Archive for December, 2012

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Read Lately: A Bit Of Everything…

December 21, 2012

Looking for something to read this holiday season? Here are some of the better books (3 stars and up) I’ve read since September, the last time I wrote one of these posts. 2012 has been a great year for reading, that’s for sure. As always, feel free to give me a holler over on Goodreads if you have a profile; I love talking books with fellow avid readers. These days I’m mostly reading fantasy and sci-fi, but in general I’m always up for trying anything.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Daemon This was an interesting gem, reminiscent of Michael Crichton with a unique action/thriller take on the world of MMORPGs and video gaming. A caveat, though — this duology (its sequel is Freedom(TM)) is pretty dark, violent and depressing, and hardly paints the most positive or flattering picture of gamers. But can you really expect otherwise from a story about a legendary game developer gone psychotic from a fatal illness, triggering a virus with his online obituary that sets off a chain of murderous events threatening the world’s economy and society? A fun read, nonetheless, if you don’t take it too seriously. That goes especially for folks with extensive knowledge of programming and computer network systems, I suspect.

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

King of ThornsIf you enjoyed the first book Prince of Thorns (which I highly recommend too, by the way) then you pretty much have to read this follow-up. The thing with this series is, if you’re familiar with fantasy, then many of the story elements and tropes will feel familiar…except just add a generous dollop of twisted and messed up.

Also, the main character is bit of an asshole. He’s older now, but that hasn’t really changed from the first book! But if you’re okay with that and are in general into the “dark and gritty” fantasy sub genre, then this is a great offering.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

casual vacancyYeah, J.K. Rowling, as in the author of the Harry Potter books. Though I have to say there’s nothing fantasy or child-friendly about this, so it’s probably not a surprise that most of the disappointed reviews I’ve seen so far seem to be from readers comparing it to HP. In fact, I would probably stay far, far away if you’re expecting the same kind of magic, either literally or figuratively, because you won’t find it here.

Casual Vacancy is a contemporary drama, and Rowling’s first novel for adults — and it’s as “adult” as you can get. But one thing that hasn’t changed is her propensity and talent for writing incredible characters. If you think you can tolerate the thought of the author of one of your favorite childhood series writing about sex, drugs, violence, racism, abuse, poverty and all other manner of depressing stuff, then I’d say go ahead and check this out. I’m glad I did, after all. I was so hooked by this book.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

snow crashAn oldie but a goodie, as they say, and I know damn well I’m about twenty years late to this party. Still, despite enjoying the hell out of this book, at times it was difficult for me to become fully immersed and it wasn’t until I finished it that it occurred to me — perhaps cyberpunk just isn’t my thing. It’s unfortunate to say the least, though I’m glad I finally got to read what is considered by most to be Stephenson’s greatest classic. I wish I had a little more interest in some of the philosophies and concepts in this book, but on the whole I can recognize and appreciate their merits. Worth reading for the experience alone.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

throne of the crescent moonMmm, good old delicious “Sword and Sorcery”, with a touch of Arabian Nights. Admittedly, this causes the plot line and all the characters to start to feel formulaic after a while, but the unique setting of the book went a long way in making up for this.

I also enjoyed the writing, though the formal and almost lyrical style of it had the unwanted effect of making the storytelling feel “flat” and seemingly uninspired at times. Regardless, I’m still impressed. Great fantasy debut from a new author.

Hard Magic by Larry Correia

hard magicThis book was fun. There’s really no other good way to put it. Granted, it may take a while for readers to get drawn in, but that’s because so much of the beginning was devoted to world building and character development. Still, patience pays off. This first book of the Grimnoir Chronicles takes place in probably one of the most awesome and unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across in speculative fiction.

This story, about a secret magical society tasked to protect people, has a bit of everything — hard-boiled noir, alternate history, steampunk, science fiction, and urban fantasy. There’s magic and superpowers and sky pirates and gangsters and zeppelins and, oh hell, like I said, this book was fun.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

cold daysLet’s face is, there are no bad Dresden Files books, just some that are better than others. Personally, I wouldn’t say Cold Days is one of the best, but it was still very good. If you like wizards and magic and action, then this series is definitely for you. At least in this latest installment, there’s so much of all that it’ll make your head spin. That said, I think there was a missed opportunity here for more meaningful and emotional moments.

Unfortunately, at this point, none of the Dresden books are standalone anymore, if they ever were. Part of me really misses Harry’s humble detective roots, when things in his life were less crazy and complicated (well, relatively) and didn’t involve as many end-of-the-world scenarios. Still, I loved the ending to this, and I’m looking forward to the next book more than ever.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

red countryProbably the best book I’ve read all year. Too bad it came out so late in 2012, because in my view Red Country deserves way more attention and accolades than it has gotten so far. If you’re already a fan of Joe Abercrombie and haven’t read this yet, all I have to say is, do not wait. Especially if you enjoyed his First Law trilogy and especially if you love his characters and especially if you’re a fan of westerns.

Those familiar with the John Wayne Western film “The Searchers” will probably recognize the story immediately — our main character Shy South sets off on a journey with her adoptive father to find her little brother and sister who have been abducted by bandits. But Joe A adds his own brand of writing to the main conflict, his own dark style of gritty fantasy. Seems like I’ve been recommending a lot of dark fantasy lately, and maybe one day I’ll get back to reading more of the cheerier stuff, but still! I just loved this one — with all its shocks, twists, battles, humor, dialogue and characters — so, SO much.

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Screenshot Of The Day: Old Friends, New Business Model (TSW)

December 18, 2012

Another Monday night, another Secret World session. It was our guild’s first TSW night since the game’s big announcement last week, and I must say we had a pretty good showing, considering our modest little cabal.

Being a subscriber, I was able to claim my rewards which included a bunch of Funcom points, so of course the first thing I did was go shopping. And shocker — I didn’t buy new clothes. Instead, I adopted a pet:

Automaton

It’s reaching up to me for a hug! Aww…

Okay, at first I was going to get a dog. But then, I saw this little guy on the front page and it’s like, how the hell can anyone resist? My new Automaton pet jumps around excitedly when he sees me and also follows me around on rocket boots (or a rocket butt, I can’t tell).

We also had enough people last night to split off into a couple groups. Almost all of us are in Transylvania now, and so I took the opportunity to zip back into the Shadowy Forest to turn in several missions that had been sitting in my quest log all this time. Honestly, it’s been so long that I’d forgotten how much faster the experience rolls in once you get into the higher level zones. With my Time Accelerator that increases XP gain, I don’t think it’d be too long before I get enough AP and SP complete my third deck (Warlock) and to finally equip my rocket launcher.

Oh, and something else I forgot now that I’m back in vampire land — how ridiculously, maddeningly, soul-crushingly tough this game can be. TSW is a cruel mistress, but then again, it’s a big part of why I love it.

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The Secret World: Sub Gone, Join Usssssss

December 12, 2012

On 12/12/12 12:12 Norway time, Funcom officially did it — flipped the switch on The Secret World making it subscription-free, or in other words buy-to-play. If you were one of the lucky ones who picked up the game a few weeks ago during one of the many crazy video game sales, I’d be feeling pretty damn swell right now.

Those familiar with the game probably already know that everything had been set up for this from the get go, but leave it to TSW developers to tie the whole thing to the end of the world. As for me, it’s pretty much going to be business as usual. I’m already playing at least once a week, so I’m keeping my sub for the perks: an item which doubles XP for one hour each day, a membership gift, and — here’s the biggie — discounts and bonus points to spend each month in the Item Store.

Assuming I don’t need to be shelling out every month for a game update, can you say, new outfits, outfits, OUTFITS, OUTFITS, OUTFITS?!?! That’s right, bring it on, Syp! We all know last week’s post about fashion show competitions was directed at me.

Speaking of which, I guess now is also the perfect time for me to once again plug our guild’s weekly Monday TSW nights. Depending on who shows up and what needs to be done, on a typical session we help each other through quests, dungeons, and if we have time, watch my character Laeyn dance Gangnam style in her underwear at the Albion Theater:

[SCREENSHOT REDACTED]

Seriously though, if you haven’t had a chance to try this truly amazing and creative MMO, you now have little excuse not to. Given its genre and unique mechanics, I can’t promise the game will be everyone’s cup of tea, but Knights of Mercy will absolutely be happy to welcome any returning or new players on board. I assure you, we loooooove fresh blood!

YUMMY…MUAHAHAHAHA.

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The Pet Hunter Diaries: Raiding With Leashes

December 11, 2012

Dear Diary,

Hey, it’s me again. Yep, still crazy for vanity pets, and still busting my butt to expand my collection. The hunt continues, and it appears my time in the field has been extended again with the release of World of Warcraft patch 5.1 toward the end of last month. A whole slew of new companions were added, including twelve that drop from certain bosses in classic raids. Well crap, this is obviously shaping up to be yet another time sink, but if this was a Blizzard ploy to get people back into old content, I’D SAY IT’S BLOODY WORKING!

Molten Core

Given my crazy schedule in November, I didn’t get to start until last week. And I’m happy to report that the reported drop rates of “not too bad” are actually just that. I mean, 7 out of 12 for my first run-through of all the four raid dungeons is pretty good, right?

Here’s to luck this week as well when the lockouts reset.

Until next time,

MMOGC

Latest Field Notes and Recently Hunted Pets

Okay, I know I complain (just a little) but I have to admit, doing some of these vanilla raids is actually a lot of fun, especially when I’m soloing everything and feeling INVINCIBLE. Some of the bosses even present a bit of a challenge to do alone because of their mechanics, but I’m generally pleased to add this as yet another activity to mess around in WoW whenever I have time to blow — at least until I get my achievement and Mr. Bigglesworth.

Stitched PupStitched Pup

That is one ugly puppy! Simple enough to get, though it’s worth noting I had to switch to my Guardian off-spec on my druid to get past Patchwerk in Naxxramas, and since the pets only drop off the end bosses in three wings, most of my time was pretty much spent clearing the dungeon. Dropped by Gluth, and in the end he was the only boss out of the three that dropped his loot.

Corefire ImpCorefire Imp

Drops from Magmadar in Molten Core. I guess since the Corehound Pup is already a pet, they needed something else to drop off him. Anyway, he’s cute and very flexible in terms of being a battle pet. In nothing else, he’ll go well with my warlock.

Ashstone CoreAshstone Core

Kinda meh about the model on this guy. I mean, he drops off of Golemagg the Incinerator, one of the cooler looking bosses with one of the cooler sounding names in Molten Core, and it’s like…that’s it? It’s just a white, floating piece of rock. Disappointing.

untamed hatchlingUntamed Hatchling

Getting this little guy was a pain mainly because he drops off Razorgore in Blackwing Lair, and keeping that boss alive during phase 2 while adds were pummeling him was the hardest part doing this solo. The trick was to frequently come out of the mind control to clear adds, and also popping my HoTs (ah, it’s sweet to be a druid) to grab aggro. Took me half an hour just to get the rhythm down, but once I managed it, he was a cinch.

Death Talon WhelpguardDeath Talon Whelpguard

Dropped from Broodlord Lashlayer, who was such a pushover that I spent much more time getting through the damn suppression in those two rooms leading up to him than I actually did fighting. Very pleased that Blizzard decided to add a Drakonid pet.

ChrominiusChrominius

As his name suggests, he’s a mini version of the boss Chromaggus who drops him. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was going to be one of my favorites — he’s just too cool looking! I seemed to have gotten lucky in Blackwing Lair; first week and I was three for three and done.

Viscidus GlobuleViscidus Globule

Oh be still my heart, it’s yet another horrible blob pet. Terrible luck in Temple of Ahn’Qiraj. Ran the whole thing for the bosses and only came out with this guy. I’d forgotten frost oil or anything I could use to freeze Viscidus too, and being lazy I had to call in my husband the mage to bring the frost spells. He dropped the pet for me, so now I can skip him forevermore.

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Art Post: White Knight

December 6, 2012

I mentioned November was a busy time for art commissions, so I just wanted to take a moment and share here one of the projects I had worked on since the recipient also happens to be a fellow gamer/blog buddy of mine.

Rer, whom some of you might know from multiplaying.net, first approached me with an idea of a pencils-on-art-board drawing as a gift for his girlfriend, which I was happy to accommodate. So much of the envisioned concept involved symbolism in this piece, and I must say I had some fun with the challenge of working those ideas in along with everything else requested in the detailed specifications he provided me.

White Knight

White Knight – pre-cleanup

Special thanks to Rer for giving me permission to post this; I don’t often get the go-ahead to pimp my commissioned stuff. And of course, he was also a pleasure to work with.

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NaNoWriMo Completed, And Now For My Slow Recovery From Word Overdose

December 3, 2012

NaNoWinner

My poor blog didn’t see much activity in November, but didn’t I predict that all my writing efforts would be poured into National Novel Writing Month? Ultimately, though, it was worth it! Another year, another win!

Still, I have to say I came this close to karate chopping my keyboard in half towards the end, wondering to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this again?!”  (Of course, I’m pretty sure I said that to myself last November too.) Despite meeting the 50,000 word goal, I had a real rough time this year, whereas last year the words just seemed to roll off my fingertips onto the word processor.

Here are graphs showing my stats from 2011 vs. 2012. Compared to last year, you can see there are so many days this year where I barely made my daily word count, writing only as much as I had to to meet par.

Stats2011

2011

Stats2012

2012

There’s a couple obvious reasons for this, the biggie being a nine-month-old to look after this time, followed by the fact I’d started taking art commissions again and I always get a lot of projects around Christmas. I’m proud that I finished NaNoWriMo and still managed to juggle all my day-to-day obligations, but that pretty much meant my pastimes went out the window — stuff like blogging, gaming, reading, etc. When one uses helpful websites like Raptr and Goodreads to track one’s hobbies, it’s very noticeable when time spent doing those activities takes a giant nosedive.

Basically, I wrote whenever I had free time, and didn’t stop until I hit my daily word count. I told my fellow blogger and NaNo participant Rowan that I think I do a lot better when I’m working under pressure, so giving myself a quota of 1667 words to meet each day got my ass motivated to write, much more so than if I’d told myself I have a whole month to write 50K words. With the latter, I’m sure I’d only be tempted to procrastinate.

Anyway, I can’t deny I’m a little burned out. That’s the negative part about pushing yourself to write almost 1700 words a day; it’s very tiring and mentally draining, and while I had a lot of fun and I’m glad I did this again, boy, am I just glad November’s over. Given the transient nature of my memory, however, I’m sure I’ll just forget all about the pain and pressure again the next time NaNo rolls around, heh. Thing is, just like last year, I managed to “win” but didn’t actually get to finish my novel, a romance/fantasy tentatively titled Mage’s Fire (hush, I know I suck at names). So maybe in 2012, I’ll take a page from Blue Kae’s book and have myself a NaNoFiMo, as there may be a couple dozen K words left in this story yet.

In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it takes me a little while to ease back into blogging, but I’ll most definitely be back here writing again, maybe real soon, too! In part because I just vowed to spend the holiday season playing games until my eyes bleed out.