Saturday, September 25, 2021

Falling Up the Corporate Ladder

 Thanks to the rerelease of the original Shadowrun novels as Legends, I managed to get the original Shadowrun kickoff novels, Robert N. Charrette's Secrets of Power trilogy, starting with Never Deal with a Dragon (which, based on the narrative here, is sage advice.)

Anyway, we're focused on Renraku data analyst Sam Verner, who starts off as a pet of the Director, until his siters undergoes Goblinization (aka her genetics activated and turned her into something else, like an ork, troll, or elf), at which point he gets unceremoniously transferred to the infamous Renraku Seattle Arcology. 

Not long after arriving in Seattle, like not even gotten off the plane, he and some coworkers get kidnapped by a team of Shadowrunners. Sam ends up helping the runners after figuring out their original mission was going to wind up not doing what they thought it would, which earns him the enmity of Security lady Crenshaw, who spends the rest of the book trying to prove he's in cahoots with the shadowrunners, despite his odd corporate loyalty. 

So, eventually Sam decides to get himself extracted from Renraku and choose a new path. Which doesn't go well, since the team extracting him are using the extraction to cover putting a doppelganger INTO the arcology. 

And everyone seems to be double crossing one another, from the runners, to the corporate types, to the 3 dragons that show up at various points. (By the end, we've met the Eastern Dragon Tessian, and Western Dragons Lofwyr and Haesslich.)

We, as readers, get some idea of exactly how events seemingly unrelated manage to trap Sam in a life he never expected, although we never get a real picture of the actual game he's a pawn in. I mean, we are kind of left to assume that one way or another, the actual extraction was supposed to be the sentient AI trapped in the Arcology, but who wanted it and why remain a mystery, as do the promise of freedom it was working towards. 

Sam also learns that he has access to magic, and indeed a Dog totem somewhere in the mess that leads him down the Pacific Coast and to Montreal before winding up back in Seattle again. He also meets an elf decker named Dodger whom he forms a Bromance with. (I realize the publication on this predates the emergence of Bromance and probably the concept of Metrosexuals, but honestly Sam and Dodger appear to be queer coded, even if Sam is making the beast with two backs with Sally Tseung by the end.)

Was it a fun read? Indeed. Nothing amuses quite like Sasquatches with their own dragon backed agendas, fish out of water characters, and a sci fi pulp feels. Do I wish they had revealed one particular characters motivations earlier, since we find out a major factor in her pursuit a few paragraphs before she exits the narrative? Yeah, because while it makes her motivations a lot clearer, it also feels like something thrown in with no real connection to the rest of the story, or exactly how much said plot point would likely trigger a few readers. That side, it was worth reading, and I look forward to seeing what the next two volumes bring.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Gallows Humor

 Finishing up Stephen Kenson's Talon Trilogy with The Burning Time, which wraps up Talon's story quite well. 

I'm technically skipping the second book here, Ragnarock, since I read it last year, but ok.

Anyway, Talon and his crew get sucked into a new adventure thanks in part to a run gone bad. (I mean, that's pretty much Shadowrun for "You meet at the local tavern"...) In this case, trying to get something from Cross Applied Technologies, which ends up bringing Roy Kilaro involved. Roy, who wants to become a Seraphim, is in Boston from Montreal investigating an odd data stream he found from one of Boston's chip heads. 

On the home front, Trouble, the cabal's Decker, falls back in with her ex, since the gay street mage obviously ain't interested in the slotting she's offering. Talon, in the mean time, keeps running across his ex's ghost. And it would seem Mama Iaga is using Gallow to help pull off whatever plan she has for the Christmas return of Halley's Comet. (I get the distinct impression this particular book was written right before a new edition, since a second wave of goblinization known as SURGE starts happening towards the end, who lead to less rigid character creation in the system.)

By the end, everyone gets something akin to a happy ending, other than Mama Iaga, who pretty much gets what she had coming. 

I rather enjoyed this book, particularly towards the end when Talon more or less takes an Orphic journey to find Jason, his ex. While my love life has never been QUITE as dramatic as Talon's, the emotions we get through his adventures ring quite true. These are well worth picking up if you can find them.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Pop, Six, Squish, Uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz!

 So, when I was looking up Fourth Down and Out, both Amazon and the library suggested Andrew Welsh-Huggins edited Columbus Noir, part of a much larger series of noir anthologies set in different cities around the US. (I kind of doubt Columbus is big on that list; given the series started in 2013 and Columbus is 2019....)

Anyway, while the stories are ok, and set in places I know, not many of them would be what I'd consider noir. No leggy women coming in to a detective's office, and leading him by the nose into trouble, no real black humor, no jazz playing in the background...

No, we mostly get women murdering their boyfriends or husbands, or getting other men to do it for them. Admittedly, some of it is interesting, like the editor's story about the governor cheating on his wife, and how his aide takes care of the problem on behalf of the governor's wife after he sleeps with her...

Oh yes. Almost none of the people in here are faithful. With a few exceptions, like Yolonda Tosette Sanders' Whitehall story that involves an alcoholic woman trying to solve her brother's murder years later, most of this is people killing off significant others, either theirs or someone else's. Usually over drugs, sex, but occasionally real estate. (Craig McDonald's German Village story being a major example of this.)

I was again sad that, even in Columbus's Gayborhoods, very few gay people played a major part in any of the stories. (One minor exception being Daniel Best's story set in the Short North, but even then the gay person in question in playing sugar daddy to his drug dealer, shows up for 2 paragraphs, then we get back to the felon killing his business partner and sleeping with said guy's wife.) This made me doubly sad, given how much queer coding was built into the old noir and pulp fictions that inspired this anthology. 

On the other hand, Khalid Moalim's North Side story does address several real life issues while giving us a parable on how gossip ruins lives. (In this case, a Somali girl who's much more assimilated makes her father angry by getting engaged to a black man. While this resolves itself in one dead body, and two important people in her life going to prison, it is a look at the weird dichotomy of how African immigrants deal with BIPOC in a culture where they themselves are often viewed as BIPOC.)

Do I wish it was more like what I was hoping for? Yes. I would have even settled for more realistic Tales From the Crypt style stories, where the morality play is there, but wrapped in such shenanigans to make it easier to swallow.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Me-OUCH!

 One of the stores in the Platform I work in sells Andrew Welsh-Huggin's Fourth Down and Out, and after reading the summary on the back, I decided to check it out of the library to see if it was worth buying for mom. 

What I found was, even if Mom would likely not enjoy it, I certainly did. 

Our story opens on Private Investigator Andy Hayes getting the stuffing beat out of him over a laptop in the back of his van, with the assailant also pointing out he lost a bunch of money on a game thanks to Andy. 

We flash back to the start of this adventure, as Andy gets hired at the Cup O' Joe in German Village to find out who's blackmailing his client with a video of said client cheating on his wife with an 18 year old. Which leads to the boyfriend of the 18 year old,  which in turn leads to his parents in New Albany. 

As the book progresses, we find out several people have reasons to want the laptop, from the lady who's been writing English assignments for Buckeye football players to keep eligible; the fixer, who hired her to write said assignments; the dad of the blackmailer, who has some shady financial deals on the laptop; and Andy's assailant, who was paid to retrieve it and got a bullet to the chest and a swim in the Grandview Quarry for his trouble. 

On top of this, we have a secondary investigation into whether or not a professor's wife is having an affair, which ends up being a red herring for the real mystery here. 

Towards the end, we finally find out why Andy's relationship with the fixer is so strained, and get a really good look at (in this case fictional) dirty dealings within the athletics department at Ohio State. (I realize this situation is fictional, I said that in the last sentence. However, given what's come to light since 2014 when this was published...)

I enjoyed it, even if some of the biggest fiction in here was finding parking in German Village less than a mile away from where you were trying to go. I doubt non residents of Ohio would find much of interest here, although you never know.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Seriously?

 So, I picked up Brian Thomsen's Once Around the Realms at a long ago library sale, along with a few other Dungeons & Dragons novels, but never got around to reading it until now. There are reasons, for this, like the fact it got jammed on to my shelves and buried until I was digging around looking for something else, but... 

Anyway. I'll make it clear that the Forgotten Realms setting is likely one of my least favorite D&D worlds for much the same reason other people love it. The planet it's set on is huge, and can support any kind of adventure. Problem being, even world shaking events in the setting really only seem to create local tremors, rather than big shakeups within. (I mean, if DragonLance was set there, the people on the east coast would probably not hear about it until 2 years after the war ended.) Also, many of the really fun D&D settings that were kind of one offs, allowing adventured flavored with martial arts or Arabian things wound up getting sucked in to Toril eventually, and everyone pretty much ignores anything that isn't on the West Coast anyway. 

But, rants aside, this starts with Volothamp Geddarm meeting a traveling actor about to be arrested in Cormyr. Volo (not to be confused with Marco Volo) saves the actor, Passeport from arrest, and uses his reputation as a writer of travel guides for the Realms to get free food and lodging. Which works out well, until a certain West Coast Wizard named Blackstaff challenges Volo to travel the entirety of the Realms without crossing his trail. To prove it, he gives Volo a bag of Necromancer's gems, that will turn red (and highlight a map) when he's achieved a travel goal. 

So let's see. Early on, we meet Captain Queeg, and a Captain Bligh Ahib, who's family was cursed by a banshee, thus he's chasing a big white wail. 


Later on, we wind up travelling to a Magic heavy kingdom, where they get a stolen airship flown by a dwarf named Jonas Grumby. And of course, the airship is named The Minnow. 


 

By far the worst though, not counting the final chapter involves a landing in Maztica (a pre-Columbian setting) where Mr. Rork and his halfling servant Herve await to fulfill their dreams.


The Boomer TV references aside (seriously, there's a Jaws joke in here), it's actually a fun story with a lot of silliness. Even if you do need a map to figure out where the heck they are half the time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Bawston

 If you can't tell, I'm on a Shadowrun kick of late, mainly because I bought the recent Harebrained Schemes games set in the world. Any rate, this inspired rereading Stephen Kenson's Talon centered books. Crossroads, the first Talon centered book, takes us from DC to Boston as someone in Talon's past has an axe to grind. 

Talon, a street mage, starts as part of Assets Inc., an established Shadowrunning group who made a name for themselves stopping an astral incursion. When we meet him, he's knee deep in trouble as an Ant Shaman is trying to turn a young girl into a Queen. (Gee, I feel like this was part of the plot of Shadowrun Returns!) Anyway, he gets back to his apartment in DC to find a female decker waiting on him. The femme fatale, Trouble, ends up dragging him back to Boston 

Here, we meet the runners who played a part in Technobabel, as Talon hires the group to help track down the person hunting him. What follows is a game of screw your neighbor, as several villains emerge, and Talon must learn to control his anger. (But honestly, I found myself sympathizing with him for much of it. I mean if someone killed my lover, I'd be inclined to summon a fire elemental to burn them myself.) 

Of interest in particular is Kenson's descriptions of how Mage magic works in the setting. Without getting really technical, of the three magic classes, Shamen run on Charisma and have a totem, Adepts are much more physical, and their magic gives them combat edges, Mages run on Intelligence, and generally work more with elemental forces. Given the Mr. Kenson's husband is a fairly famous author of books concerning modern witchcraft, the focus on the details of magic shouldn't probably be a surprise. 

As I've stated previously, seeing any kind of gay representation in an RPG book was a nice surprise. While the first time I read this, I knew next to nothing of the setting, Now, it's more fun, feeling like I have an in to the story. A lot of fun for fans of mildly pulpy scifi.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A vision of the future

 So, I managed to find my Shadowrun collection again, finally... (They've started repriniting some of the original series as Legends now. Me, being someone who doesn't mind used books, has the original pulpy paperbacks mostly.) Anyway, I started at the beginning of Stephen Kenson's original 4 novels prior to the return of the comet and the newer editions of the game that revamped a lot of system. (As a side note, much of this got dug out thanks to me starting the Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun games.)

Which brings us to Technobabel, which doesn't concern Talon, the gay Mage who figures prominently in the other 3 books, but instead gives us a vision of the 6th World's Corporate Court, infighting between Fuchi and Renraku, and some really interesting portraits of Technoshamen, folks who's personal totem spirit is the net (or Matrix, in this setting.) 

We open with doings in the Zurich Orbital, home of the Corporate Court, where the big 10 AAA corporations keep each other in check. Fuchi is bringing suit against Renraku, under the assumption that an exec from Fuchi, who received enough stock in Dunzelkhan's will to make him a board member of Renraku, has been using trade secrets to increase Renraku's share of the market. 

Then we meet a man who begins nameless, narrating his awakening in an alley, being  bodynapped by Organ Grinders, folks who sell body parts on the black market generally. As the book progresses, we find out said nameless man is now Babel, a Technoshaman (or Otaku, in the slang of the setting), able to enter the Matrix without the aid of a computer or other body modifications. As things progress, we find that Babel had a human name at one point, and he's the evidence Fuchi has been looking for. However, the spirit of the Matrix has its own ideas on how Babel should proceed. 

It's a fun story, providing all kinds of mental fodder for whenever I get around to writing up an adventure. Would I suggest it for people not familiar with the setting? Not unless they want to do a deep dig to get background information, since while things are touched on by way of explanation throughout, the world this is set in has had 6 Editions, and even with this one being set in 3rd, there's a heck of a lot of information out there. (Particularly since by the start of the next book, Fuchi broke up and one of its major players now runs Novatech.) But otherwise, it hold up well and makes for a fun read.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Finally!

 So, on the bright side, Mercedes Lackey's concluding Mage Winds novel, Winds of Fury finally has much more action than the preceding volumes. It also continues the buildup for the next trilogy.

Anyway, it starts off simply enough with Darkwind and Elsbeth preparing to return to Valdemar. What ends up happening is that everyoen, including Skif, Nyara, the gryphons, and Firesong wind up having their gate redirected to the Forest of Sorrows by Vanyel's ghost. 

Vanyel explains how his influence kept magic from the minds of Valdemar for several centuries, but with magic needed again, he's lifting that compulsion. It's also confirmed that the missing k'Sheyna heartstone is now in the basement of the Palace. 

All parties wind up in Haven, where we find out Karse has undergone some structural changes and is now allied with Valdemar against Hardorn. We also find out the vast Eastern Empire has agents in Hardorn. 

By the same token, Ancar, who's annoyed with Hulda (last seen trying to keep Elsbeth off the throne and torturing Talia), tries to open a gate, thinking it will somehow give him Adept level status. What ends up happening is that he releases Falconsbane from his prison in the void. However, we soon learn Falconsbane's trick up taking over members of his bloodline to resurrect himself, as well as getting confirmation he's an incarnation of the adepts Vanyel fought during his time. And lest we forget, his current body's former resident is still present and working with Dawnfire and Trevaylen to defeat Falconsbane once and for all. 

This eventually comes to a head late in the book, as the Heralds, Need, and the Taleydras ride to Hardorn for one final confrontation. 

Out of the three books in the trilogy, this is probably the best of them.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Moving towards a conclusion

In Mercedes Lackey's Winds of Change, we again are dealing with Darkwind and Elspeth and the K'Sheyna vale heartstone that Starblade sabotaged under the influence of Falconsbane. However, much like the first book, this one is a slow burn, mostly dealing with Skif and Darkwind's brother (Wintermoon) searching for Nyara and Need. Eventually, Firesong arrives from K'Treyva, and this begins the fun of healing the Heartstone. Which also serves to point out Falconsbane is still alive, given he's attacking Starblade. 

Anyway, the really big reveal comes towards the end, as the griffons admit that they're of Clan Kalid'a'in, the root of both the Shin'a'in and the Talyadras. 

Elspeth learns that she's descended from Vanyel, as is Firesong. 

The heartstone's energy winds up in Valdemar. 

This again, is kind of a slog until Falconsbane reappears in the last third. 

Fun, but slow.


Sunday, August 15, 2021

Communication is key

 Ok, so several LGBTQ+ book groups I read have suggested P. J. Vernon's Bath Haus in breathless terms as a must read. While LGBTQ+ mysteries have long been a niche subgenre only overshadowed by Romance (and now, Urban Romance, usually written by female authors whith a mostly female and gay audience in mind), it's not often a Thriller with Gay people comes out, unless the gay folks are the villains. Which is why I was curious to read this, since the author bio identifies as male and gay. So, anyway, before we start diving into this, let me say two things. One, I was disappointed that a prediction I made after reading the description on the book jacket was part of one of the major reveals. Two, I would suggest that before one deep dives into this book, one should read The Pigman by Paul Zindel, or at least read this exerpt from it. Because honestly, I spent much of the book trying to place the players in roles of the Assassin's Riddle. 

Anyway, we're mainly focused on Oliver, a recovering junkie from small town Indiana, who's currently living with Nathan, a Trauma surgeon at Walter Reed in DC. Nathan's mother is presented as akin to say, the Evil Queen from Snow White, completely disapproving of her son dating such scum. Indeed, part way through the book, she deeds the house they live in to Nathan, knowing that he can't afford the taxes on it, so it's pretty much an eviction. Then we have Tom, one of Nathan's close friends who works for a homophobic midwestern senator. And we have Hector, Oliver's ex from Indiana who is kind of a bad memory for half the book before showing up in DC. And of course, there's the narrative hook and Aryan sex god, Kristian, who tries to strangle Oliver at the Haus Bath House in his private room at the end of the first chapter. 

So, anyway, after Oliver manages to get away and get out, we start getting better details of his life, as well as some of Nathan's perspectives on things. Oliver and Nathan have been together for a while, and are in a supposedly mutually exclusive relationship. Oliver, however, does have a few hook up apps on his phone, although he generally uses them for fantasy fodder. While Nathan is out of town for a conference, Oliver decides what he doesn't know can't hurt him and decided to go see how the other half lives. Which leads us to Kristian and the asphyxiation. (Note, both physical and emotional strangulation play a large part in the book's themes.)

Oliver now has hand shaped bruises on his throat. He tells Nathan on FaceTime he got mugged. Oliver goes to the cops and tells the detective the whole truth, counting on her discretion. However, when Nathan gets home, he drags Oliver to the police, and forced Oliver to file a false report. 

Things keep happening, like Kristian getting hired by Nathan's contractor. We find out Nathan knows about Oliver's MeatLocker account, and assumes Oliver has been hooking up all the time. This gets more complicated by Tom sending naked pics to Oliver. We also find out about a budgeting app Nathan has that sets off alerts whenever Oliver uses a credit card. 

At the very end, the full reveal of everything everyone in here has done to each other is less a surprise, and more just unveiling the entire picture of what happens when people just don't communicate with other people. 

Seriously. Just about everything that happens could have been avoided had Nathan and Oliver sat down and talked honestly, forgetting both their psychological issues and dependencies on each other. I mean, I understand why both of them were acting the way they did, but somewhere, you really just have to say "I love you, but something isn't working. How do we fix this?"

In the end, I enjoyed the read, even if it wasn't quite the potboiler it was sold to me as, even if I did have the urge to smack sense into every character in it by the final page.