THE BLACK COMPANY IS AN ENDURING CLASSIC
I’ve read Glen Cook’s The Black Company, all the way through, at least three times. It’s about a mercenary company that roams far and wide in a dark fantasy world, varying on the scale of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ I don’t do Grimdark, but it’s commonly cited as being a foundation of the genre.
Audible had a HUGE sale the start of December, and I picked up almost the entire series on audiobook, at less than $3.50 a book. That’s a pure steal! I listen to audiobooks during my drives, and during my work day. Even as I type blog posts. My mind is good at multi-attention. I wouldn’t have time to read/re-read all the things I listen to.
I’m on book four, and this remains one of the best fantasy series’ I’ve ever read. I feel that the last two books are kind of disappointing, and I slog through them. We’ll see if that’s the case, listening to them. But overall, this is terrific. The latest book, Port of Shadows, is set during the original trilogy, and I am going to read that later this month. But as a whole, I highly recommend The Black Company. Fletcher Vredenburgh did a superb deep dive into the whole thing, over at Black Gate. I also LOVE Cook’s Garrett, PI series, which I wrote about here. Just a great writer.
LETTERKENNY IS TERRIFIC!
Letterkenny is a Canadian steaming show which has been on for twelve seasons. It’s about a small Canadian town with three groups: the hicks, the sticks (hockey players) and skids (Meth heads). I am completely addicted to this funny, clever, raunchy show. I’ve liked Lowdermilk, Brockmire, and The Ranch (meh) to different degrees, in this category. But Letterkenny is far superior to all of them (Lowdermilk is pretty good, though). Focusing around four hicks (including a brother and sister), it’s just flat out funny. My favorite current show.
ARCHER IS ALSO TERRIFIC!
In fact, I was hooked on this before switching over to Letterkenny. Archer is an extremely NSFW secret agent cartoon. 2023 marked its fourteenth season. I’m only on season seven, and this show entertains. There are a lot of clever references dropped in. I just saw an episode in which a mention of Sherlock Holmes was immediately followed by one of Daryl Zero. The Zero Effect is a gem of a private eye film starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller.
There’s a lot of smart dialogue in Archer. Definitely not something to put on the TV when the kids are in the house, but I’m glad I came (FINALLY) to the party. Highly recommended for a ‘grown ups’ animated show.
DILBERT IS STILL FUN
I’ve got a plethora of the Dilbert cartoon strip collections. They’ve entertained me for decades. I’m also a huge fan of the first hardback book, The Dilbert Principle. For years, I joked about writing a public sector version of Dilbert observations, called Bobbert. So much of the insanity applies.
The second book was Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook. It was kinda lightweight, and felt like a cash grab. The third book, The Dilbert Future, was more of a sequel to the first book. What it was not, was funny. However, the fourth book, The Job of work (Dilbert’s Guide to Finding Happiness at the Expense of Your Coworkers) is a good read. In fact, I’d suggest just making this your followup to The Dilbert Principle, and skipping the two previous books. There’s lots of humor in Scott Adams’ worldview. The Dilbert Principle is a classic that holds up. The Joy of Work has a lot of laughs in it, and I’m enjoying my first re-read.
FORTNITE IS A GOOD GAME
I’ve never talked about Fortnite in my column. I started playing it to get more time with my (then pre-teen) son. He quit playing after a while, but I kept on. He started playing again and it’s a rare week that we don’t have a couple sessions together.
Fortnite is an animated (literally no violence) survival shooter. You can play solo, or in teams of two, three, or four. There are a ton of mods and variations, but I mostly just play the regular game. Solo, or with my son in Duos. They’ve rolled out a Lego crossover this month, which is essentially Lego Fortnite meets Minecraft.
Fortnite has a pretty small learning curve. Each game starts with 100 players, and a constantly contracting Storm, which restricts the size of the map. The goal is to be the last player/team left. There are weapons, shields, health items, and so on, that you pick up and improve on, (or sometimes upgrade) as the game goes on.
The game has a built in microphone (Discord not needed), and you can limit who you can talk to and hear. Adults and kids play Fortnite. And early on I soured on obnoxious seven year olds I was randomly teamed with (which is why I only play Solo, or with people I know). But communicating with a teammate helps (just like it does in Elder Scrolls Online, via Discord).
I think there are two huge advantages to Fortnite. One is that you can just hop right back into a game when you get killed. A game can last 30 seconds (that’s a bad game), or a bout 20 minutes (good one). You can play Fortnite for five minutes, or five hours.
And, you can develop your own style. I can’t build (I play No Build option), and I don’t fight well ‘on the fly.’ My son picks a fight every instance he can. He’ll often kill over ten people in our games. – I sometimes kill none. He’s a much better Duos player than I am. But my style works better for Solo.
You can develop your own style of play and succeed in Fortnite. And it can be TOTALLY different from someone else’s successful style. I’ve changed mine over time, and it still works. Fortnite can work the way you want it to. And that’s great. You can buy the BattlePass, and earn enough in-game coins, to get the next season’s BattlePass, free. The BattlePass comes with lots of skins and cosmetic stuff for your play. You can earn as many levels and as much stuff as you want, by playing. You can always buy more stuff in the store, but you don’t have to. It really is a Free to Play game, after that first BattlePass. That’s a nice aspect.
You don’t have to buy theBattlePass, but the game is a lot more fun with rewards to aim for. The fact that you can tailor it to yourself, and that it’s SFW animated, gives it a really broad appeal. Skins are all over the map. Unique stuff to the game, Marvel, Robocop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, anime, (there was even an ESO skin, first-ever, last month). There’s a Peter Griffin (Family Guy) skin this season. And there’s been a TON of Star Wars stuff – light sabers are cool. The base game remains mostly the same, but weapons, items, and the map, change with various updates.
SHADOWS OF BRIMSTONE IS MY BOARD GAME OF CHOICE THESE DAYS
I’ve written about the Dungeons and Dragons Board Game Adventure series a couple of times. I really like it as tile-laying dungeon crawler. Probably gets my best all-around grade for that category, being more enjoyable than Descent, and Runebound.
Shadows of Brimstone is a similar game with good mechanics and GREAT atmosphere. The difficulty is pretty high, and I’ve found every final battle to be unwinnable. I ‘cheat rolls’ and make house rules to soften things up. When I’m not frustrated, I really like this game.
The premise is that a strange substance, Dark Stone, was discovered in an Old West mining town. Too much of it was mined, and finally there was a huge explosion that leveled the area. Now, there are all kinds of mutations, and gateways to other worlds. So, it’s a Weird Western dungeon crawl, which I love!
You go on mission where you lay tiles and fight monsters and have encounters, until you accomplish the goal – or die. There are a boatload of expansions, including alternate worlds you can go to, like a spaceship, a lava world, a post-apocalyptic world, etc. And there are additional themed base sets. A Viking-themed one just came out.
Between adventures, you go to town, recovering and gearing up. And ‘things can happen.’ The very first expansion you should buy is ‘Frontier Town,’ which significantly expands that part of the game. It even includes several in-town adventures you can play. I enjoy visiting town, as much as I enjoy the main adventures. It’s really fun.
Combat is hard. The final encounter is (to me) ridiculous. But you can adjust things yourself. This a really neat game. The minis are plastic, and you glue them together yourself. I HATE that, but it is what it is (I don’t paint minis, so mine don’t look cool, like in the pic).
There are two original core sets. The City of the Ancients is the Old West themed one, and what I play. I don’t have the Swamps of Death core set.
They’ve added other core sets. I have the Feudal Japan one, but it’s still in shrink wrap. I just got the new Gates of Valhalla core set, which is Viking-themed. a Spanish conquistador core set came out at the same time. The Other Worlds, like the Derelict Spaceship, are smaller than core sets, but add new map tiles to go with new monsters, to explore. The next ‘size down’ are the Mission Packs, themed mini-quests with new monsters (like vampires, and werewolves). There are also various monster packs, and additional heroes. You can do deep down the rabbit hole, adding themes and cool stuff.
I’D RATHER READ HOLMES ON THE RANGE, THAN SHERLOCK HOLMES HIMSELF
I’ve got a Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle library of around 450 books. I know Holmes. I wrote about Steve Hockensmith’s Old West detective series with a Holmes influence. I decided I wanted to get caught up on this series, so I read the last four novels (the most recent just came out this Fall), and re-read the first short story collection. I’m currently on the new short story collection, which came out last month. And a book with two novellas just came out this month. So much new stuff!
Old Red (Gustav) and Big Red (Otto) Amlingmeyer are brothers and cow pokes. Old Red can’t read, so his brother reads him Sherlock Holmes tales, around the campfire. Old Red gets the ‘deducifyin’ bug, and they solve crimes on the trail.
These are an homage to Sherlock Holmes, and solid Westerns, with mysteries in them. Hockensmith clearly loves Holmes, and the references are plentiful and accurate. And the stories are simply fun to read. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting reacquainted with the brothers. The series is readily available in print and digitally. You really should read either the first short story collection (Dear Mr. Holmes) or the first novel (Holmes on the Range). My essay is non-spoiler, so you could click on over and check it out.
I just borrowed the first novel from my library, as an audiobook. It’s read by William Dufris, who I have reading The Maltese Falcon. We’ll see how it sounds.
Things I Think I Think
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.