A Thousand Words: Automation

Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game

Because one of my past jobs involved working in a parking lot, I developed an interest in cars just as I discovered that Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game existed. It was a great fit at the time, and has only grown and developed since then. A very detailed car design simulator with a basic but growing campaign mode, it’s not for everyone but is a delight for auto enthusiasts.

I’ve enjoyed making all sorts of cars in there, from the ones you’d expect to weird ones like gigantic rumbling inline 4 motors and stuffing monster engines into the bays of Corolla-sized econoboxes (talk about “hot hatches”). I even made something like the Dodge Ram SRT-10 by putting a supercar engine into a pickup truck. The game is unforgiving and has a pretty steep learning curve, but if/when you get the hang of it, you can do really great car things.

Review: I Refuse To Be Your Enemy Volume 1

I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Volume 1

It’s time to review another light novel with an overlong title, this one being Kanata Satsuki’s I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Now, a bit of explanation is in order. Much as how Mack Bolan spawned a glut of mobster-slaying vigilantes, thus the success of Hamefura led to a ton of “reincarnated as a previously doomed video game character” tales that continue to this day. And this is no exception, with game villainess Kiara Credias realizing her predicament and trying to change things.

The problem with this compared to My Next Life As A Villainess is that the latter didn’t go the easy route of just munchkining through with foreknowledge. Instead, Katarina tried to munchkin her way through with foreknowledge and it didn’t work (except it did in that she survived happily). In this case, the “win through foreknowledge” is played much straighter. This is both less amusing in its own right and clashes with the still-present goofy antics.

While this isn’t technically bad , it’s still little more than a 51% book.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

The third volume of My Next Life As A Villainess takes place after the original planned ending of the story. In-universe, it takes place after Katarina has “beaten the game”. There’s two reasons why this declines in quality. The first is that the second volume was such a good stopping point that it feels a little wrong (even if understandable) to go past it. The second is that the setup just really isn’t that deep, so it’s especially vulnerable to getting worse as it gets bigger.

The structural fundamentals present in the past two books are still there, for better and worse. But it’s definitely lost something. Going from “someone tries to munchkin a setting through foreknowledge and successfully ‘fails’ because she thinks it’s still railroaded when it’s not” to just “light fantasy antics” is a big step down. There’s a reason why, despite enjoying the first two installments, the third is the last I’ve read, with little motivation to keep going further.

Review: The Great Martian War: Invasion

The Great Martian War: Invasion

Scott Washburn’s The Great Martian War: Invasion is a fan-sequel to Wells’ classic War of the Worlds, with the Martians returning for more. There is one piece of bad news about this book and one piece of very good news. The bad news is that the execution never progresses beyond “decent”. This book is very Larry Bond-ish in its big scope, and that’s not always a good thing.

But thankfully, the good news makes up for it. Which is to say that the premise of “Theodore Roosevelt, tanks, and 75mm quick-fire guns against Martian tripods” is such a great one that it only needs a decent execution to be a solid, enjoyable novel. And that it is. The military balance is set up in such a great way, having neither the (deliberate) lopsidededness of either the original or Edison’s Conquest Of Mars.

How can you not recommend a book of this nature to any fan of alternate history or classic sci-fi?

Review: Operation Siberia

Operation: Siberia

William Meikle’s Operation Siberia is not deep fiction. But it is very fun fiction. With a recommendation from The Sci-Fi Fantasy Reviewer and a love of prehistoric megafauna that stretches back to David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, I knew I had to read this book. And I was not disappointed.

The plot is basically a Jurassic Park knockoff that descends into what’s essentially “Scotsmen vs. Yetis”. Done with solid execution, it’s a great cheap thriller to pass the time. While not deep even by genre fiction standards, I enjoyed it a lot. Meikle takes a great premise and applies it well.

Review: Olympus Rises

Olympus Rises

After reading a novel dragged down by trivialities like “technical realism”, it was an amazing experience reading one that threw all that aside in favor of crazy action. The first entry in the Code of War Series, Jim Roberts’ Olympus Rises is such a story, dealing with a supervillain sci-fi mercenary army and the modern soldiers who end up fighting it. Like the Black Eagle Force series before it, this is not the most fundamentally sound book. And while this goes without saying, anyone bothered by a lack of plausibility probably won’t like this.

However, that doesn’t matter. This is a very, very fun book and I had a great time reading it. Sometimes you just need jetpacks and mecha-ninjas. The many cliches and references I saw actually enhanced the experience in my views. It’s that kind of book, and that’s the kind I frequently take to reading.

Review: The Hamfist Trilogy

The Hamfist Trilogy

George Nolly’s Hamfist Trilogy consists of a compilation of novels set in the Vietnam air war, as written by a veteran of the Vietnam air war. The books are weirdly breezy and good-natured for war novels, which sets them apart. Especially since it also tries to be generally realistic-Mack Maloney this is not. This is a passion project, for better and worse.

Thus it sometimes feels sloppy. The tone can sometimes come across as overly rambling and not the most suited for the story Nolly is trying to tell, with the first person perspective not always helping. But it gets enough of the basics and little details right that I enjoyed reading it. And I say this as someone who often doesn’t go for straight historical fiction.

Review: Tier One

Tier One

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson’s Tier One is the first installment in a series that, like a surprisingly high number of Fuldapocalypse review entries, I learned about via negative comments. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by such books before, so I decided to give this tale of a SEAL turned super secret super commando a try. Of course, I’ve also often found them to be just as bad as they said.

This is not a good book, but it was a strangely enjoyable one. The action was passable but not the best. The main character comes across as a ‘difficult’, unlikable person. And the plot-well, the plot seemed like it was trying to check each and every box of what a stereotypical modern thriller would contain. This was enough to make it swing all the way around from “cliche and bland” to “weirdly interesting”. Thus Tier One is the kind of work I cannot recommend but did not mind reading.

Review: My Next Life as a Villainess Vol 2

My Next Life as a Villainess: Volume 2

The second volume of My Next Life as a Villainess deals with Katarina now going to the actual academy setting of the game and demonstrating her biggest character trait of absolute obliviousness towards romantic attraction (the fandom joke is that black holes are less dense than her). One of the biggest and best buildups in the first volume was foreshadowing the game’s protagonist, Maria Campbell. The second doesn’t disappoint when she actually appears. Katarina is clueless to the fact that her being actually nice has already butterflied almost all of the original game’s plot away, and equally clueless to how Maria is now attracted to her.

The plot is worse when it tries to go for more genuine danger and drama, simply because it conflicts with the tone of the rest of the story. But even that’s not too bad. While I can understand why that would be included, it’d probably have been more preferable to just focus entirely on its heroine worrying about nonexistent “death flags”.

It also has a good conclusion as Katarina survives the “game” and hears Maria’s confession, which she of course doesn’t get. When I read that this was the original planned ending, it didn’t surprise me at all. Of course, it was successful enough to continue, but just as how The Sum of All Fears serves as a good stopping point for Jack Ryan, so does this for the series (boy, never thought I’d be directly comparing those two).

The structural issues I mentioned in the past volume are still there. But after seeing so much of setting munchkinism, and coming from an online community where this kind of thing is a stereotype, I love the concept of someone who tries to munchkin the setting and it doesn’t work out (well, in this case it does, but not in the way Katarina thought or intended). While I probably won’t read too far beyond the original end, I still enjoyed this series as a break from tanks exploding.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Vol 1

My Next Life As a Villainess: Volume 1

I felt it was time to check out of one of those “anime antics” settings that Spacebattles has a bizarre fascination with. In this case, it was Saturo Yamaguchi’s light novel series, My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom (these are notorious for their extremely long titles). Frequently abbreviated as Hamefura, this is the story of someone who is reincarnated as a video game character.

More specifically, it’s the story of a schoolgirl who stayed up too late playing her dating sims, which led to her death in a bicycle/car accident as she tried to hurry to compensate the next day. This led to her being reborn as Katarina Claes, the antagonist/rival girl in one of them set in a fantasy academy setting. Upon recovering her memories of her past life, and knowing that Katarina is fated to have a bad end in the game, the heroine tries to get a better fate.

This initial installment isn’t bad. I can see the “it’s a good concept even if the execution is ‘iffy’ ” that made appealing to fanfic writers. The prose is pretty well, matter of fact. I don’t know how much of that is due to translation issues and how much is due to the novel being intended to be smooth and easy to read (you could say it was meant as light literature). But it’s not a deal breaker, and neither are the “anime antics” surrounding Katarina and the inevitable boys. I had fun with it and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual fare here.