The Ragnarok Backlist – John Golden: Freelance Debugger by Django Wexler

Disclaimer: I do some work for Ragnarok Publications on an occasional basis and have a vested interest in the success of the company and the authors they publish. When I began doing work for Ragnarok Publications I stopped reviewing Ragnarok books on Fantasy Book Review (I had already reviewed a handful of Ragnarok books on FBR by this stage) as the question of my likely bias might have impacted the site negatively. But, on my personal blog, I do what I want. Even though I’m stating a bias up front, I feel like these reviews will still provide a fair appraisal so you can make a decision for yourself.

This review was first published on Fantasy Book Review

 John Golden: Freelance Debugger is a short urban fantasy novella by Django Wexler, published by Ragnarok Publishing, and the first book in what I hope is a lengthy new series. It is a very different beast compared to his epic fantasy, The Thousand Names, but it is no less accomplished, and I can’t wait to read more.

John Golden works in IT, he is a debugger, and his job is to delve into computer networks and eliminate fairy infestations. When I say he delves into computer networks, I mean that he can move himself into a different dimension called a burrow where the network and the fairy infestation are manifested as a sword and sorcery medieval world, and once inside the burrow he can get to work exterminating the fairy presence. It’s kind of like The Matrix meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this book, John has been hired by an IT security company to sort out a particularly nasty burrow that somehow got past their firewall. It is an unusual case for Golden right from the start, and as things start to get weirder, they also start to get a lot more dangerous.

This book is full of lots of geeky / nerdy / pop-culture references and plays on words (like when John Golden learned how to program in KOBOLD). The humour is quite dry and understated, constructed from observations of how IT support is largely treated. This book has also been written in a unique way with the main character’s sister providing something similar to director’s commentary as small footnotes that pop-up from time to time as the story progresses. Kind of like the footnotes that Terry Pratchett uses in his Discworld books. I feel like the footnotes are a little too frequent and slightly jarring at the start of the book, but after reaching the first quarter mark they started to feel much more like a natural extension of the story.

John Golden: Freelance Debugger is a fast read with a great style and a unique spin on incorporating the fairy realm into our own. If you have ever worked in IT or if you enjoy watching The IT Crowd, then I think you will really get a kick out of this book.

Goodreads Link

Amazon Link

 

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Beyond: Two Souls – It’s All About The Experience

Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls is the latest game from David Cage and the team at Quantic Dream. I really enjoyed Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain (I never played The Nomad Soul) so my expectations were reasonably high for this game, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Before I go any further I will say that Beyond: Two Souls, like its predecessors, is a title that challenges the standard definition of “game” by prioritizing the in-depth connective experience first, and adding “gameplay” after that. This is not a game that rewards skilful play-throughs, it is a game that rewards you with depth of character and layered story telling where your choices matter. You get out what you put in.

Okay, so I picked up this game on Saturday night and finished it before lunch on Sunday. That may not seem like a particularly lengthy game (which many critics have picked up on), but what you may not appreciate is that you are continuously moving forward in this game. You dont get bogged down in repetitive fire fights, you dont have to worry about dying and retrying each level again and again, you just keep moving forward and the story adapts depending on your choices and to a small extent how well / poorly you perform. Not a single minute is wasted in this game, and I think they got the length exactly right.

Young Jodie

But what exactly is Beyond: Two Souls about? You play as Jodie, a young girl who is different to everyone else she knows. Jodie is connected umbilically to a spiritual entity called Aidan – he’s been there since Jodie was born, the only constant Jodie can cling to in what has been a tumultuous life. Aidan resembles your typical poltergeist – he can pass through walls, he can possess objects and people, he can relay information back to Jodie, and he can defend Jodie from other dangerous spirits that pass through the veil. When the CIA find out about Jodie’s “condition” they take custody of her and start conducting experiments, with one eye on the pursuit of knowledge, and the other eye on potentially militarising their game-changing asset. You play as Jodie from young child to young adult. You get to influence her life choices as she progresses through the most formative stages of life. You also get to play as Aidan and do some cool poltergeist stuff, but this is Jodie’s story, Jodie’s life, and while Aidan is there Jodie cannot truly live.

In terms of gameplay, the one thing I want to discuss is the removal of the skill level barrier. I could talk about things like how the movement controls are very clumsy, or that the gameplay is almost entirely quick-time events, but removing the skill level barrier is, in my opinion, the biggest element that challenges conventional gaming. There are no try-fail cycles, there are no resets, there are no do-over opportunities. What you do and how you perform, in the moment, determines how your story plays out. This may sound like a bad idea, but what makes this work (for me) is that the outcome is not better or worse depending on how you perform – it is just different. I think this is the point that turns off many gamers, that you are not explicitly rewarded for beating up all those enemies without taking a single hit. It is not why they play games, they expect to get a quantifiably better experience as their mastery of the game increases. And that’s fine, but for me, I was so deeply immersed in the story that the only thing I cared about was how the gameplay worked together with the choices I had to make when progressing the story.

Somalia

Beyond: Two Souls is a story driven game, and David Cage succeeded in making it one of the most expansive yet engaging stories that I’ve ever played through. The story is told in a series of non-linear scenes, jumping back and forth through different moments of Jodie’s life, providing you the information you need when you need it. While loading each scene the game displays a timeline to provide a frame of reference for when each scene takes place. It is very handy, and makes the story much easier to follow during the early stages. The story explores a number of heavy themes, the most prominent of which is the duality between life and death, and how different people react when a loved one passes from life into death. The story also explores the duality between ethical and unethical experimentation, blurring what should be a very clear line by introducing dangerous situations that demand the unethical solution for the “greater good”. The recruitment of child soldiers to help take out a Somalian warlord is one, the raising of an abandoned child in a laboratory to see if they can militarise her paranormal abilities is another. David Cage doesn’t shy away from the hard hitting moments either – in my playthrough there was a scene where Jodie was sexually assaulted at a bar after her friends failed to show up, and another scene where Jodie reaches the lowest point of her life and upon finding a knife the player is given the option of dragging that knife across her wrists. It is not to say that this is a story without hope, because there are plenty of hopeful, uplifting, and redemptive moments in this story, but these hard hitting moments are the ones that impacted me the most and had the greatest influence of the choices I made when playing the game.

Somalia2

Beyond: Two Souls is one of the best games I have ever played. Is it the future of gaming? No. Has it impacted the future of gaming? Undeniably. Beyond: Two Souls has pushed the boundaries of gaming, changed how we define games, and demonstrated that you can successfully implement a story driven experience that does not require point scoring or levels. Oh and there is also those little things like how amazing this game looks, and how great the acting was from stars like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Play this game to experience it, not to beat it.

Manifesto: UF

Manifesto: UF is the second anthology from author Tim Marquitz, due out in September 2013. This time around Tim asked authors to submit a piece of Urban Fantasy that fast paced, action oriented, and badass. Here is the cover to give you a feel for what it will be like:

Manifesto_UF

So I submitted a short titled Break Free, about a son who plans to break his father out of an airborne prison. I really liked writing this story, and Tim liked reading it, so Break Free will be included as part of the Manifesto: UF anthology. I’m excited to be included in this anthology with the following authors:

September has seemed so far away for so long, but now that I look at the calendar its only a month and a half away. I can’t wait for y’all to read it. You can check out the Goodreads page for it here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17983751-manifesto-uf

Contributing To The World Around Me

It seems that when I’m not working at work, I’m working at home. Hobbies have taken over my life to the extent where I’m almost spending more time on them than I am at work. But it’s good right? No. It’s supposed to keep me active or something like that. I haven’t played a video game in nearly three weeks and that depresses me.

All these hobbies that have been piling up is the reason why I have been neglecting this blog. I could promise that I will post more often but I’m pretty sure I have made that promise quite a few times in the past. I am still contributing to the world around me, so I thought I would share with you the things I am doing:

Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous

Publication date is approaching rather quickly on this, and thus the publication wagon has taken off. Here are a few notable links:

Synopsis – http://www.tmarquitz.com/fl.html

Excerpt from my short story – https://www.facebook.com/FadingLightAntho/posts/475833585760680

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 1 – http://lincolncrisler.info/?p=1435

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 2 – http://lincolncrisler.info/?p=1443

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 3 – http://lincolncrisler.info/?p=1451

Multi-Author Interview With The Nocturnal Library Part 1 – http://www.thenocturnallibrary.com/2012/08/tim-marquitz-presents-fading-light.html

Multi-Author Interview With The Nocturnal Library Part 2 – http://www.thenocturnallibrary.com/2012/08/tim-marquitz-presents-fading-light_15.html

There is more stuff to come at Bastard Books and on Fantasy Book Review leading up to the September 1st release.

Novastream

As part of the Novastream relaunch, I became the new administrator of Novastream Movies with Esther Savage where I have been doing a lot of posts and site clean-up over the past few weeks. I am also involved with all the technical site design for Novastream Movies and Novastream Games, and I am a regular guest on the Novastream Podcast.

FBR Blog

Finally, I am now an administrator of the FBR Blog with fellow FBR reviewer Joshua S. Hill. Josh has designed the site pretty much from scratch and we are hard at work securing people to write for our site. Josh and I also host the FBR Podcast which I am currently in the middle of getting transferred to a new host.

The Rest

I’ve also been reading a bunch of books in this time, and putting together some new short stories for some upcoming anthologies. I’ll give you more details on that as they come to hand.

Ok that’s it for now. I plan on doing more regular posts here in the near future, especially once I get our American Bucket List put together.

 

How Time Flies – The Offspring

I was not a big music lover when I was young. I was happy with whatever I heard on the radio. Then came The Offspring with their most iconic song – Pretty Fly For a White Guy.

This song was awesome, amazing, and any number of complimentary superlatives. Americana was the first music album I ever bought, and it was all because of that song. That was fourteen years ago. To find their debut single, you have look back twenty three years to find I’ll Be Waiting, a track from their first album The Offspring which was originally produced on a vinyl record. Yeah, they have been making music since before CD’s.

And these guys are still making music, and it’s still awesome. Below is their latest single Cruising Californina, and dang it’s got a catchy tune / lyrics.

Time really does fly, like a white guy (oh yeah, I went there).

How Time Flies – Linkin Park

There are only a handful of bands where I know the lyrics to every song on every album. Linkin Park is one of them, and coming soon is their latest studio album with the new single Burn It Down. I love this song, and the video clip (below) is awesome:

For me, it is amazing to see just how much these guys have changed over the years, and how much these changes have paralleled my own life. From angsty teenagers with angsty music to somewhat mature adults with somewhat mature tastes. Below is the video for the first single off their debut album – One Step Closer (2000). So much has changed in twelve years, so its great to see where it all started.

What do you think of the differences? What is your favourite Linkin Park song? Let me know or post some YouTube links in the comments below.

Next post I will look at The Offspring

Fading Light – An Anthology of the Monstrous

Well it’s been almost a month since my last post but I’m back and with some great news. This September will see me get my first publication credit as an author. YAY!!!!

My short story Light Save Us will be coming out through Angelic Knight Press as part of the anthology Fading Light – An Anthology of the Monstrous, edited by Tim Marquitz of Demon Squad fame. This is a horror anthology, a very dark horror anthology, and Tim managed to secure some really big names. The biggest of which is Mark Lawrence, that guy whose book caused an internet meltdown because of “all the rape” (follow the link and decide for yourself). I am absolutely stoked that my story will be leading into his, and I hope all those people who pick up the anthology for a Lawrence short story enjoy all the other amazing stories in there.

I’ll keep you posted on the release details, but until then expect me to start acting like a rock star. You guys have been beautiful, peace out.

Australia Day – Are You Proud?

The 26th of January 1788 saw the First Fleet land at Sydney Cove to begin the European colonisation of Australia. We mark that date with a public holiday every year – it is a chance to celebrate with our friends and family what we think it means to be Australian. BBQ’s in the backyard, pool parties, alcohol, cricket, and JJJ’s Hottest 100 are recurring elements from almost every one of my Australia Day celebrations, but unfortunately I didn’t have any lamb this year…

I’m not sure what it is but for some reason, Australia Day seems to bring out both the best and worst in people. From the Kalgoorlie race riots in 1938 through to yesterdays semi-violent protests, Australia Day seems to be used as an excuse to incite violence against those who are deemed “unaustralian”. It is disappointing that we continue to see this race issue crop up year after year, and pictures like this give an impression to the world of what it’s really like to live here:

This from a high profile media personality

An attack on the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader

The Australian flag cape is a nice touch...

And if you look closely at his boxer shorts...

It is actions like this that tarnish Australia Day for everyone. When we look at them we question whether or not we are proud to be Australian because people act like this in the name of Australia.

Am I proud to be Australian? Of course I am. We do so much good as a nation and it is those actions we should acknowledge and be proud of. Our professionals are leading the world in a bunch of different fields, are economic strength has allowed us to provide generous support to struggling nations in this time of financial crisis, and for the most part we are just a bunch of people lucky enough to live in a country where we can take a day off to BBQ some lamb and listen to some music.

Not all images from Australia day are bad, and I will leave you with one of my favourites – my nephew gearing up to celebrate what it means to be an Aussie.

Proud to be Australian