Sunday, March 30, 2008

Interview with Neal Asher

Those filthy microbes thought they could stop me, but I am not thwarted so easily. My interview with Neal Asher is now up at FantasyBookSpot. Have a look. You can also check out my review of Asher's The Skinner, or my review/discursive ramblings on Gridlinked. Neal Asher's own blog can be found here.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

Arthur C. Clarke has passed away at the age of 90. My first encounter with Clarke did not go well, though I didn’t even know who Clarke was at the time. We watched 2001 at school in 4th or 5th grade, and it bored me to tears. Still does. I may be the only person on earth who actually thinks the movie 2010 is better.

A few years later, as I was starting to get deeper into science fiction, I became more aware of Clarke. I knew he was one of the most renowned figures in the field, so I thought I ought to see what he was like. On one of my regular trips to the local library, I checked out a book called Rendezvous with Rama.

Keep in mind that this sort of science fiction was pretty new to me at the time. I had grown up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the old Star Trek animated series, and whatever schlock the local video stores had, back in the glory days before the big chain video stores like Blockbuster became so dominant. I loved reading about science from an early age, starting with an old yellowed book about the solar system (probably written back when the Galilean moons were an amazing new discovery) that my grandfather had given me, but science fiction that wasn’t based on some media property was something I came to later. Growing up, I had a whole shelf of Isaac Asimov’s science books that I read over and over, but I somehow managed for years to remain ignorant of the fact that he was also a science fiction author.

So, I read Rendezvous with Rama, and I loved it. It had no malevolent aliens, no ships zipping around like World War II aircraft, no fighting, and very little that could be called “action,” and yet it was wonderfully exciting. All it had was a big weird empty spaceship, full of mysteries that the book largely doesn’t explain. And it was awesome. I’ve read and enjoyed a number of his books since then, such as the novel version of 2001 (Which I like much more than the movie, because the book actually has stuff happening with some regularity) and the unjustly obscure and neglected Earthlight. Rest in peace, and thank you.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review of "Firefly Island" by Daniel Arenson

My review of Daniel Arenson’s Firefly Island is up at Have a look. You can also check out Arenson’s web page.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Gary Gygax and me

I wanted to say something about Gary Gygax, because I owe him a great deal. I know far more about Dungeons and Dragons than is reasonable for someone who has never actually played it, save through computer game adaptations like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. Tabletop roleplaying games aren’t my thing; I’m too shy and too uncomfortable in groups for it. (Yes, that’s right: I’m too nerdy and socially awkward to play Dungeons and Dragons. God have mercy on me.) As far as I can recall, my first exposure to role-playing games was in the mid to late 80’s, when I would hang out with some older kids on my block who played it.

Gygax’s legacy first seriously touched my life in 1989 or 1990, though I wouldn’t realize it until years later. I was a video game fan, and Nintendo Power magazine was advertising a promotion in which every subscription came with a free copy of a game called Dragon Warrior. (This was when they still insisted on calling games “GamePaks,” which stuck me as very silly even at the age of nine.) I’m not sure how it made financial sense to give away a $40 game to sell $15 magazine subscriptions, but apparently it did. I didn’t know what Dragon Warrior was, but my greedy, calculating young heart couldn’t say no to a deal like that. I mailed in my $15, and a few weeks later the game and my first issue of the magazine arrived.

I had never played anything like it before. Fighting enemies was turn-based. Everything seemed to revolve around numbers- character stats, enemy stats, weapon and armor attributes, calculating what to spend your scarce money on to give you a better chance of surviving. My friends were alternately baffled and bored to tears by it.

It was the greatest game I had ever played.

I had (and have) very poor fine motor control. I liked video games, but I was all but hopeless at most of them. Suddenly, there was a game that did not require reflexes and dexterity I didn’t have, and actually favored my preference for strategy and careful planning. A short while later, I discovered the first Final Fantasy for the NES as well, and I realized I had found my gaming niche. RPGs and strategy games have been my video games of choice ever since.

That first Dragon Warrior seems a bit creaky now, of course. The combat was very simplistic, and the story was scarcely more involved than Super Mario Brothers. But when I was a little kid, it was magic. That game opened up whole imaginative worlds for me, and did so in a time when the real world that I had to live in was the last place I wanted to be.

Dragon Warrior was largely based on previous computer role-playing games like Wizardry and Ultima, which were based on still older games, which were based on the original tabletop Dungeons and Dragons. So, there’s a direct line of descent from Gygax to many of my favorite games today, and I owe him a great deal. Rest in peace.

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