Michael Atamanov: Videogame Plotline Tester

•August 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Videogame Plotline Tester: Dark Herbalist #1
by Michael Atamanov
(LitRPG, fantasy)

I picked this book up because I was curious about the LitRPG genre. According to other reviewers on Goodreads, this book is a good example of the LitRPG genre. Those reviewers rated this book highly.

I cannot.

This is NOT a well-written book. I can’t even blame that on the fact that it was originally written in Russian and then translated. That could have caused strange word choice or different cultural situations. (There’s a scene where the MC meets a lady who has just come out of the shower, and she ends up “accidentally” dropping her towel in front of him — a co-worker but otherwise complete stranger — and doesn’t seem to mind at all. Not something that’s believable in the US, but might be seen as okay elsewhere. That’s not the type of thing I’m complaining about.)

To give a fair look at this book, I’ll start with the things I enjoyed. The premise, for one. Essentially, a company is hiring gamers to play rare characters (race & class) in their MMORPG in order to prove to the customers that they don’t have to play the typical human fighter or elven bowman to enjoy the game. It’s indicated that there’s a YouTube-esque video stream associated with this game where players can show off their exploits, though details on that are hazy. This is a fun concept. And the game itself is written in such a way that I would want to play it, if a single-player version of it existed. (I don’t do MMO’s.)

The character set the MC is given to play also was interesting. He’s supposed to be a goblin herbalist. (Other testers are given things like dryad dancer, or naiad trader, or orc builder.) It’s a really great concept. I’d love to have an RPG where you have the option to try a non-combatant role instead of the traditional warrior or mage class. However (and here we get into the stuff that bugged me), the MC didn’t do the non-combatant stuff much at all. He’s an herbalist? Oh, well, we’ll have him collect plants in-between taming a wolf pack and making a dart gun and killing frogs. But when it comes time for a potion to be useful, we’ll assume he was able to craft a high-level potion that does exactly what he needs it to even though all he’s been able to do so far is make very minor healing potions.

Also, there was no real conflict in this book. The MC had every problem he faced solved either by coincidence, the aforementioned unbelievable potion-making ability, or someone else. An assassin (another player who enjoys PKs (player-kills, rather than taking out the monsters)) is after him? Oh, well, send a message out and let a bunch of other players handle him for you at no cost to you. You need to beat some challenges in the goblin village? Well, let your sister (who acts nowhere near the 14-years-old she’s supposed to be) do all the heavy-lifting while you pretend to do the work. You need money in real life? Well, look at that, you (accidentally) found bugs in the game, so we’re going to give you a bonus. Your NPC friends died? Well, we don’t want to lose their unique programming anyway, so we’ll resurrect them for you.

Anyway. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that this book had a good premise, but very poor execution. If this is a “great example of LitRPG,” then consider it my first and last foray into that sub-genre.


Lazette Gifford: Farstep Station

•July 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

51ZPc2Z3u8L._SY346_Farstep Station
by Lazette Gifford

After reading Xenation: Draw the Line by Gifford, I knew I wanted more in the series, or at least in the same world. Well, I couldn’t find a series, but Farstep Station is also a book set in the IWC universe. This one was a shorter book (still full-length, but it felt like maybe NaNo length instead of a longer work) but still very enjoyable.

None of the characters or alien races from Xenation were present in Farstep, but it had the same quality worldbuilding and development. (It’s made me want to look into Lazette’s 2 Year Novel series to help me craft my own stories better.) This one was more human-focused, with some very real human goals at the center of the characters’ motivations. I enjoyed how, even though we never get to directly see the villains’ POV, we can clearly see that they still have motivation and goals, and aren’t just bad guys for the sake of giving the good guys something to fight.

There were some aspects of this world that I would like to explore more, and also some parts of the story that I think would have benefited from a little more time spent writing about them. (This is part of why the book made me think it was a NaNoNovel.) However, even with those parts left unexplored, I really enjoyed the book and would happily recommend it to sci-fi fans.

Lazette Gifford: Xenation: Draw the Line

•July 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

xenation-draw-the-line.jpgXenation: Draw the Line
by Lazette Gifford

I have had this book for I don’t know how long. Well – I haven’t had it longer than it’s been published, I know that much. I also know that I only had a sample version of it, and when I started reading it recently I go to the end of what I thought was a short story to discover that it was really the first few chapters of a novel. (That was a good realization. I was enjoying the story too much for it to end so soon.)

I really enjoyed this book. It has human an alien races on an alien space station, and I enjoyed the interactions between the races and the seemingly sentient space station. There were a lot of apparently disconnected plot threads running through the book, and it was great to see how they all connected back together. Really masterful writing.

The ebook copy that I read, though, had way too many typos. Typos annoy me in general (I was the copy editor of my high school yearbook, and I’ve never really stopped noticing print errors, even when I try) but in this case they were particularly bad. These typos were usually in the form of mis-keyed words. Either a letter was missing, or letters were transposed; that kind of thing. Well, one of the alien races had a few human sounds they couldn’t pronounce, so there were letters that were intentionally substituted for those sounds. Well, when you combine the intentional substitutions with the accidental ones, that made some of the reading less fun than it should have been.

However. The story and the characters and the worldbuilding were all good enough that I still recommend this book highly. There is a print version also; maybe check the reviews on that one to see if it has the same typo issues that my ebook copy had. It was a very fun story, and though I didn’t see any official sequels on Gifford’s Goodreads bibliography, I can still hope that one exists or is forthcoming.

Drew Hayes: Split the Party

•July 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

28075533._UY200_Split the Party: Spells, Swords, & Stealth #2
by Drew Hayes
narrated by Roger Wayne

Splitting the party is ALWAYS a bad idea in RPGs. That is most often when you run into the things that kill you. However, for novels, it tends to be one of the ways to get more exciting adventures. Such was the case in this book. When the party runs into trouble (I’ll leave the details out to avoid spoilers), they determine that the only way to solve said trouble is to split into two groups. For a real role-playing group, this probably would have been bad. (If for no other reason than DMs like to discourage splitting the party since there’s only one DM and he or she can only be in one place at a time.) For the book’s party, however, it works out well.


Splitting the party in this case works best, in my opinion, for the ones who are sent into town instead of the ones who stay put. Grumph (the half-orc wizard) gets the added bonus of more spells in this book, and Gabrielle (the barbarian) gets a new, and powerful axe. (I’m really curious to learn more about this axe in later books. It seems to have a mind of its own, and as Mr. Weasley said in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain”.)

I am also curious to know more about Fritz. I have had suspicions about her since nearly her introduction. Thistle seems to share some of my thoughts, and I’m curious to see if I’m right about her.


This is a really fun book. It’s not a gamer-specific as the first book was (though even that one could easily be enjoyed by non-gamers) but it still has nice touches that gamers will appreciate best. I’m looking forward to (and, in fact, have already started) book #3, and highly anticipate book 4 which is due out toward the end of this year or sometime next year.

Fun note – of the different characters, my usual D&D character would be most similar to the rogue in this story. If you play, what character type did you favor?

James Goss: Doctor Who: City of Death

•July 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Doctor Who: City of Death
by James Goss (Douglas Adams contributor, from a story by David Fisher)
(Science-Fantasy, TV novelization)

I think I would have to give this book a 3.5 star rating. If in doubt, round it up because of Goss’ skill in the actual writing of the text. I imagine it could be difficult to make an interesting novelization of a TV show which has the pacing of classic Doctor Who episodes. (Old Who tends to be paced much slower than modern audiences expect. There’s a longer build, and episodes run as serials, with 4 or 5 episodes to one story. New Who is much faster, with each episode usually containing the entire story, even if the season does have a series arc as well. It seems to be hard for fans of New Who to go back and enjoy Old Who episodes because of the pacing difference.)

This is not my favorite Doctor Who episode. Not by a LONG shot. The Fourth Doctor (who is featured in this book) is My Doctor, as Whovians reckon things, but this episode has never been a highlight for me. It seems that The Doctor isn’t the star of this episode – and the star isn’t even his companion, Romana. (Yes, I realize she’s also a Time Lord. She’s still his companion.) The star of this episode is Paris. And that’s not what I enjoy most from Doctor Who episodes.

I have read (well, listened to) another of James Goss’ Doctor Who stories, but this is the only one which was a TV episode first. I liked the other one a lot more, because I was able to enjoy it for itself and not with the episode constantly running in my head as background to the story. (Granted, I also liked it because it was narrated by David Tenant.) This one was well written, but had the same issues that the TV episode did. I don’t read Doctor Who to read about Paris any more than I watch the show for that reason.

I did enjoy the additional background we see into the other characters, and the humor was lovely. My chief complaint is with the plot, and not the execution.

Seanan McGuire: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

•June 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

DownAmongSticksBones_McGuireDown Among the Sticks and Bones: Wayward Children #2
by Seanan McGuire

I loved the first book in this series, Every Heart a Doorway, so when this one was announced I knew I would buy it as soon as it was released. I did. And I immediately devoured it. I enjoyed this one nearly as much as I did the first one. (It’s always hard for a sequel to be quite as good as the first, for me, because the first book has the benefit of introducing you to the world.)

For those who have read the first book in this series, you will already know the (approximate) ending of this story. This story goes backward in time and tells the story of Jack and Jill and how they found their door into the Moors when they were young. (Twelve, I think.) (The first book happens after they have returned to our world, and are 17 or 18 or somewhere in there.) For me, though, knowing the ending of this story didn’t make it any less enjoyable. After finishing EHAD, I wanted to know more about these two characters, so I’m very glad to get to delve into their backstory. I’d be curious to read about what happens to them AFTER EHAD too, but this is not that story.

Talking too much about the plot here will give spoilers for one or both of the books in the series. However, I can say that it’s both a dark story and a happy one, and a combination of gothic horror and fairy tale. (It’s light on the horror aspect, but it is there. It’s more implied than written.) I really enjoyed this book, and I’ll be getting the third one as soon as it’s released, too.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

•June 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

51kyOGIHeIL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
by Neil deGrasse Tyson
(non-fiction, science)

I used to listen to the StarTalk Radio podcast regularly. Even though I haven’t done so for a while now, I still love hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson explain sciencey things to me. So when I heard that he had narrated his Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, I had to buy it.

I’m glad I did. Some of the things covered in the book are things I’ve heard Mr. Tyson talk about before, but he usually goes into slightly more depth in this book then he had time to on the podcast. He also covers a wide spread of subjects within his larger topic, and it was interesting to see where he would go from one topic to the next. Plus, his brand of humor is always worth listening to. It makes science more approachable while still being science.

I think this book is a great addition to any library. I plan on also buying a hard copy of this book to use as an easier reference book. Also, I’ll re-read the hard copy at some point, since I get different things out of audio books and paper books.