Monster Manual (D&D Core Rulebook)
Special Feature Combo post with Player’s Handbook. See that entry for review
Wizards of the Coast
Wizards RPG Team
Have you ever stood on a deserted family farm, wandering among knee-high grass? The foundations that were once a house. The somehow still-standing barn and silos and rusting equipment. Even for those, like me, who are generations removed from living and working and keeping it, the farm remains alive within the eyes of parents and grandparents who carry that farm with them in their blood and sweat and the vivid stories they have passed on, which tie us to a life that becomes as real to us as our own.
Following Hay evokes that life. This excellent collection of poetry gathers timeless threads of a rural life that form a bridge between past to present, old and young, boy and girl, sharing memories that are as real and solid as the pages of the book, and almost within reach. The overall sense of the book is one of nostalgia, bringing forth a life that is not perhaps idyllic or better than the present, but one that is, nonetheless, familiar and comforting, full of homemade music, the scent of hay, handmade quilts, horses, and well-spent youth.
Donna Emerson has crafted this nostalgia with precisely chosen words and carefully controlled lines, shaping an enduring vision of hay and horses and passing youth. Her language is simple and direct — no flowery verse here — only real, beautifully shaped language, the memories they carry achingly deep and real. Like most good poetry, it is rich with imagery, using vivid imagery to form a vision that, because of its clarity and precision, becomes universally accessible. You don’t need to have lived on that farm, yourself, to miss it, because Emerson’s voice brings those memories to life in the present. This is, simply put, good poetry.
Heaven Help Us All
Marj Llewellyn isn’t sure what to make of Gary Devers when he comes into her clinic in the days before the Gulf War. Like many of her clients, he seems to bear the psychological scars of past conflicts, though his exact diagnosis is hard to define and he skirts around the details of his past. He is attractive and intelligent, but what really pushes her out of her professional comfort zone is the news he bears; Charles Pinckney has disappeared. For Marj, Pinckney was a mentor, a touchstone, living proof that PTSD could be overcome. For Gary and the other bicycle messengers of Pinckney’s company Signed, Sealed & Delivered, he was something more: a beacon of sanity in a world that seems unable to learn from wars past. Ultimately, Marj is drawn deeper into Gary’s world, pursuing the connection between his secrets, the missing Pinckney, and a growing number of bizarre occurrences.
Heaven Help Us All is a robust and literary novel, driven by meditative writing and complex characters. A bit slow to start, it nonetheless gathers momentum and proceeds to explore the traumas of past wars that have become embedded in the American psyche and the hope for slow healing. While 1990 was twenty-five years ago, the issues the book deals with in that setting are timely and relevant in the world today, our culture inextricably bound to a simultaneous craving and abhorrence for war. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read, well worth picking up.
The Themis Files
On her 11th birthday, Rose Franklin falls into a hole in the ground and finds herself lying in the palm of a huge metal hand. Years later, now a respected physicist, she finds herself working on the project to study the same hand that she fell into as a child. Research has stagnated in the intervening years on what seems like an isolated curiosity, and further progress seems hopeless, until Warrant Officer Kara Resnik’s army reconnaissance flight is brought down by the emergence of another piece – and it becomes obvious that an entire body is scattered across the globe. Driven by the project’s mysterious overseer, the search strains global diplomacy and the relationships among the team alike to the breaking point. And as more pieces are collected, it becomes clear that what they’ve found is not merely a statue, but some kind of vehicle — and possibly a weapon — the implications of which are nearly unimaginable. And the consequences of activating it may be more than the world can handle.
The Themis Files is told through a series of interview transcripts and journal entries, providing a feel of delving into classified documents. The overall story unfolds easily through this technique, and quickly draws the reader into the developing project to study, assemble, and control the artifacts, but it is a very different experience than a standard third- or first-person narrative. The format of the story causes almost all action to be related at one remove, as the characters present recount their experiences to their mysterious, nameless supervisor rather than letting the reader see them in the moment. For the most part, it is done well; the lack of attribution in interview transcripts makes it sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking, but it usually becomes obvious through mannerisms and context. My only real complaint is that the last third of the story felt a bit too rushed, and I would have liked to see some of the later-introduced characters developed further – indeed, this probably could have been two complete novels. Otherwise, this is worth checking out as a unique experience, and I would be interested to see what the author does next.
Thoughts From A Grumpy Innovator
Have you ever stepped back to take a look at the world and wondered why so many bad ideas seem to be forced into production while perfectly obvious good ideas are ignored? You are not alone – Costas Papaikonomou, professional innovator, has shared your frustration, tweeted it, and now organizes his Twitter feed into Thoughts from a Grumpy Innovator, for your reading pleasure.
The book begins with a warning – it is not a how-to manual for success in innovation, simply a collection of thoughts and observations regarding the bizarre and illogical world of commercial innovation, some of which may be funny. Each chapter does begin with an essay dealing directly, if briefly, with the chapter topic, where the author flexes his analytical muscles, describing general problems and proposing solutions. Otherwise, though the disclaimer is quite apt in its description; the thoughts gathered in each chapter range from the directly insightful – “When scoping your project: remember that you, your team, your boss, and your boss’ bosses are not the people actually buying your product” – to the cynically humorous – “’No, I don’t see the irony at all,’ replied the trend spotter who kept on whining about the current tough market for trend spotting agencies” – to the outright random – “1853, Elisha Otis. I wonder where he pitched his idea for the elevator.”
While thoughts like these may be grouped together into a section, there is little continuity between them. Partly, this is the nature of the media in which the author is working (remember these are from his Twitter) but nonetheless they come off as a bit scattered: a collection of one-liners for the company comedy club. They capture a sense of exasperation with the miscommunication, standardization, illogicality, wishful thinking, and downright idiocy that is apparent in business, though there are also moments of humor, especially for those who have direct experience dealing with innovation in the corporate universe. Overall, Thoughts from a Grumpy Innovator does what it sets out to do, but it is more likely to make you shake your head at the apparent state of the human condition than chuckle.
Sometime in the future, Britain has fallen steadily into anarchy, and lawless gangs battle the remnants of the oppressive Party, who seek to restore order or at least survive a little while longer. Sullivan, sprung from prison to serve The Party in its last hour, is pulled along as a handful of desperate men sets out for a safe house, the one place remaining where they might be safe from the mobs: Bleeker Hill. But every one of the survivors carries old grudges and traumas with them, and the house they are heading to has a dark reputation. Most recently at Bleeker Hill, a psychotic scientist worked to perfect The Wash, erasing men’s memories and humanity, but the house has an even longer, deeper history of evil. The band must fight the mob, each other, their own pasts, and something else, something terrible that lurks in their safe house.
Bleeker Hill is an interesting breed of horror, combining the anarchic, nearly post-apocalyptic world of near-future Britain with the dystopian vision of the fascist Party and a classic sort of haunted-house story. All this almost sounds like too much, but it works surprisingly well, capturing and holding the reader’s attention while the tension builds, playing off past vs. present, hope vs. despair. The careful balance maintained between the different brands of horror starts to fall apart near the end, which starts to feel rushed, but the story holds together through the conclusion. The occasional recurring error in punctuation, spelling, or word choice may distract the reader, but otherwise the book is written well, crafting a world that is both overtly and subtly horrifying. The result is a book to be quietly creeped out by on a cold, rainy day.