Intro

  For me it is strange that Kogama Battle isn't a more famous game. I am searching for it on the Internet and no one talks about it. And it's too bad, because it has all the hallmarks of a great game: flexibility, action, strategy, team play, accessibility.

  KB is a browser 3D shooter game. The 3D models are very simple and require little resources, but the network code is pretty good. There are two teams, Red and Blue, each starting from their own "castle". The two castles are three floors high and separated from each other by a water moat in which there are some islands to hop on. The purpose of the game is to reach the flag that is found in the other basecamp. Sounds easy, and it is. But there are so many different ways to win the game, that it becomes extremely amusing to play, if you have people who know how to play it on both sides.

  In this post I will:

  1. enumerate the different strategies for winning
  2. talk about what is good about the game
  3. talk about what is bad about the game
  4. list the items one can use in the game
  5. conclusion

How to win

1. Open the gate

  The obvious way to finish the game seems to be getting the key to the enemy castle (which lies on your side of the water) and carry it to the gate. You have to do this 10 times, then the door opens, allowing access to the enemy flag.

  Counter measures:

  • shoot the enemy as they get the key (either directly or shooting at the target stuck on the platform where the key is, which makes the entire platform explode and kill anyone there)
    • you can use the firewall, too, but it's pretty lame
  • after they open the gate, go to the enemy side, get the key and take it to your gate (applying the key to an open gate closes it and sets the counter back to 10)
    • this of course means your team must defend the flag from the people who entered the base
  • use the builder gun to cover the inside of the gate so that the enemy cannot immediately enter the base
    • the enemy might counter this by shooting a bazooka at the gate before they open it

  The greatest fun here is to get to the enemy side and steal a key when your gate counter is very low, then enter the castle and wait on the top floor. When the enemy has succeeded to open the gate you jump from above and immediately close it. Combined with the builder gun barricade, it makes for great satisfaction to foil your enemy.

2. Use the back door

  On the left side of the stairs to the gate there is a block out of place. It is a hint that you can do something with it. Shoot at it (and the next four blocks) and you open a tunnel to the enemy base. You can only go through it by using the shrinking pill, which means you can penetrate the enemy base, but unarmed and having to wait until you grow back again.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to ... err ... block the tunnel from the inside of the base. Since the enemy is shrunken, they cannot shoot through it
    • there is a way for the enemy to destroy the blocks inside, as well as any defenses, and that is to temporarily switch team. Obviously, this is a form of cheating and only assholes use it, but it adds an element of "sabotage" to the game.
  • kill the tiny enemies, preferably with the flamethrower, when they emerge helpless from the tunnel :)
    • this wastes the resource of a person, but it is fun

3. Come through the window

  One can use the block gun in a variety of ways to gain access, but this is almost like it was designed like that. You need to make a stair like structure with the block gun that leads from the shrinking pill outside to the defense window above. Then, shrink yourself and enter the enemy base through the window, just like with the tunnel.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to block the defense window on the pill side
    • the enemy can destroy that block easily, though, so it must be periodically checked, from outside and inside
  • kill the tiny enemies when they enter the window

4. Any other way of using the block gun to get to the enemy side:

  • jump and shoot a block under you, creating a column that pushes you up and allows you to get in the enemy base from the top floor
  • attach blocks on the walls of the map and create a bridge to get from one side to another
    • warning, when you create a bridge, the enemy can use it as well
  • shoot from your base to the other base so that there is a bridge created from the enemy base to the central suspended platform, then use the underwater teleporter to get onto the bridge
  • any type of ladder on the enemy base that allows you to get to the top floor

  Counter measures:

  • be vigilant and destroy the block structures constructed by the enemy (a bazooka is most effective)
  • kill enemies that manage to get in the base

5. Ugh! Rocket jumps

  Someone played Quake when they were young and they implemented the same thing here. In my opinion the bazooka is the worst item in the game, killing people after three shots, but destroying a lot of blocks and allowing rocket jumps. I personally believe that people should be ashamed of themselves for using rocket jumps in Kogama Battle, because they are completely screwing the flow of the game.

  That being said, using a bazooka one can reach the other side's flag in less than 30 seconds.

  Counter measures:

  • the only real solution is basing someone inside the flag room, armed with a flamethrower or a machine gun, ready to kill the attacker, who should be wounded from the rocket jumps
    • having health around in the base doesn't really help, though
  • some block structures can be erected to deter some sorts of rocket jumps, but it is a trivial matter to destroy them with the same weapon used for the jumps

6. Team work

  Playing within a common strategy with other people is the fastest way to win in a satisfying manner. Even unlocking a gate takes just a few minutes with people defending the key bearers and having at least two of those. Once a gate is open, there is almost no way to defend the flag from incoming enemies and a strong team can stop anyone from grabbing the 11th key to close the door.

7. Use blocks to guard your flag

  This is more a way to prevent loss, rather than promote a win, but it's necessary. The strategy here involves blocking the way to the flag with blocks. If placed well, they will stop the enemy while the lava wall burns them or force them to fall into a lava pit. Just blocking the entry to the flag room is not enough, usually it takes at least 5 levels of walls. The walls don't need to cover everything from top to bottom, just to stop the movement of the enemy. Sometimes leaving holes in the walls lures enemies thinking there is a way through without having to shoot the blocks out.

  Usually this strategy is essential to delay enemies that opened the gate while you run to close it. Then, press K, which commits suicide, and chances are you will be respawned in the base on the top floor, ready to kill whoever is there.

8. Cheating

  I already said that rocket jumps are shameful, but even worse is switching teams to sabotage because you can't play the game properly. One can do that, and forever lose any self esteem, to use it to destroy block defenses or gain information

The good

  As you can see from above, there are multiple ways to play this. If you play beginners you can even harass them in their own base or write insults with the block gun in their own base, rather than end the round by reaching the flag. There are strategies, counters and counter counters, and they all change based on the composition of the teams. It is the thing that makes it so fun for me. Even for people who only care about shooting, one can be a sniper, a machine gunner, an akimbo shooter, using a flamethrower or a bazooka or a shotgun. People can play offense, defense, or both. There are a myriad ways to use the block gun to do all kinds of things.

  It's a browser game! Just open the page and play! The game moves smoothly, even if sometimes you see people skipping if they have a network issue. It is a shooter, but you don't need special skills to play it. I personally play it with the little laptop dongle on the keyboard (which also makes me unable to shoot while moving, a strange side effect of using the dongle in web games that I can't explain)

  The game is also as short as you want it. I have played 30 minutes rounds protecting the base alone against ten enemies and finished some in 2 minutes.

  There is no chat! Actually there is, but no one uses it because it is an option you have to sign in for. You can do this only on the Kogama web site, but most people play Kogama Battle on other servers. This means no one can shout abuse at you or explain to everybody how things are done or collaborate with the team (unless they use some other channel like a Discord chat) and log in together.

The bad

  The rocket gun! It is so unlike any other item in the game. It destroys everything in its path, except actual players. Carefully crafted block structures are blown away in a second. It holds 12 rounds of ammo! And it allows for rocket jumps. People who rocket jump should be dead when they land!

  The flamethrower. It is a very nice weapon, but has low damage and no lasting flame damage. When you stop shooting it, the damage stops. That's not how flamethrowers work.

  There is no chat! I know this is a good thing, but it is also a bad one. Many a times people who have no idea how to play the game (or trolls) grab a bazooka and start to destroy the defenses trying to get to their own flag! A special kind of person (that is amazingly common) comes and uses the block gun to cover the lava pits so that the enemy can get to the flag better.

  Bonuses. There is a way to get some small perks for the game, like extra life. It spices things up, but it also breaks the rhythm of the game. With an extra hit points bonus you don't get instakilled by snipers and you can rocket jump with impunity. I think they are shameful.

  The firewall. Each base has a platform that triggers a wall of fire in front of the gate when a person sits on it. The fire doesn't stick, the damage is low and one needs just the smallest amount of time to use the key to unlock the gate. The firewall, as it stands, is useless.

  The two sides are not created equal. Differences in how blocks stick to the gate, the size of the lava wall and some random blocks on the lower level makes the red side better than the blue one.

  Team inequality is also a problem. One can switch team at any time, join the bigger team, switch again.

Items in the game

Weapons:

  • shotgun
    • fires slowly and in a limited range, but is very powerful. 
    • kills someone in two or three shots, depending on distance
  • flamethrower
    • continuous fire and limited range, medium damage, fires through walls
    • as discussed above, it looks cool and it can be found in a more accessible area of the base, but it's usually less effective than a shotgun
  • akimbo revolvers
    • strange weapons that push you back (no other weapon does that) making aiming difficult, medium damage
    • they are placed outside, good for quickly picking up and destroying blocks or shooting at platform triggers
  • machine gun
    • fires fast, low damage bullets, lots of ammo, pushes people back
    • perfect for pushing someone of a ledge or for defending the base, as it disrupts enemy movement a little
    • good for destroying blocks
  • sniper
    • very high damage, usually kills in one shot (see bonuses)
    • only 5 shots and it needs a long charging time before shooting
    • doesn't affect blocks
  • bazooka
    • destroys blocks easily on a large area, the explosion pushes the shooter (but not the target), needs three shots to kill a player
    • blast also hurts user, but not your own team
    • explosion has area damage that goes through walls as well
    • nasty and stupid weapon :D
  • life gun
    • a weird and kind of useless contraption
    • when fired at an enemy, it sucks away their life, but once stopped, life jumps back to the initial level
    • when used at an ally, it gives life to them, maybe also temporarily. I've never used it.
    • maybe it has a different hidden use as well?
  • block gun
    • fires blocks of destructible stone that can attach themselves to walls or other blocks
    • can be used to defend against bazookas, as placing a block in front of the shooter will make them hurt themselves (even if they are your own team, like for trolls)
    • pressing long will destroy blocks and return them to you

Map features:

  • teleporter
    • there is one in each base lower level that leads in and out and can only be used by the base team
    • there is a neutral one under water which leads to a suspended ledge above it
  • trigger
    • it is a platform that triggers something when someone stands on it
    • there is one in each base to trigger the firewall
    • there is one outside each base, invisible, left of the staircase, sounding an alarm every time someone steps there (announcing a possible tunnel breach)
  • key
    • on each side of the water there is a key that opens the gate on the other side
    • the key is located upon a platform that has a target trigger attached to it
    • takes some time to respawn
  • target trigger
    • attached to the platforms on which keys are located
    • if shot, they make the platform explode, killing everything on it
    • takes some time to recharge
  • destroyable blocks
    • not only you can place blocks, there are some placed for you
    • they can be destroyed to gain faster exit access or to get to the flag or secret tunnel
  • lava pits
    • found only in the flag room, they can be jumped over easily
    • if touched by lava you burn fast until you die, even if you get out of it
  • lava wall
    • also in the flag room, it moves from one side of the room to the other and back
    • touching it makes you burn until death
  • lava edges
    • there is one on the top edge of a wall of the top floor as well as around the walls of the map itself
    • pretty useless and only accidentally can someone get burnt by them
  • gates
    • one for each base, they start locked 10 times
    • you need a key with the same color for each of the times to open it
    • a key will reset a gate to closed if used on an open gate
  • middle platform
    • only accessible by using the underwater teleporter
    • it allows for some ways to get to the enemy base as well as an overview of the entire map
    • people on the platform are easily killed from the top of the base
  • shrink pill
    • found outside the base as well as inside the tunnel and inside the base
    • they shrink you to a size that allows for going through small holes or windows
    • you lose any weapon you have when you shrink
  • defense ports
    • each base has two small ones on the lower level, where one can use snipers and bazookas against enemies going for the key
    • each base has two medium ones on the middle level, large enough for a shrunken person to go through
    • each base has large holes in the thin wall on the top floor through which one can look and shoot at the enemies
  • water
    • water makes it impossible to see outside it, but you are visible from outside to anyone
    • stay long enough under water and you will take damage

Game features:

  • the long jump
    • jumps depend on how long one presses space
    • you need to master the long jump before you can play this game well
  • access from the base
    • you can exit the base by using the teleporter or jumping from the top floor
    • in order to exit faster (and safer) use the machine gun to cut through the destructible blocks next to them
  • the machine gun push
    • machine gun bullets push the target a bit, which means you can disrupt their movement, push them into lava or into shrink pills (always fun, that)
  • flame through wall
    • much stronger than the firewall is using the flamethrower to shoot through the gate or through walls
    • warning! Do this in front of the gate and you might promote someone shooting a bazooka at you and destroying any block defense there
  • initial block setup
    • it is important when the round starts to cover these bases:
      • block tunnel under the Warning! sign
      • block defense window on the right on the middle floor
      • block flag by starting from the flag out: block access to the flag, block access out of the lava pit, block escape from lava wall, only then block the entry to the room

Conclusion

  This game is a lot of fun with the right people. If someone would make some small fixes, it could be the seed to a wonderful little game.

  My proposals:

  1. nerf the bazooka
    • less area damage against blocks
    • more damage against people
    • less blast pushback (no rocket jumps)
    • less ammo
  2. upgrade fire damage
    • increase fire damage from fire wall and flamethrower
    • and/or make fire stick for a second
  3. nerf block gun
    • the block gun needs to be fast, so you can't nerf the speed of fire
    • so make it so you can't fire it while moving
      • this will allow for strategic long range structures, but disallow columns and jump-and-fire escapades from one side to the other
  4. force teams equal
    • make it so you can only join the smaller team
    • make the team switch (and initial game join) take a lot longer 
  5. no bonuses
    • remove bonuses, all players should be equal

  That's it. In my mind, this game would be perfect with just a few adjustments.

  You can play this game by googling for it and finding the biggest server at that time. Now, the servers I use are:

  Was I in a mood that I didn't enjoy Revenant Gun or has something changed in Yoon Ha Lee's writing? I can blame it partially on the fact that I didn't remember anything from the previous books, but I do remember I enjoyed them!

  Reading my review of the previous book I see some similarities in feeling: I don't remember much of the story or characters from before and it feels a bit sluggish at the beginning and rushed at the end. But the difference is that I had trouble finishing Revenant Gun and, instead of fondly remembering the situation where the other two books left off and getting closure, I felt like I had difficulty empathizing with any of the characters or caring about the story.

  And it's not like it's a straightforward book. It has two different threads, in one there is a resurrected Jedao reluctantly serving Kujen, the other is another Jedao, inhabiting the body of Cheris. Then there are a zillion officers, hexarhs, servitors, moths, lots of gay love that is unrelated to the story, but may have a place in the culture of this military universe and so on. The writing was decent, but it didn't blow me away.

  Bottom line: Perhaps the lucky ones are those who will read the entire trilogy at once and get both the freshness of the concepts and the closure of the story in one go. As such, I got almost nothing from this.

  Money is the root of all evil is a saying that has proven itself time and time again. Trying to make money from something that was not meant to do that will always soil and corrupt it. It is the case of so called "superchats", chat entries that have money attached to them.

  Here is how it works. Some content creator is doing a live stream and people are discussing the subject in the chat. There have been donation systems that allow people to give money to the creator for a long time and even there you see there is a bit of an issue. The streamer is almost forced by politeness (and because it encourages viewers) to acknowledge every donation. So they punctuate their content with "X has given me Y. Thanks a lot, X". This diminishes, albeit in a small way, the quality of the streamed content. Superchats are this, times 100.

  You see, when a chat message comes with money attached, the streamers are again motivated to acknowledge it. However, this time they read aloud the content of the message as well and respond to it, even if it is just with a sentence. This leads to significantly more disruption, but also has secondary effects that are at the core of the system. People have now been tiered into the ones that write a message and are ignored and the ones that pay to not be ignored, regardless of how useless, stupid or aggressive their chat message is.

  The content creator has only a few options at their disposal:

  • treat the superchats just like normal chat messages, in which case people won't be motivated to superchat, leading to less money for the stream
  • acknowledge and reply to just some of the superchats, which is a form of gambling for the message sender, if you think about it
  • acknowledge and reply to all superchats, which leads to a "super" tier of discussion that can only be accessed if you pay for it

Now, I understand how this system brings more money to the stream, but at what cost? People who crave attention are not the ones that you want to bring to the forefront of any discussion, but even so, many of them are immature teens. In order to have the system working, you need to stream, which motivates the creator to make interactive content and as long as possible to the detriment of short, concise, researched content.

The result is an explosion of low quality live streams, playing (preying!) on people's biases and social instincts, funded by the money of children and highlighting fragments of discussions based on how much they paid and not the quality of their content. Superchats are a disease of the Internet, akin to infomercials, television ads or paid news items. And unlike these, there are no tools to remove the streamer acknowledgements of superchats from the stream.

I am not an activist, but the only way to get rid of this toxic system is to actively fight it. I wonder if it could be seen as gambling, in a legal context. That should shut it down.

  It was very difficult to finish Bad Connections, as it is just a one sided view of the world from a very unsympathetic character. I understand the story was supposed to be a fuller portrait of women as a whole, but damn it makes them look dumb.

  So there is this woman who has to navigate through being the wife, the sexually unsatisfied, the adulteress, the divorcee, the single mother, the mistress, the woman on the side, the compulsive clinger and so on. I guess it was supposed to make the reader understand what it means to be female, yet Molly is emotional, compulsive, egotistic and ultimately weak. The scene at the end it written to provide some sort of feeling of emancipation, but in fact made me think she was even more of a coward than before.

  Bottom line: Joyce Johnson may be a big shot beatnik writer who hung out with Kerouac, but I did not like this book. It was short, yet unentertaining. It was full of meaning, of which I felt none was interesting or educational.

  About a year and a half ago I installed DuoLingo and started going through some of the languages there. The app was advertising itself as "The world's best way to learn a language" and "Learn languages by playing a game. It's 100% free, fun, and scientifically proven to work." And in the beginning it was. You could go through simple but increasingly complex lessons and advance in level, exactly as promised.

  And then whatever happened to mobile apps everywhere happened to DuoLingo as well: incessant ads, with garish colors and loud sounds, overtly lying about what they are advertising for. They changed the internal currency of DuoLingo, started to ask for more things just to get the normal stuff needed to learn a language, like the short stories that are the only part of the app that teaches the language in context. Lately they added speed games that no one can finish without spending the currency they've amassed, but increase the points one gets, so puts pressure on everyone to either play the games or spend a lot of effort to not fall behind.

  And for what? After getting to the third level in a language, I started to take every section and finish it (take it to level 5). There is basically no difference between the lessons as the level increases. You never get to complex sentences, learn new words or gain any new knowledge. You just go through the motions in order to get a golden badge or whatever, while filling in sentences about newspapers. Yes! I don't know if you remember them, they're very important in the universe of DuoLingo.

  Also, there is a huge difference between the way lessons work for different languages. You want Spanish of French, you get different games, a lot of stories and so on. You want something more obscure like Dutch, you don't even get stories!

  So continuing to bear with obnoxious commercials just in order to use the app "100% free" is too exhausting, while the benefits are now minimal to none.

  I also doubt this is any way to learn a language. I am not able to understand speech in the language that I've spent months working on, there are very few sentence composition lessons that cover reasonable scenarios likely to meet in real life and the vocabulary is extremely limited. And limited in a stupid way: instead of learning words that one would use in everyday sentences you learn things like newspaper and apple and rabbit.

  Let's be honest here: I only went with Duolingo because it was easy. It gave me the illusion that I am doing something with my time while playing with my smartphone. If I really wanted to learn a language I would have listened and read in that language, I would have found people speaking the language and chatted with them, whether directly or in writing, I would have taken the list of the top 100 words used in that language and I would have created and written down sentences using those words until I could do it in my sleep. That requires effort and commitment and it is obvious that I wasn't going to spend it. That's on me. However, the state of DuoLingo, particularly compared to how it started, is the fault of the company.

  Conclusion: not only has DuoLingo become a cautionary tale about applications that advertise how free they are and will ever be, but it wasn't a good app to begin with and they never invested much into improving it. All development efforts in the last year have been on how to get you to pay for the app, what clothes Duo the owl wears and stupid time consuming animations to "motivate" you. Gamification has become the goal, not the means to achieve something worthwhile. So, with a heavy heart because of losing all the gems I've gathered and my 550 daily streak, I will be stopping using DuoLingo.

  In this trilogy, the first two books were filler promising much for the last one, The Saints of Salvation. And I had to force myself to read it, just to get it over with. Most of the book is about these people pointlessly living their lives and daring you to remember all of their names. I couldn't feel a connection with any of them, so all that was left was to bask in the space technology and the battles and the cathartic ending. Which was something brief and unfulfilling.

  I don't want to spoil this, just in case you like it and want to read it, but Peter F. Hamilton's knack for ruining endings is present here as well. Obsessively trying to close all the loose ends (that no one cared about) and make them connect to each other (for no reason whatsoever) after the unsatisfying ending makes things worse.

  If I were to guess, Hamilton searches for a new universe, one that is kind of inspired by the Commonwealth universe, but it is not as technologically advanced so that it can provide new interesting opportunities for story telling. Salvation was an attempt at a new universe, inspired by British history during the Blitz yet set in the future, but it got really fast into portals and exotic wormholes and gravitonic weapons and quantum effects and ineffectual aliens. Meanwhile the storytelling was lacking! I really hope he moves on to something else.

  I finally pushed myself to finish this book and I feel that reviewing it would not do it justice. Jennifer R. Pournelle really thought this story through, from places and history to biological adaptations and imperial politics, from religion (complete with hymns lyrics and music) to fully fleshed out characters of both genders (so to speak). So when I say that Outies carries out the tradition started by Larry Niven and her father, that's high praise. But did I like the book? That's a no.

  Just like the two books before it, the main character is not really some person or group, but rather the universe of humans and moties taken as a whole. Just like them it is very cerebral, with many facts, discussions, negotiations and considerations. And just like them it is slow as hell and people just come and go and you never know what and who to connect to.

  This sometimes works for me. I adored the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, which was kind of the same in terms of avoiding focusing on any one characters for too long, but those books had a rhythm that you could fall into. Outies, on the other hand, feels written more recently, but its pace is all over the place. And it was a very stressful period for me, too, so again, maybe I am not the best person to review this book right now.

  Bottom line: if you liked the other two books in the Moties series, this is a good continuation. Personally I had to really really push myself to finish it and I almost abandoned reading it a few times.

  The Moties series is a strange one. Written in collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the first book, The Mote in God's Eye, was released in 1975. The second book in the series, The Gripping Hand, was published in 1993, also a collaboration. The third one, Outies, was published in 2010 and it written by Pournelle's daughter. The action in the books is also happening decades apart.

  As I was saying some days ago, I liked the first book quite a lot. It was cerebral and carefully crafted. In a sense, The Gripping Hand is more than the first book, it's more cerebral and grips (heh!) the reader in even more details. But at the same time, they get to the Moties' star system only after two thirds of the book, a part of the story that is only about people discussing things and planning things and arguing things, then the last part is a prolonged space battle between so many parties that nothing is clear. Meanwhile, detailed negotiations and planning take place, so you don't get out of that for the entire length of the story.

  So, yeah, it brings some new ideas, but at the same time it's really boring and hard to follow. And it becomes especially jarring when you realize that the details in which the story is bogged are just a small subset of what could have been: the Motie culture, the way they spend their lives, the way they actually feel as individuals is completely missing. And, spoiler alert, Outies seems to be going in the same direction, although it does appear to want to address the lives of Moties outside the negotiations with the Human Empire. 

  Bottom line: I liked it, but much less than the first book. That doesn't mean it's not well written and that it doesn't add value to the universe created, but it needs significant investment from multiple writers to bring it to a critical mass so that people pay attention to it.

  Many people, including myself, automatically think of "the client is always right" when talking capitalism, but that's not correct. In fact, capitalism is defined as "an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state"; profit is the only goal or driver of the system, even for different systems, which might be controlled by the state, for example. Every social or legislative characteristic of a particular political system is just a patch that tries to fix from outside what is obviously a ridiculously simplistic concept.

  Even so, we still cling to the idea that we are "served" by companies, like we are some sort of aristocrats being catered for by legions of servants. There is a logic to that, as when a company stops catering to their clientele, they are supposed to lose it. But that's just an illusion. In fact, this only happens if some very specific conditions are met:

  1. the client is aware of the bad service, meaning:
    • they know what they're supposed to get
    • they know what they are getting
  2. there is an alternative to the service, meaning:
    • there is at least another company able to meet the requirements
    • the company is accessible to the client
      • the cost of access is reasonable
      • the client is allowed to access the competitor
    • the client knows the competitor exists
  3. the client wants to get better service, meaning:
    • there isn't too small of a difference between various services (subjective perception that all companies are the same)
    • the effort of changing the service is not too large (subjective perception of effort)
    • the emotions of the client do not bind them to the company (subjective perception of the company)

  Now, all of the points above require not only effort, but persistent effort. One needs to get the necessary knowledge and then keeping up to date, avoiding misdirection and obfuscation, then make decisions and then take action. But even so...

  A company is usually a client of other companies. In my job I am usually hired by companies who do management of people for other companies that need software, with any number of intermediaries and internal chains of command inside each. One might think that because the end client is paying for the entire chain, we should all care about what they want. But we do not! And here are a few of the reasons:

  1. the client does NOT know what they want, therefore they will never be aware of what they're supposed to get
  2. the client has spent considerable effort in creating a relationship between them and the company that provides them with the software, therefore the effort of changing to another provider is quite forbidding
  3. the client has spent considerable effort in creating a relationship with just one company, because they don't want to handle ANY of the responsibilities that company is supposed to handle, therefore they are not in contact with competitors
  4. the chain of command inside the client is made up of people who have personal connections with the company in question, so changing to another provider would be in their detriment, therefore the client is not allowed to change to another provider
  5. the company itself is not providing a better service because it doesn't have to, for the same profit; their competitors think alike, so there is absolutely no reason to change
  6. there is an intermediary system to measure productivity: instead of getting paid for value, the company gets paid for hours worked, for example
  7. a smaller nimbler company might rise to provide the same service for less money or a better service for the same amount, but there is point 4. as well as the perception that smaller companies are riskier
  8. a company might want to change, but be unable to because it depends on other companies or it lacks the necessary competency
  9. one might be competent inside of a company, but if the company is big enough, they get promoted to other posts until they reach a position were they are not competent enough to be promoted
  10. clients themselves prefer to cut costs than get better service

  This happens at every level from the top - where you feel you might be, to the bottom - where you actually are. And guess what? When you realize the same effort and care that you expect from others should be coming from you, you quickly find reasons not to provide any of them:

  1. my job is boring, why should I do better?
  2. my boss is an ass, why should I do better?
  3. my clients are idiots, why should I do better?
  4. I never meet my clients, that someone else's job, why should I do better?
  5. whenever I tried to change something, someone shut me down because they are better positioned than me, why should I do better?
  6. I am getting paid by the hour, so working faster means less money, why should I do better?
  7. most of the money from the client remains with the entire chain of people over me and I get the scraps, why should I do better?
  8. my job is not important for me, it's just a means to support my actual life, why should I do better?

  This may appear as a pyramid of interests where you are just a cog in the machine or whatever, but it is not, it's a full circle. You get what you give. The client and the company and the least competent employee is always you. There are no other species of creatures that fill any of these positions. Your boss is human, your employee is human, your client is human. In Romania there is the saying that you're stealing your own hat.

  But it's OK. You can't do any better, so why should you do better? You are only human, so why be more human? You are a tiny cog in the machine so why grow larger? Do whatever you want, I don't care.

  Shorefall continues the story of Foundryside, but the careful plans of the characters are completely upended by the arrival of a terrible villain. And when I say upended, I mean almost nothing except the characters in the first book in the Founders trilogy remains relevant and by the end, which I don't want to spoil, even less is left. This is a cataclysmic book in regards to the story and therefore it feels like a rollercoaster ride. I just couldn't put the book down. It's fun and terrifying, it's smart and compelling.

  I was complaining in my review of Foundryside that the story and characters have turned formulaic and that the information given to the reader was too revealing. I guess in Shorefall these concerns are no longer relevant, since the characters have been already defined and knowledge is no longer imparted to the reader except when it is about to be used. Which is worse! Time and again the story seems to judder and change direction because of something a character suddenly remembers or reveals or gets a glimpse of in a vision related to some magical scriving. Scrivings don't work like that, they are code, they are careful imprintings of arguments designed to do a very very specific thing. There is no reason for them to contain personal memories. This is the equivalent of hacker films where the protagonist is using a graphical interface to break into a computer system and then gets a self playing video from the administrator on the screen.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, it entertained me tremendously and I will no doubt read the third book in the trilogy, probably due in 2022 if the same rate of writing is applied. However there is a vagueness in the scriving of the book that makes it vulnerable to argumentation. The next trilogy (one can only hope it would be a stand alone book) from Robert Jackson Bennett will probably prove what direction he is willing to take in his writing.

  I don't remember where I got the idea of reading Prosper's Demon, but I am glad I did! Having listened to it on my headphones I got to that part where they list other works by the same author and so I've learned that K. J. Parker is a nom de plume for Tom Holt. I hadn't heard of him until then, but the list of works went on and on and on. Probably I will have to read some other books from him now, but which one should I start with?

  Prosper's Demon is a novella about an exorcist that wanders the land in order to excise demons from living people, often leaving those people hurt, dead or insane. You get little glimpses of what this means as the story progresses, making it more and more clear that you have to be a certain kind of person to do a job like this. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I have to say that the writing was so good that I really wouldn't have cared much how the story ended. I had fun just seeing this anti hero's character unfold in front of me. The world building was also exquisite, considering the short length of the work.

  Bottom line: really good fun, mixing together logic, science, art and philosophy with pure unapologetic mischief and good writing.

  I wish I would have read Women when I was a teenager. I would have learned then that there is no shame in being a man and wanting women and not caring about their neuroses. They might complain about it, but that's their point of view. And in a way, that's the only good thing this book has to teach: how to live unapologetically, accepting who you are. Other than that, the main character, an alter ego of Charles Bukowski, is an old writer who drinks all day, fucks whatever he finds and gambles at the horse race track. By his own admission he only writes so he can do these three things.

  The prose is almost without introspection, just what people did and what they said, but when the character delves into analysing the situations, there are some brilliant passages, some hilariously funny. Imagine someone going through life like in a third person game. They see themselves do things, things that they just feels like doing, and feel little to no shame or responsibility. The entire book is dedicated to the women in his life which are, although very different from one another, easy, sexual, desperate and sometimes downright crazy. He never judges them, except for their sexual technique or pussy size and shape, but he never gets stuck with any of them, even the ones he is in love with.

  What I liked about the character is that he is never violent. Like a Big Lebowski kind of guy, he sails through life like a goose in water; nothing sticks. He loves and leaves, he cares but up to a point, he tries to be good to the people around him, but only after he takes care of his own needs. I had a friend like that once. He was caring and amazingly charismatic, but never right or reliable. Another similar character was Hank Moody, from Californication, which I really loved in the first two seasons.

  Did I love the book? I can't say that I did, but I did like it a lot. It was different from other things I've read and what I feel is probably gratefulness for having such a raw depiction of everything the character/the writer lived and felt. So many books are trying too hard to be smart and fail to pass that first bar of characters laid bare so the reader can fully understand them. There is absolutely no story in this other than the life of Henry Chinaski.

  Something else that I have to say is that the book is something that should be read in this period. It goes back to the basic essence of man and woman, without caring one iota about politics or correctness or trying to absolve the main character in any way. Just like the guy lives in the book, the writing is take it or leave it.

  I wanted to read something by Larry Niven, so I've decided to go with The Mote in God's Eye, written in collaboration with Jerry Pournelle. I may have read it a long time ago, decades past, because I remembered one particular line from it, but just that. And it is a wonderful book. I guess I appreciate it now more than I would have ever appreciated it in my childhood because now I know what kind of crap can be sold as science fiction and also how ridiculous most science predictions from 1975 turned out to be.

  This book stands the test of time and the test of writing and the test for science fiction. The first one, for me, it's the more extraordinary, but it is helped a lot by the second. It takes a certain amount of maturity to decide to write something respectful to the reader and only include the minimal technical and scientific descriptions required to fully describe the situation. As for the third, I think the genre is defined by asking "What if?" and taking it to a plausible technological extreme. And this book does it brilliantly.

  Imagine, if you will, what would happen when the Empire of Man will meet a race of aliens that are stuck in their solar system, but other than that older, smarter, faster and more advanced than we are. The slight anachronism of the book allows for people to discuss what should be done before anything is decided, that both military, political and civilian agencies get to have a say. To get the scientists be actual caring people who argue their cause and viewpoint, the soldiers actual caring people who think about what their best choice should be in concordance with their beliefs, thoughts as well as their orders and to have nobles that care about their empire and their people and listen before they decide. Imagine that in a recent fiction book.

  I don't want to spoil it. The species of the "moties" is defined and explored very well, as are the humans and their society. It was interesting to me that the less plausible things were not technological, but biological and medical. We've come a long way since fifty years ago in that area and I am glad to see it. The ending of the book had a much slower pace than the rest. I felt like it was going to end, but it just kept going. It is important to reach the end, but that's just about the only problem I have with the book: the pacing problems at the end.

  Bottom line: I forced myself to start reading another book because I wanted to immediately read the entire series, which contains an immediate sequel, a prequel and a 2010 sequel written by Jennifer R. Pournelle, the original author's daughter. I highly recommend it. 

  I found out Neil Gaiman when I read American Gods, which I enjoyed much more than the TV series based on it. Also a book about a parallel magical world that most people are not aware of, it was still something I felt was very American, very Western, even if it was telling the stories of a multitude of gods from all over.

  Neverwhere feels more like Spirited Away than a Western story, though. And it is funny, because the mythology used as its base is British and everything happens in a parallel underground London. The lead character is an anonymous successful dolt working in the financial system who is suddenly thrust into this magical world by a simple act of kindness.

  The book is rather short and the story, while extremely enjoyable and very well written, is not that important. I mean, it's a classic hero journey (I am a sucker for those) but the beauty is in the characters and the details. I still would have wanted the main character to do something about Anastaesia and the reasons why Door was alive, then people trying to kill her, then back again are quite dodgy when you think about it. Also, the Warrior? Seriously?

  Bottom line: if you feel like immersing yourself into a magical world that feels close and real, but also incredible and impossible, then that's the book for you.

  Finna is a novella of only 144 pages, of course the beginning of a series, one that I have absolutely no intention to read. To be blunt, the only reason why I didn't rate this booklet the lowest is that Nino Cipri is actually queer/trans/nonbinary and so I can't complain about the characters being that way with absolutely no relevance to the story. I probably fell (again) for one of those agenda driven fake reviews that recommended it.

  Speaking of the story, it's a rather refreshing concept but that can be explored in a single page. It's a variation on the "doors to other universes" trope. However, most of the short span of the book doesn't focus on the idea or on what happens or even on character development. Instead, it goes on and on about how offensive it is for people to not use the correct pronouns, how tough it is to be queer or mentally afflicted, which is the all the depth the two main characters ever reach. The writing style is telegraphic, almost report like, lacking anything to make me feel anything (good).

  It is a really annoying book because the leads are totally unlikeable. They work at an Ikea clone for minimum wage, they complain all the time, they couldn't care less about people around them except for the awkward romantic relationship they have and even then not much, they go through parallel universes without paying attention, they act and emote without considering the consequences of their actions then blame it on how their brain is wired and so on. It's a story seen through the eyes of teens who would rather spend time with their phone than wonder about the world. I wouldn't be surprised to hear this was one of those books written in tweets or whatever. Still better than 50 Shades of Grey, but that's not saying much.

  And yes, I sound like a grumpy old man because this is what this book makes me feel like: totally disconnected from the entire generation of the characters in the story. They don't even sound like real people to me. It's a story about exploring strange new worlds which pauses every time something could be interesting to focus on how the characters felt in the world they left behind and how their relationship should have, could have, will have...

  Bottom line: Minimum effort and maximum annoyance.