June Medialogging
By Dwip June 30, 2014, 2:33 am Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

Whew. This month is some kind of record, I think. Catching up on series I really enjoy is like that, I guess.

YTD stats:

January:
February:
March: : 4 books; 4 fiction (1,450 p.) / 3 videos; 1 movies (2.6 h.); 2 TV seasons (15.2 h.)
April: : 5 books; 1 graphic (136 p.); 4 fiction (1,269 p.) / 1 videos; 1 TV seasons (6 h.)
May: : 8 books; 5 graphic (1,352 p.); 1 fiction (465 p.); 2 non-fiction (829 p.) / 2 videos; 2 TV seasons (11 h.)
June: : 17 books; 5 graphic (1,584 p.); 12 fiction (4,483 p.) / 1 videos; 1 TV seasons (4.8 h.)

Year to Date: 34 books; 11 graphic (3,072 p.); 21 fiction (7,667 p.); 2 non-fiction (829 p.) / 7 videos; 1 movies (2.6 h.); 6 TV seasons (36.9 h.)

Details for June after the jump.

06/02/2014 Catalyst Game Labs, Field Manual: 3085 (2012 Catalyst Game Labs paperback, 240 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to keep doing this, but I’ve got a pile of Battletech books I need to finish reading, and I’m going to treat at least a few of them as fiction books because more than any other game universe I’m aware of, that’s how Battletech sourcebooks ought to be looked at – fictional history books.

Which brings us to Field Manual: 3085, which continues a once upon a time revolutionary series of books that started with Field Manual: Draconis Combine in 1996 (which I bought brand new in Seattle back when) and ended with Field Manual: Updates in 2003. Each of these painstakingly outlined the entire military structure of one or the other of the various Inner Sphere, Clan, or Periphery powers, or in the case of Field Manual: Updates, brought a series of books that described the events of 3058 into the events of 3067.

Field Manual: 3085 does what Field Manual: Updates did for 3067, only it does it for 3085. Unlike 3067, which has had massive amounts of description in other sourcebooks and novels, 3085 has…this book. And that’s where things get a little strange, because Field Manual: 3085 not only attempts to describe the entire 3085 military of, well, everyone, it also has to establish a bunch of things that happened post-Jihad (and another 9 sourcebooks or so), as well as give our major description of the Republic of the Sphere.

In 240 pages it does neither of these things as well as might be hoped. I imagine this is why we’re also apparently getting a Historical volume on the Republic era, because it’s hard to care about a lot of this stuff when it seems like they’re just sort of passing over it on their way to…something.

And this is where things get even stranger. See, all of this is an artifact of that time after FASA closed up shop when WizKids took over the Battletech storyline and…changed things, to put it lightly. They’re why the Word of Blake Jihad was so huge, they’re why this Republic business exists, and they added a whole bunch of events to try and get things out of the multi-regiment fights of the 3067 era back into something like the small scale fights of the 3025 era, which a vocal subsection of the fanbase had been clamoring for since roughly the Clan invasion, and which in any case made a better backdrop for their extremely small scale Mechwarrior: Dark Age game rather than, you know, Battletech.

To gloss things over a teensy bit, that didn’t work quite so well as could be hoped either, and first FanPro and then Catalyst have had to pick up quite a few of the pieces of a debacle that more or less ended about 10 years ago but with which we’re still dealing with in a way in which almost nobody is satisfied. Some people hate the Jihad, some people hate the Republic era, some people hate both of them, there’s still lingering anger over the whole Mechwarrior Dark Age thing, and the 3025 people are still only going to be satisfied needing 12s to hit with medium lasers on terrible mechs in 3025.

All of that is to say that while the Catalyst writers have done a really good job with the hand they’ve been dealt, Field Manual: 3085 is a moderately unsatisfying book covering a moderately unsatisfying era in a moderate unsatisfying way. I’m not sure there’s a way they could have done any better.

And I want my 10th Lyran Guards and 3rd Davion Guards back, damn it.

06/02/2014 Catalyst Game Labs, Era Digest: Age of War (2011 Catalyst Game Labs PDF, 28 pages – Personal collection, 2011)

One of the cooler things Catalyst has done as stewards of the Battletech line is recognize that for many of us, the long history of the Battletech universe was a very rich mine of interesting opportunities for everyone, which is why we’ve had a string of products aimed at various points pre-3025, with both setting sourcebooks and rules support for things like primative equipment.

We’ve heard an awful lot about the Age of War over the years, and while it’s hard for a 28 page PDF to cover the whole hundred year period, Catalyst does give it the old college try, and I think at least captures the flavor of the thing if not all the sordid details one might get from a more fully-fleshed out book. Another 5 or 10 pages might have been nice, but I’ll settle for an overview of the famous Ares Conventions, a couple of units, and some details on what everyone was doing before they got together to form the Star League.

Could be a bit better, and I still think Historical: Operation Klondike and Era Digest: Golden Century are the best of the print/pdf combos thus far, but man this is great stuff. I love Battletech history almost as much as I love real history.

06/03/2014 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Book Five (2010 Image Comics hardcover, 304 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

06/03/2014 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Book Six (304 Image Comics hardcover, 304 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

06/04/2014 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Book Seven (304 Image Comics hardcover, 304 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

06/05/2014 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Book Eight (2012 Image Comics hardcover, 336 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

06/06/2014 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Book Nine (2013 Image Comics hardcover, 336 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

To continue our discussion of the Walking Dead comics I first read a year ago, the big takeaway here is how much easier the whole thing goes down for me broken up into these seperate books rather than the compendiums, and how much easier it all goes down once I know it happens. A lot of the random death and meyhem works better for me here than it did the first time, and while Kirkman does seem to like his over the top evil supervillains (man oh man does the show do all of this so much better), I really dig this whole war story arc now that I’m not reading it in chunks like I was.

I guess this is all to say I like the series more each time I read it.

06/06/2014 Adam Reed, et al., Archer: The Complete Season Three (2013 20th Century Fox DVD, 286 minutes, 13 episodes – Corvallis Public Library)

Again, Archer continues to be witty and hilarious, and it’s starting to work a bit better than the first two already good seasons. The multi-episode arcs are great, the Burt Reynolds episode is great, and I really wish I had more to say about this show but I just don’t. Absolutely hilarious, has introduced many permutations on the words danger and zone into my vocabulary, and I ultimately have almost nothing to say about it.

06/14/2014 Catalyst Game Labs, Historical: Reunification War (2011 Catalyst Game Labs paperback, 223 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

The Star League.

If you were a Battletech player in the 80s and 90s, that name probably had a sort of mythic quality to it. All the characters in the 3025-3067 universe revered it as a golden age of peace, prosperity, and technological advancement that the Inner Sphere in the mid-31st century was only starting to recapture when the Clans showed up in 3050. For the players, the only things we knew about the Star League pretty much came from two long out of print books, the Star League Sourcebook and Technical Readout: 2750, both of which also took on a sort of mythic quality in the playerbase. The whole thing must be how people in the Dark Ages talked about the Romans, who are of course the character model for the Star League.

And here we have the first book in a whole series that’s going to talk about the wars of the Star League in a certain amount of gory detail. We’ve been hearing about the Reunification War for like 25 years now, and holy shit you guys here it is.

…and the Star League may as well be the Nazis. I mean, let’s be clear here, in Battletech no faction is exactly as pure as driven snow here, but the worst excesses of the 3025 era look like kids with cap guns compared to what the Star League was doing in the Outworlds Alliance or the Taurian Concordat. By the time we hit the 2700s the Star League really will get most of the way to the mythic quality ascribed to it, but here in the 2500s we’re about a death camp away from the Star League being the Fourth Reich with Battlemechs. Even when you’re expecting it’s kind of crazy.

All of that having been said, and despite Historical: Reunification War basically working for me as a book I was excited to read almost the entire way through, there were a number of things that troubled me.

First, the introduction about the leadup to the birth of the Star League maybe went by a little fast, and perhaps wasn’t up to its Star League Sourcebook forebearer. Or maybe I’m remembering the SLSB wrong. Either way, the transition between Era Digest: Age of War and this book is a little too abbreviated for my tastes.

Second, for a book that’s basically attempting to be FedCom Civil War for the Star League era, I thought that FedCom Civil War did a slightly better job at contextualizing the whole war and visualizing it via maps. The before and after maps in this book are ok, but not up to the standard of FedCom Civil War’s wave maps.

Third, despite scads of very interesting rules, support for the A Time of War RPG is surprisingly limited, not even up to the couple of pages given to the topic in the much, much shorter Era Digest: Age of War. No Terran Hegemony affiliation, no Star League rules, nothing. I suppose this is all an inducement to get us to buy Era Report: 2750, but it doesn’t feel up to Catalyst’s usual standards for these things.

All in all, though, do you have any idea how thrilled I am to be reading new books about the Star League? I read this book and immediately wanted to start running a game set in the era, which I suppose tells you my ultimate opinion on Historical: Reunification War.

06/15/2014 Jim Butcher, Storm Front (2000 Roc mass market paperback, 322 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

I initially talked about my complete addiction to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books two years ago, and my rather unfavorable reaction to his Codex Alera books last year. So now in celebration of the brand new hardcover of Skin Game sitting on my shelf, we’re going to talk about the Dresden Files some more while I reread the whole series so I can remember all the fiddly bits.

As an aside, can I just say that I’m annoyed that this book shares its name with a bunch of racists who unfortunately show up first in the Google searches? Yeah, I’m annoyed.

So, this is definitely Author’s First Published Book here, and by the standards of later Dresden books this one is…pretty raw, to put it nicely, very 1930s pulp detective novel in a way we’re going to lose fairly rapidly as the series goes on. That said, for Author’s First Published Book stuff, it’s pretty damn great, a real page turner of a thing, and it’s kind of impressive how well Butcher does his world building even in the first book, and how much of that world we’re going to become intimately familiar with over the next dozen plus books, from Special Investigations to John Marcone to all the veiled little hints about Dresden’s past. I’m not entirely sure I buy the sequence of events in the mystery laid out in the story here, but what becomes clear on rereads is how good Butcher is at laying the groundwork in one book for things that happen in later books.

A bit clunky on the writing, and the voice isn’t there yet, but this is some of the most compelling world building I’ve ever read. Also the scorpion thing is kind of neat.

06/16/2014 Jim Butcher, Fool Moon (2001 Roc mass market paperback, 342 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

This is definitely Butcher’s sophomore slump book. And it’s problems are somewhat legion and all tracable back to the fact that he writes in…God, how many different types of werewolves? We’ve got plain old lycanthropes, hexenwolves, a wolfwere, some magic werewolves, a loup-garou, and man, am I missing one? I might be missing one. Trying to tie all of those together and with the various other groups in Harry Dresden’s Chicago leads to at least one plotline too many and a plot wherein things start happening to get us from one werewolf encounter to the next werewolf encounter for various and sundry combinations of werewolves.

If you’re confused, yeah, everyone else is, too. This is definitely the worst book in the series.

That said, even for the worst book in the series, there’s a lot going on here that’s either extremely important later on, totally friggin’ awesome, or both at the same time, including any given loup-garou scene, Harry’s first major temptation from evil magic, Harry’s first major set of tension with Karrin Murphy, Billy and the Alphas! (soon to be a 60s pop band), and the continuing relationship with Susan, which is still a little meh but gets amazing later.

Finally, while the introduction of werewolves is a bit sudden, one of the things that’s great about the Dresden Files as a series is how each book both builds on the books that came before it plus adds new lore to the world in such a way that by the next book you’ll believe they were there all along.

All in all, even the worst book in this series is pretty damn good, and if you’re looking at the finished dates on these things you’ll see I’m blowing through one of these per day, which should tell you what you need to know there.

06/17/2014 Jim Butcher, Grave Peril (2001 Roc mass market paperback, 378 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

If the first two books were mostly simple tales about setting up the world of Harry Dresden, Grave Peril is where things really take off, albeit a little slowly with a bunch of ghosts that are decidedly non-threatening.

What is threatening, however, are all the things we get our first good look at here. We get a glimpse of faerie here, and they are terrifying. We’ve already seen a bit of the vampire world in Storm Front, but it gets expanded on in this book, and they’re…terrifying. Dragons? Terrifying.

I said before that Dresden does a really good job weaving his books together and introducing new pieces of lore, and that’s really on display here. This is the first appearance of the always awesome Michael, Knight of the Cross, and his family, and besides the new lore on vampires and the faerie, we’re now starting to hear a bit more about Dresden’s backstory and the magical underbelly of Chicago. Also, Thomas. Hi Thomas!

Also, things happen with Susan and Bianca and the whole vampire party thing is one of the best scenes in the entire series. It absolutely writhes with malice and dread and even though I know what’s going to happen I’m still on the edge of my seat reading it.

This is probably the most important book in the series for all of the recurring characters and storylines it sets up, and it’s also notable in that we’re quickly starting to abandon the wizard for hire motif of the first two books and sending Harry into a much, much larger world and series of events than those first two books portrayed.

Kind of a slow start to the thing, but this is where the ride gets really good.

06/19/2014 Jim Butcher, Summer Knight (2002 Roc mass market paperback, 449 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

It says something about the way this series is going to run that we’re four books in now and we’re still doing worldbuilding and protagonist setup stuff. I dig it. Butcher’s building us a varied and interesting world here, and that’s only going to get moreso with each successive book.

In this one, we get the faerie courts. And, look, there’s all sorts of villains and monsters and beasties and such in this world Butcher is creating for us, but for my money, the most terrifying bunch out of the whole lot are the faeries. Forget the vampires, forget the evil wizards, forget werewolves, forget the guys we’ll meet next book, it’s the faeries that really get me.

Thing is, with the vampires and evil wizards and most of that, you pretty much know where you’re at with them and where Dresden’s at with them. Sooner or later, there’s gonna be a fight because they’re all evil and Dresden’s not. But the faeries aren’t like that, particularly. They’re capricious and dangerous and not altogether evil or good, and it’s not entirely clear from one moment to the next whether they’re your friends or your enemies or both at once. You never quite know where you’re at with the faeries, and that’s the thing that freaks me out about them. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on them, they show you that you didn’t really know what was going on at all.

And that’s what also makes them some of the most fun to read about, of course, with this book being no exception. While there are a couple of slight missteps in here, none of it is worth writing home about, and we’re well into the good part of the series here.

Also of note, both the White Council and Dresden’s backstory start getting filled in, and the thing about the latter is that every time Butcher reveals something it absolutely floors me. Can’t even believe it. Considering how much Dresden backstory we get through the series, that’s saying something.

Lastly, one of the best jokes in the entire series at the end.

06/21/2014 Jim Butcher, Death Masks (2003 Roc mass market paperback, 451 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

This one is kind of strange. There are two arcs here that are individually pretty good, but don’t really mesh together particularly well, which means both of them get a little bit short shrift.

That said, this book introduces the Denarians, my absolutely favorite villains in the entire series, though the faerie courts are close (hell, there aren’t many lackluster villains in this series). Love the good vs. evil stories they bring out, and Denarian stories generally also feature the Knights of the Cross (for obvious reasons), who I’m a big fan of. Apparently I’m a fan of the whole Biblical angle going on with all that.

Which is sort of funny, all things considered, like the fact that I’m the next best thing to an atheist and all that. Thing is, though, that in the case of the Denarians, they’re evil in ways that are deliciously supervillainesque and kind of awesome. And a guy like Michael Carpenter, well, he’s a bit Christ Militant to be sure, but he’s the kind of guy who really walks the walk, and even if you’re not big into the Christianity thing, Michael’s the sort of guy you can look at in this age of sex abuse scandals and corruption and whatever and say yeah, I can see why people want to do this, this guy is really what it’s all about and what it’s all about sounds pretty good, actually.

A little bit like Pope Francis, to keep going with the real world references.

Well, also I like the Knights because Sanya is hilarious, you must admit.

All of that having been said, the best parts of Death Masks are the closings and the settings up of things. Susan. The other Knights. Ivy and Kincaid. The Carpenters. Coins and swords. All of those are going to get big later.

06/24/2014 Jim Butcher, Blood Rites (2004 Roc mass market paperback, 454 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

Mouse!

For all of the fairly enormous bombshells in this book, it’s sort of a what Dresden Files comedy show might look like. The porn set, all the characters on the porn set, most of the vampires who aren’t the main evil badguys on the porn set; hell, even the deaths are comedic, or as comedic as getting stung to death by 20,000 bees out of nowhere can be.

So there’s that.

We also get introduced in a real way to the White Court of vampires, who are easily my favorite and I think the most interesting in all sorts of ways, from how they feed to the nature of their particular little society as opposed to the Red or Black Courts, who are a little more straightforward vampire legend. And, as a function of that we get a whole lot more on Thomas, who goes from a fairly minor character with a bit of mystery in the earlier books to all of a sudden one of the best in the entire series in the space of one book.

Also, Dresden gets metric craploads of backstory dump! And it’s awesome! And holy crap she was doing WHAT with that guy and that guy’s related to that other guy and that’s what was going on with that and…

Man, what a stunner the last half of this one turned out to be.

Also, the Murphy family picnic sounds like a blast.

06/28/2014 Jim Butcher, Dead Beat (2006 Roc mass market paperback, 517 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

So, this is the book with Sue in it. Everything else, from the crazy necromancers to polka never dying is pretty much secondary to that.

I’m being unfair, of course, probably because I’m just not that big of a Kemmler fan this time about. But this is a far more important book than I’m letting on, in that it’s setting up a lot of stuff that’s going to be really important over the next several books. We’ve got Wardens, we’ve got Butters, the Erlking, Cowl, death curses, you name it.

Oh, and of course Harry’s starting to get a little bit of reveal on what’s actually going on behind the scenes. We’ll get more later, and it doesn’t hit as hard umpteen books later, but that one was a shocker at the time.

Too, having introduced pretty much all the major players by this point, the books are starting to really play with having all of said players interact with each other, sometimes independent of Harry himself. Lots of callback characters in this book from the first few books, and that won’t be stopping anytime soon. The world isn’t fully revealed yet, but it’s a lot more complex than it used to be, and I like it.

In a small bit of foreshadowing I loved the moment I noticed it, the runes on Harry’s staff on the cover are…evocative of a thing, shall we say.

06/28/2014 Jim Butcher, Proven Guilty (2007 Roc mass market paperback, 566 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

Enter Molly Carpenter.

So, there are a lot of disparate elements in this book that, while I’m not sure they entirely gel together right, are individually so great I find that I don’t much care. The symmetry between what happens with Molly and what happened to Harry and her mother is perhaps a bit too pat, but frankly all the Carpenters are great enough I don’t much mind, and anyway the whole Arctis Tor seqence is epic even if it does sort of come out of nowhere.

Too, Harry-as-Warden is one of those things where when it happens you get whiplash trying to decide if that really just happened or not, but on second glance makes perfect sense. Of course Harry is a Warden. Maybe not the Warden the Council deserved, to borrow a phrase, but definitely the one it needed right now. After all, what else has he been doing this whole time?

Too, we’re now in the setup phases for some serious Harry/Murphy and Harry/Molly shipping, and just to get my thoughts on that out of the way early, Karrin Murphy all the way. So, so very much wrong with the Molly thing. So much.

And…yeah. Our Harry’s growing up and being a responsible adult now. As much as he ever can be.

06/29/2014 Jim Butcher, White Night (2008 Roc mass market paperback, 513 pages – Personal collection, 2012)

Man is there a lot going on here. Butcher’s been on fire these past few books and will be going forwards, and as I said a couple of books ago, having lined all of the major players up, we’re now starting to get into some really complex goings on and multiple plot threads. This is really good stuff.

I say all that by way of saying that, as in Proven Guilty, I continue to be surprised by who the villains really turn out to be, as opposed to the early books where you had…werewolves. And wolfweres. And wolfwhatevers. In White Night, is it the evil wizards? Vampires? Hell, there’s even echoes of the Sidhe and Denarians in here.

Speaking of Denarians, I haven’t said much about the whole Lasciel arc, but it and it’s conclusion? here were quite gripping. I don’t often get emotional in books, but for some reason this one got me.

On that same note, I always enjoy it when Elaine shows up. The history and relationship between her and Harry are quite well done, and I can really relate to their sort of close but a little strained but a little wistful but a little distrustful relationship.

Not that the series particularly needed a breath of fresh air, mind you, but Molly adds one anyway. She makes a really fantastic sidekick for Harry, though as always you’re waiting for her rebel attitude to get her burned.

I’ve always liked the little Ordo Lebes subplot that continues to get airtime throughout the succeeding books. Too, holy character conservation, Batman. Of all the people I never expected to show back up, people from the first book are pretty much it, even if they make a lot of sense going forward.

Thomas needs a spinoff series. Gay vampire hair stylist by day, supernatural crime fighter by night. It would be great. White Court vampires are best vampires.


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