Fallout 76 and Appalachia

Reclamation Day has finally arrived! October 23 has come and gone, and Vault 76 officially opened to show us dwellers just what post-apocalyptic West Virginia looks like. In case you haven’t followed the series, the latest Fallout game, which puts players in various parts of the U.S. (and occasionally an alien vessel) years after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world as we know it, began B.E.T.A. testing last night.

In addition to being set far in a 1950’s-esque future, with strangely advanced machinery, and a renewed hatred of Communism, the Fallout series presents players with a myriad of radiation-altered enemies; humanoid, robot, and animalistic in nature.

The latest game, Fallout 76, allows players to leave their respective nuclear fallout shelter, or vault, about 25 years after the bombs fell. That’s about 200 years earlier than any other Fallout game so far. That’s one of the most exciting things about this game, for me. With such a short time frame after the war, we’re not only going to see things that haven’t had as much time to readjust, but we’re going to be in an area that hasn’t yet been explored by the games. This game is also completely different, in that it’s an entirely online platform. You’re playing on a server with a limited number of other people, but all other human interaction is actually via other players in real time. Of course, you can go off on your own and explore, but you’re encouraged to build teams and play as a unit.

After playing the four hour B.E.T.A. (Standing for Break it Early Test Application), I’m pretty impressed by the game so far. When it comes to game play and the general feel of the game, this one compares to part 4 for me. I feel the graphic engine upgrade has done a lot for exemplifying the beauty of West Virginia, an area I’m very familiar with, having grown up half an hour from the border. Movement in the game was pretty similar to previous ones, as is the “junk” you pick up through the world that assists you through the rest of the game. One new and interesting thing is the Pip Boy graphic, which can now be transferred from your arm module to lay over the screen in a hologram-style opaque screen. This makes the real-time gameplay a bit easier, since you can see the enemies around you.

Another factor that helps with the real time gameplay is that you have to eat and drink regularly or you’ll get dehydrated and starve. There are countless opportunities to pick up food through the world, including stripping meat from the animals you kill, but the new thing here is- it all spoils. If you get some meat from the doe you killed and don’t eat it for a certain period of time, it rots. At that point it can still be eaten, but it has a significantly increased chance to give you diseases and radiation damage.

Speaking of radiation damage, that’s another difference. Before if your radiation level got too high, you’d have some slight side effects, but usually nothing too noticeable during gameplay. In this game there are increased chances for radiation-influenced disease. One example I saw last night was during a fight with some feral ghouls. During the fight I saw the notice that I’d taken increased rad damage, and then every few seconds during the fight myself and the area around me would burst into flames. After taking some meds to lower the radiation levels I got the notice that I had recovered from an “unstable isotope” illness. This makes me very excited for what other possibilities await in that area.

As far as creatures to battle, I ran into a lot of ghouls, of course, a group of supermutants, some protectrons and other robots, but in this game there are some new and interesting creatures. I ran across a few supersized ticks, a couple of three headed opossums, and a new robot. But the most interesting thing I encountered was the Scorched. I just played in a few areas of the map, and for a limited time, but what I saw was; Scorched are everywhere.

Looking like a case of sunburn gone bad, the burnt-skinned creatures appear to be covered in glowing embers and growing green lesions all over their bodies. There are research areas dedicated to the creatures that give you some more details, but I can say they can be brutal if they gang up on you. Violent, vicious, and hard to see in the dark, they use weapons and can have a pretty decent health. They also move quickly and can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

One thing that has returned, but altered, is weapon and armor degradation. In previous games (except 4) your equipment would break down and eventually become unusable, but you could grab another of the same item and combine them to fix it. With this game, if something breaks, you have to have junk and go to an armor or weapon bench to repair it. That adds a new and interesting element to the gameplay and gives you an increased need for a good melee weapon as well. Leveling up is also a bit different, this game offering you perk cards rather than a perk map. You can only have certain cards active at a time, which allows you to build and change your character’s effectiveness in different areas for different things, and depending on whether you’re on your own or part of a team.

Overall, my first experience with Bethesda’s version of West Virginia has been a positive one. It was very interesting for me to explore the digital version of areas I’ve frequented in my life. I was able to cross the damaged New River Gorge bridge, see areas I’ve driven through countless times, and search Point Pleasant for the mysterious Mothman. Although I didn’t find him, I did harvest some of his eggs, so I have hope for his presence in the game. I also find myself wondering if the presence of what appeared to be drones in the sky just outside of Point Pleasant has anything to do with him. Point Pleasant lies on the edge of the map and I witnessed what appeared to be two drones flying over an area just beyond the edge of the map. Maybe that’s an area we’ll see opened in the future?

I’m very excited for the next B.E.T.A. session to open, and I very much hope I can join it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all purchase the game if you haven’t already. I would love to build a team with you guys to explore the wild and wonderful West Virginia wilderness! I’m putting one of my gameplay photos as the cover photo here, and I may share a couple others on social media if you want to check them out. I may make some other posts as the official full game release approaches, so keep your eyes open for that. And if you do have access to the B.E.T.A., keep your weapons ready and share your experiences with me!!

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

Hey there friends and fans! It’s the end of May and, as promised, here is the first in a new kind of review for me. I apologize for being a bit later than intended, but between work and some personal challenges, here we are. Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Obviously, the appeal of the standard review isn’t something I can completely drop when a book particularly calls to me, but this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In case you’ve had your head in the sand, I’m talking about my review of the Harry Potter series in its entirety. As someone who grew up with J.K Rowling’s amazing books (although I admittedly didn’t join the celebration until the release of the third book) I have been incredibly influenced by the ideas and art within them. My style, my interests, even some of my own moral ideas reflect some of those exhibited by The Boy Who Lived and his closest friends. One reason I wanted to do this review, aside from having an excuse to talk about them, was to make myself buckle down and read the series from beginning to end again. The last time I read each book in succession like this was immediately after the release of “Deathly Hallows,” and, after doing it again, I think I see why. I’m pretty sure my brain was saving me once again from the pain of having to deal with the end of this amazing series. However, in this instance I also had “The Cursed Child” to stave off the ‘ending pains.’ As a side note, since this book comes so long after the originals and acts as a very different sort of book, I’ll probably set up a separate paragraph about it as well.

To begin, this series is about Harry Potter, a young wizard who was attacked by the most powerful Dark Wizard who ever lived. Potter, after being raised by muggles (non-magic folk) for 11 years, is thrown into the wizarding world and his own fame with no knowledge of any of it. The series follows Harry’s footsteps through his 7 year tenure at Hogwarts, where he and his friends must face typical teenage angst, learning the facets of magic, and the return of Voldemort, who still wants nothing more than to see Harry dead.

As I said, I fell into this series at a young age and I was instantly hooked. From the first paragraph J.K. Rowling drives you into this fantasy world that, despite the silly antics littering the pages, is almost entirely believable. Even now, more than a decade later, I love reading about Harry’s adventures and his education at an antiquated, unusual, and wonderful school. The characters were, for the most part, incredibly relatable to me. I was very impressed to find out that this was still the case after all these years. As I read into these characters I found myself understanding their conflicts, their sadness, and their excitement.

One of the strongest things Rowling presents, in my opinion, is the threat of darkness that surrounds Voldemort’s return. Every one of his followers we are introduced to is more dastardly than the last – despite the blatant incapability of some of them. Harry’s link to his would-be murderer is something that, even at the end of the seventh novel, feels like it is much deeper and more involved than we could ever understand. This idea is, of course, further explored in “The Cursed Child,” but more on that later.

One of the things that continuously interested me with this series – even more so at this point in my life and the state of the world – was Rowling’s continued incorporation of the necessity of equality, between sexes, genders, sexualities, species and races. Time and time again our main characters (particularly Hermione) find the mistreatment of anyone who is different from the pure-blood, magical standard in the wizarding world deplorable. Organizations are started (S.P.E.W. – not spew), punches are thrown, spells are cast, and lives are lost in the name of equality. I love the repeated examples that show all species and races and sexes should have the same claim to the world and its happiness. Rowling doesn’t back down from bringing these issues to the forefront of the novels in many different ways, and I think the story and morals are all that much more important because of it.

Harry’s coming of age was something that made many of my generation feel a little less alone, a little stronger, and a little more at ease about our own lives. Rowling’s tale reflects some of the difficulties that can face all of us as we enter adulthood – with the hopeful exception of a murderous psychopath chasing you through your life. So many of us bonded incredibly with this tale, feeling the characters experience some of the same things we all felt, facing some situations we were familiar with, and it showed us all that everything would be fine. After all, if a 17 year old can handle battling most of the wizarding world and coming toe-to-toe with the most powerful wizard alive, we can surely handle high school, right?

Rowling’s nonchalant style throughout much of this saga makes the books very easy to read. Her often lighthearted approach at even the most difficult situations helps drive these novels home and make them stick with us long after we’ve closed the books. The saga is so immense and full that I’m not sure I have a favorite part, or even a favorite book, although I think “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Order of the Phoenix,” and “Deathly Hallows” are steps above the others for me.

Overall, I’m not sure there are many things I don’t like about the series. I would like to see more of Harry’s story played out. I would really love Rowling to write a book about the events before Harry’s birth. A nice long exploration of Dumbledore’s past, the true story of Voldemort’s rise to power, background on James’s family. Of course these things have been touched on in various ways since the original novels.

When it comes to “The Cursed Child” I had a good deal of inner conflict when reading the work. I was very excited to see the script released in novel format, and I would love to see the production, and I do think it could be a great movie. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this was my first reading of the book, even though I preordered it and have had it for well over a year. This continuation of Harry’s tale, bringing his family into focus and revisiting events of his past was a wonderful idea. I had a good deal of trouble relating to the adult Harry and his son, Albus, at first. I found the boy to be quite impetulant and much more like a Malfoy than a Potter, and I thought Harry did not feel like the same person he was in the series. As the story went on I did relate a bit more the characters, and I admittedly do enjoy the idea of Hermione as Minster of Magic. I won’t mention too many more spoilers here, because a good deal of people have missed the book. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the continuation, but still would have loved more mention of the past events of the wizarding world.

Overall, this series is by far one of the best things I’ve read in my life – and, believe me, that list is NOT a small one. The wizarding world continues to have immense appeal to me, particularly in that they have little to no need of the technology that continues to drive this world forward and diminish our connection with the universe. The continued use of quills and lanterns, a lack of trivial things like television and video games, and the obvious embrace of the natural world still warms my heart, too. But what did you think about it? Do you love the series, do you hate it? If you’d never read it before, how did it hit you, and if you were returning to the books did you still find yourself interested in the story? What, if anything, changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this as far and wide as you can to get plenty of people involved! For me Harry Potter was, and is, truly an inspiration. The laughter, the tears and the passion that filled these pages will never die and I am exceptionally glad that I can always turn to them. I am proud to have grown up on them. I will be happy to pass them on to future generations. Always.

Every Day

Happy Friday! I hope this week went by swimmingly for you all. This is rather unexpected, as it came to me on a whim, but here is a surprise, mid-month book review! Recently I’ve been seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming release “Every Day,” and it has intrigued me in a major way. The concept as laid out in the trailer, of a person who wakes up every morning in a new body, a new person, with no solid life and no link to the rest of the world beyond that of their current host, called to me like crazy. I immediately knew I had to go see it. Needless to say, when I realized it was based on a book , I obviously had to read it.

As I’m on a strict reading schedule for the year I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise. Yesterday afternoon I saw the trailer again and was once more convinced I had to read the book, preferably before the movie’s February 23 release. On a whim I decided to check the OverDrive app, a free app that allows you to check out ebooks from hundreds of participating libraries (an app that I’ve obviously fallen in love with) for the book. When I saw it was available the choice was made before I even realized it.

I was immersed in the story from the first word. David Levithan’s story of this person, this genderless, identityless, familyless, homeless person bouncing from consciousness to consciousness every single day, never able to control the transition, the destination, is incredible. Obviously, if you haven’t read it, you may want to put a pin in this post and do that. As you can tell, it’s pretty easy to read the book quickly, since I completed it in probably a combined reading time of 6 or 8 hours. So, go read. I’ll wait.

Now, I’m assuming you completed the book and are ready for discussion? Good, let’s!

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is incredible. I do like my YA novels as well as most other forms of literature, and this book is a YA novel that reads like both classic and modern fiction. It is something that feels so natural that you sometimes find it easy to forget you’re reading a book and not just directly connecting with the thoughts of the main character, a loving but mysterious soul whose only identifier is the self-prescribed moniker of “A,” set up early in A’s 16-year life to give them (the most suiting pronoun) something to hang on to, something to anchor to to prevent themselves from going mad while bouncing from life to life with no control.

As I said, the concept is great. I was immediately drawn to feel sympathy for this character. As someone that puts a lot of stock in the protective and loving character of family, reading this tale of someone who has never been able to feel that solidity really made me invested in the book. A’s story is something that holds incredible strength, purpose, possibility, and much sadness. I loved the absolute unpredictability of the story as the reader is brought along with A to enter the lives of numerous individuals from all races, genders, levels of health, and family situations.

I enjoyed that we are brought in after A has lived this way for 16 years, no explanation of how or why they are living this life, and no certain answers of whether it is possible to stop or slow it down. We come into the story on day 5,994 in the body of Justin, who the reader is quickly ready to dislike. Before long we are introduced to shy, timid Rhiannon, who is the reason for everything that happens in the book. One thing I was drawn to throughout this novel is the undeniable feeling of love that A feels for Rhiannon almost instantly. As someone who has never spent more than 24 hours with any one person or group of people, the idea that such a powerful connection can be made almost instantly with Rhiannon is incredibly intense. Levithan throws A and the reader into this tale head first and keeps at it through the entire text, presenting a love story so complete, so without boundaries, so without restriction and full of possibility that it can literally leave you reeling.

I was enamored with A’s immediate connection with Rhiannon, their undeniable infatuation that even transcended Rhiannon’s connection with A’s host of the day, Justin. The description of A’s life being turned completely upside down by something as common as love is a concept that really put the world into incredible perspective. Knowing that this character, who has never had the time to experience something the rest of us take for granted and consider normal, is thrown completely through a loop by this one thing is extremely powerful. A running theme through this book that is lying just below the surface is that something as unbelievably thrilling as being able to bounce from life to life consistently, never having to worry about tomorrow, never having to face responsibility and knowing that no matter how good or bad your situation is, a change is literally less than 24 hours away is nothing compared to the unpredictability of falling in love. It’s something that you can get lost in.

I love the repeated mentions A makes of the experience they have had. Multiple times while speaking with Rhiannon as well as just reflecting on their own A talks about how they may not have had many consistent and average life experiences that a 16-year-old  would normally get, but that they have had countless experiences that are typically lost on individuals. The concept of getting to experience life from more than 6,000 sets of eyes in more than 6,000 settings and more than 6,000 family situations is both liberating and exhausting to me. I like to live my life thinking that every day brings us something new, but this expands on that concept to a point that I feel like I have trouble wrapping my head around it. It is just another of the many reminders of how small we all truly are.

Levithan touches many times on the concept of homosexuality and love, repeatedly speaking through A’s point of view while living in the bodies of males, females, transgender individuals all of varying sexuality. Here he touches heavily on the concept of humanity versus gender and identity. A feels just as much love for Rhiannon while in the body of a female as they do a male, just as much passion for this one girl while in the body of someone she’s never met as they do while in the body of her boyfriend of over a year. This speaks volumes to me. Many people in the world today have very differing ideas when it comes to sexuality and ‘normality’, right and wrong, and average and ‘weird.’ But A knew none of that. They knew just as much as they felt from day to day, minute to minute, and what they knew above all else was a love so intense that it literally transcended all else.

In my opinion anyone who reads this book can learn invaluable lessons from it. As a straight, white male born into a middle class Christian family I admittedly haven’t had to face much adversity on the forefront of my love life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it. Having friends of different sexual preferences, different identities, from different backgrounds, I do my best to be understanding of every situation that can present itself to my peers, but nothing could have prepared me for the raw description in this book. Levithan doesn’t stand up and turn this book into an in-your-face statement about love and life and acceptance, but I feel like it can definitely serve as one. A repeatedly tells Rhiannon that they have never felt like a boy or a girl themselves, they’ve only taken on the identity of the body they inhabited that day. Even with that explanation we see Rhiannon’s hesitation to consider anything beyond the standard she understands, reminding us all of the classic view of the world’s typical attitude toward anything that doesn’t seem “cookie cutter” and average.

With this book so fresh on my mind and so high on my list of must-reads, I’m hard pressed to find much about it that I wasn’t impressed with. I would have liked a lot more explanation, or at least possibility about who or what A is, and how their life is possible. Of course, that could well be coming in the follow-up text this October. Throughout the book there are hints of possibility that A is not the only person with this gift/curse of freedom and experience. I would love more of an explanation about that. I would also love a first-hand account of someone who wakes up the day after A has lived in them. We get Nathan and Rhiannon’s explanations, as different as they are, but I feel like I need more. I would also be interested in a first hand POV of the experience the person has while A is running the show. I imagine we may get something of this during the follow up text “Another Day” that is out now. But since it’s not on OverDrive, I’ll have to make a trip to the library to find out.

I feel like I could ramble on if I wanted to, but I’d love to have more discussion with you all about your thoughts. Leave your comments about this book below and be sure to tell me what you think about the ideas in the text. Have you read the follow up from Rhiannon’s point of view? If so, how does it hold up? Did this book open your eyes in any way or make you think about the world? I hope so. A book that can make us think can change the world, right? I think that’s one of the most special things about this book. It reveals the importance of true, raw love. It shows us that nothing but love matters. Of course, if the world focused more on love than the anger and prejudice we are faced with daily, we wouldn’t have to have books expressing its importance, would we? Leave your comments, share your thoughts and tell me what other books you’d like me to review. Look for the series review of the Harry Potter books in April, and keep reading along with me!

2018 Is Here

Happy New Year, everyone! I can’t believe we are in an entirely new year. 2017 absolutely flew by, and it was definitely one of a kind! In addition to being able to make connections with plenty of awesome new people through my writing in various ways I was finally able to bring my longest work, Maverip to a close. That in itself is an accomplishment that will make 2017 hold an awesome place in my heart and mind.

2017 was also the year that brought me the chance to take a trip to Atlanta and see one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. I was able to write some interesting stories as a reporter, that experience culminating in me winning the second place award for data journalism for the year from the Virginia Press Association before I moved on to a job with the longest running professional theatre in my country. I made a ton of professional contacts with my work. I also got to bring you guys an entire year of book reviews and have plenty of great discussion about some of my favorite (new and old) pieces of literature. Another one of the most amazing things that happened to me this year is one I’m still processing. Last week, less than three days before the year ended I received the first round of commentary on Maverip from one of my beta readers. If you’ve never had that happen I have to tell you it is one of the most surreal experiences an author can have. Especially when the reader loved the book and gives you detailed and extremely helpful comments on the work that has been your entire life for nearly a decade. I’m still kind of wrapping my head around the fact that another human has experienced my work and felt it was enjoyable. It’s a great thought.

Aside from the countless other blessings and great experiences I have under my belt from last year, there’s so much I have to look forward to in this year. I plan to use the commentary I received on Maverip to make another around of edits and then sending it on to professionals for consideration. That, although terrifying, is something I look very forward to. I’ve got plenty of other big plans for the year, including some travel, some new experiences and some great great memories to make. As always, I plan to keep you guys updated on everything as it goes, and I really hope I have an opportunity to meet some of you and have some awesome things to share.

In that light, I want to give you all an update on my plans for the book club for 2018. I’ve had a great time reviewing a variety of books each month, but there are a number of books I’d love to share reviews on that are a bit more involved. I’m talking about series. I am a huge fan of literature of all kinds from poetry and short stories to longer novels and intense sagas, and because of this one thing I’d love to do is review a number of series. I’m not positive how it will work, but that’s why we try things, right?

Obviously, when it comes to reading novels, it can be easy to read single works of various lengths, even when we get around 1,000 pages, but a saga of novels each with hundreds, if not 1,000 pages themselves, would be a bit too difficult to handle in a month, in my opinion. Because of this I’m planning to take four months to cover my first set of novels (keep in mind that is apt to change if need be). If it works well, I’ll split the year up and do three series throughout the year. If it doesn’t work well, I may go back to the original plan, no harm, no foul. But what do you guys think? Would you like to follow along on a journey through some major series with me this year? Make sure to leave your opinions on this idea so I can know what you think about it.

As someone who is a huge fan of long, elaborate stories I love sequels (if they’re done properly) and I love diving into a series of books. In this light, my first series if going to be the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I’ll read all seven novels from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows.  I haven’t gotten to sit down and read all these novels at once since the year the last one was released and I look very forward to the experience. I’ll plan to post this review of the Harry Potter series around April 25, unless things change. I know this is a pretty easy series to read, so I may take a little less time with it if it seems reasonable.

Anyway, I hope you guys had a great 2017, and I hope you have plans to have a great 2018. I’d love to hear from you all. What great memories do you have from 2017? What great things did the year bring you? What great ideas, hopes and plans do you have for this year? Be sure to share in the comments or shoot me a message and let me know!!