Monday, January 30, 2017

My 2016 Award Recommendations

It's nomination time for both the Hugos and the Nebulas for science fiction and fantasy, and though I tried to get a better handle on my reading this year, the fact is I still couldn't read as widely as I wanted, so I'm going to restrict my recommendations to short stories and novelettes.

Links to recommended fiction are provided when available, and yes there are more short stories than there are slot to nominate. Read a few to see what you're missing!

Short Stories

"This is Not a Wardrobe Door" by Merc Restad - Fireside, January 2016
"Dragon Brides" by Nghi Vo - Lightspeed, April 2016
"The Gentleman of Chaos" by Merc Restad - Apex Magazine, August 2016
"Pagpag" by Samuel Marzioli - Apex, October 2016
"And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice" by Cassandra Khaw - The Dark, November 2016
"A Glamour in the Black" by Sylvia Anna Hivén - Writers of the Future Vol 32, 2016
"Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart" - by Samantha Murray - Clarkesworld, November 2016


"A Deeper Green" by Samantha Murray - Beneath Ceaseless Skies, August 2016
"The War of Heroes" by Kameron Hurley - Lightspeed, August 2016 *

* This was originally published on her Patreon, but because the copyright date is 2016 I assume it is eligible for this year.

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Favorite Anime of 2016

In the final installment of my 2016 entertainment round-up, let's cover my favorite TV anime of 2016. Since I ended up watching quite a bit, I decided to remove any sequels (since people generally don't jump in the middle) as well as restrict the list to my Top 10.

Unless mentioned otherwise, all series completed their runs in 2016. Anime listed are not ranked, but presented in the order I watched them.


Erased has a killer premise. Satoru has the uncontrollable ability to go back in time (in his own body) to correct the past before someone is hurt or killed, but when his mother is murdered he's sent back a shocking 18 years in time to when he's a 10-year-old kid. He thinks by saving the life of a classmate who was murdered he'll be able to save the life of his mother in the future. If the ending had lived up to the first half this would have made my top 3 of the year, but it couldn't quite pull it off.

Prince of Stride: Alternative

This is apparently based off an otome game, but I actually watched it for the sport (and there is surprisingly no romance in the show either, so it's either the pretty boys or their athletics). Stride is a fictional sport that works like a cross between an obstacle course and a relay race. Honan High School used to have the best stride team, but has fallen on hard times until our intrepid first year students manage to fill up the remaining team slots and revive the dream of winning the End of Summer championship. I don't watch much sports anime so I can't compare to others of its genre, but as someone who ran track and field in high school this rang true for me.


I never watched Muv-Luv so I can't speak for Schwarzesmarken's place in that universe, but the spin-off is fairly stand alone and I didn't feel the need to watch the parent series. In an alternate 1983 aliens have landed and are slowly wiping humanity off the planet in a grueling land battle. It's a mecha series and despite all the political shenanigans, it never forgets it is a mecha series, with a pivotal battle every episode that never feels like filler. Every round of combat has a purpose and moves the story forward, resulting in a lot of plot and character development that other series wouldn't be able to fit in a similar amount of time.

Joker Game

Joker Game follows a group of spies affiliated with D-Agency, a fictional Japanese spy unit from World War II. Unlike most of the Japanese army at the time, they aren't staunch nationalists, blind to anything but the success of war. Taking an anthology format, each episode or two-parter revolves around a particular character who either belongs to or comes into contact with an agent of D-Agency. It's a dicey topic depicting Japanese spies during World War II, but is made palatable by the fact that D-Agency's rules forbid killing and the spies are more interested in protecting Japan than attacking other countries.

Knights of Sidonia

The two seasons of Knights of Sidonia ran in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It's a far future hard science fiction story about the remnants of humanity fleeing into the depths of space in search of a new home after the mysterious alien Gauna destroyed Earth. Centuries later the Gauna catch up with the generation ship Sidonia and a new war begins. Unlike most mecha series, Knights of Sidonia injects a heavy dose of realism, ranging from how pilots can relieve themselves in a sanitary manner while stuck in a mecha for hours on end, to the effect on people's bodies when a vehicle as large as a generation ship has to sudden change course. The series is great for people who like science in their sf, and narrowly misses being in my top 3 of the year.

Orange *

Orange is instantly relatable for anyone who was a shy and awkward teenager. Teenage Naho receives a letter from herself ten years into the future, telling her to watch for a new student, Kakeru, who will become very important to her. The letter is full of future Naho's regrets and how she would have done things differently if given the chance, but the crux of the matter is that it's easy for adult Naho to say such things, and considerably more difficult for teenage Naho to act on them. I won't spoil the real dilemma of the series, but it's not hard to find with a little searching. Orange does falter around the final third of the series, but its feelings and treatment of isolation and depression are expertly handled and make for a beautiful ending.

Psycho-Pass *

The other older series I watched this year, Psycho-Pass, originally ran in 2012-2013 (and I have not yet watched the sequel) and after I finished I just could not get it out of my mind. Taking place in a dystopian future, Psycho-Pass follows the members of Division 1 from the Criminal Investigative Department (i.e. the police). The interesting thing is that they are law enforcement in an authoritarian police state, and yet they are essentially good people, who are doing their best to work with an oppressive system that in many ways works against them. The worldbuilding is fantastic and brings up excellent questions that the series both notes and addresses. Things get technical, but I never felt lost, and the series is self-contained without any need for future material, even though it exists. It's dark and a tad on the violent side, but soooooo good.

91 Days

I have a weakness for no-doubt romanticized period pieces about the mafia, and 91 Days stands with the best of them. Though made by people an ocean away, it's clearly a love letter to mafia media featuring mafiosos who are fully capable of being caring friends and family while ordering a hit without breaking a sweat. Angelo Lagusa is a bit of a cipher as a protagonist, but even if the audience isn't privy to his inner thoughts, the motivation for his single-minded quest for revenge is understandable. This is a show where how the protagonist does something is more interesting than whether the audience would have done the same. Reactions to the ending might be a bit mixed, but considering where the show is coming from, it's clear that there would never have been a happy ending.


I dithered on including this or Ushio and Tora and ReLIFE edged out in that the cast is the more relatable of the two. I wasn't sure how well the manga would transition to anime considering that it's essentially a series of short scenes, but it holds together remarkable well, pulling itself together into a solid episode format. I know people who are or have been in exactly Arata Kaizaki's position, being intelligent people who graduated from a university but can't seem to land a full time job. I'm not sure they would have taken the opportunity to be de-aged ten years and sent back to high school, but the premise is the charm of the series, with Arata coming off as strange or weird to other high schoolers due to his actual age and the actual teenagers behaving more like actual teenagers.

Yuri on Ice *

It may be too soon to truly rank Yuri on Ice as one of my top 3 of the year, seeing as this just wrapped up in December, but I'm a huge figure skating fan, and combining realistic figure skating with an amazing cast of characters, is just like catnip. You can see how much effort went into recreating the sport in the animation, the details of what it's like to compete, and even cameos by former Olympic skaters. That this is one of the most gay positive portrayals in anime is icing on the cake. It's refreshing to see a show where the characters are comfortably attracted to each other and it's given the same respect as a heterosexual romance rather than being fetishized for the straight female audience.

And this concludes my Top 10 anime viewed during 2016. The three series I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year, where I found myself looking forward to every new episode or binge watching in Psycho-Pass's case.

Though not an anime I'd also like to give a thumbs up to Voltron: Legendary Defender for capturing what was good about the anime original while still updating it for present day audiences.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Games of 2016

My gaming backlog is something impressive, as I typically buy a few more than I can play in any given year, and then those extras build up. The result is that I rarely play any game in its year of release unless it's a part of a favorite series, and even then, depending on how busy I am, a much anticipated game might get postponed.

But I'm not adverse to playing older games. As long as the gameplay is still there I generally don't care. Maybe that's the same for you?

These are the nine games I liked enough to finish for the first time in 2016, in the order I played them.

Virtue's Last Reward *

I enjoyed 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the Nintendo DS, so I intended to pick up the sequel, but took a while due to a bugged 3DS version (now patched) and not having a Vita at the time.

Virtue's Last Reward is quite simply the strongest entry in the Zero Escape series. Science, pseudo-science, multiple universes, time travel, non-linear gameplay, and an incredible cast of characters made this a joy to play. I was up at 3am with tears in my eyes (on a work night!) because I had to see a particularly bittersweet sequence through. Fair warning there is a lot of reading, and the gameplay is all making choices and escape room mechanics, but if that's even remotely your bag it's worth playing.

It'll mean more if you play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors first, but the good news is that both games are coming to Steam in a remastered edition.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

I was looking forward to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, and despite the child problems I blogged about, I enjoyed it. It was refreshing to have a game so focused on family and divided loyalties. I really liked the moral gray area that Corrin and her siblings occupied and as mentioned in my RPG Talk entry, I like that the final confrontation features Corrin standing together with her siblings rather than Corrin plus love interest and motley band of heroes. Familial relationships are usually set behind the romantic ones in games, so having family placed before everything else makes this unique.

Zero Time Dilemma

Zero Time Dilemma had a hell of a lot of hype to live up to, and at the end of the day I don't think it's going to be anyone's favorite out of the Zero Escape series, but it's still an enjoyable game. It keeps a lot of the same mechanics from Virtue's Last Reward, but suffers from a less satisfying mastermind than the other two. There's also a plot twist that people tend to either love or hate. But that said, it does a decent job of wrapping up the series, the escape rooms are still fun, and offers a lot of emotional rewards for fans of the previous two.

Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth

This is the best otome game I've played to date. I would have liked to include it in my top three games of the year, and it was a narrow miss. Otome games are usually given lackluster, passive protagonists to serve as the female player insert, but not Cardia. That girl is amazing, whether she's piloting an airship, busting herself out of confinement, or being a supportive girlfriend, because why can't one person do all of that. The boyfriends are more interesting than average, with only one route that really bored me. If there's any fault to this game I'd say it's locking Lupin's route behind everyone else's and making it so clearly the "real" route.

Danganronpa: Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Ultra Despair Girls is a little strange in that I don't think it's a particular good game, though I still finished it. It's a third person shooter, which is a strange genre jump for what had been a visual novel series. I only played it when I did because the Danganronpa 3 anime had Monaca, who originated in this game. The story isn't bad, it asks good questions and even clears up some others (like where did Junko Enoshima get all those crazy robots), but I'm not a shooter fan and I can't imagine the overlap between visual novels, shooters, and Danganronpa is enough to justify this game's existence. If you suck at shooters though, there's no story penalty for playing on easy. You can still see the whole thing.

Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

I still haven't posted my VN Talk for this, but the sixth entry in the Ace Attorney series was a bumpy ride. It was good, but it wasn't great, and I think this is mostly due to character bloat. Dual Destinies had three lawyer protagonists so by golly Spirit of Justice has to too, even when the game can't quite figure out what to do with them. Unlike Dual Destinies, where the story honestly belongs to all of them, when it comes down to it, Spirit of Justice is really about Apollo, but the writing tries to showcase everyone, including several supporting characters, which results in a lack of focus. But if you like Apollo, this is the game to play as he has his best moments.

This War of Mine *

I waffled a lot on whether to buy This War of Mine because the vertical cut-away view of the buildings made me think of old platformers I was terrible at, but This War of Mine needs very little in the way of reflexes. I bought it for the for miserable experience of surviving as a civilian in an urban warzone and I was not disappointed. There's no tutorial, but the basics can be picked up by point and click, which feels oddly immersive, as the characters you're tasked with caring for have no idea how they're going to make ends meet either.

Chances are, a first playthrough is going to be unsuccessful. People will die along the way, and you'll feel awful, which is the point. You get to put down the game and go home whereas the people who really lived this life could not. It was a sobering realization. (This War of Mine was inspired by the real world Siege of Sarajevo.)

The Room

This was a purchase based on a friend's recommendation because we both like escape rooms. While you're not escaping anything in The Room, the type of puzzle solving is familiar to anyone who has done escape rooms, and it's a affordable fix that can be done in an afternoon or two. The story is minimal and the atmosphere creepy, though it's manageable for those who scare easily (with one possible exception during the ending, but you've solved everything by then). I'm skipping the sequel because I react poorly to jump scares, even the ones that are so mild that most people wouldn't even consider them jump scares.

Civilization V *

When Civilization VI came out, I realized I wanted to play a Civ game again, but rather than getting the latest and greatest at full price, I decided to pick up Civilization V during a Steam sale, which netted me the base game and all the expansions and DLC for under $14. This turned out to be $14 well spent as I've now logged an embarrassing amount of hours on it. It's a lot of strategy and management to bring my chosen civilization to victory, but fun since the AI leaders of other civilizations have their own personalities. I had a really good tussle with Caesar in my Carthage campaign, which felt appropriate.

My only complaint is that Europe feels over-represented in the number of civilizations available. There are multiple options for a continent like Africa, with Carthage, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Songhai, and Zulu available, which show that the game designers did put effort into avoiding a Eurocentric world, but it feels like it's not enough when 15 of the 43 civilizations are European (17 if one counts Byzantium and Ottoman, which I'm not since they're partially in the mideast), making them slightly more than a third of what's available.

As I did with my book roundup, the three games I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year and definitely worth playing.

I'd also like to mention the four games I replayed this year since it's rare that I replay anything, and four is unprecedented.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (second time)
Dragon Age II (third time)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (third time)
Danganronpa 2: Good-bye Despair (second time)

The Danganronpa games were mostly because of the anime and wanting to relive the experience, but Fire Emblem: Awakening and Dragon Age II were purely unprompted, with the former having happened before the release of Fire Emblem Fates.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

I didn't read nearly as much as I'd wanted to in 2016, though I read more than the list below suggests since I'm omitting my research books. It's hard to stack up a historical non-fiction piece with novels and anthologies since they're read for so many different reasons.

That said, these are the nine books I enjoyed enough to finish, and in the order I read them. Maybe you'll want to check them out too.

Thief of Songs by M.C.A. Hogarth *

Thief of Songs is what Hogarth describes as a pastoral romance; low stakes, not a lot of drama, lots of sweetness. It made the long list for the James Tiptree Jr Award, and features a world where there are four genders; female, male, hermaphrodite, and neuter. The world building is amazing and feels like a living place, though the hermaphrodite pronouns are a little hard to get used to at first since they don't map to any real world ones (as far as I know).

Justice Calling by Annie Bellet

Annet Bellet's Justice Calling is the first in her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series and stuffed full of pop culture geeky references centered around magic. I'm not usually an urban fantasy reader, but this was fun and I have the second book in my to-be-read pile.

A Song for No Man's Land by Andy Remic

World War I is one of my favorite settings (as most of my writer friends are well aware of, considering the stuff I send them) and Andy Remic's dark fantasy take on it is really dark, melding what's real and what's not with the horror of the trenches. This is the first in a trilogy and again I already have the second book waiting to be read.

Romancing the Null by Tina Gower

Disclaimer, I got a review copy of this one since Tina is a friend. That said, Romancing the Null is a fun urban fantasy romp through the eyes of an actuary for fantastical events. The fact her profession is such an unusual one (and not one pre-disposed towards ass-kicking) is what makes this fun.

Baccano: The Rolling Bootlegs by Ryohgo Narita

Baccano is one of my favorite anime series and the original novels are finally being translated into English! It's a hot mess (in a good way) when mobsters, an alchemist seeking immortality, and two cuckoo thieves get mixed up in the transit of a few bottles of alcohol that are totally not the booze most people take them for.

Spice and Wolf Vol 10 by Isuna Hasekura

Spice and Wolf is my guilty pleasure. Hasekura is not the strongest writer out there, but he still manages to spin a charming romance between a wolf goddess and an ordinary merchant who don't want their time together to come to an end. Volume 10 takes them to a monastery heavily in debt that might have the bones of Holo's fellow wolves, which leads to the usual economic shenanigans the series is known for.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone *

Gladstone's Craft Sequence is supposed to be readable in any order since the volumes are stand alone, but I figured I'd start with the first, and I have to say that after reading it, I'm really going to miss Tara when I move on to the next! She's easily my favorite new protagonist of the books I've read this year, for being so creative in how she gets the job done. And the setting doesn't hurt either, being a sort of early 20th century magic-tech society.

Another by Yukito Ayatsuji *

Though there is an anime based on Another, Ayatsuji's original is much, much better, with a lot more details fleshed out. Kouichi Sakakibara gets a late start at his new school, and when he gets there, he discovers there is a supernatural phenomenon that is periodically killing the students and families of those in class 3. It sounds like a creepy horror novel, but in practice plays out like a whodunnit mystery, as there are rules to the phenomenon involving how a dead person can masquerade as one of the living.

Writers of the Future Vol 32 (anthology)

I almost always read the latest of these, since I know so many of the writers who end up in them. There's a wide variety so subgenres can jump drastically from story to story. This approach might not work for someone looking for a theme, but there's more than likely something that appeals. My favorite this year is "A Glamour in Black" by Sylvia Anna Hiven, for being so creepy and having the best reveal at the end.

The three novels I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year, the ones I considered the page turners where I tried to get a few more pages in every night before going to bed. I can't recommend them enough.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2016

Hey everyone, Happy New Year!

This is the first year that I've (mostly) managed a blog post a week, and as is typical of who I am and what I do, most of the blog's content has been about video games, anime, and my writing. Traffic has jumped up quite a bit since I start posting regularly, so what do you know, more and regular content works.

Since this is the first year I've been so prolific, I figure now is a good time to look back at which posts were the most popular, starting with the Top 5 in reverse order.

We start with...

#5 - VN Talk: Zero Time Dilemma - Non-Linear With Style

I played Zero Time Dilemma very close to launch so I was able to talk about it while the property was still hot. Like most of my VN (Visual Novel) Talk series, it covers what I thought of the plot and how it was handled. I wasn't surprised that this landed in the top 5, and in fact, it wasn't my only post on the subject.

#4 - #My5: My Five Writing Influences

This was the shared creative influence post between me, K. M. Alexander, Mike Ripplinger, and Eric Lange, which no doubt helped drive traffic to my blog that it wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I talk a lot about the different media sources that had an implact on my work, and some of them are fairly non-standard!

#3 - 5 Writing Lessons I Learned from Zero Time Dilemma

I still want to write a non-linear time-bending story just because Zero Time Dilemma was so damn fun with all its timeline hopping, decision making, and the characters being conscious of it all and as often as not, not giving a damn. It wasn't perfect, but there was lot to like in this game and because I can't write like Kotaro Uchikoshi (yet) I will have to quietly brood in a corner about it, for now.

#2 - Fire Emblem Fates' Child Problem

This was another gaming post for the hugely popular Fire Emblem series that again I was playing relatively close to launch so I was able to tap into the player base more. Fates wasn't necessarily a bad game, but it suffered from trying to be everything that Awakening was but better, and living under that shadow meant that it had to keep features (like the child system) even when it no longer made sense.

#1 - Voltron Legendary Defender: Changing My Favorite Character was the Best Thing They Could Have Done

Far and away my most popular post of 2016 was my explanation for why changing Sven into Shiro for Voltron Legendary Defender was the best decision ever. Seriously, this post had more views than the other four combined, so if you want an essay about representation, my childhood, and pictures showing why I was so happy Takashi Shirogane is Asian again, this is it!

Here's to more posting, more writing, more gaming, and more anime in 2017!