Starship Grifters

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese is the first book in the Rex Nihilo Adventures series, but the 3rd volume I’ve read in this universe.

The first volume I read was the short The Chicolini Incident, featuring Rex Nihilo and Sasha, which I understand is included in the third book in the series, a prequel, Book 0, Out of the Soylent Planet. I enjoyed it enough to read this next book in the series.

The second was The Yanthus Prime Job, a damned fine novella featuring the character Pepper Melange, without Rex Nihilo or Sasha. Pepper Melange makes several appearances along the way in Starship Grifters. There’s also Aye, Robot, Book 2 of Rex Nihilo, which includes the Pepper Melange novella.

In spite of the name of the series, I wouldn’t actually say Rex Nihilo is the main character. The story is told from the viewpoint of Sasha, Rex’s robot sidekick. Rex Nihilo is basically an awful person who is more an antagonistic Murphy’s Law force of nature which beleaguers the life of the well-intentioned robot Sasha. This relationship is not at all unlike Zapp Brannigan and Kif Kroker from Futurama. Rex Nihilo also reminded me, for several reasons, of Harry Harrison’s Bill the Galactic Hero.

I’m kinda pissed that by the very end of the novel I had been tricked into being sympathetic to Rex, because he’s really a total shit, but it was a good twist. I’ve had more than enough of people like him. I’m really just over it, even for humour factor. But, when taken as an antagonist within the story, Rex is certainly easy to hate.

But other than Rex’s constantly creeping ick factor while falling trippingly into success after success in spite of himself, usually being saved by other characters trying to survive the situations Rex creates, the story is amusing, and in places laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a lot of scifi in-jokes, especially at the expense of Star Wars. I guessed some twists way early, but others were well and truly surprising.

I read this synced to the audiobook, and both are well done. The one criticism I have for the audiobook is that the portrayal of Rex’s voice never quite seemed right to me. Maybe it’s an expectation from Zap Brannigan being obliviously boisterous, but for the audiobook Rex has a kind of gravelly voice that sounds like a smarmy Mark Twain to me, and doesn’t quite match the character in the story, or the image on the cover for that matter, to me.

I’m slightly ambivalent about reading more in the series, though it’s good enough. And, I’ve already got the next two books, so I’ll probably get around to them eventually. I find I’d be much more interested in Pepper Melange and Sasha teaming up, but realistically they’d be unstoppable; and Rex is a walking talking crisis creation device, so … Yeah, I just don’t really want to read about Rex anymore, but I might anyway for the rest of it.

I made 29 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Starship Grifters

Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.

This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.

I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.

I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.

On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.

The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602

First Sample Zendo Pieces

Andy Looney posted some pictures of the First Sample Zendo Pieces for the upcoming new release and … they aren’t all pyramids! What is this black magic?!

We’ve just passed a major milestone in the production of our new edition of Zendo: the first samples of actual pieces have arrived from the factory, and they look terrific!

Here are a bunch of photos, showing the pieces in various different arrangements. For size reference, the pyramid is the same size as a 2-pip piece from Pyramid Arcade.

I’m so excited to have these pieces in hand. After years of pondering options and trying out 3-D printed prototypes, it’s kind of amazing to have actual finished pieces in hand. They look so good, and they’re so much fun to stack up and play with!

The other elements of the game (box design, cards, rulebooks, etc.) are all done, so with the approval of the pieces, Zendo is officially at the printer. Woo-Hoo!

Also, consider that new shapes mean, wait for it … new game design options for Looney Pyramids! I’ll have a fully functional Sleestak pylon control panel now, for sure!

The Iron Oath

The Iron Oath crowdfunding effort by Curious Panda looks visually pixel-cool: “A gritty turn-based RPG with a focus on tactics and the management of your guild within a dynamic world.” I saw some of their images on Twitter and ended up checking them out, and just got word their campaign has started.

Sunless Skies

Sunless Skies from Failbetter Games, which I backed in crowdfunding, sequel to Sunless Sea, which I backed in crowdfunding, inspired by Fallen London, which I’ve played, which followed when The Night Circus ended, which I also played, is coming to early access at Steam and GOG on August 30th.

LONDON HAS TAKEN TO THE STARS! As the captain of a spacefaring locomotive you’ll behold wonders and battle cosmic abominations in the furthest heavens. Stake your claim. Fight to survive. Speak to storms. Murder a sun. Face judgement.

Sunless Skies tells the story of one possible future of the Fallen London Universe. Ten years have passed since Sunless Sea, and Queen Victoria has led an exodus from London to the heavens. There, a revitalised British Empire – ambitious and authoritarian – begins to expand across the skies.

Dawn of the Archmage

Crowdfunding for Dawn of the Archmage by Dave Killingsworth and SolarFlare Games has started. They created Nightmare Forest: Dead Run and stand-alone sequel Nightmare Forest: Alien Invasion, among others, you may have heard me mention.

Summon Your Power!

Dawn of the Archmage is small unit (miniatures) skirmish game for 2 to 4 players. Each mage will represent a school of magic, summoning powerful monsters to the battlefield. Pitting their fearsome creatures in gladiatorial battle, one mage will reign victorious, ascending to the title of Archmage.

Do you have the strength and strategy to defeat your enemies? Will you become the Archmage?

Adventurers Wanted!

Chad Lewis of Lewtoons posted asking for applications from players who want to start up a new D&D weekly live streaming show, planned to begin in August.

How damned cool would that be, right? Of course, I totally already replied that I’d love to join the campaign!

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular Activities, a short set in The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee is a breezily written, as I understand, prequel that tells a bit of backstory about an interesting main character from the other novels in a richly developed future. The language is simple and not at all complex, so this short is an even quicker than expected finish. But, on the whole, the universe in which the story takes place has a beautiful complexity of culture and conception that proves ultimately this is worth more than the sliver of time it took to read.

The cultures of this fiction appear to be based on many social and aesthetic norms within various Asian nations, so if I were more versed in the history and those cultures then I may have recognized more analogy to the real world than I did just well-done fiction. It occurred to me while reading this that my personal immersion in Western and American culture, although I’d certainly claim to be at least cosmopolitan, helped to create a sense of otherness and alienness to the particulars of the story which I might not have felt otherwise. I wondered about the reverse of that experience for readers of sci fi from the East with so much of the science fiction futures that I’ve read have been my Western and American authors. Kinda obvious now that I’ve thought it, but I’m not sure I’d pondered that so specifically before, as I had while reading this. It occurred to me perhaps the world-building might not seem quite as inventive and novel for a reader within those cultures that seem represented in allegory.

It’s short, quick, cheap, and interesting. Plus, after reading this short, I’m certainly more interested than I was to read the full novels in the series. So, well done, author! Well done.

I made 2 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Extracurricular Activities

Iron Tides

Iron Tides by Crash Wave Games, which I supported in crowdfunding, and had a successful Greenlight, is out on Steam in Early Access and currently 15% off.

This “rogue-like Viking simulator” is an adventure at sea with epic tactical battles and dungeon-crawler elements. Conscript your warriors and prepare for a new raiding season!