1. The Myst series. Some of my favorite games ever; they’re huge and beautiful and novelistic . . . especially because the games revolve around a race of people who can create worlds by writing about them. Very cool stuff. The second game, Riven, is probably my top pick, but they’re all great. I can’t even remember how many hours I spent trying to figure out just one more puzzle. And they had some wonderfully eerie moments too. Also, they have almost no violence, so if you don’t like shooting endless hordes of monsters, they’re a good choice.
2. The soundtrack to the original Conan the Barbarian film, composed by Basil Poledouris. I can’t overstate my love for this music. It’s some of the greatest film music ever composed. Even if you’ve never seen the film itself, I guarantee that you’ve heard snippets of the score in numerous film trailers. It’s great writing music for battle scenes, but also for smaller, more romantic moments. All around, a wonderful inspiration. If you absolutely, positively have to get yourself pounding away on the keys, just put on “The Battle of the Mounds” and let the awesomeness sweep you away.
This month I’ve been listening to audiobooks of the Nero Wolfe detective novels, by Rex Stout. I’d fallen in love with the stories after watching the TV series. Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin’s portrayal of the characters is simply splendid. And after hearing the original text, I think they captured the essence of the gruff, obese, intellectual Wolfe and his wise-cracking sidekick perfectly.
The adventures are set in 1930s New York City and narrated by the character of Archie Goodwin, who works from Nero Wolfe’s home and acts as his go-to man. Nero Wolfe, with his enormous weight, chooses not to leave home, except under the most extraordinary circumstances. Wolfe is a man of refinement, however, who cultivates orchids on the top floor of his home, keeps a ridged schedule (in other words, will only see clients and do business during certain hours), and has on his payroll a butler who acts as cook and who must put up with his boss’ most discriminating cooking requirements. For all his eccentricities, Nero Wolfe’s tremendous mental capacities allow him to solve murder cases that flummox the police.
In the TV series, I was delighted to see meticulous attention to detail in regard to the clothing, cars, and accoutrements of the era. Fritz, the butler, wears the most gorgeous waistcoats. Humorous moments balance the more intense ones when the search is on to find out whodunit. The pace never lags.
For either a good read or an enjoyable watch, I highly recommend these mysteries.
Two years ago I read Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, and enjoyed it’s fresh take on the fantasy genre and dragons. This month, I was delighted to read an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) of the sequel, Shadow Scale.
Ms. Hartman has created a lively, well-researched world where dragons can shape shift into human form. While Seraphina was an engaging story that followed well-trod paths, the sequel breaks away from familiar territory to take the characters to new and unexpected places.
The land is European-based but is not restricted to the standard pseudo-British tropes of much of the genre. The countries have vastly different social structures emerging from power based on military might, diplomatic wile, trade, religious influence, or rich natural resources. One country follows the trade-centered, republican city-state model of Ancient Greece and another is a religious monarchy strongly influenced by Portugal and Spain.
Worldbuilding aside, the characters are compelling, diverse, and realistic. Each struggles with conflicted opinions about complex situations. And the dialogue sounds like real people, not this pattern that is so frequent in fantasy:
“We need to do This.”
“No, we can’t because of That.”
“Then let’s try Other Thing.”
The villain of Shadow Scale is one of the most inventive, memorable, and terrifying that I’ve read this year. As the end drew near, I could not predict how the characters would escape the antagonist’s treacherous plans.
From a writer’s perspective, I enjoyed the way that Ms. Hartman effortlessly moved the story through sections that others might have spent a great deal of time on. She is always moving the story to the next exciting thing, never getting bogged down with travel or planning scenes.
I finished the two available DLC for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel video game. So far I am underwhelmed by the “Handsome Jack” and “Holodome” DLCs, especially when you compare them to the four excellent DLC packs for Borderlands 2, along with the Ultimate Vault Hunter mode and Digistruct Peak Challenge. 2K Australia needs to come up with some real story and compelling content in the future DLC.
I completed the main story of Call of Duty: Black Ops II and did some multiplayer. I did not go for all the achievements. This franchise is seriously stale in my opinion. The Treyarch game developers decided to throw in a modified turn-based thing call Strike Force missions into the mix. What a pain! Did not like. The game grossed $1 billion in fifteen days after it released. It was a success, but to me this game was meh.
I finished the first installment of Tales from the Borderlands from Telltale Games. This is like a graphic novel in game form. I enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to the rest when it releases.
Far Cry 4 from Ubisoft arrived a couple weeks ago. It takes place in a fictional country called Kryat in the Himalayas, run by a deliciously insane CIA endorsed dictator king. Much fun was had with this game in single-player campaign mode. The multiplayer part didn’t spark much interest for me, especially compared to multiplayer in the Borderlands games. I got all the achievements.
I am mid-stream playing Assassin’s Creed Rogue, the latest yearly installment from Ubisoft. This game feels like an Part Two of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I like the world that the developers have created in the Assassin’s Creed games. I have criticisms of the game mechanics. For example, when you are running you can end up accidentally going up trees, poles, walls, and other obstructions when you didn’t intend to do that. It is very annoying, especially when you are in a chase or being shot at. This is part of the game engine and something that I would love to see fixed in future games.
We watched Big Bang Theory: Season 7 (and this was good stuff) on DVD and in “The Indecision Amalgamation” episode, Sheldon has a problem. He can’t decide whether to get the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4. It was very funny, but I understood exactly his dilemma and all the technical details he was considering. You can watch a clip of it here. I know that the new generation of consoles aren’t backward compatible with older games and this bothers me. But when it’s time, I will go with the Xbox One. I don’t want to start my achievements from scratch.
Why Big Bang Theory: Season 7 instead of Season 8? Five years ago we cut the metaphorical cord and dumped Dish Network. We had them for a long time, but getting rid of them was just fine. Every time we are traveling and see a television with cable channels, we can’t believe anyone still watches the thing with commercials and other interruptions. The real length of a “one hour” show on cable or broadcast television is around forty three minutes. 36% of an hour long show is commercials! Seriously, does anyone like the cable crawler that takes up the bottom third of the screen that announces drivel while you are trying to watch the last few minutes of a movie? Streaming and discs are major favorites of ours.