August 14, 2013

Like a phoenix (down) rising from the ashes: Project Phoenix Kickstarter!

Project Phoenix is a SQUAD-BASED, REAL-TIME STRATEGY GAME combined with strong Japanese RPG design influences, brought to you by top Eastern and Western creators who have worked on many blockbuster game titles.

Project Phoenix Kickstarter

Oh the possibilities! For a RPG enthusiast like me this is like a dream come true! Indie JRPG aww yeah!

I think the naming of the project has been really appropriate. JRPG in general has been in a continuous state of decline for quite some time now. While the graphic and the quality of CGI cutscenes of JRPGs did become fancier, the gameplay and the story saw no improvement at all, and the ever-changing battle system is really, just old wine in a new bottle (The same can be said of JRPG as a whole). I have high hope in this project, which brings together the best talents from both East and West. If this project ever to become a success, it will (or I hope it will) not only revitalize the JRPG industry, but set the new standard for the games to come as well - truly like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Watch this YouTube video, enjoy some early concept art, and let's make this a success!

May 27, 2013

R.I.P. Jack Vance

Vancian Magic

Today all the 3.5 era Wizards weep; and prismatic spray will never be as colorful as before.

Jack (John Holbrook) Vance (San Francisco, August 28, 1916 - Oakland, May 26, 2013) was an American mystery, fantasy and science fiction author. Most of his work has been published under the name Jack Vance. Vance has published 11 mysteries as John Holbrook Vance and 3 as Ellery Queen. Other pen names (each used only once) included Alan Wade, Peter Held, John van See, and Jay Kavanse.

Among his awards are: Hugo Awards, in 1963 for The Dragon Masters, in 1967 for The Last Castle, and in 2010 for his memoir This is Me, Jack Vance!; a Nebula Award in 1966, also for The Last Castle; the Jupiter Award in 1975; the World Fantasy Award in 1984 for life achievement and in 1990 for Lyonesse: Madouc; an Edgar (the mystery equivalent of the Nebula) for the best first mystery novel in 1961 for The Man in the Cage; in 1992, he was Guest of Honor at the WorldCon in Orlando, Florida; and in 1997 he was named a SFWA Grand Master. A 2009 profile in the New York Times Magazine described Vance as "one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices."

Jack Vance Official Website
Los Angeles Times: Jack Vance dies at 96
the guardian: Jack Vance tributes pour in after his death

Review: The Peers of Beinan #2 - The Ghosts of the Past

The Ghosts of the Past

Planet Beinan is falling apart as healing centers across the planet are bombed by an unseen assailant. Only one knight of Ten-Ar can find the truth before all hope is lost forever. And what of the new queen's youngest daughter, Princess Anyu? Will she escape before Lord Yelu can destroy her?

Spanning four generations and nearly two thousand Earth years, the fate of an entire planet hangs in the balance in this courtly epic of love, courage, murder, and mystery.

Book two of the Peers of Beinan series; part two of the Anlei's Legacy arc.

Genre – Fiction/Science Fantasy/Political
While the setting of Beinan is that of a space flight-capable, technologically advanced society, I wouldn’t call this “Science Fiction” because plausible, hard science does not form the core of this story. Instead, it is very “Star War-ish”, with scientifically unexplainable elements like psychic powers and reincarnation, and has more in common with a fantasy literature than a true sci-fi one.

3 Stars out of 5

(Yeah, I worked as a multimedia/graphic designer. OF COURSE I judge a book by its cover.)

The cover consists of, well, some heredity banners, a maiden in period dress, and an archer wearing some sort of gambeson. The overall impression is very medieval to me; I certainly could not expect a science fantasy novel by looking at the cover alone.

The overall design is…well, amateurish.

Setting, Story and Character
I hate to be so frankly honest here. Especially when I owe the author the goodwill or ren qin “人情” of giving me these Ebooks for free. Nevertheless, honesty, even brutal honesty, forms up the majority of my moral compass, so I would either write honestly or don’t write at all.

I will try to be as objective as possible and talk about the good and bad parts of this book.

The Good
The settings and world building of Beinan is one thing I immediately took a liking to, and I think it is very well executed. The world of Beinan is very unique; it is a colorful blend of occidental and oriental cultures in a medieval-future society. I love how the author took great care to make sure that every little detail, from planetary nomenclature to measurement units to cultural cuisine, to appear unique yet not too alien for the readers. Being a world building enthusiast myself, this contributed much into the 3-stars ranking above.

The Bad
While there are kings and queens and the ubiquitous “Great Council”, this book strikes me more as an “evil stepmother trying to abuse Cinderella” story rather than a true political drama. The “good people” in this book are good, kind and beautiful, but plagued with stupidity and inaction. The best they can do is to cringe in some corner and wait for the issue to resolve itself – just like a fairy tale.

The Ugly
For a novel supposedly about deadly decadent court and politicking and succession crisis (as I envision it to be), there’s too little politics and too much sex. Don’t get me wrong, using sex as a mean to achieve some political purposes is fine (in the “valid plot element” sense, NOT in the “morally right” sense); sex for sex’s sake is not.

About the Author

Laurel A. Rockefeller was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. A natural singer-songwriter from an early age, her interest in physics and astronomy were inspired by both early visits to Lincoln's Hyde observatory and by the 1977 release of George Lucas' "Star Wars" which caught her imagination alongside with Arthurian legends and medieval songs and tales.

During her freshman year at the University of Nebraska, she discovered the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, inspiring her to write a sonnet "Why Bilbo?" which the American Tolkien Society published in 1991. More publications followed as her skill for writing increased with her education and life experience.

Today, Laurel is mostly known for her non-fiction work, particularly for Yahoo Voices, and for her skills as a copy editor.

The Peers of Beinan series is her first science fiction series.

Author's personal website:
Laurel A. Rockefeller

You can buy the The Peers of Beinan series from by simply click here (for the first book) and here (for the second book).

May 18, 2013

Pleasant Surprise

I've never thought that my two-post nobody blog would garner the interest of an American indie novelist, but Laurel A. Rockefeller shares the same interest and fascination on Chinese culture with me, and my previous blog post about a Wuxia novel become the bridge that connect us together.

Laurel is a science fantasy author currently with two novels under her name. In our Email exchange we talked about many different topic, from worldbuilding to Chinese history and culture, as well as some astrology and past life, but all in all she strongly recommend me to read her books (understandably), and to my surprise even give me the free digital copy of her novels as a gift.

Everyone loves freebies and I am no exception, and I really appreciate her generosity. Expect me to put up a  review/recommendation post of her novel soon, but how soon I can't guarantee yet (I am a slow reader after all).

April 28, 2013

The true Wuxia : Blood and Steel (Sangre Y Acero)

What is Wuxia? 

I believe most western audience will picture some awesome kung fu movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or not-quite-awesome one like The Forbidden Kingdom. If you are a computer gamer, you should already know that the entire World of Warcraft expansion of Mists of Pandaria is basically one giant tribute to the Wuxia genre.

The wandering swordsman, the mystical beauty, revenge and justice, and high-flying wire-fu. What you just pictured in your mind actually is not too far off from the common perception of Wuxia genre of the Chinese. Nevertheless, these aspects are not everything about Wuxia. These are not even the best part of the Wuxia.

Enter Blood and Steel.

Blood and Steel Wuxia
(Jin Lie, one of the main character, is a ronin-type blood knight hero that took inspirations from Miyamato Musashi. Image taken from author's blog)
Authored by Qiao Jingfu (喬靖夫), a novelist from Hong Kong, Blood and Steel is a Wuxia novel series that span twelve volumes (and still ongoing), with two ongoing manhua (comic) series that closely follow the plot of the novel.

Set in Ming China, the story begins with the destruction of the Qin Cheng sect in the hands of Wudang sect (Both are traditionally 'good guy' sects in most Wuxia, but the morality is really ambiguous here in Qiao's novel) but quickly expanded. In the latest volume the world of Wulin have to face the wrath and firepower of Ming Dynasty!

Blood and Steel is Wuxia in its purest, barest form, the Wu (武, martial or martial arts) and the Xia (俠, vigilante or justice). There is no high-flying, physic-defying, suspension-breaking kung-fu, there is no mystical, skinny old Yoda-like sensei, and there is no infusion of Zen energy or inner fire thing that turns a spoiled brat into a kung fu master overnight. In Blood and Steel, every martial arts petitioner is muscle-bound. They fight like beasts and die like animals. Whenever there is wrong that need to be righted, it is righted with blood, and steel.   

At the time of this writing, there isn't a English translation of the novel available yet (sadly). I really hope this Wuxia masterpiece can spread to the Western world. In the mean time, there is a fan-translated version of the comic, don't miss it!

Related Website
Official Website (In Chinese):武道狂之詩
Author's Blog (In Chinese): 喬靖夫.公式讀本
Baka-Update Manga page of the fan-translated comic: Blood and Steel

April 27, 2013

A game that (will be) worth playing: Stardew Valley

If you happen to like open world farming simulation role playing games like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, then you will like this upcoming indie game.

A screenshot of the upcoming game, Stardew Valley
(Image taken from the official website)

Stardew Valley is an indie game developed by ConcernedApe (Yes, that's totally one guy that create the whole game). Its graphic is reminiscent of SNES-era Harvest Moon, but still look very pleasant to the eye.

The game is still in active development, and expected to see the light sometime in 2013. Not much about the gameplay is currently know, but it will be expanded upon the Harvest Moon game, with the added benefits of moust-and-keyboard control. One of the selling points of Stardew Valley is the 4-players Co-Op game (This feature is also available in the latest Harvest Moon 3DS: A New Beginning, which is an awesome game too, get it from Amazon here!) . Check up the trailer below!

Stardew Valley is in Steam Greenlight, you can go and vote for it here. You can also vote for it in Indie Crash E3 here.

Official Website
Stardew Valley