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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in James Bowman's LiveJournal:

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Monday, October 10th, 2016
6:03 pm
Books I read in July, August, September 2016
Catching up on the last few months...


The Essential Doctor Who: The Time Lords, edited by Marcus Hearn, 4/5 (B)
A decent "bookazine" overview of the Time Lords as seen in Doctor Who throughout the years. The various interviews with actors and other creators are probably the best part.

Booster Gold: 52 Pick-Up, by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, 4/5 (B+)
A solid superhero series that puts a new spin on the character of Booster Gold. Instead of a hero overtly seeking fame and fortune, Booster has to become a secret defender of the timestream, while still pretending to be the jerk the world thinks he is. Combine that with some interesting trips into DC's (pre-reboot) history and fun yet heartfelt characterizations all around, and you have one of the better series to spin out of the Infinite Crisis era.

Booster Gold: Blue and Gold, by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, 4/5 (B+)
While anyone who's read a time-travel story about saving someone who's meant to die knows how this story is going to end, it's still an interesting ride, and you still feel for Booster trying to delay the inevitable. The OMAC-dominated alternate timeline has some interesting twists, even if a few of the bad things get noticeably repeated for different people. Fortunately, the ending softens some of the downer blows from the rest of the story.


One Piece: Skypiea 28-29-30, by Eiichiro Oda, 4/5 (B+)
The first half or so is about the same as the previous omnibus, adequately entertaining but lacking in urgency. However, once the story focuses on Eneru himself, things improve a lot. Eneru isn't a complicated villain - a super-powerful megalomaniac with a god complex - but there's an elegance in his simplicity, and his ego makes it all the more satisfying when our heroes take him down a notch.


Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging, by Bill Forster and Jim Sorenson, 4/5 (B)
Pretty to look at, and extensive, but I was disappointed that there wasn't more work put into describing the background of the art.

The Ultimate Spider-Man 100 Project, by various, 4/5 (B)
A neat little collection of Spider-Man artwork.

The Fantastic Four 100 Project, by various, 4/5 (B)
A neat selection of charity-driven pictures of the FF and much of their supporting cast and enemies.

Transformers: Escalation, by Simon Furman, 4.5/5 (A-)
Furman's reboot of the Generation One era continues with some interesting twists and intrigues, as the Autobots face off against both the Decepticons and a human organization with its own plans for the Transformers...

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye Volume 4, by James Roberts, 4.5/5 (A-)
Another solid installment, with the series' trademark mix of fun (the shore leave with holo-avatars) and darkness (everything with Overlord), backed by interesting characterizations. Some lingering questions are answered, and new ones raised (what's up with Ultra Magnus?). All in all, a great read.

Dungeons & Dragons: Out of the Abyss, by various, 4.5/5 (A)
Probably the best adventure path produced since the launch of D&D 5th Edition, Out of the Abyss combines together old-school Underdark adventure tropes with a touch of the weirdness seen in later settings like Planescape.

The first half of the adventure introduces our heroes, who escape from drow imprisonment, only to discover that the demon princes of the Abyss have been summoned into the Underdark. The dangerous, corrupting effects of this summoning become obvious as our heroes try to get back to the surface. Along the way, they evade drow trying to recapture them, and hit a number of interesting locales, including the duergar city of Gracklstugh and the deep gnome city of Blingdenstone.

The second half sends the heroes back into the Underdark, on a mission to investigate the demon-haunted Underdark and, eventually, engineer the demon lords' banishment back to the Abyss. Even more interesting locales appear during this section, including the stone giant library of Gravenhollow (my favorite in the book) and the drow capital city of Menzoberranzan.

Even more so than the previous 5th Edition adventures, Out of the Abyss encompasses an entire campaign for a D&D group. In addition to the solid plot, there are a number of unusual scenarios to play out (not just the usual hack-and-slash), many fun NPCs, and tons of side quests to interest players. Beyond even that, the book serves as a terrific sourcebook for Underdark adventuring, providing lots of detail about the wildlife, cultures, and societies of the underground. Throw in a number of new magic items and monsters (including stats for the demon lords themselves!) and you have one of this edition's best products. Green Ronin deserves much praise for this fine work.
Saturday, September 10th, 2016
3:49 am
Sunday, July 3rd, 2016
6:37 am
Books I read in June 2016
Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur's Gate, by Jim Zub, 4/5 (B+)
A fun little D&D adventure, with a solid cast of characters, plus the greatness of Minsc. (Granted, I never played more than a few minutes of the Baldur's Gate games, but I'm still aware of him.) Looking forward to further adventures for this team!

Designers & Dragons: The '80s, by Shannon Appelcline, 4.5/5 (A)
The second volume in the series, this covers the golden age of the RPG industry: the 1980s. The histories of a lot of really big companies are in this volume, including Steve Jackson Games, FASA, and West End Games, plus many others of note.

A lot of the histories from this era seem to follow the same trajectory - a rise to prominence on the backs of one or more major products (with several butting heads, or worse, with TSR); a decline in the 1990s during the CCG boom; and attempts at survival or revival after the turn of the century. Of course, there are plenty of interesting specific details, but it's sad to see company after company suffering similar fates. (For bonus points, you also get to read about the decline of the wargaming industry, with histories of major players like SPI and Avalon Hill.) All in all, this volume makes you long for the days when RPGs were at their peak.

This has both the strengths and weaknesses of the '70s volume - well-researched, very strong on the industry side of things, and good at pointing out the major influential games... but weaker on major personalities and the gamer culture of the era. If you don't already care about the subject, I'm not sure this will change your mind. (Although I think it's a little better than the '70s on covering people, especially in the last few histories.) Overall, however, I enjoyed this even more than the first volume. It's a must for anyone with an interest in the industry's history.

(One minor note - I feel like the author could have been more critical of Palladium Books. But perhaps that was the price of getting Siembieda as a fact-checker...)

Better Mousetrap, by Steven Trustrum, 4/5 (B+)
An interesting third-party sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition, with a lot of new ideas for the game. The book is mainly aimed at options for supervillains, including expanded rules for minions and building headquarters, but there's also some neat general options as well. Some of the new rules are much more detailed than I think I'd use in a typical game, but it's still useful to have them available.

Annihilators, by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, 4/5 (B)
There are two stories in this trade:
- The main one, featuring the title team, is OK. As an old-school fan, it was neat to see stuff from Rom referenced so heavy, but otherwise it's just fine. Admittedly, it can be pretty hard to write a team this powerful...
- The other story features Rocket Raccoon and Groot, and it's much better. Rocket seems a little less edgy than normal, but it's still a fun read. Honestly, this is what made the trade worth reading.
Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
9:21 pm
Books I read in May 2016
Doctor Who: Sting of the Zygons, by Stephen Cole, 4/5 (B+)
A good solid Tenth Doctor and Martha story, of the sort that would have worked great on TV. The Zygons are particularly creative in their shapeshifting in this story, setting up some genuine mystery as to who can be trusted.

Darkwing Duck/DuckTales: Dangerous Currency, by Warren Spector, Ian Brill, and James Silvani, 4/5 (B+)
An entertaining finale for the Darkwing Duck and DuckTales comics, this teams together the casts of both cartoons against an appropriately major threat - the alliance of their biggest foes! There's cool stuff for fans in here, including some neat DuckTales cameos ("Agent 44" especially) and some interesting upgrades for the Darkwing villains. However, the story suffers a bit from packing so much in compared to previous volumes, and the last section wraps things up too quickly and neatly... but there's enough done well that it can be forgiven.

Doctor Who: The Cruel Sea, by various, 4/5 (B+)
A good set of comic stories from the all-too-brief era of the Ninth Doctor. The most memorable story is the one the collection gets its title from, which is one of the creepiest Doctor Who stories ever, and probably worth the price of admission alone (although I should warn that the ending doesn't make much sense). Most of these had actually been collected before in a Doctor Who Magazine special, but this book edition also includes some material from the Doctor Who Annual 2006, including " What I Did on My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow", Steven Moffat's prototype for "Blink". Of all the Doctor Who Magazine comic collections, this is definitely one of the best. (B+)

Doctor Who: Short Trips - Companions, edited by Jacqueline Rayner, 4/5 (B)
An adequate collection of short stories, based around various companions of the first eight Doctors. Not bad overall, but not great either.

Comments on the specific stories:
The Tip of the Mind (Zoe): Pretty good, if sad, and with a few hiccups at the end.
The Splintered Gate (Ian): It's OK. Kind of unambitious, though.
The Man from DOCTO(R) (Harry Sullivan): Silly fun, with Harry playing superspy.
Apocrypha Bipedium (Vicki, Charley): I wanted to like this, but the stuff they did with eight-year-old Shakespeare bothered me. (If that makes me a grump, so be it.)
A Boy's Tale (Adric): Pretty good, some nice backstory on Adric and his homeworld.
Kept Safe and Sound (K9): Good if melancholy, although it probably could have worked fairly well as a non-Who story.
The Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe (Romana): A weird exercise in unnecessary continuity.
Hearts of Stone (Adric, again!): Good, a rare sympathetic view of the character.
Distance (Barbara): OK, don't think her post-Doctor life really needed to be such a downer, though.
Qualia (Tegan etc.): An odd one, though it has some moments.
Curriculum Vitae (Polly): It's well-done, but again, not big on "and they lived unhappily ever after" stories for companions.
Notre Dame Du Temps (Anji): It's OK. Some interesting ideas, but also some that don't quite work for me.
The Little Drummer Boy (Sara Kingdom): Good, but sad.
Hidden Talent (Jo): A perfectly fine Third Doctor-era story, but a bit basic.
The Canvey Angels (Peri): Meh. (Peri is being a bit too nice to some of these people.)
Balloon Debate (multiple): Fun to see a bunch of the companions all interacting, although the author's biases were showing (especially with Mel).
A Long Night (Barbara): Short but very effective.

Sluggy Freelance: The Holiday Wars, by Pete Abrams, 4/5 (B)
A solid collection of strips from 2003 to 2004. The best is the title storyline, which epitomizes the best of Sluggy by giving such a silly concept an epic feel. (Though I feel like they could have stretched it out a little longer.) The short story at the end with Basphomy is good too.

Ghostbusters: Get Real, by Erik Burnham, 4/5 (B+)
A fun meetup between IDW's Ghostbusters and the 1980s Real Ghostbusters, with neat cameos from a number of other Ghostbusters! It was also an interesting choice to set the story during an actual episode of the 1980s series, even using the main villain from that episode. The best part, of course, is the banter between the two incarnations of the team, which did a good job showing the subtle differences between them.

Oh, and I don't normally comment about art, but I have to give the artist a lot of praise for his authentic reproduction of the art style of the cartoon. Even the original character designs fit right in. (He did miss a bit on the main villain, but the overall style is still intact, so it's OK.)
Monday, May 2nd, 2016
10:17 pm
Books I read in April 2016
One Piece: Skypiea 25-26-27, by Eiichiro Oda, 4/5 (B+)
Some solid stuff in the opening chapters in Jaya, but once we get into Skypiea proper, something undefinable is lost. Mind, the Skypiea setting itself is cool, and there's some interesting world-building. But the actual events that happen on Skypiea lack urgency. It's kind of like watching a filler arc in an anime, except that this arc is written by the actual creator. (I think someone I know actually used that analogy, years ago, but it definitely fits.)

Darkwing Duck: Campaign Carnage, by Ian Brill et al, 4.5/5 (A-)
Two good main stories here. The first features Quackerjack, in the culmination of his darker turn since the comic began. The other story (the main one) introduces a number of new villains centered around Darkwing's run for mayor. (There's also one short story sandwiched between them, by DW creator Tad Stones.) The new villains are overall good, with One-Shot being my personal favorite. Plus, there are also some fun cameos by classic villains, and not just from Darkwing lore...

Transformers: Monstrosity, by Chris Metzen and Flint Dille, 4.5/5 (A-)
Picking up where Autocracy left off, this continues its darker take on the Transformers' history. Lots of good stuff in here, including Megatron's exile to another planet; Scorponok as Decepticon leader; the events that led many Transformers to abandon Cybertron; and the introduction of the Dynobots. Plus a climax straight out of a Godzilla movie. Mind, the story doesn't quite jibe with some of IDW's previous TF canon (though it can be rationalized). Also, like Autocracy, the authors (or maybe just one of them) include gratuitous nods to the animated movie... though they're much better about it this time. Overall, however, this surpasses Autocracy, with more intensity and more surprises. Definitely recommended for Transformers fans.

Transformers: Primacy, by Chris Metzen and Flint Dille, 4/5 (B+)
Third in a series (after Autocracy and Monstrosity), this continues a darker take on the Transformers' backstory. Most of this volume focuses on Megatron's renewed assault on Cybertron after the events of Monstrosity, and the build-up and action are quite good. Unfortunately, the story ends on a weak note, with a nebulous new threat arising, followed by an overly easy resolution. Not the best finale, but at least everything before that was good...

Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers, edited by Hazel Newlevant, 4.5/5 (A-)
A comics anthology by women cartoonists on their experiences with games - mainly video games, but a healthy number of tabletop gamers and LARPers as well. Most of the comics are autobiographical in nature, and run the gamut from joy to sorrow, wacky fun to cold seriousness. My personal top picks were those by Sara Goetter, Rachel Ordway, Kinoko Evans, Sarah Stern, Aatmaja Pandya, and Elizabeth Simins. The collection was an engrossing read, and provided this male gamer with some welcome perspectives on the female gamer experience. Very recommended. (Full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer for this book.)

Flash: Terminal Velocity, by Mark Waid, 4.5/5 (A-)
In the aftermath of DC's Zero Hour crossover, Mark Waid used this arc to establish a new standard for Flash stories. Wally West finds himself drawn to a mysterious force - a Speed Force - which is connected to all speedster superheroes. Unfortunately, he also has a vision of impending doom, forcing him to try and convince the newly-arrived Impulse to step up to the plate as his successor.

The story is exciting and fast-paced, as you'd expect of a Flash tale, although the villainous threat of Kobra almost feels like an afterthought here (and Waid basically admits as such in the afterword). Terminal Velocity is really about Wally and Linda Park's relationship, and Wally's connection to his fellow speedsters. We also get some good background on the previously mysterious Max Mercury, as well as solid character moments for Impulse (who had more of an attitude at this point) and Jesse Quick (one of my favorite members of the Flash supporting cast). While this may not be Waid's greatest Flash story, it's certainly one of the most iconic and important, and definitely good stuff.

Doctor Who III Volume 4: Dead Man's Hand, by Tony Lee, 4/5 (B)
IDW's Doctor Who comics end on a decently good note here, with the main story being a SF-western mashup. Also a few nods to previous IDW Doctor Who tales. (Unfortunately, this collection does not include the Doctor Who Special, "The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who". You'll have to find that elsewhere.)

Doctor Who: Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin, 4.5/5 (A-)
Another fine and highly entertaining Doctor Who novel by Lance Parkin, featuring the Eighth Doctor, Fitz, and Anji. Trading Futures mixes spy-fi and sci-fi in a not-entirely-implausible near-future setting, with secret agents and other powers competing over a time machine while America and Europe grow ever closer to war. Parkin does a great job giving all three of our heroes their own plotlines (especially Anji), providing us with an interesting supporting cast, and throwing in enough unexpected twists and one-liners to keep things interesting. Fun stuff, and definitely one of the better Eighth Doctor tales.

Sluggy Freelance: Ghosts in the Gastank, by Pete Abrams, 4/5 (B)
The tenth Sluggy Freelance collection collects comics from 2002 to 2003, mainly featuring the end of the Kesandru House plotline. Amusing and fairly entertaining stuff, with an interesting setting in The Never. The best inclusion is the bonus story at the end, "The Queen of Diamonds."

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow Part One, by Gene Luen Yang, 4.5/5 (A-)
Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow Part Two, by Gene Luen Yang, 4.5/5 (A-)
Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow Part Three, by Gene Luen Yang, 4.5/5 (A-)
A good Avatar: The Last Airbender story, although it does fall a little short of the previous sequel comics, mainly because it repeats some of their themes. (A more charitable view would be that it continues said threads, I suppose.) The Kemurikage were interesting, but the mastermind behind their plot wasn't hard to guess... although their motives were unexpected. This does appear to set the stage for some interesting things later on, in any case.

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War, by Mike Johnson, 3.5/5 (B-)
This is a neat and unexpected crossover concept, importing the modern Green Lantern mythos into the rebooted Star Trek universe. The plot itself winds up being pretty basic (the Enterprise crew helps the Lanterns defeat an enemy from their home universe), but the fun part is what happens with the various rings once they're in the Trek galaxy. (For example, General Chang from Trek VI gets the yellow ring.) The downside is that the writer clearly only has a superficial knowledge of the Green Lantern mythos - outside of Hal and Sinestro, the characterizations are pretty weak (Carol Ferris especially) and most of the particular quirks of each ring are absent. That keeps it from being a truly great crossover, but it's still an entertaining read.
Friday, April 1st, 2016
8:38 pm
Books I read in March 2016
The Real Ghostbusters Omnibus Volume 2, by James Van Hise et al, 3.5/5 (B-)
This collects the remainder of the NOW Comics Real Ghostbusters title from the 1980s and 1990s. It continues the trend of the first set of issues, interesting ideas that often don't seem to be developed enough. However, there are some improvements, including multi-issue storylines and more use of both show and comic continuity. And the last few issues start to pick up in storytelling quality... just in time for things to end, of course. (As an interesting curiosity, there's also an issue that reprinted some stories from the UK Real Ghostbusters comic.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters, by Erik Burnham and Tom Waltz, 4/5 (B+)
IDW's version of the TMNT meets IDW's version of the Ghostbusters! Better than most crossovers of this sort, with some nice moments between the two sides, some fun moments for the fans, and an enemy appropriate for both teams. No real complaints here, I was a satisfied customer.

Doctor Who: The New Adventures - Lucifer Rising, by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore, 4/5 (B+)
One of the better New Adventures, this was a welcome shift in tone after a number of overly dark and gritty installments in the series (Transit, The Pit, and Deceit) that I tried and skipped. Lucifer Rising starts off as a murder mystery, and gets intriguingly complicated from there, with enough solid twists to keep you guessing throughout. On the character front, the supporting cast is particularly well-developed, and there are also some interesting developments with the Doctor-Ace relationship. With a few exceptions, the science is much harder than usual (such that I didn't quite get a few bits, but no harm done) - there are some particularly interesting ideas here, such as Legion.

Mind, the novel wasn't perfect. A few chapters towards the middle dragged a little, and almost felt padded. Some plotlines, such as one character's mother issues, don't quite pay off. And one plot development near the end of the book, while very interesting, seems to come out of nowhere. But overall, I enjoyed this particular Seventh Doctor story, and would definitely recommend it.
Saturday, March 5th, 2016
2:30 am
Books I read in February 2016
Haunted Heartland, by Beth Scott and Michael Norman, 4.5/5 (A-)
A great collection of supernatural stories, well-told and covering a wide region (the midwestern U.S.). I was a little disappointed at the early disclaimer that certain stories had been "expanded upon", but reading it was enjoyable enough that I didn't mind. (However, ghost aficionados should be careful about relying on this for any facts.)

The Real Ghostbusters Omnibus Volume 1, by James Van Hise et al, 3.5/5 (B-)
This collects the first 14 issues of the NOW Comics Real Ghostbusters title from the 1980s. Unfortunately, while the author does come up with fun ideas (such as the Ghostbusters teaming up with pulp heroes against ghost gangsters), the actual stories tend to be mediocre, and often have rushed endings. Also, the earliest issues are more weird than anything else, and one story (featuring Lovecraft's deep ones) alludes to material not really appropriate for a kids' comic. I did like a few stories - most notably one featuring a werewolf and a mummy - but overall I was disappointed in this collection.

Doctor Who III Volume 3: Sky Jacks!, by Andy Diggle et al, 4/5 (B)
Two decent Eleventh Doctor stories in this volume. The first wraps up the plotline established back in III Volume 1 in a way that's merely OK, but it also wins points for an interesting setting. The second, by guest writer Len Wein, has some fun with fezzes.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
11:36 pm
1:10 am
MAGFest 2016 summary journal
The MAGFest crowd this year included myself, my brother Jack, and my friends Randy and John. Joining us on Friday were dragonsong12, lissibith, and another friend, Marquis. On Saturday, yet another friend, Dave, brought his two younger kids there. We also hung out with xfirefistacex again in the indie area.


  • My friends and I set up a group this year, both to avoid last year's registration-line issues and save some money through the reduced rate. Definitely something we're going to repeat in future years, it made things much easier. I also appreciate MAGFest's willingness to include children on the group rate, which helped my friend Dave take his kids there.
  • We stayed at the Residence Inn Marriott again, and used the kitchenette to our advantage, bringing some leftovers and other food with us. (Unfortunately, without a proper oven, some of it went to waste - lesson learned.) There were five of us in there by the end of the con (me, Jack, Randy, John, and Marquis). This time, we even took advantage of the continental breakfast!
  • The best new section at the convention was the Computer Museum, set up near the tabletop area upstairs. Basically an expansion of the retro PC section in last year's arcade, it was a room packed with old computer hardware (some running games, some not) as well as a selection of more obscure video game consoles. The computers included models from IBM, Tandy, and Apple, as well as the popular Commodore 64 and Amiga; the consoles included the Atari 2600 and 7800, Odyssey2, Intellivision, and four varieties of the PC Engine (the Turbografx-16 in the U.S.). They also had a vintage 1952 television you could switch between old Doctor Who episodes (apparently played from a DVD - wonder how they managed that) and a dedicated Pong console. Jack and I spent a fair amount of time in there on Friday and Saturday, as it was not only cool overall but one of the calmer, quieter areas to game in. (Jack spent most of his time there trying to defeat Minesweeper on its hardest setting.)
  • One particularly unusual artifact in the Computer Museum was the Panasonic M2, the lost successor to the 3DO. It never made it to proper production as a game console, and was instead repurposed for use in advertising kiosks and the like. I was informed this particular M2 was retrieved from a junk dealer in (I think) northern Virginia, and cleaned up and refurbished for display at the con. One of the few prototype games (which had been apparently been released for free online) was available to play.
  • Cosplay was much stronger this year than in previous years. I only got a few pics myself, and missed out on several others of note, including Ring Man (from Mega Man); a group with the Second and Eighth Doctors, and a Sixth Doctor Tom Servo; John Constantine; Wreck-It Ralph; Firestorm (the Ronnie Raymond version from The Flash); Fester Addams (including his light bulb); and a woman with a cape made of Magic cards. Dragonsong12 also showed me a photo of an excellent Angela cosplay (from Gargoyles).
  • I was only able to spend a hour or two with Dave on Saturday; he arrived very early (on my advice, to be fair) and I wasn't willing to get up early enough to match (since I already had to cut Saturday night short so I could drive us home Sunday). By the time I got down to the convention area, they were touring the dealer's room. Dave and I did get a game of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in, but mostly we followed the kids around while they looked at stuff. When he left with them to get lunch, he didn't return... but I am assured that they enjoyed it and will probably be back next year (maybe with more family and friends).
  • In fact, my one major regret is that I didn't get to spend more time gaming and hanging out with my friends. I had to keep striking a balance between staying up late enough to game, but going to bed early enough to do other things. Hopefully next year will work out better.
  • Two particularly cool things were set up in the console room. One was "MAGFest Plays Pokémon", a riff on the infamous "Twitch Plays Pokémon". They set up red buttons at random locations in the console room, each controlling a different input command for the Game Boy, and projected the resulting piecemeal game on the wall above the challenges. (I think they might have changed which input each button controlled during the con as well, but I might be wrong.) The second was a marathon of Metroid games, matching the con's theme this year, where each game in the series was unlocked by beating the previous game. I believe they got all the way through Other M by the end...
  • I scored a fair number of older console games I'd been hunting for, including Gauntlet (the unauthorized Tengen version), Maniac Mansion, Paperboy, Batman, The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and The Karate Kid for the NES, and Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic & Knuckles for the Sega Genesis. Jack also picked up a few games, Ranger X for Genesis and Space Station Silicon Valley for Nintendo 64. The best finds were at the booth for re:gen (which I may have to visit at White Marsh Mall at some point).
    Other purchases included Bit Brigade merchandise and some prints (bought for me by Jack) of Gargoyles and Major Glory.
  • One guy bought Kaboom! for the Atari 2600 just so it could be played there, and I got to watch his A-game on it (I recorded video, but I probably won't post it). A similar event happened with the Vectrex in the Computer Museum (someone brought another game for it to show off).
  • It appeared Nintendo had a limited presence at the con, in the form of a promotional set-up for Yo-Kai Watch that appeared on the last day. Might this be the beginnings of interest from some big-name companies?
  • We stayed until the arcade and other rooms were shut down on Sunday, which began a little earlier than last year (between 2 and 3 pm). The Tokyo Attack! stuff (see below) was shut down first - in fact, a guy came by and turned off Light Beats just as Jack and I were about to play it (having waited in line for the opportunity, that was kind of annoying). We managed to continue playing the older games for a while longer, until everything shut down entirely.

Differences from last year:

  • The schedule was back to Thursday-Sunday, after an experiment with Friday-Monday last year. However, Thursday this year was less busy than the other days, so I don't know that it worked much better for people as far as taking time off work. (Did make it easier to get to some games, though!)
  • MAGFest's main layout at the Gaylord seems to be fairly stable now, with the arcade, the dealer's room (marketplace), the indie games (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase), and the console games still having separate rooms (although the order was different than last year). However, they reduced the number of entrances and exits to just one of each, with the only entrance at the dealer's room and the only exit at the console games. This made entering and leaving the main convention area annoying at times, so I hope they open up more entrances and exits next year.
  • The arcade was overhauled from previous years. A company called Tokyo Attack! dominated the front of the room, with a selection of relatively new Japanese import games. There was also a lot more pinball, and a skeeball game was set up, but they never got it to work (not the first time that's happened, mind). It seemed like there were fewer of the classic arcade games from previous years, with a few regulars missing (such as Sinistar and After Burner), but the majority of the old favorites were back, including some that hadn't appeared in the last few years (like Dragon's Lair). The arcade started later than the rest of the convention, and a few games never did get working (like Joust). One downside is that it was by far the loudest of the main rooms, even more so than previous years, likely due to the larger number of DDR-type games on the Tokyo Attacks! side. (The occasional appearance by a DJ made things worse - like being in the path of some sound-based weapon.)
  • The dealer's room continued to improve. I was pleased to see more tabletop game sellers (although there was a regrettable lack of minis to buy). I also noted there were more proper retailers setting up shop there, presumably a side effect of MAGFest's growing popularity.
  • The indie area was even stronger than last year. It did have limited official hours, but several of the designers left their games running all day and night. There were a lot of really neat games on the floor, too, with more genre and gameplay diversity than last year's selection (although retro styling was still pretty common). The indie arcade games also moved into this area, which was probably for the best. (The only exception was Killer Queen, which remained in the main arcade.) There were even two screens set up for homebrew NES games. Artemis also got a section next to the indie game area, though we didn't even try to play it this year (plenty else to do).
  • Consoles were fairly good, but also disappointed in a few ways.
    • Similar to the arcade, most of the modern consoles appeared to be supplied by outside groups, which was a nice way to boost the numbers. However, several of the modern consoles also required you to get your own wireless controllers from staff (presumably to deter theft), which had the side effect of discouraging me and probably others from playing them.
    • As far as older stuff, they added a line of stand-up shooter games, including Duck Hunt and Time Crisis 3, which was a cool idea. They also made a point to include more older and non-mainstream consoles, including a larger number of Atari 2600s, a Sega CD and a 3DO, and original Xboxes. They even brought in a few Intellivisions! However, these consoles were underused - none of the Intellivisions were ever up and running, a few of the Atari 2600s also sat unused (and at least one was eventually replaced by a version of Smash Bros.), and I only saw the Sega CD playing regular Genesis games. On top of that, there were very few NES games on the floor.
    • Another irritant was that a band game was set up near the oldest consoles, making it one of the louder areas (though not as bad as the arcade). Lastly, the challenges were never set up (reportedly due to some issues with the laptops' operating systems), which was a disappointment.
    However, outside of the way too many screens set up with some version of Super Smash Bros., there was a good diversity of games on the consoles, and many appeared to be changed out during the course of the event. And staff were attentive to problems (even though it didn't help us fix those two Ataris that never worked). So it was overall a good experience. It just coulda been better.

  • Tabletop (still in the same upstairs location) seemed fine, although I spent little time there, as the two options for playing were to bring a group with you or to try and find one of the few designer-run demos scattered around. Still disappointed there's little support for lone tabletop garners looking to meet new people and try new games. (To be fair, I was randomly invited into a game of Twister way late at night, though I declined.) Pathfinder Society was actually set up in its own area elsewhere in the hotel, which was probably to its benefit; D&D Adventurers League was also reportedly there, although it was unadvertised and I never found it.
  • I can't really comment on registration, since the pre-reg group rate allowed us to avoid any real lines, but it seemed better organized when I went down there, in its own big standalone room.
  • Attendance was a little higher than last year; looks like they approached 19,000, nearly hitting their registration cap of about 20,000. I know parking was a big hassle by Friday (Dragonsong12 dealt with this), and there were enough people there to make it pretty difficult to get to popular games outside off-hours (early actually seemed better than late)... although I'm kind of used to the latter at MAGFest by now. I did note more older garners and families, which was good to see (especially as I move closer to that demographic myself).

Games I played:
- Arcade: Pulstar (Neo Candy cabinet; reminded me of R-Type), Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Blast City cabinet), Golden Axe (Player 2 controls messed up), Battletoads, Special Forces: Kung Fu Commando (basically a bad knock-off of NES Kung Fu), Jr. Pac-Man, Robotron 2084, Dragon's Lair, Cruis'n Exotica, RoadBlasters, Elevator Action Returns (Blast City cabinet), Prehistoric Isle 2 (Neo Candy cabinet), SoulCalibur II, Primal Rage, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Gyruss, Popeye (not a big fan), Tron, Mr. Do!
- Telstar Alpha: Pong/Tennis
- Atari 2600: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Dig Dug, Kaboom!, Berserk, Jr. Pac-Man (actually a pretty good port)
- Intellivision: BurgerTime
- Odyssey2: Turtles, K.C. Munchkin
- Vectrex: Star Castle
- NES: Wild Gunman
- Atari 7800: Centipede, Dig Dug
- Sega Genesis: Eternal Champions
- PC Engine: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Wii Virtual Console), Legendary Axe
- 3DO: Mad Dog McCree (not a good port)
- PlayStation (1): Gex
- PlayStation 2: Time Crisis 3
- Xbox: Metal Wolf Chaos
- PlayStation 4: Mortal Kombat X, Street Fighter V, Nidhogg, Amplitude (couldn't figure it out)
- Panasonic M2: "Christmas Giveaway 2008" (or something like that)
- Atari 800: K-Star Patrol
- TI-99/4A: Parsec
- Kaypro: Ladder
- IBM 5150: Tetris (right direction key didn't work)
- IBM Turbo XT: Wheel of Fortune (boring, A.I. basically took over and I didn't get any turns), Jeopardy (slow, so I just quit after a while)
- DOS: QBasic Nibbles, QBasic Gorillas, Number Munchers
- Amiga: Tiger Road
- PC: Wolfenstein 3D
- Indie: Red Shift Blue Shift, Robo Puzzle Smash!, Super Rock Blasters! (basically four-player Asteroids), That Rock Paper Scissors Game, Slam City Oracles, Star Versus (meh), Nothing Good Can Come Of This
- Pinball: Doctor Who, Joust (a two-player versus pinball game), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (left flipper was sluggish), Space Invaders, Tron: Legacy, Star Trek (1978; interesting playing an old-school pinball game, much more about skill than gimmicks), Johnny Mnemonic, Star Trek: The Next Generation (seemed stuck in multi-ball mode)
Monday, February 1st, 2016
10:03 pm
Episode list for a Real Ghostbusters marathon day
This past weekend, I finished a marathon of The Real Ghostbusters for some friends. Unlike my previous marathons years ago, this wound up being split into two days a month apart, for the benefit of my audience. But I'm still going to treat the below list as if it can be watched in a single day... because it easily can!

I focused on the first two seasons, which - in the opinion of myself and many other fans - were the best run. (For reference, these are the episodes that had Lorenzo Music voicing Peter and Laura Summer voicing Janine, and before Slimer began to be more prominent.) I did consider a selection of the best episodes from later seasons as well, but figured I had plenty to work with already.

From those first seasons, I tried to include a mix of the most significant episodes, the best-written episodes, and other episodes I remembered as especially fun or interesting. Because Real Ghostbusters had so many quality episodes, cutting this list down to a single day's worth took some effort, but I managed to get it down to about 8 hours. (I also threw in a few extra episodes* that I figured would be of interest to my audience, ones I wouldn't otherwise have picked, but I won't include all of those below.)

FYI, the ones I consider must-see episodes are in bold.

The list:

Season 1 (Saturday morning episodes)

"Mrs. Roger's Neighborhood"
"The Boogieman Cometh"
"Mr. Sandman, Dream Me a Dream"
"When Halloween Was Forever"
"Take Two"
"Citizen Ghost"

Season 2 (syndicated episodes)

"Knock, Knock"
"Adventures in Slime and Space"
"Night Game"
"Venkman's Ghost Repellers"
"Who're You Calling Two-Dimensional?"
"Chicken, He Clucked"
"You Can't Take It With You"
"No One Comes to Lupusville"
"The Man Who Never Reached Home"
"The Collect Call of Cathulhu"
"The Headless Motorcyclist"
"Janine Melnitz, Ghostbuster"
"The Ghostbusters in Paris"
"Ghost Fight at the O.K. Corral"
"The Long, Long, Long, Etc. Goodbye"
"The Hole in the Wall Gang"

Total uninterrupted runtime: 484 minutes (8 hours, 4 minutes)

* - For reference, the "extra" episodes were Season 2's "Rollerghoster" and "Buster the Ghost", and Season 3's "The Grundel".
6:34 pm
Books I read in January 2016
Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 6, by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, 4/5 (B+)
Two of the later JLA-JSA crossovers from the pre-Crisis era. The first, featuring the Secret Society of Super-Villains, has a great setup but a confusing climax and so-so finale. The second, and my favorite of the two, is a slightly complicated tale of time travel plus multiple Earths, featuring the villain Per Degaton.

Dungeons & Dragons: Princes of the Apocalypse, by Richard Baker et al, 4/5 (B+)
A solid enough adventure path, although it basically turns into a series of dungeon crawls towards the end. The four elemental cults make good enemies, well-constructed with interesting minions, and I liked seeing the Elemental Princes of Evil back in action. But overall, I feel like it's missing something, which I can't quite put my finger on... maybe it was too game-y, and didn't have enough of a sense of storytelling? Maybe the stakes didn't feel high enough, despite the premise and the title? I'm not sure, but I definitely felt a little disappointed.

In any case, the supplemental material is good. The chapter of side missions is useful for campaigns generally, with "Curse of the Fire Witch" and "Halls of the Hunting Axe" being my favorites. There are some neat new magic items. And the material on Genasi and elemental spells is fun, if a repeat of the free Elemental Evil Player's Companion. The guidelines on adapting the adventure to other worlds are a nice touch, certainly something they didn't have to do (though I wish they'd been gone into the worlds a little more for new readers).

Was this better than the Tyranny of Dragons? I think so, but not as much better as I'd been led to expect. It's definitely good, but I feel like it could have been better.

Transformers: Stormbringer, by Simon Furman, 4/5 (B)
A decent side-story, featuring a new take on the Pretender concept and tons of cameos from lesser-known G1 characters (including the fan-favorite Wreckers). Feels underdeveloped compared to the main TF storylne from that era, however.
Tuesday, January 5th, 2016
12:20 am
Saturday, January 2nd, 2016
3:01 pm
Books I read in December 2015
Twisted Mirrors Volume 3, by Serena Loder, 4.5/5 (A-)
A really interesting installment, with lots of world-building for the boetheri and the elves, lots of solid low-key character moments, and some major reversals of the status quo of the series. Things are definitely set up for a good finale!

Transformers: Infiltration, by Simon Furman, 4.5/5 (A-)
An excellent reboot of the Transformers concept, really emphasizing the "robots in disguise" and "alien invasion" motifs, while still staying true to the spirit of the Generation One era. It even has some appealing human characters, and a genuinely menacing Megatron. Definitely recommended for Transformers fans, and I suspect it'd be a great way for new fans to check out the franchise as well.

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand, by Dan McDaid et al, 4/5 (B+)
A solid final run of Tenth Doctor comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine, featuring fun new companion Majenta Pryce. My picks of the litter were probably the haunted-house-in-space and the return of the Skith, but the final arc wrapping everything up is satisfying as well. I think Majenta grows a conscience (if a weak one) a bit too quickly, but otherwise the character's pretty great, more in the vein of Turlough than most companions.

Doctor Who: The Child of Time, by Jonathan Morris et al, 4/5 (B+)
A set of Eleventh Doctor comics, very much in the vein of the Moffat era - including a time-bending finale with parts stealthily assembled from bits of the earlier stories. The individual stories also range from good to excellent. Some great stuff here for fans of this Doctor!

Doctor Who III Volume 1: The Hypothetical Gentleman, by Andy Diggle and Brandon Seifert, 4/5 (B)
Two neat Eleventh Doctor stories. The first one is interesting, but doesn't really pay off here (looks like it's going to later). The second one, featuring the Doctor and Rory, is the more amusing of the two.

Doctor Who III Volume 2: The Eye of Ashaya, by various, 3.5/5 (B-)
An OK set of Eleventh Doctor stories. The middle one, featuring a Soviet cosmonaut, is probably the best. The weakness of this volume is that the latter two stories don't quite capture the Eleventh Doctor's tone - in fact, I wonder if the middle story was originally written for the Tenth.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, 4/5 (B+)
Certainly a classic of dystopian SF. And certainly prescient, successfully predicting some common complaints about modern culture and its more shallow obsessions. Overall, the book was an enthralling read, mainly due to the growing tension as Montag's worldview - and his life - fall apart. The only issue I encountered when reading was that certain more lyrical passages went on too long, sometimes to the point of burying the ideas Bradbury was trying to express.

One subtler theme I found interesting was that a society that discourages deep thinking - even an ostensibly happy one - may slowly go mad. That a truly happy life needs meaning, not just entertainment. Note that despite feeling very much a part of the society in the novel, certain major characters repeatedly display suicidal behavior. (Certain minor characters are even more unstable.) This may not be as loud as the book's anti-censorship and anti-anti-intellectual messages, but it's still something to consider.
Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
8:53 pm
Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Spoilers there areCollapse )
Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
12:25 am
Books I read in November 2015
Astro City: The Dark Age 2 - Brothers in Arms, by Kurt Busiek, 4.5/5 (A-)
An interesting tour of the Dark Age of comics through the lens of Astro City. The plot occasionally had to contort to make sure our protagonists were around for certain key events, but overall it's a neat read.

Fairy Tail Vol. 50, by Hiro Mashima, 4/5 (B+)
Interesting seeing a "getting the band back together" arc, as the back cover puts it, including how characters have changed since we last saw them. They kinda waste the potential of a certain character's face-heel turn, though, and it also loses a few points for some particularly annoying "fanservice" bits.

Darkwing Duck: Crisis on Infinite Darkwings, by Ian Brill, 4.5/5 (A)
Definitely the peak of the Darkwing Duck comics, this storyline has it all. Negaduck, the return of Morgana, a guest villain from DuckTales, the return of another of Darkwing's most menacing foes, and multiple fun alternate versions of Darkwing (including lots of references to past stories and pop culture). It's just tons of fun, and it's got heart to boot.

Darkwing Duck: F.O.W.L. Disposition, by Ian Brill, 4.5/5 (A-)
A neat storyline, mashing up the superspy side of the Darkwing DuckTales universe with some Cthulhu riffs. Ends a bit abruptly on a weird/downer note, but still solid overall.
Monday, November 2nd, 2015
11:22 pm
Books I read in October 2015
Doctor Who: Palace of the Red Sun, by Christopher Bulis, 4/5 (B+)
I didn't go in expecting much from this Sixth Doctor novel, but it was actually pretty good. An interesting setting and slate of original characters (particularly Glavis Judd), and a solidly characterized Doctor and Peri. There are some good mysteries and twists, too. My only quibble was with the ending, which seemed slightly too harsh (but maybe I'm just a softie).

Fairy Tail Vol. 42, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
In what looks to be a serious and game-changing arc, a force targets the Magic Council and its former members for extermination, leading Fairy Tail to declare war on this new enemy. Some solid fights featuring Laxus and Natsu's teams make for a great start.

Fairy Tail Vol. 43, by Hiro Mashima, 3.5/5 (C+)
Well, the author is certainly going to lengths to show how evil Tartaros is. Only a few interesting developments in this volume - even the fights didn't do that much for me - and it loses a lot of points for going right on past fanservice to full-fledged fetish stuff in the torture scenes. I hope this doesn't become the new norm, because I might not be sticking around if it is.

Fairy Tail Vol. 44, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
Much better. Some interesting battles starting up (including the unexpected return of an old enemy... sort of), some big developments, and Wendy's crowning moment of awesome. Definitely makes up for the last volume.

Fairy Tail Vol. 45, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
Great battles, a short flashback to Mira's past, and some epic (and sad) events featuring Lucy make for another good volume.

Fairy Tail Vol. 46, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
This story arc continues to have some great fights and good character moments - this time, Gray and Juvia are in the spotlight. There are also some interesting revelations about Gray's opponent...

Fairy Tail Vol. 47, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
The spotlight in this volume falls on Gajeel. And we finally get to meet someone very important to Natsu... and they're awesome.

Fairy Tail Vol. 48, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
Great extended battle with the arc's big bad! The volume ends on kind of a cop-out, but it's kind of a necessary one to avoid a major rewrite of the setting.

Fairy Tail Vol. 49, by Hiro Mashima, 4.5/5 (A-)
A memorable conclusion to the last arc (with some sad), and a new beginning for the series! Should be interesting to see where this is going.

Chicago Haunts, by Ursula Bielski, 4/5 (B)
Well-researched, and a useful resource for ghost-related folklore connected to Chicago's history. Unfortunately, it's weighed more heavily towards "history" than "ghosts", so if you were hoping for more of the latter, you'll be disappointed. Still, there are a few particularly memorable ghostly accounts, and it's an interesting read overall.

Ghosts on the Coast of Maine, by Carol Olivieri Schulte, 4/5 (B+)
A selection of folkloric ghost tales, mixed with some contemporary experiences (including personal anecdotes). I preferred the former to the latter, but this overall made for a fast and entertaining read.

Ghost Notes, by Randall A. Reinstedt, 4/5 (B+)
A miscellany of short accounts of ghosts in the region around Monterey, California. The titular notes are arranged in chronological order as received, which results in a lot of jumping around and repetition. Yet, this somehow makes it more compelling than it probably would have been as a better organized work. Many are fairly generic as ghost stories go (objects being moved in the night and such), but this makes the true gems leap out, like diamonds in the rough - and all the more tantalizing for being so brief. A recommended read for anyone interested in Monterey's ghosts.

Southern Ghosts, by Nancy Roberts, 4/5 (B)
A decent little collection of ghost and supernatural stories, though the book doesn't distinguish between actual accounts, folklore, and one or two I suspect of being largely the author's invention. In any case, it's an entertaining and very short read.
Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
7:57 pm
Books I read in September 2015
Transformers: Robots in Disguise Volume 1, by John Barber, 4/5 (B+)
The more serious counterpart to More Than Meets the Eye, this series mainly focuses on the politics of a post-war Cybertron, as more and more neutrals return home to their devastated homeworld. Starscream is already taking advantage, fitting in just fine as a political type, which should be fun to see as it develops.

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye Volume 2, by James Roberts, 4.5/5 (A-)
Some excellent Transformers stories here, if darkly themed. Included here are an outbreak scenario, a story about a character's violent PTSD, and the introduction of the Decepticon Justice Division, the scariest set of Decepticons yet. Despite the darkness, they're fun to read, thanks to solid characterization and the occasional bit of humor. Some interesting plotlines brewing for the future as well...

Transformers: Robots in Disguise Volume 2, by John Barber, 4/5 (B+)
Following an interlude with Optimus Prime Orion Pax in space, the plot thickens back on Cybertron. Some promising threads appear, including a returning Decepticon war criminal with a game-changing secret, and weird, eerie happenings in the wilder parts of Cybertron. Looking forward to what's next!

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye Volume 3, by James Roberts, 4.5/5 (A-)
Another great volume with great characters. This installment starts with a solid tale furthering MTMTE's metaplot (with a fun flashback to the Transformer origin story in Marvel G1 style). The meat of Volume 3, however, is the three-parter set primarily in the pre-war era, mixing a conspiracy story with lots of new and old continuity. And the twist at the very end with a certain character is really excellent...

Doctor Who: Zeta Major, by Simon Messingham, 4/5 (B)
Featuring the Fifth Doctor, this novel is a sequel to the Fourth Doctor story Planet of Evil, where the Morestrans from that story took the Doctor's offhand suggestion to harness the "kinetic force of planetary movement" as gospel. 2000 years later, an interstellar Catholic-esque church has monopolized all technology in the service of this goal, dominating the once-great empire. The Doctor becomes involved when certain shortcuts they take - once again involving anti-matter - threaten the whole of existence.

This was an entertaining read, and fans who enjoyed Planet of Evil should certainly appreciate this follow-up. The theocratic society was played a little too heavy at times, but it did keep things interesting. Villain Kristyan Fall and ally Ferdinand both made for interesting characters. The only real weakness of the novel was that it relied too much on the reader's familiarity with the original story. Which is fair, as it is an explicit sequel, but it would have been nice had they tried to keep it more self-contained.

Transformers: Robots in Disguise Volume 3, by John Barber, 4/5 (B+)
An interesting mix in this volume. We start with another adventure of Optimus Prime Orion Pax, featuring a somewhat confusing non-linear sequence of events. Then we get a story that flashes back to Omega Supreme's origins, wonderfully presented in the style of Marvel's Transformers #1 - complete with 1980s comic-book colors and character introdumps. Finally, a character makes a proverbial deal with the devil... though it's getting hard to tell which party is actually the "devil". All solid stuff. (My only disappointment is that the cliffhanger in Volume 2 hasn't been resolved.)

Bestiary of Fantastic Creatures Volume 1: Bizarre Monsters, by Casey Sorrow, 4/5 (B+)
A neat little 38-page booklet of old-school-styled monsters, with generic stats intended for use with Dungeons & Dragons (and more specifically, 2nd Edition and earlier). The selection of creatures is decent, with my top picks being the Bohx (a dim-witted, fire-obsessed giant), the Invisible Gorilla, and the Mock Dragon. The Uzhu (horned giants that shepherd explosive cows) and the Wosix (gas-breathing imps) aren't bad, either. (Full disclosure - I was a Kickstarter backer for this book.)

Darkwing Duck: The Duck Knight Returns, by Ian Brill, 4.5/5 (A-)
A terrific revival of a Disney property that needs more love. This first volume is a great reintroduction to Darkwing Duck and his world, combining callbacks to the original show and other clever references with some interesting new twists. (I admit I'm not sure this will work as well for new readers, although I think they give it a good try.) The original show's sense of humor is back in full force, and the detailed artwork is great to look at as well. Definitely recommended.

Green Lantern: Circle of Fire, by Brian K Vaughan et al, 4/5 (B)
An entertaining side-story featuring Kyle Rayner and an array of Green Lanterns from other times facing off against a cosmic villain named Oblivion. The few very minor plot hiccups towards the end are balanced out by the fun and interesting character moments throughout the rest of the storyline.
Monday, August 31st, 2015
10:09 pm
Books I read in August 2015
Note that from here on, these will also be cross-posted to my new Goodreads account. (I'm also porting over the older reviews from this journal.)

Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Gods, by Sean K Reynolds et al, 4/5 (B+)
An interesting setting sourcebook for Pathfinder, focused on the gods and clerics of Golarion. The main appeal of the book is in the detailed writeups for the 20 core Golarion deities. These are solid stuff, and nearly all of them come off as compelling, worthwhile options for characters. The shorter write-ups for the other deities are tantalizing, too. (And the super-extensive appendix in the back of every deity or deity-like entity a character can worship - down to subdomains! - was extra handy.)

There's also a bunch of new character material, but unfortunately, that's the weaker part. While they do provide a bunch of new feats, traits, and magic items, most of them would probably only be of interest to optimizers. The three prestige classes (evangelist, exalted, and sentinel), the subdomains, and the selection of new spells (including one that lets you play Fix-It Felix) are more interesting, but I'm not sure they make up for the dullness of the rest. The last section deals with specific and generic servitors for each deity, which could be useful in some campaigns.

Overall, I'd say the book is a must-have for Golarion campaigns with clerics. For those not running a game in Golarion (or using Pathfinder), it's still probably worth a read for the neat deity writeups; just skim everything else.

Coral Hare: Atomic Agent, by Clive Lee, 3.5/5 (C+)
One would have expected this novel - about a Japanese-American teenager who becomes a superspy and battles against Japan's atomic program during World War II - to be a light and young-adult-aimed adventure story. Instead, Coral Hare is a very different sort of tale, and very definitely not for teens.

The novel is actually rather hard to classify, as its tone keeps shifting throughout. Sometimes, it's like an 80s action film, with obvious heroes and villains, disposable minions, and scenes of gory yet near-cartoonish violence. Other times, it's a gritty historical thriller, graphically detailing mass destruction, torture, and other wartime horrors perpetrated by both sides. And then there are the scenes where the protagonist becomes an anime caricature, ferociously slaughtering enemies while dressed as a schoolgirl - and sometime wearing roller skates.

Don't expect much from the writing - which is average for the most part - or the characterization - which is extremely straightforward. It does the job, but that's all. However, the author did do an impressive amount of research, which is well-reflected in the novel... to the point that the text is peppered with footnotes. (These footnotes even appear when they don't add anything to the narrative.)

That all said, I will admit that the book can be surprisingly compelling, quite a page-turner. And the author's obvious enthusiasm can be infectious at times. If you go in expecting lots of spy-fi action - and you have the stomach for some nasty scenes in the middle - you may get something out of this.

Nodwick Adventure Log Vol. I, by Aaron Williams, 4/5 (B+)
A collection of the original Nodwick comics from Dragon Magazine (and a few from Dungeon). A fair amount of the humor would be lost on people not familiar with D&D lore (especially the parodies of classic adventure modules), but this D&D fan certainly enjoyed himself!

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Volume 2, by various, 4/5 (B+)
A neat collection of Green Lantern Corps stories from the pre-Crisis era. Most of them are backup strips from the ongoing GL title, and none of them are bad, with standouts including early stories by Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore (the famous "Mogo Doesn't Socialize"). The final story is from the first Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual, an OK adventure teaming up several of the more notable non-Earth lanterns against a cosmic threat. All in all, a good read for fans of the Corps.
Monday, August 3rd, 2015
12:51 am
Books I read in July 2015
Knights of the Dinner Table: The Bag Wars Saga, by various, 4.5/5 (A-)
The Knights of the Dinner Table characters at their best (and worst - Brian gets particularly horrible towards the end). Great fun for fans, and it might serve as a pretty decent jumping-on point for new readers as well.

One Piece: Baroque Works 22-23-24, by Eiichiro Oda, 4.5/5 (A)
The end of Alabasta, with Luffy's final bout with Crocodile, then the lead-in to Skypiea (with Blackbeard's first appearance). Some iconic moments here for fans of the series.

Dungeons & Dragons: Elemental Evil Player's Companion, by various, 4.5/5 (A-)
A tiny little print-on-demand version of an online supplement, this is technically the only dedicated official rules expansion we have for the D&D 5th Edition game at this point. Anyway, it's short, but it does have four neat race write-ups and a selection of neat new elemental spells. Very good stuff, just unfortunately brief...
Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
5:17 pm
Books I read in June 2015
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player's Guide, by various, 4.5/5 (A)
An excellent supplement for the Pathfinder RPG. The highlight is the six terrific new base classes (alchemist, cavalier, inquisitor, oracle, summoner, and witch) and the "archetypes" (class customizations) for each of the core classes. However, there's interesting stuff throughout this book, tons of useful and interesting player options for Pathfinder games (and inspirational for other D&D-based games as well). Highly recommended for any and all Pathfinder fans.

Justice League of America: When Worlds Collide, by Dwayne McDuffie, 4/5 (B)
Most of the story serves to a) bring back Dr. Light II and b) bring the Milestone universe into DC canon. It manages this rather well, with interruptions from Final Crisis rather smoothly integrated. And it's entertaining. That's pretty much it.

The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke, 4/5 (B+)
An artbook tied with an exhibit at the Smithsonian a few years back. It's not deep, but it is interesting to see a selection of video and computer games viewed from an artist's perspective.

Fifth Edition Fantasy: The Fey Sisters' Fate, by Chris Doyle, 4/5 (B)
A perfectly adequate third-party level 1 adventure for D&D 5th Edition. It does deserve some points for being a fairly original plotline for D&D, focused as it is on the fey.

Doctor Who: Festival of Death, by Jonathan Morris, 4.5/5 (A-)
A strong Fourth Doctor story, with some delightfully convoluted time travel. This novel truly feels like a Doctor Who story from that era, and Tom Baker's Doctor is just about perfect, which is a feat unto itself.

Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 5, by Gerry Conway, 4/5 (B)
Three JLA/JSA crossover stories. Probably the most interesting one is the middle one, which is a murder-mystery, but the other two at least have interesting concepts.

Edit 8/25/2015: First review was originally listed as the Advanced Class Guide.
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