Archive for August 2016

GenCon 2016: Paizo

Every year at GenCon I stop by the Paizo booth and talk to someone about what is new at Paizon. I never have set up an actual interview. Instead, I would use the hour early entry into the vendor hall as time to talk to one of the people that works the booth about the new release at GenCon.

This year I decided to take a different tack.

When you are approved for a press badge for GenCon, you begin receiving email from the various publishing companies that come to the convention. One of the emails I received which caught my eye was the ability to request an interview with Paizo. I initially did not send in a request as I did not think that I would get accepted to interview someone from Paizo as my site is both small and niche. I finally decided to put in a request and was given a time on Sunday afternoon to speak with F Wesley Schneider.

I was both ecstatic and nervous. I was ecstatic because I was given an interview. I was nervous because I was given an interview.

This would be my second scheduled interview with a designer ever. So, I definitely had RuPaul’s line from Drag Race running through my head.

“Don’t Fuck it up!”

Wes Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief at Paizo, co-creator of Pathfinder, author of many of the Pathfinder game books including the new Horror Adventures, and author of the Pathfinder novel, Bloodbound. Wes is also one of the panelists on the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar at GenCon.

No pressure.

I don’t record during my interviews, I take notes. So any errors in information are my fault due to poor note taking or poor handwriting.

I arrived early to the Paizo booth on Sunday, the last day of Gencon 2016 because I am that guy. I took my time to wander around and look at all the neat things that were available from Paizo. My favorite purchase from past GenCons has been the Mythic Adventures book. A book that is right in my wheelhouse. The Mayfair booth across was having a final gathering of their gamers and were giving away many things so that the space right behind where the interview would be happening. The nearby space was filled with people and raucous with excitement.

Wes was very welcoming and let me know that he had checked out my site that morning. He mentioned that he remembered me from the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar earlier in GenCon. The Mayfair event that was going was very loud so we moved out into the hall by the Vendor Hall to make it easier to speak. I made to let him know that I appreciated the Queer as a 3 sided die event here at GenCon and explained that it was one of my first public events after coming out. I also gave a brief description of my connection to Pathfinder.

I know. This was most probably not the most professional thing to do but I wanted to say thanks and share how much I enjoy Pathfinder.

I was very interested in Starfinder. I have been wanting to play a science fiction game for some time and was happy to hear that Paizo would be launching something in the genre. I asked Wes which genres of Science Fiction that Starfinder would engender. Would it allow for play in the styles of Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, or all genres. According to Wes, Starfinder is smaller project that will have the Pathfinder world integrated into it. Starfinder will have it’s own aliens but will hit on tropes like the strong warrior race. By virtue of integrating the Pathfinder world into it, Starfinder will be a blend of science fiction and fantasy but will not just be an add on like in Spelljammer. Wes stated that the designers tried to answer the question, “What would the golarion be like if it was able to reach the stars?” Starfinder would be Golarion 3000 years in the future. I enquired if Starfinder would continue in Paizo’s path of diversity within its work and Wes said that it would.

I asked Wes about his first novel for Paizo, Bloodbound. He stated he was very worried about writing a novel for the company that he was kind of the boss of. He made sure he worked his way up through the fiction process. Wes stated that he had pieces in several of the adventure paths including Guilty Blood and Carrion Crown. According to Wes, Bloodbound is a dark fantasy set in Ustalav. The two main characters are Larsa, a dhampir vampire hunter, and Jadaine, a priestess of the death goddess. The two are working together to maintain and age old treaty between the vampires and the humans to keep the city safe. Wes stated that the question that underlies the story in Bloodbound is, “How would Dracula react if Van Helsing stopped pursuing him?” Wes stated that he enjoyed getting to use Ailson Kindler, Golarion’s Bram Stoker, as well as Considine, The smug self-important bastard of a vampire. Wes gave the impression really enjoying get to write these characters and play with this idea in Bloodbound. His love for the book was infectious and definitely made me want to read it.

I followed up with a question about why the diversity in Golarion was something seen in the campaign setting but not in the actual rules books. Wes stated that at the beginning, the rules books were designed to be a toolkit. You take the rules and play in whatever fantasy setting that you wished. The elves and dwarves in the main rule books were meant to be stock fantasy tropes. It was when you got to the adventure paths and setting books that the true flavor and diversity of Paizo would shine through. Wes explained that from this starting point that Paizo has maintained this separation. It has caused some minor confusion when they would release a race book for the Inner Sea region and it would struggle to find traction when readers would assume it was just another elf book as opposed to giving you the society of these peoples in Golarion.

I asked Wes what would be a good starting point for someone like me that had not played an adventure path. His suggestion was Strange Aeons. According to Wes, this path starts in Ustalav and deals with the tropes of cosmic horror. He pointed out hat it has many H P Lovecraft characters scattered throughout. The initial attack of the path is that you are locked in an asylum and are seeking sanity. Wes states that it allows you to start at level one and go follow it through to high levels.

An interesting idea that I am going to have to try and play through.

Shardra Trans Dwarven Shaman

Shardra
Trans Dwarven Shaman

I closed the interview by asking him what was a question that he wished I had asked. His answer was, “What are his favorite three queer characters in Pathfinder?” Wes listed Shardra, the trans dwarf shaman. He stated that Crystal Frasier created the tradition for what a trans dwarf is in Golarion. Wes mentions Shardra often in the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar as well. The lack of a trans character in Pathfinder was something that Shardra helped fix and has done an admirable job. Wes moved on to mention Merisiel and Kyra from the Pathfinder comic. He stated that he loves that these two are in a relationship in the comic and that it isn’t simple or reductive. He states that they have their ups and downs yet it still feels authentic. Finally, he loves Considine, the queer vampire from Bloodbound. Wes states that he loves that he got to write a character that was such a bastard yet still not a stereotype. A character that you just hate but love at the same time.

It was great to speak with Wes Schneider about Starfinder, Bloodbound, Pathfinder, and diversity. He was warm and cordial and fun to talk to. His energy and enthusiasm about Pathfinder, Starfinder, and the characters that live there was astounding and infectious. I had a great time speaking with him about all things Paizo. I have a copy of Bloodbound and Horror Adventures and expect a review of these books when I finally get to finish them.

 

 

GenCon 2016: 7th Sea

7th_sea_cover_V1Earlier this year there had been a Kickstarter for 7th Sea. It was one of my favorite games by John Wick and there was no way that I was not backing this project. I initially backed at a level that would provide me a copy of the book but I changed my pledge later on to the Scoundrel level to get both the special edition of the book as well as pirate booty.

When I discovered that John Wick Presents was going to have their own booth at GenCon, I was excited. I definitely knew that I was going to get my book signed by all three designers.

A few weeks out from GenCon, I put a post up on FaceBook asking friends whom they thought I should try to talk to at GenCon 2016. I have mentioned that I am shy and tend to be hesitant about talking to designers about their games. Several friends made suggestions for people that I should talk too. The key one was Rob Justice. Rob is one of the designers of the new edition of 7th Sea and had done his own podcast for several years, The Bear Swarm. I had followed him on FaceBook and he was kind enough to respond to my question. Rob had posted his schedule at GenCon to make it easy to find him and let me know that he would be happy to talk with me about 7th Sea if I had time to drop by the booth.

I should mention that when I do interviews, I take notes. Any errors in information are my own due to either writing down the information incorrectly or due to not being able to read my own handwriting.

I arrived at the John Wick Presents booth not long after the Vendor Hall opened. My plan was to speak with Rob early so that I did not take up to much valuable time or space at the booth. I arrived as Rob was discussing possible demos at the booth except of the lamentable lack of dice to be able to do this. There were a few tall round tables set up to the right side of the booth and this where we talked about 7th Sea.

My first question for Rob was about the incredible turn around time that John Wick Presents had with this new edition of 7th Sea. The Kickstarter ended in March and the base books began shipping in August of the same year. Rob pointed out that a lot of the writing had been done before hand. He stated that work had been going on for the book for about eight months before the Kickstarter. Rob pointed out that the first book was completed and being delivered to the backers a little over three months after the Kickstarter closed. I pointed out that this was one of the reasons that I had backed 7th Sea. In addition to loving the game, I knew that John Wick had a reputation of getting projects done quickly and well and was happy to see the books at GenCon.

Next I asked Rob how his participation in 7th Sea came about. Rob stated that it went back to Podcasting. He state that he had found John’s game Houses of the Blooded. He loved it so much that he talked about it on his podcast and even had the symbol from the book tattooed on his leg. Rob ran into John at a convention that he was attending as a podcaster and showed him his tattoo and the two became friends not long after. Rob states that he has been friends with John for over 7 years and when 7th Sea came up that John asked him and Mike Curry to be system designers for him. I questioned Rob further on this and his answer was that he more akin to a consultant idea wise on the project. He would discuss ideas around the setting and mechanics with Mike and John as well as doing some writing on the project as well. Rob pointed out that he brought up his concerns around the fate witches and their magic and that they needed fixed. I asked Rob what were some of the things in 7th Sea that he had a direct hand in. He pointed out that he did a few fiction pieces throughout the book, the Knights of Avalon, Matushka’s touch, and a version of voodoo in the upcoming pirate book.

One of my concerns with table-top  roleplaying games has been the lack of diversity in them. This trend has been changing as can be evidenced in the Pathfinder products and 5th Edition D&D. I asked Rob about diversity in 7th Sea. Rob stated that they had long conversations about it. 7th Sea is set in a fantasy version of Europe in a era that is not known for it’s diversity. Rob mentioned that the conversations tended to orbit around this fact. Rob stated that he pointed out that it was not difficult to make diversity a part of the book and pointed out that it takes one line to give both players and the setting permission to be diverse. He also pointed out that the they tried to make the artwork in the book more representative of everyone that would be playing the game.

This made me very happy!

I asked Rob what his hope was for 7th Sea. He said he hoped that 7th Sea would be someone’s first roleplaying experience. Rob pointed out that the guiding principle behind this new iteration of 7th Sea was that Heroes succeed. He hopes that this change from an antagonistic playstyle will give these new players a wonderful introduction to the hobby as well as become a more pervasive element throughout the industry. Rob’s thought on changing this mindset is to lead the way which 7th Sea does.

I ended the interview with a question stolen from Rob Justice himself. I asked “what is something that I did not ask that you hoped that I would have?” His answer was that he wished that people would ask him about the changes made to the world. Rob stated that there were lots of little and big changes that are worth noting. He pointed out that the Sarmatian Commonwealth was a new addition. He went on to say that it was something that was near to his heart. This addition brought the people of Poland and Lithuania into the mythos of 7th Sea. These are the people from which he is descended and do not get much attention in roleplaying games here in America. It was something he was glad that they did and felt that it added much to 7th sea.

It was great to get to speak with Rob Justice about 7th Sea. He took time out of a busy day to answer my questions and demonstrate the basics of the mechanics of 7th Sea for me. His love of the game is evident and helped bring my love of the game even higher.

Expect a review of 7th Sea in the near future!

Edit: This piece was edited to correct an inaccuracy concerning the sale of Legends of the Five Rings.

Suicide Squad

Captain-Boomerang-Suicide-Squad-PosterI have seen Suicide Squad twice and have to say that I love it.

I went in with a bad attitude as I had not enjoyed Man of Steel or Batman Vs Superman. I knew very little about this title as I had read very few of them in my time with comics. Which made this a surprising movie when I ended up loving it.

If you don’t read comics, this may not make sense, but Suicide Squad is an excellent first issue. It provides a fully self-contained story. There is a broad introduction to all of the characters in play. The movie sets the stakes by which the game will be played and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. The questions are interesting and the answers have an emotional resonance that gives them some weight.

In addition, Suicide Squad makes good use of some of the stylistic elements that are present in other superhero media. The movie gives a nod of the head to the TV show Arrow in that the exposition is done in the form of flashbacks. We get to see how the members of the team are collected in this manner as well as learning the origin of Harley Quinn. The movie also takes a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and makes excellent use of music to highlight the action. In the same fashion as Guardians, the choices made are just perfect and created an instant connection for me with the movie.

The performances of the actors and actresses are all solid. Viola Davis and Margot Robbie are two of the standout performances of the movie. Viola Davis takes on the role of the Hard-nosed, Morally-ambiguous Amanda Waller and makes you fear this woman who would control this band of killers. Margot Robbie provides us with our first live action version of Harley Quinn and she knocks it out of the park. Unlike the versions we get in comics and cartoons, Harley is a fully participant in the madness and mayhem that surrounds her and the Joker. Robies performance is filled with emotion, cuteness, madness, and scary insights. Everything one would want from Harley Quinn.

There are things that you pick up throughout the movie that are small but powerful.

suicide-squad-cast-photo-costumesjpgOne of these is the theme of love that is threaded throughout. Amanda Waller is asked how she is going to control this band of misfits. Her answer is to apply leverage. This leverage is the love that each of the main characters exhibits. Deadshot loves his daughter. In the flashback to how he is captured we get to watch this love in action as he fights Batman in the streets of Gotham. Harley Quinn loves the Joker. We get to see this love develop and strengthen in the flashbacks to her origin. This drives her to cooperate in the hopes of being reunited with him while on the outside on the job for Waller. We also have the love that Flagg has for Dr. Moone. Really, there are few characters that aren’t touched by the this underlying theme in someway or another.

I also enjoy the not-so-subtle way that power disparities are pointed out in the movie. In the scene where we get to watch as Amanda Waller pitches the Suicide Squad to the Joint Chiefs, she is one of the few women in the the room and also one of the only persons of color in the room. Yet, she is the one holding the most powerful weapon in the room which is also one of the other women in the room. Another way this is pointed out is when Waller and Flagg enter into Belle Reve prison. The guard that greets them begins to provide all the information to Flagg. He interrupts to let the guard know that he should be directing his ass-kissing to Waller. This then gets flipped when Deadshot is naming his price for working for Flagg. He goes on at some length to only then point out that he wasn’t talking to Flagg, but to his boss, Waller.  The finally twist on power is played out by Diablo. He sits in a horrible cell as Waller makes her pitch. He knows the power he wields and that they just want to make a weapon out of him. He has played that game before and knows the price that is payed for that power and is terrified that the price could still go higher.

Despite my love for the movie, it does not blind me to it’s flaws. The story is simple with little meat on it save what is provided by the characters. The trope at it’s center is overdone and makes me wish that we will see less super weapon scenarios play out in future movies. I know this will not happen but one can hope. The large number of members of the squad makes it so that very few of the members get more than a cursory treatment. Killer Croc, Katana, and Captain Boomerang are all under explained and under utilized. The write provides a unicorn toy for Captain Boomerang which seems like a poor attempt at copying Deadpool. There also seem to be points where the editing was rushed as in where Captain Boomerang leaves when given the chance by Flagg and then later rejoins the team for the final assault. It feels like there was explanation in there but that it just didn’t get to the final cut.

You also know whom on this Suicide Squad isn’t going to make it out of the movie alive without really trying.

Suicide Squad is definitely a four bear paws out of four movie. It is a look at a different type of relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn. This is a DC movie that presents villains as people without the angst and morality overwhelming the action and comedy of the situation. It tucks in some social commentary without it being noticeable to those who came to see a regular action movie. I hope that DC can take some lessons from this movie and incorporate them into future movies in the DC Cinematic Universe.

GenCon 2016: Calliope Games

Calliope Games 1There is an added benefit to attending GenCon as press. The convention allows for around 90 member or so of the press to enter the vendor hall an hour early with the Very Important Gamers and Trade Day attendees. It allows time to meet with people at the booth without the press of humanity always being at your back and the cacophony of the multitudes not drowning out your questions.

Going in, I knew that I wanted to take the time to drop by Calliope Games. I had visited with them last year and learned about  their upcoming game Thief and wanted to know what new things had came out from this this wonderful company.

Their booth was placed in the family fun area of the vendor hall which is very appropo. All of their games are quick and easy to play, fun, and family friendly. I arrived at the booth and stood there waiting for someone to have time to talk when  Robert, Ray, and Matt, members of Calliope Games demo team, asked me to sit down and play a game.

So, I said yes.

Robert got the four of us playing Hive Mind. It is a cute game of Questions and Answers. Each player is a member of a bee hive who wants to maintain their position in the hive. This done by answering questions and sharing the most answers with the rest of the players. Play is easy. The active player rolls a die and moves the queen bee along the board. Spaces are flowers and each space reflects how many people will fall down the hive hierarchy if they don’t have them most matches. The question cards give you three options to chose from. One of the questions we had during the game was, “Name 5 things in the sea.” You would think that this question would be easy and that everyone would have said water, this is not the case and is where the fun arises in Hive Mind.

The game ends when at least one player is kicked from the hive for not being a part of the hive mind. The winner is then the person with the highest ranking in the hive. The game plays with up to six players and takes from 30 minute to an hour to play.

The fun of Hive Mind is that it is an excellent social game. You can take it to a gathering and use it as an icebreaker game. The conversations that surround the answers themselves are highly entertaining and allows one to get to the know the other players better. It can be played with young children whose answer will always be fun to adults whose answers can veer in quite different directions.

Robert, Ray, and Matt all explained to me that Hive mind was just one game in Calliope Games Titan series. This is a series of games designed by some of the biggest names in the industry. Hive Mind was designed by Richard Garfield whom you will be familiar with if you have ever played Magic: The Gathering. The two other games in the series, all of which release in September, are Running with the Bulls by Paul Petersen and Menu Masters by Zach & Jordan Weisman. The purpose behind the Titan series was to have big names create fun gateway gatems to bring more people into the hobby.

An excellent goal!

The people at Calliope Games were great and and pleasure to talk too as well as play a game with. Hive Mind was wonderful and would be an excellent addition to any board gamer’s library. It is quick to setup and easy to understand. Game play is fast and fun and is a great ice breaker for new people meeting and playing games.

Hive Mind and Calliope Games are definitely four bear paws out of four fun!

GenCon 2016: An Overview

Gen ConGenCon 2016 is in the books.

I have returned home and taken a breather. Returned to the regular work-a-day world.

GenCon is always an intense experience for me. It is filled with gaming, friends, food, fun, and physical exertion. I talk about the ways that you can experience GenCon without pushing yourself to the limit and still end up doing it myself. I just dance along the edge of my own rules, not violating the letter but definitely the spirit.

I want to talk about GenCon 2016 both from a high level of my overall feeling of my trip this year as well as the finer details that captured my attention outside of things that I decided to accomplish.

I was searching for an analogy for how this year at GenCon felt for me and for once a sports analogy seems apropo. I am around enough people that love football to be familiar with the term rebuilding year. This means that there have been many changes in the team make up that the current season will not compare to prior years. This means that you modulate your expectations and enjoy the ride regardless.

GenCon 2016 was my rebuilding year.

I loved GenCon 2016 and had a great time but it was different this year. I had built up relationships with people over time through GenCon and then talking online via Facebook or Google Hangouts. Only a few of those people made it to GenCon this year. As an introvert, the people I know become touchstones that allow me to stretch myself and go out and try new things. Lacking a large support system and experiencing the vagaries of scheduling games through GenCon, I had very few things scheduled for me to do. I had more time to both explore. I was able to ponder what I wanted from and thought about GenCon. I also had time to just observe GenCon with a more discerning eye.

First off, GenCon is an amazing feat of logistics. Organize over sixty thousand people into the area surrounding downtown Indianapolis is no mean feat. Wednesday just highlighted the point for me as I had to get my packet from Will-Call. The line for this began short but quickly grew to stretch to outside of the convention center. I ended up having to leave the line several times to either help friends move things to the vendor hall or to meet friends for dinner or conversation. I was able to see the flow of the line at both its slowest and it’s fastest. Despite the long line, I was impressed with the attitude of the people both in the line and those helping the line. The frustration, though apparent, never bubbled over into anything negative. I ended up chatting one time with someone new to GenCon providing things that I thought might be fun to check out as well as finding out what games they liked. Another iteration in the line for me led to discussions about the various pokemon and pokestops that were accessible just from standing in line. My longest time in line before leaving to join friends was 45 minutes. I was approaching the divide where volunteers worked tirelessly to make sure that the hallway was kept clear for people moving about. It took only 30  minutes when I finally got in line around 11:15 that evening to make it through the line and get my stuff.

I had two more lines to wait in before I would be done with lines at GenCon 2016. I was very lucky to given a press badge by the convention. This means I have to pick up my press badge from the Press room on the first day of GenCon which opens at 7:30. I don’t have to wait in line for this but the first 90 people that pick up their press badge are allowed early entry into the vendor hall on that first day. Being able to be in the vendor hall and have a conversation with someone from a game company without the press of humanity all about you is well worth the wait in line for both early entry and the press badge. The line for the press badge is always entertaining as there are always people there discussing the youtube channels or podcast and it is neat to hear these stories. Everyone is nice an orderly and I have had no issues with the wait. This year I even finished a post while waiting. The people staffing the press room were friendly, quick, and efficient as always and had me on my way to the line to wait for the vendor hall.

This line was different story.

The GenCon staffer that was present was very helpful and directed me to where to wait and there appeared to be a line so I went and sat down. Unlike last year, I had found a spot where people appeared to be a bit more introverted than I. So, I sat and caught pokemon. After a while, a second line formed and most of the people around me got frustrated and angry. I did my best to help diffuse these emotions but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I was just thankful to be getting into the Vendor Hall early and the wait in one line or the other was not something that bothered me. I was very impressed with how the GenCon staffer handled it and was able to get everyone moved so that the two lines stopped impeding foot traffic through the halls.

The GenCon staffers and volunteers did an excellent job in all of these situations keeping the peace, allowing traffic to flow, and maintained a great attitude despite the pressure of the situation. something that is always excellent to see in action and appreciated by me.

I am always impressed with the people that attend GenCon. With such a large number of people in close contact, things could easily go south. Having more time to be leisurely in my approach to GenCon this year allowed me to be more observant of those around me. I noticed how the majority of people tried to be conscious of those around them. They attempted to modulate their tone and mannerisms to not impinge on the fun of others. There were people that were frustrated and children that had meltdowns but people worked to reign in their negative emotions and and also offered to help those that appeared to be struggling. My view is limited and this is anecdotal but it still made me feel good about these people that share my hobby.

I was also impressed with some of the customer service I received within the vendor hall. I stopped to speak with Black Book Editions about Polaris. I believe the gentleman’s name was Tom. It was towards the end of the day and I could tell that he was tired but he answered all my questions even the ones that were difficult about diversity in his books. He took the time to read my badge and use my name throughout the interaction and kindled an interest in the game through his good cheer and attention to detail.

This same treatment was given to me by the kind folks also stationed in the Paizo booth, Ulisess Spiele and their game, The Dark Eye. I was impressed enough by their treatment of me that I bought the deluxe edition of the core rule book. It is gorgeous by the way.

The pertinent picture.

The pertinent picture.

Finally, I was wandering the vendor hall with my new friend ,Sam, and had to take him over to the 7th Sea booth. I was showing him the book when the gentleman in the booth noticed our gaymer tags. He took the time to come over and show us a particular illustration from the book. The page in questions is that of what appears to be two musketeers kissing. He then took the time to talk to us about how they as a company had been working on making 7th Sea a more diverse game and showing us the points where they were doing it. Having already backed the Kickstarter and bought another copy of the book earlier in the day to have it signed, I was already on board with the game. It just melted my heart that someone took the time to both notice the tag and to reach out to say that we were represented in the game and welcomed with open arms. Both Pathfinder and the new edition of D&D are known for being inclusive and diverse, but this was the first time I had someone at a booth literally reach out to show me how they were making the game inclusive for me and mine. It was both overwhelming and nice all at once.

GenCon 2016 was a wonderful experience. I met new friends and had a great time. There are many more posts to come where I talk about specific things as well as the interviews I conducted with Rob Justice from John Wick Presents and Wes Schneider from Paizo.

So, watch this space for more to come!

 

 

Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga 2

EmpireAscendant-144dpiFuck.

Some times you finish reading something and that is the only appropriate response.

Empire Ascendant is a book that leaves you feeling like a boxer at the end of a fight. You are bruised, batter, and reeling and have no true sense of how everything turned out until someone takes your hand and raises it to indicate you won. Except, that in the instance, there is no referee to tell you who won.

Fuck is simple and succinct but still does not convey how I feel about this second book of the Worldbreaker Sage.

I love and hate this book.

Let us begin with love. It takes me back to the world of deadly vegetation, parallel dimensions, political intrigue, unique cosmology, and fully developed characters. In Mirror Empires, these various pieces are placed up on the board and the game is begun. Kameron introduces us to a panoply of characters. Each of these individuals is well rounded and working towards their own ends and struggling to achieve them with incomplete and at times incoherent information. The world itself is a frightening place that is filled with plants that consistently push against the edges of society looking for a way in to destroy what has been built. Into this mix we, have various nations and religions that are struggling to maintain dominance of their own little corners of this world and are in no manner prepared to face the threat of invaders from neighboring dimensions.

I was happy to see Lilia, Zezili, Ahkio, and Taigan again. Each of these individuals provides a point of view on the events that are taking place within the story that is both fascinating as well as unnerving. Lilia is a woman without a world. To survive, she has done horrible things and struggles with both the knowledge of what she has done to survive as well knowing the horrible things that will have to be done to not only survive but possibly win the war for her new home. Zezili provides the other end of the spectrum. She has embraced the monster that she has become and has no illusions about what has happened or why. No matter what the obstacle placed her way, she continues to fight towards her endgame knowing full well the consequences. In particular, I appreciate Taigan. Taigan provides an unique perspective on the happenings in Empire Ascendant. Being an outsider, Taigan see’s the world through the lense forced upon her by a ward but has the wisdom of years lived without the fear of dying to temper her actions. It is different way of viewing this world but is intriguing none the less.

I also love the pacing of this book. It feels very similar to a dance or a boxing match. The narrative has a rythm in the flow of the story, the pace of the action, the change over of the characters. The story moves in with grace and spead, connecting with a character and few punches to let you know that this is no game. The tenor changes and the pace quickens as you switch from one character to another and the stakes rise and the blows begin increasing in their pace and fury. Before you have time to withdraw behind your defenses, you are drawn out by the appearance of another character that is doing much better than you had hoped which opens you up for the gut punch that brings tears to your eyes and stops you in your tracks. By the end of the book, you are reeling and holding the ropes and the bell rings and you weep for the destruction left behind and wonder how you are going to make it through the next round.

Beautiful.

Spoiler Warnings On

I can not speak of why I hate this book without wandering into spoiler territory.

You have been warned.

I become vested in characters. In Mirror Empire, I came to care for the characters that strut upon this stage, ephemeral fantoms whom Hurley has gifted with such life despite their phantasmal existence in imagination. In Empire Ascendant, I have to watch as lives are destroyed in such gruesome fashion. Zesili is a hard and terrible woman and yet I care about how things go for her. She has risen up from near death to take up the task of thwarting the whims of her empress. As she works through this process we learn more about Zesili and learn how she struggled to lay claim to things through power to continually prove she is no slave. She is beaten, maimed, utterly defeated and even stabs her husband, the only ting that is left to her. She escapes it all to only die in fire attempting to destroy what the empress valued.

I fucking wanted to scream! It hurt so much to watch her make it through so much to die in this manner. Despite this, the death makes complete sense and fits perfectly into the dance that I descibed earlier.

Then we have Akhio and Nasaka. These two are planets in a decaying orbit that seems are destined to never crash into one another. They constantly change places in this story and the end, after madness has been mentioned as a lie, it arises to bring it all crashing down. Akhio ends his days running in fear and unceremoniously dumped in pieces down the latrine and Nasaka dies at the hands of mother of her grandchild. One death is so emotionless and the other is brutal and worthy of a red ring.

I was left shaking and had to take a break from the book to finish it.

I have to give Empire Ascendant four bear paws out of four. It has been many years where I have been so emotionally invested in a book. My hate is not because the book is bad but because the book is so good and ripped out my heart soe many times to only hand it back to me tattered and bloody but still beating.

You must read this series as it gives you grimdark with a diversity of characcters that depth of emotion that I am surprised that this isn’t on HBO.

 

Star Trek Beyond

startrekbeyondposterAfter Star Trek: Into Darkness, I had reservations about this movie. My hopes were for a return to a movie more in line with the original Star Trek where the action was was used in service to the themes at play throughout the movie. I didn’t want the action to be the theme of the movie. The trailer showed a move that was action packed and left me with little hope for Beyond being the type of Star Trek movie that I want.

I was surprised to discover that I liked Star Trek Beyond much more than I expected. It has problems but comes closer to the Star Trek that I want than the previous two movies.

Let us begin with the good stuff.

First, we are given much more time with the characters in this story. Action abounds but the characters are given space to breath and interact which is priceless. The opening sequence is just small peek into the mind of Captain Kirk but it stands out as a unique view that was missing from the Star Trek Universe. We get Kirk’s log playing over a view of life on the Enterprise. The crew is three years into their five year mission. Kirk speaks about the small things that are normal business on a ship of this size. He speaks of the vastness of space and the small speck that he and his ship represent in this vast unknown and wonders at the reason behind the mission. Why seek to learn more when the unknown is seemingly infinite. A deep question from a Captain that has appeared to be uninterested in introspection.

I love that we get to watch as McCoy interacts with both Kirk and Spock at length. Urban embodies the role with heart and soul and ache at the loss of the Original bones due to his genuine performance. He comes across and gruff and irascible while still being caring and supportive. In particular, I loved the interaction between Spock and McCoy. They are given a large amount of time together in this movie and we get to watch their gruff exchanges and see the underlying friendship blossom. There is a point where Spock openly states that, despite the argumentative nature of their relationship, his esteem for McCoy was never in doubt.

This hit me right in the feels.

I also appreciate that Star Trek is attempting to give us a diverse future. Uhura is still allowed to retain agency. She does not wait around to be rescued and makes choices that influence the course of the movie. In addition, she is allowed to be out point of view several times throughout the movie which I like. On top of this, we quietly get a gay main member of the crew. In the sequence where Kirk is talking about the life of the crew on the ship, we get to see Sulu with a picture of his daughter at his station. A bit anachronistic, but still touching. When they arrive on Yorktown, we get to see Sulu run off into the crowd to embrace his husband and his child. No muss, no fuss, just like a normal family.

This is what I want to see in my media. I want to see myself and others presented just like everyone else. This is why these things in this movie are so important. They take place in a Franchise that is so big that it lifts us up out of the shadows and gives us the treatment we deserve.

All the feels.

Star Trek Beyond is not without it’s flaws though.

Did we really need to destroy the enterprise again? The United Federation Of Planets coffers must be overflowing since they do not seem to mind building a new ship for the the crew of the Enterprise. Especially since every time they get on a ship it ends up destroyed. don’t get me wrong, the battle that destroyed the ship was epic and fun to watch, just not necessary. It felt like a lazy way to show the ingenuity of the crew and overtly emotionally manipulative.

The villain of the piece is yet again a nihilist. He is on a quest to show the federation that conflict is not something to be avoided, but to be embraced. The villains motivations for this are shrouded in mystery until the around the end of the movie. Uhura catches a glimpse of Captain of the ship that is discovered hidden on this unknown planet. The crew learns that this man had been soldier whom had fought many battles before the beginning of the Federation. The captain and his crew crashed on this planet and only a few survived to live on as part of an ancient machine that changed them. It left them nothing but a thirst for revenge posited as a mission.

It makes little sense.

During the final battle between Kirk and this captain, we get more of an explanation. It sounds more of a man without a purpose. The reasoning behind wanting to watch the world burn is bad and doesn’t hold up to the dramatic weight that the movie tries to give it.

On top of this, the villain is played by Idris Elba. I knew he was in the movie but he was unrecognizable as the villain. He is layered in prosthetics and his voice is altered. Elba is given nothing that calls for his immense talents which means he gets not time to shine. his character murders crew members throughout the movie and the purpose is not easily evident. It requires Uhura to tell us that he kills people and changes as he absorbs something from them. Really? Did we spend so much on destroying the Enterprise that we didn’t have enough to make the effects clear on the villain to make him make more sense?

Disappointing.

I would give Star Trek Beyond three bear paws out of four. It gives me more of the Star trek that I want in movie form than I have gotten from the last two movie. It provides some diversity in the story line that plucked at my heart strings. If the flaws had been handled better, this would have been an even better movie. Still worth seeing at the theater for a matinee.