philmophlegm: (Traveller: The New Era)
OK, before I get to the review, I need to get a disclaimer out of the way. This is a novel based on the Traveller RPG, written by the game's creator, Marc Miller. It was funded by a Kickstarter, which I backed. And Mr Miller is an online friend of mine. In fact, for a time, The Shop on the Borderlands was the only place outside of the US where you could buy a paperback or hardback copy.

So I would have bought this book whatever. I like Travelleresque science fiction (I may have mentioned that once or twice in the past), and obviously this is Travelleresque. However, the first thing that surprised me is that Miller didn't just write a novel about a free trader crew odd-jobbing around the Spinward Marches (in other words, the classic Traveller campaign format) or a mercenary company fighting bush wars on frontier planets against Zhodani-backed separatists (the other classic Traveller campaign format). Instead, this is something rather more ambitious. Here's the blurb:

"Jonathan Bland is a Decider, empowered by the Emperor himself to deal with the inevitable crises of empire. In the service of the Empire, he has killed more people than anyone in the history of Humanity, to save a hundred times as many. He died centuries ago, but they re-activate his recorded personality whenever a new threat appears. When the crisis is over, they expect he will meekly return to oblivion.

He has other ideas.

The chronicle of Bland reveals secrets of the history of the star-spanning Third Imperium and spans 400 years from early Imperium (about year 300) through the mid-post Civil War period (about year 700) touching known and unknown events you may have encountered in your own reading of the Imperium: everyday events, political intrigue, deadly dangers, Arbellatra, Capital, Encyclopediopolis, the Karand's Palace, and a Tigress-class Dreadnought.

If you know the Traveller science-fiction role-playing game, then some of this is already familiar; if not, no matter; this story introduces the vast human-dominated interstellar empire of the far future in ways only the designer and chronicler of this particular universe can."


With its episodic nature, the work it most reminded me of was Asimov's Foundation series, or at least the first two or three books. Neither author dwells too much on characterisation, preferring to get on with setting, plot and action. Each of Bland's activations is pretty much a self-contained short story, at least at first. As you get further into the book, longer term plot arcs make themselves felt in quite a subtle way. It's really a cleverly structured work of science fiction.

And that brings me to the second thing that surprised me about this book - it's a very accomplished piece of writing for a debut novelist. Really good in fact. Not coming from a major publisher probably counted against it in terms of awards, but it was shortlsted for the Dragon and got some Hugo buzz (although ultimately didn't make the shortlist). I read it not long after reading the much-hyped and much-awarded Ancillary Justice which I thought was pretty mediocre to be honest. This is in the same space opera sub-genre and was far, far better. In fact, it's the best novel I've read so far this year. Highly recommended. Consider it essential if you play or have played Traveller, and highly recommended if you don't or haven't but you like ambitious, high concept space opera.

And now a plug: you can still buy it from The Shop on the Borderlands! (and not from many other bookshops, at least outside of eBook formats)
philmophlegm: (911)
This is from the album 'Traveller'. A heavy metal concept album inspired by my favourite science fiction roleplaying game. How can you not like that?

I apologise for the sound quality in this video clip. But I love the fact that just before they start the first song, the lead singer is discussing vector-based movement in RPG starship combat. He asks the crowd at a metal gig "How many of you are familiar with vectors?" to which the only possible answer from the audience was "I'M FAMILIAR WITH METAL!!!"




This version has rather better sound:
philmophlegm: (Google Partners)

Never swallow a porcupine whole.

And the lesson to be learned here is this: make a self-deprecating joke to a conference that could be misinterpreted as politically incorrect if removed from the context in which it was made, then it _will_ be removed from its context, selectively quoted and used by a social media mob to hound you out of your job, no matter how great your previous accomplishments. Richard Dawkins is angry about this, and really so should we all be. This is typical of the condemnatory articles that didn't think to check facts.

Doctor Who Online does look to be defrauding advertisers. They’ve tried this with The Shop on the Borderlands (we sell Doctor Who RPGs), but I was too sceptical. Combine a proprietary analytics system that massively overstates traffic with quite persistent selling, and yes, I think Mr Sandifer is on to something.

Half of households receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes. (And that’s before you include the cost of state education, state healthcare, public sector salaries etc…)

Free market lessons from Scandinavia.

The man who invented trainspotting (sort of) has died.

Well Google, this is awkward...

Sir Nicholas Winton, the "British Schindler", has died aged 106.

Did Joss Whedon base Firefly on Traveller? This is a good examination of the evidence.

Holograms that you can touch (sort of). Next step, Holodecks!

This year's ENnie Awards (the RPG and miniatures industry awards)  nominees

So let me get this straight - Scottish votes for Scottish laws is right and proper; Welsh votes for Welsh laws is right and proper; Northern Irish votes for Northern Irish laws is right and proper but English votes for English laws is "racist".

Nice collection of photos of the British Grand Prix over the years.

I'm amazed that the Forth Bridge isn't already a World Heritage Site.

This is who we got to present the winner's trophy at this year's You're Hired! final. Seems a good chap.

This time it really is the end of the line for  the Avro Vulcan.

philmophlegm: (Ico)

This...this is a Lego Star Destroyer.

Got decent broadband? Looking for a way to show it off? How about live streaming HD video from the International Fricking Space Station?

Was dinosaur blood "not too hot, not too cold"?

This is sad. I wonder if Satao was descended from the elephant in Mike Resnick’s SF novel ‘Ivory’. (Incidentally, I strongly recommend that book.)

Welsh kids are really bad at getting into Oxford and Cambridge. (Is the appropriate response to this to feel smug at having done so?)

Remember my LJ post discussing whether you had to agree with an author's views to like their work? Any Marion Zimmer Bradley fans here...?

"The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive." Oh, that's ok then.

I love this article about France midfielder Paul Pogba playing Football Manager on the plane.

O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics

Football's rudest names. One day in Football Manager, I'm going to include the Peruvian leagues, just so that I can manage Deportivo Wanka.

Noddy Holder given the Freedom of Walsall. I've been to Walsall. I think I'd just want to be free to leave.

World of Warcraft player gets to level 90 without picking a side. That's a lot of herb-picking.

PC only game being developed by some ex-Team Ico staff. That's interesting...

Gamechanger - The Virtual Tabletop Gaming Surface.

Black-Footed Cat kittens. I want hybrid pets!

Ten Myths About Britain's Relationship With The EU

More than half of UK households take more in benefits and services than they contribute in tax.

Which UK political party's "Friends of Palestine" group linked to an article saying "no Brit should consider voting Labour as it is run by a Zionist Jew...the time is ripe to cleanse British public life of Zionists and Jerusalemites"? The BNP? No. Respect? No…

philmophlegm: (D&D Basic)
logo

I have a new business. It's called The Shop on the Borderlands and it's an online retailer of used / secondhand / classic / old / out-of-print roleplaying games. Please have a look around, and if you know any roleplayers point them at it. We're also on Facebook and Twitter (@ShopBorderlands), so like and follow the shop too if you're interested.
philmophlegm: (Hiver)
One of the best Traveller zines around right now (probably the best) is Freelance Traveller.

I particularly commend this month's issue although modesty prevents me from saying why...
philmophlegm: (Hivers)
Help me out with an alternate history scenario.

Alternate histories where Germany won the Second World War are pretty common - off the top of my head I can think of Robert Harris's 'Fatherland', Philip K. Dick's 'The Man in the High Castle' and that Star Trek episode with Joan Collins in it*. However, the scenario I need help with is one where Germany won the First World War.

What has happened is that the war of attrition of 1915 to 1917 dragged on into a stalemate. The United States stayed out of the war. The Russian Revolution happened as it had happened in our timeline. Germany was able to reduce British industrial capacity through Zeppelin raids. German U-Boats cut off the flow of raw materials from the British Empire. And slowly Germany was able to advance through France.

Britain and what is left of France and the rest of the allies surrender to Germany in 1934. Southern Britain is a lawless place with much of its infrastructure destroyed. Many people have fled to the north. The Royal Family has moved to Canada. Under the terms of the surrender, Ireland has been granted independence, guaranteed by Germany. Large parts of France have been carved off as vassal states of Germany, most notably Burgundy. The same has happened to Italy, with Lombardy now a separate kingdom subject to the German Kaiser.

That's about as far as I got. My question is: what does the world look like in 1935, with Germany the dominant European power?







* Well, ok that isn't actually set after a German victory, but it does show how the non-death of an American pacifist leads to German victory.
philmophlegm: (Droyne)
'For America' by Red Box.

From the album 'The Circle and the Square'. You know I said that when I was young I had this weird thing about only liking instrumentals? Well, this is the first album with actual lyrics I ever got. Christmas present in 1986. Which is also the same Christmas I got a personal stereo (not a Sony Walkman, but similar) and a whole bunch of Traveller stuff (including Alien Module 5: Droyne, hence the userpic). I have a distinct memory of spending some part of Christmas Day listening to this album on my new personal stereo while reading about the Ancients...




Crap video though.

Final piece of Red Box trivia. If wikipedia is to be believed, Anthony ' Gold Blend' / 'Buffy' Head provides backing vocals on this album. That would pre-date the Gold Blend ads I think.
philmophlegm: (Traveller)
If you play Traveller, have played Traveller or want to play Traveller at some point in the future, I urge you to support the new edition 'Traveller 5' by pledging money to its development at Kickstarter.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/traveller5/traveller-5th-edition

By pledging money towards the development, you become eligible for certain rewards, scaled according to your commitment, from small stuff like Traveller dice and screen savers for small sums (the smallest pledge is just $1) up to personalised rules examples and artwork and in-game noble titles for those people willing to subsidise T5 for $960.
philmophlegm: (Traveller)
I want a function that returns a value equal to (x six-sided dice minus y six-sided dice) but which returns the answer '0' if the formula would otherwise result in a negative answer.

Or, to put it in role-playing terms, something like "4d6-3d6, but show any negatives as zero".

Doing the 4d6-3d6 bit is easy:
=(RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6))-(RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6))

I had thought of then putting this inside an IF function, so that if the formula above was >=0, it showed the formula above, but if it was <0, it showed 0:

=IF((RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6))-(RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)),(RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6))-(RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)+RANDBETWEEN(1,6)),0)

Unfortunately, that second function doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work is that it is recalculating the 4d6-3d6 part. That means that if the original 4d6-3d6 is positive, the formula doesn't show that positive number. Instead it rolls 4d6-3d6 again and shows the answer to that.

Any ideas?
philmophlegm: (Default)

I thought I’d do something a little different with this Phligm Phlagm post. Instead of using links grabbed from Twitter or andrewducker, I thought I’d put up links to some of my own favourite LiveJournal posts. And by that I mean ones that I wrote.

Sort of a ‘Phlegmatic Greatest Hits’, or at least a ‘The Best of Philmo Phlegm’ compilation.




Read more... )

philmophlegm: (Traveller Book)
How do I do this in Excel?

I want to enter a value in the range 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F (or similar) in one cell, and then in another cell show the entry from a table that corresponds to this value.

For example, I want to enter the value 'B' in the 'Atmosphere' column and then have my spreadsheet show in the next cell that Atmosphere B is 'Corrosive'. If I had put in '5', it would show 'Thin'.

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