Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmassy away time ... and a little loot

Hello again. It's been almost a week ...
I've been away visiting people and I'm now back into chilling out mode. I'm needing to recuperate after what feels like a very long year, although that year also whooshed by again. I may well be doing a review of the year type post on Monday (31st) ....

Christmas saw me making the trip up to see the mum, sister, sister's bloke and the dogs. A good trip. With bonus horse :
That's Temp, who was in very friendly mood and graciously accepting all head rubs that were being offered.
Although I suspect he was much more interested in his Christmas dinner.

It was good to see the dogs (and the family !) again. This is the first Xmas since we lost my dad, so certainly very different. (I'll miss him for a long time). He wasn't very well this time last year (mum was suffering from a heavy cold too), so we spent last Xmas up at their place but this year, I did transport and we all met up at my sister's place.
And the dogs. That's Icey, who will always be an anxious one although even when the initial excitement of NEW PEOPLE settled down into a more chill acceptance into the local pack, I think she was still a bit perturbed by what was is the other side of this picture. (Selfie cam). You have to treat Icey very gently and always remember that you're the guest in her home. If she needs space, she really needs that space. And she's also a big ball of white floof.
And that's the Murphster, who is always very keen to show how much he loves people. A very affectionate pooch who I suspect would be quite happy curling up in anyone's lap. He's a bit big for that though but I don't think he understands. (PS The hand is in that position to push against his upper chest, to stop him jumping up ... it's not a choke)
Oh and they're both massive fans of bacon.
And they very definitely took up their station under the dining table with an attitude of "This is our domain, any meatscraps that enter are ours now." :-D.

We were all suffering from colds (I'm still getting rid of one even now) but it was a good few days away with all of the family.
Some of them gave the impression that they'd fade away though without meatscraps.
Yep. We know what you're after !

I've been back for a few days and I'm looking to chill out and recuperate as much as I can before work starts again but so far :
Lots of Motorsport Manager, my team are now welded into the top league but we're still about 5th to 6th fastest with lots of catching up to do.
Little bit of Skyrim, with purple windows (a clash or a missing graphic asset) and enjoying a rather weird Cthulhu inspired mod. I'll be doing more random bimbling around in Skyrim over the next week.
Curiosity at the Steam sale, haven't actually bought anything yet.
Amazement at Amazon and iTunes. I get reward vouchers from my credit card and usually cash them in now to spend on iTunes or Amazon vouchers yet ... the e-vouchers are out of stock.

Yes. E-vouchers. Out of stock. That translates to "We aren't going to honour new ones of these at sales time". The sales offers at both Amazon and iTunes look particularly awful though, so I can wait a little bit.

I am not completely without loot though. As well as the fella in the first pic ... (and here's a better look at him on a tree just about able to hold his weight)
... There were sweet things :
The lemon sherbets have already disappeared (lush), I have the bonbons and the kola kubes, not started on the fudge yet and as that brownie wasn't packaged up, that disappears quickly too.

I thought I'd missed out on the gertlush marshmallows that are on sale around Lincoln (Naked Marshmallow Co, highly recommended) as they only had the burner kits on sale at the farm shop. But ....
Mums are the best and come through with unexpected marshmallow loot. Mums are also resistant to doggie hypnosis, despite this fella's best efforts :
(He got some of the leftovers later with the other bit going to Icey)

A good time away, great to see the family again. Lots of slurping by Murph and I think I'm accepted by the Icey one now.

But was the slurping a sign of affection or was it taste testing ? I still have all my fingers.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Days 23 and 24 - a perfect snowman

Yep. Two days worth today !
I'll be needing to get on the road sometime fairly soon and I wanted to post a picture of the entire collection for this year.

Today - Han and the Wookie Snowman. A good finish for the year I think.

Highlights for this year for me have been the AT-AT, the Naboo fighter, the Rose minifigure, another mini TIE Fighter and the speeders.

The books today had to be Lego. I definitely enjoyed putting together all three of the models corresponding to the books above. I haven't posted the pictures for the fighter yet but :

Here's a link to BB-8 ...
And the Millennium Falcon build.

The Falcon was before I really got into the swing of knowing when and how to take pictures as the build develops. I've got a lot of respect for how the Brick Builder fella does his videos, those must take a mountain of work to produce and present.

But yep. I'll be on the road fairly soon, pretty much as soon as I throw a bunch of things into a bag and stagger out of the door with them.

More posts later undoubtedly !

But for now - have a great holiday everyone.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 22 and a collection of Hills

What's behind today's door ?
I think it's some kind of tree today. (It's the green thing with 4 pointy things on the sides).

It's a Douglas Hill day today. I did that thing again where I look up the author to remind myself of their bibliography and discover they died a few years ago ! Same again here. The books above were all written in the 80s, which is mostly when I got to read them.

(I've snipped off the top so left to right it's : Warriors of the Wasteland, Exiles of Colsec and the Last Legionary Quartet).

It's a shame there won't be any more books from this author, he came out with some very readable, albeit pulpy books and I enjoyed reading them at the time. They rattle through extremely quickly and manage to pack in about as much action and narrative as you'd find in a book of twice their length. There's no messing about, straight into the story while still totally explaining what's going on. It's quite odd how they've never seen their way into television. They're almost totally made for being turned into a miniseries.

First up today is Warriors of the Wasteland, middle book of the Huntsman trilogy. This series is about Finn Feral, huntsman who leaves his home village after his family is abducted by the mysterious alien slavers. This one is set in the far future, on an Earth where aliens have invaded and effectively destroyed civilisation with humans being set back into a hunter gatherer existence. There are 3 dominant races, the brutish beastmen who enforce the will of the alien slavers and the humans are the subjugated third race.

This one sees Finn make his way across the land he has found himself in, getting ever closer to where the alien slavers have taken his family. But .... there are other perils in the Wasteland.

In the middle, we have Exiles of Colsec, which is another far future novel. Except this time the oppressors are humans and they didn't get beaten to the stars by aliens.

This one sees a misfit group of outcasts getting dropped on an untouched planet. The main tactic of Colsec (Colonisation Section) is to round up prisoners and drop them on to new planets. If they survive, Colsec moves in to take over what they've started to set up. If they die, then Colsec drops more people. A set up that is in typically brutal Douglas Hill style. However, this time the spaceship has crashed, leaving the survivors with even less supplies than usual and there's a prison guard who was expecting to be able to gone home, he's stranded with them too.

But ... it gets worse ! There are many alien critters on this planet and they're just waking up to a new food source.

This one sees the colonists attempt to survive, the next book (Caves of Klydor) sees them attempting to repel an incursion by Colsec with the third having them look to turn the tables on Colsec.

Another trilogy I must re-read at some point.

Last up is the Last Legionary Quartet, which I wrote about in a couple of the 52 books series earlier this year. (Link to Last Legionary, link to the other 3). A quick summary :

Humanity has colonised the galaxy and spread across all of its boundless expanse. Conflict abounds and the most elite fighting force in the galaxy has just been annihilated by unknown forces. The protagonist, Keill Randor, finds himself ending up as the Last Legionary of Moros. He immediately sets out to figure out what happened and his investigations through the 4 books lead him to the source of growing chaos in the galaxy.

Another good set of books !

The next couple of days will be a little odd with Advent. I should post up tomorrow's one fairly early but Monday's may be a little odd due to travel. We shall see what I can post !

Friday, December 21, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 21 and a racer

What's in the box !
I'm pretty sure that's a speeder bike out in front there.

It's getting pretty crowded up there isn't it ! I'll be looking to acquire more soon. My credit card comes with loyalty vouchers and this is the time of year that I look to turn in those accumulated vouchers. We'll see. I'm still not recovered yet from the bugs and it feels like letting the foot off the throttle after breaking up from work has led to a general ugh where my energy levels have collapsed.

Books today ?

Robert E. Howard was the original creator of Conan, which is a character that's been super popular in tales like the Dungeons and Dragons. Perhaps a much better setting than settings like Middle Earth or those D&D worlds.

The original Conan was a tough nut but far smarter than the Conan we see in the Arnie movies. However, I do love the Arnie movies as well. I think I own the Conan Exiles game too via a Humble Bundle offer but I've never played it.

Good stories to build on and that movie was fantastic, from the story, the characters and that sublime Ennio Morricone music.

Next up is another Mars book. I just thought, I should have run a feature where all of the books for the day were different Mars books ! Today it's Mars by Ben Bova, which is another book I enjoyed hugely when it first came out. I may well have been a big Ben Bova fan.

After Red Mars, which saw a new permanent settlement on Mars and The Martian, which was a rescue book, this one is more akin to the setting of the Martian. Jamie the Indian is part of a multinational expedition to be the first to live on Mars. For a while at least, they have a few months to explore and evaluate whether further expeditions are worth undertaking.

There are events, accidents and a slow burning disaster that creeps up on the expedition members. A good read at the time, although that slow burning disaster is a little too slow if I remember right.

One curiosity about the 3 Mars books is the technology in use for survival.

Red Mars has the colonists in very light heated pressure suits. Kinda like a high tech onesie.
The Martian uses conventional space suits and EVA work suits.
Mars uses something more like Powered Armour.

Very curious how the different authors approached the problem of surviving on the surface.

Last one today is non fiction for a change. It's Black Hawk Down from Mark Bowden.

This one follows the film quite closely (or the other way around). There is almost certainly a fair bit of artistic licence introduced here where the dialogue won't match what was actually said and events happening differently etc but .... it's an exceptional tale of what of how things can go wrong in the military environment and it's a visceral tale of what confronts the people on the ground when it does go wrong.

It's from a while ago but I'd heavily recommend both film and book.

I think that's all I got energy for today ! Time to chill out to the videos, a Fuzzy stream and maybe it's time to pull Expanse book 7 out again.

Later !

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 20 and something old, something new

Oops. Late one again today.

Someone opened Stellaris and you know where that tends to go.
I'm pretty sure it's a transport shuttle today, from Rogue One again. I must watch Rogue One again soon, it's a great film.

So many films, books and games ... so little time ! I think I'd reached the ends of my reserves over the last week or so and was really glad of a chance to sleep in and switch off thoughts of responsibility today. My background stuff has been the cricket channel showing reruns from the summer and it's very nicely chill.

To the books !

Something I grew up with was a series called Robin of Sherwood. It had a wonderful soundtrack by Clannad which perfectly fit the setting. Here's a link to the title theme but I think Together We is a special highlight. The album is called Legend and it's an excellent one.

The book closely resembled the series and the series had a lot of fun in it. I can't remember too much of it (this was over 30 years ago !) but I thought the main star, Michael Praed and the rest of the cast were stunning.

Next up is something new, it's Excession by Iain M. Banks. I think this is the best of the Culture novels. It starts steady but quite soon in, a calamity occurs where an extra-dimensional / extra-galactic invader appears that is of equal or even better technology compared to the dominant Culture.

It's described in the book as an Outside Context Problem where something comes along that is so off the board, so unexpected, that there is no defense against it.

Must read this one again soon and I'd thoroughly recommend it to people interested in Iain M. Banks' Culture universe. Although I'd advice reading Consider Phlebas first as an introduction. The drama runs all the way through this book and the sense of The Culture Will Win In The End is thoroughly shaken up.

I wonder if the Nomnivorian Raveners will face an Outside Context Problem. Here's the situation at the moment :
They now feed on about a quarter of the galaxy (top right) and nothing has even slowed them down yet.

(They will face an Outside Context Problem. Google will tell me the console commands to summon one, two or even them all at the same time ....)

Last book for today is an older Robert Heinlein book called Sixth Column. This one was from 1941 and was first published as a novel in 1949. You'll be well aware of what was happening in the world at that time and this book borrows heavily from that.

It's set in the future (probably a bit ahead of today still). The PanAsians have steadily been taking over the world and enforcing a brutal regime on their subjects. America has just surrendered except for ... a lone outpost of 6 scientists who have just invented something amazing.

Can they survive ? What will their future be ?

Can they thrive ... can they take the battle to the enemy. And what will the cost be as the brutal PanAsian regime exacts a terrible revenge as reprisals against rebellion.

Oh and the Steam Xmas sale may have started. What shall appear ?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Walking into Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 19

5 more to go after today !
Sneakiness today.

The new Lego thingy is the AT-AT walker in front, I believe it's one of the command/coastal AT-ATs from Rogue One. You know, the ones with the orange thing in the middle that folded up under blaster fire.

First up today is How To Destroy The Universe (and 34 other really interesting uses of Physics) by Paul Parsons. A curious book, which goes into all sorts of physics theory/practical things like building the ultimate rollercoaster, how to stop a hurricane, invisibility cloak, teleport, recreating the big bang and other theories.

A curious book, acquired as a present a few years ago. (That Lexus letter that's in there as a book mark may well date it !) I read through to about half way, put it aside for other books meaning to go back to it. I really should at some point ......

In the middle is The Martian, which is a book that I think is rather superior to an excellent film. As with most fiction, the book has the scope to go into the thoughts, the theory, the background. Films are very limited by their duration and the need to keep the story rattling along. If it can't be explained visually or in quick explanation between characters, it has to go from the film. Books have far more licence to allow themselves to properly explain the story.

I would thoroughly recommend reading the Martian, it has humour and intelligence throughout but the key factor is that it also has accessibility. It explains its science in a way that hopefully everyone can understand.

(Aside - yes, it's a bluray ! My copy of The Martian is another Kindle book and I only have 1 iPad to show Kindle covers with !)

Last up is an older book, which probably inspired the film Interstellar. It's The Death of Grass by John Christopher.

This one is a contemporary book, which could have been set any time in the last 50 or so years. It's timeless and not bound by time, which is rare for a book like this. Indeed, the time it is set in does not matter, all that matters is its examination of people and their behaviour in crisis situations.

You see, an otherwise unknown germ is having its wicked way with the various grass species and grass worldwide, is steadily being wiped out.

That's a bit of a problem because the animals at the bottom of the foodchain all live on grass. And we do too cos wheat is a grassoid.

It's not the end though, as our motley collection have family that live in an isolated part of the Lake District, so they make preparations to travel there to hole out. Except that the collapse of civilisation comes far quicker than anyone predicted.

Cue a peril strewn trek across the country with potential sudden death around every corner and behind every door.

Another compelling book. Old but definitely still worthy of a read these days. Must watch Interstellar again sometime too.

But not yet because my level of energy at the moment is making me think that when I fall into bed later, I'll be asleep until Friday.

Nite !

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 18 and a quick one

Quick late one today !
Today's what's-in-the-box is a First Order TIE Fighter. At least I think that's what it means with the red on one side and black on the other.

I've pondered getting one of the bigger TIE Fighters (to add to several more smaller ones I have) but .... TIEs are a bit boring ? They're just a ball in the middle and a couple of big slabs to the side.

I did enjoy playing the TIE Fighter game and its expansion when it came out. I actually 100% finished that game. Good times. Actually literally unplayable too without a joystick. Keyboard controls were not an option. Strange !

I've been out tonight, getting the cards for Christmas and it let me catch the film Mortal Engines before its likely disappearance from one of the main local cinemas. I usually prefer to go to the Avonmeads cinema because it's quieter ... but you don't really want to be fighting your way across Bristol at rush hour.

It's a shame, this one is likely to be chased out of the cinema due to new arrivals (like Mary Poppins which is highly likely to be popular) and due to reports of very low box office turn out. It's a bit sad that a few highly promising films have all come out at the same time. There's a gap for a while and then several ones to watch come out at the same time. I'm not bothered by Aquaman (superhero movies of that type are wearing out their welcome) but would like to see the latest Spiderman.

Anyway - Mortal Engines !

It's set in the future after a fast apocalyptic war wrecks the Earth and changes our way of life. We now live in mobile cities.

A curious film, it invents its own universe and lore and brings you into that world quite nicely. Perhaps it drags at points (it's a Peter Jackson, these films tend to be overlong) but it keeps you interested in what's going on and the story moves along quite well.

I won't say too much more because of Spoilers but ... worth catching before it disappears.

I think I need to research and acquire the books for later reading, I bet they expand upon that lore so much more than we see in the film.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 17 and dungeons need dragons

Day 17 !

Not sure quite what to make of this one ...
It's a something with a light shade for a head. I have no idea what this one is supposed to be !

Moving swiftly on - to the books.

R.A.Salvatore has been writing Forgotten Realms books for decades now. And they're awesome. His central characters are Drizzt Do'Urden, Bruenor, Regis and their crew. But he's also played with other characters in the same world too.

This time sees the character Cadderly introduced, a monk who becomes the central character of the Cleric Quintet of which the first book is Canticle.

It's been quite some time since I read this one. I kinda remember the young, naive cleric/monk fella Cadderly and the fighter Danica who is far more interested in Cadderly than our monk fella can detect. The central theme of these books is the Chaos Curse and the struggle between Cadderly and the monks of the Edificant Library and the forces of the evil wizard Aballister and his sidekick Imp Druzil.

An interesting series of books with characters that nicely evolve through the series. I must go back to it at some point.

Next up is Crucible by Troy Denning. It's the second addition to the original Avatar trilogy and takes place many years after the events of the original. The Pantheon of the Realms has been reshaped and the assassin thief, Cyric, of the original trilogy has replaced the God of Murder. Except he's a bit of a loony .... and he wants to supplant the other gods.

In this one, his campaign to destroy the worshippers of the other gods has been brought to a halt and Cyric is on trial by the other gods for his insanity.

Another decent book, although I sense these are books that only people interested in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons game world will be the ones getting much out of these.

As an aside, in my campaign to listen through all of the music in the library again, I've now reached half way ! Only 4 months for 8300 songs. At the moment, I have Nina Persson's Animal Hearts album and it's a really good one. She has a fantastic voice and while this album doesn't have quite the interplay and inspiration of your usual Cardigans album, there are still some great songs here and the album shows off her voice really well.

Gonna listen to their song Communication in a bit. Great song. I should do a music post again sometime soon.

Last book for today ! This is an old one, published in 1988 and it's one of the earliest Forgotten Realms books.

The central character is our heroine Alias. She is a fighter who has woken in an unfamiliar inn with nothing to her name but a rather curious set of magical armour (yarp. It claims to be armour despite the .... gap) and the other gear of a sellsword. She also has a series of blue sigils tattooed into her arm. But no name.

Oh and there's also a strangely mute lizardman who is acting as her guardian, whether she wants him there or not. Alias calls him Dragonbait, introducing one of the more recurring characters who pops up in the Realms.

As is normal for this type of book, they're built around a limited party mechanic. Some of them even started out life as scenarios for the Dungeons and Dragons games. So in this one, Alias is a fighter, Dragonbait is a paladin and they pick up Ruskettle the Bard and Akabar the mage. The second book, The Wyvern's Spur, is a little unusual in that the party doesn't stay together. The second book is all about Ruskettle and then the gang comes back together for the finale in Song of the Saurials.

It's the Finder's Stone trilogy, co written by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb. A decent series.

I'm feeling a bit better today, although I did give up on attempting to do another bit of fan art. My drawing skills are still rather lacking, although the first attempt at an All Sketched By Me seems to have met with a good reception.
Yep. It's crude but you can hopefully make out a driver who is in mid face palm and a crazy, drunk Jaffa with a hat enjoying himself far too much in the passenger seat. (It's for a Las Vegas episode, so LHD). Oh and that spoiler at the back is not supposed to look like a dancing stick person.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 16 and .... tentacles .....

Bit confused about what monster this is today.
Bit tough to see today. I thought this was the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi ... (but apparently it's a Rathtar from Force Awakens).

And 4d sneaking in his shadow at the back there too.

Still feeling the effects of the bugs today so I've gone backwards somewhat to something I'm sure I posted a while ago ...
Can you tell what it'll be ? This was a bonus thing that came when I ordered my technic jet.
The backing and covers take shape but aren't quite attached yet.
Indistinct pages. A blank canvas ? (Yes - camera shake ! Oops)
There is little greater mystery in this world than the undiscovered contents of a book.
A polka dotted scene starts to take shape. What could it be ?
And a little more for the other side. Plus .... a name !
Finally, the finished scene. With our author narrating a tale to an entranced youngster with a park scene beside them.

More books tomorrow !

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 15 and a Rogue Trooper

I think Rose has found someone to aim that stun gun of her's at ...
We have a rogue trooper today, away from his barracks and with a Rose between him and the gun rack.

I think his future may be a bit dark.

A bit like the middle book ! It's Rogue Star by Andy Hoare. It's set in the grim dark future of the 40th millennium, yep it's another Warhammer 40k book. This one was a bit different because it wasn't looking into the Imperial Guard or the Space Marines or the Mechanicus as in Titanicus, this book was about the Rogue Traders who ply the dangerous spacelanes looking to bring good to those who will pay hefty amounts to receive them while avoiding the dangers out there.

This is another that I haven't read in a while but I remember it giving great descriptions of the worlds visited by Lucian Gerrit and his crew and the hidden dangers present. There's also a devastating space battle.

On to another rogue trooper and we have the first Mass Effect book, Revelation. This one is all about Captain Anderson and the rogue agent Saren. Saren doesn't like humans much and that's really brought home in this book. However, it's 200 and a bit pages that just expand out a few lines of dialogue in the game. If you've played it, then there isn't much extra here. You learn a bit more about characters that are fleshed out some more but there isn't much actually new.

If you're a fan of Mass Effect (and most game players are !), it's well worth it. But if you haven't played the games (please do, they are excellent) then this is one to avoid.

Best is last this time.

David Weber made his name with a character called Honor Harrington. She starts in this book as the Commander in charge of the light cruiser Fearless. The book opens with a set of training scenarios where Honor is fated to be on the losing side. She doesn't like this, so she turns the tables with some clever strategy.

Which a superior doesn't like and she finds herself semi-exiled off to the Basilisk Station (hence the name of the book !). She sets about sorting things out in the system, only for the People's Republic of Haven offer to take over and effectively annex the system.

The series of books is very definitely set up as a shifting situation with an ongoing war between the Manticore Star Kingdom (the English) and the Havenites (French revolutionaries) with the Andermani (Germans) and the bloated Solarian Empire (the Americans) looking on from the sidelines.

These are an excellent series of books, although I admit I did stop reading at Storm From The Shadows. That's the second in a spin off series and I'd read 12 of the main series.

The good - the technology that is in use for the ships is kept very consistent and (as much as scifi usually is) realistic. There are gravity drives in use which happen to get around the problem of human fragility to acceleration. The gravity drives provide the equivalent of shields but the main weaponry is a combination of long range missiles and shorter range Lasers and GRASERs (Gamma Ray lasers). The missiles are nuclear tipped and will attempt to knife their way through opposing ships by using X-Ray bomb pumped lasers. There is a lot of combat in the earlier books and it's presented extremely well.

But there's also an intelligence in the interactions of the characters. It's a series that stayed highly interesting up until the later books where too much daft politics started creeping in as well as silliness with the espionage related technologies.

I'd highly recommend this series as something to enjoy for however long you feel able to stick with it.

How's me ? I think I'm past the hump of my bugs, although they'll probably slow me down a fair bit. If I'd attempted to do anything physically then I'd have been flat on my back almost immediately.

Instead .... Stellaris. (And I probably just got the neighbours very concerned with an extended paroxysm of coughing, you know - the type where you see stars and there's a ringing in your ears.)
This is from not too for before I shut down for the evening. The Nomnivorian Raveners have already eaten (literally) 3 opposing races fairly easily. There's just been a substantial change in the game for the 2.2 update which is ... very much up and down for me.

The up is that there's much more scope now in how you arrange your planets.
The down is that there's much more scope now for your planets to destroy your economy and bring your progress to a juddering halt.
(Your income can suddenly flipflop from +100 income to -100 income and it took some understanding as to why).

There is a reaction that you can do as a player, by manipulating that economy by turning off certain buildings so your workers go to the buildings that work the foundation stuff. But I'm not convinced the AI knows how to do that. One of the huge strengths of Stellaris was that it gave me a fun challenge, in the early days at least. I'm not convinced it can do that at the moment and it definitely feels like the expansion and gameplay patch has been rushed out.

Will keep an eye on it, continue this current game and then play other things when the campaign is done and the Nomnivorians have eaten the galaxy.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 14 and BB-8 is building an army

Something short today. I think bugs have decided this weekend is going to be a bugs weekend.

Today was a good day though. Lots of loot and excellent company this afternoon to raid the Xmas market with.
Click for bigger. There's a lot in there (plus some obscured that I didn't mean to obscure !)

On the left we see a new pooch, a lovely little metal thingy from the market.

Big Lego BB-8 is at the back, keeping his beady eye on 4D. He remembers what happened the last time these two shared screen time and doesn't want to be eaten again.

We have a trio of micro BB-8s dotting around the scene, including super stunts BB-8 from last year's advent buzzing around the place on his snowboard.

The advent thingy for today is a blaster rack, with Rose keeping a sharp eye on it. I think she's checking out the stun setting so she can use it on cowardly stormtroopers attempting to run away.

Nano BB-8 is taking up station over there on the right, in front of a new book : Attack of the Flickering Skeletons (and more Terrible Old Games You've Probably Never Heard Of) by Stuart Ashen. I'll look forward to diving through that soon. (Currently lost in Persepolis Rising in the Expanse series).

Popz BB-8 is a new one. SHINY. And then there's a new key ring BB-8 lurking beside him.

(I had trouble getting key ring BB-8 to cooperate. Think that one's been on the funny oil or too close to the Helium stores).

But who is that on the right ?

We have found something to scare the 4D. He was ok with one BB-8. 2 BB-8s. Even 3. But an army of 7 ? He's off at a dead run, exit stage right.

See you tomorrow !

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 13 and ... I've forgotten !

Oops. I took the picture at lunchtime and I've completely forgotten what the new thing was !

Let's have a reminder.
There we go. I tried out something new today, a delayed timer shot from the phone. First time I've done that and it was so I could press the button and then quickly grab 4D so he could take his place in the shot.

Today I think it was either one of the train cars from Solo or an Imperial transport from Rebels. The train sequence was one of the inspired bits of Solo and when I watch that movie again, I'll look forward to that bit of the movie.

Today ? Game books again. Games don't give you what they used to pack in ! Long gone are the days of a big box and things inside that truly rattled. Mind you, they used to squeeze enough into some of the dvd style boxes that the box would bulge open and refuse to close up again without spilling its contents all over the place.

You don't get nearly as much now. Barely anything in fact and rarely anything that is in physical form. I was very impressed with the art book that came with Battletech but that did cost me extra.

So - what are the games today ?

In the middle is the Falcon 4 manual. This is over half an inch thick ! Plus you got a quick reference guide, a key map and a reasonably details map of the Korean subcontinent, the region you fought over in the game.

It's actually fitting for the complexity of the game and this was an incredibly complex game. It's still going actually, 20 years after its original release in 1998. It was a buggy mess when it came out but still pretty darn good. I can remember flying missions on it and flying towards a glow on the horizon that would gradually resolve into missiles and shells whizzing back and forth as you got closer.

This was an incredible game for its time and this would still look quite decent today. Flight sims can cheat, as the detail is all very far away instead of you standing right next to the wall with the dodgy texture as you would in a first person game.
Next up is the Settlers. In the days where Digital Rights Management hadn't found its way into the sneaky ways and always online of today, they had to do it via other means. Still in the software this time but for this game, it would ask you to turn to a certain page and pop in the runes on that page.

Settlers is a colony management wargame. It's a pretty complicated one, with basic resources combining together to make things like swords for soldiers, bread for food and gold for improvements.

It was one of the ground breaking games of its time, although deathly dreary to play a game all the way through. The strategic aspect was bolted around warrior huts ... and these caused an effect like attritional trench warfare.

It took a long time to make a dent in the other players' territory and that made games drag on a long time. But it is a game I enjoyed in its time, as I highly enjoyed losing evenings to Settlers IV.

Next one is a game called Titan Quest, which included a printed out ability tree for its widespread character class system.

Bit of a shame this one, as the game had massive potential but I never actually played much into it. One reason for that was because it coincided with a previous Windows XP install going very strange and the campfires would be so bright, they would white-out the screen. It was a very broken WinXP install.

Last one is not something I got with a game, I acquired the StarFleet Command III strategy guide later.

This was from a time before broadband (I think). A time before google searches became the thing you would do if you got stuck. Wowhead hadn't been invented back then. (The game was published in 2002).

It's a nice strategy guide too. It gives you a description of all of the missions, plus a description of the ships and the various ways they could be customised. A super manual if you like.

I was super addicted to the Starfleet Command games in their day. The nearest modern equivalent is Battlefleet Gothic, set in the Warhammer 40k world but very definitely a rip off of the Starfleet Battles rules that SFC was based on. Battlefleet Gothic 2 looks impressive though, I'll enjoy watching Enter Elysium play through that when it's released but I won't buy it.

That's it for today !

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 12 and a cunning little fighter

Day 12 ! Halfway through the boxes. What do we have today ?
A Jedi starfighter today from the prequel movies. A small, functional, pretty little fighter.

And books of movies / movies of books today. By the way there is no 4D cameo today. He took one glance at one of the books there and stomped off on disgust.

One of those books is older than I am ! I wonder if it was before decimalisation. Perhaps not.

On the right we have The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. This one led to an all time classic World War 2 movie where the Germans had a stronghold in the Mediterranean Sea. Embedded in the mountain side, dominating the area, they had massive gun emplacements that meant the area was a no go zone for all Allied shipping. The stronghold was impregnable by land, unassailable by air and any ships that attempted to get near would be blown to bits by the gun emplacements.

Cue our heroes being sent in to infiltrate the island, penetrate the stronghold and blow up the guns. In the middle, we have intrigue amongst a varied cast of characters.

This is one of the all time classic war movies and I'd heartily recommend it.

One thing about the book and film though, I haven't read the book for a while but I remember it diverging from the movie in significant ways. And then the book that follows, Force 10 From Navarone, follows the story of the movie instead of the book.

Oh - I left the price on the book .... I acquired this one as a second hand book for 50p. That was actually more than the cost on the back ! Of all the items that have massively inflated in price, books are among the most significant. This book has a tag of 40p on the back. It was printed in April 1974 (written in something like 1957). I can't believe that it costs that much more to print a book now. Yet this book would cost £8 now. (Or £4 on Kindle). That's a 20x increase !


Next up, we see Firefox by Craig Thomas.

The movie was a Clint Eastwood star vehicle and the start of the book sums up the plot pretty well. It unfolds as a series of intelligence memos reporting that Russia have developed a new fighter of unprecedented speed and deadly weaponry. But what really sets it apart is that it is invisible to radar.

The book and the movie follow each other quite well here and they remind you of what things were like in Eastern Europe near the end of the 20th century before the walls came down.

I'd heartily recommend this book as well. And I'd point you to its successor as well. This one was followed by Firefox Down which I enjoyed as well. But I'm not going to say anything about that because .... spoilers.

That brings me to ... Star Trek Nemesis.

This film killed Star Trek. Or at least it did until the reboot movies started up. Star Trek Enterprise was still going ... but didn't last long after Nemesis despite improving considerably in its final season.

This is a Star Trek movie with very few redeeming features. It's very grim, dark, non Star Trek. It was very brave of them to go in this direction, perhaps beyond brave and into foolish.

The book is better than the film, it explains what's going on better and there is a minimum of humour included.

But it's a disastrous story from start to finish.

It's like - with most franchises, especially Star Trek, I'd recommend you watch all of it, even if just to experience it. But not Nemesis. Avoid this one like the plague.

(PS All that said, this book was another present from a friend which I enjoyed and definitely appreciated it when it was received .... and then the movie happened)

More tomorrow !

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 11 and something short ....

Day 11 ! Almost half way through and I think I need more books.

You always need more books.
Today is a short Jedi who I thought was Anakin for a bit (apparently it's a character from one of the animated series, the same series as the ship next to him). Before I move on to the books, I need to give a big shout out to someone ...

I have my first Christmas card of the year ! It's over there on the left with the Santa. It's from the ever wonderful Margaret Krohn, who I've followed for quite a few years so far. And will continue to, especially after meeting this wonderful person at the Roll4it con over the weekend. Let's see, she's :

The inspiration of the Vanu Sovereignty (Planetside 1+2);
(This is how I first became aware of the Maggie)
Layla the Vampire Slayer (watch out for groin punches);
Possessed of a wonderful voice and heavenly smile;
Staff Sergeant Khang of the Stargate programme;
Keeper of incredible Beasts;
Co founder of Roll4It;
MagMom and inspiration for more than a good few of my creative ideas :
(that's a recolour from a lovely Ilse original)
Ace stream broadcaster and producer;
An oh so skilled player of games;
(I could have grabbed an Iain M. Banks there !)
Short of stature and far larger than life;

And Queen of the Space Vikings leading a community of oh so lovely people.
(2 communities with Roll4it)

And I've missed so many things out there. Link's on the right in the Lovely Gaming People section.

To the books !

Something of a theme today. On the left is Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. Discworld does Christmas and in fine style too. This one felt rather different to the usual Discworld books. It felt like it had a certain urgency that wasn't there in the other books. There was also far more mystery involved with what precisely had happened overnight to the Hogfather.

Great book, thoroughly recommended.

Next up is the Game Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick. Another enjoyable book, set mostly on Earth in a future where aliens from the moon of Titan are exerting a perhaps not so benevolent oversight of the human race. Gotta admit that I don't remember this one so much ! A highly appreciated present from another lovely little lady.

(and I'm rushing now because I hear the dinner bell).

The last one is one of the best books I have read. It's Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein.

However, this wasn't a favourite book when I started, in fact I rather loathed the central character, Lazarus Long mostly because of the impression I got from another book, The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. The story picks up with this nigh on immortal character on the verge of death from old age (at about 3000+ years old). He is refusing rejuvenation therapy due to pretty much giving up on life and love.

But then as his memoirs are taken, he steadily remembers that whole hearted love for life, people and living and the character gets stronger and stronger. And there are some amazing, dramatic, heartbreaking vignettes all the way through the book.

Especially Bert the intelligent Mule. And the growing realisation that he would not age while the little girl he rescues matures, falls in love with him, starts a new family and grows old. There is so much emotion and heartbreak running through this one.

I think I need to read this one again some time soon.

I better get that dinner !

With that first card coming through, it's a happy christmas to you all. Every one of you who has hung in there up to this point. And please do check out the wonderful Maggie K.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 10 - a Cannon of Niven

Day 10 today and I thought I'd focus on just one author !
Looks like a cannon and a mean aimer there in the indomitable Rose.

Larry Niven and cohorts today.

First up is The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steve Barnes. It's set on a distant colony world, indeed the first colony dispatched from Earth arriving at Tau Ceti after 100 years of travel.

The colonists arrive at their new planet Avalon and set up a base on an island, isolated from the mainland. Start somewhere defensible, then spread out later as colony growth demands. However, there is an immediate problem. The imperfect suspended animation technology has caused a phenomenon they call "Ice on their mind", where their once top of their field intelligence has been damaged by ice crystals forming during their unprecedented period of coldsleep. Some are more affected by others and the colonists battle to overcome their new disabilities and isolated position to build up the colony.

And then all hell breaks loose as super crocodiles find the colony and attempt to adopt it as their new food source. It so happens to be breeding season for these Grendels too and the humans are in the nest.

How much do I remember of this book ? Perhaps a little bit of a slog to get to its end but it was good enough to spawn a sequel where the colonists have expanded enough to start a foot hold on the mainland where they discover .... something that eats the near invulnerable highly intelligent Grendels.

Next up - Neutron Star.

This one is a series of short stories set in the Known Space universe that Larry Niven is probably most famous for. This is the universe of the Ringworld. Yes. The original proper stellar class Rimworld and not the idea stolen for a game. This is the universe that the Kzinti live in, bipedal sentient cats with opposing thumbs and an appetite for any sentient race not their own. There are also the Pierson's Puppeteers, a race of introverted tripedal cowards who's defense mechanism is to turn, tuck their two heads between their legs and kick backwards.

Neutron Star opens with a short story about an investigator who is hired by the Puppeteers to covertly find out why two researchers have died while performing a close fly by of a Neutron star in a Puppeteer ship that should be invulnerable to all attack. They didn't just die though, they were ripped apart.

People who know lots of physics have probably guessed what happened to them ! Lots of gravitational stresses when you go that close to something heavy. After all, Neutron Stars are stars that exploded with not quite the mass to compress down and become a black hole. The rest of the book has a series of short stories that circle back to the start again.

Recommended. As are the Man-Kzinti Wars novels and very definitely, Ringworld and its sequels Ringworld Engineers, Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children.

Last up - Lucifer's Hammer. This one is a collaboration between Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

This one tells the story of the end of civilisation.

An asteroid is heading our way. At the start of the book, the chance to hit is very low. But then an unexpected collision tips the asteroid just enough to nudge it a little. As the book goes on through its first act, the chance to hit gets higher and higher as the impact day approaches.

But it's worse than that. Instead of staying as one big object, the asteroid calves (breaks up) into many smaller but still devastating lumps.

The first act sets up quite a large cast and a couple of important locations. You then have the inevitable calamity as bits of asteroid pepper the Earth with devastation. One of the scenes that sticks in my mind is the tsunami that hits the West Coast of the USA. Surfers are waiting for it, believing that if they are skillful enough, their best chance to survive is to surf the 100 foot high tsunami. One by one they fall.

A decent end of the world book. Perhaps a bit depressing as it portrays that middle act of the calamity and then goes a bit silly as an army develops to threaten where our protagonists are heading to.

A great start and middle but I'm not convinced they knew how to end it ...

That's it for today ! Who knows who it will be tomorrow :-D.

Oh ! One last thing - honourable mentions to :
The Mote in Gods Eye - what happens when we find a race of superlative engineers who can see what we have ... dismantle it and then build something far better. Can our people escape with the secrets of Earth ? Great book. There is a follow up to this one as well which I haven't read.
Footfall - aliens invade the Earth and are very confused by the Earthlings. This one has a stunning concluding act which I won't spoil here.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 9 - Taxi for the Emperor

Back to books today !
I may have gotten myself distracted in Stellaris this weekend .... The new expansion is out (haven't bought it yet, waiting for discounts) but there's a fairly hefty rejigging of the core game with the planets being completely redone. I'm not convinced to be honest, it's very easy for the game to do a massive shift in your economy as the planets redo their priority lists when you build stuff. You can very quickly run out of the basics by going for the end products that go towards ship building. Maybe a refinement in the strategies ....

But my Nomnivorian Ravagers are way ahead of the second placed normal race (the Fallen Empires stay out in front) so I must be doing something right. I'll be launching the conquest as soon as I have 3 fleets together.

I first thought today's Lego was a taxi or the car that Senator Organa used on Coruscant but apparently it's General Grievous' fighter ...

Today's books are on an Empire theme.

The one on the left is Mutineer's Moon by David Weber. It's the first in a loose series of 3 and follows an astronaut heading off to the Moon. Or at least, what he thinks is the moon .... It's actually a long dormant battleship called Dahak.

Yep. This is scifi.

Turns out there was a mutiny quite some time ago and the ship managed to get rid of the mutineers who left in still dangerous but unable to go faster than light parasite craft that usually go on board the full battlemoon. The narrative trick of having an unknowledgeable person act as the protagonist is fully in play here too as the central character is rapidly brought up to speed by Dahak and given his mission, to defeat the mutineers before they cause chaos on Earth.

Oh and there's a time limit .... a race of alien invaders who sweep across the galaxy every few aeons destroying everything in their path. But that's for another book.

I quite enjoyed this book, although there is gratuitous weaponry effect descriptions in which are not for the squeamish.

Next up, set in the Imperium of Man in Rynn's World by Steve Parker. It tells the story of the Crimson Fists Space Marines, genetically enhanced elite warriors of the Adeptus Astartes and the defence of their homeworld from an immense incursion of Orks.

(Yep. The Warhammer 40k has elves, orcs, dwarves, ogres and other nasty things to give it the variation.)

Quite early on, the battlefleet is destroyed and an errant missile wipes out their home base. The mission then turns into a battle for survival.

To be honest, can't remember that much of this one although I think it held the attention all the way through.

Last up, is another one by Timothy Zahn. It's Heir To The Empire and it's set around 5 years after Return of the Jedi.

There is a fledging New Galactic Republic that is rebuilding after the end of the war with the Empire. Well, almost. The Empire collapsed after Return of the Jedi but there are still sizeable continents of ex Imperial ships, fighters, military and planets. This book is part of a trilogy that sees the emergence of brilliant strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn as he aims to sweep away the Republic and rebuild the galaxy as he sees fit.

It's a great book, showing off the talents of Timothy Zahn as he plays in the existing galaxy of Star Wars and he even adds a bit of his own lore to the telling as well.

I'd highly recommend this one, although it is part of the old Expanded Universe so it has no bearing on the new films. (Some may say that's a good thing !)

That's it for today ! Shoulders and neck are sore again so I think I need to give Stellaris a rest for .... weeks maybe !

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Star Wars Advent Day 8 and a Rogering of the Rogers

Oh my, what a title.
No books today. The books will be back tomorrow.

Yesterday saw me head up to road to Chester and a meet up of the Roll4it community. They're led by some of the Lovely Gaming People over on the right and for this meet up, we were hosted by :

Enter Elysium who is mostly Youtube (link) and also streams (link) and does the Roll4Its.
Mangledpork aka Bentham of the Youtubes (link).

With special guests :
Margaret Krohn of vlogs (link), gaming videos (link) and streaming (more link). (also admin and major organiser for the Roll4its)
FuzzyFreaks of streaming (link)
RandomTuesday of streaming (link), videos (link), amazing cosplay (more link) and great DM'ing.
And finally the wonderfully voiced Josh of streaming (link) and videos (link)

They're a lovely mob and as charming in person as they are on screen.

The meet up is continuing for the cast over this weekend, with more streams coming soon on the Roll4it channel. I can't watch all of the content that appears over there (mostly because of time !) but I have been hugely enjoying the Stargate Horizons stream that has been playing on Sundays lately.

There may have been a series of posters appear in Goa'uld controlled territory as a result of actions that happened in a previous episode.
It's good to be engaged enough in what's going on to have the ideas spark for daft pictures to make. And I do very much like to do nice things for lovely people.

Oh ! What's in the picture ! Today's advent selection was a Battle Droid from the prequel movies joining the rest of the advent thingys. And then we have :

A selection of sweeties, our American friends are being introduced to some of the British sweetie things. I'm wondering what Maggie K and Fuzzy will make of their special teacakes.
A gorgeous dice bag and lovely purple dice within.
Two Roll4it special badges and ...
I picked up a Spider Friend as well.
(There may well have been tastings of the bonbons and the kola kubes too)

I'm super tired now and chilling out to videos, music and writing of the posts. Definitely looking forward to more Roll4it stuff later.

It was fantastic meeting the organisers and the rest of the cast and definitely a highlight saying hello to the rest of this lovely community.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 7 and I need to fly !

Quick one today.

Today's advent box sees a starfighter arrive :
A pretty little Naboo starfighter. A design going more for the looks than the capability perhaps. But they were nicely shiny.

Gotta get up to road now to a meet up of role playing games people. How many of the games can you recognise above ?

How many have you played ?

Laters :-).

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 6 - I think it's a lamp post

What's behind the door ?
There we go. Front and centre.

Lamp post ? Actually ... looking a bit more (and cheating with a peek through the googles) and it's the Cloud City of Bespin with the red thing being a cloud car.

The Empire Strikes Back is one of those great films, from the set pieces during the Hoth segment of the movie and the trip through Cloud City that was massively enhanced in the special editions. There's a Lego set too ... which I have no intention of getting (it's £200+ and a bit meh)

What are the books for today ?

On the left is one of Isaac Asimov's final novels, Nemesis. The first new colony on an alien world has sent a distress signal and a rescue mission is dispatched using a spaceship with a revolutionary new hyperdrive. At least, that's what I can remember from reading this book a few decades ago. It's been on the list to read again, need to get around to making a dent in that list.

In the middle is The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey. This is from her earlier days, before the Dragonriders of Pern books really took off. It was written as a standalone book, although the Brainship millieu has expanded since then. There have even been novels with guest authors like S.M.Stirling who wrote The City Who Fought, another shell person novel.

This was a pretty interesting book, posing all sorts of ethical questions in its own gentle way. At the core are the shell people. If I remember right, they had genetic manipulation but for some issues, the genetic damage was too great and would have resulted in a quick death for the little person. However, the central theme of these books is that they are permanently inserted into a life support system that looks after their basic needs. Keeps them sustained, gives them an interface to the outside world, provides them mobility. I vaguely remember a scene where the shell children are racing around in their life support shell buggies.

Happy children, albeit in a metal shell. They are also taught and conditioned to be able to mentally accept connections with computers and other complex electronics and the central character in this book, Helva, is selected to be the brain at the centre of a spaceship.

The crews are a symbiotic relationship of a Brain and a Brawn, with the Brawn being the pilot that the outside world sees while the Brain is hidden behind a protective shell, interfaced with the spaceship. The Brain is effectively the spaceship.

But they're not just computers, Helva develops a taste for music which she uses to refine a voice and become .... the Ship Who Sang. The book itself is a combination of several shorter stories tracking Helva and her interactions with the people who travel on her ship and her brawns.

A pretty good book. Recommended.

Last one for today is Voyagers by Ben Bova. He's an author that I read a lot of in my teenage years. He doesn't have quite the same hold on my attention now though. Other authors write far stronger stories.

Anyway ... in this one, the Solar System has a visitor. An object entering our sphere of attention and ... slowing. The object comes within close enough range of Earth but ... wouldn't be sticking around. Can they reach it and examine its secrets before it is lost to the void forever ?

There are 2 more books in the series ...

That's it for today ! I've been struggling for the past couple of days with a sore fuzzy head but should be good for a bit of travel tomorrow. Hopefully. There are going to be 3 people from the Lovely Gaming People on the right (Enter Elysium, Maggie Krohn and FuzzyFreaks) plus a few more who I've enjoyed watching.

Should be an excellent trip.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Star Wars 2018 Advent Day 5 - here come the droids

What's in the box !
We have a droid today, which means it has to be books to do with robots. With artificial intelligence. And a cyborg ....

(Not in that order for the picture above !)
(Oh and that may well be my arm causing the shadow to the left. Oops ! Puts "Better lighting" on Xmas list)

First up is Consider Phlebas by the dearly departed Iain M. Banks. This is the novel that kicked off his series of Culture books, introducing the future setting, the universe of The Culture, the alien races that share the universe and in the case of this book, an equivalent tech race called the Idirans who were waging war on the Culture.

This book will be a classic. Possibly not for everyone but it keeps the tale rattling along through numerous locations in the Culture universe. The point of reference is kept consistently to the same character, the protagonist called Bora Horza Gobuchul. You are kept constantly aware of the war that's rattling along in the background, with apocalyptic forces never too far away.

Interesting characters abound, both in the meat world of the people and the machine world of the drones and the Minds. The Culture isn't run by people, it's run by massively advanced AIs that coalesce into the Minds that run the Culture stellar cities and their ships. The AI Minds stay above the routine, while making sure the routine runs smoothly. They interface with avatars and with drones that are often irascible in personality and deadly in the tricks they have built in. And then the people are mostly human .... but often modified as the whim hits them.

It's an excellent book and I'd thoroughly recommend it.

And then when you're finished, read Excession. One of the issues with the Culture books is that they are so advanced compared to other races, you don't believe they could be taken down. Or could they ..... Excession is the highlight of these books for me.

But I'm starting to talk about a second book there. Consider Phlebas, the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul on a madcap jaunt across the galaxy staying one step ahead of a war, chasing an immensely valuable prize.

Next !

Is Isaac Asimov's The Complete Robot. I have to confess that I have not yet found the chance to read this one. I gather that it's a forensic psychological examination of robots and what happens when their governing laws come into conflict with each other and into conflict with the world around the robot.

I definitely enjoyed the Will Smith I Robot movie, where the central character was a living artifact of where one of those robots had been forced to choose between a child and the man. Good film, should be an even better book.

Last up is Man Plus by Frederik Pohl, which was bought for me for Xmas 3 years ago and I devoured it within the next week.

A compelling tale of a man who finds himself being steadily converted into a cyborg in order to assist with the exploration of Mars. His body is steadily replaced with implants and the book traces his changing mental state as this occurs and he becomes less than human and more than machine.

Definitely a compelling tale.

I've been attempting to acquire more Frederik Pohl books since Man Plus ... need to find the good bargains. I refuse to pay £10 for books ! That's a rip off.

Oh and there may have been a lego on the floor incident earlier. But I think I've found it all.
Back tomorrow !

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Star Wars Advent Day 4 .... and something tanky ....

What does Day 4 have for us today ?
Apparently the new thing is a Republic Tank. Dunno though, must come from one of the various animated series. Yesterday's was the Arrowhead, from another animated series. It's a shame that, the old Star Wars Expanded Universe canon which was accessible to all through books got ripped up and replaced by stories told mostly through animations which are locked away behind a D....y company paywall.

There are too many paywalls appearing in our modern entertainment and it makes a mockery of choice and accessibility. Personally, I have a Netflix sub plus a higher value cable TV package with movies and sports. I have no intention of subscribing to any more entertainment subscription services, I'd rather do without sampling their content. And there isn't enough time in the day to get the full value out of all of those subscription services.

Especially if it's people like Amazon who got into their dominant position by not paying taxes.

How about the books today ?

The first is Revenger by Alastair Reynolds. This book should really have been in the 52 books challenge but I left it out because I finished it pretty much just before the year started. Anyway, the story is a lovely tale about 2 sisters who run away from home and are taken on by a band of treasure hunters who are down on their luck.

Alastair Reynolds is fantastic at world building and that talent is on show here as well. The setting is rather different to any other tale of interplanetary adventure, with the ships depending on solar sails instead of anything more forceful like sublight or warp engines.

It's a compelling, standalone tale and I'd heartily recommend it.

From a standalone novel to part of an epic ...

The Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell brought to life a fleet, hopelessly outnumbered and trapped behind enemy lines by a cruel and sadistic enemy. All hope is lost, until Admiral Jack Geary emerges from a few centuries of coldsleep to lead the fleet to home and safety.

The Beyond the Frontier series picks up the tale after they get home, with Dreadnaught having the remaining ships of the fleet getting sent on a mission beyond known space, to chase the unknown Enigma race that was menacing the fleet in the later days of the previous series.

Jack Campbell (aka John G Hemry) is pretty good at allowing you to visualise what's going on with the epic space fleet that he has bouncing around numerous systems. He uses the narrative trick of having the central character Jack Geary being brought up to speed by his fleet XO, Captain Tanya of the Battlecruiser Dauntless. The weapon systems in play and the tactics available are explained by the reader in a very believable and understandable fashion.

A wise man once said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." but book readers should demand more than that. The magic is brought to life in the world built by the author but an author also needs to explain the fundamentals for the book to be successful in my eyes.

And Jack Campbell does that brilliantly in these series of books. I got as far as the book Steadfast and should really pick it up again. These are great books.

Last one is a throwback to my childhood and a really old book ...

It's Caverns of the Snow Witch, a Fighting Fantasy book from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These books are choose your own adventure books, where the narrative is split up into (usually) 400 segments, with horrible things and creatures awaiting your character as you journey through. Each segment would have choices, which would send you to another segment often at the other end of the book.

This one is somewhat more linear than most, with what amounts to a few phases as you go through the book. It also has a "if you don't get this item, you die", which was a bit too common in these books.

It's one of the better ones though and I enjoyed it when I was a lad.

Last century indeed.

I am old.

What will be tomorrow's books ! And Lego ! We shall see.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Star Wars Advent 2018 Day 3 and A Wing

Day 3 ! What's in the box .....
As per usual, click for bigger.

I asked for opinions on one of the Discord servers and we think that it's an A-Wing star fighter.
The A Wing was an interceptor star fighter. Lightly armed, a hull like paper but the fastest thing out there. Until you got to the TIE Defenders and some of the other ships where you could abuse game mechanics to make them go even faster.

How about the books ?

I got something wrong yesterday. I put a copy of Around The World in 80 Days on the stand and all my brain saw was The Time Machine. Today, The Time Machine is there ! But I talked about that yesterday.

Around The World in 80 Days was a charming book. I'm sure you all know the story, a newspaper journalist comes up with a plan to go around the world in just 80 days and manages to recruit Phileas Fogg and loyal servant Passepartout to embark on the epic trek. I can't remember much of this particular book except for it being a page turner. It's well worth finding a copy to check out the original legendary tale.

Since then though, there was an animated tale with an anthropomorphized animated man dog character called Willy Fogg taking on the journey. This was a series that I'd race home from school to watch and definitely enjoyed that. It was a similar story with the Michael Palin series, which was recorded in 1988 with Michael Palin attempting the same goal.

One thing that strikes you about these stories is that while they are amazing stories in their own right, the world has massively moved on from when they were written. They are still utterly valid in their own times ... but you become painfully aware that the same journey could not be done now (it would be done differently). Like a trip in a sail junk through the Suez Canal around the Horn of Africa and Yemen. I don't think that trip could be attempted now due to the piracy and rebel problems around there.

We have tamed more of our world but the world has become wilder in the taming.

I'd highly advise you to check out both the book and the Michael Palin series. He has a dry wit, very sharp, highly entertaining.

Next up is Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and tells the tale of the first 100 settlers to the red planet.

I loved this book and the story of Nadia in particular. In the book, she builds the first permanent settlement and the telling is of a credible settlement that tackles the challenges of heat, power, protection from radiation plus the psychological challenges that are presented to an outdoor culture being forced to live underground.

Red Mars is a compelling book, followed by the decent Green Mars and then Blue Mars, a book which felt like it lost its way for me. As if the series were 1 book too long and the author didn't know how to wrap up the tale. Must read Red Mars again some time.

The last book is one of the legends .... it's Triplanetary by E.E. Doc Smith, the first of the Galactic Lensman books.

When this first came out in 1934, it did not merely add to an established genre, it created it. And I really, really need to read it. I think I read the opening couple of chapters and then had my attention drawn away. I must remedy that.

What else have I been up to ? Check out these brave souls :
Yes, those are Christmas jumpers. What are they flying ?
Glorious isn't it ? The game is called Bomber Crew and I've been checking out its early stages. I wasn't feeling too great over the weekend (ate something that has been disagreeing with me) so I didn't play too much but I did unlock another bit of outfit :
Special hats to keep the crew toasty at higher altitudes.

Oh and that one on the far right, I have my eye on him. He's a rebel.