The Left Hand of Darkness (book review)

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ms. Le Guin is an excellent author, but I just could not get into the book at all.

I suspect it is partially the same reason as Phillip K Dick, it feels very dated. Maybe I would have really liked it back in the 1970s/80s, but for me the luster has left the building.

Part of my issue is that it is another science fiction/fantasy novel that has to create so many new words, new titles and new ways of saying something that could be said in a more common vernacular. I realize she was going for immersion but it didn’t work for me. None of the wording really introduced a new idea or a new meaning so it felt like she was going overboard.

I was also a bit taken back by the gender situation with the alien races. I won’t go into detail but I am transgender myself and so it probably just hit me wrong. Ms. Le Guin isn’t someone I dislike, but it just wasn’t something that felt good or relatable to me.

The other aspect, very much like most 1970s and earlier sci-fi the pacing is incredibly slow, I had a hard time staying interested and while I don’t regret reading it, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who has never read her stuff before.

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Norse Mythology (book review)

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have never read the myths and legends of the Norse, this is an excellent way to get into it.

Mr. Gaiman is incredibly entertaining, and informative. Utilizing various Norse myths he tells a set of tales about Odin, Thor, Loki and the rest. He does it in a way that it is almost it’s own story.

The myths don’t distract from each other, his tone is great all the way through and I thoroughly loved it. What I really liked though was learning things I hadn’t before. I had never read about the Apples of Idun, something akin to the Greek Apples of immortality.

I do wish there were more myths that didn’t involve Thor as front and center, but you can only have so many in a single book. What Mr. Gaiman did was fantastic.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Just read it!

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The Great Courses: Spartan Warfare (book review)

The Great Courses: Spartan WarfareThe Great Courses: Spartan Warfare by Gregory S. Aldrete
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not a bad book at all, it is a very quick listen and Professor Aldrete covers the basics quickly.

Sadly he covers the basics so quickly that he misses most of the whys and wheres about Spartan Warfare culture. I assume that is because this is a book broken off from his original set of courses about ancient history.

That being said, this review is short, his lecture is short but it is not too bad either.

Side note, I appreciate that he underlined the homosexual relationships that the warriors had, which would really blow the minds of so many “bros” who have SPARTA!!!! gear everywhere and are homophobic.

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Killing the Bismarck: Destroying the Pride of Hitler’s Fleet (book review)

Killing the Bismarck: Destroying the Pride of Hitler's FleetKilling the Bismarck: Destroying the Pride of Hitler’s Fleet by Iain Ballantyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. I have always been interested in World War II books, and the Bismarck is not something I am more than generally familiar with. That being said, I can’t really recommend it.

I was very interested on the British side and this was perfect for that. Except it reads less like a historical writing about what happened on the British side, and more some weird personal agenda. I think what threw me off was the forward where the author was really upset that there are die hard supporters of the Bismarck who thought well of the Germans.

I personally don’t have a dog in that fight, but the anger and frustration the author had in the forward came through and made me feel less like this is an unbiased look at the British and more like he was trying to prove a point. I absolutely agree the British Navy, especially WWII and earlier was an incredible thing, but you could read the almost propaganda writing as it was.

That made the book hard. The stories were all over the battle, which I did partially expect considering you want to keep it interesting, but it became more of a historical novel and less of a historical documentary that I was hoping it would be. There was no detail on the command of the British forces and it really felt like it was missing a lot of things.

If you have read everything else about the Bismark, I would recommend it. I did give it three stars because it was written well. It was smooth, but just fluffy… too fluffy for me.

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Shadow of Mordor (video game review)

Youtube LP Playlist: Shadow of Mordor
Systems: PS4

I am not sure where to start with the game. Yes it is Middle Earth, you get a slight feeling of that. Probably too much of Mordor though, at some point the game makes Mordor not scary anymore. Definitely not the scary Mordor you read in the books.

I will start with the good. I like the graphics, they are smooth and the orcs especially are varied. I enjoyed interacting with them more then I expected. This ties right in to the new Nemesis system, where if they survive a fight they run away and gain power and become tougher to beat as they move up in rank. Also they remember you. I like that last part, it added something to the game. Also, the combat system was definitely smoother then older Assassin’s Creed, so it had that going for it.

That is about all the good I have to say about the game, the rest is either meh… or not the best. None of the game was horrible though, and that makes it all the worse for it.

The plot was very threadbare, not much interaction with other people and was only there to give a reason for the system itself. I didn’t get attached to pretty much any of the characters except Torvin the Dwarf (you will know him when you see him).

The game is obviously an Assassin’s Creed clone. Same tower system, same collection gimmick and the same boring side missions that don’t mean anything but hours of grinding. I guess I was really spoiled coming into this game off of the Witcher 3 DLC Blood and Wine.

The end result was a semi-interesting new system that was filled with boring material, boring mechanics and boring missions. I won’t say it was a complete waste of time, but I won’t say it was worth the $6 I paid on a playstation store sale either.

Pros: The new system has promise.
Cons: It is such a bland Assassin’s Creed clone that it doesn’t really have a life of its own. By halfway through you are no longer worried about Mordor or the Black Gate. It is tiny, not full of very many orcs compared to the books and not really a challenge in the end.

I can’t really recommend the game, but you might like my Let’s Play commentary on it below:

 

Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery (book review)

Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of BraverySmile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery by Chögyam Trungpa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was raised for a long time as a traditional Catholic, my family was Nichiren Buddhists for over five years. I have always found meditation and centering more effective then actual worship so I have kept that part. I am always on the lookout for secular or moderate buddhism practices that I might be able to use.

That is why I picked up this book. I have read some books on Buddhism before, and had positive and negative experiences, a mixed bag so to speak. This book is also a mixed bag.

I was unfamiliar with Chogyam Trungpa or his outlook. It did feel weirdly enough a lot like Alan Watts in certain parts. His path, the Shambhala Path is a good opening for people new to buddhism. I liked a lot of the concepts. Unfortunately about halfway into the book the writing became repetitive to me, and the metaphors and the overall writing lost my interest and isn’t my outlook.

I just can’t get past calling yourself a warrior. I realize it isn’t meant like that necessarily in the path but calling yourself a warrior two billion times (intentional hyperbole) doesn’t fit with my path. It felt like it was trying way too hard. I also suspect I would get more doing the series of weekend programs and longer retreats because it wouldn’t try and fit everything in a five hour audiobook.

Either way, it is a fairly good look at a secular approach to Buddhism. I didn’t get much out of it, and by the middle it became harder to stay interested which is why it got three stars. But it is a quick book and not a bad starting place.

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The Man in the High Castle (book review)

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the best Philip K. Dick story I have read to date… but that isn’t saying much. There are some slight spoilers.

I had started reading this after watching the Amazon TV series which I really enjoy. To be honest that is the only thing that got me reading another PKD story. I knew it wouldn’t be the same, but sadly it isn’t even close.

It is still an alternative history, the Nazi and Japanese won the war and have split up the old USA. “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” is not a series of movie reels but a single book written by an author who consults the I Ching. It is read and known about publicly (instead of smuggled around and changing people when they see it). It really isn’t as much of a focal point as it is in the Amazon Prime show.

PKD’s problematic writing is on display. The characters are half done, they seem flat with not really interesting, the one exception is Nobusuke Tagomi who is also my favorite character in the streaming show. He is the most three dimensional character and the most entertaining (also the one I can relate to the most).

Once again though PKD uses more racist undertones then I am comfortable with. Even when its not from someone’s viewpoint he uses what I would consider unacceptable. He was even writing everyone in the Pacific States with ENGRISH accents (or maybe that was just the narrator, maybe the audiobook is worse with a narrator who does this). I realize this was written 40+ years ago, but I had a problem with Lovecraft and his racist words and those were another 30 years before PKDs.

The world isn’t filled out very well, its very much just broad strokes and to be honest some of the world building doesn’t make sense. However, I am a very different type of person I think and it could just be my filters are different.

Like I said though, the characters are cardboard cutouts for the most part. Juliana is a horribly written character. I haven’t been pleased by any of PKD’s women characters so far, but she is by far the worst. A harpyish screeching creature that can’t handle thing when they go bad. Much different then the Amazon Prime version of her.

The worst part (and this is a spoiler) is that the book ends before any resolution. I know he said he was working on a sequel, but it has no ending or no purpose.

Stick with the Amazon Prime streaming show… WAY WAY BETTER. I am glad to have read it, but only because I am a completionist.

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Alien: Out of the Shadows (book review)

Alien: Out of the Shadows (Canonical Alien trilogy, #1)Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SLIGHTLY SPOILERY (BUT NOT REALLY)

To be honest I wasn’t so sure about the premise of a book that happens between Alien and Aliens with Ripley. It didn’t seem like it could work.

The thing is, the book is good. I listened to the audio book so I had a fairly close sounding Ripley, and they got Rutger Haur to play Ashe and that pretty much sealed it up. I am still not convinced though that they needed Ripley in this book, the author could have still set it up, but not involve Ripley, since in the end it doesn’t effect the rest of the story.

The author has a good sense of timing, the suspense is good and the story gives some additional background on aliens. It also had the action you want in these books, along with a great voice cast to keep you in the groove. Definitely a positive.

However, as a story set in the Alien universe, it is pretty darn good. I enjoyed it a lot and it helped pass the time while I waited in the dentist chair.

Pick it up, but I still think it would have been great without Ripley.

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Witcher 3 DLC: Blood and Wine (Video Game Review)

Youtube LP Playlist: Witcher 3: Blood and Wine DLC
Systems: PS4

In CD Projekt Red’s final outing with the Witcher series, they managed to cap off one of the best stories, roleplaying and quest based games on top.

The DLC alone is bigger then many full games, and when combined with the original game other other DLC completes the world. This time instead of a dark, dreary Eastern Europe, it takes place in a more western fantasy, knights and kings setting.

The new location has just as many monsters, but where the original game was dark in both mood and visuals, the DLC in Toussaint brings a light and brightness to the visuals, with just as many dark story aspects. After all it wouldn’t be the Witcher without those aspects.

It even brings in a new mechanic that doesn’t feeling jarring, and just adds to Geralt’s power, bringing him even higher in scope, but facing foes that are his equal. You never feel overpowering, yet you never have that sense of not getting somewhere with his development.

The best part though was and always will be the story. Filled with many hours of enjoyment, this DLC is as good as any book you would read.

It is sad, this is the final installment of Geralt, however I much prefer it going out on top of its game, and not because of a cash grab.

Pros: Story is wonderful, the graphics are great and improved since the main game, and it leads to many hours worth of gaming in your future.
Cons: This is the last installment of Geralt, however it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth a full replay in the future.

There is not a game I could recommend more than Witcher 3, and this final DLC “Blood and Wine” is perfect in wrapping it up.

Alien (book review)

AlienAlien by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All screenplay adaptions come with one downside, you know the ending if you saw the movie. That being said this is one of the better ones I have ever read.

This isn’t the first time I have read this. Back in the 1980s I remember reading this in my middle school library and it had an impact on what I read. I found I liked sci-fi (prior to this I was mostly a fantasy reader) and I liked my first real taste of horror in a book (I have always liked horror movies).

The book keeps right up with the movie, there is the same tension even after having watched the movie and it keeps you going. The better part though is that Alan Dean Foster is able to dig deeper into the characters and give them more feeling. Even Brett, probably the single least developed character in the movie was a lot more fleshed out.

Of course the majority of the addition to the book is before they landed on the planet with little bits between scenes, but it was enough to build the world up even more.

If you like reading sci-fi and if you like the Alien franchise this is a good, quick read. I plan on reading the rest of the books, including the new books coming out that take place between each of the movies. It is a definite thumbs up!

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