The Encounter Log

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Grimm episode 3, or maybe 3-4: That's as far as I got before invoking the Eight Deadly Words.

Lost Magic for Nintendo DS: Couldn't draw fast enough to get past the first few scenes. I still think it's a good idea for a game mechanic, but it's just not working with all the scrolling back and forth you also have to do on top of dealing with a real-time battle.

Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson: Taking a break from their work on the Dune universe, the authors now bring us a wholly original story of-a decadent interstellar empire and the rare resource critical to spaceflight.

Magic on the Hunt and Magic on the Line by Devon Monk: You know what the US publishing industry needs? The return of the novella (or "light novel" as you Japanese pop-culture fans know it) as a book format. It'd be perfect for series like this where the characters always have to spend a certain amount of time running around in circles or reiterating to bring the page count up to novel length.

Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews: This one, too.

The Falling Machine and Hearts of Smoke and Steam by Andrew P. Mayer: Steampunk plus superheroes! If I weren't suffering steampunk burnout, I'd probably be recommending this almost wholeheartedly (it feels uneven at the start, but it gets better).

Dead Iron by Devon Monk: How about steampunk in pioneer Oregon? How about a black character who is every popular otherness trope scrunched into one big ball of awkwardness? How about a mystic artifact which, on its first appearance, is clearly composed of plot coupons which are going to be scattered to the winds, setting up an entire series...

The Hidden Goddess by M. K. Hobson: Sequel to The Native Star, in which the author sets out to prove that just because something is set in a completely different time period doesn't mean you can't drag apocalyptic Mayan/Aztec-calendar-based dramatics into anyway.

Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord DVDs: Believe it or not, I had never seen this before, though of course I already knew the general outline. Yeah, okay, the budget cuts do start showing, and the first story is not Robert Holmes's finest hour, but overall I found plenty to enjoy. The one thing that might tempt me to watch some of the new series is when it has to revisit the other end of certain events.

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani DVD: Now, this I had seen before at a convention once, all but the critical first few minutes. Glad to finally have that sorted out.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future for Nintendo DS: Luke receives a letter from his future self just as an accident involving an alleged time machine hits the headlines, leading to a trip to a dystopian future London and the revalation of numerous tragic pasts, including the Professor's. From a gameplay standpoint, better than ever.

Downpour by Kat Richardson: A timeout from the ongoing story arc (maybe), it's a largely self-contained mystery complete with drawing-room summation and unncessary giveaways from the Law of Character Economy. Nice and atmospheric.

Endurance by Jay Lake: Rather unfortunately named as the title sums up what I needed to get through it. I'm not sure why; there are action scenes, memorable characters, a detailed and mostly original setting, and yet, like so much of Lake's other writing, it's all put together in some way that eludes my ability to enjoy it.

Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd: All of a sudden, it's kind of good! Was the author just taking forever to get all the pieces in place and start the real story, or did he just decide to kick the series out of its rut? If you've been curious about these books, you could do a lot worse than to just start here.

A Fighting Chance by William C. Dietz: Returning to the Roman-Empire-in-Space, nothing has gotten much better, not the civilization or the plot.

City of Ruins by Kristine Katherine Rusch: The followup to Diving Into the Wreck, taking the action planetside and introducing a fully operational, crewed Dignity Ship. Barely provides more than hints about what's really going on, but satisfying nonetheless. I put this on my Hugo ballot.

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake: Teenagers go out drinking, dare each other to visit a haunted house, and one of them ends up dead! Wait, no, it's a lot better than that makes it sound. Solid, intelligent YA.

The Clone Redemption by Steven L. Kent: It's the end of Harris's story, and a fitting one-- not a complete failure, but hardly triumphant. I'd love to read more about this universe, or what's left of it, anyway.

Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear: What could be so fascinating about this game universe that it can attract a multi-Hugo and Nebula winner to write for it? Microsoft's ability to write enormous advance checks, I guess.

The Damned Busters by Matthew Hughes: For the first 70 pages, it sets up to be a rollicking satire of both superheroes and deal-with-the-Devil stories. Then it changes to the author lecturing the reader. Haven't been this disappointed in ages.

River Marked by Devon Monk: Compared to its predecessor, much less werewolf soap opera and much more gods and magic vs. unspeakable horror. So I liked it a lot more.

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton: In vaguely Dickensian London, a plucky street urchin with mysterious runes on her hand is drawn into a web of events involving the royal family and a secret treaty with the fairies. Could she coincidentally turn out to be the last scion of a noble fairy family, destined to solve the conflict, control the McGuffin, and be catapulted to the highest ranks of society? Have I read this story way too many times?

Professor Layton and the Last Specter for Nintendo DS: Rather than address the aftermath of the gigantic emotional train wreck at the end of game 3 just yet (though some of the bonus material will assure you the writers haven't forgotten about it), this jumps back to when Luke and Layton first met. More puzzles than ever, and perhaps in view of how long the cutscenes are getting, some side material has now been shuffled into unlockable "episodes" that can be viewed separately from the main game.

Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier (draft versions): Schneier widens his focus from security technology to the social systems that require and complement it. Good introduction to the topic for the layman, with tons of footnote pointers to further reading.

In Memories We Fear by Barb Hendee: The vampires track another of their number to the London area and tie up a lot of the series threads.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson: I could nitpick the technology and culture, but the main distinguishing feature of this book is that it is way, way, way, way, way, way, way too long for the story it contains. I'm pretty sure I've read standalone novels for adults that were shorter than just the final chase scene and gun battle. The sendups of bloated fantasy writing early on just serve as cruel irony.

Honeyed Words by J. A. Pitts: A much improved followup to Black Blade Blues, setting up problems that are clearly going to take a whole series to fix.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson: A nice fresh look at a robot uprising.

Of Truth and Beasts by Barb and J. C. Hendee: Concluding the second Noble Dead series, Wynn finds her way to the ancient city and uncovers more uncomfortable facts. Best moment: making dragons genuinely scary again for a few pages.

The Other by Matthew Hughes: With The Damned Busters in mind, I was dubious of the jacket quotes proclaiming the author to be the new Jack Vance. But it is, actually, very Vanceian and worth a look.

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian: And so another band of Chosen Ones set forth from their generic medieval village across a battered landscape of turgid prose under the guidance of a mystical figure who warns that they must do battle with the Evil One to save the world.

2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens by Alma Alexander: Five friends meet for coffee and are given the opportunity to see how their banal lives might have been transformed by one changed choice into different banal lives. Definitely one to recommend to recommend to readers who are scared of sf.

When the Saints by Dave Duncan: Continuing on from Speak to the Devil, all is explained, lovers are reunited, and European politics are more or less sorted out.

Professor Layton's London Life for Nintendo DS: A bonus game that comes with Last Specter, in which you create a character who takes up residence in "Little London", where most of the major and minor characters from all four games are assembled, does various banal fetch-quests, and ultimately becomes the only person who can save it from angry fairies with mass drivers. It's kind of like reading someone's self-insertion fanfic, only it's intentionally funny most of the time. Best enjoyed with experience of all the previous games and a strong appreciation of the absurd.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing episodes 4-21 at Funimation: The story kept swerving this way and that; rather than interesting, it felt deeply uneven. Fans of the original need not watch this.

Bodacious Space Pirates episodes 1-3 at Crunchyroll: Meh. Always good to see someone try making a show with a strong and capable heroine, but meh.

West of January by Dave Duncan: Reads kind of like a homage, or maybe a polite rejoinder, to the days of pulp.

Hunter X Hunter episodes 1-43 at Crunchyroll: Hey, I'm enjoying a shonen series! The point at which it completely hooked me was episode 3, where it got a complete entertaining episode out of a storyline that can be summed as "Everyone runs down a long tunnel and then up some stairs."

Puella Magi Madoka Magica at Crunchyroll: It deserves every bit of hype it's gotten. It deserves that Seiun Award. It deserves a Hugo, but is never going to get past the significant chunk of the voter pool which will see big-eyed schoolgirls and recoil in an agony of anime stereotyping.

Doctor Who: The Gunfighters DVD: Not nearly as bad as I've always heard, though not their very best work and not remotely historically accurate.

Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon DVD: Another new one to me. Jo Grant at her best ever, I think.

Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders DVD: Had only seen this one once a long, long time ago and so it was practically new as well. Loved it.

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time DVD: One of my old favorites, featuring my favorite version of the TARDIS.

Space Brothers episodes 1-20 at Crunchyroll: Mutta and Hibito Namba swore as kids to become astronauts, but Mutta gave up somewhere along the way and only Hibito was successful. But when Mutta loses his job, Hibito and their mother conspire to submit an astronaut application in his name. If you've never watched any anime before and are the least bit curious about it, start with this one. And then, could you watch Madoka Magica? Thanks.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for Nintendo DS: Ever played a game which actually rewards you for getting characters killed? There are whole chapters you can't unlock unless a certain number of them are dead. Tough but entertaining.

Eureka Seven AO episodes 1-16 at Funimation: An extremely ambitious sequel with only tenuous links to the first series so far. At this point, it's either building up to an awesome conclusion or about to collapse into total incomprehensibility. In the meantime, enjoy the references to other sf.

Humanity Has Declined episodes 1-6 at Crunchyroll: A future setting where the post-humans are known as "fairies" and the remnants of humankind as we know it live a nearly medieval life. Awesome art, fascinating setting, but it throws it all away with very weak social commentary. Almost ready to give up on it.

Puzzle Kingdoms for Nintendo DS: The actual sequel to the story in Puzzle Quest, never mind that Galactrix was released first and there's an entirely different game named Puzzle Quest 2. A pleasant diversion, but it never really recaptures the magic.

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