Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Children's choir perform's Portal's "Still Alive" closing song

Surely you've heard of Portal. The intense first person non-shooter released by Valve. Perhaps best known for the meme The Cake is a Lie! and of course the closing song Still Alive by Jonathan Coulton. Here the Gifford Children's Choir performing Still Alive live!

If your unfamiliar with the song, hit the break for the original version!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Space-O the 1950's card game

Found via Boing Boing is the Flickr feed of Thomasallenonlin who posted scans of a 1950's era Jetsons styled card game called Space-O. The artwork is actually pretty good for the time. The only thing its missing is the Jetpacks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A to Z of Awesomeness

My favorite is Optimus Prime Obliterating Oompa Loompas. I would pay good money to see that come to life! I came up with a replacement to Y with Yoda and the Yellow Ranger Yodeling in Yellowstone. What can you come up with? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Master of None by Sonya Bateman

Master Of None

Gavyn Donatti, a professional thief, is hired to steal a small item for a local crime boss, but somehow Gavyn manages to lose the item before handing it over to his employer, and this bit of bad luck ends up sending Gavyn on the run. He is saved along the way by a Djinn named "Ian." When circumstances outside of their control lead them into a contentious partnership, they must learn to work together in order to save their loved ones and maybe the world.

I loved the concept of the book. I've not yet come across an urban fantasy that involves genies. There are plenty of things to like in Master of None: unique concept, humor, and interesting characters. Sonya Bateman does a nice job of making her characters believable with their own personalities. The genies themselves are very cool characters — not like any genie you'd expect. Their powers are limited and are not at all "wish" based. I would have liked to explore more of the Djinn world (we only get a small taste of it), but I'm guessing this will be explored in later books.

Sonya Bateman is also quite capable of writing intense action. The action scenes were probably the second most endearing thing to me besides the story concept itself. The action was realistic, intense, and almost never resolved in a way I expected. Complex and daring plans tended to end with mixed results, much like they would in the real world. There were plenty of moments in Master of None that had me anxious to turn the page.

"Wow sounds great Justin!, but why only 2.5 stars?" Funny you should ask, because I'm about to tell you. There were many moments in the story that felt awkward. First, the opening was very hard to swallow. I know one of the toughest things to do in urban fantasy is to make your magical world fit into reality, but since that's what pretty much defines the genre, it's important to pull it off smoothly — and Sonya Bateman doesn't. Gavyn buys being tossed into a world that has genies just a little too quickly. I had to mentally set that aside in order to make the story work. There were also moments in the dialog that were out of place. Here's an example in the form of a multiple choice question:

Q: The love of your life has just been witness to the aftermath of a loved one having been skinned alive. You’re in the car heading away from the scene. What do you do?
A. Offer consoling words of love and support
B. Vow revenge on the perpetrator
C. Get all hot with passion at the site of your lover’s resolve
D. All the above

Well, if you’re the main character in Master of None, you choose option D. Talk about awkward. "Hey babe, sorry about Jenny being skinned alive, I’ll kill the bastard who did this. My god, that perfume you're wearing... it’s so hot!" Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but it was still a moment that stuck with me throughout the whole story.

Secondly, the magic system was annoyingly inconsistent. At the beginning of the story, Ian is capable of making Gavyn's needs appear. He gets thirsty, he somehow ends up with beer. He needs a smoke, all he has to do is check his pocket. Then you get towards the end and everybody is dying of thirst... suddenly genies are no longer able to generate anything useful. Beer and smokes are fine, but water is out of the question? That’s just poor planning on the author's part. There were many of these little inconsistencies throughout the book. Taken individually they seem small, but added together I couldn't overlook them.

Over all, I still recommend giving Master of None a try, especially if you're getting tired of the monster hunter stories that currently saturate the urban fantasy market. Sonya Bateman's story has a lot of potential, and there's a good chance she'll hit it out of the park with the sequel because everything she needs for an amazing series is there. I'm anxious to see if she pulls it off in a second book.

You can also learn more about Sonya Bateman's books at the Fantasyliterature Bateman's page

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Empire In Black And Gold

I’ll be honest; I struggled with the beginning of this book. I even tried to pass it off to other reviewers. I felt that I wasn’t jiving with the whole premise. I kept reading because I recognized quality writing and hoped that in itself would endear me to the story. Well, it did. I was so glad I didn’t set this one down. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s characters and world grew on me and I finished the last ¾ of the book in half the time it took me to read the first ¼.

Empire in Black and Gold, at its heart, is very much an epic fantasy. You have a band of heroes from various backgrounds coming together on a quest to stop the conquest of a brutal warrior race, hell-bent on destroying everything in their path. There are sword fights, magic, and exotic beauties. To these classic tropes, Tchaikovsky adds steam engines, flying machines, universities, and the sciences. It’s the weird mix of epic fantasy and more modern elements that gave me such a hard time at the start.

The world Tchaikovsky creates is complex. All the myriad races that inhabit his world are based on a kindred insect. For example: Mantis Kinden are a proud and lean fighting race. They have spurs of bone that protrude from their arms. They are genetically predisposed to blood lust, which gives them special abilities. Beetle Kinden are smart and good with their hands. They can sometimes even fly and see in the dark. These abilities are not necessarily magic, but gained through genetic heritage and a form of meditation. The line between “natural abilities achieved via meditation” and “magic” is confusing and not exactly clear. That may have been the author’s intention, since many of this world’s inhabitants do not acknowledge magic at all. Sprouting wings and firing balls of energy are perfectly acceptable, but scrying and mind reading are just not within the realm of their logic. All these concepts are thrown at the reader right at the start, so it can be difficult at first to get into the flow of the novel. But once you get past the initial learning curve of Tchaikovsky’s world, Empire in Black and Gold turns out to be a wonderfully unique and exciting place to be.

The characters are as diverse as the races they belong to. They each carry with them the baggage of their heritage, but as the story progresses they each grow and change based on the experiences they encounter. I found myself frustrated by the beetle’s lack of imagination, and frightened by the mantis’ lust for violence. These challenges grow the characters in emotional and surprisingly physical ways.

If you are growing a little tired of the medieval sword-and-sorcery style fantasy world, you should certainly give Empire in Black and Gold a read. It’s a unique piece, and the beginning of an ongoing series. I found it enjoyable and believe that most any fan of epic fantasy will find something to like here. The story is continued in Dragonfly Falling, which is due to release in the States this April.

You can also learn more about Tchaikovsky's books at the Fantasyliterature Tchaikovsky's page

Friday, March 12, 2010

Geeks On Fire! Takes on EBook readers: Round 3 - The Plastic Logic Que

This is my third entry into my on going series on Ebook Readers. You can read the first and second I did on the Bookeen Opus HERE and the Samsung E6 HERE

Size: 11 in x 8.5 in x 0.3 in Standard paper size. Which is large in the ebook world, Comfortable to hold in your hands, but it's not exactly designed to fit in your pocket.

Display: 8.53 in x 6.4 in Nice and big. Perfect for reading just about anything comfortably.

Connectivity: WiFi and 3g...very very nice. This thing also uses mini usb, which is uber standard. You could find cords that match this everywhere. It also comes packed with bluetooth. The Que, connection wise is perfect.

Format it reads: ummmm...everything? PDF files, Microsoft Office® documents, including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations, as well as ePub, GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, Text and HTML. If it reads word, I'll assume it read Lit files also.

Storage: 4gb and 8gb versions. Nothing to scream about, and doesn't appear to be expandable. It will do though.

Cost: QUE starts at $649.00 for the 4GB QUE model with WiFi to $799.00 for the 8GB model with WiFi and 3G. I hate you Plastic Logic. Seriously the only thing keeping you from making the IPad appear even more useless is the price point. You drop this thing for $299 and it's game over. People would buy an ipod touch for ipoddy things, and they would buy a Que reader for everything else...why so high....why?????

Conclusion: This is just about the perfect reader. I could go for something little smaller, but the options that it offers more than make up for the portability drawbacks. The ink screen means super long battery life, and the formats it supports means you can read just about anything. The partners it has is impressive as well. There isn't much not to like about the Que, except the price. Which is ridiculous. If the price was lower, this would be a no brainer.

Chance of me asking for this from The Asian Overlord (my wife): at it's current price point - None. If it ever gets in the $300 range, I'll be buying for sure.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abstract City

I saw this posted on NYT website and wanted to pass it along. Abstract City makes "visual puns" from what look like maps. Check it out

Fantasy/Scifi Cage Match on Suvudu!

suvudu cage match!

Holy crap this is an awesome idea. You're favorite characters from speculative fiction duking it out to the death!. Harry Dresden vs. Conan anyone?? This is too cool, but Harry is losing WTF? I love me some conan, but come on...he'd be toast against Dresden. If the torrent of fire didn't do it, the .45 Desert Eagle would.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Audio Book Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock edited by John Joseph Adams

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

In this collection of stories, compiled by John Joseph Adams, a variety of authors invent cases that Sherlock Holmes might encounter if our world were just a bit different. These are cases in which the “improbable” occurs. Most of the stories involve some sort of fantastical situation in which Holmes is required to go outside of his normal logic-based abilities and enter the realm of fantasy. The array of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi authors is quite extensive. Laurie King, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Baxter and Robert Sawyer are just a few of the names that grace this anthology.

I enjoyed the premise of the book very much. I’m an urban fantasy fan, and this sounded right up my alley. Many of the stories stay true to the theme, but a significant number are just typical Holmes stories: he gets involved in a case that seems fantastic, but by the end he is able to explain what happened in his usual surprisingly mundane way. I was a little disappointed that so many of these stories were not the “improbable” type that the book advertises. The whole hook was supposed to be that these are Sherlock Holmes stories that go beyond the normal. That small complaint aside, I found the majority of the tales enjoyable. I love a good mystery, and I love to watch Sherlock Holmes pick apart a case using his inhuman deduction skills. You will find plenty of that in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

There are a few stories that really stand out. Tim Lebbon’s “The Horror of the Many Faces” captures the spirit of the collection perfectly. Watson bears witness to a series of grisly murders. The story takes an unnatural path, and stretches the imagination by the time it concludes. Although the things that happen would be impossible in the actual Holmes universe, “The Horror of the Many Faces” never loses the spirit of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Neil Gaiman’s entry, “A Study in Emerald,” is another that stood out for me. In a Lovecraftian world, where the dark beasts are now our rulers, Holmes works a case involving a murder of one of the ruling races. Very entertaining and twisted stuff, as we have come to expect from Gaiman.

I listened to The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on a set of 18 discs released by Brilliance Audio. As in the original Holmes tales, the stories are primarily dictated from the point of view of Holmes’ friend and sidekick, Dr. Watson. Simon Vance provides the voice of the male characters, and he is nothing short of brilliant. He switches from Watson to Holmes seamlessly, and adds inflections that match the ages and personalities of the characters perfectly. His voice acting instantly took me away to the Holmes world. I did cringe a little whenever he was forced to do an “American” accent, but I will say that his American accent is worlds better than my English one! Anne Flosnick is another voice contributor and does a great job as well. It’s obvious that the voice actors were cast with great care.

The beginning of the book gives a welcome introduction to the Holmes universe. I am not altogether familiar with the cast of characters that appear in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, so I was grateful for the short history lesson, and it left me much more knowledgeable about certain figures in the stories.

I had a lot of fun listening to this anthology, and the production quality was flawless. My hour-long commute to work went by much more quickly, and for that I’m grateful. I would also suggest that readers take their time with Adams’ collection. The stories are best enjoyed one or two at a time. I found they tended to mesh together when going through them one after the other. When I read one or two and then moved on to something else, I found that to be the most enjoyable way to experience these stories.

You can also learn more about various anthologies at the Fantasyliterature Anthology page

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

HBO greenlights 'Game of Thrones' to series! (pic) -- The Live Feed | THR

Yay! According to The Hollywood Reporter "Game of Thrones" has been green-lit on HBO. Many fantasy have been watching the development of this HBO series for quite some time. It's great to finally see that it is 100% going to happen. They released a picture as well (below), which I can assume is Jon Snow somewhere beyond the wall. Read THR's article linked below.

HBO greenlights 'Game of Thrones' to series! (pic) -- The Live Feed | THR

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review Quickie: Map of Bones by James Rollins

Map of Bones

Second book in the sigma series, and a couple characters from the previous book play a roll, but mostly it's a whole new cast. Map of Bones is another action/adventure romp through the world, solving an ancient mystery and saving the world. Rollins writes good stuff, these stories are serious fun. Rollins takes the format he used in Sandstorm and makes tweaks to great improvement. I would recommend this book for any fan of action/adventure stories with who like a dash of scifi. I look forward to reading the next one.