The World Gone By

(A ramble about the Landmark beta, among other things.)

My writing partner Jenn and I submitted a manuscript to a publisher on Monday. Project codename: Space Boys has consumed us since the beginning of February and after hitting the submit button I suffered the usual bends as I arose from the quagmire of stress that surrounds the final phase of first draft editing, synopsis polishing and inevitable push and pull that accompanies every ejection of self. If you don’t understand what I just said, don’t worry about it. Just know that my fiction is usually a lot clearer.

Tuesday marked the first day of obsessive inbox refreshing—surely our synopsis and attached manuscript had kept someone from their pillow the night before! Apparently not. But that’s okay. Jenn and I love the Space Boys and we’re sure someone else will too.

So what to do until the obligatory twelve weeks of consideration expire? Well, we could write another book and we have in fact started book two. We’ve both also outlined several solo projects and there’s this other book we finished writing together last year, the second draft of which requires my attention. I also wrote a follow up to “Perfect” before Christmas. But, it’s hard to write (or edit) when you’ve just submitted your soul, at least for a few days, so I’ve done what any self-respecting twenty first century geek should do: I’ve thrown myself into gaming.

I started the week by finally bashing my way past sequence ten of Assassin’s Creed III. On Monday I obliterated stress and Redcoats and finally mastered the combat of this stupidly difficult game. Now that I know how to kill efficiently, I have killed everything and it’s been extremely satisfying.

On Tuesday I continued to cut a swathe through American history in between inbox refreshes and bursts of stress induced email to Jenn. On Wednesday I read three books and wondered what had happened to my Landmark beta invitation. It arrived too late for me, but not for my husband who downloaded, installed and played until the wee hours.

Thursday morning I entered another sort of Liberation—a server on the Landmark beta—and began mining my way to…well, I’m not sure what.

Landmark is part of the new EverQuest, called EverQuest Next. Jenn’s husband clued me in to a few details about the game last summer and will forever retain the blame if this game interferes with any of my careers (writer, reviewer, gamer, housewife and mother). It’s hard to put the blame for eight straight hours of mind numbingly boring gaming on anyone else’s shoulders but my own, however.

First of all, Landmark is not EverQuest. My mistake, there. I thought I’d cutting my teeth on rats and working my way up to dragons. Not so. I’m mining copper so I can build myself a better pickaxe, one that will allow me to mine the ingredients for a better axe, which will allow me to fell the right sort of trees for the handle of my new pickaxe, which will enable me to mine the silver I need for my next axe upgrade.

Scintillating stuff, eh?

Apparently so. Some folks have been at it since the beta opened on Wednesday and they have already staked claims throughout the worlds and built themselves an array of abodes, ranging from hovel-like structures to my husband’s simple platform of stone to displays of oddly artistic talent.

I claimed a hilltop plot and put down a stone foundation. That took me eight hours of labour. Though I did nothing but sit at my PC all day, it hurt. My legs and back were stiff and if I to mine another copper vein my head might start revolving on my neck—the full three hundred and sixty degrees. Also, every time I got stuck in one of my own mines claustrophobia gripped me so that I had to embark on a panicked series of jumps—keyboard and body—until my husband called out instructions from the den: dig your way out. I did and then fell into another hole. I also fell through the world several times and waited, stomach hovering up near the back of my throat for the screen to stop shifting and for my hapless adventurer to land on solid ground. Then I had to wait through the inevitable lag spike as the lacklustre ping shot from 103 to 1103 and then it was back to mining copper. It’s a thrill a minute…and I’m thinking about playing again today.

Why? Well, my tummy is still twisted up like an old plastic bag and I’m still obsessively refreshing my inbox. I know, I should be doing something more productive, and I will next week. Right now, I have a vague plan for a log cabin forming in my mind, one I can build before I go for my next axe upgrade. I’ll need to gather the materials for the right work bench to furnish my new home, though, so that will likely mean about thirty more hours of copper mining. God almighty, is this the future of gaming?

I never understood my daughter’s fascination for Minecraft. Well, I did sort of? I’ve lost months to various editions of The Sims…and I do literally mean months. I sort of get it now? Landmark is prettier, though. Here’s a screenshot of my plot:

EC1

But I’m not sure this game could capture my attention for months at a time…which is a good thing as my husband hasn’t been to bed in two days and one of us needs to be the adult around here. I do love the idea of building up from scratch. Landing in a world with nothing but the tools on my belt and working my way up. But despite dreams of grandiose castles, there is something missing from the Landmark experience: peril. My little adventurer can mine through the night without needing to eat or sleep. No nasties are waiting in the ravine yonder and my platform of stone hasn’t slid off the top of the mountain due to lack of proper support. There should be some challenge to all this manual labour, something other than tendonitis in my thumb. Beasts and bands of ne’er-do-wells.

They’re coming, apparently, and all of our building—which is a game in itself—is not entirely futile. Though Landmark will likely fascinate tens of thousands of budding architects and entice money from their pockets through one micro-transaction or another, it’s not just a world building sandbox. Some of these features may make it into EverQuest Next, which is exciting. Fantasy RPGs, massively-multiplayer or not, often lack the one thing that makes a world habitable: a proper home. The Sims Medieval almost got it, adding a dash of questing to the castle building, but there was too little of either to keep me fully entertained. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had gorgeous houses and I obsessively looted every corpse and barrel in order to furnish them—with premade sets that looked good until I got bored with the sameness of them. If I’d been able to mine stone and build my own house in the land of Skyrim, I might still be there, which would have been bad news for the Space Boys, no doubt.

So I’m excited to see what elements of Landmark will be incorporated into EverQuest Next. I don’t think I’m going to be mindlessly mining copper until then, however. First of all, I have a revolution to wrap up—will Conner and Haytham join forces until the end?—and another book to write. An outline to fiddle with, some character profiles to massage into sense and, oh, yes, my family will need feeding between now and whenever then is as well.

Here’s a link to Landmark details (outside of copper mining) and are some more screenshots of my experiences thus far.

Here's Sisimka, my hapless adventurer.
Here’s Sisimka, my hapless adventurer.
I went here looking for palm trees. I found sparkly gems. Pity I don't have a good enough pickaxe to mine them with.
I went here looking for palm trees. I found sparkly gems. Pity I don’t have a good enough pickaxe to mine them with.

Review: The Human Division

The Human Division by John Scalzi

Humanity is divided. Until recently, the Colonial Union and Earth had a codependent, if not mutually beneficial, relationship. In the highly anticipated follow up to The Last Colony, The Human Division checks the pulse of the galaxy after John Perry exposed the fact the Colonial Union sequestered planet Earth for two hundred years in order to farm colonists and soldiers. Earth now has a choice: ally with the Colonial Union or join the Conclave, which represents some four hundred alien races.

This time ‘round our tour guide is Harry Wilson, Colonial Defense Force (CDF) soldier and former member of the Old Farts. The Colonial Union is practicing diplomacy and Harry, who has been acting in more a technical than military capacity for several years, winds up a member of the B-Team. Also known as the Fire team, Harry and his cohorts—Ambassador Abumwe, Hart Schimdt of the Diplomatic Service, their reluctant ship’s captain, Sophia Coloma, and a handful of others—attend the lost causes. Situations where diplomacy is about to fail, or has failed, or might fail. Figuratively, they’re assigned a leaky dingy, given a rusted bucket and told to bail. It can’t get any worse, so do your best! Being the good, determined people they are, that’s just what they do.

Though the fate of humanity seems to be consigned to a rapidly oxidizing tin pail, Scalzi still manages to inject humour into nearly every page of the novel. The aliens spit, swear and sob. Diplomacy is sometimes decided by single combat and negotiations are interrupted by a brain in a box. A bush eats a diplomat’s dog. (Oops, the bit about the bush could be considered a spoiler.)

Harry and his team also face peril and sacrifice as they work not only for, but against the Colonial Union and the CDF, the Conclave and a mysterious third party intent on disrupting every attempt at diplomacy.

Continue reading “Review: The Human Division”

Review: The Last Wish

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher—acquired (stolen?) as a child and subjected to a form of mutation. Witchers are fed toxins and undergo rituals. The survivors develop immunity to the toxins and gain certain abilities as a result. They are designed for a single purpose—the hunt and slaughter of monsters, magical and otherwise—and spend their lives seeking contracts to that end. Geralt is quick-witted and talented with sword and sign (a form of hex magic which gives him several advantages in combat). His swords are imbued with magic and with the aid of poisons, he is a near invincible warrior. He can be a cold-blooded killer and completely mercenary in his pursuit of monsters. But as the tales collected in The Last Wish show, not everything monstrous is evil and beauty can be deceiving.

A series of loosely connected tales, The Last Wish serves as an introduction to a universe I encountered in the computer games, The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Written fourteen years before the first game, Sapkowski’s books have been adapted to comics, graphic novels, a movie and a TV series. More recently, the first two novels were translated into English and released in conjunction with the games.

Aside from introducing us to an alternate universe of swords and sorcery with many familiar elements—elves, dwarves, wizards and monsters—the stories in The Last Wish toy with well-known folklore. Tales like Beauty and the Beast and Snow White (to name just two) have been pulled apart and rebuilt for Sapkowski’s world and fit well with his lore. I enjoyed that aspect of the book as much as I did learning more about Geralt.

Continue reading “Review: The Last Wish”

Review: In the Land of the Living

In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner

Part family saga, part coming-of-age story, In the Land of the Living is a kinetic, fresh, bawdy yet earnest shot to the heart of a novel about coping with death, and figuring out how and why to live.”

I gave up on In the Land of the Living about one hundred pages in. The death of a character I had grown fond of definitely played a part in my loss of interest, but more, I tired of the passages of darkly descriptive prose, odd juxtapositions of point of view, thinly drawn secondary characters and overall pall of sadness.

Some books are meant to be sad, I know, and through the veil we see growth and triumph (otherwise I’m not sure of the point of the book except as a means of excising the author’s depression). There were triumphs in In the Land of the Living, but they were too bitterly won for my taste, and then ripped away. One might say, ‘such is life’, and I will acknowledge the world is not always the happy place I have known it to be. I do not require experience of such meanness, however, not when I primarily read for entertainment.

Finally, after a hundred pages, I could discern no plot outside the cycle of sadness and thin victory.

I liked Isadore; he felt very human, even though the author was very careful to expose only select thoughts. With the book spanning lifetimes, we can’t be expected to learn everything, but I still felt we might have known Isadore better. In essence, I would have liked it to be his and only his book, regardless of his eventual fate.

For those who read further, I hope Leo’s story proves as compelling and perhaps more joyful. Sadly, I did not have the perseverance to see for myself.

Review: One Step Too Far

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

I couldn’t sum up the premise of One Step Too Far any more eloquently than the official blurb:

An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful son. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life to start all over again? Has she had a breakdown? Was it to escape her dysfunctional family – especially her flawed twin sister Caroline who always seemed to hate her? And what is the date that looms, threatening to force her to confront her past? No-one has ever guessed her secret. Will you?

Emily’s secret keeps the pages turning, compulsively and obsessively, to the very end. The revelation doesn’t make the book, however, the story and the characters do. Snippets of the past from the point of view of Caroline, Ben, Frances, Andrew and Angel are not only engaging, but central to the plot. It is the convergence of these stories (in part) that set the scene for Emily’s apparent breakdown and flight. Her quest to start afresh is both extraordinary and heartbreaking, particularly as I am a mother. I could not imagine leaving my child behind, ever.

One Step Too Far is a strong debut novel. I enjoyed the experience of reading it (in fact, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a day) and quite liked the writing style. There were so many small observations that drew the reader into the narrative and placed them there. Emotion was finely wrought. I couldn’t decide if the way Seskis hid the secret until the very end was more cunning or clever. Both, probably. When the deception of words became clear, I experienced a surge of anger, but I quickly forgave her. I was too caught up in events and at that point, the story was far from over.

This is not a light novel, despite moments of levity. The tragedy that befalls some characters is shocking and sometimes extreme. But it’s written with a lot of sympathy on the part of the author which I think translates well to the reader. I’ll be on the lookout for another novel from Tina Seskis.