Prador Moon, by Neal Asher

Prador Moon: A Novel Of The PolityPrador Moon: A Novel Of The Polity by Neal Asher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prador Moon is the first Neal Asher novel i’ve yet read and although it was certainly a rollicking action fest that hit all the marks; man-eating crabs, check, insanely powerful weapons, check, kick-ass but dark military protagonist, check, hilariously awesome ending, check… It didn’t hit the right notes for me and i’m at a loss to explain why. It did seem somewhat rushed, somewhat distanced from the action, whereas most of my favorite space-opera (Reynolds, Moon, Banks…) tend to be very close in to the protagonists, so that may well be part of it.

Regardless, it was a well designed story in a well detailed universe and I enjoyed it enough to look forward to reading the next in the series.

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Marque and Reprisal (Vatta’s War #2), by Elizabeth Moon

Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War)Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marque and Reprisal, the second book in the Vatta’s war series, is where the overarching conspiricy gets kicked into high-gear, once again with Kylara in the middle of it. A combined, interstellar attack on the ansible communications platforms and the entire Vatta family leaves ships exploding in dock and the family headquarters in ruins, with most of the executive dead. Kylara herself is once again forced to deal with pirate attacks, mercenaries, an disgraced cousin, the loss of her family and a strange package from an old friend at space-force.

Teaming up with her cousin Stella, Kylara once again has to show why she is more than a simple trading captain, and it will fall to her to carry on the family name.

This book is full of all the action and intrigue you would expect from the first book, but amplified and shot up with combat drugs. It is a great continuation of the series.

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Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon

Trading in Danger (Vatta's War)Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started listening to this book simply because I wanted something light and space-opera’y to listen to while I worked, that wasn’t going to be too distracting. That’s not what I got, but I wasn’t at all disappointed!

This, the first book in the Vatta’s War series, tells the story of Kylara Vatta, a young scion of the famous Vatta Trading House and disgraced space-force military cadet. Robbed of her dreams of the military life, Kylara accepts a position as captain aboard a small family trade vessel scheduled for the scrap yard and takes off on her first voyage, and this ship’s last.

She has a well-trained and experienced crew to keep her out of trouble and safe and a milk-run for her first voyage, however an opportunity for more profit leads her to stray off course and straight into the middle of a war. The fast paced action takes us from decision to decision as Kylara tangles with mercenaries, pirates and ICS – the interstellar communications monopoly who responds to any challenge with an iron fist. In the meantime, behind the scenes, events are set in motion that will change Kylara, Vatta Trading, and the known universe forever.

A highly entertaining a recommended story.

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Rigor Amortis

If you’ve been following my reviews you may be interested to know that I have been invited to be one of the reviewers on Shock Totem magazine’s website blog. My first review is up, and it’s a doozie! Go check it out.

Rigor Amortis

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3:16 – Carnage Amongst the Stars

3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars by Gregor Hutton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carnage Amongst the Stars is a fascinating read, primarily because it takes roleplaying and pares it back to its absolute essentials within the context of its own particular focus.

Its primary focus is the epic Humans vs Aliens kill-a-thon stories portrayed in fiction and movies, with particular emphasis on the movie-version of Starship Troopers. If you think of armoured humans dropping down on to an alien planet to destroy everything in site you’re not too far wrong.

The rules make it very easy to generate missions (each mission is the destruction of another alien world), and make the game very simple to play. There are only two statistics; Fighting Ability (FA) for when you’re shooting aliens and Non-Fighting Ability (NFA) for when you’re doing anything else. The kill count rises rapidly with the potential for each soldier to be killing dozens, or even hundreds of aliens in each mission, earning themselves promotions and access to bigger, badder weapons and equipment as they go.

Simplistic and gung-ho as this sounds, the game actually grows surprisingly deep the longer you play. We’ve run two sessions now and the game quickly becomes quite confronting. The ‘flashback’ system that the game uses to define “Strengths” (which allow a one-shot chance for your soldier to end an encounter as an overwhelming victory) and “Weaknesses” (which save your soldier from dying, but only by losing the encounter and being taken out in some manner) require the players to narrate a snapshot of the soldier’s past and explain how it affects their current situation. This simple mechanic alone allows a great deal of characterisation to be built around a formerly two-dimensional character.

As well as this, as the game progresses the characters (and players) have to gradually face up to the fact that this is not a game where the death-toll and violence can be attributed to the heroic defense of a country/planet/race or the needs of a moment. The characters are not heroes, as gradually becomes plain, but flawed human cogs in a monstrous machine dedicated to exterminating all non-human life in the universe.

It’s an excellent and simple game and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interesting in science fiction roleplaying, excellent storytelling, and hack-and-slash gaming pared back to its absolute essentials.

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The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (D&D 3.0e)

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (Forgotten Realms) (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (Forgotten Realms) by Ed Greenwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always been a fan of the forgotten realms as a setting. To my mind it is one of the most detailed, well-thought out fictional worlds specifically designed for gaming.

The 3rd edition D&D version of the campaign setting updates the overarching meta-plot and is absolutely packed full of flavour and added rules material for 3.0e, and so it has a little bit for everyone. For players there are new prestige classes, special rules for creating characters with additional forgotten realms specific details such as region of birth, new spells and clerical domains and an awful lot of details about the deities and the planar layout; which differs significantly from the Greyhawk standard laid out in the core rulebooks.

For DM’s there are enough plot hooks and ideas for dozens of full length campaigns spanning the length and breadth of Faerun and beyond, from the independent dale-realms to the frozen north, the mysterious and dangerous eastern kingdoms to the steamy Chultan jungles, the pirate-infested islands to the new world across the sea.

For everyone there is a wealth of setting materials detailing every major area of the Forgotten Realms (though there is little on Maztica or Kara-tur), including major adventuring sites and political issues, and, of course, detailed statistics on everyone’s famous heroes and villains from the long list of Forgotten-Realms tie-in novels. (Yes, there are stats for Drizzt.)

All-in-all it provides a well-detailed overview and everything required to run a 3.0e forgotten realms game. For those playing 3.5e, you’ll need the ‘Player’s Guide to the Forgotten Realms’ which updates the setting to the new rules, but for setting material this book remains unmatched amongst any I’ve yet come across, and a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any fan.

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Apocalypse World Review

Apocalypse WorldApocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to RPGs, I’ve always been a bit of a traditionalist. I grew up with D&D and to this day roleplaying brings to mind the Silver Marches of the Forgotten Realms and the blistering heat of the Anarauoch desert.

Over the years I’ve explored different rule-sets and settings but one thing has always remained constant; preparation. I’ve never been that good at improvisation and, like many, live in fear of sitting like a Roo in headlights with no idea what to do next.

So my first impression when I read these rules, particularly the part that said “DO NOT PREPARE ANYTHING”, was “you gotta be kidding.”

I finished reading the book though and I must say its got some fascinating ideas in it. The flavour text is well written with some nice classes and examples evoking all the grittiness of a post-apocalyptic setting. The rules were quite different than a regular GM would be used to as well, with the GM rarely (if ever) rolling dice, with all of that reserved instead for the players. All NPCs are named, but none have stats; so the full mechanical agency rests with the players, NPCs given narrative agency only.

By the time I got to the end of this book, I knew two things. 1) This was like no rpg I’d ever played and 2) I had to try it.

The book itself has nice production values, particularly for an independent PDF publication. It suffers a little from inconsistency as the same rules are sometimes presented in multiple places, with differences in wording that make one of the places far more clear. This can make it harder when searching for a ruling at the table. Some of the rules are also quite abstract and need several readings to understand what is being attempted (a few more examples wouldn’t have gone astray.)

Overall, a well-thought-out and present core book, with plenty to interest the post-apocalyptic roleplayer. Even if you’ve never played improv before, give it a go. There are lots of little tools in the book to help you figure out how to do it; and they work excellently.

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