Sci-Fi Month – Review of Press Start to PlayAnthology

Press Start to PlayPress Start to Play by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



My final review of what has been a very enjoyable Scifi Month



Video games are a multi-billion dollar a year industry that has outpaced movies and books combined. The humble, pixelated games of the ‘70s and ‘80s have evolved into the vivid, realistic, and immersive form of entertainment that now rivals all other forms of media for dominance in the consumer marketplace. For many, video games have become the cultural icons around which pop culture revolves.

PRESS START TO PLAY is an anthology of stories inspired by video games: stories that attempt to recreate the feel of a video game in prose form; stories that play with the concepts common (or exclusive) to video games; and stories about the creation of video games and/or about the video games—or the gamers—themselves.

These stories will appeal to anyone who has interacted with games, from hardcore teenaged fanatics, to men and women who game after their children have gone to bed, to your well-meaning aunt who won’t stop inviting you to join her farm-based Facebook games.

At the helm of this project are Daniel H. Wilson—bestselling novelist and expert in artificial intelligence—and John Joseph Adams—bestselling, Hugo Award-nominated editor of more than a dozen science fiction/fantasy anthologies and series editor of Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy(volume one forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin in 2015). Together, they have drawn on their wide-ranging contacts to assemble an incredibly talented group of authors who are eager to attack the topic of video games from startling and fascinating angles.

Under the direction of an A.I. specialist and a veteran editor, the anthology will expose readers to a strategically chosen mix of stories that explore novel video game concepts in prose narratives, such as save points, kill screens, gold-farming, respawning, first-person shooters, unlocking achievements, and getting “pwned.” Likewise, each of our authors is an accomplished specialist in areas such as science fiction, fantasy, and techno-thrillers, and many have experience writing for video games professionally.

Combining unique viewpoints and exacting realism, this anthology promises to thrill generations of readers, from those who grew up with Atari 2600s to the console and PC gamers of today.

I love reading anthologies, its a great way to find new authors , read side stories so current favourites , and see a range of imaginations in bitesize form.
For me , in recent years I have found John Joseph Adams to be one of the best editors in the game.
This is a book I was quite excited to start and anticipated great things.
The book was inspired to some degree by Ernest Clines recent books but the intro reveals his story failed to make the deadline and the dissapointment continued from there. Its not all terrible. I enjoyed a reasonable amount of the stories. Andy Weirs humour shines through, Hugh Howey’s was a strong one to finish on, Rhianna Pratchetts was a decent story, Ken Liu’s was very good. Of the lesser knowns I quite enjoyed Jessica Barber. But so much of the rest ranged from ok to bad. Many barely fit the guidelines for the collection.
To be honest I think about 200 pages could have been cut and it would have vastly improve the book.
It felt like digging through a pile of muck to find anything of quality and frankly an anthology shouldn’t be that much effort.
Maybe they were a bit soft on the submissions or only got a very small amount buy it really could have done with a harder hand .
Its a bit of a shame , the idea did bring out some good imaginative stories but I won’t be recommending this too much.

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Sci-Fi Month Review Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Gods of Mars (Barsoom #2)The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit brainless and manic in parts but still a fun and interesting story. Not only does the story build up the mythology of Mars it then proceeds to tear it back down again in over the top masculine ways.
Carter is as arrogant and alpha male as the previous book and is all about killing thousands to save one or two. Its all gung ho with the action turned up to eleven.
The one big difference to A Princess of Mars is that the racism is toned quite a bit down, ok it is a planet split between various barbaric war like races defined by their colour but its not as balatant and insulting here. Its still highly sexist with any female stepping within ten foot of Carter falling madly in love and becoming all but useless.
And with the added Carter Jr its (one of the worst hidden twists in the history of books) its just added crazy sword wielding action to the whole thing.
The ending is quite an interesting little cliff hangar to keep the series flowing along.

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Sci-Fi Month Review of We Can Build You by Philip K Dick. Two books mashed together

We Can Build YouWe Can Build You by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louis Rosen and his partners sell people–ingeniously designed, historically authentic simulacra of personages such as Edwin M. Stanton and Abraham Lincoln. The problem is that the only prospective buyer is a rapacious billionaire whose plans for the simulacra could land Louis in jail. Then there’s the added complication that someone–or something–like Abraham Lincoln may not want to be sold.

Is an electronic Lincoln any less alive than his creators? Is a machine that cares and suffers inferior to the woman Louis loves–a borderline psychopath who does neither? With irresistible momentum, intelligence, and wit, Philip K. Dick creates an arresting techno-thriller that suggests a marriage of Bladerunner and Barbarians at the Gate.

Philip K Dick pretty much produces a schizophrenic book about schizophrenia, pretty much two very different books mashed together. Not that it doesn’t work. In one part its quite a straight forward an interesting scifi about robots and artificial intelligence, with some business negotiations and politics thrown in alongside a few interesting characters including robotic versions of the Civil war politicians , then it morphs into a book about a descent into madness brought about by the rest of the book. One character , Pris is known to have mental issues from the start but it is the descent of Louis Rosen that makes up the last section.
The book is a strange one but the weird mix still works by and large.

In saying that I’d love to have seen more of the robot development and seen where the idea could have gone, it does feel like that side was completely cut off once the madness kicks in. Little bits of cheeky fun like a robot John Wilkes Booth turning up to scare Lincoln go down well and I’d have liked to see more.Still a good read

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Sci-Fi Month Movie Review – Logan’s Run – So bad but so good

Logan’s Run (1976)

Sometime in the 23rd century… the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything.

There’s just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of carousel.

I meant to watch a film I hadn’t seen every week of Sci-Fi Month but my choice for this round couldn’t be found so I went with an old favourite.
I don’t hide that I love 70’s dystopic scifi and Logans Run falls well within this zone .
Like a lot of the films released around the time, the special effects are both ingenious and bad by modern standards. Long before computers made special effects fairly standard across films ,a lot the fun of scifi at this stage is seeing how they used workarounds and ingenuity to set the scene.
A lot of the pan out shots are obviously a table top model, the robots are simply awful with basically a guy inside glorified tin foil, the lazer beams are like small fireworks. The carousel machine into which those who have reached thirty must enter isn’t too bad, but the explosions are very weird.
The acting in general is fairly awful, Michael York was always terribly wooden and Farrah Fawcett’s cameo is terribly camp.Peter Ustinovs end cameo borders on weird .
Not to mention the over the top sexism with the distinct lack of underwear for most of the female characters, an all male future police force.
And yet for all the faults, and this for me is the beauty of so much 60’s and 70’s Scifi, the sum of the parts is so much more, for all the faults its still very entertaining and fun. You can’t help but enjoy the hwole lot. Its somewhere in the same bracket as the Hammer Horrors. You know its bad but still want to watch and will walk away satisfied.

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Sci-Fi Month Review- Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi – A great follow on to the series

Zoe's Tale (Old Man's War, #4)Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wondered where Scalzi was going to go with this installment of the Old Mans War series and lo and behold he cheekily sells us the previous book The Last Colony all over again. But far from being short changed its actually a great idea.
As i said this book is pretty much the same as The Last Colony, but retold completely from Zoe’s perspective.
So basically you read the whole book knowing exactly where its going but the added detail and gaps filled, along with the new perspective make this a great addition . It can’t be easy retelling a previous book through another character , but Scalzi manages to do it somehow without it getting boring at all. He also writes a teenage girl worryingly well.
Zoe was a favorite character of a lot of readers of the series and great to see the author take up a tough challenge in fleshing the character out so much.
This book also brings a new level of emotion to the series and gives more background to other species than the others.
All in all this series just keeps giving

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Sci Fi Month Review – Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett – Pratchett turns computer games on their head

Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell, #1)

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the mighty alien fleet from the very latest computer game thunders across the computer screen, Johnny prepares to blow them into the usual million pieces.

And they send him a message.

We surrender.

They’re not supposed to do that! They’re supposed to die. And computer joysticks don’t have ‘Don’t Fire’ buttons…

It’s hard enough, trying to save Mankind from the Galactic Hordes. It’s even harder trying to save the Galactic Hordes from Mankind. But it’s only a game, isn’t it.

Isn’t it?

A hugely entertaining and thought-provoking new adventure from the master of comic fantasy, Terry Pratchett, author of the bestselling Truckers trilogy.

While Pratchett’s main productions are Fantasy he occasionally tinkered in the scifi genre. This is the first part of a trilogy , based around a weird kid called Johnny Maxwell.
The book is fun and quite cheeky and still has the common Pratchett approach of turning things on their head to make you see things differently. In this case he completely reverses the basic concepts of an Alien shooter computer game, starting with the premise that the Aliens don’t want to die and decide to surrender and claim their rights under the Geneva convention. With a little bit of social commentary thrown in with the wit and tongue in cheek its still familiar Sir Terry and quite enjoyable , if a little short.

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Sci Fi Month Review – I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – A scifi that really makes you think


Earth is ruled by master-machines but the Three Laws of Robotics have been designed to endure humans maintain the upper hand:

1) A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm.

2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

But what happens when a rogue robot’s idea of what is good for society contravenes the Three Laws?

I, Robot
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazingly took me this long to get around to reading one of the classics.
I have seen the film and , shock of all shocks, it bears only a passing resemblance to the book.

The book is less about the technology and much more about the developing psychology of Robots , working around the changing understanding of the famous three rules of robotics.
Rather than one story the development is shown in a very interesting series of short stories told through the recollections of a famous Robopsychologist.
The little quirks that pop up , and how they are explained are intriguing and the oddities that pop up in the Robots range from funny to sinister.
This book is definitely a thinker , challenging your mind in many ways.
The three rules start out as something simple but the delicate balances between how they can be interpreted in given circumstances or after certain orders , and where they lead in the long wrong show how even something so simple can be very complex as well.
The level of genius is brilliant. and its definitely a Sci-Fi that has aged well

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