Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Monday, December 5, 2016
Many years ago, I was a regular player of browser-based Flash games through websites like Addicting Games, Newgrounds, and Kongregate. One of the games I especially enjoyed was a distance-launcher game called Burrito Bison. The premise was a bit goofy: the titular character was a Luchador whose normal day of shopping is interrupted when he’s kidnapped to a land of living gummy bears and thrown into a wrestling ring against candy-themed wrestlers. The gameplay was launching B.B. from the ring (ideally hitting the opponent for a speed bonus) to bounce off gummy bears to try and reach the portal home.
Some time later, the game creators, Juicy Beast, released a sequel where Burrito Bison returns to the candy world to retrieve his stolen wallet. I played both games to completion, found them to be highly enjoyable, and moved on with my life.
A few days ago, I was browsing the Google Play store on my phone and stumbled across a new entry in the Burrito Bison series, subtitled Launcha Libre. It’s an all-new game with the core mechanics adjusted for a touch screen and with additions like new characters and typical free-to-play elements.
Monday, November 21, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we return to a favorite author of mine: Jim Butcher. This masterful and entertaining writer of the Dresden Files and the Codex Alera has recently launched a new series called the Cinder Spires. The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first entry, and it has all the hallmarks of Butcher’s style: smart and snarky characters, a solid and fascinating world, and the promise of deep and complex plots.
Read on for more details.
Monday, November 14, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, I owe John Ringo a bit of an apology. After slogging through There Will be Dragons, I was dubious about the rest of the series. When the I went to the library to pick out my next set of books, however, I decided to give “Council Wars”another go and checked out Emerald Sea. It is a vast improvement.
Monday, November 7, 2016
Monday, October 31, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we’re slipping into the realm of fairy tales while keeping one foot solidly in reality. In ancient Ireland, near but not quite part of the clash between Christianity and Druidism, is The Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Monday, October 17, 2016
A small but powerful force in my childhood was a series of puzzle-adventure games created by the small studio Cyan, Inc. called Myst. Myst was a series of six games released between 1993 and 2005, independently at first and later in partnership with Ubisoft. The first game, Myst, and its sequel, Riven were some of the bestselling games of their time and had profound influences on the adventure game genre, for better or worse.
What drew me to Myst as a child, and what now drives my efforts to acquire and re-experience the series up to at least Myst IV: Revelation is the stories the games tell and the smooth integration of puzzles into those stories. I haven’t found another computer game that has managed to achieve that almost perfect combination of difficult yet logical puzzles with a deep and story-rich world.
Then, Cyan returned after taking a gamble on crowdfunding and released a whole new game that has recreated the Myst formula: Obduction. I was excited, and the game became one of my top reasons to get a new computer: I needed better graphics and CPU than my old computer had.
So, how does Obduction compare to my Myst nostalgia?
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
Normally, I try not to spotlight the same author multiple times in a row on Down the Stacks, but when I went to return Home from the Sea to the library I saw this week’s book, A Study in Sable, by Mercedes Lackey, on the New Books display and I couldn’t resist.
Monday, September 12, 2016
It’s time for a Mercedes Lackey book again here on Down the Stacks. Unlike my previous reviews of Lackey novels, I’ll be focusing on one particular book rather than just providing an overview of an entire series. This week’s selection, Home from the Sea comes from the “Elemental Masters” series, which is set in the early 20th century, primarily in England, and contains loosely connected tales of mages hidden among every level of society and can command one of the four classical elements - Fire, Water, Earth, and Air - along with a host of hidden Elemental and airy creatures. Each Elemental Masters book can stand alone, but a couple of sub-series involving recurring characters have emerged, and Home from the Sea belong to one of those.
Monday, September 5, 2016
It occurs to me that I haven’t established any metrics or official expectations that I hold books to on Down the Stacks. Time to fix that.
What does C.T. Vulpin expect from a book? What makes a book “good” in my opinion?
Monday, August 29, 2016
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Monday, August 8, 2016
Monday, August 1, 2016
Taking another break from “Down the Stacks” this week. Instead, this week’s review post is going to be a series of mini-reviews of webcomics that I follow. For each comic, I’ll provide a link, a brief synopsis, and why I include the comic on my too-read list.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Monday, July 18, 2016
Normally, I draw material for Down the Stacks from my local library, and I have yet to review a graphic novel. This week, things are different. I was at Barnes & Noble and noticed something on one of the “special feature” tables: the name Brandon Sanderson printed across the top of a graphic novel called White Sand. Considering my moderate obsession with Brandon Sanderson and his Cosmere, it should come as no surprise that I picked that book up without a second thought, nor that I’m about to gush about it for this week’s Down the Stacks.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we’ll be hitting up a dark, urban fantasy set in an alternate history plagued by the undead and desperately short on optimism: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane.
Monday, June 27, 2016
This week, for the thirtieth entry of Down the Stacks, I will be looking at one of my top favorite series: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I’ve previously looked at another o butcher’s projects, The Codex Alera, but The Dresden Files is a completely different beast. Dresden is bigger, longer, and a bit darker than Alera, and it’s the series that Butcher has put the majority of his lie into. The Dresden Files is a supernatural mystery series set in a world where just about any myth and fairy tale is true or has a kernel of truth to it.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
It is hard to determine where to begin a story, because a “beginning” is rather arbitrary when you get down to it. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, to quote a song line that seems to echo across the multiverse, and don’t things make more sense when we see what events led up to them? But those events are born from earlier events, and those are responses to even earlier stimuli. Even Creation itself has a beginning in the hands of a Creator hailing from an earlier Creation. Get back that far, however, and time loses meaning and the stories become just one eternal round, the same thing again and again. There are variations, of course, but nothing that truly alters the cycle. Not to mention, the thing you meant to tell in the first place becomes lost, too small a detail to notice.
Enough philosophizing; we’re already at risk of losing the tale and we haven’t even started it! We’ll begin at this point:
Monday, June 13, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we have an interesting modern-day folktale. In Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee, a coastal Maine tourist town hides a world of faeries, magic, and otherworldly politics. The result is good, but the execution is a bit… unusual for my tastes. Read on as I try to explain.
Monday, June 6, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we’re going back in time and rewriting history, courtesy of Eric Flint. Flint is a contemporary author who collaborates frequently with David Weber on a spin-off series to Honor Harrington, and Weber had returned to favor by co-authoring books in Flint’s own long-running project, which is the subject of this week’s review. 1632 is an action- and romance-packed romp through the Thirty-years War, blue-collar American-style.
Monday, May 9, 2016
The week on Down the Stacks, we return to an author which - when this project began - I thought I’d have written about more by now: Mercedes Lackey. Lackey has been writing consistently since the 1980s, with at least a dozen distinct series to her name, but this marks only the second time I’ve looked into one of her projects. Like the last time, my focus this week is on one of Lackey’s major projects, and easily her biggest and longest-running: the Heralds of Valdemar.
Monday, March 28, 2016
It’s Brandon Sanderson time once more here on Down the Stacks. I just can’t stay away from the man’s genius for worldbuilding and characters. This week’s sample from the Cosmere is The Alloy of Law, first entry in Sanderson’s second series set on the world of Scadriel, home of the Mistborn trilogy that put Sanderson on the map. Alloy is set three centuries after Mistborn, so what spoilers the book contains for the original trilogy are hidden under the veneer of legend and quasi-religious titles for Mistborn’s major players. For the sake of those who haven’t read Mistborn yet, I’ll avoid mentioning the original trilogy as much as possible while setting the stage.
If you’re still willing, read on ahead.
Monday, March 21, 2016
I recently had the pleasure of seeing Disney’s latest masterpiece, Zootopia. I don’t use the term “masterpiece” lightly - Disney has struck real gold with this movie. The art is fantastic, the message is perfect for its time, the humor is clever without being insulting, and the pacing of the plot is ideal.
I’m going to discuss big spoilers below the break, so here’s the tl:dr: if you haven’t seen Zootopia, go and see it. It’s worth every penny. Also, I don’t ship the fox and the rabbit.
Monday, March 14, 2016
There are two big challenges that face any writer of fiction. The first challenge is coming up with an interesting concept - whether it be speculation about future technologies, a world or society built on an atypical cultural foundation, or simply a kind of creature or magic. The second challenge is using that concept in a way that helps drive a narrative and make one’s story stand out from the crowd. It is deeply disappointing to find a book that appears to have met the first challenge, but fails to carry through on the second. This week’s selection for Down the Stacks is a trilogy by Jean Rabe: The Finest Trilogy, which, sadly, does not quite lie up to its lofty title.
Monday, March 7, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, I’ve returned to the Young Adult section of the library to pick up an action-packed, hilarious, and fearlessly dark little fantasy series called Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy. It’s got magic, mystery, sarcasm and dry humor, and a smattering of eldritch horror. Come, check it out.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Rock-a-doodle was a Don Bluth animated film that was released in 1992, and is generally considered to mark the beginning of the downward trend in Bluth films which was continued by things like A Troll in Central Park and The Pebble and the Penguin. Rock-a-doodle is, perhaps rightly, criticized for a number of things, but I am not part of the critical majority. Rock-a-doodle has always been and likely will always be one of my top movie picks. Something about it resonates with me.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Have you ever wondered why a common name for butlers in fiction is “Jeeves”? The answer is this week’s selection for Down the Stacks: Sir P.G. Wodehouse’s classic comedy series Jeeves and Wooster. The particular volume I’ve selected is Right ho, Jeeves.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
If you’ve been reading Down the Stacks, you’ve probably come to the realization that one of the elements of fiction that I care the most about is worldbuilding. A moving plot and interesting character dynamics are what most people look for in a story, but to my mind no plot or set of characters is complete without an interesting, well-knit world for them to inhabit and interact with. A well-built world lends itself to further exploration by both the original author and fans, extending a story’s lifespan and providing fodder for discussions. Worldbuilding also helps to liven up scenes so that the reader’s mental pictures are more than just talking heads on a blank background.
Monday, January 25, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, I’m stepping out of the Science Fiction section of the library again to fulfill a promise I made to myself: to take a look at C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. After reading and reviewing two different sets of books inspired by Hornblower, I wanted to get back to the source and see how good it was. Fortunately, my local library appears to care about Hornblower quite a bit, since I found the entire series on the shelf, and multiple copies of some volumes. I haven’t read them all yet, but I’ve got a good feeling about the series based on what I have read.
So, to borrow Honor Harrington’s catchphrase again, let’s be about it.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Monday, January 18, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, I looked up Stephen Baxter, the co-author of Terry Prachett’s The Long Earth. Baxter is an aid speculative fiction writer with a particular interest in alternative history. The book I’ve selected for this week’s review is one of those alternate histories: Stone Spring, first entry in the Northland Trilogy.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Monday, January 11, 2016
I had a different book planned for this week’s Down the Stacks, but as I sat down to write the review I decided I need to read more of the series before trying to comment on it. Instead, I’m once again turning to my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson, for material. This week’s Down the Stacks is the first and currently only entry in Sanderson’s newest young adult series: The Rithmatist.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Before we continue this exploration of redeeming Little Miss Mary Sue, I want to set down two rules to consider through the rest of this series:
- There are no character traits that are exclusive to Mary Sues; context and suspension of disbelief are major factors in what a character can and can’t get away with.
- Characters in a story can get away with things the narration can’t.
Monday, January 4, 2016
This week on Down the Stacks, we’ll be looking at the first entry in a sci-fi series written by the late Sir Terry Prachett in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, an accomplished science fiction writer I plan to look into in the future. For now, though, stick a fresh potato in your Stepper and come with me as we explore The Long Earth.