Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Humanity and Prey (Video Game)

Oh, squiders. We humans are an interesting bunch. We do interesting, unexpected things. And today, we’re going to look at interesting, unexpected things in relation to a video game called Prey.


Prey is made by Arkane Studios, which also does the Dishonored series. It’s a science fiction horror game which takes place in an alternate near-future.  The setting is Talos I, a space station in orbit around the moon, so, you know, you’re trapped.

(I am not particularly great at video games unless they a) are motion-sensing or b) turn-based/adventure games, so mostly I watch my spouse play.)

(The beginning reminds me a lot of the original Half-Life, which I suspect was a major influence for this game. I mean, the first enemy you run into, an alien known as a Mimic, looks suspiciously like the first enemy you run into in Half Life, the headcrab. There’s other similarities but we shall not dwell on them here.)

(But here’s what a Mimic looks like.)

There are spoilers moving forward, so beware if you care about such things.

The main enemies in Prey are an alien race known as the Typhon. The story goes that some time during the initial space race era, we encountered the Typhon and built varying facilities in space to study them. There’s different kinds of Typhon of different strengths and abilities, but they all kind of look like blobs of black strings.

Like most games of this type, there’s a skill tree where you can unlock different skills to help you get through the game. Part of the way through the game you acquire a Psychoscope, which allows you scan Typhons to learn more about them. This also unlocks Typhon abilities in the skill tree.

But interestingly, it seems about half of the people who play the game never touch the Typhon abilities. Which is weird, right? These are cool powers. Mind control, shapeshifting, telekinesis, etc.

(We discovered this fact when my spouse took the mind control one–which also allows you to un-mind control people the Typhon have taken over–and received a trophy for it which was much rarer than it seemed like it should be.)

So I’ve been poking around, and people are really worried about the Typhon powers. On some level this is directly related to gameplay–Prey has multiple endings, and people are worried about getting a “bad” ending if they take the Typhon powers–but there is also an underlying…taboo about it, almost. As if taking on the alien powers is somehow immoral. Like if they give in to using those powers, no matter how helpful they might be toward the game objections, they’re losing some of their own humanity.

It’s very interesting. This is a science fiction game involving fake technology, fake aliens, fake people. It should be pure fantasy. Taking the Typhon powers has no bearing on your real life. So why have so many people avoided them?

Humanity, people. We are strange.

Played Prey, squiders? Games like it you would recommend for the spouse once he’s done? (Are you as upset about Danielle Sho and Abigail Foy as I am?)

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Review: Electric Gardens by M. Black

Happy Tuesday, squiders. Today, for your reading pleasure, I have Electric Gardens, the first book in a dystopian YA series, by M. Black.

Robotics Dystopian
Date Published: March 15, 2018
Publisher: Eloquen Enraptures Publishing
In our future, robots known as Tins keep us protected from the floods, fires and diseases of the outside in what are called Compounds. But when the Tins become more our masters than protectors, humans rebel. Lexi019 is turning eighteen, and will then be sent into what Tins call the Electric Gardens. Since no one ever returns from the Electric Gardens, Lexi019 is desperate to escape. With her best friend Kyle53 and his sister, the three of them find an unlikely friendship that helps them escape. But not everything is what it seems in this Robotic Dystopia, and soon Lexi019 will be faced with hard decisions she never anticipated. Join Lexi019 and Kyle53 in this four part Robotic Dystopia set in a future that could one day be our own.

 

About the Author:

M.Black graduated from UCF and packed her bags for Asia. After living in Thailand for close to seven years and visiting near by countries, her travels have influenced her point of view. Passionate about the Earth, nature, wildlife, robots and future technology, M.Black brings you a new line of books called ENTER TOMORROW!

( Website )
Buy the Book: ( Amazon )
Excerpt:

EVERYTHING OUTSIDE IS PITCH black. Night always is. All I hear is the deafening sound of a hard clank, like metal scraping, with every step the creature takes, followed by a pounding into the ground. Red eyes like the sun and shaped like an overgrown Siamese cat named Lotus1; but it’s not a cat. It doesn’t even have fur. It’s another Tin, just like all the other metal monsters in here, designed to keep us in submission, and compliant. At twelve feet long and four feet wide, its paws and claws are something to be reckoned with—if we disobey. None of the ‘human’ Tins have skin; they are all just hard metal, and none have a gender either. If they did have faux skin, they couldn’t fool anyone anyway, because their blood-colored eyes do not hold the human story.

My eyes track the feline’s movements as it passes by me under the shards of moonlight. Its metal neck turns in a creak to glance at me. It’s nine in the evening, just after the last rustic-horn blow. Same time, every night. The feline will crawl one-hundred yards east from my window, and then it will turn around at the Compound wall, and retrace its steps until it passes me again to walk another one-hundred yards west past me. It—and others like it—guard the Compound. I’ve watched this feline Tin pass by me for twelve years; I was put in here when I was five. The Tins do that—keep us behind thick glass—so we see just enough to keep us scared of the dark, of the feline Tins, to tell us they have power over us, to tell us there is no way out of here. My right palm presses on the hard glass that separates me from the metal beast, leaving moist fingerprints and a window squeak. It’s always colder inside than outside; it’s the temperature controlled rooms.

My body lies over a cot—number seventeen. My head coddles the rice-filled pillow in a poor attempt at sleep, but at least I’ve hollowed out a space for my head. It’s weird, having my cot number the same as my age. It’s completely coincidental, and when I’m eighteen the cot will still be number seventeen, but I will no longer be here. I’ll be reassigned, and someone else will take this room—the room I’ve lived in for twelve years. Everything changes when you turn eighteen in the Compound.

Review:

I give this one a 3.5 out of 5. It’s a pretty quick read, without any noticeable slow spots, and does a good job of building up a dystopian world where humans screwed themselves and machines took over. Lexi is a complex character who reads believably as a 17-year-old.

The good: The world, especially the set-up of the Compound and the Tins, the characters (varied and easy to differentiate), the flow of the story,

The bad: Each character has a name + number combo, which can be confusing, especially since every now and then the numbers change for some characters (probably not on purpose). There’s a lot of repetition in Lexi’s thoughts, which bogs it down a little in the middle.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the story and the world that was created and would recommend it if you’re into our own creations turning against us (or are they? duh duh duuuuuh).

Come back on Thursday for the start of Writing Around Life. See you then!

All and Sundry (and Your Favorite Poll)

Hi Squiders! We’ve almost run out of March already. How does that always seem to happen?

(We got a ton of snow yesterday, and our power’s been flickering on and off all day, which is very annoying, especially when one is trying to write a blog post.)

I finished the short story collection I’ve had since forever from the library last night, so now I’m down to three books! \o/ But I’m going to start another one later today. Whoops. I must stop checking things out from the library. Except we all know I won’t.

The collection is First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg, which is a collection of science fiction short stories told in first person from the last fifty years of his career. Never read anything by him otherwise (my husband picked up the book because he thought I’d like it) but it was pretty good. Some of the stories I thought were quite excellent, such as “Now Plus N, Now Minus N” and “The Secret Sharer.” So if that sounds like your sort of thing I’d recommend it. It came out in October of last year, so it’s only a few months old.

Writing-wise, I’ve hit the spot near the end of a book where I’m so close I can’t seem to properly focus and get the dang thing done on the Book One rewrite. I mean, I am writing, but it feels like I’m getting nowhere. I need to figure out a way to get through this part of the process in a way that is less taxing to my psyche, because it happens every book and drives me mad each time.

On that note, it’s hard to focus on the CoHaR sequel because I’m so close on Book One. Yet Siri’s waiting on me to finish my part, so…

And, probably thanks to First-Person Singularities, I’ve got a short story itch. I haven’t written one since the end of October and there’s one I’ve been wanting to write for probably five years, and maybe I should just sit down and do it…? I’ve got two coming out in various publications in April and I don’t really need any more to stick into my portfolio, but there’s something very satisfying about getting a story done in 2 or 3000 words, especially when your main project is up to 110K and probably has at least another 5K to go.

And it’s been a bit since our last nonfiction series here on the blog, so let’s get one going. We’re down to our last few topics.

Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ♥ Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?

Readalong Announcement: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

Well, squiders, I’ve gone through my bookshelves and picked a book for us to try for our first stand-alone book readalong.

(Of course, since I was looking for a standalone, I found a ton of duologies and trilogies, because that is, of course, how this goes.)

I’ve picked Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead, which is a science fiction novel from the early ’80s. I think I picked it up from Goodwill at some point some years ago. I was originally looking at Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, but at almost 1200 pages I thought that might be too long for this sort of thing.

(Let me know if you are on board for reading 1000+ page novels over a couple of months. Maybe we could do monthly check-ins and break it down more. It’s an idea.)

Dream Thief is slightly under 500 pages, at least in my copy, which is from the mid-90s, and has fairly large font, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to give us until January 16 to read this so we have plenty of time to survive the holidays and whatnot.

Just a reminder that we’re playing with the readalong format here. If we don’t like the standalones, we can go back to the series, or we can do a mix of standalones and series moving forward.

This should be interesting, anyway. Older science fiction and fantasy can be so hit or miss, and even if things are good, they still often include aspects that wouldn’t fly today. (A friend once recommended a book called The Voyages of the Space Beagle, which is about a crew of about 1000 scientists of various fields flying about exploring space, but not a single person onboard is a woman.)

So, read along, as usual, if this sounds interesting, and we’ll discuss in mid-January.

Oh, and as a FYI, here’s the book description from Goodreads:

Every morning Dr. Spencer Reston, dream-research scientist on space station Gotham, wakes up exhausted with the nagging feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Spence soon discovers that he has become a vital link in a cosmic coup masterminded by a mysterious creature known as the Dream Thief . . . and all civilization hangs in the balance.

Common writing mistakes on Thursday! See you then!

Review: Entromancy by M.S. Farzan

Good morning, squiders! Today I’m bringing you Entromancy by M.S. Farzan, which is a fun mix of science fiction and fantasy.

BLURB

2076 is not a good year to be a special agent. A quarter of the world’s power runs on ceridium, a newly discovered element that has had the unintended consequence of spawning a new race of people, and several forms of magic that were once thought to have been forgotten. Eskander Aradowsi is an agent of NIGHT, a paramilitary force created to contain and control this new perceived threat, but he soon learns that not all within his organization is as it seems. A botched mission turns out to be the least of his troubles, when he unearths a plot that threatens the uneasy truce between the aurics and humans of San Francisco, and centers on a form of magic that toys with the very fabric of the universe: Entromancy.

 

EXCERPT

I turned into a tiny cul-de-sac, passing a hand over the cruiser’s console to turn off the engine.  I stepped off of the vehicle and unraveled my long coat, adjusting my lenses to see better in the dim light away from the main thoroughfare.  Moving casually but silently, I walked to the mouth of the alley and peered down the side street towards the storefront, a large corner location masquerading as a legalized Oxidium dispensary.  Unlike the larger buildings surrounding it, the shop was comprised of only two stories, with dark, nondescript windows facing out towards the intersection.

Reaching into a pocket, I opened a small packet and slipped a ceridium capsule into my hand.  I held it out in front of me and made several deft, practiced gestures, scanning the street around me to ensure that I wasn’t drawing any undue attention.  With a final pass of my hand, I crushed the capsule and tossed the contents over my head in a brief flash of blue.  I could feel my skin tingling slightly as the spell took effect, shrouding me in a gentle mist that would hide me from all but direct eye contact.

I quietly padded down the street towards the location’s opposing corner, filtering the different readings coming through my lenses and being recorded onto my digitab.  A handful of night porters were working a block away, loading furniture into a large truck.  Two street people slept under the cover of an awning, bundled even during the unusual heat.  Several parked cars lined the roadway, all but one appearing cold in the IR scan.  From my vantage, the storefront looked quiet and empty, as expected.

The timer on the upper corner of my lens display read 21:04:05, forty-one minutes before the place was set to blow.  Plenty of time.

 

REVIEW

I’m giving this a 4 out of 5.

I am in love with the worldbuilding on this one. Seriously, it’s amazing. It’s hard to write science fiction with fantasy races and have it make sense, but by jove, I have now seen it done. The book is almost worth it just for that aspect.

Luckily, it’s also good in other ways. The writing is good, the characterization is good, the plot is slightly predictable but still eminently readable, and, seriously, A+ on the worldbuilding. There are some infodumps throughout that could have been shortened or spread out better, and there is a FAIRLY MAJOR piece of information about the main character that’s not revealed til about halfway through that I’m a bit annoyed about, but overall, I really enjoyed reading this one.

I’d recommend picking this up if you like a good mix of science fiction and fantasy.

 

BIO

S. Farzan was born in London, UK and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a B.A. in Integrative Biology, M.A. in Religious Leadership for Social Change, and Ph.D. in Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions. He has written and worked for high-profile video game companies and editorial websites such as Electronic Arts, Perfect World Entertainment, and MMORPG.com, and has trained in and taught Japanese martial arts for over ten years. He also enjoys soccer, baseball, and games of all kinds.

( Buy the BookWebsite | Twitter )

 

The author will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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