The Games by Ted Kosmatka (book review)

Lately I read a book (or more correctly, a book on CD) called The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Short version: Jurassic Park meets The Hunger Games.  In a dystopic future where advanced in genetic manipulation have been reached, the various countries of the world have added a new event to the Olympics–a gladiator death match featured engineered creatures whose only rule is “no human DNA.”  Facing their first loss since the beginning of the games, the Olympic Committee of the US decides to forego its usual practice of designing custom DNA and instead ask the greatest supercomputer in existence (built and controlled by an autistic savant) to create the DNA code instead.  The creature, superior to any previous design and part of a greater secretive plan by the computer and its creator, of course escapes and wrecks havoc.

So, what are the plot holes of this book?

  1. Why would the ability to create whole new cross-phylum species of creatures (and the millions of dollars necessary to do it) we wasted on a creature that would die for little purpose in a deathmatch?
  2. Are we to believe that American culture, which has little stomach for cockfighting or dogfighting, would overwhelmingly support an Olympic match involving creatures killing each other?
  3. Or that such an event would feature no sensible security measures in the case of a creature getting loose?  Even zoos have guards.
  4. And how on earth can Olympic testers be able to detect “human DNA”?  Primate DNA is overwhelmingly similar to our own, and primate hybrids are shown in the games)
  5. After a big buildup about how bizarre the US gladiator is, how people are horrified and entranced by it, in its actual description its a jet-black humanoid with bat wings on its back, bat-like ears, and large, gray eyes.  It’s only halfway through the book that a truly minor character notes to himself that the creature looks like the devil.  But honestly, that’s what’s so scary?  There are croco-tigers and kangaroos with six inch claws in the games, but a big black creature looking like the monster from “Fantasia” is supposed to take the cake.
Because this guy is the terror of DC Comics.

Plot–predictable and almost dripping with foreshadowing (Hey, the main character likes archery!  Think that’ll matter later?)  The main characters come across as people that most individuals, if they met them in real life, wouldn’t really like very much.

And the ending?  Oy.  Pointless swerve, followed by underwhelming climax.  Even my son, when he heard about how the monster was eventually dealt with, said, “that’s it?”

What’s funny is that one of the dust jacket blurbs said, “it’s obviously destined for the big screen,” which is funny, because it is likely true.  Not because it is all that great, but because it is so painfully derivative and filled with low-brow pseudo-science that some producer will think it’s a winner.

Saga Vikings

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These are some plastic Vikings made by Wargames Factory that I painted up recently to use in a game of Saga: the Viking Age.  I painted up twenty of them: three units of four huscarls, and one unit of eight bondi.  That’s four points in the Saga rules.  I’ll be building it up to six points by probably adding another unit of eight bondi and a single unit of four berzerkers.

Book Review: Woken Furies

Woken Furies is the third (and I believe last) book by Richard Morgan featuring the body-jumping Takeshi Kovacs. Kovacs, back from his misadventures in Broken Angels, has returned to his home planet of Harlan’s World, the mostly ocean-covered world featuring the bizarre Martial “orbitals” that blast anything out of the sky.

In Woken Furies, Kovacs ends up hooking with a bunch of “decom” mercenaries whose job it is to wipe out a region on Harlan’s World that is under the control of robotic drones. The leader of the merc unit he joins turns out to have a bit of a weird glitch in her digital personality–a second persona claiming to be a notorious rebel leader. Kovacs is then swept up in the political and military intrigue of the planet as powerful forces attempt to recover her, even employing a bootleg version of his own personality from his youth in the Envoy corps.

In addition to a solid sci-fi romp, Morgan gets some of his magic back from Altered Carbon by focusing a lot on Kovacs’ personality and the conflict between his hard-earned cynicism and the various possible motivations available to him: revenge, duty, friendship, political revolution, and even love. Religion is thrown in as well, not as a viable option but to contrast the other forces at work in Kovacs and the other people around him. It’s a good reminder that what makes science fiction great isn’t blast guns or cyberware or strange alien ruins, it’s the opportunity to take a human being someplace away from what’s normal for us and see what continues to make him human. Kovacs is a conflicted, emotionally wounded figure for most of the book, and it works out very, very well.

Mordheim Reiklanders

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I’ve been painting up some Reiklanders for the miniatures game Mordheim so that my son and I can play together.  These are Empire Militia from the Warhammer Fantasy range, which are essentially the same miniatures as the mercenaries from Mordheim minus a few of the decorative options.

We’ve had a few games in with them, which were a lot of fun.  I’m wondering about taking a few from the Militia box set and painting them up in a different color scheme to use as Witch Hunters, maybe with a few flagellants thrown in.

A Simple Murder [Book Review]

A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

The story.  William Rees is a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a grieving widower, and an itinerant weaver.  When his son runs away from his sister’s care to join a community of Shakers near Durham, North Carolina, Rees leaves his wandering to attempt to reconcile with his son but becomes entangled in the murder of a young Shaker woman.

What I liked.  I like historical mysteries where the emphasis in on human psychology and old-fashioned sleuthing.  The Shaker community, called Zion, appears to be a collection of simple, God-fearing souls but of course in no time is revealed to be a complicated mess of human frailties and of course murder.  Kuhn clearly knows the period and frequently puts in as much color as she can to help bring the period to live.

What I didn’t like.  This is Kuhn’s first novel, but Rees seems to have just a bit too much backstory, with constant references to previous murders that he’s solved, including one where he was the prime suspect, old partners in solving crime, etc.  I don’t know if Kuhn has these other stories in the form of unpublished manuscripts or is laying the groundwork for a future prequel, but it felt forced in the story.  It did have the effect of explaining why a traveling weaver would be called on to solve a murder when there is a sheriff in the area whose job it would be in the first place.

In addition there’s a romantic subplot involving proto-feminist Lydia Ferrell whose relationship with Rees seems rushed somehow, as does Rees’ conversion from basically telling her to not speak in his presence to missing her presence every time they are apart.

Then there’s the murder itself.  It is not a complicated affair and I think most readers will at least pick up on the primary culprit without too much difficulty.  I actually talked myself out of believing who it was based on the clues because I expected some clever twist, some missed detail, that would point to someone else.

My takeaway.  I’m always looking for things to use in my own storytelling, and the notion of a bucolic, even boring community holding dark secrets is one that I did like about this book.  Kuhn treads into the water of having religious people revealed as hypocrites, but there are enough genuine, kind people (usually those on the fringe of the Shaker community) to make it not too blatant.

Buy, library, or skip?  I probably won’t be re-reading this book, but it wasn’t bad, so I’m  calling it a library check-out option.

Maybe I’m back

Three years ago, I moved from this blog to another hosted on Blogspot called The Army Collector, because I was thinking I’d be collecting armies.  I then set up another blog, called Graph Paper Games to cover my roleplaying games.  Then I started a blog strictly for my solo zombie game called Hard Boiled Zombies.  Which, if you’re counting, is three blogs, all fairly specialized.

There’s a lot I could write about how three years ago I was beginning a massive process of changing a lot of my life, and how that prompts blog-platform hopping.  But I’m also realizing a few things.  First, I don’t feel like collecting armies anymore, having built up a sizable Space Marines army over the last few years.  My roleplaying gaming is going well, but I’ve realized that RPG material isn’t all that interesting.

Finally, what do I do with wanting to write about a historical murder mystery?  Is it a wargaming thing?  A roleplaying thing?  Or just a thing I like?

That’s why I’m thinking of coming back here, to my blog that doesn’t really have a specific “theme.”  Speaking of theme, WordPress blogs just look great, while Blogger blogs all look a lot alike.

At a minimum, I’ll keep the zombie blog, since having an ongoing story there with a lot of people following it.  But I’m going to try blogging here again, not about a specific thing but whatever I want.  We’ll see how long that lasts.