📚 Small reviews

Here's some thoughts on things I've finished and felt like I wanted to capture for my future reference.

⭐: actively disliked this
⭐⭐: meh
⭐⭐⭐: enjoyable but not notable
⭐⭐⭐⭐: really great; would recommend
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: utterly brilliant!

2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021

Books read this year
9

Games played this year
5

📖 System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries #7) by Martha Wells

Finished: 7th May 2024

Wah. I was so looking forward to coming back into Murderbot world – something that I've truly loved experiencing – but this was just a bit of a let down. It was enjoyable enough, a short and easy read, and I still very much love Murderbot and ART and the world. But. Hmm.

The first and biggest issue was that this isn't a 'new' story, it takes over directly from the end of the current-day storyline and is unapologetic and actually quite unhelpful with that. And what I mean by that is that the latest of the timeline was occurring in Murderbot 5, Network Effect, which was originally published in 2020 but which I read in January 2022. After that book-wise was Murderbot 6, Fugitive Telemetry, published April 2021 (I finished it 8 days after Network Effect), but in this the plot jumps back in time to before the events of book 5. So when it's come to this latest one, my memory was years out of date, and I hadn't even read the books when they were first published. I read a synopsis, I could remember the main plot points, but honestly I was so fuzzy on who everyone was, why I should care about them, what their characteristics were etc, plus all the nuances of how events had played out any Murderbot was so traumatised. This book doesn't explain anything really, and it's written as if you're picking it up immediately on the back of book 5 and will understand it all in that context. So for me that introduced a real gap in connection, but I'm curious to know if I'd feel differently after re-reading 5 (which I utterly loved).

That said, I don't think the story was very strong in this book generally. Murderbot is learning to deal with their mental health and isn't in a great place for various reasons, which was an interesting development. But the story about the colony just lacked much depth or interest for me outside of AdaCol2, and possibly this would have been better as the first half of another longer book. I still love you, Murderbot, but this wasn't my favourite.

📖 Crux by Ramez Naam

Finished: 22nd April 2024

It took me absolutely ages to get through this one. It's a fairly chunky book at 624 pages, but for some reason I didn't find it quite as captivating as the last one. It's more of the same action action action, but the cast expands out even more and there were several storylines to follow, which meant that you spend a lot of time on things happening in parallel rather than everything moving forward. It wasn't a slog to read, but it did get a bit samey. I'll finish the trilogy for sure, but I'm not desperate to do so as my next read.

🎮 Goat Simulator 3

Finished: 20th April 2024

I downloaded this on a total whim after finishing my last game and wanting something with low commitment to pass a lunch break during a draining period at work. I remembered playing Goat Simulator, without actually remembering much about it. From my profile history it looks like I played it in 2016 and got some achievements but clearly gave up at some point, which is what I was expecting from this one. But you know what? I actually thought this was great!

In contrast to Gotham Knights, where the collectibles were just not fun at all, this is a really well designed game. Janky as hell, but embraces that wholeheartedly, but really well designed. It's just fun. I used some guides to mop up some bits towards the end that I couldn't find on my own, but I spent so much time just exploring and playing around to see what I could make happen. I loved the secrets, and the "huh, that would be fun/silly to do" mentality leading to triggering stupid and satisfying events. The map's big, but not too big, and was easy to get around with fast travel / wings and rocket boots or the helmet. The collectables are pretty easy to see from afar, and make a helpful noise when close. Maybe it says something about me and my sense of humour, but I feel like I was on completely the same wavelength as this game, and it perfectly hit the brief for what I was after.

🎮 Chants of Sennar

Finished: 3rd April 2024

I really, really liked this game. I first came across it on my company's videogames Slack channel as a recommendation, but subsequently saw it on Sophie's list of favourites and I trust her judgement a lot. All I really knew about it coming in was that it needed you to decipher language, and I was pleasantly surprised by the pacing, the difficulty, the puzzles and generally working out what different things were needed. The levels feel big and confusing, but once you can read a bit there are signs and other pointers that help you get around. This game really spoke to my inner language learner, and I loved realising the differences in sentence structure and constructs like different approaches to pluralisation and negatives. Loved it, and would happily recommend and play it again one day.

📖 The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Finished: 31st March 2024

I bought this as a holiday read primarily because I'd taken Redshirts by the same author on my last long haul flight, which turned out to be the perfect level of brain fluff that I needed. This was exactly the same. In the end notes the author describes the book as a "pop song" and that fits perfectly.

It's a very easy read, although at times it did grate on me a bit that every single character has exactly the same, wise-cracking, sarcastic banter as everyone else in the book. It leaves the cast feeling very one dimensional and interchangeable for the most part, with zero emotional investment. But when you're on a 15 hour flight with a toddler squidged in next to you, that's sometimes what you need.

🎮 Gotham Knights

Finished: 13th March 2024

This was a game that became less fun as it went on. It felt repetitive, clunky in lots of ways, and didn't have any of the fluidity of the combat of the original games. The bonus challenges in particular left me so cold, having to adapt a fighting style to whatever the requests were rather than what suited my character or the situation. Plot-wise I'd read Court of Owls lines and enjoyed them, but this somehow missed the mark. And somehow, one of my favourite things normally – collectible hunting – was just really tedious and not fun? That said, I still sunk (way too much) time into it, and actually found myself more drawn to the (still extremely repetitive and grindy) hoarde mode after a while once I figured out you could match with people. Not one I'd recommend, but still a passable time sink.

📖 Dust by Hugh Howey

Finished: 12th March 2024

All in all this is a pretty satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and wraps things up pretty nicely. There's much more of the original gang here, and for me was a nicer balance between the S1 crew and the others. A lot of crappy stuff happens, it's not all happy happy (which wouldn't have fit the series anyway), but it's very well paced and again a very enjoyable read.

I'm so, so glad that these books held up to my memories, and thoroughly enjoyed the re-read. Definitely one of my favourite series ever, and I look forward to another reading at some point.

📖 Shift by Hugh Howey

Finished: 28th February 2024

As with Wool, I vividly remember exactly where I was when I originally read this. I remember how jarring but also exciting it was to learn more about the "why" of it all – what had led up to the silos, how they fit in, and a bit about the tech behind it all. Outside of that, I only remembered fragments throughout my re-read this time.

I really enjoyed having more in the Wool universe and continuing the story (which is still great), but a combination of much less of Jules and her gang coupled by some quite unlikeable characters in the from the historical elements made me generally less invested in their stories. But still a great read and a very enjoyable addition, just not up there with the first.

📖 Wool by Hugh Howey

Finished: 14th February 2024

It was with some trepidation that I finally stopped putting off watching the Silo TV series. I was curious about the adaptation, but my hesitation went beyond my usual nit picking of whether people did a good job bringing it to life. I have such vivid, important, and personal memories of my first read of Wool, even though it was 10 (ten!) years ago, and the book had stuck with me ever since as a bit of a symbol. On starting to watch the TV series (which is ok so far, but seems to be deviating on several fronts) I had an overwhelming urge to read the book again, I think to make sure that I reinforced my original thoughts and feelings to stop them getting overwritten by TV visuals.

I absolutely flew though the book over just a few days, helped by a horrible cold and time off work. I was surprised at the balance of how I'd remembered so much, but forgotten enough of the nuances that it felt like an exciting read all over again. Some parts of what I now realise fall into the next book were mixed up in my memories, and I really enjoyed reliving it all and detangling the story back to its pure form. And it's just such a great story. I remember my genuine shock of the book starting out detailing the life of a key character, and then taking a turn I really didn't expect. The pacing, the way the mysteries slowly get unravelled, the action, the main character, the way the descriptions of the environment made it all so alive in my head for so long. I love this book, and I'm glad that the re-read didn't lessen any of my experiences.

📖 Nexus by Ramez Naam

Finished: 11th February 2024

This was a recommendation from a colleague, and I found it a very enjoyable read. It's action, action, action, and whilst some of it is written in a very masculine and unsubtle way (there's several instances of variations on "her nipples were hard through her wet top/getting out of the shower; it was the most erotic thing Kade had ever seen"), it kind of works in a very popcorny movie way. The characters are a bit cliched but actually memorable, even some of the smaller roles, and the science and concept are quite interesting in themselves. I've switched over to another series because I was ill and that was already in the house, but I'm keen to read the rest of the trilogy. One warning: there's various references to and depictions of sexual abuse, and also graphic violence.

📖 Kill it with fire by Marianne Bellotti

Finished: 30th January 2024

I had the pleasure of meeting the author when I spoke at an event with her waaay back in 2013, and I've had this book on my reading list for ages. I always struggle a bit with reading "work books" because quite frankly I'd rather be reading about spaceships, but this was actually a really good read. Plenty of very practical advice and examples, and a blunt but honest way of writing that I appreciated for not over romanticising the topic. I can see myself going back to this as a reference, and also pointing others in its direction too.

🎮 Gris

Finished: 27th January 2024

I picked this up after flicking through my play later queue one lunchtime, looking for something fairly light that I could sink 20 minutes into without getting too invested. To be honest, I chose this over other things mostly because the artwork looked nice. On starting, this is one of those games that explains nothing. I was wandering around, not sure what I would be encountering or what my goals were, and coming across things that I could collect without having any idea what they were. The first couple of times I found what I later grew to understand was a colletible, I actually thought I was maybe triggering save points or something. Other things I came across gave lots of satisfying "ohhh" moments when I realised how it all works. With other similar games that level of obscurity has sometimes been a bit much, and I've needed to look up what things were for, because it passed the point of feeling like I should have worked it out or been given some context. But Gris is paced perfectly in that regard. I was quite content to just go with it, not getting annoyed when I got locked out of areas by being thrown into cutscenes, because when everything's a mystery and you're genuinely picking a random direction to walk in to see what happens, it feels way more acceptable than in, say, my Expanse review.

After picking it for the artwork, the visuals of the game itself did not disappoint. It's stunning. It's genuinely one of the most beautiful things I've played, and there were some wonderful 'surprise and delight' moments of the design that genuinely did delight me. This is a game about grief, and it's emotionally heavy without being difficult, and that carries through into the gameplay and puzzles. In two instances I thought "gah, I hate chase sequences", but you just can't die in this game and it's (mostly..) inconsequntial as to how much you engage. Gris is described as "a serene and evocative experience, free of danger, frustration or death" and I found that to be the case. My one, one criticism, which I considered knocking .5 marks off for, was unskippable cutscenes. They only came into play when I was redoing segments (bonus points for being able to jump to parts of levels) for achievements though, and actually it was only the pre-eel cut scene that I had to see a couple of times... and since they're lovely I actually didn't really mind.

Just a wonderful game, and one I'm very glad I stumbled across.

🎮 The Expanse: A Telltale Series

Finished: 20th January 2024

I have a long history of being pretty opinionated on Telltale games, yet have only actually played a few of them. I think I dabbled with the Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones series, without making any progress because of my frustrations with the mechanics, before eventually managing to complete the Borderlands series. To my relief, things have got (mostly!) a lot better on some of the elements that I previously took issue with. I enjoyed the stories in this release, both Drummer's and the short little Avasarala scenario, which was probably helped by them being two of my favourite characters. I also enjoyed the environment design and that there were some elements of puzzles, but was most pleasantly surprised to see that I could a. invert the Y axis (dealbreaker, couldn't in some previous games of theirs), b. tweak accessibility settings for the dialogue and quick time events.

However, I wasn't surprised that there were still frustrations. I'd turned off the time limit for dialogue, but yet any dialogue that used a call mechanism didn't respect that. From the very first mission there were two primary objectives in the menu, but only one showed up on the hud. On doing one, it locked out the other, and I missed a chunk of exploration. Similarly, I tried exploring on the first level but ignoring the marker and trying to fly in a different area still triggered a cutscene, which I really wasn't expecting. And that's my issue. Despite the many, many iterations, these games still feel inconsistent and unclear. Whether it's being asked to collect reaction mass, but having no idea how many there are and if picking up one will lock me out, through to the ambiguous "X will remember that" with no idea whether they took my seemingly neutral dialogue positively or negatively, I feel like this stuff should really have been solved by now. But hey, it was all pleasant enough, and I'll probably be back with similar views when I inevitably play another of the games in 5 more years or so.

📖 Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick

Finished: 11th January 2024

Another book inherited from my husband's ADHD-bought-but-not-read pile so I didn't know anything about it in advance, but it was a solid read to kick off the year. Pluto immediately became my favourite planet (I believe) when it was downgraded (gotta support the underdog), and this book did feel like a bit of a love letter to it.

Story-wise there were layers of different plot angles going on, and actually even the bit-part characters had enough depth. I really enjoyed how both Lucian and Nou were written. I also liked the imagery and descriptions of the Plutonian landscape, and how it would potentially change with terraforming. The book isn't a classic, and I don't think it'll be super memorable for me, but nonetheless still a fun read.