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The Bitter Guide to Science Fiction

The Bitter Guide: Pants Optional

JJ Mohareb
November 16, 2000

Greetings, loyal (and wandering) Bitterites. Once again, I, the Bitter Guy, have returned to guide you down the paths of literature, both great and game based.

The Bitter Guy has found his reading time is once again blossoming in plentitude, for I find myself commuting once again to work. This time, its two buses and a light rail system.

The daily bus ride is the most wondrous segment; The Bitter Guy is given an opportunity to share the company of the next generation. These avatars of progress express themselves as a trio of high school students, chortling about the petty cruelties they find heartracingly interesting, while flashing grins to make an orthodontists heart skip a beat (how can someone with teeth that bad chew?).

Its enough to make me wish we could give the cockroaches a chance at global superiority. Could they be any worse?

Once again, theres a surplus of the game fiction this month. Step by agonizing step, we approach the conclusion of the Vampire Clan Novel series.

The first book of the month was Clan Novel: Ventrue. In it, we learn that Victoria Ash has truly astounding breasts. Were talking the headlights that launched a thousand PT Cruisers, a set of cans that radiate their own inner light, the rack of ultimate joy. How do we know this? Because male vampires in this book spend a lot of time gazing at them, longingly.

Now, Im going to go out on a limb and assume that Ms. Ash, whos a very powerful vampire, has focused her mighty powers of manipulation into her breasts. That would make sense, because Ive always been under the impression that the state of vampirism pretty much removed the desire to stare longingly at bosoms.

The non-breast portions of the boob... sorry, book, involve the attempts of the venture scion Jan Pieterzoon to hold off the Sabbat invasion of the east coast. There are gunfights & assassination attempts and lots more of the Sabbat pep rallies/bloodbaths.

The problem is its a book in a series, and it reads that way. Clan Novels Gangrel and Setite, the best of the books so far, read like books that stood on their own. They incorporated elements from their predecessors, and left dangling ends for their successors to suss out, but in the end they read well and complete.

Game Novels can benefit greatly from having a detailed and interesting game world. Of course, as Scorpion demonstrates, it can also bite them in the ass.

Scorpion is the first novel in the Legend of the Five Rings series. It details the story of the Clan War in novel form. Unfortunately, its already been detailed in collectible card game form.

Legend of the Five Rings is a CCG set in a semi-oriental setting that causes asio-philes to collapse to the ground in a vicious froth. Its been going on for five years now (in spite of their vow that the game would be finito at GeekCon 98 (did somebody say Cash?). Its greatest strength was the story that wove its way through the background.

The first time I had this great epic explained to me, two thoughts came to my head: A) wow, what an incredibly in depth and interesting tale of heroism, love, magic, and loyalty and B) if this bloated sociopath gets any closer, I will feign death to escape.

The L5R game told the story of the Scorpion coup in an expansion called, oddly enough, Scorpion Clan Coup. The Scorpions, masters of being reaaaaaallly sneaky, discover a prophecy that the emperor will one day cause the forces of hell to romp around Rokugan (gamespeak for not Asia). They figure, hey, kill the emperor, stop the prophecy! Of course, its never that easy.

There are bloody sieges, amusing mistaken identities (that guy just killed his own bastard child, and then said, Say hi to your father in hell! Thats hilarious!) and devious manipulations of stupid Geisha girls (Kill your samurai boyfriend, then yourself. And for Gods sake, dont just give him enough to make him sleep for a week!)

The main problem is, well, if you like Legend of the Five Rings (or have found yourself subjected to the two hour abridged history of Rokugan, as provided by your local kook), youve seen all this before. This novel is a case of taking the flavour text and cutting and pasting it into a manuscript.

I figure writing this would be worse than a normal media book, where youd get an outline and a few ties on your hands. The author of this puppy probably got handed an outline just as big as the book and was told, by the way, the fan boys are rabid. I wouldnt go trying to make it interesting or anything.

Robert J. Sawyer, author of Calculating God is the big fish in a veeerrrry small pond (Canadian SF authors), although hes had to contract his personal slogan from Canadas only SF author to Canadas only full time, married, heterosexual, male SF author with a beard and a mind numbingly bad haircut (no, Im serious; sue your barber, Rob) who got a Canada Council grant to go to Worldcon.

In this book, Rob (hed like ya to call him Rob) writes about a terminally ill paleontologist who meets an Alien paleontologist (not terminally ill), whos trying to probe the existence of God.

Throughout the book (which could have been titled Are you there God, its me, Terminally Ill Paleontologist), the two eggheads debate the existence of a higher power in the universe. Why, human egghead asks, would God create cancer? Why would bad things happen to good people? Why are there demo team leaders walking the streets today, when Diana had to die?

The book has some weaknesses, in that once the current provincial administration of Ontario leaves power (sooner the better), itll be as relevant as the old Richard Rohmer books (think Tom Clancy, but less talented and even more dissociated from reality).

There are plenty of cheap shots at the right-wing Harris government and name-dropping of pop stars (who really, for that matter, needs to know which singers the lead character listens to? Much less the specific songs?).

Those factors add up to give this book a lifespan slightly shorter than that of a snail in a salt factory. Thankfully, the book isnt dull (unlike, say, Frameshift). We get to see just how boring organized religion would be if scientists ran it instead of priests. One can hardly conceive of those guys running an interesting bake sale, much less a Jihad.

In the end, we do get to see god, only its a very dull god, and cancer ends up being a vital part of his plan. Then, we meet baby god, who isnt a longhaired Hebrew.

Along the way, some Americans blow things up. Now, Ill admit occasionally you need a bad guy, and Americans are as good as you can get for that job, but it really disturbed the pace of the novel.

Oh, wait. The pace of the novel was ponderous and plodding at best. So thats a good thing. Okay, more gun toting Yankees! Have them show up at random! Thatll make things better.

The final gaming novel of the month is Lasombra (Clan Novel Series, No.6), by Rich Dansky. I like Rich. Hes a cool guy. He liked B5, which is always a sign of inner goodness. So I gotta feel sorry for him being handed this book. The books in this series tend to be of one of two breeds: a good book, or a bundle of plot. This book is, sadly, a pulsating bundle of plot. The main character, Lucita, is a Sabbat vampire whos left the Sabbat, on account of not being able to play well with others.

Ive got a weakness when it comes to my heroes; I want them to be mildly human. Lucita, unfortunately, is a vampire (a pulsating bundle of vampire). Shell remark on how nice someone is five seconds before shes wiping their vital fluids off her lips.

The ending of the book is rushed; for 90% of the book, were waiting for Lucita to perpetrate an assassination contract, then the final four pages are spent having her do it (although were supposed to not know her target, its painfully obvious when you consider which of the possible targets is the stupidest and least interesting).

I dislike books that spend hours telling us how their main character is a stone cold badass. So, in Lasombra, of course, we spend an entire book with a stone cold badass. She-badass. Whatever. Lucitas mean and vampy. I dont wanna spend a couple hundred pages reading about her. Im sure shell be a great supporting character in the next book, Assamite, whichll probably also be about a stone cold badass.

So, yeah. Thatll do enough for now. Go buy a poppy and give a veteran a hug.

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What do you think?

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All Bitter Guides to Science Fiction by Justin Mohareb

Ha ha! I lied! #1-7 are up at his site, and I haven't added a link yet. Here are his most recent, though.

  • Because it's been too long January 15, 2002
  • It's the Bitter Guide! Now MSG free! September 19, 2001
  • And it's all verbal June 25, 2001
  • The official, Millenial, Party-licious Wes Smiderle Bitter Guide (with a sprinkling of Buffy and little chocolate toppings) April 4, 2001
  • The Bitter Guide: Pants Optional November 16, 2000
  • Not Suitable for Pregnant Women or People with High Blood Pressure August 31, 2000
  • Saludos, Amigos, a bitter greeting to you! May 4, 2000
  • I am the Bitter Guy! Watch Iron Chef!, April 7, 2000
  • The Bitter Guide to Books I Couldn't Finish, January 14, 2000, plus special bonus The Bitter Guide to the new Moe-llennium
  • Squirrels Eat Parsley, Yum!, December 6, 1999
  • Second Anniversaries and Weddings, June 29, 1999
  • Begin Witty and Trenchant rantery, April 13, 1999
  • #10 November 24, 1999
  • #9 September 29, 1998
  • #8 July 28, 1998