Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review - Otherworld

Upon reading the book summary for Otherworld, I expected this novel to be somewhere in between Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Mortality Doctrine series by James Dashner. There were plenty of similarities in the sense that the books involve the characters getting dangerously lost in a Virtual Reality game that’s more than it seems. It’s probably a bit closer related to the Dashner series than Ready Player One but it’s different enough to stay fresh and keep me interested.

Otherworld is a virtual reality game that’s expansive and hyper-realistic. At the opening of the book, current technology includes visors, gloves and VR haptic gear…pretty standard concept. The game is in a very exclusive early release phase with gear and access costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. This high entry point and seemingly limited release did have me a little confused later in the book as our characters encounter a ton of other player characters, but I guess there are plenty of hard core gamers who will shell out high costs for something like this.

The book focuses on the main character of Simon. He’s the high school son of ultra-rich parents who are mostly uninvolved with his life except as it comes to scolding him for misbehaving. Through his childhood and early he made a secret friendship with a girl named Kat. Due to the interference of their parents and trouble that got Simon kicked out of multiple schools, Kat is no longer associating with Simon at all and her stepfather has threatened legal action if he finds Simon around. Naturally this doesn’t stop a headstrong teenage boy and he keeps trying to figure out why Kat is being so standoffish towards him.

After a few days there’s a major accident that leaves numerous students dead and others, including Kat, in a coma. Specialists arrive from the Company that created Otherworld and they invite the comatose Kat to participate in a special beta of a Disk. The disk takes comatose patients into a virtual world where they can have a form of life while waiting for their body to heal in the real world. Simon naturally suspects a conspiracy and worries that Kat is in danger. Developing some new alliances, Simon decides to go into the virtual world to save her.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Books Read in 2017

For the past few years (20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and only ended up reviewing 9 books last year (though I did read more than that). I don't know if I'll get back to the ~50 range, but we'll see what I can do. Wish me luck.

  1. Ready Player One
  2. A Wrinkle In Time
  3. King Solomon's Mines
  4. Peter Pan (re-read)
  5. The Ultimatum
  6. Herland
  7. The Man in the High Castle
  8. The Metamorphosis
  9. Otherworld

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Game Review - New York Slice

As a family of pizza lovers and board gamers we were intrigued by New York Slice from Stronghold Games.

The game concept is simple an uses a mechanic that many parents of "fairness minded" children may find very familiar. One player divides up the pizza in a way that seems most fair to them and then everyone else gets to choose the portions they want first. The trick comes in trying to set up the choices so that the other players take what you want them to take and leave alone the juicy slice you want for yourself.

The first thing we noticed when we sat down to play was the art and graphic design. They really outdid themselves in terms of making a cohesive, thematic game. The game box is constructed to open like a pizza box (albeit a bit more durable). Inside you'll find the dozens of pizza slices that look almost good enough to eat. The other components continue the theme with a rule book organized as a menu you might find in your local pizza shop and a score pad that's a guest check register from that harried pizza shop waiter or waitress. Even the "today's special" bonus tiles look like the name plates you'd see in the counter display. The graphical experience is absolutely fabulous. My only design gripe is trying to store the bits back in the box after gameplay...the slices don't fit real well and end up sliding all around. Fortunately they're made of very durable cardboard so it shouldn't cause any real problems.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Book Review - The Metamorphosis

Having just finished reading The Metamorphosis, I feel like this is the kind of book that is probably best appreciated by reading a companion essay of some sort or at least studying some of the history of Kafka and his life and times.

For those who aren't familiar with the novella, this book is the story of Gregor, a young traveling salesman (who lives at home with his parents and sister) that wakes up one morning with the strange realization that he has transformed into a large beetle/cockroach insect. The book explores his personal realization of the change as well as the reactions of his family members and the events that follow.

In the early 20th century, this sort of story was probably shocking in its own way and more so than it is in the 21st century. However, as with a lot of "classics" in Literature, the meat of the book is not skin deep but rather lies in the theme and underlying messages that can come from critical analysis and insight.

Without knowing much about the social and political leanings of Kafka, I can't ponder officially on what he might be saying about the lower middle-class standing of Gregor and his family or their financial and social struggles. I felt like there may have been some sort of distinct social commentary going on about the working and financial conditions but I don't know.

What I did see was a theme of rejection and identity. Gregor, through no presumable fault of his own undergoes a change that leaves him confused and shunned by society and even by his own family. He struggles to make sense of the change but becomes more and more despondent as the disgust and rejection around him grows.

Kafka might be making a commentary on the treatment of many people based on who they are in ways they have no control over. Everyone has differences, some more different than other. This book seems to be portraying the ugly reality of disgust and alienation that sometimes happens when people/society discover the difference of another.

Overall I don't know exactly what the author was trying to say or what the reception was at the time of writing. To me, this book was an odd little story about a man struggling with his own identity and finding no validation or help from those around him. A sad tale, but one that we can hopefully learn from as we look to those around us.

3 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review - The Man in the High Castle

I've heard about The Man in the High Castle for years and even more so recently with the Amazon TV series. I haven't seen the TV show so I don't know how it compares to the book but I have heard a few people say that they feel like the show was more engaging than the book and I can imagine why they might feel that way.

The concept of this novel is definitely very intriguing. What if America and the Allies had lost World War Two? Germany and Japan have effectively gained control of the globe and are spreading their influence from each of their respective capitals. The United States is caught in the middle between the expansive influence of both countries such that the Eastern United States is now under German control while the Western United States is under Japanese control (with a small buffer down the center with some ambiguity).

There are a couple of main plotlines that weave together in strange ways and provide interesting commentary. The most exciting action-packed plot is one of "spy-vs-spy" as we see continuing power struggles between Germany and Japan. This plot hides in plain sight (as most good spies do) for large chunks of the novel but its influence can be felt throughout. The other plotline is subtler and less action filled. It's the plot of the existence and creation of the arts and culture...particularly American art. We see a fascination for the "authentic" American culture and art and we see a sort of sublimation around not only the creation and distribution of American arts but also in the type of art and in the behaviors of pre-war Americans trying to survive in this new culture.

The book's title refers to a character that exists somewhere between the two plots but mostly on the artistic side. An author, Hawthorne Abendsen, has written a novel with an alternate reality in which the Allies won the war. The book has been banned by the Axis victors but has a heavy underground following and it crosses the paths of many of the main characters. The rumor is that the author is still alive and living in the United States but he lives in a sort of fortress that keeps him safe from potential repercussions from the Germans or Japanese. This man lives in his "high castle" and his subversive novel has a direct or indirect influence on many of the themes and elements of the story we are reading.

From the beginning of the novel (and through much of the book), the focus is on the western US and therefore on the interactions with Japanese influence, culture and government. Over time, the story expands to include areas further East first in a sort of "no-man's land" on the border area where Japanese and German control intersect/overlap and then the novel expansion shows us German control not only in the more eastern US but also the strong influence they hold across all of the United States (and presumably the world).

We initially follow three main characters in California.