The Encounter Log

Previous: Scintillations | Picofarad #24 contents | Next: Movie reviews

Planescape: Torment for the PC: Wow. Finally a computer game which manages to put the emphasis on real roleplaying, not on the fighting, plus a terrific story to boot. It's as good as everyone says.

Magic on the Storm and Magic at the Gate by Devon Monk: Books 4 and 5 in a series, in which still no one has gotten around to telling the protagonist the full implications of her extra-special powers and her extra-special bond with her boyfriend, who just happens to be a particularly powerful member of the magical elite, and can't be bothered to tell her what she needs to know about how this puts her in particular danger.

Labyrinth by Kat Richardson: And speaking of book 5 and unnecessarily confused heroines... but at least this one is less reactive and her boyfriend isn't holding out on her.

A Girl Called Tennyson by Joan Givner: Terrific YA fantasy.

Doctor Who: The War Games DVD: A little daunted by a 10-part story, I figured to watch this a little bit at a time, but wound up doing 5-episode chunks as it moves along pretty well. A proper send-off for the Second Doctor, I feel. As long as there's more stuff like this to be uncovered, I'll never feel a need to watch the revival.

Top Gear: Apocalypse DVD: Two-thirds of the presenters (since Clarkson would obviously never survive the apocalypse) take on the challenges of being a car aficionado after the collapse of civilization. Sadly, most of Car Wars goes untested, but the best bit comes from examining the question of which car to drive if there is only one tank of gas left in the world. Very poignant, actually.

Haze by L. E. Modesitt: In a future dystopia where China rules the galaxy, one special-forces type discovers the Planet of the White People where they explain to him how society should really work. The author spends a lot of time showing off his economics credentials; unfortunately, they date from before behavioral economics.

Prince of Storms by Kay Kenyon: It's the end of the story of the Entire and the Rose, and the loose ends are tied up. It's not bad, but it didn't really hit the sensawunda chords for me the way something on this grand a scale should.

A Cup of Normal by Devon Monk: Wasn't expecting much after reading a few of her novels, but she's much better as a short-story writer.

Boarding Instructions by Ray Vukevich: Another pretty good short-story collection.

The Sky That Wraps by Jay Lake: And another.

Oral Wars by Dennis Bershaw: Have you ever found yourself idly wondering how short a fantasy novel you're reading would be if the author hadn't padded it out with idiot plotting? Here's your answer: 182 pages. This went on my Hugo ballot.

Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail: Vanity press book by someone with clear ambitions to be the next Robert Jordan. And actually with a chance at it, I think, if she can just slow things down a little more.

Second Childhood by Donna McMahon: A story about rehabilitating a person with not only massive trauma and PTSD, but also unpredictable cybernetic modifications and one or more additional personalities stashed in the back of his head to boot.

Catalyst by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough: A jump back to the origins of telepathic cats. Not so light and fluffy as the previous books in the series.

Kris Longknife: Redoubtable by Mike Shepherd: In which the heroine goes on a whirlwind tour of Somalia Planet, Russia Planet, and Caribbean Planet. The high point, for me, was the bit where the career military officer and scion of a lily-white royal family explains to a princess from a neighboring empire that the neighboring empire's problems are due to not enough democracy and too many white people in charge.

Avim's Oath by Lynda Williams: Part umpteen of a space opera series. A detailed society, but I never did fully grasp why I was supposed to care about the main characters.

The Clone Empire by Steven L. Kent: Here is where I stop being embarrassed about caring what happens next in this series. Yes, it's grim and violent. But it's believable, the main character has matured, the author can tell a great story, and the central problem in this volume-- finding a murderer in a sea of clones-- is really interesting.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks: Sympathetic characters and an original magic system. Good at 600-some pages, but would have been absolutely brilliant at half the length.

The Dark Side of Light by Susan D. Kalior: Single-author press... well, that's all you really need to know.

The Domino Pattern by Timothy Zahn: Another of his murder mysteries in space, but hard to judge since the mystery isn't completely resolved within this book. Come to think of it, the title was never explained either.

Dragon Quest IV for the Nintendo DS: It's pretty good. It occupied my time. But after Planescape: Torment, I feel a need for something that gives me more to sink my teeth into.

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest: Alternate-history in a fantasy world where not only has the Civil War gone on for 20 years, it seems to be only a minor inconvenience for a South with a functioning economy and inexplicably high number of able-bodied men. Plus zombies and an armored locomotive, but The Manticore Boys is still far and away the work to beat in trains-vs.-monsters fantasy.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: An Austen pastiche with a teensy bit of magic thrown in to make it genre. If you like Jane Austen, I guess you'll like this.

Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan: It's the late middle ages in Central Europe, an era of silly mustaches and sillier hats, when two brothers are given the task of defending a castle that was legendarily impregnable until the cannon showed up. One of them hears the voices of saints, like Joan of Arc did, and is trying to avoid a similar fate. Can't wait for the second half!

Antiphon by Ken Scholes: In which still practically everyone except the hero and the reader know a highly detailed prophecy and no one will spell it out, although one faction does publish a religious tract that gives some hints.

All That Lives Must Die by Eric S. Nylund: Resurfacing after another bout of media tie-in books, Nylund is two books into a series about the teenaged descendants of the worlds first love match between the Immortal and Infernal deities. An entertaining and interesting world, complete with scholarly footnotes adding details the heroes can't know, and strongly hinting the approach of Armageddon and the survival of an academic tradition afterward... but since this feature a magical school, all anyone will want to know is, how does it stack up against the really famous one? So here is a handy chart:
Hogwarts Paxington
Founded ca. AD 1000 330 BC (in Rome)
Current location Remote Scotland, near the village of Hogsmeade Downtown San Francisco, convenient to shopping, dining, and mass transit
Eligibility criteria Native-born magic-users of the British Isles Anyone who can find the front door
Textbooks Specially written age-appropriate material Homer, Joseph Campbell, H. P. Lovecraft
Worst possible consequence of failing final exams Expulsion Death
Dueling Banned Encouraged
Self-protection curriculum Defense Against the Dark Arts class Allowed to try killing each other with magic in gym class
Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb: Feels like a rebuttal to the Pern books; in these, the dragon lifecycle is more complicated, the dragons themselves are a bunch of divas, and becoming bonded to one is a potentially life-shortening experience. My only complaint is this is one of those trilogies where three books seem to be trying to share a plot sufficient for one.

A Treasury of Deception by Michael Farquhar: A lively collection of hoaxes and cons from all fields and throughout history, both for evil and for good (several ways of escaping Colditz, for example).

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks: Re-reading this after many years. I think I got more out of it this time. Still a great survey of the brain and the strange ways it can go wrong.

Doctor Who: The Mutants DVD: One of my favorite stories ever, still holding up very well after all this time. Both amused and horrified by the "Race Against Time" documentary accompanying it; seriously, the BBC ran a minstrel show until 1979???

Previous: Scintillations | Picofarad #24 contents | Next: Movie reviews

Picofarad home