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So with a bit of delay, I finally get to post the yearly round-up of media consumed. ;)

So, books... um... not a whole lot this time. I haven't read this few books in years. I don't even have any explanation as to why.

colour key:
Loved it, will definitely read it again. 5*
Liked it, will most likely read it again. 4*
An okay book. Will sit on the shelf for a while before I consider reading it again. 3*
Disappointing, will probably not read it again. 2*
Strongly disliked it, will never read it again, unless you pay me. 1*


older entries:

Books read in

2015 (shelf on goodreads + meme thing)
2014 (shelf on goodreads + meme thing)
2013 (reviews on goodreads + meme thing)
2012 (reviews on goodreads)
2011 (reviews on goodreads)
2010
2009
2008
2007


1. The Element of Fire (1993) Martha Wellse-bookHistorical Fantasyreview (EN) 4*
2. The Phoenix Guards (1991) Steven Bruste-bookSci-Fantasyreview (EN) 3*
3. Rivers of London: Body Work (2016) Been Aaronovitch & Andrew CartmeltradeUrban Fantasyreview (EN) 3*
4. The Hanging Tree (2016) Ben Aaronovitchpaperbackgenrereview (EN) 3*
5. Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815) E.T.A. Hoffmanne-bookdark romanticismreview (GER) 2*
6. Richelieu. Der Ehrgeizige. Der Revolutionär. Der Diktator [Richelieu] (1967) Philippe Erlangerhardcoverbiographyreview (GER) 4*
7. Ich, d'Artagnan [Mémoires de monsieur d'Artagnan] (1987) Gatien de Courtilz de Sandrasa terrible translation! don't buy!fictional biographyreview (GER) 2*
8. Hornblower's Historical Shipmates: The Young Gentlemen of Pellew's Indefatigable (2016) Heather Noel-Smith & Lorna M. Campbellhardcovernon-fictionreview (EN) 4*
9. Lovecraft Country (2016) Matt Ruffe-bookhorrorreview (EN) 3*
10. Der Sandmann (1816) E.T.A. Hoffmanne-bookdark romanticismreview (GER) 3*
11. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011) Catherynne M. ValentepaperbackYA fantasyreview (EN) 3*
12. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) Ursula K. Le Guinpaperbacksci-fireview (EN) 3*
13. Rivers of London: Night Witch (2016) Ben Aaronovitch & Andrew Cartmeltradeurban fantasyreview (EN) 4*


Books read in 2016

I've linked to my thoughts on the invidual books on goodreads. There's so few of them that I can't even pick out highlights/low-lights (apart from the fake d'Artagnan biography which infuriated me. Because I read the German translation and as it turns out that one's heavily edited, missing all the "boring" politics and war stories and general boring facts of life in 17th century france (i. e. the things I had bought the book for and actually hoped to read) but left all the sex stories and romance intact (aka the stuff I don't give a shit about).

The majority of the books were okay. The Richelieu biography was a great supplement to the other Richelieu biography I read in 2015 and I made so many notes and bookmarked so many sections; and I still wish The Element of Fire weren't a standalone because I'm still in love with the characters months after finishing it, so I guess that one was my book of the year. *g*

Games played in 2016

I did try a whole lot more new games in 2016 than in the previous year, which might be part of why I haven't read as much in 2016.

In the order that (I think) I played them this year, and counting only stuff I hadn't played before:

1. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (2016) I made multiple entries on this blog about how much I enjoyed Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone, and, happily, Blood and Wine continues the trend of all TW3 content being just amazing. Though I prefer the plot of Hearts of Stone just a little bit more, this DLC got me with the sheer amount of references to the books, incuding the resurrection of one of may facourite characters from the books as a major character in the story of this DLC. Loved it. Even though the main plot didn't strike me quite as gripping as the one of Hearts of Stone, this finally DLC was better than a lot of full price games that I've played in my time (and it's last third holds some particularly exciting surprises [Spoiler (click to open)]particularly if you decide to search for a certain story book ^^) . It's part a medieval romance and part Se7en, but with Vampires. This DLC makes another, small change to gameplay (mutagens that allow you to modify Gerat's signs) that will be much fun a new game +. Unlike the new gameplay element added in Hearts of Stone which was decidedly unnecessary (is anyone really using rune slots anymore? Except maybe the ones that have a chance to deflect projectiles? ;) )


2. Limbo (2010) You know this game, so what am I supposed to tell you about it? If you have any interest in PC gaming at all you either have this game or you have heard of it. I found it just as good as probably anyone who played it, given its fame.

I don't think I have much intelligent to say about it, except I was surprised by how much of a polar opposite it is to Thomas Was Alone. They are both impressive, popular indie platformers that make heavy use of physics based puzzled, but each took the opposite direction design wise. Thomas was Alone is visually very minimalist. Its protagonists are literally coloured rectangles, and yet it manages to be a very emotional, gripping experience solely based on the audio narration and rousing music that infuses each rectangable easily with way more personality than you will find in all characters of - say - Rise of the Tomb Raider combined. Limbo, on the other hands, is remarkable for its lack of text and naration. Music and sounds in this game are very simplistic and understated. The game transports emotions and what there is of a semblance of a story through its black-and-white visuals, and yet I found it very hard to put down either, and I couldn't tell you which one I liked more, even though they both are so radically different (tho Thomas was Alone made me cry more, that's for sure... ;) )


3. Reigns (2016) Pretty much the first mobile game I've ever played (apart from fucking around with the pre-installed stuff on my nokia years and years ago ;) ). Basically, you play a king who keeps getting reborn as the next in line to his own dynasty of kings that has been cursed by the devil in an ill-thought-out deal for eternal life (Every King in that dynasty is basically the same person - you. Don't ask how, it just is. As soon as a King takes the throne he *remembers* his past lives and his deal with the devil and is forced to repeat history until he can break out and die in peace). Your immediate goal is to run your kingdom by keeping a balance between four resources: the church/faith, your military/soldiers, the common people/workforce and banks/money. Every turn you have to manage these resources usually by being confronted with a yes/no choice. Spend money to build a hospital? Start a crusade? Pet the dog? Enter the dungeon? Talk to the vase (seriously)? Having one of these resource providers become too powerful or too weak means an immediate game over. Let the church become too powerful and they'll take over. Let the people become too happy and they'll start a democracy. Neglect your military and you'll be invaded. Waste too much money and you'll be driven out of the country, and so on. Your longterm goal is to find a way to trick the devil into ending the vicious circle of rebirth you're trapped in, which involves a crazy series of events (if you do them right) in addition to you having to micro-manage your kingdom every turn. It's super fun and kinda addictive. :)


4. Trine 3 - The Artifacts of Power (2015). I knew this was going to be a let down compared the previous two games when I bought it. I was warned. I still tried it because while the way the devs implemented true 3D invironments turned out confusing (as in, you can't tell the background from the foreground which is bad, because you'll constantly get stuck in the background or fall off a cliff that you don't realise is a cliff) the gameplay still looked fun enough to warrant getting the game in a sale. But even when viewing this game as its own thing, unrelated to Trine and Trine 2, this game just isn't very good. It's not even a full game. It stops abruptly after a third of the story (you know it's roughly a third, because of the three things that you set out to gather you only collect one before the credits roll) because the devs ran out of money. It's just sad to a beautiful franchise like Trine die this way. Even with the background/foreground and the occasional problem with the auto-positioning of the camera this could have been a good game if only it had been finished. The strengths of Trine 2 are still in there, somewhere, but what content there is is a bit meagre, considering the price for which it was initially released.



5. Renowned Explorers - International Society (2015) (with More to Explore expansion (2016)) THIS IS THE GREATEST GAME! I mentioned this in the entry for 2015 as one of the games I was most looking forward to playing in 2016 based on this test video by TotalBiscuit and I was right to be excited. It is amazing. It's a rogue-like strategy game with some resource management and turn-based action (though the rogue-like elements are very downplayed). You control a group of novice explorers (in the James Cook style, but as international and racially diverse as you want) trampling over the world, engaging in some Indiana Jones style grave-robbing, all to be officially acknowledged as a better explorer at the big explorer party than your arrogant French colleague who insulted you in the game's prologue.

It's good for both spending an entire afternoon with it, or to just 20 minutes or an hour on a single expedition. The art style is unusual, but extremely pretty. The characters (design and personality) are adorable and must be protected at all costs. The humour is charming and inoffensive. The (largely) non-violent combat mechanics are endearing (you can choose to resolve a hostile encounter aggressively by bodily attacking people/hyenas/sheep(!) or whatever it is that stands in your way and cultural treasures, or in a friendly manner by convincing them that you're doing a good job (or just by befriending fluffy sheep when you want to start digging in their meadow <333), or in a devious fashion by insulting your opponents' style. It's very cute. One of the hidden enemies (i. e. they only show up randomly if you complete a certain sequence of sheep related events previously) is an enourmous, fluffy, pink sheep that can only be conquered by niceties and cuddles. :3). The randomisation keeps things fresh but the save-game options allow a frustration free gameplay if you're not hardcore into rogue-like game. Definitely recommend getting the More to Explore expansion as well, because it allows for more interaction between the members of your expedition team, and because it adds two of the funnest maps (particularly the Lost World Island is ... something. One of the bosses on that island. Well, I don't want to spoil, but I didn't expect that, and it still makes me cackle when I run into him...)


6. Pillars of Eternity (2015) (with The White March I (2015) + II (2016) expansions) If I weren't so hopelessly in love with Renowned Explorers this one would have no contender for my personal game of the year. I miss CRPGs in the style of Neverwinter and Plansecape: Torment. I don't mind having to read what amounts to 15 novels because the developers can't afford voice actors for everyone or voice-acted cutscenes, or just cutscenes in general, when the plot and characters are that engrossing. I found the game very reminiscent of Mask of the Betrayer (by the same developer) which happens to be my favourite game of all time (as far as storytelling/plot is concerned), but with the major difference that Obsidian ditched the one thing that prevents me from replaying Mask of the Betrayer all the time, which is the clumsy turn-based combat that was all the rage with D&D inspired CRPGs back in the day. Pillars of Eternity sports a talent based ability/spell system that is equally as multilayered as that of any NWN game, but in real-time (well, with frequent use of the combat pause, of course). It was simply fun to play. About 6 different adjustable difficulty settings allow you to choose how much attention to strategy you want to play in your game, or if you mostly want to forgo combat entirely (which I don't recommend, because I found the combat fun. But then, again, I've always had a lot of fun playing old-school RPGs. They're one of my favourite genres).

As I said, I also didn't mind that there were no cut-scenes or full voice acting, because not having any of that is something I grew up with. All scripted events in this game are written out in a style evocative of a p&p campaign and illustrated like a story book, and I adore it. But I do see a lot of complaining about that from other players who tried the game and I can see where they're coming from. If you're used to Dragon Age as the standard for video game party-RPGs, Pillars of Eternity WILL be a culture shock. There is no way around it. But if you've played games like Planescape you'll know exactly what you'll get. Get it, if you can, in a sales bundle with the White March DLC. It's a great expansion from start to finish (and it does have slightly more voice-acting than the main game *g*). And did I mention the companions yet? I love them. Some took a bit longer to grow on me, but eventually we got there. It's like with many of these party-rpgs, keep a character in your party long enough, discover their backstory, never want to let them go again. (Aloth especially. Protect Aloth at all cost. I love how this character was written. He started of by just reminding me of Sand a bit (NWN 2), but then his story takes a harsh turn, twice - no, thrice actually! And I just never expected any of this. I feel personally attacked by this game by emotionally compromising me like that. *pets Aloth* there, there).

I've uploaded a couple of screenshots to give you an impression of the scripted events and some ingame dialogue.


7. Owlboy (2016) This is a game that I hadn't heard of until pretty much its release date when suddenly everyone was talking about it ("everyone" meaning the couple of gamers whose online presence I'm following, most notably Jim Sterling who did a very charming (and in parts hilarious) test play of the game's demo). It's a platformer in which you play a mute little Owlboy named Otus (part boy, part owl), who, although bullied by his mentor and peers, sets out on a quest to save his village from robot Sky-Pirates with the help of his best friend. As Otis picks up more friends he can utilise new abilities to gain access to new platforms. The gameplay is pretty linear but mainly fun. By the time it starts to get too repetitive you're already playing the endgame.

The game wasn't quite as great as I expected after all the hype, but it's still pretty damn good, and sooooooooooooooo cute, and sooooooooooooo gorgeous. It's all pixel art, but just so pretty and detailed and I'm just in general very impressed by how pretty this game is. Add to that the incredibly beautiful soundtrack (some of the tracks just sound so serene, omg!). It's up there with Dust in a group of beautiful indie games with ridiculously small developer studios (though nothing, of course, will like ever top Dust in that regard. Not soon, anyway). Even if you don't plan on buying this, just do yourself a favour and look at screenshots or watch a couple of minutes from Jim's video. It will make you smile, it's so pretty!

I'd definitely recommnend this if you like platformers and can grab it during a sale. :) (unless you have a severe form of simulator sickness, in which case there is one part [Spoiler (click to open)]in which you have to ride a gian earthworm in a sequence during which there are a lot of flashing lights and the schreen spins in 360° degree circles and you have to avoid hitting objects while all of that is going on. I usually only get nauseous when I try to play first person games, and Owlboy is exclusively 3rd person, but getting that sequence right took me a long time because it kept making me sick (it's the one reason I haven't yet attempted to play the game all the way through a second time, as it is lovely and not that long actually. But if you do get simulator sickness easily you should abstain from this one.)


8. Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) (20th anniversary edition) Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. DD: I got so hype for this. It looked so gorgeous. It looked so intense! It is indeed gorgeous, but I can't say it's intense. It's ... exactly like its predecessor from 2013 except more same-y and boring (like, even the equipment you gather is exactly the same, and the actual tomb raiding is confined to just under 10 miniscule tombs (Baba Yaga DLC included) that you'll have solved within minutes each. If you weren't that keen on the previous Tomb Raider you should skip this and hope that the devs come up with something actually worth playing for the sequel. I mean, the 2013 Tomb Raider wasn't the most exciting game ever either, but at least there was a sense of urgency at times to the plot and most of the characters were interesting, and it kept me largely fascinated because I didn't use to play games in that style very often. But this game, this game is a snooze fest. None of the new characters seem to have any charisma, the gameplay is repetitive to ludicrous degrees, and Lara seems to have forgotten any character development she might have undergone in the previous game. She's just another sociapathic action game protagonist and isn't that sad.

I started playing this some time in December and I still haven't finished, I'm at 70% completion (including side objectives) and I'm lacking the motivation to really go in again and finish it. Perhaps I'd be more invested if I stopped doing the boring, optional "challenge" missions and stuck to the main stories, but everytime one of the main characters opens their mouth to make a "clever" observation of something obvious or to spout exposition in a breathless, dramatic voice I roll my eyes so hard I might as well do a backflip.





writing:

As for other fannish stats, I only uploaded 2 new stories to my AO3 this year (well, unanonymously ;) ). One with 98,735 words, and one considerately shorter with 6,119 words. ^^

I keep distracting myself from my own writing with new ideas that have to be attended immediately ... leading to currently about 5 works in progress. 4 of them multi-chapter. D:

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
hamsterwoman
Jan. 2nd, 2017 07:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, right, Phoenix Guards -- I didn't realize you'd read it back at the start of the year.

So it is actually my least favorite of the Paarfi books, because I agree with you that the characters feel the least fleshed out. The narration/style continues to be the same for the sequels, but either Brust tones it down a bit or me being more interested in the characters and the plot smoothed it out for me, because I found it less obtrusive in the other books.

If you're interested in giving the sequel a shot, I would be very happy to lend you Five Hundred Years After (which I liked much better). If you're intrigued by the world but don't want to read Paarfis long-windedness, Brust's main series, set in the same universe, are the Vlad Taltos books -- first person smartass from the POV of an assassin, with some very interesting fantasy minority/majority relastions issues. The setting is several hundred years and a catalysm later, but several long-lived Dragaerans are still there as background characters.

(The thing about The Phoenix Guards is that, as far as I've gathered, Brust basically wrote it to entertain himself and his friends and had not really expected to publish it; the other books, written for publication, are tightr and better, in both series.)



asthenie_vd
Jan. 4th, 2017 04:28 pm (UTC)
If I try another book from the series I'm gonna go with the main series I think. I wanna see what the author's actual writing style is like when he doesn't try to copy Dumas. I bet I'll like that better.
hamsterwoman
Jan. 4th, 2017 05:27 pm (UTC)
I bet I'll like that better.

Most people do, at least style-wise :)

The Vlad Taltos reading order differs depending on if you want to go in publication or chronological order. Most people seem to favor publication order, in which case Jhereg would be the first; internal chronology-wise, Taltos would be the entry point.
bm_shipper
Jan. 2nd, 2017 07:38 pm (UTC)
I haven'T read a single book all year... oops...

But you've written a lot, as it seems like, so that counts too in my eyes ;)

Good luck for your WIPs :) Hope you finish them :)
asthenie_vd
Jan. 4th, 2017 04:21 pm (UTC)
Well, you're more of a TV person, so that's okay. :)

Thank you! I hope so too. *g*
failte_aoife
Jan. 3rd, 2017 10:40 am (UTC)
Renowned Explorer is adorable. (But so frustrating...I never manage to beat the other guy XD). I never had the enormous sheep, though (but once Dracula fell in love with my thief and the went with us so he could be with him. Awwwww)
asthenie_vd
Jan. 4th, 2017 04:27 pm (UTC)
It is!

The pink sheep appears in the Highlands epidition (with the nuns). If you do all three special encounters in which you can help sheep, and you can find the shrine after that (it doesn't always spawn), then the big pink sheep appears and you can get a special treasure from it. :3

Aww, I think that only happened to my crew once (it depends on whether you end the encounter friendly, devious or hostile. I don't remember which, just that it's not hostile. XD If you take one of the other options, the count won't come with you, but he bites the person he's got the hots for, making them a vampire (this happens to Pedrinho all the time whenever I take him with me XDD). Though I haven't found out yet, what being a vampire even means in this game.)

Hm... have you tried a different difficulty setting? Or just reloading more often when a character fails on a wheel spin (I swear, whenever a character has a 90% chance at success I always get the single skull icon on the entire wheel on the first try! So yes, I reload. *g*)? Because I lost to the other guy only once in discovery mode (haven't tried adventure mode yet).
redfeu
Jan. 4th, 2017 12:01 am (UTC)
"Historical fantasy" always gets my attention. I started reading your review but didn't want to read any spoilers. The concept sounds great but I'm wondering if it's a challenging enough read. What would you rate the overall writing quality of the book - is it near-literary, passable, or a bit simple?

(Edit: The Element of Fire, that is!)

Hope you have a fantastic New Year, by the way. <3

Edited at 2017-01-04 12:01 am (UTC)
asthenie_vd
Jan. 4th, 2017 04:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely simplistic. The non-fantasy stuff is more fleshed out than the fantasy aspects, which is a bit of a shame, because what exposition for the fantasy stuff there is gets often dumped on the reader in a way that doesn't flow naturally from the narrative.
redfeu
Jan. 4th, 2017 06:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's definitely a shame! :/
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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