30 January 2011

Book Review - The Maker of Universes

I’m not sure why I waited so long to read this book. It is the first of the World of Tiers Series by Philip José Farmer. This book had great influence on Roger Zelazny as he created his Chronicles of Amber series. I became interested in the Amber series nearly twenty years ago when a diceless role-playing game was released set in the Amber universe.

On top of this, about five years ago I learned of the Wold Newton Universe that was a creation of Philip José Farmer. I loved the Wold Newton concept and began exploring Farmer’s other writings.

So now, finally, I’ve begun reading a series by one of my favorite authors which was the basis of another author’s creation that became one of the my favorite role-playing games. As I said earlier, I’m not sure why I waited so long to begin reading it.

I was not disappointed in it.

The tale begins in Arizona circa 1965. Robert Wolff, an old man facing retirement, discovers a portal to another world. A man named Kickaha in that world throws him a horn that can open the portal to that world. Later Wolff manages to re-open the portal and finds himself in a fantastic new world.

Over a period of days he encounters the peaceful and child-like natives. It is a world of plenty with little suffering; a paradise. During these early days Wolff begins to lose weight and becomes younger.

However paradise is not all it’s cracked up to be. Immortality and having all their need met have made the natives weak and unable to handle the simplest of challenges. Wolff meets and eventually falls in love with a strange woman named Chryseis. She claims to be the same Chryseis mentioned in the stories of the Trojan Wars.

Things begin to get interesting as strange misshapen creatures appear hunting the horn in Wolff’s possession. On top of this, these creatures have also kidnapped Kickaha and plan to take him to the Lord of the world. Additionally we find out why the series is called World of Tiers. This new world is a series of gigantic cylinders stacked atop each other. Thirty to sixty thousand foot climbs are required to get up or down to another tier of the world, an act that is forbidden by the Lord.

To make a long story short, and to avoid giving away any spoilers of the storyline, Wolff, Kickaha, Chryseis, and others make their way across all of the layers of the World of Tiers in an attempt to learn the secret of the Lord. They travel across the varied and interesting civilizations across the various tiers. The whole story captures the feel of the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Overall this book is very interesting, an easy read, and a perfect set up for a series. If you like interesting worlds, monsters, and civilizations it might be worth your while to give this book a shot.

While poking around looking at book review blogs and looking for ways to make my future book reviews less lame I came across the 100+ Reading Challenge at My Overstuffed Bookshelf blog. It is an attempt to get people to try to read a hundred or more books during the year.

I’ve gotten a slow start this year, but since audio books are included in the count I might have a shot. I think that in a normal year I read thirty to forty books, but it will be interesting and motivational to keep track of what I’m reading. Unfortunately it doesn’t include short stories, magazines, and internet articles that take up a chunk of my reading time.

At least I’ll get some extra mileage out of my library card this year.

26 January 2011

Mutant of the Week - Xera

This week we've got a Shapeshifter-Precient. Actually it's kinda a strange one to roll given the week I've had.

STR: 9 (-1)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 16 (+3)
INT: 16 (+3)
WIS: 10 (0)
CHA: 18 (+4)

Hit Points: 28
Fortitude Save: +14
Relfex Save: +16
Will Save: +16
Armor Class: 12

+2 to bio overcharge

Skills - Interaction +8, Acrobatics +4

Mutant Powers
Subtle Motive
Shapeshift Feint
Third Eye
Thwarted Defense

Xera was a hideous mutant as a child. Tar-like blackish-green lumpy skin, triple the normal weight for a humanoid her size. All of that changed at adulthood when her mutant powers fully manifested. Now she can take the shape of just about any humanoid she can imagine.

Combined with here extraordinary ability to read people she had become a master of disguise and deception. She uses these powers primarily for survival, sometimes to benefit herself in property, and occasionally because of the sense of power she has manipulating and fooling people.

20 January 2011

More Movie Reviews

Over the years I have written some other movie reviews on another blog. Below is a list of some of them with links to the original reviews. Most of these are war films.

The Blue Max: The story of a German aviator during World War I and the class struggles in Germany at that time. One of my favorite air combat films set during the Great War.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A German boy befriends a Jewish boy who is in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Several parts of the story don’t make real sense, but it is a power film all the same.

Breaker Morant: Set during the Second Boer War. Tells the story of Australian soldiers on trial for murder.
“War changes men’s natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men, the tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations….Soldiers at war are not to be judged by civilian rules… even though they commit acts which calmly viewed afterwards could only be seen as unchristian and brutal….. We cannot hope to judge such men unless we ourselves have been submitted to the same pressures, the same provocations as these men whose actions are on trial.”

The Dawn Patrol: World War I air war movie. Errol Flynn & David Niven star.

Hell’s Angels: Another World War I air combat movie. Some very innovative stuff in it considering it was made in 1930. This one was made by Howard Hughes.

Joyex Noel: A mediocre telling of the story of the Christmas Truce during World War I. Not a terrible film, but it doesn’t live up to the potential of the real event.

18 January 2011

Mutant of the Week – Boimp

Dang, I was hoping for a Gelatinous-Plaguebearer but instead my dice gave me: Gelatinous-Wheeled

STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 16 (+3)
INT: 9 (-1)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 17 (+3)

Skills: Stealth +4, Athletics +4, Conspiracy +4

Fortitude Defense: 17
Reflex Defense: 14
Will Defense: 14
Armor Class: 11
Initiative Modifier: +2
Hit Points: 28

+2 Bio Overcharge
Paralytic Goo
All-Wheel Drive
Maximum Overdrive

Boimp is a translucent blob of gelatinous material in a spherical form a little over four feet in diameter. In the center of this mass is a humanish skull with tendrils of nerves spreading all throughout the mass. Boimp has trouble changing its shape from this spherical one so tends to roll and bounce around for movement. It can create temporary arms and digits to manipulate equipment and can draw small items into its mass for transportation.

The gelatinous mass of its body rolls around in any direction while the central skull stays relatively stable. Boimp doesn’t get dizzy rolling around the neighborhood.

Boimp’s favorite places to roam are the ruined highways. Always on the lookout for useful salvage and potential enemies (and friends!). It is very enthusiastic about learning new things and uncovering conspiracies.

17 January 2011

LPNY 2010 Results

In the last gubernatorial election here in New York the Libertarian Party of New York had its best showing in its forty-year history. Unfortunately that still ended up being 1,614 votes too short. Candidate for Governor Warren Redlich earned 48,386 votes but didn’t receive the 50,000 needed to give the LPNY ballot access.

What is ballot access? Ballot Access would allow for primary elections and allow for statewide candidates to be exempted from having to petition. Petitioning in a process where, for statewide candidates, over fifteen-thousand signatures are required from a majority of the state’s congressional districts to get on the ballot. It is an expensive and time consuming procedure. That’s just the basics, as with anything else it is more complicated. Check out the New York State Board of Elections for more information.

Ballot access would allow for resources to be spent in better ways. Informing the public about a candidate and running their campaign as opposed to trying to get signatures.

The televised Governor’s debate that brought in all of the candidates was of great help. It allowed the LPNY to get part of its message out. Unfortunately I don’t think that we’ll see the third parties invited back again.

Who gained ballot access in the 2010 election? Just six parties making up only three candidates. The Democrats and Republicans both easily had over 50,000 votes each… they each easily had over a million votes each. Beyond that were the Conservative, Working Families, Independence, and Green parties. Out of these additional four only the Green party ran its own candidate for governor. For the most part the other parties I mentioned just nominated a Democrat or Republican for all of the slots they wanted to fill. To me that makes these other parties less legitimate, the Greens and Libertarians ran their own people but the Conservative, Working Families, and so-called Independence party did not.

Now there is nothing wrong with a candidate running for a couple of parties. Smaller parties may want to take advantage of nominating a couple of candidates from other parties if their philosophy is favorable. Its just when entire third parties exist that have nothing of their own to run on. To be fair the Conservatives have run their own candidates for governor in the past, but not many recently. The Independence party should really have been called the Golisano Party since it was the vehicle for his own attempt to win the governorship. Once Golisano left I’m not sure what the point or ideals of the Independence Party are.

So basically instead of having six choices we only have two or three choices with different party names attached to them to make us feel like we have choice. Of course maybe I’m out of touch; if the people wanted more than two parties they would vote for a third, forth, and fifth party. All I usually hear is a lot of grumbling about the lack of choice by people who either end up not voting or voting for one of the two major parties. In a way that is amusing, in another way that is sad.

If everyone who didn’t vote who could have in the last election here in New York voted for Warren or Jimmy McMillan that person would now be Governor, so don’t think you don’t have power.

Campaign finance reform, fairness doctrines, and civility won’t save our political system. People going out and voting for what they think is best is what we need. The Democrats & Republicans want you to stay home on Election Day, they already have enough votes.

16 January 2011

Review - Green Hornet

Despite my better judgment I went to see Green Hornet today. It sure was a let down even when not expecting much. At best this film was lame, at worst it insults rather than honors the character and its creators.

There were no good performances from any of the actors. Seth Rogen (the Green Hornet) was annoying, David Harbour (D.A. Frank Scanlon) was one dimensional, and Chrisoph Waltz could not even manage to play an entertaining villain.

The Green Hornet and Kato have little reason to begin crime-fighting other than for kicks. As they stumble around trying to climb the ladder of the underworld they have no goal other than making a name for themselves. They have no idea of what they are doing or the death and destruction they will cause. There is nothing heroic about these heroes.

The original concept of a hero that pretends to be a villain to help bring down the underworld and other forces of evil is great. A great idea to help keep the villains from using innocent people as tools to use against heroes…. If the bad guy thinks you don’t care about the innocent he won’t go out of his way to threaten them.

Bad jokes, poor acting, Seth Rogan’s annoying voice, and a lame story all make this a terrible movie. In an age where comic book hero movies are becoming more and more mainstream it would have been nice for the Green Hornet to get a fair shake in terms of taking the character seriously. If Batman were treated as poorly as the Green Hornet was in this film there would have been an uprising of the fans (okay, there was Batman & Robin…. But that did cause trouble and forced a much needed reboot for the Batman film franchise).

I’ve listened to a number of the old Green Hornet radio shows. Any one of them was better than this movie.

Anyway, don’t see this one.

(as an added note I do plan on checking out The Green Hornet Chronicles, edited by Win Scott Eckert. I’m certain it will meet my expectations better than the movie)

11 January 2011

Mutant of the Week - Fredbert

This week we have a Mind Coercer–Cryokinetic. Also, my dice were much nicer to me in rolling up his remaining stats.

STR: 10 (0)
DEX: 16 (+3)
CON: 15 (+2)
INT: 16 (+3)
WIS: 11 (0)
CHA: 20 (+5)

Skills: Interaction +4, Stealth +4, Science +4

Fortitude Defense: 14
Reflex Defense: 15
Will Defense: 18
Armor Class: 11
Initiative Modifier: +4
Hit Points: 27

+2 Psi Overcharge
Group Telepathy
Mental Push
Frosty the Mutant
Icy Grasp

Fredbert was born in the high mountains. He led a group of survivors and with his mental abilities managed to dominate and profit well from his group’s activities.

That all ended one day when a bizarre, radioactive, winged polar bear attacked their camp. Fredbert’s allies were all dead and he was severely wounded by the creature. In the weeks after the attack he learned that he had further mutated and was developing cryokinetic powers.

To-day Fredbert is traveling the world looking for the right group of weak-willed adventurers to become his new slaves.

04 January 2011

Mutant of the Week - Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is another mutant for the D&D Gamma World game (game by Wizards of the Coast).

This one is a Nightmare-Entropic

STR: 10 (0)
DEX: 7 (-2)
CON: 11 (0)
INT: 18 (+4)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 16 (+3)

Fortitude Defense: 11
Reflex Defense: 16
Willpower Defense: 16
Armor Class: 12
Hit Points: 23
Psi overcharge +2

Skill Bonuses: +4 bonus to Interaction, +4 bonus to Science, +4 Nature

Mutant Powers
Insidious Mind
Fear Manifested
Disrupting Touch

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz is a bizarre being from a twisted and dying dimension of nightmares. During the cataclysm that lead to the destruction of civilization on Earth the barriers to this nightmare realm were weakened. A century and a half later Zzzzzzzzzzzzz broke its way through and began exploring this bizarre new home.

It has learned how to control its appearance to look like a relatively normal humanoid. This was a survival trait in its new environment. As time passed it began to learn more about the laws of nature and physics on Earth. However, at times of high stress or danger, Zzzzzzzzzzzzz can revert to its true form which can cause intense fear in all onlookers.

03 January 2011

Some books I read in 2010

Here is a list of many of the books I read in 2010.  I’ve missed a few and this doesn’t include magazines, audio books, or role-playing game books.  Bookmooch, library cards, and ebooks are great things.  If I’m lucky I’ll never have to buy another book again.

1) The Fantastic Island: by W. Ryerson Johnson and Lester Dent (writing as "Kenneth Robeson"). Doc Savage and crew get caught up in a series of incredible events which are directed by an evil Russian mastermind on an island in the South Pacific.
2) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: by Stephen King. This is the first Stephen King book I've ever read. Useful tips on writing.  Haven’t finished this one yet.
3) Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace: a 552 page graphic novel collecting all the stories of a World War I German fighter ace.
4) The Fourth Horseman: One Man's Mission to Wage the Great War in America: by Robert Koening. The story of an American of German descent that betrays the US and attempts to use germ warfare to sabotage the American war effort.
5) Will Main Fly? And Other Strange & Wonderful Predictions From the 1890s": compiled by Dave Walter. A collection of predictions made by dozens of influential Americans in the 1890s about what life would be like in the America of the 1990s.
6) Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron: by Peter Kilduff.  Still need to finish this one.
7) Caliphate: by Tom Kratman. A story set in the dark future of 22nd century Europe.
8) Don't Tread on Us: book designed by Mark Karis, forward by Chuck Norris.  A nice book filled with photos of some of the important events of 2010.
9) Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu: by L. Neil Smith.  It doesn’t always take an Empire to tread on the rights of individuals, the small time planetary authorities can be just as corrupt and evil as an Imp.  Lando manages to turn the tables and the bad guys and helps solve the mystery of the Mindharp of Sharu.
10) Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon: by L. Neil Smith.  Lando’s enemies go to some rather extraordinary lengths to get revenge on him.   It all starts on a world where owning a holdout blaster is a bigger crime than killing someone.
11) Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of Thonboka: by L. Neil Smith.  The conclusion of the Lando Calrissian trilogy.  Lando manages to con his way through an Imperial blockade and into the Starcave of Thonboka.
12) Blood on the Snow: by Graydon A. Tunstall.  History of the Carpathian Winter campaigns of 1915.  A great overview of the Austo-Hungarian/Russian front during the first winter of the Great War.
13) The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: An anthology of stories edited by John Joseph Adams about Sherlock Holmes.  Many different authors contributed including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, and others.
14) The Men Who Stare at Goats: by Jon Ronson.  I haven’t seen the movie based on this one.  Don’t think I will either… not because the book is bad but because I liked the book.  Great stuff in here if I ever run an Illuminati campaign for GURPS or something.
15) Star Trek Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions: A collection of stories set in alternate Star Trek histories.  I guess it shows how complex the history of the Star Trek universe is when they can start to publish alternate history novels for it.
16) Star Trek Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism: More stories set in alternate Star Trek universes.
17) Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier’s Story: By Vladislav Tamarov.  A great book.  It is filled with photographs taken by the author when he served in the Soviet military during their ill-fated campaign in Afghanistan.  Each photo is accompanied by his thoughts and memories.
18) 1901: by Robert Conroy.  In this alternate history novel the German Empire invades America in 1901.  Rather well done despite its seemingly outlandish premise.
19) Devil Dog: by David Talbot.  Pulp History book about American hero Smedley Butler.  This book is a great overview of his amazing life.  Some assumptions were made about some historic events and some could have been researched better, but a good book overall.
20) Shadow Knights: By Gary Kamiya.  Pulp History book about covert black ops against the Third Reich.

Hopefully I can manage to read much more in 2011.

If you don’t have a library card you might want to consider doing so.  Today in the age of the internet your local branch can get books in form across the county and state much easier than in the old days.

What books have you been reading?

02 January 2011

Kiva in 2010

Happy New Year!

2010 was my first year using Kiva.  Over the year I made a total of 14 micro-loans to people in 14 different developing countries.

Total Amount Lent                                            $350.00
Total Amount Repaid                                        $155.19
Total Amount Lost                                            $   0.00
Total Amount Refunded and Expired                 $ 18.13
Outstanding Portfolio                                        $176.68
Delinquency Rate                                              2.02%
Amount in Arrears                                            $3.57
Number of Loans Delinquent                            1
Default Rate                                                     0.00%
Amount of Ended Loans Defaulted                    $   0.00
Amount of Ended Loans                                   $ 75.00
Currency Exchange Loss Rate                          0.00%
Amount of Currency Exchange Loss                 $  0.00
Donations to Kiva                                             $11.25

In a group I belong to on Kiva these was a question about the amount of interest charged some of the borrowers for these microloans.  While some of the interest rates may have seemed excessive I believe that might be more due to the fact that many of these developing nations have interest rates that America has not seen in a long time.  A high inflation rate would drive interest rates up, a lender has to at least get the purchasing power they loaned back from the borrower.

Given that default rates are still very low it appears that few of the borrowers are having major problems paying back their loans.  Still this is all something I should take a closer look at in the coming year.

One final note, I did withdraw an amount out of my Kiva account.  It was not as instantaneous as the donations, but within a week or so I did get some of my money back.
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