Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Physical self-publishing?

To date, my plans on self-publishing have been entirely electronic. I never considered getting a physical version of Bane of Souls (available at all good e-book retailers), and won't for Journey to Altmortis.

However, I am thinking of doing it in the more distant future. Not for a short comedy I'm planning to slot in between Altmortis and the subsequent trilogy (unlike Bane of Souls, Altmortis and the trilogy the comedy will be set in an entirely separate world), but perhaps for the trilogy. If I like the results there's an off-chance I'll release a combined version of Bane of Souls and Journey to Altmortis in a single physical volume.

As a reader, I never really saw the point of physical versions of self-published books. My free space is now almost zero and the convenience and speed of an e-book is hard to beat. For fantasy, whether self- or traditionally published, I almost always buy electronic versions.

However, not everybody thinks the same way, and if I had more room I might consider buying the odd (especially good) fantasy in physical format.

On the Goodreads Indie Book Club, of which I'm a member, I found a useful link to a chap's blog post, which has some handy numbers on self-publishing:

Anyway, I thought I'd make this post in case anyone was wondering about the prospect of a print version. Possibly, but not for Journey to Altmortis. Yet.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Review: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, by Norman Davies

This is a history of countries that have ceased to be, going back about one and a half thousand years. It looks at around 15 examples of European nations that have joined the choir invisible.

Each 'kingdom' gets a chapter divided into three parts: a brief introduction, a larger discussion of the birth, life and death of the state, and then an epilogue. There are also several sections of plates (photos and the like), which is common to this sort of history.

Being into history, but mostly classical rather than modern, the majority of states were either entirely new to me or were ones about which I knew very little. It was particularly interesting to read of Prussia and Poland-Lithuania, and rather disheartening to hear how Montenegro (now independent once more) was abandoned by her victorious allies to the predation of Serbia following the end of the Great War.

As might be expected, some chapters entertained me more than others. Generally, I found them to enjoyable and enlightening.

I do have some gripes, however. Eire was included. I have nothing against the Republic of Ireland, but, as the more astute my readers will already know, it's, er, still here. It is the antithesis of a Vanished Kingdom, being neither vanished nor a kingdom.

There is also an occasional tendency to wander on tangential paths rather than sticking to the highway of each chapter's central theme.

The inclusion of Byzantium (under the slight alternative Byzantion) also irked me. Not because it's unworthy of inclusion, indeed, it's probably the single worthiest example of a Vanished Kingdom. The problem is that it has more than a thousand years of history yet gets the  second shortest chapter in the book (after a 'state' that lasted a single day), which contains very little of its actual history. Its inclusion is pointless due to the lack of information. (For those after a Byzantine history I very strongly recommend John Julius Norwich'sfantastic three-part work).

On the whole, I did enjoy it. Most of the history was entirely new to me and it was interesting and fairly easy to read. However, I'm baffled by the miniscule chapter on Byzantium and the inclusion of a country which was (in its present form) founded very recently and is in rude health.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Review: The Hero of Ages (Mistborn book 3), by Brandon Sanderson

I fairly raced through this book. As the last part of a trilogy [although there are some other books set in the same world] there are necessarily spoilers for the earlier instalments.

The storyline is nice and fast-paced, and has a few main strands. As might be expected, there's a focus on Elend and Vin, but also upon Spook, who gets a bit more of an active role this time.

Ash is falling thick and fast, volcanoes are exploding and the world looks doomed. By tracking down information the Lord Ruler left behind Elend and Vin hope to defeat Ruin.  

Throughout the series I've liked the kandra, and the scenes with TenSoon are amongst my favourites. More backstory about what the Lord Ruler did when he was all-powerful and his relationship with Ruin are revealed, and there are a few especially cunning twists that I never saw coming but which made perfect sense (as well as one or two which are a bit easier to anticipate).

Yomen is a new character who is quite intriguing. He's set himself up as King of Fadrex, but appears to be a pretty decent sort. However, he comes into conflict with Elend, who wants the city (for good reasons) and Mr. Sanderson does an excellent job of portraying how, in crisis or war, it's entirely possible for two opposing sides to be led by reasonable men.

Unlike the first two books, which were almost entirely focused on the capital, Luthadel, most of The Hero of Ages takes place in numerous other locations. This helps the author to flesh out the dying world of what was The Final Empire, which he does to good effect.

I liked The Hero of Ages a lot, and if you enjoyed The Well of Ascension I think you'll like this too. I'm sorely tempted to buy some more Mistborn books (and will be getting the second part of The Stormlight Archive when it comes out), but I'm going to focus on Vanished Kingdoms for now.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

New Reviews Page

As well as Interviews, I've decided to add a Reviews page (found at the tab above). This will be dedicated to reviews of Bane of Souls by blogs/sites, and won't include retailer-specific reviews (Amazon ones, for example) or reviews I do of other books.

The first review is by Boom Baby, the delightful lady reviewer of books, and has given Bane of Souls 4 flaming fireballs out of a possible 5.

It's always interesting to hear what people think of Bane of Souls, both the good and the bad, and hopefully I'll be able to use the reviews I get to help improve Journey to Altmortis (although it's a significantly different book in terms of plot so certain issues won't recur).


Friday, 11 January 2013

Review: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn book 2), by Brandon Sanderson

It's been a while since I read the first book (review here) in the Mistborn Trilogy, and must say that I think book 2's the better of the pair. Necessarily, some significant spoilers for the first book (The Final Empire) are below, so if that's an issue, stop reading now.

The book begins quite soon after the events of The Final Empire. Kelsier and the Lord Ruler are dead, and Elend has become king. However, he, his allies and Luthadel (the capital of what was the Final Empire) is surrounded by enemy armies and they lack the manpower, the food and the money to save themselves.

Along with Elend, Vin, his lady friend and general hard case, is the main focus of the book. She struggles to cope as various aspects of her life (loving Elend, trying to protect the city, prowling the nights as a Mistborn) pull her in different directions.

In addition to the armies surrounding the city Elend has to handle political shenanigans and there are a number of interesting, and surprising, twists and turns regarding the city's leadership.

The secondary characters are better fleshed out, I think, than in the first book. The presence of little snippets of lore from the past at the start of each chapter remains, which I really like.

The major characters develop convincingly throughout the story in response to the rising political pressures and possible open warfare, and tension between what's best for individuals and what's best for the city/empire as a whole.

It's a longer book than the average, and personally I quite like that. Sometimes the pace could perhaps be a little quicker, but it never felt like the story was seriously dragging.

I've already bought the next book, so a review of that (and Vanished Kingdoms) should be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead.


Monday, 7 January 2013

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Versus Valkyria Chronicles

After playing through XCOM a few times (including one epic failure) I thought I'd go back and play an older turn-based strategy (TBS) game. I bought Valkyria Chronicles ages ago for a knockdown price and really enjoyed it. Two sequels have since been released, but sadly they're both for the PSP (there's an off-chance there'll be a PS3 release in the future).


This is a bit of an unfair fight, but Valkyria Chronicles has hours of story-telling scenes and a cast of defined characters, whereas XCOM has three 'characters' (all at the base, though) and the soldiers are all randomised. There is an XCOM story, but it's deliberately minimalist (aliens have invaded, kill them).

My gravest worry about buying VC was that it would be too cute (due to the art style), and whilst there are moments of cheesiness it doesn't detract from the game significantly.

So, Valkyria Chronicles wins this easily.


Valkyria Chronicles has one gameplay strand and that's the battles. It does have some headquarters' facilities (R&D, training, etc) but these are pretty basic. Battles take place in a combination of first person shooting and direct control of units, and looking at an overall tactical map of the battlefield to see where your units, and those of the enemy, are. There are five classes that are fairly well-balanced, with differing units more useful on differing maps. Aside from two unit types reaching a certain level there is no real change to weapons beyond gradual improvement and no (useful) new ones added.

It's quite enjoyable to take direct control of units and launch sneak attacks, or co-operate with nearby allies. The battles usually involve very good knowledge of enemy whereabouts and the map generally. Maps are not randomised, so if you're replaying then you'll already know how to win a certain battle. Battle difficulty is generally pretty low, although one or two can be more challenging.

XCOM gameplay involves battles and strategic management of the base. Battles are fought with a squad of 4-6 randomised and customisable soldiers of four different, but well-balanced, classes. There's a fog of war, meaning that battlefield layout and enemies are unknown until you go exploring. Because aiming is not direct, unlike VC, there seems to be a greater element of chance involved.

Battles are more challenging than in Valkyria Chronicles by a distance, but it's the enjoyable sort of challenge you get when tussling with a worthy opponent (such as trying to pull a rope out of the jaws of a Staffordshire bull terrier). It's correspondingly far easier to lose squad members, and none of them are immune to this. On the downside, if you’re A-team gets wiped out then recovering can be almost impossible. Or perhaps that's an upside.

The base in XCOM requires some careful thought, as resources including power, money and alien tech need to be considered when buying new facilities, commissioning research or building new toys to obliterate alien scum. There's the added pressure of needing to keep paymaster nations happy (or at least not wetting themselves). It's very nicely balanced and fun.

Although I enjoy the battles in Valkyria Chronicles the XCOM offering is better, and the strategic aspect of the base is another plus. XCOM offers the superior gameplay.


Valkyria Chronicles' graphics are in the style of a well-drawn cartoon, which is not necessarily what one might go for when making a game about war. However, the art style works very well. Certain characters (particularly the Imperials) look especially good.

XCOM's graphics are of a more conventional brand. They're nice and clear-cut. There are some issues with textures taking a while to load, and whilst the graphics work well they're not outstanding.

Personally, I'd go for Valkyria Chronicles.


As with storyline, this is a bit of an uneven match. Valkyria Chronicles has a decent-sized cast who have quite a lot of scenes. XCOM has three base-bound cast members, and there are few cut scenes.

VC wins, essentially by default.

Music and Sound Effects

The music of Valkyria Chronicles is generally good, and one or two pieces are very good indeed. I've listened to one or two themes (including the one from the final battle) on Youtube. The sound effects, from the hum of tank radiators to exploding mines, are reasonably good.

XCOM's music isn't bad, but it does seem to be forgettable. I can't really remember it, good or ill. The sound effects, though, are very nice, and I really enjoyed the sound of sizzling lasers cooking an alien's face.

Split decision on this: VC for the music, and XCOM for the sound effects.

Longevity and replayability

There's quite a lot to Valkyria Chronicles. It is an essentially linear game, with story scenes and battles unfolding in a strict order. However, there are optional skirmish battles (basically to grind for experience) and some nice extra options offering information on the world generally, personnel and weapons.

An exception to the linearity is the purchase of optional extra mini-chapters which provide more personal or storyline information and often lead to a new perk for one or more main characters.

I couldn't say precisely how long a single playthrough of the game is, but twice as long (or more) than XCOM is a reasonable guess. Replayability, however, is severely diminished because the maps and battles are identical, and when you start the New Game Plus your soldiers all keep their experience and souped-up weapons.

XCOM is significantly shorter than Valkyria Chronicles, but does have a sharper edge from the greater challenge. Randomised maps and soldiers also means that whilst the game lacks character and storyline focus it gains unpredictability and significant replay value.

Longevity goes to Valkyria Chronicles, and XCOM takes the replayability honours.

Bugs and other issues

There are no bugs or any related issues with Valkyria Chronicles that I've detected. I replayed it recently and have played it all the way through 2-3 times before.

XCOM has a few issues. Textures can take a while to load, the game sometimes freezes for no apparent reason, and sometimes SHIVs can be broken (leading to freezes). None of these problems are game-breaking, but they're obviously detrimental to the experience.

Valkyria Chronicles wins this category by virtue of having no technical problems (that I've found).


This is about as tight as I'd expect it to be. Both are highly enjoyable TBS games. If the storyline weighs heavily with you, go for Valkyria Chronicles. If you want a challenge and greater replayability, go for XCOM. 

I'd say that XCOM is the better game overall. Although it lags in a few areas, its gameplay makes up for other relative shortcomings.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Review: Dishonored

Dishonored is a first person action/adventure game by Bethesda, and has been released for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC (I was playing the PS3 version).

It follows the player-character Corvo, a fine upstanding bodyguard who gets framed for regicide and unjustly thrown in jail. He spends the rest of the game killing everyone who's wronged him, which is a fairly sizeable list.

I've played the game through once, and I'd guess it took me about 20 hours, maybe a little longer.


The story's pretty basic but entirely coherent. There's some fleshing out of the world with audiographs and books. The story unfolds in a city-state, Dunwall, which is an original and interesting backdrop for the game. Technology is approximately equivalent to an alternative 19th century, with whale oil providing the base fuel for electrical equipment (and weaponry). Single shot pistols are the general weapon of choice, with grenades and sleep darts probably the highest level of technology the player can carry around with them.

The unique character of Dunwall does help give the game a distinct identity of its own (in that regard it's almost the anti-Dragon's Dogma which, for all its delights, had a very generic world).

The story itself is not especially surprising or original and serves to advance the plot rather than act as the meat of the game in itself. It's not a bad story, it merely doesn't go beyond plausible and functional.


Undoubtedly the finest aspect of the game. The vast majority of the time is spent on missions, killing persons of a dubious nature. Corvo always carries his sword (which looks more like a dagger) in his right hand, and uses his left for either a secondary weapon or magic. Other weapons included ranged offerings, such as the silent crossbow, grenades and a few other toys.

The magic is bought with runes, that can be found throughout missions using a grisly Dunwall version of SatNav. Each form of magic has 2 levels, (basic and advanced, if you like). The various forms seem to all be quite useful (I got perhaps 80% of the magic unlocked during my playthrough) and are well-balanced. I found Blink (the ability to teleport short distances) extremely cool and useful, and likewise Dark Vision (which enables the player to see through walls and see enemies, and their fields of vision).

All magic and items can be found through a comprehensive wheel menu, and four can be hot-keyed to the D-pad. This works extremely well and makes gameplay nice and fluid.

As well as killing enemies, they can be knocked out with sleep darts from the crossbow or simply put in a choke-hold. Main targets can often also be subjected to non-lethal forms of elimination.

New items and upgrades can be purchased from Piero, Corvo's inventor chum. Ammunition is cheap enough to be maxed out easily, and the upgrades cost enough that you won't be able to buy the lot within the first mission or two.

The missions are fairly small in number, but take place over large maps, which works well. With one exception (the penultimate mission) they don't drag despite often being long. Instead, the mission length makes the successful completion all the more satisfying.

Difficulty, on normal, was mostly easy (and I write this as someone who has never played Bioshock or Deus Ex, to which Dishonored has often been compared).

However, whilst the gameplay does work well I've got to say that personally I prefer a game with a strong RPG element. I think there was scope for more 'peaceful' interactions with Corvo's allies, and Dunwall is an interesting enough place for me to wish I'd learnt a bit more about it.

The gameplay was fun, but when I finished playing it wasn't something I missed especially. In that regard, it's like a cheese sandwich. Nice and tasty, but it won't leave you wanting more the same way a chocolate chip muffin will.


The graphics are good, although Bethesda have taken the deliberate choice to make them slightly stylised, compared to games such as Skyrim and Fallout 3. The city's a little dark and grim, in keeping with the sentiments of plague and murder. I never saw an issue with screen-tearing or lag or textures, and the graphics were generally good.


The voice acting is always good and sometimes excellent. The music was alright, but it never really grabbed me. Sound effects were pretty good, and I must admit I found myself cackling fiendishly as my enemies, oblivious to my re-wiring, wandered too near an unfriendly arc pylon and found themselves fried to a crisp with a delightful electrical surge.

Longevity and replayability

The game's got a reasonable length for a single playthrough, and the variable styles (ultra-stealthy, slightly stealthy or lunatic with a gun fetish) means that one or two extra games can be played with a fairly fresh perspective.

Bugs and others issues

I didn't notice any bugs or issues at any stage of playing the game.


I liked Dishonored, but I didn't love it. The gameplay's smooth and enjoyable, but I think there was room to add more non-combat interaction with people, particularly allies. One mission added a substantially new approach (Lady Boyle's party) but otherwise they did become rather too similar.

I'd probably give Dishonored 7.5/10. It's a decent game, I just wish there was a bit more to it.