Author: Richard Titus
My rating: 3 of 5
An isolated tropical island. A whimsical, incompetent king who just wants to see the world. A mysterious girl. Sea monsters and pirates. Extra-dimensional lizards who may or may not exist. What kind of mad wonder is this?!
You can tell before you even open The Gift of the Quoxxel that it’s going to be a quirky trip. And you would be right in that assumption. This is quite the whimsical genre-mash, with a lot of fantasy but also elements of science fiction and mystery, plus a lot of humor. If you’re a fan so Seussical neologism or Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy, this is the book for you. It’s filled with quirky characters, long strings of alliteration, and plenty of surprises. For myself, I did personally find the surprises to be a bit too obtuse for my taste. It was like the author tried to keep things so mysterious at points that I just found myself getting lost. Not that I get the feeling that everything is supposed to fall into place and be perfectly understood. It’s not that kind of story. But . . . I kind of found myself getting lost in the whimsy at times. Still, The Gift of the Quoxxel was a fun trip, and even better, one that’s appropriate for all ages.
Producer: Choice of Games
Author: Kevin Gold
My rating: 5 of 5
You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?
Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.
Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.
Story by Neil Gaiman
Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.
I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.
Big Finish Productions
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience, because Torchwood
It’s been years since “the miracle,” and Gwen and Rhys have settled into a quiet life with their daughter, far, far away from Torchwood, aliens, and any such things. So it’s with a bit of trepidation that they respond to a late-night phone call claiming that Jack Harkness (whom they haven’t heard from in years) needs their help . . . and yet, how can they help but respond? Leaving their daughter with Gwen’s mother, the two drive to a nursing home in northern Wales, hoping to find Jack and save the world (again). But what they find is enough to leave them more than shaken, even with all they’ve seen in the past.
Forgotten Lives is a pretty solid contribution to the Torchwood canon. It’s a full-cast audio drama set a few years post Children of Earth, and it does make allusions to that, so mild spoilers there. As for the cast, the only main-cast members to show up are Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen). Jack does show up as well (naturally), but not in his own body, so no John Barrowman appearances here–bummer that. The acting is solid, and the flow of the story is easy to follow. I did find it interesting that the story focuses on a nursing home and the vulnerabilities of the people who live there–definitely some social commentary going there, despite the main threat being (once again) an alien invasion. As is typical for Torchwood, this leads us to some dark places, so fair warning there–as with literally everything related to this series, I would recommend avoiding if you’re prone to depression. But yeah, for those who enjoy the series, Forgotten Lives is an interesting continuation going beyond what we got in the show and is worth checking out.
Written by Emma Reeves/Directed by Scott Handcock/Produced by James Goss/Starring Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Philip Bond, Valmai Jones, Seán Carlsen, & Emma Reeves
Mangaka: Meca Tanaka
Status: Complete (2 volumes)
My rating: 2.5 of 5
Hako has the worst of luck–pencils breaking, things falling on her, rain beginning just as she goes outside, you name it. So why should it be any surprise when an experiment by her friends in the Occult Research Club leads to a naked alien prince falling on her, claiming she is his soulmate, and demanding she mate with him? Fortunately for Hako, she has awesome friends who manage to convince said prince, Io of the planet Yupita, that he has to win Hako’s love first. Meanwhile, they also convince Hako to try to make him fall in love with her and then make him leave. Of course, with her luck, what are the chances they’ll actually both fall in love for real?
Meteor Prince is not a bad read, but it’s certainly not Tanaka’s best by any means. It’s cute and goofy and hopelessly romantic in a sweet, innocent way (ignore all the nudity and talk of mating; it’s actually pretty clean). But it’s also kind of predictable and tropey. Like, down to the amnesia getting in the way of their love kind of tropey. Io is very reminiscent of Tamaki Suoh is oh so many ways, only with a dark past that never really gets developed much, with less social awareness (le gasp! Is this possible?), and with cool alien shape-shifting abilities. And aside from her bad luck, Hako is a pretty predictable shoujo heroine–innocent, girly, a bit too sweet, but relatively lacking in outstanding characteristics. On the other hand, Hako has a pretty awesome baby brother whose background and character I would have loved to see developed more; we didn’t even get to meet him until partway through the second volume! Probably the biggest pro for this series is actually Hako’s friends in the Occult Research Club–both because they have interesting personalities and because they’re just good friends, which is important. As for the art, it’s cute, pretty typical in style for the author. So yeah, for a cute, short shoujo manga, Meteor Prince will do quite nicely, but it’s not particularly memorable or outstanding.
Author: Douglas Adams
My rating: 3.5 of 5
A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.
I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.
Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.