The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
We watched The Lightning Thief when it came out on DVD, and my kids were instant fans. The books were beyond their reading level at the time, so we didn't get invested in them. Now that my oldest is comfortable with chapter books we picked up the series.
Having seen the movie, much is familiar here, but there are enough differences in the film that I still found it enjoyable and surprising at times. The writing style is geared toward the target audience, which is to say that the vocabulary is relatively simple, the characters one dimensional, and a lot of visualization. That's not a bad thing, and it leads to a very quick read. On the other hand, for an adult reader, I often found myself skimming more than actually reading.
I did enjoy some of the lessons in this book, and I think it is good guidance for my children. Percy is often faced with the choice of doing something rash that is immediately satisfying or taking a wiser approach that sacrifices his personal satisfaction. I hope my kids reflect on that and model it in their own lives.
View all my reviews
Posted by Adam Jones at 10:39 AM
I didn't really care for this game. It took a really long time for what was a game that did not have much going for it. Perhaps it was just too late at night to start picking this up, but it really felt like math homework more than a fun game. Each player has a primary group that they control. The group offers an income, power, and transfer power. The power of the group can be used to attack another group, either in the interest of control, neutralization, or destruction. I missed the early note that you could perform any of these against any group in the game, not just those that were in the common pool in the center of the table, so I had a bit of a misplay. Still, the mechanics are the same whichever route is taken: determine the power of the attacking group, subtract the resistance of the defending target, apply any transfer power desired for the attacker to increase the value, defender may spend money to decrease the value, attacker may spend money to increase the value. Once all of this arithmetic is complete, the attacker rolls 2d6 and if his roll is less than the sum and not equal to 11 or 12 he wins. Of course, there are some modifiers as well. Each group has descriptors such as Government or Communist, Weird or Straight. If you attack same you get a bonus, opposite a penalty. Unless of course you are attacking to destroy, in which case the bonus/penalty is reversed (and you subtract the power of the defender, not the resistance). There is a bonus applied to defense depending on how close to the center of your network the defending group is. Money spent from the defending group counts double value. Attempting to neutralize gives the attacker a 6 point bonus. I'm not even getting into the modifiers that groups might have, such as bonuses against particular types of groups.
Doing this math problem with six players for two hours was just not fun. It felt very much like munchkin (and no surprise there, this is an early Steve Jackson game) in that each player raced to their win condition quickly, and then the game stalled as we all sniped each other. At the end I was ready to simply throw the game for it to be over. I think part of the problem was that we had too many players. If this game were a 30 minute rapid romp, I could see enjoying it from time to time. At two hours plus, I wouldn't want to get involved. The humor touches in the game were nice and produced a few chuckles, but nothing that would draw me back.
Posted by Adam Jones at 10:11 AM
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It has been a while since I finished reading through the dark tower series. I even read a few of the graphic novels that followed. I enjoyed all of it, and I enjoyed this book as well, but I agree with much of the criticism that it shouldn't be considered part of the series. It is hard to create suspense when I already know that the characters must survive since I've already read the following books. This entry in the series includes a brief look at Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah, and Oy as they travel along the path of the beam, but then shifts to a story of young Roland on a mission to find a skin-man. This story then leads to young Roland telling a boy a fairy tale that his mother had told him. In the end, we get a bit more detail on Roland's character, but overall it does not add to the DT story arc. Many have commented that this would have been better suited as part of a Tales of the Beam collection of stories detailing other characters in the Dark Tower universe without being considered part of the Dark Tower series itself. I did enjoy this read, and I would recommend it to other DT fans, but with the warning that you won't be filling in any gaps.
View all my reviews
Posted by Adam Jones at 9:16 PM
What has happened to the arcade? I love games. I love board games, video games, card games...pretty much any kind of game. When I was young I would look forward to trips to the mall so I could head to the arcade with my friends and playing Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more! We would spend hours feeding quarters (actual quarters!) into these machines and having a great time. A birthday party at Showbiz Pizza meant playing skeeball, basketball, pac-man, and enjoying the animatronic show.
While much is the same, much has changed. I have children of my own now, and they also want to go to the arcade and have pizza birthday parties. My children are getting a much different experience, however. A walk into a modern arcade will confront you with bank upon bank of skill crane and chance games intended to eat tokens for the scant chance of a payout in tickets. There may be two skeeball machines tucked in a corner, but chances are good they are down for maintenance. Worse, my kids (and their friends) aren't even interested in the rare game we might find. Instead they simply look for who can turn their tokens into the most tickets the most quickly. I haven't even walked away from feeding my $20 into the token machine when the first child is back with an empty token cup and a small handful of tickets. In no time we've run through $60 and the kids are anxiously caching out for stickers, plastic rings, and cheap candy that will probably get lost in the seat cushions on the ride home.
Unfortunately, the only thing that has remained constant about my arcade experience is the quality of the food, which has been consistently and universally bad. We do have a Dave & Busters nearby, and on the one occasion when I took my oldest son we did have a good time challenging each other to top scores in Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and Centipede. This was all on a small, multi-game unit tucked away in a corner. Walking around there were plenty of flashing lights and cool graphics on display, but the machines could hardly be considered games. There was a Star Wars AT-AT simulator (cool, but it was more of an experience than a game). There was an immersive 'ride' that had fans and hydraulics to augment the image on the screen. There were dance pads, guitars, and lots and lots of guns in various shapes, sizes and colors. Joysticks, on the other hand, were in short supply. The days of button mashing appear to be behind us.
Of course, I do realize that there are a number of factors that have lead to the sad state of today's arcade. The home gaming console really hurt the small arcade in the mall or the unit at the local pizza shop. Why make the effort to get to an arcade and pump quarters into a machine when you can have the same experience in the comfort of your home? With fewer people coming through the doors arcades had to either close their doors or find an alternative to survive. Enter the skill crane. Cheap to maintain and impossible for a child to avoid. So when a game unit needs repair, just replace it with the crane. Too many cranes? Install some ticket vendors and a small booth full of cheap tchotchkes to help parents turn those $20s into ten cent toys. Some, like Dave & Busters, have made an effort to install modern games, but they feel compelled to offer something you can't get at home. Either a simulator or giant apparatus that you couldn't have at home on your console.
The arcade could be so much more. Sure, I could have my friends over to play games on my home console with graphics that rival anything you might find in the arcade. I could play online with millions of strangers. The arcade is the perfect environment to meet new people face to face. To see the look in their eye as you pummel them, or to stand at the side and learn from a master. It doesn't matter if I could play the same game at home, it is the social element that really makes the arcade appealing. Surprisingly, it is the friendly local game store that has taken over this opportunity from the arcade. My local shop has a weekly game night where the public is invited in to try the latest in table top games and meet other people who enjoy gaming. It is a blast! I look forward to these nights each week. I'm sad that arcades have become the wasteland that they are today, but I'm glad to have an oasis in my local game store.
Posted by Adam Jones at 2:39 PM
Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
What. a. slog. I was turned on to this book by The Sword and Laser podcast. The description of a dying earth that contains the remnants of technology that people have largely forgotten or spurned really interested me. What I found in the first two volumes of this series was a pretty aimless fantasy tale. I think it was a good move to merge both of these volumes into a single paperback as I would not have been interested enough after The Shadow of the Torturer to pickup The Claw of the Conciliator.
It is not that the book is written poorly. In fact, the imagery is very good. I'm just not interested in Severian and his adventures. He is a wholly unlikable main character. There is very little plot to speak of. Instead, it feels like a quilted patchwork of scenes with no common design. One of Severian's traveling mates even goes so far as to wonder at what his goal is when he has so many goals at once, yet appears to be chasing none of them.
I don't think I'm going to pickup the next two books in the series. I fear that there is some twist in volume three that will change my opinion (this series has a tremendous amount of praise) but I'm just not willing to spend any more time on it.
View all my reviews
Posted by Adam Jones at 9:57 PM
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow, these are some dark stories. As far as my reading goes, Bacigalupi is unique in that he paints his dystopias not as places where we kill ourselves with guns and missiles but instead with what we eat. I really enjoyed The Windup Girl which is what prompted me to pick up this book, and I wasn't disappointed. Fair warning however: these are dark stories without much hint of hope.
View all my reviews
Posted by Adam Jones at 10:41 AM
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My wife had finished reading Gone Girl on the same day that I picked up a copy of Old Man's War from the Humble Bundle program. She was insistent that I read it so we could talk about it (she didn't want to give anything way) and so I read through the first two chapters. I immediately found that neither Nick or Amy appealed to me, so I set it aside and spent the next couple of weeks leisurely reading Scalzi's book. Once finished with that I felt I should take another stab at Gone Girl.
First, I'm not typically a fan of relationship drama or crime fiction. I recognize that there are good works in this genre out there, and I can read them and appreciate them, but it isn't my go to genre. So I was already biased against this book. Secondly, the first few chapters of the book are very slow. Amy's diary entries are frustratingly wimpy and Nick narrative is very self-absorbed. We know from the dust jacket that there is some excitement coming, but we need to pay our penance of getting acquainted with our characters before we get to the fun.
Then Amy is gone, and I'm learning new things a bit at a time about each character. Unlikable things about people I already didn't like. Then, around 200 pages in, whammo, major shift.
In the end, Flynn is to be commended on some exceptional writing here. The characters are extremely well done. So my rating here is less about the quality of the book (it is quite good) but a reflection of my own tastes. I wouldn't read it again, because it isn't the type of book I enjoy. On the other hand, for fans of crime dramas, I would highly recommend it.
View all my reviews
Posted by Adam Jones at 2:51 PM