The Great Honor Harrington Read-Along: “On Basilisk Station” by David Weber

The Great Honor Harrington Read Along is a read along led by me with critical analysis and SPOILER FILLED looks at the Honor Harrington series and related works by David Weber and collaborators. I’ve read the whole main series and the overwhelming majority of the offshoots, but some of these will still be first time reads. However, spoilers will be abundant throughout these posts, including for much later books in the series.

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

We’re back to where it all began. On Basilisk Station is our introduction to Honor Harrington, as well as a number of other major players in the series and our first glimpses at what will turn out to be a much wider conflict. I’ve read this book four or five times now, and I keep finding things I enjoy in it. This time, I was intentionally paying much more attention to the side names that pop up, and was surprised by how many Weber packs into this first book in the series. It’s clear he was at least thinking of the long game from the outset.

What makes this book most impressive to me, though, is how well it balances a razor-sharp focus on an escalating conflict centered around Basilisk with hints of broader conflict and political action happening around it. That’s one of the biggest draws to the series, of course. At times, the back and forth between action “on the ground” (read: largely in space) and people sitting around board rooms talking about making action happen can get uneven. Here, though, we see Weber at a focused, exciting pace that still throws enough reveals out there to whet appetites for broader discussion.

Horrible Hemphill shows up right away- she’s of course the subject of an extremely pivotal character scene for Honor much later in the series when Honor and Hamish Alexander fight over how seriously to take Hemphill’s new takes on weapons’ systems and more. Here, she acts a bit as a stooge, including for the delightful final scene in which Harrington is asked enthusiastically to provide (presumably positive) feedback on the weapon systems from the Fearless. Whether Weber intended to make Hemphill a point of recurring interest or not, it was a smart move to include someone here to shake things up. The added wrinkle of Fearless having armament that doesn’t make sense increases the tension and also makes the final battle more satisfying.

Our first look at Honor feels very fresh still. It’s just a well written, classic sci-fi scene. We quickly get a look into McKeon’s head as well, as we discover he knows he’s bitter but can’t quite break out of it. This little insight into his thought process makes it all the more satisfying to watch him finally break out, largely urged on by Honor’s gentle handling of the situation throughout the book. We also run int Pavel Young for the first time, and here he’s eager to immediately abandon the station. He has little agency in the noel; mostly acting as villain from afar.

Another major plot point is having Honor show up for the first time on Hamish Alexander’s radar. Obviously this will become a much more important relationship later in the series, but it’s fun to see him running around using back alley means to protect Honor’s work actually making Basilisk station into a competent command. Yet another major player introduced here is Denver Summervale, and I can’t believe I missed this the last few times I read it. Here, he’s a throwaway character, making it all the more surprising how important he becomes later. I wonder if Weber was thinking along those lines already or whether it just came to him to reuse this character. Klaus Hauptman rounds out the series of major players introduced. Having McKeon be the one to stare him down is a great twist from Weber, which both makes McKeon more relatable and Honor more interesting for restraining herself–barely.

It seems notable how Nimitz is largely a non-entity throughout this book. He does very little other than act as a kind of smart shoulder ornamentation for Honor. In fact, I was pretty shocked by how very little he does given how totally we fall in love with him later in the series. We have a cat named after Nimitz, ourselves.

Some early history of Manticore is provided, largely as background for why Hauptman is such a tool. However, even this comes into play in some of the offshoot series. I haven’t read the ones about the rise of Manticore, so I’m excited on this read-through to take that aside, finally.

Let’s be real: I don’t know of anyone who writes ship-to-ship sci-fi battles better than Weber. They’re always exciting, always full of tension, and always fun to read even on subsequent reads. I never find myself skimming these, and the battle between Fearless and Sirius is a thrilling read. Each hit is visceral, and I don’t really care about what physics may or may not have been violated here. There’s a feel of impact of the events, tension ratcheting up as each side exchanges salvos. It’s so well done. Jumping back and forth between captains and crew increases the excitement and engagement as we see casualties pouring in while others frantically try to keep the ship running while others are making life or death decisions about the whole ship. It’s pretty amazing to me how well this battle scene holds up after the later ones when we have huge fleets blowing each other up. This, probably the tiniest scale action in the whole series between ships, is still a great read.

The slaughter of the Medusans hit me a bit odd this go-round. I’m not entirely sure how big the colonies and human settlement on Medusa is supposed to be. It seems, though, that a total and complete, wholesale devastation of literally thousands of Medusans may not have been the best solution. These are sentient beings, and they’re drugged into a murderous rage to serve the whims of various colonizing powers. It just hit me wrong, I guess. I wonder what other means could have been tried.

Near the end, we hear a bit about the “Big Lie” theory, which feels incredibly relevant today. Essentially, it’s the idea that a government or officials therein can say something so absurd people will believe it because they’ll just assume people will think they have proof, lest they get caught in an absurd lie. Unfortunately, many today are caught up in a number of big lies, whether it is conspiracy theories about election fraud or something else, this part of the book feels more not less relevant than it did when I read it the first time.

What are your thoughts on the book? What scenes struck you? Leave comments below!

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SDG.

“Convergence” by Michael Patrick Hicks – An SPSFC Review

The SPSFC started with 300 books and narrowed it down to 30 semi-finalists. I’ll be reviewing every semi-finalist, as well as several books from other group’s slush piles that looked interesting to me.

Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

Jonah Everitt is a hired gun who steals memories for others after killing the people who made those memories. After one kill gets him in trouble with the Wrong People, he becomes embroiled in a complex web of politics, narcotics, and international espionage.

The premise should clue readers in to what they’re getting into. This is a cyberpunk mystery along the lines of Altered Carbon though with bigger implications. It has a lot of the same gritty feel, but that grittiness comes along with plenty of content warnings. Sexual violence, extreme violence, mild misogyny, and drug abuse are rampant throughout the novel. It’s not a pretty world, and it’s hard to know where Hicks himself might come down on some of the “yuck factor” content therein. The world is just there, it’s rarely reflected upon or critiqued.

The characters are similarly there. None of them stood out to me in any major ways, but they get the job done as far as the plot goes. The story itself is, again, what one might expect from a cyberpunk thriller: a smattering of future tech-y stuff combines with Forbidden Power and the big political minds want to get their hands on it. It makes for a read that never slows down.

Convergence is a thrilling read. For readers less turned off by some of the content noted above, it will likely be a great read to get into a new series.

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SDG.

Reading the BSFA Awards: 1983 “Tik-Tok” by John Sladek

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I’ve been reading and reviewing winners and nominees.

Tik-Tok by John Sladek (1983 BSFA Award Winner)

Tik-Tok is the name of the robot whose viewpoint we follow through this sinister novel. An incident in which he (using that pronoun because it’s used in the novel) is beaten by a human has undone his programming that required him to follow Asimov’s laws of robotics. He’s taken to exploring his own murderous tendencies, alongside interactions with humans who are working to try to get pay and other rights for robots.

The book is thematically interesting, though only at a surface level. Other books have explored what happens when Asimov’s Laws are taken to their logical extreme (see the excellent novel, The Humanoids by Jack Williamson- link to my review), and certainly the implications of the laws themselves are fairly thoroughly explored in various literature. Here, however, a more novel question of “What happens if something happens to disable the laws?” is asked. It’s an intriguing premise, though ultimately not enough to carry the story.

The plot itself falters occasionally, especially when flashbacks start to intervene. It’s not a bad way of telling how Tik-Tok got to the point he’s at, but the choppy nature of the flashbacks, which are frequently broken up themselves over the course of several scenes, means that readers have to be hyper-aware of exactly what time they’re in as they’re reading. Thus, for example, there might be three timelines- A (present), B (5 years ago), and C (10 years ago), and the scenes might alternate like A, B, C, B, A, C, A, B or somesuch. It may never have been quite that extreme, but there were a few times I caught myself thinking I was in a different time than I was and getting quite confused. Again, this is largely because the flashbacks themselves are broken up so that the scenes aren’t entire vignettes at once.

The murders Tik-Tok commits are occasionally fairly gruesome, so readers with qualms about that kind of content will likely want to steer clear. One poignant scene has Tik-Tok describing why he does what he does, and he explains that he basically wants to know what it’s like to sin. It’s a powerful moment in the midst of what feels like violence for the sake of violence through most of the novel. Once we finally arrive at that scene, though, I as a reader had become mostly immune to the goings-on around Tik-Tok. The scenes shifted from violence to tormenting of robots to sexual or other deviancy to further violence to covering up violence and it all starts to get kind of jumbled together.

Sladek’s nearly bland way of telling the story works quite well in character. The matter-of-fact tone lends a sense of the truly depraved to our robotic point of view, and made me as a reader struggle to put a moral compass on the novel.

Ultimately, Tik-Tok may have worked better as a novella or short story instead of a novel. The question at the core of the novel is of interest, but can’t sustain the action across a work of a novel’s length. The few reasons to relate to Tik-Tok combined with a choppy storytelling style made it a difficult read overall.

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SDG.

“The Hammond Conjecture” by M B Reed- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Semifinalist Review

The first Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) has finished, but I’m still finishing reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Hammond Conjecture by M B Reed

Hugh Hammond awakens, ostensibly injured and with memory loss. He’s an agent for MI6, and the world suddenly feels… wrong. But are his memories false, or is the world, or is something else happening?

Readers follow Hammond and a few other characters through the course of the novel, ultimately seeing the story across the course of years and unveiling more and more of the truth behind the events occurring therein.

My biggest problems with the novel are that it seems to be far too soft on Fascism and has some scenes that set off my “yuck” factor regarding men and women. In one of the latter, a man and wife are reunited after the wife was off at an SS convention–yes, that SS. Anyway, the husband thinks it’s time to get it on, but she doesn’t. He bitterly imagines all the SS agents chasing his wife the whole time she was there because she was on birth control and therefore apparently more desirable than their own spouses or other women. He gets angry at his wife for this imagined scenario. It’s a pretty gross scene, in my opinion, and not the only one that took me out of the story in that fashion.

The plot itself has some delightfully funny moments, with Hammond’s spy exploits often showing him as a kind of hapless Indiana Jones or James Bond. the way the ultimate reveals are slowly rationed out makes it interesting to keep finding those nuggets of information, but I’d have liked to have them feel more impactful than they initially do.

The Hammond Conjecture was not my favorite read. I think a lot of the style struck me the wrong way, but I could see where it might find an audience. Fans of alternate history and humor might want to check it out.

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SDG.

“A Touch of Death” by Rebecca Crunden- SPSFC Review

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

Far in the future, humanity largely lives in a single Kingdom with totalitarian rule. Catherine, Thom, and Nate struggle with the strictures of the society. Then, a latent disease is awakened.

I admit I found this one a bit difficult to get into. The characters were fine, but with little explanation for why the world got to where it did 1000 years from now or what remnants were left behind, I struggled to understand why the world was constructed as it was. It could just as easily have been a world completely different from our own rather than being in the future. Indeed, that might have made it even more interesting, because the way the world is revealed so far in this book, there’s little doubt about where latent disease may have come from, even if it’s not fully revealed here.

Catherine and Nate spend much of the novel arguing about what to do next and the implications of what they’ve run into. I actually didn’t mind this aspect of their characters. While it’s a bit trope-y, it’s a comfortable trope for me that I actually enjoy. Indeed, the characters were the most interesting aspect of the book.

A major problem I had with the book is a lack of clarity regarding the major questions about what’s going on. The “who/what/where/when/why” questions about what happened to the world are left extraordinarily vague. Meanwhile, events needed to keep the plot going seemingly drop out of the sky. Modern (read: stuff that would exist in 2022) things just pop up whenever needed. But at other times it reads like a weirdly Medieval feel. The tone is all over the place, making it a confusing read.

A Touch of Death will have readers wanting more. It left this reader wondering if there was enough there to tantalize me into reading the next book. It certainly left enough questions packed into it to sustain a longer series.

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SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through: “X-Wing: The Krytos Trap” by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.

Star Wars- X-Wing: The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole

Coruscant has fallen, but the battle is far from over. Tycho Celchu is put on trial for treason, having allegedly set up Rogue Squadron for defeat. Meanwhile, terrorists start attacking key targets on Coruscant, hoping to drive the Rebellion off. Corran Horn has to escape from Ysanne Isard and vindicate Rogue Squadron before it’s too late.

There are several different major plot threads happening here, and some of them are more interesting than others. They trial of Tycho Celchu is interesting, in part because with it not being a major character there’s a real chance things could go poorly for him. Borsk Fey’lya, who is largely annoying as hell in just about every appearance, is a somewhat interesting antagonist here. I don’t know if it’s because I’m reading about him when I’m older, but the nuance and complexity of his motivations seems much more three dimensional than it did when I was a kid. I guess that part of it is that I now understand there really are people who might mean their best while also trying to control political power and manipulate events to their own desires. Growing old makes one more cynical, perhaps, to the point that one can relate to Fey’lya. Oh no.

Another major thread is Imperial-sympathetic terrorists. Though this has a couple interesting scenes, the motivations are almost entirely “I hate Rebels so I kill them,” which is fine, but paper-thin. Corran Horn’s scenes with Isard are another major thread, and they have some of the more interesting scenes but also some of the least impactful ones.

The main problem here is that a huge amount of the book feels like setup for more plot. Sure, the trial of Celchu is wrapped up, but even that reads like it’s just there to nudge characters towards plots that are yet to come. The result is that the whole book has a lingering feeling of being filler more than anything else. That said, Stackpole consistently delivers good action scenes, which help move the story along more quickly than it otherwise would have felt.

The Krytos Trap is another good entry in the X-Wing series. It didn’t blow me away, but I was entertained all the way through.

The Good

+Great action sequences
+Continues to feature non-main Star Wars characters
+Borsk Fey’lya is interesting as an antagonist

The Bad

-Drags at times

Cover Score: 4/10 Pretty generic and the scale is kinda warped.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: C+ It’s not boring, but it feels like a middle book in a series, with some of the problems that accompany that.

*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.

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Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

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Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

“Broken Ascension” by Dave Walsh- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book Review

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Broken Ascension by Dave Walsh

Drake is an artist on a ragtag ship full of strange personalities as they fly through a warzone from the now ended human-Gra’al war. When they discover a package on a Gra’al ship that contains a baby, the crap hits the fan as they have to go on the run for a Gra’al Warlord bent on reigniting war between species.

Reading that summary, many sci-fi readers will immediately think a kind of Firefly or Becky Chambers-esque found family crew with a heart, and they wouldn’t be too far off from the feel of the novel. If that’s your jam, I can almost guarantee you’ll find Broken Ascension a read worth checking out. It’s definitely my kind of novel, with plenty of action to go along with a plot that keeps everything moving along at a good clip.

One typical thing about books in this subgenre is having that ragtag crew of adventurers feel unique and over-the-top without really being too over-the-top (“I don’t know… fly casual!”). One twist in this one is that apart from the found family vibes here, Drake’s dad is also on the ship. The crew is full of personalities, but some of those personalities fade into the background of the adventures of Drake and the Gra’al babe, Bruce (it makes sense as a name in the book). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it keeps the plot tightly focused, but it did make me want more from some of the other characters, a few of whom we only get glimpses here and there of what their personalities might be like or why they’re along for the ride.

The adventure itself is worth taking, with questions about war, justice, and xenophobia abounding. What would it take to heal scars of war, particularly in the immediate aftermath? While these questions never take over the plot, they’re welcome additions to supplement the story’s frenetic pace with some thoughtful moments. Another notable thing I appreciated was the treatment of religious questions. Walsh takes an even-keeled approach, neither heavily favoring nor strongly condemning religion generally but rather presenting it as a fact of life and reality for many people and species. It’s a good approach that makes it feel more realistic.

Broken Ascension is great for readers who enjoy space adventures. It’s got plenty of edge-of-your-seat action, but also has deeper characterization, for some, than might be expected.

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Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1980

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I have included a brief reflection on the year’s Hugos at the end. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke (Winner)- Grade: D
The Fountains of Paradise is dull almost beyond words. It’s served with a heaping helping of ‘religious people are stupid’ on top. Hey, maybe you think religious people are stupid, but if you do, can you at least acknowledge that some of them are thoughtful instead of making them all into cardboard caricatures?  There’s a decent premise, I guess. Let’s build an elevator to the stars. Of course, only one place on Earth is suitable for some extremely dense hard sci-fi reason. I love science fiction. And I have enjoyed books by Clarke, but this one was aggravating and boring. That’s an accomplishment.  Clarke has done much better.

Titan by John Varley- Grade: D
Titan is a combination of some hard science fiction themes along with some fantasy elements. It’s a recipe for something that I love, but when you add something awful into the mix, it all goes sideways. Here, that something awful is a heaping dose of misogynist sexual fantasies. The amount of ink spilled upon how women look and just how good they might be because of a shapely thigh or somesuch is just… so over the top. It was distracting all the way through to the extent that it, along with the assumptions about how men and women in general would act, detracted entirely from my enjoyment of the novel. But then I started to notice some of the other issues with it–some big plot holes, somewhat annoying characters, and nonsensical twists. I’ll be reading the next book, entirely because it also got an award nomination, so I’m hoping that I like it more.

Jem by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D
I did not like this book very much. A planet is discovered and humans want to peacefully colonize it as a kind of idyllic vision. Back on Earth, things go south and the new colony turns into a kind of last hope for humanity. On the colony, the alien races there are more (or less, in some ways?) than they appear. Honestly, the last 5% or so of the novel was good–it shows the consequences of even well-intentioned colonialism. Everything else was a slog. The first 80 pages or so seem to be half tribute to Pohl contemporaries, half boring meetings of people talking about or seducing each other as they try to figure out colonizing. The whole thing just ends up feeling extremely boring and even chore-like to read, though the bit of payoff at the end made me less upset about paying the fee to interlibrary loan it. 

On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch- Grade: D+
How do you grade books that clearly demonstrate talent while also being nearly unreadable because they feel caught in the past with ideas that are sometimes cringe and sometimes just silly? I don’t know, but here’s where I settled on this frustrating, strange book. The premise is that the United States has turned, in parts, into ultra-conservative dystopias while at the coasts there exist some kind of hippy-ville that also has its share of problems. Someone has developed a way to have astral projection and trigger spiritual experiences, and Daniel Weinreb, our protagonist, has no small amount of trouble because of this “flying.” Ultimately, the book climaxes in a kind of revelation of the capacity to fully leave the body with the mind even as many conservatives and non-flyers reject the reality. It seems to clearly be a parable of a kind, but one that is so hidden behind layers that it’s difficult as to what Disch is trying to get at. Is he warning of the dangers of ultra-conservativism? Probably? Is it a broadside against religion? Perhaps? Is astral projection via machine a metaphor for drugs? I don’t know? It’s such a strange read set in sometimes strong prose that makes it all the more frustrating. I didn’t like it, but I understand why many might.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip (My Winner)- Grade: B
Harpist in the Wind is the third and concluding volume in the Riddle-Master trilogy by McKillip. Like the other books in the series, the focus is pretty narrow, largely following a group of characters on an adventure as they quest to discover the mysteries behind some shape-shifters that have been dogging them, along with the mystery of the Kingdom in which they travel. There are moments of great revelations, especially when the magic is revealed in various parts. There are also moments of tenderness that are surprisingly strong in characterization. I have to express some disappointment, though, in that despite the massive focus on riddles as ways to control and even do battle with others, there is very little by way of actual riddles in the novels themselves.

1980- Uffda. This was a rough year for the Hugos. Several familiar names headline these nominations, but none of them delivered the goods, imo. McKillip’s novel is a worthy choice for a nominee, but would not win a stronger year. The winner chosen at the actual ceremony–Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise–is a tedious slog. The other books don’t fare much better. It’s almost like the voters just nominated favorite authors for the sake of seeing their names yet again on the ballot. One of the worst years, in my opinion. 

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Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Wildermyth” – A Fantasy Epic You Forge

Wildermyth is a video game in which you take a band of characters and go to explore a larger world that has called you to find out what’s happening. As you play, you not only explore the region around you, but you also find stories in abundance. These stories shape your characters, sometimes literally as they get new hair colors, are imbued with magic that shows through their skin, or get merged with beasts. Battles can take their toll as well, leading to characters with eye patches or other physical impacts that appear going forward.

At its core, Wildermyth is a storytelling system that throws a bunch of mini-tales at you, lets you make choices within them, and then plays out consequences of those choices. Battles are also a major part of the gameplay loop. They play out in grid-based sequences that have you interacting with the environments using your spell-casters and moving your characters around to most effectively impact the battles in your favor. They can be quite challenging, and a few wrong moves could mean you lose a character–sometimes permanently, depending upon the choices you make. The environments are hugely important, as you can start fires, watch them spread, or thwart them in order to push your own ends and bonuses. Pets, spirit creatures, weapon types, preparing ambushes, and more are all elements in the strategy. I’m certain I haven’t even encountered all the ways to fight battles in the game yet. There are so many, and a lot of them are based upon how you level up your characters.

Battles are strategic affairs in which nearly everything in the environment can have an impact upon the way they play out.

Examples may be the only way to really make clear how epic and beautiful the stories are that you help create. These stories are epic in ways that are small and beautiful. One example is I had a character who contracted an illness. We went seeking a cure for the illness after persuading the sage who was helping treat her to tell us where to find it. We had to persuade the sage because her brother had sought it and never returned, and she didn’t want us to also never come back. She came with us, much older than she’d been then. We found the cure, and I got the choice to either cure my character whom I’d developed across the land or turn the sage’s brother back from stone (we’d found him along the way). It was a brutal decision, and it had long term consequences when I chose to bring the brother back. It made the character who sacrificed some of the years of her life for another’s life into an epic hero. These kinds of small vignettes with heart-rending choices and long term impacts are found throughout the game.

Choices abound in the game, and some can have long-term impacts on how your characters interrelate.

It is true, as some reviews have pointed out, that there is an overall limit on just how many shorter stories exist in the game. This limit seems to be quite massive, though. I’ve only run into one repeat so far at 8 hours in. The repeat didn’t even feel repetitive, though, because of the way the storytelling works. It’s so dynamic that it made sense in-universe for these other characters to encounter a similar circumstance.

Each time I play Wildermyth, it feels in a way like coming home to a lengthy adventure novel that I helped forge by the choices I made. The legacy system means that characters you have fallen in love with in earlier campaigns can make appearances later, possibly as a mythic figure to look up to. It’s amazing how invested the game gets you to become in your characters after a few short hours with each of them. They will fall in love, marry, have children, grow old, watch their children become adventurers alongside them, retire, die. Some will die too young. Some will be forced to retire by disease. Each has the chance to become a legend, and each will likely find their place in your heart.

You can change equipment and upgrade it between chapters. Characters can grow old and that is shown in their appearance and some choices that open or close for them.

This game has become for me one of those that I had only dreamed of when I was younger. It’s a game in which it truly feels as though you’re playing a legacy. While it’s not open ended in the sense of “do anything,” the way the stories are presented makes it not matter. You, the player, are guiding the story, dynamically reacting in the moment to how your characters act. Do you want to risk their lives for a potential gain? Are you willing to sacrifice one to save another? How about those lovebirds over there? You didn’t ever think the children of your characters may find their own lives, but they do. It’s an absolutely incredible experience.

The presentation also has its own beauty. The characters are kind of papercraft, and their equipment, battle scars, and sometimes even basic decisions show up on their person. Maybe you chose to touch that well of magic, and something happened to you. Perhaps a beast offered a chance to forge a new path? Did you feed a small creature you found in a cave? You’ve got a pet now. The possibilities and choices are massive, and they show directly upon your characters. The music is on another level, as well. While I’d say the track selection is a bit limited, the score is epic and beautiful, full of stringed instruments that rise and swell at the appropriate times.

I can’t really recommend Wildermyth highly enough. It’s an experience that anyone with a love of stories ought to at least give a try. I adore it. It’s clearly been a labor of love for the developers, and I can tell you it’s worth every penny.

Links

Video Games– Check out all my posts on video games here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off Finalists: “We Men of Ash and Shadow” by H.L. Tinsley

parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

We Men of Ash and Shadow by HL Tinsley

In this grimdark gaslight fantasy, readers follow John Vanguard, a kind of mercenary, through the streets of a city where corruption is rampant. Vanguard runs into a would-be assassin and the plot takes off from there.

The story follows Vanguard fairly closely, as he takes on some morally rough tasks. I can’t say I ever really got into Vanguard as a character. I don’t dislike the trope of following someone who’s morally gray or even bad (one series I enjoy follows a Hitman who likes stamp collecting, for example), but there has to be some kind of hook. Vanguard reads to me as a kind of milquetoast down-on-his-luck guy who doesn’t necessarily want to be doing what he does even though he does a lot of it anyway. And because of that, readers are supposed to be empathetic towards his plight or something. I just couldn’t buy into it as much as I’d have liked to.

There are some neat moments of critique of the world, such as the way cities are run and how difficult it is to get in. I thought it was both an interesting piece of worldbuilding and a kind of oblique critique of stratification and wealth-hording. Indeed, the world-building was the highlight of the book.

Overall, though, I couldn’t help but feel that the idea felt a bit stale. That’s not really the fault of this specific book, I guess. At this point in my reading for the SPFBO contest, 3/5 books have been grimdark mystery-esque books in grimy or morally opaque worlds.

Gray morality is the theme of the book, which made it hard for me to really root for anyone specifically. Characters hook up, kill, fight, and more, but sometimes their motivations are unclear for why they act the way they do. There is no small amount of political intrigue, as well, but with those characters also embroiled in the same broad wash of colorless morals, it becomes difficult to truly decide who to root for.

Overall, I thought this novel was a tad more generic in its characters, which made it difficult for me to get into. On the flip side, the many reviews on Goodreads almost all lean towards glowing, so I might just be the minority here. We Men of Ash and Shadows is a morally tenuous fantasy story in a dark world filled with violence. If that speaks to you, give it a shot.

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Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.