Thursday, March 29, 2007

Oprah's outta her mind

I get an email every week from Borders with picks and coupons and what-not. I nearly soiled myself when I got the latest, because apparently Oprah has chosen Cormac McCarthy's The Road as her latest book club pick.

For those who have read his stuff, let that settle in for a second. For those who haven't, let me describe his writing. Bleak. But not just bleak, it's bloody, idiosyncratic, jarring, violent, and just plain...well, NOT Oprah. Blood Meridian is practically a horror novel, despite its Western setting. And No Country for Old Men reads like a Coen Brothers movie.

And The Road is about a father and son trying to get through a violent post-apocalyptic landscape alive. I can't imagine one of her Followers picking up anything else by him: The screeches would be deafening.

But the absolute worst part is that I'm now forced to buy a hardback copy of the book rather than the brand new trade paperback, which will be soiled by that little "Oprah's Book Club" mark on it. Sigh.

I don't think this will be a popular choice at all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Wolfe!


So as I'm delving deep into a new book by Tim Powers--my second-favorite author--I read that a new Gene Wolfe book will be out in November! As he's my very favorite author, this is good and surprising news indeed.

I've also just found out about, and ordered, the above chapbook, which contains two short stories. I can't wait.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why 30 Rock is the second-best show on TV

Okay, The Office is the best thing on TV...but every time I watch 30 Rock I come away laughing almost as hard.

Tina Fey has created an amazing cast of characters--starting with the hilarious Tracy Jordan. Every single thing that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold. When he appears on the screen I find myself literally leaning forward in anticipation of what he's going to say. Tina's funny. The other writers are funny. I find myself amazed at what Alec Baldwin's done with Jack--he's an incredible character.

The characters are all surrounded by this smart, biting, hilarious writing by Tina Fey that targets everything and everyone. In last night's episode, with one razor-sharp line she absolutely skewered Kabbalah. Tina's a fantastic writer, and I'm in awe of her.

But the best part of the show is how so many times it tiptoes on the precipice of sentimentality or a cliched wrap-up, only to yank the rug out from under you in a completely surprising way. Last night's episode found her almost getting the guy, only to have it completely and hilariously spoiled by Pete's last-second comments that end up totally out of context. We'd been set up for it, but it still surprised me.

I love this show, and hope it stays on for years.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Here I Stand...and Wait Around

I was able to play my first game of Here I Stand this weekend—a 6-player slugfest. I was really excited to give this a shot. Ultimately it was disappointing. (Before I give my thoughts, two of the players had played before, and one was a veteran wargamer who knew everything about every power. So this isn't a case of us "just playing it wrong.")

For the first 5 hours, we were all LOVING it...seriously. We commented on how the time was flying by, how the powers seemed balanced, and how fiddly things had been abstracted. At one point the guy playing the Papacy yelled out, "I want that guy DEAD!" after Luther screwed up his plans yet again. It was perfect. We were having a blast.

But then, somewhere between 5 and 8 hours, the flaws started to come to light. For one, there's a fair amount of downtime—particularly if you're not the Papacy or the Protestants—and we were playing quickly. This problem seems to get worse as the game progresses—you wait around for 10 minutes just to play a card and put some troops on the map. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For the Papacy and Protestants it turns into a dicefest, and over the course of the game spaces just flip back and forth, and the P&P scores go slightly up and slightly down. By the end, those who weren't playing the P or the P commented that we were glad we weren't playing the P or the P.

The cards weren't full of interesting choices: It was either a great Event for you that you'd obviously play, or it was equally obvious that you should just play it for CPs. There were pretty large differences in the strengths of the Events. One gave 2 VPs to the Ottomans if they played it. What?! Our game was incredibly close, and that sort of swing for just drawing a card was wacky.

There was some bash-the-leader with those cards too. The Ottomans were set to win, but the Haps had a card that let him cause a revolt in a city, booting the Ottoman out and costing him the VPs. On the next turn the Ottoman player recaptured the city...but the Haps player had the drawn the SAME CARD on that turn and foiled him again. It was a less-than-gripping way to stave off victory.

There's also a rich-get-richer problem: As people gain Keys they gain VPs and cards, so if you lose a Key you're losing cards (turns) and your ability to gain a key back is limited further.

Another problem was the different setups for the different scenarios. We chose the 6-turn scenario, which skips the first three turns of the regular campaign. But the setup is completely wonky. Somehow France loses Milan, the English aren't anywhere to be seen in the New World, and the Hapsburgs are all over the New World—including circumnavigating the globe! There's very little chance of a real game that started from the beginning being at that point 3 turns later. So France was screwed from the beginning, and England was down in New World VPs from the start.

In the end, I wish the game could hold onto that first-5-hour-feeling we all had. Alas, we were quite happy for it to end by the time it did. The weird thing is, everyone said they'd play again, so I think we all recognized that it's SO close to being a great game. I liked the history; I liked the varying powers and varying ways to play each of those powers—which makes replay value through the roof; I didn't at all mind the length. It just feels like a nearly there game.