The Thirst – Jo Nesbo

I love the Harry Hole character. I love Jo Nesbo’s writing. I love Jo Nesbo’s plots, his sense of pacing, the artfully done backdrop, and the enthralling nature of each book. So far, so good. It’s been a while since the last Harry Hole book. Would this be up to scratch? I’m delighted to say, this one is no exception.

The story revolves around a murder victim whose particular injuries connect to a case Harry never solved. He is, inevitably, drawn into the hunt for the killer, but all is not what it seems, and the investigation always seems to be one step behind.

The tension builds up to an extended showdown, brilliantly told by Nesbo.

The supporting characters are given a bit of a push here, though if there’s one tiny, niggling black mark here, it’s that I could not 100% buy in to the killer’s motivation. That having been said, it was logical and understandable, which is more than can sometimes be said about other crime novels.

You can read this on its own if you have not read other Harry Hole books, but it would be a better reading experience to go back to the first – The Bat – and read them all. They are a joy.

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon H Lee

Weird space opera that very cleverly manages to meld calendars, mathematics, and war into a coherent story about the struggle for power in a faction ridden universe.

The lead character is Captain Kel Cheris, a soldier out of favor for not following the stereotypical orders mandated by the Hexarchate. With seemingly nowhere to go, somehow she is one of several candidates asked to pitch their ideas for liberating the Fortress of Scattered Needles that has been taken over by (calendrical) heretics.

With nothing to lose, Cheris suggests an almost heretical approach herself involving Shuos Jedao. The latter is dead, but available. (I did say weird, didn’t I?)

And into battle they go.

On the whole, I enjoyed this. It’s very different, and fairly sizzles as it goes. But the story didn’t grab me the way others have done, and the pictures the text painted in my imagination were confused and incomplete. No doubt my shortcoming rather than the writer’s

If you want to try some science fiction that is different, this is a good option.

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Struggling for Power

This week’s session allowed Avri to introduce Azriel, Peleg, Sheer, and me to Power Struggle, a cynical worker placement game with some interesting twists. The theme is corporate advancement. You are trying to be the first player to get to four victory points. You get VPs by excelling in certain areas – for example, shares held, influence, corruption (told you it was cynical) and so on – and you achieve this by maneuvering your workers into positions of power in the various company departments or the board of directors.

There’s corruption because each divisional head (and the chairman of the board) has a unique power they can use. In your turn, one possible action is to offer a bribe to the holder of that power. The person offering the bribe gets a corruption point. If it’s accepted, the power changes hands and the person taking the bribe is also corrupted. If the bribe is not accepted, the person offering the bribe exacts retribution by firing one of the other person’s workers. Brutal.

Managers and workers hard at, er, play?

The game round has a unique flavour. Each round, the head of communications is dealt a batch of cards including the mandatory Bonus card (payout to all players) and Board Meeting card (end of the round with a board meeting). The head of communications can order the cards as he wishes. And, he can therefore set the length of the round – after a minimum of four cards – and hopefully profit from the knowledge of what is coming up when.

Most cards adjust the company’s reputation (standing?) and that affects bonus powers. Bonus powers are what you get when you bribe the basic power away from the original holder, allowing enhanced hiring, firing, bonuses, and share purchases.

Finally, each player has a secret nemesis (it can be yourself!) and secret goals. If you beat your nemesis in three specified categories, that is one VP – 25% of what is needed for a win. There is only a winner; no second prizes. Oh, and if your nemesis is yourself, I think you get the extra VP for being ahead of everybody in two categories.

As to our play, first we had Avri explain the rules as only he knew it. There’s a lot to take in, but we managed and were off and scheming after half an hour. Of course, we made mistakes. I managed to screw myself by allowing the play of a card that affected the divisional head and not, as I thought, the holder of the relevant special power. I made tons of mistakes, but as usual was more interested in seeing the game play than working out how to win. For sure, it’s a bit of a puzzle.

Everything looked rosy from the boardroom

Avri, being experienced in the game, did fine. Sheer, as usual, went for the kill mercilessly, although he did try and pretend he was struggling by asking some questions! Azriel and Peleg played along, though I am not sure either of them was doing any better than me, at least at the beginning. In the later rounds, Peleg and Azriel raced away from me, though Sheer and Avri were clearly further ahead. A well timed board coup by Sheer was the killer blow, and so he won.

It’s interesting to compare this to Caylus. Power Struggle is less complex, but still has a lot going on. That may be one reason I preferred it, though I would not go as far as to say I liked the game. Another reason I found it better than Caylus may be that the Power Struggle theme fits better. You can almost see the plotting going on. Ultimately, it’s a question of personal taste.

One thing  I was less keen on, was the luck element. (Avri disagrees there is luck.) This is a meaty game – not overly long – and there seemed too much luck to me. For example, the length of the round is dependent on one player’s selection. So, a strategy that needs more turns than are played gets burned. Further, the cards turned face over at the start of each round can affect the efficiency of your chosen action. Again, you have no control over this. And I don’t think it’s enough to say you can reduce the lack of knowledge by acquiring the post of head of communications, because that only works for one player. In addition, the bribe mechanism leaves you at the mercy of other players’ choices. The amount of the bribe given may be too high or too low, thus giving an advantage to one player or another, with no way of you legitimately influencing that decision.

So, in short, while I enjoyed playing the game, and I like it better than Caylus, it’s not going to be one of my favorites.

I will try and write up my thoughts about the whole scenario of euros, complexity, luck, and personal enjoyment.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye – Michael Connelly

If you have read any of the Harry Bosch books, you know what you are going to get here: the grumpy but determined detective making his way to solve a crime, regardless of the cost. The setting now is slightly different, with Bosch out of the Los Angeles headlights, and operating as a sort of volunteer detective for the nearby town of San Fernando.

Harry’s main challenge in San Fernando is to track down a rapist. But, simultaneously he is rather naughtily working on a private commission from a dying billionaire to search out a possible heir to his fortune.

Although this is a well constructed book, with a decent plot and interesting characters, it doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of Connelly’s best work.

For example, the search for the heir has no real bite to it, despite attempts to inject some edge to the investigation. And the hunt for the rapist doesn’t seem to be as pressing as you might expect. The narrative falls somewhat flat in places, and even when the action and the interest picks up, it’s not enough to restore the book to the top of the quality tree.

If you are a fan, you will read this and love it. I thought it was OK, but that  underwhelming impression might be because Bosch is on his way out, and the author’s attention is clearly moving on.

If you have not read any Michael Connelly, don’t start here; instead go back to the first Bosch book, The Black Echo, and read them in order. By the time you get to this one (the 19th according to the official list) you’ll be well hooked and gladly excuse the author a less than perfect performance.

 

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

Technical writer?

Designer?

Interested in TV title sequences?

Fan of Stranger Things?

You probably know that Season 2 of Stranger Things is out. Fear not, there are no spoilers here. I’m just using the new season as an excuse to point you at this wonderful post by Sarah Gless. Read and enjoy.

Whoever thought “typographic” and “porn” would nestle so comfortably in the same sentence, indeed next to one another?

Signs of Our Times

Here’s the sign above a shop in Herzliya:

Here’s how I imagine the conversation going:

Shopper: “Do you do home design?”

Shop Assistant: “That’s what it says on the sign. Of course we do.”

Shopper: “Do you design children? How does that work?”

Shop Assistant: “I’ll get back to you…”

Note that I am exercising restraint and not really commenting on the “House In” part of the crime scene.

Body Breaker – Mike Craven

The follow up to the passable Born in a Burial Gown, this is more of the same: a decent enough police procedural crime novel, with an interesting character at the core, a good measure of tension, a well constructed plot, and a shade too much telling rather than showing. It’s a level above what many would call an airport read, but there’s just something about the writing style that jars with me.

The action starts with the discovery of a severed hand on a golf course, and heats up with our hero policeman getting a visitor who stirs up memories of the past. and a view into the who, what, when, why, and where of the murder. If only he could figure out which way to go in the investigation.

For some, this detective will be so detective, they will not like the book at all. For others, that broken nature will be a main attraction. For me, it’s an interesting enough hook; unfortunately, I don’t see much more that will engage me long term.

Born in a Burial Gown – Mike Craven

This is a dark, atmospheric police procedural novel that features an interesting character, a passable setting, and a decent plot. The central character is Avison Fluke – when will we get a character called John? – a policeman who is facing his share of personal challenges. He built his house illegally, and is threatened with being made homeless. He is not in the best of health, but is hiding that for fear of losing his job. And he’s only back at work after an incident that involved him committing a serious crime. He is definitely a defective detective.

From here on, the book fairly rattles along. There are some good twists, and some decent writing. But there was a shade too much of the telling instead of showing.

However, overall, not bad, and worthy of a follow up.

 

Why, why, why?

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I played Caylus in this week’s regular gaming session. This is an old, but venerated game. (Avri calls the two player version ‘better than chess’ so he is clearly a fan.) It uses worker placement and a combination of different resources and converters (stuff that uses the resources to generate better resources, victory points, and so on) to give you a game where there are a lot of choices, but never enough time. And those pesky things called opponents keep getting in the way.

I had played the game a long, long time ago, and I wasn’t that taken with it. But Avri’s enthusiasm appealed to Azriel and Sheer, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Avri’s explanation of the rules was good, as attested to by the fact we had very few questions during the game, and got just about everything right. Of course, the one thing I didn’t get right was my strategy, but no surprise there.

Avri’s familiarity with the game inevitably led to him winning. But Azriel’s ferocious building program gave him a wee fright, and Sheer came even closer by dint of his usual powerful analysis. Unsurprisingly, having made all the wrong choices, I was in last place. And I still didn’t like the game.

So, why don’t I like the game? That’s for another post.

Meantime, note that I still enjoyed the night. It gives me pleasure seeing gamers having a good time.