Far in the past I used to review books on another blog (back when I was cluttering up the blogosphere with multiple blogs rather than this single one) and I have been thinking about getting back to it here.
My idea is to share books that I’ve read, and evaluate their usefulness for RPG or wargaming enthusiasts. There’s a lot of stuff out there about what is helpful and what isn’t, but this’ll be my take on it. So what have I been reading?
The first two books of the Harbinger Trilogy by Diane Duane, Starfall at Corivale and Storm at Eldala. Both of these are written for TSR away back as part of the Alternity RPG. I will say this about both books–in the TSR corpus of novels many appear to be fantasy novels shoehorned into the D&D world by aspiring authors who couldn’t get their novels published otherwise. As a result, there’s a lot of disconnect between the novels and gaming experience (e.g. the whole “Spellfire” nonsense)
Diane Duane is a graduate of that other paperback mill– Star Trek novels — but does in fact do her homework about the StarDrive setting for Alternity and sets up a pretty RPG-esque backstory of a ignomiously cashiered space marine teaming up with a wandering alien and going into the freelance spaceship-for-hire business. In between cargo runs and speculative mining the marine character tries to discover why he was framed for murder. Shuffled into the mix is a spooky unknown alien race creating legions of space zombies. Good stuff.
By book two of the Trilogy the plot has gone completely off the rails and features a home-grown alien race, no real movement on the initial plot, and a sort of stone-induced-psychic bond that appears in the first twenty pages of most Anne McCaffrey novels. And while I haven’t read the third novel, I have the sneaking suspicion that a lot of threads will be tied together a little too tidily.
I’ve read almost every book Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston has ever written, either singularly or together, and can honestly say that if you’ve read one, you’ve read most of them, especially the earlier works (their fascination with the distinctly unlikeable character of FBI agent Penderghast is beyond me). That doesn’t mean that their novels are bad, on the contrary they can tell a good techno-horror-scifi-thriller story quite well, albeit over and over again. Deep Storm has all the hallmarks of a Child/Preston work:
- generic intelligent scientist protagonist
- beligerent but attractive female character (whose development as love interest is as inevitable as it is underdone)
- out-of-the-way exotic locale
- bizarre unknown element slowly driving everyone crazy and/or killing them
- crazy antagonist in some security-related position (classic “brains vs. bully” conflict)
Lather, rinse, repeat. In the case of Deep Storm the hero is a former navy doctor going to a deep underwater laboratory, not to be confused with the geologist going to the antartic in The Ice Limit or the biochemist going to the American Southwest in Dragon Mountain. There something has been discovered that is causing bizarre and ultimately homicidal medical problems in the crew.
My knocking the authors for their lack of ingenuity is a little harsh–what they have to offer for gamers in Deep Storm and elsewhere is a treasure trove of highly colorful characters, exotic locales and fairly straightforward plot devices that could easily keep any GM running a horror/techothriller RPG in business for years. You could easily retool the stories for Shadowrun or d20 Modern or even Call of Chthulu with nominal effort. You could even dial up or down the technology for fantasy or sci-fi. I guess what I am meaning to say is that Child and Preston generated what would have been standard fare for the pulp magazines of previous generations, which in turn became the backbone of the RPG experience, and certainly provide more fodder for your RPG campaign than most “in house” novels published by game companies today.
My standard response when conversations are getting too critical of something is, “Yeah, ok, but how many books (or video games, or paintings, or whatever) have you made?” It goes a long way to get a proper amount of humility back into the mix.
As is, I find myself in an odd predicament, where what I read has a disconnect to what else I’m doing. Currently, I’ve been reading through the Horus Heresy W40k books, and so far they’ve been good. However, I’m running a fantasy D&D game, and our sci-fi RPG that we are working on is generally more anime based as opposed to ‘hard’ science fiction.
Of course, that doesn’t stop my Sisters of Battle getting slotted for my D&D campaign, with flint-lock pistols and magical armor. *laugh*
I think it is not inappropriate to make critical comments about books and other forms of art as long as they are thoughtful and polite. You can read a bad book or see a bad movie and say, “that wasn’t good.” I also try not to make it too personal.
I’m reading one sci-fi, one contemporary, and one fantasy novel right now (all at the same time). I think there’s often stuff that can be ported from one genre to another.