Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (Review)

Ink & Sigil #2

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Del Rey; August 10, 2021

304 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Beware Spoilers for Ink & Sigil (maybe read this one first, eh?)

Fresh off the Case of the Trafficked Fae and Stolen Whisky, Al MacBharrais and his hobgoblin Buck are thrown into another mystery involving missing sigil agents, a rising body count, and a untracked god appearing in the south of Australia.

It all begins with a mysterious, god-level event in the Dandenong Mountains, a range just north of Melbourne, Australia. Sigil agent Shu-hua goes to investigate, only to disappear without a trace. Another sigil agent, Mei-ling, and her apprentice set out shortly after to attempt to find Shu-hua, only to suffer the same mysterious fate themselves. As folk keep disappearing Down Unda, Shu-hua’s apprentice Ya-ping frantically contacts Al, desperate for some help finding her missing mentor.

Now it’s up to MacBharrais and his wee pink hob to travel to Southern Victoria and find the missing agents, people plus whatever’s been taking them. Oh, and he invites the Iron Druid Connor (formerly Atticus)—who has taken up residence just south in Tasmania—to come along for the ride.

Thus the adventure begins, with Al, Hob and Ya-ping joining forces with Connor, Oberon and Starbuck to find their brethren and foil whatever nefarious forces are at work. There will be plenty of time for fun along the way—with a plethora of guest stars, cameos, heists, and stories to distract from all of that ass-kicking that is sure to commence when the team hunts down their prey.

I found this adventure a good read; fun, exciting, and interesting in all the right ways. As with the first book in the series, I enjoyed Al in a way I never did Atticus. Therefore I was initially disappointed when the Iron Druid showed up—but forgave the choice as he proved to be a much more mellow, far less superpowered god as I remembered. The same core characters from Ink & Sigil return as Nadia, Buck, and of course Al reprise their roles, much to the same tune as last time. However, except for a little piece of backstory on Buck, we really don’t learn anything especially new or interesting about them. Ya-ping is a welcome relief as the apprentice sigil agent is funny but deep, interesting, and relatable without being too wise for her age. I even enjoyed the Iron Druid, after a fashion. Unfortunately that doesn’t hold true for Gladys (MacBharrais’s secretary from Book #1), who returns with a bit of mysterious backstory. I found her as unlikely as she was unlikeable, and the whole concept of her surprise reveal stupid.

While it’s a good, fun read, Paper & Blood is far from perfect.

[They want to bag a druid, and not just any Druid: They want the Iron Druid.]

“Me? Why?”

“So many reasons!” Buck said, spreading his arms wide but keeping his voice low. “A Lot of human violence is committed over the idea of proprietary sex partners. Could that be it?”

“…Nnno.”

First off, as the story itself comes directly after Al’s realization that he’s the victim of not one but two curses, I really would’ve thought we’d’ve focussed on that more. But other than a little tidbit at the very end, we end back where we started. It’s like… So, the spinoff was a hit. Episode 1 ended on a high note and we’re all invested in the mystery and can’t wait to see where it leads in Episode 2. But instead of any continuation of what must be the overarching season plot, Episode 2 is a self-contained story that has very little to do with anything (although it’s all well and good and interesting in its own right), only to spend the last minute or two refocussing everyone on what happened at the end of Episode 1 and where the story’s sure to be headed now. In short, while Episode 2 was good, we made no season plot progress from #1 but end the episode assuring the audience that we’re totally going to come Episode 3.

Now I realize that this might’ve been an attempt to expand the world, the lore, or more firmly establish the connection to the Iron Druid universe. And it does two out of the three—though doesn’t teach us anything more about different sigils—the connections and lore being leaned on heavily. The lore was particularly interesting, as it expands the world, the pantheons, and their capabilities.

Additionally, within this self-contained adventure, there are a few (three) “campfire stories” that didn’t seem to connect to anything. Okay, okay—I’m sure you could come up with some connections, but they’re tenuous at best, and at worst have nothing to do with either the plot of Episode 1 or 2 and are just included to waste time. Combined, the three take up roughly 15% of the book. I found the first one (3%) interesting, the second (2%) boring, and the third (10%) especially pointless.

TL;DR

All in all, I left Paper & Blood feeling a bit annoyed, but overall pleased with my time spent within its pages. After waiting on it a few days however, mostly now I just feel that while the story was entertaining, it was didn’t leave any lasting sense of accomplishment. Nothing happens that relates to the overarching plot of the series: Al’s curse. It’s a self-contained adventure that—while interesting and entertaining in its own right—is pretty much just a waste of time. I’m not saying Paper & Blood wasn’t good—it was! It told a fun, ofttimes exciting story, but related to fuck all of the story from Book 1. If you enjoyed the Iron Druid series, it’ll probably just be worthwhile to see Atticus again. If you thought Ink & Sigil thinking that it was a lovely time, full of laughter and fun—you’ll probably like Paper & Blood. But if you like a bit more substance out of your series, you’ll likely still enjoy your time, but leave feeling a bit disappointed.

Islanders (2019) – Indie Lagoon

Islanders

Grizzly Games2019

10 hours / 54% Achievement Progress

TwitterPublisher WebsiteSteam

City Builder • Strategy • Indie • Chill • Exploration • Atmospheric

$4.99

Grizzly Games is a Berlin-based, indie publisher. They have two games to their name thus far, Superflight (released in 2017)—an open world, casual flight sim—and Islanders, a city-builder released two years later.

At the time I’m writing this, Islanders commands a 95% positive rating on Steam, and I can see why. This minimalist city-builder may not be on par with grand strategy games like Civilization, Humankind or Crusader Kings, but its unique, point-based construction system and chill, island hopping gameplay make it a must for casual fans of the genre.

Islanders is an indie city-builder that does things a little differently. Instead of resources and technology and population, everything revolves around points. When you begin a new game, Islanders will ask you to choose between one of two starter packs—usually either Farming or Lumber. These two packs will either revolve around Farming or Lumber, amazingly. But unlike something like Civ, they won’t be used to collect resources used to build and unlock additional buildings. See, you only get a set number of buildings. Thus you must strategically place these buildings in order to maximize the number of points you receive. For example, a Lumberjack has a base point total of zero, but receives an additional one point for every tree, four points for each statue and five points for every sawmill in its radius. However, it also loses six points for every additional Lumberjack nearby. So let’s say you put it near 20 trees and one sawmill, thereby earning 25 points. These points are added to your total.

For each milestone in points you reach, you’ll unlock another pack, containing more unique buildings—and even some that you might’ve seen before. While you’ll get Lumber, Farming, Brewing, Seaweed, and City packs early on, later your choices will diversify somewhat. The thing is that no matter how many points you earn, your next milestone will only unlock the choice of a maximum of two packs. It’s a gamble (especially early on) that you’ll be able to earn enough points through placing these buildings to unlock another. If you fail to earn enough points, it’s game over, and Islanders will restart. You won’t lose much (at least at first), but later on there’s more to play for and expect things to get much more strategic.

My first game ended in five minutes.

I placed the sawmill and lumberjack away from one another and not near enough trees and immediately saw the game over screen. Pressed continue and I was right back to another small, picturesque isle in an infinite sea.

My second game lasted about about an hour.

The thing is that while it looks quite simple, Islanders also holds a challenge, a complexity that actually does require some strategy to navigate. You can make one move at a time, place one building at a time—and make certain you’re happy with it. You’ll have the opportunity to undo your move immediately upon making or until you place another building. After that it’s permanent. You cannot erase or replace any buildings further that one turn back. So you better make sure you love its placement, or else that house is staying on that tiny isle for good.

On the lefthand side of the screen, you have your point total. It tracks your overall progress, as well as your progress towards your next milestone pack unlock. On the righthand side, there’s your progress toward the next island. Once this bar is filled, you have unlocked a new island that you can journey to whenever you wish. You could stay a while and continue building on your existing isle, or abandon it straightaway for the new one. Just know that once you leave for a new island, there’s no coming back.

It’s important to note that should you stay for a while and at some point fail to earn enough points towards the next milestone, your game won’t end. You’ll just have no choice but to continue on to the next island. So the game won’t end, but your time on any given island will eventually run out.

I reached this point in my third game.

I spent an hour or so pushing through the first four islands, but immediately fell in love with Island #5. It was a larger isle, full of plateaus and beaches and boulders and forests. There were overgrown ruins of a bridge that I found scenic and mysterious. And it was predominately green. A lush, lovely green. I love green.

After maybe 30-45 minutes, I’d unlocked the next island. But I was reluctant to leave #5.

In the end I built 5 cities on this fifth island. Additionally, I constructed four farming complexes, several mines and quarries, and a random assortment of huts, gardens, and other amusements. That topmost (and tallest) plateau (or tepui, if you will), I left mostly untouched, only tucking a few lumberjacks in. I tried and retried buildings, careful to conserve space, maintain the tranquil aesthetic, and maximize my points.

I spent nearly 5 hours on this island.

It was genuinely upsetting when I realized that I was backed into a corner and couldn’t earn enough points to complete the next milestone. I took screenshots of all my cities, all my favorite bits of the island and—placing my final garden—I was forced to move on to Island #6. I was crushed. I was disappointed. I was surprised. How could a chill, relaxing game that I picked up to do a bit have affected me so much? It was an interesting moment. I wasn’t sure whether to feel vindicated in my purchase or disappointed in my strategy that I’d apparently failed at.

Then I got my first look at Island #6.

And—OOOoooOOOoooo…

I haven’t yet started #6, so right now it’s just a mass of potential. It is visually as appealing as any of the other islands, as well as the largest region yet (I wonder if they’ll continue to grow the farther you go in the game?) (Also, I hope they’ll be archipelagos to build across at some point). The music is still as chill as ever. I really wanted to dive in.

But I need to unwind after Island #5. And I’ve been playing it for much of the last five hours (while also watching Taskmaster on Youtube). Also, it’s 5am. I should prooobably go to sleep first.

TL;DR

Islanders is a relaxing, beautiful game. But there’s also some strategy to it—far more than I expected. The soft, semi-pixelated graphics have a definite appeal. The soothing, tranquil music doesn’t stress you out and encourages you to take the game at your own pace. Combined with gorgeous colors and a lovely aesthetic, it’s a pretty and chill game, even if you lose right away. Even when you lose later on down the line it’s hard to get too upset, because your next island is just a click away.

You won’t fight any battles. It’s your island to colonize alone, as you will, with no opponent to compete for space. There’s no technology to worry about, nor resources, no population. You unlock buildings with points, and can’t always predict how your choices will influence what unlocks later.

There’s no saving, which is somewhat disappointing, but I can understand why it’s been left out. Your current game is preserved should you leave it in progress, and your new one won’t be too far from the one before to require a save mechanic. That’s not to say there’s no replayability, however, as the ever-changing, procedurally generated islands ensure that each game will be new and interesting, if not vastly different.

Since Islanders is a more casual, less intensive city-builder, it’s not going to replace something on the scale of Civ or Humankind. Nor will it prove a strategy game on par with Crusader Kings or Hearts of Iron. There’re no epic battles, wars; no race to explore, advance; no one to conquer or dominate; no population to control, manage, appease, or keep alive. But it’s still good fun, and I’d certainly recommend it.

Since it’s not a massive game, it won’t tax your computer. It runs on my old Mac just fine, and the thing is 10 years old. I think the install size was 100 mb or something. But if you’re concerned about that, I think Islanders also just released for console too.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed Islanders far more than I’d’ve ever expected. Completely worth the fiver in my opinion—but then I got it on sale for $2.50. Definitely worth that.

The Beautiful World of Books – 6 Crap Books with Lovely Covers

Everyone’s heard the thing about not judging a book by its cover. I have a serious problem with that. I love books with eye-catching covers—so much so that I frequently ignore all evidence to the contrary when confronted by a magnificent cover atop a less than intriguing book. Occasionally, even, there are books that actually look AND sound appealing, only to be utter shit. Dunno which are worse, to be honest.

Here are just a few examples.

Beware possible spoilers, hurt feelings, alternative opinions, exaggeration, and maybe some descriptive language.

  1. Witchsign – by Den Patrick

Say what you will about his books—Den Patrick can whip up a good cover. I mean, dude doesn’t actually illustrate his own covers, and if he did I’m sure that they’d be somewhat appealing in one corner before eventually devolving into something a child has drawn using mustard packets and human blood. A great metaphor for his books. But the point is—he really commands a great cover. From The Boy With the Porcelain Blade to the Ashen Torment series, they’re all quite impressive, really.

2. Cage of Souls – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A rare DNF, I found Cage of Souls to be a wordy allegory for spouting the author’s political, environmental, personal, but mostly political beliefs. Over the course of 600 pages of a creative if uninventive, and frankly boring story about the last city on earth, Tchaikovsky made me regret buying this one just because it looked and sounded interesting. After only 200 or so it devolves into a rant about how Tories are the devil and climate change is bad (I mean, I agree that climate change is terrible, but this just came off as whiny). The cover is quite something, though.

3. Drake – by Peter McLean

The cover of Drake is done in a comic/graphic novel style that evokes an action-hero; explosions, dodging bullets, leaping small buildings, car chases, gun fights, etc. Too bad none of that actually happens. This is the start of a new urban fantasy series about a hitman whose one job is to kill people and who falls apart after killing one person after the first chapter. And then fails to figure out what’s going on for the next two hundred pages. He has one job, and sucks at it. There’s no plot. AND it’s boring. Cover’s easily the best part.

4. Thin Air – by Richard K. Morgan

I absolutely love the cover of this (minus the ‘Outstanding’ rating by the Times—unless they were talking about the cover as well), if not the actual story itself. As usual Morgan just throws you into the action. Throwing about the lingo and raining death from above and below and all around. And then you find out that this is about an audit. Something that remains the focus for entirely too long. My favorite part of this was the end—when it ended. Oh, and the cover. I quite liked the cover.

5. Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

A reporter that debunks supernatural mysteries headlines Ghosts of Gotham, a book that spends the first half ensuring us that there’s nothing supernatural or mysterious in the world… only to do an abrupt 180˚ at that halfway point and abandon that first mystery in favor of a completely different one. Honestly, neither mystery was that bad. They just had nothing to do with one another despite the author screaming that they were obviously related. Lionel denied, denied, denied—and again at the 50% mark just went “okay obviously the supernatural is real” and there we were. Love the cover! It reminds me of a ‘ghosts in the machine’ kinda thing, with the auroras and shadows overlaying a motherboard. Shame it had nothing to do with the actual story.

6. The Quantum Thief – by Hannu Rajaniemi

Jean le Flambeur is a criminal, mind burglar, confidence man and trickster. What he is not, it seems, is compelling. A book with zero exposition that reads like a drug-trip, The Quantum Thief might’ve been better—if it’d made any bloody sense. It’s like that point in the Gunslinger where you realize he’s just making things up on the fly and there’s no plot whatsoever. Just like… all the time. The cover depicts a post-human angel whisking a criminal away: an action-packed picture worth more than a thousand words—any one of which was better than the actual book itself.

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (Review)

Unnamed Series #1

Fantasy

DAW Books; August 3, 2021

304 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to DAW and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Fenra Lowens is a practitioner come to the Outer Modes so that she can heal folk free from the politics of the City. It is a simple, quiet life, but one that she enjoys. But when one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the White Court to execute the will of a long-missing relative, Fenra is returned to the City and all the matters she wished to avoid. For Arlyn suspects that this summons is not to simply read a will and return. No; rather the White Court is after Xandra Albainil’s vault, and the Godstone within it.

The very Godstone that Arlyn locked behind it centuries before.

But Xandra Albainil did not die: he became Arlyn. See, when Xandra bound the Godstone, it robbed him of his power. He became nothing more than a Mundane himself, and a sickly, Low one at that. Now, to keep the Godstone from falling into the wrong hands (or, any hands really), Arlyn needs Fenra to accompany him to the City and finish what he started—sealing the artifact away once and for all.

Along the way allies and foes both are discovered—from Arlyn’s one-time friend, to Fenra’s girlhood rival. The City remains much the same, but much has changed as well. The duo must navigate the old and new if they hope to make it through the ordeal alive, which means that all secrets must be exposed—including the ones they’re keeping from each other.

The book is written mostly in first-person, switching between the perspectives of Arlyn and Fenra. Though it’s a bit unusual to tell a story this way, it’s not the first time I’ve come across it. What was a first was the 3rd person narrative that was thrown in around a quarter of the way through. This 3rd person narrative is quickly joined by another, and so it continues for the rest of the text. So… two 1st person POVs and two 3rd person ones. Fenra and Arlyn get most of the screen time, but… wow. It took some getting used to. Fortunately, the author pulls it off rather well, so it was only muddy for a little.

Despite having less-than creative names and titles (“the City”—really?) I found the concept and world incredibly inventive. The world is divided into Modes, which apparently are only obvious to practitioners. When crossing between them clothes change. Technology changes. Buildings, walkways, language, money and nature all change. Hell, maybe even life and magic change. While Modes aren’t ever terribly well explained, the hints alone blew my mind. It was a constant struggle to figure out what the hell was going on in this book—but in a good way. Mostly (confusing is still confusing).

The Godstone itself is a great character. A sentient, powerful object with the potential to change or destroy the world? Something that has an agenda all of its own, but is inescapably linked to Xandra/Arlyn’s past, and thus has an unknown motivation and goal? It’s like those supervillains with the evil plans that sound crazy at first, but the more you read into them the more sane they sound. The other characters deliver as well, with Arlyn and Fenra being my favorites—fortunate as you have to put up with them a majority of the time.

Still, much like the Modes, not all of the book is satisfyingly explained. There’s one bit where a character just vanishes—and their disappearance isn’t even noted. They’re just—gone. And never mentioned again. The White Court is center stage for much of the book but was never really explained well enough for me. At the same time, the Red Court—the White’s counter court—isn’t explained at all. I mean, they’re feared and respected, but otherwise… It wasn’t so much that they were mysterious, elusive, or enigmatic. They were just… not explained.

TL;DR

The Godstone does quite a lot right—telling an immersive and highly inventive story through diverse and relatable characters, causing the reader to become deeply invested in the outcome. But it can also be quite confusing. While mostly it’s confusing in a good way, sometimes confusing is just confusing. Too often there were terms or organizations that just weren’t explored or explained, despite playing a fairly vital role in the plot. In a longer book this would’ve just bogged everything down. In this shorter format, it kept me guessing—an elusive mystery that I just couldn’t put my finger on. Hopefully most of these issues will be resolved in Book 2 (a thing I didn’t know was a thing until I read the blurb about a “new epic fantasy series” while writing up this review)—something I’m already cautiously optimistic about!

August 2021

To say we have a busy month is an understatement. This month is so packed with releases that I forgot about a few of the ARCs I’d received. I mean, there is NO WAY I’m finishing them all this month. Heck, I might not get to them all before the end of the year. So there will be some picking and choosing which to read—which is something I really like to avoid. But, oh well. Can’t avoid it sometimes.

ARC

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (8/03)

Untitled Series #1 / Standalone

Goodreads

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin’s Practitioner’s vault. Arlyn can’t ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can’t allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

Shards of Earth – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (8/03 US)

Final Architects #1

Goodreads

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared—and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects—but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Devil’s Fjord – by David Hewson (8/05)

Faroe Islands Mystery #1

Goodreads

If the new District Sheriff, Tristan Haraldsen, thought moving to a remote village on the island of Vagar would be the chance for a peaceful life with his wife Elsebeth, his first few weeks in office swiftly correct him of that notion.

Provoked into taking part in the village’s whale hunt against his will, Haraldsen blunders badly, and in the ensuing chaos two local boys go missing. Blaming himself, Haraldsen dives into the investigation and soon learns that the boys are not the first to have gone missing on Vagar.

As Tristan and Elsebeth become increasingly ensnared by the island’s past, they realise its wild beauty hides an altogether uglier and sinister truth.

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (8/10)

Ink & Sigil #2

Goodreads

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Bloodless – by Preston & Child (8/17)

Agent Pendergast #20

Goodreads

A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (8/24)

Covenant of Steel #1

Goodreads

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Twenty-Five to Life – by R.W.W. Greene (8/24)

Standalone

Goodreads

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that.

When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (8/26 EU)

Revelation Space Universe

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Other Releases

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03)

Rise and Fall #1

Goodreads

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Music

Not aware of any interesting releases this month, but I don’t follow music like I obsess about books—often I don’t pay attention to what’s happening until they’re already out. So here are a couple songs that came out last week. The first is by German alt-rock band Flash Forward, the second by Italian EDM-Celtic-Folk outfit The Sidh. While Syl is a good song and all, if you’ve never thought “what would happen if I added bagpipes to EDM” then Utopia is a must-listen!

btw I’ve noooo idea what’s going on in this video, so don’t ask me, eh?

Gaming

Still working on Disco Elysium as I had a system crash which wiped out all my saves from all my games and I had to start over from scratch. Which… not ideal. It’s taken me some time to get back into it. So four days into my first impression of Disco Elysium I had to restart it. “Disappointment” is an understatement. And not just for this game, but about 90% of my library on the PS4. I have a few online backups but for the most part it’s all gone.

Anyway, I’ve taken to some other Indie games to distract me—a number of which I’m working on posting something about, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been playing through Islanders, This War of Mine, Northgard, Fez and Hyper Light Drifter based entirely on what I feel like at any given time. Hopefully more to come on these later!

Currently Reading

The Godstone – by Violette Malan

So far this has been a good read—I’ve some issues with it, I must admit, but I’ll probably still recommend it (at least, judging by how it’s going right now I would). I’m at ~70% mark so probably no review out by the 3rd, though hopefully it won’t be too long a wait.

A Gathering of Ravens – by Scott Oden

This month’s audiobook is sure an uplifting one. A well reviewed grimdark fantasy, it’s something I’ve been after for a while now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the right time for it. The world over here is looking slightly bleak, and this isn’t exactly going to cheer me up. But then, who says that’s what I’m after?

Life

Pretty apocalyptic out west. I’ll have to remember to include a photo later this week. There’s a major drought going on, and recently we’ve been plagued with the fires that have been running rampant in California since last year. The only reason it isn’t worst is that winter is a thing here. But as fire season rolls around in 2021 we find that fire season actually started a month earlier than usual and likely won’t be over any time soon. Maybe not even after the first snow—which I genuinely pray happens in August this year. Last year first snow waited til September 5th, but this year we need it more.

The smoke has been awful. In the unhealthy range straight for the last two weeks, it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon either. Not a great time to work outside. But with half our staff leaving on August 1st, it’s just going to get busier. And I’m behind on reading as it is. With the nine releases this month I’m anticipating—all of which I have copies for—…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me to finish probably around three. At the moment I’d guess the Godstone, the Pariah and… maybe Paper & Blood? I’ve no idea. I guess we’ll see.

And I didn’t even mention COVID yet. Actually, I’m going to skip it. It ain’t looking good—enough said.

Any of these or other releases you’re excited about? Books, games, music, whatever really. How’s the smoke where you live? Anything else new—let me know!