Book Review: The Sword of Midras

Sword of Midras

Ever wonder what a book would be like if a bunch of NPCs stood around talking to each other? I give you The Sword of Midras by . Tracy Hickman, of the original DragonLance  fame, and Richard Garriott, the creator of Ultima and Shroud of the Avatar. Actually, looking at the games site, it looks like both of them are involved in Shroud of the Avatar

Our story starts a s a lot of fantasy stories do, in the middle of a battle.The Obsidian Army lay siege to the inferior city of Midras. We meet our main character, quippy Captain Aren Bennis and his equally quippy side kick Syenna. After the city is mostly defeated, the general sends Captain Bennis to find a good spot to hold his victory parade, sounds like a pretty standard MMO quest. While in the city Bennis and Syenna chase down one of the city’s priestesses. In the midst of their chase they fall into a large tomb where Aren finds a magic sword that only he can touch and is suspected to be the Blade of an Avatar. Now everyone wants the blade and to find out what power it holds.

First let’s talk about the characters. They sound like video game characters almost all of the time. All of them are either super witty and have a comeback for everything like Captain Bennis, overly dramatic and ominous, or very one dimensional only there to move the plot along. But they’re enjoyable enough and there is enough character development to make you kind of care about Captain Bennis at least.

Now when I started reading this I wondered why they got the book traditionally published besides the fact that they could. It was originally an e-book for backers of Shroud of the Avatar. But what was the appeal for mass market, maybe some more advertising? I wondered if it would hold up with other fantasy novels and I think it did. It’s a par for the course as far as fantasy writing and plot lines go. In the back drop, the Obsidian Army is trying to civilize the world through law and order while the rest of the countries form a coalition to oppose them. At its core its the story of Captain Bennis coming to terms with whether or not he still believes in the Obsidian Cause.

For a 300 page fantasy novel, it does a good job at introducing some of the world. Though it feels kind of like Destiny’s story. There’s just enough lore and information to move the plot along but the deeper stuff you have to go outside of the game/book to look for. They keep talking about the Fall and everyone in the book seems to know what it was but its never explained I thought it was interesting that elves, ogers, fauns and other fantasy creatures were actually ,magically shaped from living humans by the Obsidians.

It actually made me a little more interested in the game itself. It was fun reading about places and thinking if I could play the game and go to those same places. While I didn’t think this was a fantastic book I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

Ready Player One is So Pay to Win

Ready Player 1.jpg

I just finished this book/auidio book a few days ago. I’ve been hearing for years that its one of the best video game novels ever. It’s some of my friends favorite book of all time.

After the death of the creator of the Oasis the world’s most popular game, he leaves a video will. It announces a competition to find an egg in the Oasis, the first player to do this gets to own the company and inherits all of  it’s wealth. It follows Wade Watts in his quest to solve the riddles to find the egg.

It’s set in a distopian future where the real world is energy starved, most of it’s a barren wasteland, and outside of major cities people live in trailers stacked up like high rises. But it’s ok because no one has to worry about the planet when basically everyone is playing in the Oasis, a virtual reality Second Life with hundreds of planets. It started out as an MMO and then grew to replace the internet. It’s a platform to conduct business, children go to virtual public schools, and is also a game though most people don’t play it as such.

The Oasis is free to play and  it’s also totally pay to win. You can transfer real money to get credits that allow you to buy items, armor, transportation, anything you might actually need to play the game. In fact you can’t even get off the starter tutorial planet without paying a transport fee. For most people this isn’t a problem as they don’t  play the actual game. If you did you better pony up the dough so you can go to a planet where you might be able to kill things for experience and if your lucky some items you can sell for some credits to transport somewhere else. Everything has a money sink, ships need to be refueled and repaired, weapons and armor break, and let’s not forget the auction house where you can buy some of the rarest artifacts as long as you have the cash.

It’s a good book, and the audiobook  narration by Will Wheaton was fantastic. It was a little weird hearing Will Wheaton narrate the parts about Will Wheaton or the whole sector of the Oasis called the Wheatonverse. I wouldn’t say it’s blew me away but it was set in a very interesting world.

I have to give it credit, the book manages to talk about video games without being cringey. A lot of times books will try to incorporate video games and they just don’t come out well in print. I also learned a lot about video game history and the 80’s reading this book, I don’t know how much of it is true but it all sounded accurate enough.

My one big gripe with the story is that it took 5 years to solve the first clue to find the egg. Thousands of players trying to figure it out and it took 5 years. The next clues only take a couple months each to solve apparently and they’re more obscure than the first. The other problem I had with the book is that the love interest feels forced. It’s like the book was written and then someone said, you know this is a story about a teenage boy and teenage boys are always motivated by chasing teenage girls around. The whole time she’s not even that interested in him and he just obsesses over her.

If you have read Ready Player One and are looking for a similar book, I highly recommend Omnitopia by Diane Duane. It looks like the rest of the series never took off but the first book is a really good read and is also set in an MMO.