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Monthly Archives: February 2009

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The Worst 5 Upcoming Baen Books novels

5. Bardon’s Revenge of Fury by David Drake and David Webber – First they blew up his planet, then they blew up his galaxy and then they blew up his starship. But that was their last mistake. Now Jon Bardon, mercenary with a grudge, and former Imperial Commando of the Secret Space Guards is after the Ap’Rij’hit Ra’none and nothing will stand in his way including an alien armada, bounty hunters, a seductive Imperial princess and his ex-wife who is now the Empress or something. Let the fury begin!

4. Applebee’s Elves by Jody Lynn Nye and Sarah A. Hoyt – When Emmie Winston who has believed all her life in elves discovers elves working at her local Applebee’s she is delighted and her 13 cats are even more delighted. But the presence of evil land developers who want to turn the Applebee’s into a nuclear power plant because they hate mother nature is a threat to the discovery of the secret of the elves. Also one of the elves might be a secret prince or something.

3. Russkies of the American Empire by S.M. Stirling – When Mike Barton, forest ranger formerly in the Gulf War, stumbles through an unexplained doorway into an alternate universe where the Russians colonized Russia and turned it into a vast Gulag full of Indians, there’s only one thing for him to do, lead the Indian tribes in a rebellion against their Russky overlords. Also for some reason in this universe fire and friction based weapons doesn’t work requiring Mike to invent an entire technology based on ice.

2. Smash the Space Bastards from Orion! by Eric Flint, John Ringo and Dave Freer – What if dinosaurs ruled the universe except on earth? Also what if they could use magic? Now imagine a dinosaur galactic empire based on magic battling humans in technological starships who are the only race in the galaxy on whom magic doesn’t work. Also imagine that in a last ditch effort to stop humanity the evil space dinosaurs go back in time to the age of the Vikings requiring Captain John Mistletoe USN to ally with the Vikings of the 4th century to destroy the dinosaur space menace once and for all. Also Captain John Mistletoe is blind but he has a really smart psychic seeing eye dog. Imagine that!

1. The Imaginary Brigade by Mercedes Lackey and Lois McMaster Bujold – When the International Space Station explodes sending researcher Diane Crawford back in time to the Age of Atlantis when wizards use magic, she discovers that the most powerful magic of all is love, and also crystals. But will it be enough to save Atlantis from the elves and their fearsome Imaginary Brigade that doesn’t exist? Can Diane go back to the present after discovering her magical abilities? Can you think of a reason for buying this novel? Yes, you’re still only thirteen.

Did Bethesda Deliberately Cripple Fallout 3?

So you’re playing your way along through Fallout 3, exploring the Wasteland and doing lots of side quests, until you suddenly notice that shooting a Raider or unlocking a safe no longer produces that cha-ching sound. That’s right, you’ve hit that fantastic Level 20 cap, making much of the rest of the game pointless. Sure you can use Advlevel to artificially advanced, download a Mod with enough warnings about crashing the game to make even a dedicated overclocker think twice or keep constantly reverting levels. All of these solutions though are awkward and ruin the natural feel of advancing through Fallout 3.

Fallout 1 had a level cap at 21, Fallout 2 had no level cap at all. Fallout 3, which is a good deal larger than Fallout 1, has a level cap of 20. Or to put it another way, Bethesda created a sandbox game and then didn’t want anyone to keep on playing it, because it’s not as if Level 21 is the cutoff point at which you become superhuman or the point by which most players would have done most of the game. Unless you’re a very conservative player who doesn’t get into combat much and avoids XP giving situations, but you do plenty of the side quests and explore around, you will get the Level cap long before you’re even halfway through the game. I got it with only 16 quests completed. Not exactly sandbox friendly gaming there.

So why have the level cap at all? Bethesda’s planned release of 3 add on packs, answers that questions. Since Fallout 3 clearly does support levels beyond 20, the cap exists to keep the player down until he or she ponies up the money for the new packs. The first two packs are gimmick packs, recreate the Battle of Anchorage, which apparently would take you back to the war itself and to Pittsburgh for a battle with the raiders, meh. But the third one is equivalent to Oblivion’s Knights of the Nine, and will let you continue your quest in the Wasteland, deal with the Enclave once and for all, and oh yes, join the Brotherhood of Steel. All things that you of course can’t do in Fallout 3.

Like Oblivion, Fallout 3 suffers from a fairly short main quest that’s easy enough to finish, which is why smart players detour a lot and explore the gameworld. Fallout 3’s main quest is even shorter than Oblivion’s and while Oblivion had many problems, a deliberately crippled game wasn’t one of them. It is a major problem for Fallout 3, which through the level 20 cap cripples the game for extended play, and has a lot of locations, but cuts the overall game short in order to accommodate a future expansion. I have nothing against Bethesda making more money with add on packs, but those packs should not come at the expense of the main game itself.

The Narnia Movies are now DOA

I can’t say I’ll spend too much time in mourning, I have even less use for Narnia than I do for Harry Potter, in either book or movie form, and with Hollywood facing a cash flow shortage, they’ve chosen to look somewhere else. Creatively that’s fine. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe bastardized what little worthwhile there was about the book, and Prince Caspian was a great cure for insomnia. Financially it’s probably stupid to dump a franchise that paid off once, because of a weak second entry caused in part by attempting to do a favor for Walden Media.

I’ve written before that the kid fantasy trend is on the way out, but while Walden Media will no doubt churn out a third entry. Perhaps this time they’ll keep the budget under control. Walden Media has never been good at exercising budgetary common sense, and Prince Caspian would not have been such a problem, had its budget stayed under control. It’s not even clear, aside from the special effects, why the Narnia movies cost this much.

The Narnia movies don’t suffer from an overdose of expensive actors, and while Prince Caspian demanded more in the way of an investment in sets, shooting in the Czech Republic should have made that problem minor. Movies that look just as good are regularly churned out for a percentage of what was spent. Marketing the damn thing with a Starlight style poster featuring a Final Fantasy character looking very girlish certainly didn’t help. But while the kid fantasy movie has taken a beating, it will still wait around somewhere in the background I’m sure.

KOTOR MMORPG instead of KOTOR 3?

It is a real shame because the Knights of the Old Republic series were about the only Star Wars games worth playing, particularly when it comes to anything in the RPG category, smartly written and conceived by Bioware and Obsidian, they were landmark games that made Star Wars worthwhile a universe away from where George Lucas was relentlessly processing what was left of the Star Wars people knew into flavored yogurt for the mildly retarded tween market.

But money talks. Had Galaxies not been a whomping disaster, there might be a Kotor 3. Instead with Galaxies turning out at best mediocre, the search for a Star Wars MMORPG required a game concept that would be Star Wars but without competing with Galaxies. That made Knights of the Old Republic the inevitable answer and now it’s official, there will be a KOTOR MMORPG but no KOTOR 3.

Money talks and no shortage of franchises have taken a look at the mountain of money from World of Warcraft and thought some of it should belong to them. Interplay wanted a Fallout MMORPG instead of Fallout 3. Luckily we will finally get a Fallout 3, not another MMORPG. KOTOR wasn’t so lucky and I won’t be playing it. I prefer stories and first person adventures to spending time storming castles with Leeroy Jenkins and a horde of 12 year olds, but I’m sure it will be a good game within the limitations of the MMORPG, which is a lot like saying that Lord of the Rings would be great adapted to within the limitations of a daily newspaper comic strip.

Is the Kid Fantasy Movie Trend Dead Again?

There’s no real doubt that without Harry Potter and to a lesser degree Lord of the Rings there wouldn’t be quite so much interest in making fantasy movies for kids, but with City of Ember being the latest kid fantasy novel entry to bomb at the box office, the time for this trend would seem to be running out.

City of Ember is just one in a string of bombs of kid fantasy novels adapted for the big screen lately, from Prince Caspian, the second Narnia movie, A Series of Extraordinary Events, Eragon, The Seeker The Dark is Rising, The Golden Compass and The Spiderwick Chronicles (I won’t count The Last Mimzy) what we have is a long series of disasters. By now studios might be seriously rethinking making any more expensive kid or teen centered fantasy adventures. Especially after The Golden Compass and The Last Mimzy destroyed New Line Cinema.

So what went wrong? Walden Media gets some of the blame. Their first Narnia movie provided a temporary extension for the trend, but Walden Media’s habit of blindly bringing books to the big screen while sucking all the spirit of them is certainly part of the problem. Walden Media has a long nearly endless series of failures in this department, City of Ember is just the latest one, but the list includes The Water Horse, Nim’s Island, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Seeker The Dark is Rising and Bridge to Terabithia among others.

Low quality copycatting with Eragon, a truly terrible set of rip off novels turned into a bad movie, or The Seeker The Dark is Rising contributed to the problem too. Over the top budgets and expectations for the Narnia sequel and The Golden Compass turned what could have been successes into failures. Studios launched projects expecting them to become the new Harry Potter, but Harry Potter has a cult following, senseless as it may be, that really can’t be equaled and that took a fortune in marketing dollars to achieve in the first place.

Is It Time for 24 to End?

After a seventh season that never happened, its star’s extensive imprisonment, an aborted movie, an aborted premise for the season and now another production shutdown over script quality, (script quality, you have got to be kidding me) it might be time to ask whether the 7th season shouldn’t be 24’s last.

24 had a limited bag of tricks and those have all been played out, the return of Elisha Cuthbert only makes viewers wince, particularly those who remember the great mountain lion standoff. Jack Bauer hasn’t just been pushed beyond his limits, he’s been pushed beyond the shark, the additional cast have gotten too annoying to watch and at this point no one really cares.

24 was an innovative action series that dared to push the limits and it really is the only true action drama left on network television, which is itself a really sad commentary on network television. Lost and Heroes might admittedly have a shot, but they’re not in the same range. Still there’s only so long you can keep turning around the same bunch of tricks over and over again, only so many times Jack can try to retire, only to be dragged out of retirement or exile by some convoluted conspiracy that seems to involve foreign terrorists and foreign governments, only to connect to some local conspiracy, while Jack goes rogue and then races around on a bunch of twists and turns. We’ve seen it all. Maybe it’s time for all the talent involved to move on.

The Books of Senator Caroline Kennedy

What qualifies Caroline Kennedy to be a Senator? Well she wrote some books. Books such as A Family Christmas, featuring songs, poems and other things written by other people she liked, and got to publish as her own collection with a high advance because she’s a Kennedy. And then there’s A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, which is filled with, you guessed it, poems Caroline Kennedy liked that other people wrote and got to publish in a collection. And then there’s A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love, I think you can guess what this one is. That’s right, songs, poems and stuff that Caroline Kennedy read and liked, and got to publish cause she’s a Kennedy.

Ah but you want her serious books, well there’s Profiles In Courage For Our Time, a collection of, yes, and in no way does that trade in on her father’s name. Not at all. His famous book by the same name doesn’t at all relate to that. But you want her Constitutional law books? There’s In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights In Action, which is long since out of print and was co-authored with an actual working lawyer. Finally there’s The Right to Privacy, high on the sensationalistic factor and low on actual legal cred, again co-authored with an actual working lawyer, Ellen Alderman. The particularly odd thing you notice is that Caroline Kennedy keeps co-authoring even law school journal articles with Ellen Alderman. Her own work shows that Ellen Alderman can author her own stuff, but on her own her material wouldn’t have the fame that comes from stamping Caroline Kennedy’s name on the cover. But if her books on Constitutional Law are what give Caroline Kennedy a claim to being a Senator, shouldn’t Ellen Alderman also be up for the job?

Oh wait, I forgot. Ellen Alderman may have written the books that Caroline Kennedy takes credit for (And I don’t mean A Family Christmas) but her last name isn’t Kennedy. Too bad.

Buffy Season 8 Issue 21 Harmonic Divergence

Buffy has always had a problem with turning minor side characters into the main attraction. The series did it with Spike, they did it to some degree with Anya, but Buffy the comic book manages to do it with Harmony. Harmony was always a one shot joke, and the series knew that keeping her mostly in the background. David Fury did a good job sketching her into an Angel episode, but with a turnaround demonstrating that she was evil. Then the disastrous 5th season of Angel felt the need to drag Harmony back as a non-evil Vampire secretary and built one episode around her being framed for drinking someone.

This time around Jane Espenson pens Harmonic Divergence, the 21st issue of the rapidly sinking Buffy Season 8, and probably the worst and ugliest issue of the season to date. Which is pretty much what you can expect from Jane Espenson, since Marti Noxon apparently wasn’t available to do something even worse. Like Harmony it’s a shallow, annoying and completely empty issue with an ugly touch that sees the pointless death of a Slayer, and pushes the whole storyline way outside reality.

We begin with Harmony, back to being evil again, and getting her own Reality TV show after getting caught drinking Andy Dick’s blood outside a nightclub. This turns into an MTV reality show, and when a Slayer who struck out on her own tries to kill her, Harmony kills her instead, leading to CNN reporting on the evil army of Slayers. There’s lots of glib satire in there, but mostly it’s hard to believe that the world is suddenly ready to accept the existence of vampires, after Buffy was dedicated to the premise that the world wasn’t. And would that same world which saw Harmony drinking blood on TV really believe the vampires are the good guys? Satire may be satire but this is pushing against the boundaries of plausibility. Sure if you substitute terrorists for vampires, the metaphor can sort of work, but then again if terrorists turned into demons and drank blood on TV, they’d still be the ones with the PR problem, except maybe in Berkeley and the UK.

Buffy Season 8 was chock full of problems before, and another Far East issue which seems to be coming up next, is certainly not the solution. Still Issue 21 is a clear low point. It’s not just the return of George Jeanty, whose Harmony is virtually indistinguishable from Buffy, because neither of them look recognizable at all. It’s a storyline that discards all the continuity of two series’, in order to make a few jokes about a one joke character, that never connect.

Is the Saw Franchise Over?

As we speak Saw V is hovering in the bottom 10 having dropped down rapidly to the 10th spot with around 55 million, roughly the take of the first Saw movie. While that doesn’t sound so bad, the Saw movies hit their box office high with Saw II and Saw III scoring in the 80 and 90 million dollar range. But since then the Saw sequels have seen dropping numbers with Saw IV taking in only 63 million and Saw V certain to finish below that range.

The Saw movies are still solid performers, after all they don’t cost a whole lot to make, but that is deceptive because the Saw movies probably have a higher marketing budget than they do a production budget. The movies have always been cheap to make but more expensive to push on the general public. And Saw IV and Saw V clearly showed that the franchise is failing. Now LGF is not exactly so high flying that they can afford to turn up their noses even at Saw V but at the same time the writing is on the wall, and there’s only so many convoluted twists the Saw movies can throw out and only so many times they can bring Jigsaw back from the dead.

And that’s where we are now. Saw IV and Saw V were shot back to back in expectation of big profits. Instead these movies have been reviled even by their fans and the box office take is underwhelming even for Halloween. And with time passing, so do generations and tastes. So while a Saw VI is being made it’s up in the air how long it will be before the Saw movies become Direct to DVD offerings. If Saw VI continues the decline started by Saw IV and Saw V, Saw VII may well be Direct to DVD.

I’m Sorry, But I Find Your Hell Dimension Extremely Underwhelming

I know I’m not really supposed to say anything and it’s probably a really impolite thing to say but honestly I find your hell dimension really underwhelming. I mean I get what you’re going for, but the problem it’s the thing that everyone else is going for and that evil Playboy Mansion furnished by Alistair Crowley look with assorted bits of interior design from Ozzy Osbourne is just downright tacky.

Let’s get right down to it. I understand you probably can’t do anything about the sky and with that red was the obvious motif, but why limit yourself to just one color. I know that you’re trying to convey blood but most people are more likely to associate your shade of red with Coca Cola or Little Orphan Annie, because we don’t spend all our time wading knee deep in human organs. And that’s another thing, what all the corpses say to me is just bad housekeeping and that’s only terrifying to housekeepers and old maids. If you can’t even be bothered to clean up the place, how seriously am I supposed to take your inhuman organization in the first place? Even our own government cleans up after themselves, you don’t see giant piles of corpses littering the Pentagon now do you? All that a mess like this says is disorganization and your disorganization isn’t scaring anyone.

Also all the mysterious writing in an unreadable script isn’t really terrifying, even though it’s written in blood, because I can’t read what it says. It might be more frightening if I could read it and it said something scary, instead for all I know it probably says your dimension’s equivalent of NO PARKING HERE and NO SPITTING IN THE CORNERS. Finally could we get a few chairs in here. I mean you people must sit somewhere. You have the anatomy for it or enough of the anatomy for it. Let’s put in a sofa and a couch, hell you can even make it red, just try not to stick spikes on it.

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