The Encounter Log

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Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard: I seem to have put this down for a while, so a partial review: Not much different from its predecessor, except for the boss battles seemingly needing you to have picked exactly the right classes and skill sets. Kind of frustrating.

Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin: A fine set of inventive stories, with an introduction that shows off the wicked sense of humor Le Guin has when the mood strikes her.

Immortal Defense: Possibly the most addictive video game ever. A "tower defense" game where you are defending hyperspace paths to keep humanity safe... or at least you are at first, before the story turns dark, turns hopeful again, and then drops down a trapdoor into... oops, don't want to spoil it. Terrific, but do not download the demo unless you have a lot of spare time in the immediate future. Now I just need to get this Planescape: Torment game that everyone compares it to.

Dune board game: Based on the movie, players take control of different factions to mine spice and kill each other off. Killing is easy early on, but it eventually came down to a multi-round deathmatch between Princess Irulan and Dr. Kynes, both equipped Munchkin-style with every combat bonus item in the game. A decent game system, actually, just liable to cause silly outcomes.

The Story of Stupidity: A History of Western Idiocy from the Days of Greece to the Moment You Saw this Book by James F. Welles: I steer clear of books about the history of "Western thought" because they sound boring. It was about halfway through this that I realized I'd been suckered into reading one. But it is funny and informative with everything it's got a historical perspective on; only the description present-day (as it was when it was written) social ills serves as a salutary reminder that situational psychology has made huge strides since 1989.

Meanwhile, in Endeavour-land...

Shindaheen, Fire and Iceland, Three Roads to Waitsburg, and Airna of Karapin by G. F. Skipworth: Vanity-press books with an unusual combination of attributes: fascinating story, distinct characters, tight plotting, and absolutely terrible prose.

City Without End by Kay Kenyon: Restores my interest in the series after the tedious second book. Really interested in seeing the ending now, even though the general outlines are already clear. Unfortunately, the series appears to have been demoted within its publishing house; it's now a trade paperback rather than hardcover, and copyediting appears to have been replaced by a once-over with a spellchecker, resulting in some especially science-fictional images such as the blimp-like alien rising into the sky on warm currants.

Canticle by Ken Scholes: Sequel to Lamentation, it moves along better, but way too heavy-handed with the predestination. If absolutely everyone except the Chosen One knows the prophecy in intimate detail, would it kill someone to explain it to him? (All right, with some magic in this world, maybe it would.)

The Alchemist's Pursuit by Dave Duncan: Once again, the Renaissance Wolfe-and-Goodwin-style duo tackle a murder mystery with slight spiritual interference.

Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead: A tip of the hat to this one for managing to pull the wool over my eyes, right up until the end, when the author reveals the magic trick. I am in awe.

Are You There and Other Stories by Jack Skillingstead: No hat tips here, though. The title is a bit of a misnomer, it's really more Are You There and a Bunch of Other Titles Used For the Same Story Over and Over Again.

Einstein Dog by Craig Spence: There are YA novels which transcend age and can be enjoyed by anyone. This is not one of them.

The Child Thief by Brom: For those of you who've read the original Peter Pan and seen how dark it is, here's the story you suspected was lurking underneath it. It may be a bit long for some of you, though.

The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb: A death spirit is struck by temptation, offers to trade existences with Grigori Rasputin, and all sorts of problems follow. A rare and great example of Christianity-based fantasy.

Promise of the Flame by Sylvia Engdahl: I really dreaded this one, remembering the lecture in novel format that preceded it. I shouldn't have; suddenly the characters are not all-powerful, and are faced with one problem after another that have no easy solution. Still could use some editing, but a huge improvement.

In Shade and In Shadow by Barb and J. C. Hendee: Ms. Hendee impressed me in the last issue with a fairly intelligent vampire novel, and now it turns out she also writes fairly intelligent fantasy novels with her husband. Borrows from Tolkien in only the right ways, and may have done him one better on language design.

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