Archive for the ‘Late to the Party Reviews’ Category

Sorry it has been so long since my last post, things have been busy here trying to get my latest short story ready for a beta read.  In case you’re wondering it has already received the ‘thumbs up’ and edits from the wife, and is soon on its way to a friend, and very good critical beta reader, for final edit suggestions.  Then starts the long, heartbreaking road of trying to get a magazine to like it enough to publish it.  Anyway, onto the show…and book, yes this review is for both.

Game of Thrones on IMDB

I will start with the series, since that is where I started with this little gem.  I had heard of the books years ago, but being human, and with limited time, I have to be extremely choosy when it comes to starting new book series.  I have a lot of books in my library and quite a few series that I’m working on, so I try not to add new ones willy nilly.  Anyway, I had wanted to see this series since it was first announced, but not having HBO I had to wait several grueling months, seeing blurbs on the internet, reviews on TV, and in general listening to people rave about it before it came out on Netflix.  Finally the day came and we got our first disk, and popped it in.

I have to admit, the first episode didn’t grab us right away.  It wasn’t bad, the acting was great, the costuming, sets, props, music, was all great.  The writing was also very good.  There was just something about it that didn’t hook me right away, same with the wife.  I suspect that it was because there was no real introduction to our main protagonist, no lead-up, we were just kind of thrown into a story that seemed to have already been going on for awhile, like stepping into the middle of a movie.  I imagine this was intentional, and backstory would soon be given, it was just a different approach.

So, as we tend to do, if the first episode of a new show isn’t terrible, we watched the next one.  That changed everything.  I’m not sure at what point I forgot that I was watching a show, no idea at what part I was drawn in as thoroughly as if I were reading a book and lost to the world, but it happened.  Episode 2 ended and we both looked at each other and agreed, we would be devouring this series until it was over.

The shows themselves were very good, some of them spectacular.  There is a lot of political intrigue, but thankfully it’s presented in such a way that you can follow along.  At no point did I find myself confused by the story, or wondering what had just happened.  Well, there were some parts where I wondered what had just happened, but it was more disbelief that they had written something into a show, this is definitely not for kids, or adults who are easily offended.  Mr. Martin has presented us with a realistic depiction of a fantasy world, written for adults who don’t burst into flames at the mere mention of breasts, and HBO did a damn good job of translating that world to the small screen.  While many fantasy authors out there felt compelled to write kid friendly books that would be sold outside the ‘young adult’ or ‘children’s’ book categories, Martin unapologetically writes books for his target audience…adult fantasy fans.

Anyway, back to the show.  I think the casting was fantastic.  Sean Bean and Mark Addy, as Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon respectively, were great together.  Robert, the king, and Eddard (Ned), one of the Lords of the land, are old friends who fought together in the war to unseat the previous king.  While they don’t show any of the pair’s past exploits, stories are told, and you do get the feel that these two have known each other for a long time, and were the best of friends.  The acting gems don’t stop there, some great known actors like Peter Dinklage, Lena Heady, and one of my favorites, James Cosmo, head up a cast of great young and unknown actors.  Even the children, some of whom have never acted in anything before, were great.  It’s not often that the children in shows, especially shows like this, are any good at acting.

To top it all off the sets, costumes, and props were top notch.  Too often fantasy shows are given the shaft when it comes to budgets, but that is slowly, and thankfully, changing.  As companies realize that yesterday’s young fantasy fans are today’s adult fantasy fans, they are starting to put more into these shows and movies.  They are starting to get it, that fantasy doesn’t have to be animated cartoons of dragons and unicorns, or stories that are all right to show on PBS after school gets out.  This show is definitely not that, so if you are waiting for it to come out on TV, don’t, at least not regular network TV.  If it did, it would be a sad, gutted, unrecognizable creature that would not be worth watching.  Did I mention they did a great job of translating the books as well?  There were only a couple of spots in the book where I noticed they had changed something major, otherwise it followed along very well.

For the show, I’m putting it up there with my favorites, Battlestar Galactica, Spartacus, Sons of Anarchy, Tudors and Rome.

I decided, after we finished the first season of this on Netflix, that I could, and probably should, work this into my list of books to read.  I did, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I have only read the first one so far, and so far I’m liking it.  As I said above, Martin delivers a decidedly adult fantasy series in a world inundated (now) with young adult, teen, children’s, and young adult masquerading as adult, fantasy books.  The books are deep, gritty, gory, sexual, dark, and well, honestly, realistic.  I know that seems odd to say about a fantasy series, the definition of unrealistic, but it’s true.  Characters act like people from a medieval era, they talk, sing, cuss, fight, and have sex like people from said era.

Also as I said above, the political intrigue is good, and not delivered in such a way that you get lost.  A lot of people try to write political fantasy, or thrillers, but tend to lose you in the complexity, to the point that you really don’t care who did what.  This book has a lot of honorable men and women, as well as outright craven knaves (that’s some medieval speak for ye).  What the book doesn’t give you is heroes.  Sure, there are people talked about like heroes, legends, great figures of history that did great things, but there’s no shining knight with a magical sword, out to save the princess.  That doesn’t mean every character in the book is a grim, cynical anti-hero, being as emo as possible just to express how dark and gritty the world is, it just means the characters are realistic and easy to relate to.  I like heroic fantasy as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but this is a nice change of pace.

Speaking of pace, I was told the books were slow and too long.  While I can only speak for the first one, I can say that is not true of this novel at least.  It is long, that is quite true, but the pacing, to me, was good.  At no point did I lose interest or want to put it down for a different book.  It kept going, at a steady pace, delivering story, plot, drama, and action that kept me reading until I was finished, and excited to read the next book and see season 2.  I think it also helped that each chapter was dedicated to a different character.  Sometimes if you are reading about a character you don’t find particularly interesting, sometimes its hard to suffer through the story when they hold the viewpoint for half the book.  In this case, if one particular character isn’t to your liking, you know that the next chapter won’t be about them and it can make it easier to get through that character’s story.  Just so there’s no confusion, I didn’t feel that in this book at all.  I have before, in other books, but I liked the way every character was written in this book.  We’ll just have to wait and see if the other books can hold my interest like this one, but for the first book of a series, I was quite satisfied.

I would recommend seeing/reading both, but I’m not sure in which order.  There’s not much of that disappointment one gets when a book is turned into a movie, and major plot lines are gutted to save time.  The show did pay close attention to the book, which is good considering how long and complex the story is.  Whichever way you do it, I would recommended doing it close together, I think it will enhance the thrill.  One benefit of watching the show first, I guess, is picturing the characters faces from the show, and hearing their voices.  That adds a whole new level to the book for sure.

High recommended from us at Frags and Beer!

To kick off this review, Frags and Beer has an exciting announcement, which also inspired the timing of this review.  This year will be the first year ever that I attend Gen Con, the role-playing, fantasy, and gaming convention in Indianapolis, formerly of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  On a whim I signed up to get a press pass for the blog, to see if anything would come of it, and wouldn’t you know, we got approved!  That’s right readers, family, and friends, Frags and Beer is officially considered a press guest for Gen Con Indy 2012!  There’s lots of planning, and hopefully lots of posts to come out of this.  We will keep you updated with anticipated interviews, meets, and information for our trip to the event.  Maybe next year we’ll go for the entire 4 days.

Well, onto the review.  I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I dislike Wizards of the Coast, and there’s a whole post of reasons why so I won’t go into that.  What they did with Dungeons and Dragons is relevant however, so I’ll give a brief summary.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was an early adopter of 3.o, otherwise known ast 3rd edition.  I have been playing D&D since it was being sold as 2nd edition, right after the change from 1st.  I had also played Magic the Gathering from WoTC so I should have known what I was in for.  Unfortunately I adopted 3.0 before I got my head on straight and then I dropped MtG because it was obvious that Wizards was just interested in milking as much money out of their fans as they could rather than delivering quality and long-lasting content.

Anyway, when they announced 3.5 I was well within my dislike of Wizards, for one very good reason.  In over 20 years, the previous publisher of D&D had put out 3 editions, basic, 1st, and 2nd.  In less than 5 Wizards was scheduled to release 2, and we would later find out another edition quickly followed, 4th, and now they are announcing 5th.  Why does Wizards do this?  They know we are collectors, us gamers.  We like to have it all, as many books, maps, pictures, and swag related to whatever it is we like.  They can slap D&D on anything and there are people out there that will buy it just because of that.  When I was sure that Wizards was turning my favorite RPG into nothing but a cash-cow with no love for the actual game, I determined they would get no more of my money for it.

Now, why Pathfinder has become my go-to game…well it goes back to 3rd edition.  Like I said, I was an early adopter, and 3rd edition was great.  It had some marked improvements over 2nd.  Easier system to learn, faster to get into the actual role play, with less roll play.  It was also broken.  Instead of fixing it with 3.5, they broke it more.  The open license thing was great, lots of source material for this great game, from lots of other companies, but then 3.5 manage to make a lot of that material obsolete or inaccurate.  Then a few years later 4th edition is announced, totally new system, new books, new rules, no open license.  Players are pretty much told, too bad, convert or be stuck with no new material.  All in the course of a few years Wizards had managed to take a great game, update it, improve it, break it, and make it obsolete.

Cue Paizo to the rescue!  Some of you might remember them as the company that took care of Dragon and Dungeon magazines during their old age, when Wizards pretty much kicked them out to pasture.  Now they have come in to revitalize, and rescue a game system that many of us came to love, and felt was abandoned by Wizards of the Coast.  With Pathfinder, based on the 3.0/.5 game from Wizards, Paizo has updated, fixed, enhanced, and basically given us a reason to keep playing this system.  Everyone pretty much calls this game D&D 3.75, and with good reason.

First and foremost, what caught my attention about Pathfinder, was the exceptional art.  I don’t know about you, but I remember opening up the AD&D Player’s Handbook, back in 2nd edition and being greeted by Larry Elmore’s amazing painting of the adventuring party with the hanging dragon, sort of like a group fishing picture with the trophy hanging in the middle.  So many characters were inspired by that painting.  Art in these books should inspire players and DMs alike, making them say things like “I want to see that guy in action,” or “I want to make that character, how cool!”  I just never got that feel from later works from Wizards, but look at this Dwarven Ranger from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook!  Who wouldn’t want to play that?!   Along with inspiration, eye catching art is important to sell books.  Go into any game store, and the customer is inundated with sourcebooks, games, magazines, comic books, board games, card games, miniature games, and even in some cases video games.  When faced with such a daunting task of finding something interesting in that plethora of gaming heaven, good art like this will draw the customer in, and separate you from the competition.

Another major thing that drew me to Pathfinder, and Paizo in general, is their business model.  Do you remember when 4th edition was announced, they released a preview book?  Yah I remember that, a 30 dollar little pamphlet, I think with all of 20 or 30 pages of splash art, text, snippets of rules and the like.  Great huh?  A little preview of how Wizards was going to handle this new edition.  Here comes Paizo though, and they release a preview book for Pathfinder.  It’s a 48 page, FREE PDF, with complete text to see how character creation and combat goes.  Heck, you could almost test the Pathfinder system with this Free PDF…did I mention it was FREE!!!!  Second thing, about their business model, is how they released the core book.  Where, traditionally, D&D has always had three core books, a Player’s guide, a Dungeon Master’s guide, and at least one Monster Manual, needed to play the game, Paizo did something different.  You can play Pathfinder by buying two books, the Core Rulebook, and their monster guide.  It is actually cheaper, and more effecient, to get into Pathfinder versus the new editions of D&D.  Not only that but if you bought them online, order the hardcopy from their site, they threw in a digital PDF copy of the books for your convenience.  See anything like that over at Wizards?  To cap it all off they have a reference document that is free, online, and gives a lot of info on the game right at your fingertips.

Now, besides the eye candy, and the fact that Paizo just seems to be an upright company, there are some real reasons that Pathfinder is a much improved game over D&D 3.0/5 and newer editions.  They took what was good about the d20 system, D&D 3.0/5 and they fixed what was broken, simplified what was mind-numbingly complicated, and updated what just didn’t make sense.

Anyone remember how complicated it was to turn undead in 3.0/5?  Crazy amount of math, and completely unintuitive.  It just didn’t make sense to anyone in my group.  Pathfinder fixes that, simplifies it so that instead of spending so much time decrypting the rules, your cleric can roll his dice and everyone can move on with story.  Same with grapple, bull rush, trip checks and the like.  Before there was a rule for each and every special attack, and different rolls for all of them.  Now, one roll, vs one number, with different results based on what the person is doing.  No more complicated math, opening the rule book to see how it worked, or any of that.  Attacker rolls dice, checks against defender’s number, succeed or fail move on with story.  The game really makes it easy for the group to focus on roleplay and story as opposed to rolls, rules, and math.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  You can get a multitude of resources on their site, including a massive blog, and forums packed full of questions and answers.  I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the d20 system, but doesn’t want to keep catering to Wizards, and wants to support a new company that really seems to care about supporting the gamers.

My wife and I just finished this anime series last night and we both enjoyed it quite a bit.  This sci-fi anime caught us up in the story pretty fast, but didn’t spoon feed us the story which I like.  Each episode left you with questions, kept the mystery rolling, so that you wanted to watch more to find out what was going on.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the basic premise of the story revolves around a post-apocalyptic world where humans live in domes with android companions.  The spread of some sort of virus causes the andriods to deviate from their programming, something that most humans see as a threat to society.

The series follows a woman named Re-l Mayer and a man named Vincent Law, as they seek the truth behind events involving beings called proxys.  They are joined by an infected android, known in the show as AutoReivs, named Pino, a child-like companion model.

You can find out much more info on the story if you want, but I don’t want to ruin anything with spoilers, so I’ll leave it up to you to seek more if you want to know.  The show was entertaining for sure, with great animation (both 2D digital cels and 3D computer modeling), sound, and voice acting.  The story was solid for me, keeping me interested, and asking questions right up til the end, which is good.  I tend to have most stories figured out quite early on.  I would recommend the series to anyone who likes anime, especially sci-fi and/or suspense series.

The 23 episode series is produced by Manglobe, and directed by Shuko Murase with screenplay by Dai Sato.

I’ve been a huge fan of this gaming magazine/comic book for years, even following these strips way back in the pages of Dragon Magazine.  Kenzer and Company continues to put out one of the most entertaining, informative, and humorous comic books to date in my opinion.  They keep the art minimal and the content top notch, still using some of the original panels, sketches, and drawings from some of the first strips they ever published.  They’ve only recently gone digital, and with only a dozen or so employees they are one of the few that get their books out on time.

Inside the magazine itself you will find pages and panels of the ongoing story of a gaming group known as The Untouchable Trio Plus One, a group of friends that gather weekly to play, the once fictional, Hackmaster RPG.  Their antics, stories, arguments, and jokes touch the hearts of gamers around the world.  We can all relate to one of the characters in the book, because we either know someone just like them or we are someone just like them.  You will also find articles about role playing games, geek interests, convention news, and articles about upcoming games.  It’s everything a gamer could possibly want, all wrapped up in a comical little bundle.

Besides the magazine, Kenzer and Company are just good people.  They keep close to their fans, meeting at conventions, talking, sketching, signing, and paying attention to those who keep them in business.  I’ve met Jolly Blackburn recently and I have to say he’s just as nice in person as he seems in his editorials.  He even answers posts on the company’s forums, talking to fans just like any other person.  I also met David Kenzer some years ago, and he was kind enough to sign one of my issues and chat with me for a bit about the book.  They have certainly stuck with their mission, and delivered what their fans expect every month.

If you are a gamer, geek, fantasy enthusiast, or just have a good sense of humor you should pick up this book.  Go to their site and check out the strips, drop by your local comic shop or game store and pick up an issue.  You won’t regret it, I promise.

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I know I’m probably going to get flamed for this, but I’m going to say right up front, I HATE LOST!  I’m not going to try to be a critic, break down the show’s nuances, try to explain…yah I don’t even think a trained critic could do that and if they do they are just talking out of their backside.  Everything that follows is my opinion, based solely on what I know about writing stories, and what I felt as I watched some of this show.  You may like Lost, that’s cool.  I don’t understand how, but hey, there’s something out there for everyone.

So, let’s begin.  If you haven’t seen this show…great, don’t.  Run for your life.  Do not believe what anyone says, this show is not the best show ever, it is not full of mystery, or drama, or any of that garbage.  If you have seen it, I’m sorry.

I’m going to sort of start from the end here and jump around a bit, because my own ‘experience’ (even hitting yourself in the face with a 2×4 would qualify as an experience) with this show was a bit disjointed.  Recently my wife watched the last season of the show on Netflix.  I think she sat through the entire last season in just a day, but could be mistaken.  I watched as she, like a zombie, absorbed every minute of it, and at the end of each episode she would grumble, sigh, or make some other sign of frustration before hitting the button for the next episode.  I was sitting with her, because I wanted to spend time with her, so I got caught up on some comic books that I had neglected while she watched her show.  You can’t help but follow along a bit, and after a couple episodes I began to grasp what was going on, the whole bouncing back between the mainland and the island, the people’s memories gone, some remembered, etc.

I watched, in utter astonishment as people did illogical things.  Taking the hard route, instead of using what was right in front of them to solve problems.  Watched as human beings violated human nature just to present needlessly complex non-solutions to problems.  Over the years I’ve watched some of this show when my wife would watch it (can proudly say I never did, nor did I feel the need to watch this show on my own) and it’s full of so many glaring plot holes and unfinished story arcs that I just shake my head in wonder.  How did the man that gave us Alias, or Star Trek, manage to churn out this show, and keep it going.  How do shows like Firefly get canceled, but millions tuned in every week to see an island that time travels and who’s primary antagonist is an invincible smoke monster?  Watching my wife watch this show gave me the answer.

Frustration.  I don’t honestly believe anyone liked the show, they just got hooked, and were left so frustrated with unanswered questions and fabricated mystery at the end of each episode that they had to watch the next one, hoping beyond hope that their questions would be answered.  I may have found the writing of the show to be disjointed, glaringly unplanned, and unnecessarily convoluted, but Abrams did do one thing right and I have to give him props for that.  He managed to string millions of people along for 6 seasons, and deliver the most spectacularly cliche ending since Dallas.

Show’s like this and Flash Forward (another of Abram’s bombs that had potential in my opinion) were so obviously contrived.  One can almost see the brainstorming session where ideas were thrown out with the premise of making something no one’s ever made before.  That’s a great premise to start with but when it looks something like:  “Hey, how about these people crash on an island and find out that there’s a bunker that could blow it up…and a smoke monster…oh and other people trapped too…oh and how about we give the island a soul held in by a stone DRAIN PLUG!…”  A STONE DRAIN PLUG!  Come on people!  It was so obvious that nothing was planned out from the beginning, they just mashed up ideas and the writers sat down to try and explain it.  “Oh oh oh, let’s throw in a bunker with some dude in it hitting a button every few hours.”  “Well, how do we explain that, why is it there?”  “I don’t know, let’s just make something up cause that bunker’s a sweet idea.”

Not to mention all the times I looked at my wife and asked, “Why didn’t they just do that instead of this?”  I’m pulling from the last season, but I remember so many instances where taking the easy and obviously productive route was overruled by taking the hard way, or simply the way that didn’t make sense.  Or how about all time times I looked at a glaring solution that no one even thought of.  Take the sonic fence tripod stand things.  Yah, those ostrich eggs on stands that create an invisible barrier that people, and the smoke monster, can’t cross.  They are on flipping tripods!  One can assume, because of how they are set up, each one is needed in place to make the sonic dog fence, so kick one of the tripod legs out from under and and voila!  How about that damn button, the source of my ire with that show for so many years.  Jack, the pragmatic doctor and scientist, is presented with two options.  One says not pushing the button will kill everyone on the island.  The other says pushing the button will do nothing at all except reset the timer.  I don’t care if my wife was trying to convince me that pushing the button was pointless, that’s too obvious of a choice!  Push the frakin button!  Either way, no matter who’s right, NOTHING HAPPENS!  You would really take the chance against blowing up the island if the alternative was…duh duh duh (dramatic bass sound) NOTHING HAPPENS!?

I could go on for days and days about how much I dislike this show.  If you like it, that’s fine.  I know a lot of people that like it, and I don’t think any less of them.  Abrams is good at what he does, and what he doesn’t isn’t always write and direct a good show.  Sometimes he just gets tons of people hooked on a bad one.  Despite this, and other failures on his resume, I still look forward to some of his other projects.  I liked Super 8, Star Trek, and Alias.  I’m really looking forward to Revolution, and hope he delivers a post-apocalyptic show along the lines of Falling Skies and The Walking Dead.  I’ll be keeping my guard up though.  I don’t have tons of time to watch TV, so when I do it has to be good.  I’m not going to waste my time on another Lost, Alcatraz, or Flash Forward.