Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review: Heir of Novron (The Riyria Revelations 3) by Michael J. Sullivan


The third and final part of the Riyria Revelations features, as did the previous two, a pair of stories, namely Wintertide and Percepliquis.

Wintertide is about half (or less) the length of the latter story, and comes as the new empire is going from strength to strength. The empress has been arranged to marry Regent Ethelred after which she will be disposed of and Hadrian and Royce go their separate ways, which doesn’t work out well for either of them.

Wintertide does a good job of ratcheting up the tension as the political conniving of Saldur and Ethelred approach its climax, and it has a gloomier air than previous, more light-hearted, parts of the story.

Percepliquis tells of a race against time to find the horn (first mentioned, I think, on board The Emerald Storm in the previous book). Without it certain doom will strike the world, but it’s hidden in the lost city of Percepliquis. The empire dispatches a small band of heroes (and Royce) to track the lost city down and then infiltrate it and find the horn, which is reckoned to rest in the tomb of Novron.

I really liked Percepliquis, particularly as there’s a proper conclusion to the story. Perhaps as importantly, just about everything regarding Novron and what really happened at the founding and end of the first empire is revealed. There’s also a nice touch right at the end.

The story’s a bit more foreboding than the first two books, and a bit more serious, but that fits the nature of the final part of the trilogy (or six-parter, as you prefer).

The series has been very well-integrated throughout, with the plot and various characters clearly planned using cunning.

The only real annoyance is that I don’t think there’s another full-length book by Mr. Sullivan out. On the other hand, there is a short story called The Viscount and the Witch which is free for the Kindle.

I’ll be taking a brief break from downloading any new books, because I really need to work on the final read through of Bane of Souls. After that’s done, I’ll look back to this post from mid-February for some more ideas on what to get next:

Thaddeus

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bane of Souls cover art is done!


Really quite pleased with this. The artist is Lee Yoong from DeviantArt (http://leeyoong90.deviantart.com/), and it was unexpectedly interesting to see the cover progress from an initial sketch to the delightful picture now before you.

The process was also more collaborative than I’d imagined. It’s a bit strange because, as a writer (or soon-to-be writer) there’s tons of work but it’s all done solo.

No firm timetable for the Bane of Souls release, but my next task is a final read-through checking for spelling mistakes and the like [somewhat irritatingly my typos are fairly rare but usually quite catastrophically comic, so I really don’t want to leave many, or any, in].

Don’t forget to visit http://thaddeuswhite.weebly.com/index.html, which is my official site for all serious business relating to writing, Bane of Souls and so on.

Thaddeus

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Review: The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque) by Anne Lyle


Slight departure for me, as this is fantasy, but set in an alternate history of England. It’s the latter day Elizabethan era (the first one, not now), but in this world Elizabeth I got married and has two children (grown men in the book). The New World has been discovered, but it’s also home to the non-human skraylings, who are allies of mighty Blighty against those dastardly Europeans.

The book revolves around the two characters of Maliverny Catlyn (a fairly well-born chap down on his luck) and Coby, a backstage worker for a theatre troupe who happens to be a young lady masquerading as a chap.

The skraylings are sending an ambassador to England, and pick out Catlyn as his human bodyguard. A competition is to be held between various acting groups with the new ambassador as judge, but Catlyn has his work cut out keeping the skrayling from harm from his numerous enemies.

I’m not very knowledgeable about the Elizabethan era but it certainly sounds like the author has done her homework. There are plenty of terms that are not common today, but the meaning is generally clear from the context. That sort of thing, and a certain level of detail, helps immerse the reader in the world.

I think a little more pace early on and some more bloodshed would be an improvement, but I did like the way the ending occurred and the way the storyline sped up as the story's climax was neared.

The cast is relatively small but this does help give them space to be three-dimensional in their own right and to have developing relationships with one another (which is a particular strength of the story). The book is a stand-alone work, but seems likely to be part of a continuing narrative (like Tales of the Ketty Jay or Space Captain Smith), and I think we’ll see Mal and Coby again.

Thaddeus

Monday, 16 April 2012

Angry Robot now open for submissions


Publisher Angry Robot is having an open fortnight, which basically means it’s accepting straight submissions from authors without agents.

Those not familiar with the various tortures aspiring authors undergo may be unaware that it’s very hard to find an agent, and even harder to get a publisher without one. So, this is a very welcome move. Let’s hope Angry Robot finds some really good authors, which will both encourage them to run this again (I think it’s the second year they’ve done it) and help some aspiring authors get published.

The link for submission is at the link below, under How To Submit:

It’s well worth reading that page in full if you’re thinking of submitting, as there are quite a few guidelines which will answer most FAQs regarding submission.

Be aware that, given the difficulty I mentioned above, they’ll probably be swamped with submissions so it could well take a long time (maybe six months, I think) to get back to you.

Best of luck to those submitting their work.

Thaddeus

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (PS3)


I’ve always loved the MGS series, and I decided it was worth buying this HD compilation. The disc includes MGS2, MGS3 and MGS: Peace Walker, and costs about £20. The first two were originally for the PS2, and the latter for the PSP. This review contains some spoilers about things revealed early on in the games. If you’ve played the games before it won’t be an issue, and if you haven’t, you should buy this compilation.

MGS2 is the Substance version (a swankier game with a few extras) and MGS3 is based on Subsistence (which is likewise). However, they don’t have absolutely everything the original swanky versions did. The fun skateboarding mini-game is missing from MGS2, although it does seem to have everything else (VR stuff, Snake Tales etc). MGS3 lacks Snake Vs Monkey, but does have other features. Sadly only Peace Walker has an option to change language, and happily German’s available (I always like playing games in German if I can, helps refresh my memory. Plus, I still remember my German teacher being impressed yet concerned that I knew a St├╝rmgewehr was an assault rifle, which I learnt from Fear Effect 2).

MGS2 is the immediate follow-up to the fantastic Metal Gear Solid (for the original playstation), which was an instant classic and featured Solid Snake facing off against a group of elite commandos turned terrorist and a doomsday weapon. Raiden was far less annoying than I remember, but somehow my mind had blocked out the tedious melodrama of Rose and her constant bloody emotional nagging. The Tanker episode was too short, but I felt that the Plant episode was very well-paced.

Villain-wise, Vamp is the only new one who really strikes a chord. Fortune was too self-pitying, and the main villain was too generic to stand comparison with Liquid. Gameplay is pretty good and enjoyable, and on normal difficulty I found most boss fights to be of appropriate difficulty. I must admit that I rather disliked the endless babble and jargon of the cut-scenes.

MGS3 is a prequel, set in the Cold War, and has the man who becomes Big Boss as the protagonist. (He’s codenamed Naked Snake, presumably because Exposed Todger was already taken). From the PS2, I seem to recall that MGS3 had a noticeably worse frame rate compared to very good rate of MGS2. In the HD version the game’s been improved enormously in this regard. It also has the Subsistence viewpoint option, which basically enables the player to rotate the camera and raise or lower it to see further into the distance. It’s a really simple feature but makes the game a lot better. MGS3 is perhaps second only to Metal Gear Solid in the series.

The Codec has a good set of permanent contacts, the plot is more straightforward, the villain is genuinely loathsome and psychotic, CQC is great both in-play and cut-scenes, there’s a great relationship between Snake and The Boss and the last few hours fly by. It’s also longer than MGS2 (both episodes).

However, it’s not quite perfect. The boss fights (again, on normal) seemed to either be a bit too easy or a bit too hard. In addition, the camo(ouflage) index is a good idea, but the fact that, especially in the jungle which is most common in the game, patches of ground vary over short distances make it a pain in the arse to keep going to the menu to change. It might have been better to have backstories for the Cobras, but that could’ve shifted attention from The Boss, and in MGS4 we saw what happens (with the Beauty and the Beast) what happens when contrived backstories are put in. Overall, a great game.

I must admit I hadn’t played Peace Walker before, and I haven’t finished it, but I think I’ve played enough to review it. It’s substantially difference to the main MGS titles, with a large number of very short (5 minute or so) missions that are selected from a hub menu. It’s the 1970s and Snake’s running a mercenary group. You can ‘hire’ (or ‘kidnap’ to be more precise) unconscious enemy soldiers and ‘liberate’ PoWs into a productive life of mercenary work to increase your numbers.

These soldiers then join one of five teams (combat, R&D, mess hall, medical and intelligence) to provide advantages for Snake (such as new or upgraded weapons). The system actually works pretty well, and you can use the combat troops in optional extra missions.

Because it’s from the PSP the graphics are a slight step backwards but not enough to be anything like an issue. Cut-scenes are done with cartoons, and whilst that can work well the art style wasn’t really to my liking. Miller, who features in Metal Gear Solid, is Snake’s deputy, which is a nice touch. Whilst the execution is pretty good, I prefer the standard solo sneaking missions approach of the main titles.

Overall, I think the compilation is well-worth getting. However, it must be said that I am a big fan of the MGS series.

Thaddeus

Friday, 6 April 2012

My new website is up and running



And there was site, and Thaddeus saw that it was good, except for the bit that he’d forgotten to save to live but which he swiftly corrected.

After much procrastination, and some delay due to my dystechia, the official website for Thaddeus White and my books is now up. The website’s pretty simple in design, both because simplicity makes things easier to navigate and because I have all the technical and design skills of an ambisinister orangutan.

I’ll update it relatively infrequently, and use it for major updates on writing and the like. The Lore sections will be updated and amended (in a spoiler-free way) as I write more. Hopefully after people read Bane of Souls they’ll pay a visit if they want to learn a little bit more about the world.

In the short term it’ll be updated a bit more rapidly than will usually be the case, because the cover of Bane of Souls and the book itself should be making an appearance in the next couple of months.

If I’ve made any mistakes or people have any questions, please do point them out/ask them on the writing blog there (or here, if the problem is being unable to post comments on the writing blog).

I’d planned to have a section on characters, but found that writing it in a way that was informative and spoiler-free was like trying to deliberately develop Wernicke’s Aphasia, so I decided it was easier for me and better for readers, and potential readers, not to.

Anyway, I hope you like it.

Thaddeus

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

AI and Robotics


I watched Horizon last night, as I saw it was about artificial intelligence, which I find quite interesting.

There were a few examples of present robots and computers, varying from the incredibly knowledgeable but non-robotic Watson computer (which triumphed in a special edition of the US quiz Jeopardy) to more anthropomorphic creations.

The programme did pose some interesting philosophical questions about intelligence and whether AI can truly exist. The presenter, mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy, did a Chinese room experiment. He was in an enclosed room with a letterbox through which a fluent Chinese speaker posted simple messages. He then replied, despite knowing no Chinese at all and having no idea what he was saying, by posting back messages in accordance with a rulebook he had in the room. The Chinese speaker said that if she’d been speaking with him online she would have thought he knew it fluently and would have no idea he was utterly unaware of what he’d been saying.

The point of that is that we cannot know whether a robot is truly thinking as we do, or whether it’s blindly following instructions. Du Sautoy countered this by suggesting that humans themselves follow ‘instructions’ in the way we think (a view to which I’m inclined).

He also encountered a robot deliberately made to have many human structures, with a plastic skeleton, joints and thread doing the work of tendons. The scientist behind that creation thought that real intelligence was contingent upon having a physical form that interacts with the world. He pointed out that robots are phenomenally good at things we thought they might find hard (playing draughts) but very bad at things we thought they’d find easy (moving the pieces).

The final chap, a German, that Du Sautoy met had perhaps the most interesting robots of all. There were three of them, roughly 60% the size of a human and with a similar composition (2 legs, 2 arms). They invented their own language, giving a word to a gesture and then teaching it to one another and then Du Sautoy (who got it wrong at first). The German scientist suggested that robots really need to evolve in the same way that humans develop from infancy to adulthood, and the fascinating interaction between his creations seemed to back this up. It is hard to know, however, how much behaviour is simply programmed and how much is due to the robots ‘thinking’ for themselves.

For those Britons wanting to watch the programme, here’s a link to it on the iPlayer, which should be up for the next few days:

There’s also an interesting moral question. If we created a robot species with roughly equal intelligence to our own, would they be free, or slaves? Would the abolition of ‘off’ switches become a political rallying point for robot rights activists?

Whilst we’ve had tremendous progress in computing power I’m not sure how long it’ll be before those questions become live issues. It’s worth mentioning, though, that mobile telephones were fiction not so very long, as was the internet.

In related news, I read a tweet by the lovely Miss Plato featuring a new video from those clever boffins at Boston Dynamics. This time they’ve made a little robust robot that can jump rather impressive heights:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6b4ZZQkcNEo&feature=youtu.be [For some reason embedding isn't working]

Thaddeus

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Fiddling with and adding to the blog

Whilst I'm still intending to make a dedicated website for Bane of Souls and other books I write in the future, I thought it'd also make sense to have some info here as well.

Unfortunately I have all the technical aptitude of a drunken monkey, so I'm not sure how long it'll take or precisely how much stuff I'll put up.

I might also fiddle around with the background and colours of the blog to make them a bit more personalised.

Quite a bit of writing-related work has arrived all of a sudden, as the Angry Robot submission period (16-30th April) looms ever nearer, and there's blog updating and a new website to be made. That's much much better than waiting around, however.

Anyway, I won't be putting up new updates for every little bit that goes up, but when it's finished I'll probably add a line to another article saying no more will be added for the time being. For those wondering, the new blog header picture is how I imagine the White Stag Mountains (more info in the exciting new Lore - Realms page) to look.

Thaddeus