Sunday, July 31, 2005

An Original Story That Isn't Exactly Original...

This time around, I decided to re-read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. I've always been a big fan of Adams' work, and I've got to say that I think I actually like his Dirk Gently books better than his Hitchhiker's books. The story of this particular book is an odd blend of originality and blatant literary recycling; major parts of the plot come from some of Adams' old Doctor Who Scripts.

The episode unaired Shada has a Time Lord named Prof. Chronotis, who has been living in his TARDIS (time machine), disguised as a set of rooms, in an English University for centuries. He also makes a joke when making tea about how many lumps a person wants, followed by asking if they want sugar. All of this is present in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, except Prof. Chronotis isn't referred to as a Time Lord and his time machine isn't called a TARDIS. The episode City of Death has an alien, who caused his ship to explode in prehistory--causing the primordial slime to become life--and causing himself to be hurtled through time. His great plan is to build a time machine and use it to stop himself from blowing up his ship. In the book, the alien is a ghost, and he tricks Chronotis into using his time machine instead of building one. Otherwise it's the same.

However, the book has a lot of original stuff as well. The character of Dirk Gently, despite some similarities to the Doctor in mannerisms, is a very original character. The Electric Monk is a very novel idea. I also think that an aspiring computer programmer would do quite well to come up with a program like Anthem, which can convert business's financial data into animated logos or music. I also found the part about the couch to be funny.

I give this book 5 yo-yos. Coming Soon, a foray into the world of nonfiction with my rereading of The Complete Books of Charles Fort.

Monday, July 25, 2005

One of the best of the Best

I have a hard time thinking about exactly what to say about Code of the Woosters, because P. G. Wodehouse is my favorite writer and this is one of his best books. Wodehouse was, without a doubt, the greatest humorous writer of the 20th Century (sorry Douglas Adams fans, but I bet he would've agreed with me). This book is simply hilarious.

The plot is Wodehouse at his convoluted best. Bertie Wooster gets sent to make disparaging remarks about a silver cow creamer so his uncle can buy it more cheaply. Naturally, he manages to make a mess of things, and the cow creamer ends up in the hands of Sir Watkyn Bassett. So Bertie is sent to that Hell on Earth, Totleigh Towers, to retrieve (i.e. steal) the thing. To do so, he has to get past old Pop Bassett and his minion Spode, the would-be dictator and general pug ugly. Bertie also has to help a few old friends whose love lives are in jeopardy. In the process, he nearly gets married and arrested, but thanks to the super mind of Jeeves, who is a valet—not a butler—everything turns out all right.

The book is also full of Wodehouse’s exquisite prose. Just to pick a few examples at random:

“Nothing can ever render being treed on top of a chest of drawers by an Aberdeen terrier pleasant, but it seemed to me that the least you can expect on such an occasion is that the animal will meet you halfway and not drop salt into the wound by looking at you as if he were asking if you were saved."

“I don’t say I didn't leave my chair like a jack rabbit that has sat on a cactus...”

“As Jeeves said, when I described the scene to him, the whole situation resembled some great moment in Greek tragedy, where somebody is stepping high, wide and handsome, quite unconscious that all the while Nemesis is at his heels, and he may be right.”

As I've said before, Wodehouse is the best, and this is one of his best. I give it 5 yo-yos.

Coming soon, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Moving Castle, Moving Story...

The main reason I decided to read Howl's Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones, is because of the recent movie version of it. I haven’t actually seen it, but I am a big enough fan of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away that I know I’ll get it when it comes out on DVD. Besides that, I’ve read Jones’ Chrestomanci books, and loved them, so I was reasonably certain that I would enjoy this book.

I was right; I did enjoy it. This book shows Jones’ flair for creating memorable characters and exciting plots. Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a young girl who is turned into an old woman by the curse of the evil Witch of the Waste. Sophie moves into the castle of the lecherous wizard Howl and agrees to attempt to free his pet fire demon, who will break her curse if she succeeds. From there, things get even more interesting…

This book, as with some others I have reviewed, is written primarily for children. However, it is sophisticated enough that it can be enjoyed even by adults. The only thing I didn’t like about this book (and this may have only been my imagination) was that the opening chapters seemed to use language that was a little too simplistic, even for a children’s book. Still, by the time the action started up, I was too much into the plot to notice it anymore. I give this one 4 yo-yos.

Coming soon, Code of the Woosters (for real this time)!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

An Exciting Story, Slightly Marred

After Finishing off Harry Potter, I resumed reading Wizard of the Grove by Tanya huff. This is an omnibus edition containing Child of the Grove and The Last Wizard. These books tell the story of Crystal, last of the wizards. She—yes, despite conventions about wizards’ sex, Crystal is female—is created to destroy Kraydak, an evil wizard who had been the last of his race before Crystal was born. After she completes her mission, she sets forth to try to mend the damage done by her wicked predecessors.

While this is a good story, it does have some flaws. The first part would be much better off without the first six or seven chapters, as these tell the story of the creation of Crystal, but lend very little to the overall story, and violate the old writer’s maxim of starting as close to the action as possible. Also, I found the ending of the second part to be a bit on the confusing side (I won’t say exactly what happened as I like to avoid spoilers).

Overall, the book was interesting. The characters were very interesting, especially Crystal, who, despite her bizarre parentage (part human, part dryad, part divine), was a very human character. Also, the Lord Death has to be one of my favorite fictional versions of the Grim Reaper (It ranks right up there with Geiman’s and Pratchett’s). The actual story, once you get past the unneeded opening chapters, is gripping. The writing style is excellent.

While I do consider the story itself to be excellent, the extra six chapters are a major flaw in my opinion. Still, this book is above average. I’ll give it 3.5 yo-yos.

Coming soon, Howl's Moving Castle.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The best Harry Potter book yet.

Ok, I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As you may have guessed from the title of this entry, this is the best Harry Potter book yet. It's gripping, moving, and full of surprises.

Once you start reading this book, you'll have a heck of a time putting it down. That is a good thing, because you won't find out who the half-blood prince is, or what major character dies, until the final chapters of the book (and I'm not going to give away spoilers and say who they are, so don't ask). Besides that there's betrayal, romance, mystery, and adventure aplenty. The book is chock-full of interesting scenes and characters. The death scene itself was very moving, so much so that I was actually crying afterwards.

The death gives Harry another reason to go after Voldemort (and a certain other old enemy). The book also reveals what may be Voldemort's one weakness, which Harry will have to exploit to defeat his arch-foe. We are also told what Harry's plans are for the next book (and boy do they sound interesting). I can hardly wait for him to catch up with Voldemort and [name deleted to prevent spoilage].

If you're a fan of Harry Potter, you must buy this book. If you're not, then read this book and you will be. I give it 5 yo-yos.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A very, very bad movie...

Okay, before I write about the new Harry Potter book, I'd like to warn you about a very bad movie I had the misfortune to rent called Shadows of the Dead. I was lulled in by the summary on the back:

"A couple's weekend getaway turns into a nightmare after they are stranded in the woods and discover what they assume to be a dead body. The assumption is wrong and John (Jonathan Flanigan) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Beverly Hynds) are infected with a deadly disease that will soon ravage their bodies. With no place to go, and no one to turn to, they are forced to find shelter in a deserted cabin. This is where they'll find safety, but this is also where they'll experience a slow and torturous death. They must come to terms with their inevitable deaths, the temptation to kill others to sustain their own lives, and the consequences of murder. They will cling to one another's love and support, but in the end.... all great love stories end tragically."

Don't be fooled. This movie is more horrible that horrific. The people involved seem to have no idea of the meaning of "dramatic tension." The only really tense part comes in the beginning when the unappealing, young couple are in their car, with a flat tire, in the middle of a dark forest. There is a zombie outside, unfortunately, it is a very stupid zombie (even by zombie standards) and can't be bothered to muster a serious attack (though it does manage to infect the main characters). After that the film is mostly the two main characters sitting around talking about how horrible it is to be a zombie. There is one scene of gratuitous (and fundamentally unsatisfying) violence.

My recommendation is that you should never buy this movie. I would only recommend renting it if you have insomnia. My rating is 1 yo-yo. This movie is only useful as a soporific of a coaster.

Friday, July 15, 2005

My Ratings System

A lot of people have been asking me about my ratings system (actually no one has, but I thought it would be a good idea to share it with you anyway).

My system is pretty much the standard 1-5 "star" system, except I use yo-yos instead of stars. For instance, I might give The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy 5 yo-yos. The things I generally consider when reviewing a book are the writing style, pacing, plot, dialogue, characterization, and how much I like the story overall.

The ratings can translate as:

5 Yo-yos = Run out and buy this book now! Or if you want to help the Yoyogod out, click the link.

4 Yo-yos = This is a good book, and I would certainly recommend reading it.

3 Yo-yos = This book is fairly average. It's not that great, but it's not bad either. Read it if you don't have anything better handy.

2 Stars = This is a bad book. I certainly wouldn't recommend reading it.

1 Star = You would be better of reading the phone book than this piece of garbage.

(I also sometimes issue half yo-yos, which is slightly worse that the full one. ex four and a half yo-yos is worse than five yo-yos)

On a side note, I'm a little behind on my reading of Wizard of the Grove, so since tomorrow is the big release, my next book will probably be switched to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Brothers' War

Okay, I know I promised to review Code of the Woosters, but I had the opportunity to get some new books, and, rather than reread something (even by as great a master of the English language as Plum Wodehouse), I decided to put that book on hold and try reading my new books first. Sorry, but that’s life.

Anyway, the new book in question is new only in the sense that I haven’t read it before, as it has a copyright date of 2001. It’s The Brothers' War by Jeff Grubb. It’s in the Magic the Gathering series of books, based on the popular card game. I know what you’re thinking, “A book based on a card game? Ugh, sounds like pure drivel.”

Actually, I thought it was a good book. It tells the story of two brothers, Mishra and Urza, who come into possession of two halves of a mystic gem. Each one wants the other’s half, and, as brothers do, they squabble over it. Eventually, the squabbling turns to fighting, and the fighting turns to war. In the end, the war lays waste to an entire continent and unleashes an ancient evil on an unsuspecting world.

The thing I like most about the book is the character development. Mishra starts out as the more likable of the brothers; he’s friendly, talkative, and seems to take a genuine interest in people, but by the end of the book, he’s become an inhuman monstrosity. Urza, on the other hand, starts out as fairly reclusive and somewhat unlikable, but by the end of the book, he is revealed to genuinely care about people, and to want nothing more than to end his brother’s reign of terror.

There is another thing about the book that I find slightly interesting, its references to cards in the game. A casual reader who is unfamiliar with the game will miss it, but there are references to numerous cards that were current in the game when the book was written. We se ornithopters, Urza’s Avengers, Clay Statues, Yotian Soldiers, etc. This sort of thing makes the book more interesting to those who love the game.

If you’re a fan of Magic, or you just like good fantasy, this book is well worth looking at (and I suspect the others in the series are as well). I give it 4 yo-yos.

Coming soon, Wizard of the Grove by Tanya Huff.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


After my recent foray into children’s literature with Lemony Snicket, I decided to reread a book from one of my favorite children’s series: Brian Jacques’ Mattimeo. Mattimeo is the third volume in the Redwall series. While it isn’t my favorite of the Redwall books, it is a very enjoyable read.

In the story, Mattimeo is the spoiled son or Matthias, the Redwall Abby warrior. He and several other young Redwallers are kidnapped by Slagar and his band of slavers. The youngsters’ family and friends follow after to rescue them. Meanwhile, Redwall Abby is attacked by the forces of the merciless General Ironbeak. In the end, the evil doers are defeated, and almost everyone returns home, safe and sound.

All of the classic Redwall elements are present: feasts, villainous vermin, heroic mice, the spirit of Martin the Warrior, an attack on the Abby, riddles, songs, and heroic youngsters. When Jacques writes his books, he melds all of these elements together into a children’s book that can be enjoyed by just about anyone (even though it stars anthropomorphic animals). There are some moments of serious drama; I for one always cry when I get to the part where Mrs. Bankvole and Friar Hugo are murdered by Slagar and his Slavers.

The Redwall series is well worth reading no matter how old you are. Mattimeo is no exception. It’s a delightful and engrossing book. I’ll give it 5 yo-yos.

Coming Soon, Code of the Woosters, by P. G. Wodehouse.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Adventure Quest

Today, as I’m well ahead of schedule on my “update-once-a-week plan,” I’ve decided to write a quick review for the “other stuff I like.” In this case, an online game, and not even one you have to buy. That’s right, this is a free game.

The game is called Adventure Quest (I‘ve put a link in here, but if Google puts an AQ banner at the top of the page, please click there instead). AQ is a role playing game. You are an adventurer in the land of Lore, operating out of the town of Battleon. Your mission is to go out and kill the rampaging hoards of monsters. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Actually, the gameplay is pretty simple, but it’s addictive. You can spend hours a day fighting the weird monsters, doing quests, and just having fun. You can become a vampire, werewolf, or werepyre. You can train as a fighter, mage, ninja, rogue, dragon slayer, or vampire slayer (with more classes coming soon). You can take part in wars and special events. You can collect rare armors, weapons, spells, and pets. There is quite a lot to do.

Unfortunately, not everything in Adventure Quest is perfect. There is no PvP, and there never will be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since PvP often equals “experienced player kill newbies for fun.” Also, since the game is free, and server space costs an arm and a leg, there are only a limited number of free slots. New players can bypass this, because when you make a new account you get a certain number of free logins. Once those are used up, it can take hours to get in, unless you become a guardian.

Guardians are players who have paid a one-time donation (currently $14.95) to help support the game. In exchange, they can log on anytime. In addition, they can fully access the game. Guardians can fully level up in all classes (non-guardians can only go halfway). Guardians can get special temporary items to help them during battle. Guardians get special permanent items when the sign up, like the Ultra Guardian Plate and the Guardian Sword (which can be upgraded to the mighty Blade of Awe by collecting chests). All in all, guardianship is well worth the price if you like RPGs.

Besides the game, Adventure Quest also has very good forums. It has, what I have been told, are very nice RPG forums (I don’t use them much myself). The main forums are full of interesting people, like the thief Magicdog, the joking Grand Councilor Skyboy, or the deranged mod Vephoma. Just be sure to read the rules before posting, because quite a lot of people will jump down your throat if you spam, flame, ask questions in the GGD forum (hint: try the Questions and Answers forum instead), or complain about the server cap. Oh yeah, and never, ever, ask someone to make you a guardian.

I give Adventure Quest 4.5 yo-yos.

Note 10/06/06: I stopped playing this game several months ago. Also this page is by now hopelessly out of date about the games features. To the people who leave comments: I don't work for AQ or know anyone who does, so I can't help you with the game.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Ominous Omnibus

Despite the fact that I’m well past my childhood, I have a certain fondness for children’s literature. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books and all of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books (which I actually like better than Harry). Influenced largely by the movie Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, I decided to delve into the world of the Baudelaire orphans.

I began by picking up a copy of the Ominus Omnibus, which contains the first three books in the series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. The book it self is actually a pretty good value; It has a cover price of $19.99, which is pretty cheap for a hardcover, especially a great big, thick one. I got mine at K-Mart for $14.99, which is an even better deal.

As is usual for me, I found that I liked the books better than the movie. There were quite a few parts of the movie that made absolutely no sense at all, such as handing the orphans back to Count Olaf after he’s already tried to kill them and has murdered Dr. Montgomery and the parents and both guardian being part of a crime fighting squad that was investigating Olaf’s doings. Neither of these things happen in the book.

There are also elements in the books that make it more interesting to me than the movie. Olaf is far more evil. In the movie, he seems to be a comic villain, almost verging on some sort of bumbling mad-scientist/super-villain. In the books, he is evil incarnate, and extremely cunning. Also in the books, but not really in the movie, are Olaf’s minions. They do make a brief appearance in the move, when they show up for dinner and help with the play, but they have much larger part in the books.

There is only one thing I don’t like about the books: the language. It’s a bit more simplistic than I’m used to, even for a children’s series. Still, it doesn’t detract too much, and actually provides some of the humor when Snicket defines the big words for the kiddies. Over all, I’ll give it 4 yo-yos.