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prune has commented on (6) products.

California Voodoo Game by Larry Niven
California Voodoo Game

prune, July 26, 2008

Don't let "Voodoo" turn you off: it's *merely* the theme for the World Series of Fantasy Gaming. Five teams of six gamers each, the creme de la creme of the International Fantasy Gaming Society, are competing for the title. This is the biggest Game that Dream Park has ever hosted; even Alex Griffin and his security team have been pressed into service as extras in some scenarios. Tony McWhirter is one of five programmers on the GameMaster's team. Acacia Garcia is now a Loremaster in her own right, and Mary-M Corbett is back in action and meets the man of her dreams.

However, Acacia is with neither Alex nor Tony in this book: she's been dating Nigel Bishop, the gamer extraordinaire, who has come out of retirement for one last stint as team leader. His religion is "The Art of War". For Acacia and Twan, it's the game itself. Al Nakagawa is an expert on surviving these expeditions, and Major Clavell is in this for the honor of the army ... with Corporal S.J. Waters (the snot-nosed novice from Dream Park) now matured and ready to do his best for unit, country, and the IFGS spectators.

As usual, there's a murder to solve, this one a personal vendetta for Alex. As usual, Niven and Barnes manage to weave a cast of dozens in and out of a plot involving SF, fantasy, and mystery, without losing us at any point, and tying together two pieces of cultural history that one wouldn't have thought were related.

The heartwarming finish shows how Steven Barnes has influenced the scenery of SF; I'm continually enthralled by how he can put so much feeling into the characters. The Dream Park books have an excellent balance between the plot moving the characters, and the characters moving the plot. I can feel places where the authors allowed their creations to dictate the action, but it never gets out of control -- or if it does, Niven and Barnes have negotiated a settlement with Griffin & Co. well before the manuscript deadline.
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The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven
The Barsoom Project

prune, July 26, 2008

Niven & Barnes have done it again. Dream Park is updated, moving into the future in support of the space effort. The plot involves the space colonies from "Descent of Anansi" and "Fallen Angels", as well as the forces of evil who were behind the problems from "Dream Park".

This time, the fantasy plot centers on a "fat-ripper" game, experimental weight-management techniques. Alex Griffin assigns one of his staff, Marty Bobbick (a minor role in "Dream Park") to enter the game, lose some poundage, and guard a dignitary from orbit. Her friend from on-line gaming holds the clues to a mystery nearly a decade old. In the meantime, Alex is playing "follow the money" with Tony Mawhirter (also from "Dream Park"), an adjunct member of the Alex's staff.

Again, the plot moves well as it shows off the latest technological dreams, develops the new players, draws good leverage from the old ones, and keeps us fascinated with the process of live-action gaming. By the way, these books have spawned the real-life International Fantasy Gaming Society, an organization that is developing the gaming protocol and ranking system needed for the day when holographic combat becomes feasible.
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Dream Park by Larry Niven
Dream Park

prune, July 26, 2008

Collaborations are rare. A three-headed author is even more rare. A three-headed author tackling three genres in one novel is ... steak tartare of the highest grade.

I don't know the details of what prompted the team of Niven and Pournelle to add Steven Barnes for this venture, but my only complaint is that they're too busy with other award-winning work to turn out Dream Park stories as fast as I can read.

Dream Park, the novel, is pure science fiction. It's incredible fantasy. It's a great murder mystery. The characters show the best qualities of each writer. By the end of the book, I wanted to hug several of the characters, and kill of a couple with my own hand.

Dream Park, the place ... well, start with your favorite theme park. Now, add holograms to bring the fantasies into your lap. Next, extrapolate Moore's Law a few orders of magnitude, so the hologram projector can interact with you, in real time. Now, add personal gear that the attraction recognizes, so that your hologram blade can slice through that hologram orc. It's live-action role-playing, with full computer-generated effects, and you're in the middle. Don't get killed out, though -- you'll probably come back as a zombie while a few of your friends are still alive.

We see much of the story through the eyes of Alex Griffin: one of the few people on the Dream Park payroll who is firmly planted in reality. Alex is married to his job: head of Dream Park security. He's above the craziness going on down there, until he's pressured into one way to solve a case and save Dream Park's financial derriere: he has to join a four-day fantasy adventure as one of the players. If his cover is blown, abort project. If he can't keep the problem under wraps, abort project. If the perpetrator finds him out first ... abort Alex?

If you like this book, there are two sequels, each capable of standing alone, but building somewhat on the previous volumes. If you don't like this book ... well, I'm not sure if there's any hope for you. :-)
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Codespell (Ace Fantasy Book) by Kelly Mccullough
Codespell (Ace Fantasy Book)

prune, July 26, 2008

Mccullough has done it again. After reading the first book, WebMage, from the used shelf, I didn't wait for either of the later ones. It's worth not waiting. Ravirn is maturing as the books progress, both in his thaumatrugical abilities and as a ... person, shall we say? The writing moves well, the characters are more real than any mythology course ever made them (Zeus may not be quite as venal as He appears from Bullfinch's descriptions), and I'm starting to wonder whether Ravirn is affecting the gods and other Powers as much as they're affecting him.
The writing is still fresh and funny. I'm still engaged with the characters. One of the Furies finally catches Ravirn, but good -- and he lives through it in his usual mixture of bravado, deprecation, programming (scripted spells), and utter surrender to overwhelming forces. The familiars are back and learning to develop independent personalities, something like children going to school for the first time -- if the kiddies could rip the world asunder with a few seconds of whistled modem-talk, but know better than to try it. Melchior and Shara learn that not everyone matures at the same rate, and that having a soul isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be, especially when the gods decide they're entitle to a soul loan, free of interest (in almost all senses of the word).
If you know enough to download a Service Pack and connect to the Internet, you should be able to follow the techno-speak. If not, pretend it's magic (which it is, anyway), and enjoy the book.
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Cybermancy by Kelly Mccullough
Cybermancy

prune, July 26, 2008

This is book 2 of the Ravirn series (after Webmage). Per my usual habit, I bought Webmage used; I didn't wait with Cybermancy and Codespell (book 3). Sequels are often a disappointment; this series is still strong after three books and leaves me anxiously awaiting the next installments.
A blend of mythology, technology, and criminology, this book has it all (yes, we also get romance, power, sex, and swashbuckling physical combat). All the characters have fatal flaws: but which will be the telling points in this turn of the wheel? Mccullough brings the ancient gods alive in ways that Bullfinch never managed. As the gods breathed life into mortals, the author has, at long last, breathed life into the gods -- and it's both suspenseful and funny.
In this episode, Ravirn is outcast from his ancestral house, but has been given an identity of his own: a "House of One". His lady love, Cerise, is still with him, still in the good graces of her own family, although quite jealous of the attentions some of the Higher Powers are paying him.
Oh, yeah -- the forces of the gods are now mostly on line, maintained by the "Magic Web" -- even gods have their limits of ability and attention, and six-plus-billion humans are just too much to handle personally. Someone seems to be hacking into the root code. Ravirn and Cerise are the two best-trained mWeb manipulators in existence: she's the systems analyst; he's the hacker / debugger. Their methods and abilities are sometimes complementary, sometimes at odds, and sometimes draw far too much attention from their elders and superiors.
Still, through it all, Ravirn would go through Hell for Cerise -- but will he make it back as himself?
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