apart from the book's closing.

Truth be told, I like the adaptations of TH that I've seen (Treasure Planet, Muppets Treasure Island, Adventures of Treasure Island, the Disney live-action film) more than the original work itself.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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You know this is a videogame forum when people are bored by Doyle and Stevenson, preferring the TV version of this or the Muppet take of that. Christ.
 

Hawki

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Andrew Bolt, the Far Right, and the First Nations: Deconstructing a Demagogue (3/5)

If you don't live in Oz, you probably don't know who Andrew Bolt is. A quick Wikipedia search should help, but basically, he's a conservative news pundit for Sky News whose level of infamy (or fame) has waxed and waned over the years, being called everything from a racist to a champion of free speech. I don't have any particular opinion on the man, and having read this book, I still don't have one single opinion.

Despite its title, the book can broadly be defined into two halves - one the issue of "political correctness," "the Left," and what have you, and the second half being Aboriginal Australians. Dealing with the first half first, the author basically deconstructs (or attempts to deconstruct) Bolt's complaints about the Left, freedom of speech, campus protests, etc. This section isn't one I'm fond of, because I feel that the author fails to make his case, if a case is being made at all. Because it's a circle jerk of whataboutism, dismissing Bolt's points To paraphrase:

Bolt: The Left is clamping down on freedom of speech, enforcing political correctness, identity politics, etc.

Author: What about the Right? What about Charlotsville?

Bolt: That's whataboutism. What about Antifa?

Author: That's whataboutism. Antifa is Anti-fascist, so by definition, Antifa can't be bad, because fascism is bad (in case you're wondering, this is an argument the author basically makes)

Bolt: You're using whataboutism to deflect the point.

Author: No, you're using whataboutism. You-

Me: Oh my God, shut up!

Now, the author and Bolt aren't really engaging in this kind of conversation, but it's the effect I got. But the reason I was discontent with the first half of this book is that the author attempts to rebut Bolt's points a lot of the time by not really rebutting them, but by focusing on the sins of the (Far) Right (or Alt-Right). And the thing is, okay, Neo-Nazis are a worse issue than PC, identity politics, and all that, but it doesn't stop the first thing from being an issue. I forget who said it, but there's a saying along the lines of "if you're making the argument of you can't deal with Issue A, because Issue B is more important, then we should all be focusing on the heat death of the universe." Point is, the first section is the author calling out Bolt's whataboutism, by engaging in the same type of whataboutism.

That said, the second half of the book is much better written, pointing out Bolt's hypocrisy and shoddy journalism on questions of Aboriginal identity, land rights, Stolen Generations, etc. I say this because the author is directly engaging with the topic and not shifting the goalposts. As in, the author will reguarly quote Bolt directly, and make his case as to why Bolt's wrong, and show how in numerous cases, he's either wrong (and thus guilty of poor journalism), or lying (which is, y'know, bad). The author also highlights Bolt's hypocrisy on certain issues. For instance, Bolt complains about fair-skinned Aboriginals identifying as being Aboriginal, despite being racially mixed. Yet on the other hand, he claims that the Aboriginal population of Australia is larger now than it was prior to 1788, a claim that can only be potentially true if he's including Aboriginals of mixed ancestry. So apparently, Bolt's criteria of "true Aboriginality" can change to suit his purposes. Bolt does make some points that I can sympathize with (e.g. there's a case of an Aboriginal community that prevents anyone with "Settler blood" from entering), but that doesn't stop Bolt's shortcomings from remaining shortcomings.

So, mixed, just like my views on Bolt, and, well, a lot of stuff. Sometimes the author makes his points well, other times, not so much.
 
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Sins of the Fathers: The Atlantic Slave Traders 1441-1807 [originally published in 1967 but this is a reprint from 2004] by James Pope-Hennessy.

Well, this book was both severely depressing and enlightening at the same time. Written during a major push of the Civil Rights movement, the author began his work wanting to know more about the original foundations for race relations in the western world and was led back to the Atlantic coast of Africa and the slave trade that flourished there.

Pope-Hennessy pulls no punches in describing exactly what happened with that trade, from the nature of the """""""wars""""""" that produced the captives who were sold, to the treatment of those people as they were acquired and transported to the West Indies to their treatment on the island plantation there. The nature of slavery in areas outside the islands is somewhat neglected though, however a spotlight is shone on the people of the English colonies that were deeply involved in the trade. I get the impression that the author's research was most fruitful in connecting the European slave traders with those colonial possessions that were the first major importers (and those places that showed the most incessant demand for new slaves to replace lost workers), and since Pope-Hennessy was focusing on the nature of the trans-Atlantic trade his focus was drawn away from the plantations of the New World anyway. The bulk of the work deals with the African coast trade and the people that financed/equipped/profited from the trade rather than the buyers.

One of the underlying issues, and one that he only is able to come to grips with really in the last chapter, is the question of how could people who otherwise were decent enough folk participate in that trade? They all couldn't be psychopaths or sadists, the percentage of such individuals is too low in the general population to account for the large number of people engaged in the trade. Effectively, the author is forced to conclude that human beings are simply too good at ignoring or justifying anything that we simply don't want to see or deal with. We are far too capable of normalizing the horrible as part of "that's just how life is". And I find that a truly depressing thought.

As depressing the subject matter is, and how horrible it is to see the inner workings of the slave trade laid bare, I can and do heartily recommend this book. It is informative, very well written, and sometimes I just have to come to grips with the reality that enlightenment sometimes can only come through horror. Comfort, intellectual or otherwise, limits understanding far too often.
 

Agema

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Tiamat's Wrath - James A Corey.

Shit, is this Expanse series still going? Will it ever end? More in the implausible exploits of a crew of a small, undermanned frigate. So, not to spoiler anything from the previous 6, 7 or however many books, humanity discovers and alien protomolecule and all sorts of weird shit and adventures happen to get us to the point that, decades later, the human race is now run by a technologically advanced dictatorship on a colony planet. Our intrepid - and distinctly grey-haired and aged - heroes are determined to restore FREEDOM by taking down this dictatorship, because apparently the entire rest of the human race is barely capable of pulling their pants on in the morning without our heroes to happen to be in just the right place at just the right time in order to do the critical work.

You know, it's fine. I'm still reading the series, so it can't be that bad. But it is, in ways, bad.
 

Hawki

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Agema said:
Tiamat's Wrath - James A Corey.

Shit, is this Expanse series still going? Will it ever end?
It's meant to end with the 9th book.
 

Hawki

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Doom Eternal Lore Book (2/5)

It's debatable as to whether I can really review this as a stand-alone product, but screw it, I'm doing it anyway. The only reason I got the Doom Eternal version that I did was for this book (yeah, the helmet's nice, but it's just bling), and boy oh boy is it a letdown. It's basically like a game manual (remember those), only with poorer quality writing than what you'd find in game manuals.

I'm going to start with two things the lore book does well. First, the artwork. It's reminiscent of the style art used in the Diablo Book of X series. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it nicked it. Fair game I guess, I mean, both series are around heroes slaughtering demons. The second thing is a blurb for when the demon writer describes the shotgun, describing it as Lucifer's Bane or somesuch. Got a grin there.

Right, that's enough positivity. The lore book may have the art style of the Diablo lore books, but it has nothing approaching their depth or coherance. A significant chunk of the book is simply reciting codex entries from Doom 2016, which not only makes it feel like a cheat, but it leads to a shift in the style of writing when the lore book starts putting its own info forward. That might be bad enough, but I could overlook it if the lore was actually, y'know, good. Well, joke's on me, because it isn't. Everything is vague, and presented out of order. Oh sure, I can piece together some things (e.g. Hell's view on Hayden), but a lot of the times the writing is along the lines of:

"Bob walked past the Pillars of Eternity, as he came to the shore of the Black Lake. For in its depths was the Crucible; a device that would send the Children of the Light into the Maw of Nosferatu, who was born from the womb of Camilla, and whose name is forever damned by the Priests of Baal."

Does that make sense? No. Of course not. It might, if I, the writer, explained what any of these proper nouns were, but the book doesn't do any such thing. It throws in term after term with no real establishment of how these terms link to each other. There's a term I've seen used in fantasy and sci-fi called "proper noun overload," where proper nouns (or more notably, concepts/objects/places of the setting) are thrown around ad nauseum to the point that it overloads the reader. The lore book doesn't quite have the same problem, because it's short enough that 'overload' doesn't occur. But it's the same type of writing that occurs when PNO is used. Just because it's throwing around terms ad nauseum doesn't mean that the setting is deep, or coherant. Again, the Diablo lore books - Book of Cain for example went to lengths to examine each Great Evil, each Angiris Council, and each character's respective realm in Heaven and Hell. There's a coherance there that the lore book lacks. Heck, even Doom 2016's lore felt more coherant, but here? Hell no. Sure, I recognise mentions of Argent D'Nur, but when you throw in other terms like "Drannei" or...crap, stuff I don't even recall now, then yeah. It's possible that Doom Eternal will contextualize everything, but treating the lore book as a stand-alone supplement? It fails. And to anyone who says "it's Doom, who cares about the lore?", I'll point out that:

-Doom 3's world was coherent.

-Even Doom 2016 felt more coherent than this

-It's a lore book, so if lore doesn't matter to Id, why even produce it?

So, yeah. Yet to play Doom Eternal proper, but the lore book was an utter waste of the money I spent on it.

Least the helmet's nice. :(
 

Agema

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Hawki said:
Agema said:
Tiamat's Wrath - James A Corey.

Shit, is this Expanse series still going? Will it ever end?
It's meant to end with the 9th book.
It'll need to, otherwise they've left it a bit late to develop a new set of heroes to replace the current lot when they die of old age.
 

Thaluikhain

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Xenos by Dan Abnett, part 1 of his Eisenhorn trilogy for Black Library, set in the 40k universe and written as a tie-in to Games Workshop's new Inquisitor game.

This was way back in the good old days old Black Library (and GW in general, I guess), where they had actual writers with writing careers. Later on they got a lot of writers whose previous writing careers were "wrote rules for GW" or "nothing". Though, that applies to Gav Thorpe, who went on to be one of their better authors.

Anyhoo, always had mixed feelings towards Dan Abnett. He can definitely write a decent story, he often feels like he's not trying too hard, but he doesn't have to try that hard to come up with "good enough", something that a lot of BL writers consistently failed at doing. It's just that his stories often are style over substance, they don't work at all if you think about them, and their internal consistency isn't great. More importantly, his not particularly interested in keeping things true to a shared universe, which is a problem when he's writing for a big shared universe and other writers are trying to do that.

Specifically with Xenos, he clearly was writing it in a hurry to get it out at the same time as the new game, and it really shows some times. But it's still worth reading (and occasionally re-reading), the story more or less works if you don't think, and he's very good at set pieces and evocative locations.