Posts Tagged With: Review

REVIEW – The History of the Commodore 64 in Pixels by Chris Wilkins

C64 in PixelsTonight’s review is a bit of a departure, as the book I’m reviewing is not sci-fi or fantasy. In fact, it’s non-fiction. While it’s not the first non-fiction book I’ve reviewed here, non-fiction is definitely not the focus of my reviews. While you can find The History of the Commodore 64 in Pixels on Amazon, getting a hold of it might be challenging; I don’t believe it’s in general distribution. I received this book as part of a Kickstarter to which I contributed last year. In short, this book recounts the history of an oft-forgotten member of the gaming scene, the Commodore 64 personal computer.

When you think of what they had to work with: a roughly 1 MHz processor and 64K of RAM, it’s really amazing what the programmers from around the world accomplished on the brown, breadbox-shaped machine.

There’s a common element in a lot of the stories told in this book: the SID chip, a powerhouse (for the time), 3-voice synthesizer widely recognized as a musical instrument in its own right. The music and sound-effect capabilities of the C64 were unparalleled in the home PC market.

All of this are told as a series of essays by the people who were captivated and inspired by this machine to try their hand at programming and composition and created some of the great games for which the C64 is remembered.

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REVIEW – Redemption: In Her Name Omnibus

In Her NameI picked up In Her Name (Omnibus edition, comprising Empire, Confederation, and Final Battle) to read on vacation not knowing what to expect. Once I started, I was sucked in and could not put it down. Michael R. Hicks has a way of leaving you wanting more at the end of every chapter. The characters are fully-realized and three-dimensional. The protagonists are sympathetic and relateable while the villains are despicable More than once I wanted to just fast forward to see the villains get theirs, so much did I hate them.

The alien race featured in this stories, the Kreelan, are a warrior culture who fights for honor and the love of personal combat. It would have been easy to make them Klingon-clones, but as Hicks develops the culture you learn about their tragic history and the Kreelan become more sympathetic than most of the human characters. I had a hard time sympathizing with the human desire for ultimate victory once I bought into the Kreelan Way. Though, I did get worried when I detected a bit of the Mighty Whitey trope in play. Fortunately Hicks handles this well with just enough of a twist to remind us that tropes are not necessarily bad.

When I detected the story was near its end, I started to get sad, because I didn’t see how a happy ending was going to be possible with the perceived amount of pages remaining, but I put the book down satisfied with the resolution and wanting to learn more about the cultures to which I’d been introduced.

In Her Name is good space opera with a healthy dose of fantasy (though, is it? Any sufficiently advanced technology will appear magical to outsiders, a point was very happy to see acknowledged by one of the characters.). It is by far, one of the best books (well, three books, actually) I’ve read on my Kindle thus far, and one of the most entertaining sci-fi series I’ve read period since I first read Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing novels.

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REVIEW – Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Aftermath coverWriting this review was difficult. I intended/expected to blow through this book as quickly as I did Wendig’s Heartland Trilogy, but I just couldn’t. Oddly, I had the same trouble getting through the last media tie-in novel I read, Star Wars – A New Dawn, but more on that later…

If you want the short, short version: I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I really wanted to like it. I’ve read the majority of the Star Wars Extended Universe novels now relegated to Legends, and I have no beef with Disney essentially wiping out the EU to start over.

The longer version: Aftermath starts off after the Battle of Endor as seen in Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Some time has passed as the New Republic is established with Mon Mothma at its head (much like in the old continuity). It’s easier to just cut & paste the plot blurb from Amazon than for me to write a whole new one, so, from the Amazon blurb:

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

There are a lot of elements I should like in Aftermath. For years, I wanted more novels focusing on new characters; I felt the adventures of the core trio (Leia, Luke, and Han) were overplayed and tired. My favorite Star Wars novels are the X-Wing series written by Michael Stackpole for that very reason. Quirky, wierd characters like the re-programmed Mr. Bones tend to be among my favorites. The cameos by existing characters like Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar don’t overshadow the actions of the protagonists.

Still, there was something about the novel that didn’t gel for me. It wasn’t the point-of-view. I was well-acquainted with Wendig’s use of present-tense and was used to his writing style since I finished three of his books just prior to starting this one. The new characters didn’t resonate with me, not Norra and Temmin Wexley, Rae Sloan (a character returning from Star Wars – A New Dawn, which I mostly enjoyed), nor turncoat Sinjir or bounty hunter Jas Emari. I didn’t dislike them, per se, I just didn’t get strong feelings for them. Maybe I just really wanted to read more about Wedge’s adventures, and if you go into this novel hoping he’s a main character, you’ll be disappointed.

I get that some people don’t like Wendig’s writing style. One thing I’ve learned from decades of reading and writing is that not everyone’s writing style is compatible with everyone’s reading style. There are well-regarded, immensely popular authors I don’t read because I can’t stand their writing style. I’m not going to say they’re bad writers; their success belies that claim (and yes, bad things can be successful, but art is subjective).

I can’t quite place why this novel didn’t appeal to me. And no, it had nothing to do with the so-called “homosexual agenda” in the book. One character stating his or her preference does not an agenda make, nor I did feel it was “shoved down our throats.” (There was a second couple featured, too, if I remember, but again, it’s not A Thing; it just is.) Frankly, it’s good to see greater representation for all gender and sexual identities in popular media. It’s good for us as a species to accept what is different. It’s how we grow.

Maybe, my Star Wars tie-in fiction burn-out is complete. The Force Awakens was great and I enjoyed it more than any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, but ever since the New Jedi Order series, I have had a very difficult time enjoying any Star Wars novels.

Still, I won’t say “don’t read this book.” Aftermath is well-written and well-paced. It’s certainly not the worst Star Wars novel I’ve ever read, but it’s not the best, either. Above average, maybe? I did grow on me as I got further along, but overall, it just didn’t resonate with me as a Star Wars fan. If you’re a die-hard fan who is eager to see what await in the new continuity, you’ll probably enjoy Star Wars: Aftermath. If you’re a die-hard “The Old EU is Sacrosanct!”-type, you’re probably not even going to bother. If you don’t care about the EU one way or another, perhaps you’ll find something of value here. Certainly, there are worse ways to return to a galaxy far, far away. This is definitely another case where I wish I could award half-stars, so just add another 1/2-star on mentally.

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QUICK REVIEW – Shadowrun: Nigel Findley Omnibus

shadowrun-nigel-findley-omnibusYou don’t have to be a fan of the Shadowrun setting to enjoy these urban fantasy/cyberpunk novels by the late Nigel Findley. The stories are all engaging, illustrative, and thoroughly enjoyable. While some knowledge of the Shadowrun world is helpful, you should be able to catch on fairly quickly through context. If you’re not familiar, the world is our future, magic has returned and so have elves, orcs, dwarves, trolls, and dragons.

I do love these stories, but I there are numerous typos, some of which cause me to re-read the sentence several times to work out what the word really means. I haven’t yet determined if this is a problem with adapting these books to the Kindle format, or if these typos existed in the original work. Still, they aren’t a show-stopper, and I’m sad we will get no more from this talented author.

It appears that neither the Omnibus, nor the individual stories, 2XS, Shadowplay, Lone Wolf, and House of the Sun are available on Amazon anymore, or anywhere I can find in electronic format. It’s a shame; from what I hear, Nigel Findley is among the most well-regarded of Shadowrun authors and the loss of his work in this format is a travesty.

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REVIEW – The Kindle Fire

I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire the day they were announced and received it yesterday. I have a 3rd generation Kindle Keyboard, so I considered this an upgrade so my wife and I wouldn’t compete over the Kindle. I knew going into it that the Fire wasn’t an iPad Killer; it’s designed for a different type of user.

It’s my first time using an Android-based device. UI response can be a bit wonky, and like many reviews said, it’s sometimes a bit slow to reconnect to WiFi after being asleep, though I’ve noticed that it’s improved since yesterday (night-time OS patch, perhaps?). I figure UI wonkiness will get patched soon; it’s a new product, customized OS, so there’ll be wrinkles to iron out.

A lot of my friends are gamers, and I own a lot of gaming-related PDFs, so how it handled PDFs was going to be the big determinator for me on whether or not I would keep my Kindle Fire, or just get a Kindle Touch. Default PDF handling isn’t great. The screen makes them look pretty, but they don’t make good use of real estate, so you have to zoom in to read anything (unless you have electronic microscope eyes). There’s also no ability to search within the PDF (that’s a KILLER downside).

BUT, there’s an app for that. Since I didn’t want to invest any more money while I was evaluating the product, I went cheap and got Acrobat Reader for it (free). Sure, you now have to open a PDF while in an app rather than opening the file directly, but you have to do that on a PC anyway. Reader allows searching within PDFs. Navigation is better in Reader, as well. I’ve heard there are paid apps out there that do a better job with PDFs than Acrobat Reader, and since Reader is good enough for my needs, I think I’ll hang onto my Kindle Fire. If you’re using multi-column PDFs as a reference at a game table, it’ll work fine. Reading them might be a little annoying, but if you have a single-column layout PDF, there’s absolutely no problem reading them.

Reading prose isn’t as pleasant as an e-ink screen, but I knew that going into it. Video looks great. Web browsing works well; I understand that’ll improve as more people use it and the Silk servers get more info cached.

It’s not a perfect device, but the form factor is nice (it fits in the front pockets of my Dockers). It weighs less than a pound (not much, but still), and it’s easy to work with. File organization isn’t as robust as I’d like; I want to organize my bookshelf by Author within Genre, and I can’t really set up my own organization scheme (maybe I haven’t discovered how yet). For some reason, some of the books I sideloaded (ebooks I bought from Baen or Smashwords) show up as documents rather than books, and I can’t organize document within folders. Apparently, the issue has to do with tags in the metadata. The Fire categorizes these files as documents instead of books, despite the facts that they’re .mobi files. I can fix it myself with Calibre, but I shouldn’t have to. I expect some, if not all of these issues will be resolved with OS updates; I can’t imagine Amazon keeping the OS static.

The Fire feels sturdy, looks good, and fulfills my needs in a tablet device. I can see using this as a replacement for my laptop when I take short trips; unless I need to write extensively, I can do everything on my Fire I can do on my laptop. The 8GB is sufficient for me since I don’t plan on storing music on my Fire (I have an iPhone), nor do I plan on storing video; I’ll just stream what I need from Amazon Prime or Netflix (free app; and we already have a subscription).

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