Monday, August 22, 2016

Book: "Keeper of the Eye" by Mark Shane

The third of my latest batch of "BART books", I just finished "Keeper of the Eye" by Mark Shane.

I'm starting to question Amazon's recommendation system and the sorts of people who leave five-star reviews.

"Keeper of the Eye" appears to be the freshman novel of Mark Shane, based on a quick Google search.

It tells the story of Michael, a handsome carpenter who is secretly a super-powerful magic user, instinctively-brilliant swordsman, and heir to the throne of some land with a forgettable name and of Falon, a beautiful (of course) super-efficient assassin who can drain a magic user of his or her power and/or life.

And there's a wizard named Max and a bunch of other utterly-forgettable side characters.

There's also a LORD OF DARKNESS trapped behind some magical barrier, evil warlocks who want to free said evil being, and gloating villains.

Oh, and there's a magic sword. Because fantasy.

I'm being snarky, of course. Many fantasy novels have some or all of these tropes. It's fine. Fantasy is escapist. Nothing wrong with having the tropes.

Done well.

So that brings me to "Keeper of the Eye". Imagine if you took "Once and Future King", "Wizard's First Rule", a bit of "Blood Song", and a sampling of pretty much every other fantasy novel you can imagine, then put them all together in a blender. Then you overdid it on the trite dialog and tropes.

There you have it.

"Keeper of the Eye" isn't really bad. It's an okay read. Fun in parts, with its overly-competent hero who is humble and self-doubting to the point of being ridiculous.

Then it starts to steer into really bad. Falon, the heroine, appears early on and is attached to the obligatory quest. Then she essentially merits the odd mention for about a third of the book, mainly screaming or glaring. The next thing you know, Michael and Falon are suddenly, jarringly, inexplicably from sniping at each other to in love.

Again, you read and see these tropes a lot, but normally they're done a bit better. This was just painful.

From there... yeah. I have to admit I was disappointed in this book. It was an okay read interspersed with just ridiculously-awful tropes and cliches.

I have time slated later to use whiskey to kill some brain cells.

Next up is either "The Waking Fire" by Anthony Ryan (as I try to see if he redeems himself after the awful sequels to "Blood Song") and then switching to sci-fi for a bit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Game Thoughts:

Last Saturday was our monthly game. Possibly the last time this year the entire gang will get together around the table, thanks to real life and all that.

It wasn't my best game.

When the group last left off, several of their number were captive of a foe I'd been building up over several sessions. More of this foe's targets were still among the group. So the group set out to get to safer ground, with some undercover and disguised.

As I like complexity to my plots, I decided to see if the captives could manage an escape from my villains. Essentially, I played a side game with myself before we got together. Things got to a certain point and I decided I'd see where the tabletop game would go from there.

And that's where I fell down a bit. I let the party split (usually a no-no in role-playing games) but I'd intended to force things so everyone was present for any big bad encounters.

I lost control of the plot for a bit and had two players pretty much just sitting around bored for a couple of hours.

Yeah. I done a bad thing.

After our heroes delivered a bit of righteous smiting against bad guys, I got everyone together and threw even more bad guys (of a different sort) at them in a totally contrived fight. Only this time, I sort of forced things so everyone had to cooperate.

I thought I'd thrown some challenging bad guys at them. Fucking hell, they walked through my bad guys like they were paper dolls. It was a little embarrassing, all said.

I'm almost done with this story arc. Maybe I'm just running out of steam for this one. Hm. I must ponder.

Books: "The Path of Flames" and "Kingdom of Denall: The Troven"

As I wait for any of my favorite fantasy authors to find it in their schedules to release another book, I've had to turn to other avenues for my entertainment.

Yes, I've let Amazon guide me with their suggestions.

Two of the suggestions I have burned through were: "The Path of Flames" by Phil Tucker and "Kingdom of Denall: The Troven" by Eric Buffington.

The Path of Flames

Set in a strange, magical empire led by some kind of holy supermen called "Virtues", Tucker's "The Path of Flames" tells the stories of Asho the slave-turned-squire-turned-knight and Lady Kethe, the daughter of a great knight of the Ascendant Empire.

The story starts off interestingly-enough. Asho, a member of the slave-class Bythians, has been elevated to be a squire in defiance of tradition. For all that, the man who elevated Asho is an utter and complete asshole who wants Asho to fail horribly.

Then there's a battle in which dark, heretical magic is used to slaughter the army Asho stands with, leaving Asho one of the few survivors. For his part in the battle, Asho is knighted by one of the Virtues then returns to his lord's keep to tell of his lord's death and try to become a knight.

Then things get worse.

Meanwhile, Lady Kethe has decided she's not really into dresses, knitting, and "lady-like" endeavors. She wants to become a knight herself. So she's gotten a sword made and is learning to use it.

And she's kind of a badass. Oh, and apparently has some kind of ancestral magic.

So, yeah. Things got worse as things do. Villains do schemes and the next thing you know, our heroes and various associated heroes wind up in some ready-to-collapse keep in the middle of nowhere through one of the magic Gates that the Ascendant Empire uses.

Oh, and the keep is cursed. Anyone who is there for too long vanishes.

But our heroes have worse problems.

Yeah, I think I'll stop there on the plot specifics. Phil Tucker's story is certainly interesting. The world he's created for his Ascendant Empire is fascinating. He's got a very clear caste-system in place, an interesting religious structure, and an intriguing magic system. As the heroes stumble across ancient records, you can quickly see where the lies are set to prop up the power structure of the Ascendant Empire.

That's the good stuff.

From there, I have to say I wasn't especially taken-in by any of the characters in "The Path of Flames". Kethe was probably the most interesting, followed by one of the other knights. Everyone else was pretty cliche and cardboard-cutout. The villains were over-the-top. The heroes were largely hard to sympathize with. I especially found Asho to be disappointingly-whiny. When he starts to come into his own, the other problem emerges in the story. The magic used in the world is really not described very well. I had a hard time tracking WTF was going on at the end there. Or maybe my eyes just glazed over. Hard to say.

Overall, "Path of Flames" was okay. I'm not sure I'll hunt down the sequel. I'll have to think on it. I'm really intrigued to learn more of his world history but I really can't find myself giving two shits about the main characters at all.

Kingdom of Denall: The Troven

Yeah. Try saying that title three times fast.

Eric Buffington's coming-of-age story tells of four boys who undergo a rite of passage from their village known as "the Troven". When undertaking the Troven, boys of 18 or so (apparently women don't have to do this) have to live a year out in the world before they can come home and be considered men.

"The Troven" tells the story of four of these boys: Kaz, Garin, Farin, and Bendar as they set out on their Troven.

Let me back up a bit. It seems people who are born in the Kingdom of Denall (where these lads are from) are all born with some kind of magical gift. Exceptional sight, exceptional hearing, exceptional sense of smell, exceptional strength, super magic casting powers, you get the picture. These gifts get "levels". Level one is weak and barely worth nothing. Level four is impressive. Level five is seriously badass.

Young Kaz is born with the gift of sight, which manifests as four little dots around his eyes when he employs his magical ability. He's also an archer of uncommon skill. Like Robin Hood good.

Yes. When you use your ability, little dots appear indicating how strong you are (your "level") and what you can do.

Garin and his twin brother Farin have the gift of hearing, at a lesser strength than Kaz. Garin is a farm boy who just wants to finish his Troven then go home and marry his sweetheart. Farin wants to learn the sword and become a soldier for the king.
Bendar has the gift of intellect and is a bit "on the spectrum" in his interpersonal skills. He wants to go off to a university and learn all the things involving a terrible prophesy known as "The Changing" (dun-dun-DUN!!!!).

Our four lads decide to collaborate to survive their Troven.

Then things go wrong. Bandits. Wild animals. Crazed magic-hunters. You-name-it.

You see, while our hapless lads are wandering about, the magician Dune is trying to stop the mysterious Stone Seekers from finding the Stones of Power.

Yes, these magical MacGuffins can do things. There's a Stone of Sight, a Stone of Hearing, a Stone of Magic, and so on. And they call to people because maaaaaagic. That's what these things do, y'know.

Next thing you know, our four boys find themselves inadvertently caught up in schemes around the Stones of Power.

Because, of course, one of these lads is "chosen" and falls into possession of one of the Stones.

Yeah. Enough plot summary.

So, my thoughts: Buffington's story reads like a young adult novel in many ways. I really ought to go back and look if it's rated as such. I found the writing a bit uneven in parts. There was a lot of "the four boys on their Troven have gone here, done this minutae, and this happened" sort of stuff. Jarringly, he suddenly shifts in the next chapter to completely different characters who are doing completely different things that, I assume, will all come together in some future book.

Characters that appear important drop in seemingly at random with jarring introductions, then vanish again. The villains were largely cliche and fairly uninteresting. Some of the plot threads seemed to go off in really weird directions that make me wonder if this entire book was based on a role-playing campaign of some sort.

It's certainly got a role-playing feel to it.

For all that, I have to say I enjoyed the book. The main character, Kaz, was likeable-enough.

I assume this is Buffington's first offering and he'll only improve from here.

I think I'll pick up the sequel when it comes out, if only to see where he's going with this.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Science proves a "Duh" moment

Per Mental Floss, open offices are bad for productivity (and morale).

As someone who works in an open office environment, I have to say this one is a no-brainer. This conclusion has actually been around for a while now. Still, companies seem enamored with the whole "open office" design.

I imagine it must be cheaper or something. I can't, for the life of me, grasp any other reason why such a layout would be embraced.

I'm glad I like my co-workers.

I'm also glad we have a good work-from-home policy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Books, Brownies, and Notes

I finished "Of Dawn & Darkness: Second Sea" by Will Wight. The alternate novel of the second set of books in his "Elder Empire" series that's essentially ninjas vs pirates in a world with Lovecraftian horrors, it's the second book telling the story of ship captain Calder Marten as he struggles through murky politics, maneuverings of Elder Gods, and a dance around his counterpart, the Consultant Shera (from "Of Dawn & Darkness: Second Shadow"... yes, I know I said it was called "Of Darkness & Dawn" before. I drink before I write blog posts, okay?).

It was a short, but thoroughly-enjoyable story of Marten, his dangerous wife, Jerri, and his madcap crew of misfits as he strives to become the next Emperor of the Empire.

You just have to love a sea captain with a mini-Cthulhu on ship instead of a parrot.

Wight does a creative job splitting his stories between the two main point-of-view protagonists: Calder Marten and Shera. His world is clever and quite disturbing.

Of the two books, I have to say I probably lean more towards enjoying Shera's stories than Calder's. My college roommate read the first pair of books and had the opposite reaction. Not terribly surprising. I've always been more of a ninja-leaning sort.

Now I'm briefly on to four Amazon suggestions. The first is "The Path of Flames" by Phil Tucker. The opening is a bit weird, but doesn't suck. Good BART fodder.

After that, I've got "Dark Run" by Mike Brooks (sci-fi), then "The Troven" by Eric Buffington (fantasy), and finally "Keeper of the Eye" by Mark Shane (again, fantasy).

I may burn through the fantasy novels before switching to sci-fi.

Made brownies. Not sure why I made brownies. One moment, I had no dessert in my house. The next, I had a batch of Scharffenberger-chocolate brownies.

I've already eaten four.

I need to get these goddamn things out of my apartment.

I'm back to pouring through Java. I took this evening to give myself a little refresher and clean up my notes before I tackle Inheritance. Already some things are clearer now.

Of course, I took a break and had a little whiskey. That's kind of finished me off for the night. Oh well, it's all good.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


I... I just... whyyyyyyy? WHYYYYYYY????



Trying to self-study Java has really driven home to me a few things:
  • Trying to self-study something you're learning for reasons other than personal interest is not a great way to learn a new skill.
  • I have a serious love-hate relationship with coding. Right now there's a bit more hate than love.
  • I can read Java code... more or less... but writing programs from scratch is a bit beyond me. Case in point: I have an exercise to write a class to create a stack class (processing first-in, last-out). I get the logic on a high level and how it differs from a queue (first-in, first-out), but writing a class to do that still escapes me after having read the referring chapter on methods and classes three times.

    That's not boding well for the rest of the book.
My conclusion is that I really ought to try to schedule a proper class for learning Java. The irony of needing a class (for instruction) to learn to write a class (something used in Java) amuses me. Plus, kinda punny.