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Millionwordman (Barnsley, England)

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Homeworld Cataclysm Xplosiv Range
Homeworld Cataclysm Xplosiv Range

4.0 out of 5 stars The Story between Homeworld and Homeworld 2, 2 April 2017
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With the re-release of Homeworld and Homeworld 2 as remastered projects, I had a hankering to pick up the second of the games which somehow hasn't made it into the remastering schedule. Homeworld: Cataclysm references the events between the first and second where one of the mining Kiith encounter a new life form and find it to be both hostile and innovative.

The control system was massively improved from the first game, but also included an option to speed time up when things were going slowly (Such as resource gathering), which was a good addition, but led to a lot of the game being viewed on fast forwards to get to the resolution. The voice acting was superior in all ways to the first, and there was a genuine sense of urgency in several of the cut scenes, leading to an excellent resolution.

As with all things from that Era, the graphics aren't as good as they seemed at the time, but the game is still well worth a look

Beechs Dark Fruit Creams 150g
Beechs Dark Fruit Creams 150g
Offered by Chocolate-Ocean
Price: £5.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality comes at a price., 2 April 2017
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Bought these as a valentines gift for my wife, she's very fond of fruit fondants, and we'd never tried these before, the price was a little high, but I do subscribe to getting what you pay for. The scent of the chocolates is evident even before you get through the cellophane surrounding them, and when you open the box, the richness is all but overwhelming. The Dark chocolate is cut thin around the creams, thereby not overwhelming them with the sharpness of it, and all the better for it.

The creams are of a type where you take a small bite and savour the taste, rather than dropping it all in at once and sucking it, they're sweet without being saccharin and juicy without being tart, and unlike some others, it's very easy to tell which one you've just tried. Very recommended as an occasional treat.

Taylor of Old Bond Street Mr Taylor's Aftershave (100 ml)
Taylor of Old Bond Street Mr Taylor's Aftershave (100 ml)
Offered by London Gifts
Price: £22.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent everyday scent, 2 April 2017
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The fragrances list as top, medium, and base notes on the packaging, but upon opening it's clear that all the scents have been given parity. It's a warm scent, with the light fruity overtones of Citrus well complimented with the Incense. It's not a strong scent, but a light splash will be sufficient to flavour the air enough to be noticed without overwhelming those close by.

For those using other Taylors products, it has a faint similarity to the lemon and lime shaving foam at the top, with the base being more Sandalwood than Tarragon.

By Ethan Gilsdorf - Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
By Ethan Gilsdorf - Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
by Ethan Gilsdorf
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars We’re neither Fantasy Freaks nor Gaming Geeks, 18 Jun. 2016
So once in a while I read a book that’s not fiction, as life gets busier, it tends to be once in a great while more than once in a while, but sometimes a book title will get my attention.

This one got my attention…

Entitled Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, it charts the journey undertaken by Ethan Gilsdorf, a professional writer who found himself wondering why he’d found himself suddenly drawn back into the worlds of fantasy and gaming, and was unable to reconcile why he was heading back to the things that he did when he was a child.

In order to find what he was drawn to, he undertook a series of journeys, to countries both foreign and domestic, to examine different parts of the culture and see what part of it he was drawn to. He went to GaryCon and there had a game with Frank Mentzer, he went to New Zealand to visit the places where they shot Lord of the Rings. He came to England to speak to the Tolkien society and he interviewed those who treat World of Warcraft as a life. He went to LARP gatherings and went venturing with the Society for Creative Anachronism. He didn’t leave a stone unturned in his quest to see what it was all about…

But he didn’t get involved…

If there’s one constant through the entire book, it’s that he’s continually on the fringe of it, even when he’s surrounded by loads of people all being friendly and open towards him, he’s still sat at the back, keeping the strange at a distance. He doesn’t present anyone in a completely bad light, he doesn’t make any immediate judgement calls on those he goes to see, but he doesn’t really get into it with them, he doesn’t throw himself into it, he sits back and looks at it in the manner of a Martian studying humanity from across the gulf of space, and it’s in that that I have the problem.

The language used throughout the book is strong, frequently we hear Obsession, Freaks, Warped, Regression, Escapism, Misfits, all words that I’ve heard on many an occasion and in many cases, had thrown at me, but the manner in which they’re used here suggests that he’s keeping the mainstream view even as he tries to find out more of those he’s talking to, it’s written so as to appeal to the people who aren’t in these hobbies, so that they can understand those who are different to them.

In the manner of children poking monkeys at the zoo…

I realise that the way I’m writing this may suggest that I have an issue with this, and to be fair…

I do...

If you’re going to make a clinical study of something, make a clinical study of it, don’t pretend to be its friend and then poke it. If you’re going to join in, join in, get in there, try and figure out what it is that interests you about it. Don’t get close and then poke it, and if you’re going to poke it, don’t then try and backtrack and pretend you weren’t poking…

I found a lot of the books narrative contradictory, he’ll be talking about going to a convention to see what people find interesting about it and then confess that he’s actually gone to try and (and I quote) bed his lady geek, he sees how online gaming has helped to bring some people out of their shell and then ponders if they’re going to fall over instantly if their crutch is removed. It’s almost as if he was using the idea of exploring his inner child to be childish.

I’m writing this off the back of just finishing the book, and I know that it’s often better to consider things and then write what you think on reflection, but to be honest, I’ve just read through a few hundred pages of confusion, with no clearly defined conclusion other than “I’m not one of them, I’ve just buried all my LOTR figures in the village where they filmed it, I’m going to go be a grown up now…” and if that’s the conclusion he reached at the end of his journey, fine, be happy with it, wish you well and long to live with it.

But for anyone else looking to write a book on gamer culture, please, actually get in the boat with us, rather than watching it from the lighthouse where all you get are isolated glimpses that don’t reflect anything but waves being made.

Ancillary Justice: THE HUGO, NEBULA AND ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARD WINNER: 1 (Imperial Radch)
Ancillary Justice: THE HUGO, NEBULA AND ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARD WINNER: 1 (Imperial Radch)
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little slow for my liking, 26 July 2015
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To win any one of the major awards in writing in a year is a major achievement, to win five of them is a feat worthy of legend, and it sets up an anticipation for the story that puts an unfair strain on the words before you even start to read them.

Cheerfully I’ve never put much faith in awards in general, so I just read the book…

Ancillary Justice is the story of Breq, who was once the Justice of Toren, a massive warship in the service of the Empress that commanded thousands of troops and brought the will of the empire to all the corners of the galaxy, now a human like so many others. The story begins when Breq discovers the body of Seivarden, a person who should have been dead some years ago from Breq’s previous life as Justice, and makes the decision to look after them against all better logical instincts.

Progressing from two perspectives, that of the present day Breq making their way in the world and that of Justice of Toren in the past and the events that led up to Justice becoming Breq and Breq alone, and there’s nothing in the narrative that marks the difference to the two perspectives because as far as the narrator is concerned, Breq and Justice are the same creature.

This caused a particular problem for me, because while the nature of a self is a constant, time is not, and even a slight hint at the beginning of each chapter (in the manner of Game of Thrones with the name of the character whose chapter it is) would have been enough to prevent the disconnect. As it is, when you start a new chapter, you have to read till you find a landmark or character that’s unique to that section before you know which time period you’re in, sometimes immediate, oft times not.

Not a problem for many perhaps, but I really didn’t like that about it. The other interesting point is the way in which none of the characters are categorised as male or female, particularly when you consider that the languages used on the planet have both male and female inflections and traits, and that too makes for a read that is more challenging than I thought it would have been. I understand the idea that Justice would only ever have considered itself a ship, and so too would Breq as a result, but to have uncertainty over the gender of those that Breq meets in times future seems a little at odds. There’s various talk over the net of it being done to make you question how you see gender and sexuality, particularly as the names given don’t conform to normal naming conventions (western anyway), so there are moments where you do question when a character you thought was male is revealed as female.

An interesting exercise to be sure, but not something to be done in the middle of an active story perhaps...

The story doesn’t race along, but the suspense builds well, there’s a sense of foreboding about what was done in times past and what needs to be done in times future. Ancillary Justice stands and falls with the main character, Justice as a ship is cold, mechanical, analytical, capable of looking through hundreds of eyes at once, seeing things from all angles without passion or confusion. Breq sees only through one pair of eyes, eyes that have the hormonal taint of flesh to them, and it’s in the those hormones that the drama plays out, where Justice would only ever (and does) follow orders, Breq is faced with the psychological rebellion that something just feels wrong and is compelled to act upon it.

I haven’t said much about the book and the plot and to be honest, that’s because it’s not the most complex of plots till the last third, at which point all the intrigue starts pouring in, the truth about Justice is revealed and the book gets to go forwards from a single unified perspective. I understand why the two stories are interspersed, but they’d have been better doing them in chronological order, with the Justice section first and the Breq section afterwards, it wouldn’t have taken anything away from the story and it would have given the reader something to hold on to with Breq, rather than trying to veil everything till the big reveal from times past.

I did enjoy this book in the end, but there was a point at which I put it down to get on with other things, something that doesn’t normally happen with me at all. I normally devour books in a single sitting, but the combination of slow pacing and figuring out which time zone the chapter was in got to me and I needed a break from it.

By the time I’d finished the book, I was certainly into the story and interested in what would happen next, but it took me running out of other new reading material before I did go back to it.

The Martian
The Martian
by Andy Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Readable Hard Science Fiction, a rare element indeed..., 26 July 2015
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This review is from: The Martian (Paperback)
I tend to stay away from hard Science Fiction, which is defined as fiction that’s limited by the technology that we have or can prove at this point in time, and as such can be worked into the realm of science fact. It’s not that I’m in love with ray guns and warp drives, it’s that I tend to read for the thrill of the unknown, and when something isn’t an unknown, it’s not quite so thrilling.

But, in the interest of coming out of the comfort zone, I picked up a copy of the Martian, mainly for the opening line on the preview, which reads…

“I’m pretty much f*****”

Sometimes all you need is a good tagline…

It’s the story of the first manned expedition to Mars, and an accident that befalls the mission when the weather conditions prove to be more severe than expected. One of the crew, Mark Watney, is left behind on the planet, presumed dead following being separated from the others in a massive storm.

Except he’s not dead.

What follows is the explanation of how he finds himself alone on Mars with supplies for six people for 31 days, needing to make them last for at least four years so that mission control might be able to send a team back to rescue him. Note that word, explanation, because there’s a lot of that going on in this book, not to be confused with exposition, and that for me is the cornerstone of Hard science fiction, the proof that the things going on in the book can be done.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no ability in the scientific disciplines that are used in the book, so I can’t speak for the veracity of the equations or the botanical conundrums that are described, but a whole bunch of people who do have that knowledge have spoken praise of the accuracy, so that’s good enough for me.

It would have been easy to imagine a scenario where nothing goes wrong and science wins the day, but Andy Weir hasn’t taken the easy way out on this, throwing problem after problem against Watney. Each time coming up with an accurate scientific solution for how Watney could make a success out of it, from explosions within the base to miscalculations of minute degrees that make a massive difference, everything is about the science, how it can save us if done right, destroy us if done wrong.

Given that the book is pretty much one man and his thoughts on the surface, there’s very little in the way of dialogue in the book, and as a result, a lot of what’s going on is only communicated through the logs of Mark Watney, and therein lies the problem for me. The problem with communicating in Logs is that everything is past tense, you know he got through it because there’s the log to show how he did it, and while there’s nothing wrong with writing in past tense, it loses some of the tension that present tense would bring with it. It’s not till the end of the book when the action is happening in real time that we get some idea of the man that we’ve been reading about and not just the notes that he kept on what had happened. Like any journal, it’ll tell you what happened, but it won’t put the emotion of the moment on the page. There are a few moments of live action, and those moments were well done, giving some much needed life to Watney, but not as many as I felt there should have been. A lot of the action would have been much better in real time rather than reading about it later.

Then there’s the character of Mark Watney, who is intelligent, resourceful, and has the exact mindset and skillset to survive on the planet. I understand that leaving the medical technician or comms specialist on the planet would have had them dead after the food ran out and that doesn’t make for a good story, but Watney is exceptional in all the things he needs to be, and he does have luck on his side in a number of places. I found myself not fearing for Watney, because his assured view is that science can and will overcome everything, a viewpoint that he proves on a number of occasions, but given that science is his ally, there was a lack of tension in the book (for me) as a result.

It’s heavy going in places where the science is going on, particularly when you don’t really understand if what he’s saying is accurate or applied phlebotinum, but it’s an enjoyable read, worth getting through the grinding bits for the ending, and certainly the first Hard science fiction novel that I’ve read that I enjoyed.

One thing I would say is that it’s getting made into a film, and I’ve seen the trailer, from which the line, “I’m going to have to science the s*** out of this…” leads me to believe that Hollywood have their claws into it to make it less like the novel and more like a cheerful version of Interstellar.

In truth, as much as I like things happening in real time, I believe the novel was how this story was meant to be told, and I would urge everyone to read the book before seeing the film.

Old Man's War (The Old Man's War series)
Old Man's War (The Old Man's War series)
by John Scalzi
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A good premise supported by excellent writing, 26 July 2015
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In a brief break from reading the things I don’t normally read, I took a moment to read something of the type that I used to read all the time. Fast paced, high energy science fiction that doesn’t slow down till you hit the end. Read through a bunch of reviews and the name John Scalzi kept coming up, so I picked up his first book and gave it a shot.

It starts with an interesting premise. People sign up for the military aged 65 and are inducted into the military aged 75. John Perry, the main character, lost his wife to a stroke a short while ago, and has now come to the point where it’s time to fulfil his obligation.

Two days later and I was done with the book and looking for book two...

It’s not about old people going off to war, the recruits get new bodies with which to fight (Avatar style, but long before Avatar came out...), and while those bodies are state of the art and well beyond the abilities of normal humans, they are the bare minimum required to fight in the wars of the universe.

The book doesn’t focus on the combat aspect of things, rather painting the picture that the world is different out there, and that a person of 75 with a whole lifetime of experience to draw on, would be a far more dangerous person to deal with if you just gave them their youth back. There’s also the psychological aspect, that if a person was at the end of everything and you offered them a decade in service in return for a new life, most would at least consider it.

There are a few action scenes, wars on different worlds with different creatures, but the story doesn’t linger on them at all, using them as a punchline that the wars are deadly and most don’t make it through them. There is a little character building for the expendables, but the story belongs to John Perry, a man of senior age who speaks and thinks far more like young men should speak and think, and that’s what captured me.

Here’s a writer who understands that it’s not the mind that gets old, it’s the body, most people in senior years still want to be every bit as active (if not moreso) as they were when they were younger, it’s just their body that doesn’t let them...

The story does feel more like it’s been set up to lead into other books, it’s really just getting interesting when the first book finishes, but the first book is self contained. It would be possible to leave it where it finishes and draw your own conclusions, but I am interested in seeing where it will go, so expect a review of the second shortly...

Excellent book, this is the reason I read stories...

by Ernest Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.43

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a story we've all seen before..., 26 July 2015
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This review is from: Armada (Hardcover)
In the wake of reading Ready Player One, and given that I was more than a little late to that particular party, I picked up the next book by Ernest Cline as soon as it came out on the hope that it would be a book of at least similar humour and wit.

Lightning does not often strike twice

I wish it had this time...

Armada starts in the same way as Ready Player One. Zack, a young man who lost his father at a very early age is making his way in the world one day at a time, with the only exceptional thing about him being his skills at video games. The world is a dark and miserable place, until one day he finds out that all the games he’s ever played were part of a government sponsored plan to teach the whole world how to fight an impending alien invasion and he’s been specifically selected to help the war effort along with the other elite game players.

Yes, someone rewrote the Last Starfighter...

In and of itself, that’s not a problem, I liked the Last Starfighter...

But it’s more than that, the story is tagged together, but obviously so. Here there’s a bit of the Last Starfighter, there’s some Star Wars, here’s some Robotech, there’s some American Pie, and while its all well and good to borrow things from other series, the one thing you don’t do is point out that that’s what you’re doing...

There was my biggest problem, every time a bit I recognised came along, it was less than a half page before Zack considered where the quote came from, it came across as if the author was trying to prove how much pop culture he was familiar with and for me, it disrupted the story badly.

The book tries to keep the same level of geek savvy and pop culture references that were in the first book, but Armada fails where Ready Player One succeeded, and it’s for one very good reason. The references in the first book weren’t jaded or rehashed from anything else, they were all relevant to the situation at hand, and most importantly...

They were all right...

The first book was so endearing because of that intimate knowledge, you could empathise with Wade because he was a geek, absolutely one of us. He obsessed over certain things and he had the knowledge to go with those obsessions, he got the details right and he was proud that he got them right. In Armada, Zack is also supposedly a geek, and while he’s quoting from the same sources that Wade was, he gets things right, but when he goes off piste (Top Gun for example), the knowledge isn’t there, he draws conclusions from things that weren’t correct, or worse, were misquoted...

(Yes, I do love Top Gun, and I know the difference between Viper and Stinger...)

I liked Ready Player One, took me two days to finish, but I enjoyed almost all of it. Armada I finished in a morning and when I was done, I had no desire to go back to it, and in the world of reminiscence fiction, not wanting to go back to something isn’t a good thing...

Ready Player One
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A good story with a side dose of reminiscence, 26 July 2015
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This review is from: Ready Player One (Paperback)
“You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada.”

The perfect score on Pac-Man is 3333360

There’s a way to get infinite lives on Tempest...

Does any of this this mean anything to you?

If not, this book might not be quite as good for you as it was for me...

I imagine it’s a difficult thing to write a book with a teenage protagonist and aim the book at those in the forty to fifty age range, but in Ready Player One, Ernest Cline has done exactly that. The book centres around the idea that the whole world is jacked in and spends most of its time in a virtual world called The Oasis, rather than actually living in the real world. One day, James Halliday, the creator of the Oasis dies and with his death, calls into play the greatest competition in the world.

Those who solve his riddle and find the key will inherit the entire Oasis...

It’s the equivalent of Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, and Obama all handing over their power to the person who solves the riddle, and Wade Watts, a young man who grew up in the Oasis, wants to solve that Riddle...

The story is set in 2044, and at the beginning of the story, Wade is in his late Teens but he’s spent a long time studying games and the history of games, playing on old games and generally hanging out in the Oasis. When the competition is announced, Wade manages to piece together the clues before anyone else does to get a headstart, and the story spirals from there. He gathers together a party of other like minded adventurers, all different races and creeds, all drawn from the ranks of the Oasis users he knows and trusts and they battle against the combined ranks of the Sixers, a corporation who are trying to get the power for themselves and have far more resources than the kids.

There’s a lot of references to things that occurred around the time of my childhood, Xur and the Kodan armada are the bad guys in the film The Last Starfighter, a film I greatly enjoyed when I was a kid, but not one that stood the test of time well. References to other films like Wargames and original D&D Modules like The Tomb of Horrors were similarly well received and it was easy to draw some sort of kinship with the author as a person who liked similar things to me, which in turn made it easier to like the main character as they came up with the same things.

The story needs suspension of disbelief on a number of levels. The information needed to win the various challenges isn’t hidden, and if a single person was up against a powerful corporation, it’s a sure bet that that corporation would hire a number of geeks to give up the answers. But that said, it’s an enjoyable run, Wade, Art3mis, Aech and the others are likable characters and they often act like kids, rather than being utterly focused on the win, they take time out to do other things and they’re very human in their outlook.

If you’re a geek and you remember the 80’s well, this book will be a pleasant run down memory lane with a reasonable story to boot. If you’re neither of the above, you may still like the book, but it won’t have the resonance that it did for me.

Station Eleven
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful storytelling, 26 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: Station Eleven (Paperback)
The quote on the back says “Beautifully written and wonderfully elegiac”

Elegiac? Really?

Go ahead, look it up, I had to...

Station Eleven is a story about Arthur Leander, a man who dies in the first chapter of the book, on the evening that a deadly virus arrives in North America and wipes out the world within a few weeks. Those who survived the virus did so mostly by being away from the rest of the world, or in places where the virus didn’t manage to spread to, there is no talk of anyone being immune to this virus, which is a refreshing change from the usual group of resilient survivors.

The next chapters tell of civilisation as it falls, but not in a voyeuristic way, more in momentary glimpses of individual worlds as they ended, not knowing they were ending. There’s no shock, horror, tactics at work, it’s simple prose narrating what (for the omnipotent narrator) is just another day on the world.

The story then shifts again, to a time many years after, when some of those who knew Arthur are now part of a travelling show that goes from town to town and performs in return for food or shelter for the evening. Life has changed much since the removal of technology from it, modern medicines are no longer present, and while there are dangers, there are far less of them, because there are far less people in general.

But there are still dangers...

The pace of the book isn’t fast, but nor does it crawl, what it did for me was hold my attention to the page. I read in one chapter of the dangers presented by a new age preacher and those following him, and in the next chapter, was thrown back twenty years previous to a time when Arthur Leander was still alive, and read of things that he did in his life that unknowingly would affect a world decades after his death.

The best stories are woven, and I haven’t seen a better example in recent years than this. There are many threads to the cloth of the story, from Arthur and his flawed existence, to Clark who preserves the civilisation of the past as best he can, to Kirsten making her way in the new world, and each of them has a distinct voice, but not so distinct that they drown out the sound of the others. The threads only come together in the last few pages, and to put even a summation of where it went would be to ruin the nature of this book. Life is a journey, and when you reach the end of it, you find yourself looking back and wondering what else you could have done if you’d threaded things a little different. This book is a journey, I understand the ending, but I can also see the ways in which it could have gone so differently.

Throughout, the writing is simple, not trying to use big words to score points (Elegiac anyone?), but instead the right words, and the right words are rarely complex. The characters are not as detailed as they could have been, but that allows the reader to imprint on them all the more, and the ending, while not triumphant (which would have been inappropriate given the setting), is satisfying, it leads to a greater sense of the world out there.

Most of all, the way in which the story strips away the nature of what we are now and presents the image of what we were once and could be again is the greatest strength of it.

Well recommended...

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