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I picked up a paperback from my library’s new books shelf. Turns out this is a teen/middle-grade adventure story compendium. 331 pages. Several science fiction stories. There is a promo for Guys Read, a library of books to help guys read at the end. Each story is about short novella length, with a drawn greyscale illustration at the start. Most feature boy protagonists (BtGG has a girl protagonist).

Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo by Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson is a demigod. His father is Poseidon, god of the sea. Having supernatural powers seems cool but Percy’s life is full of god-sized egos and recalcitrant monsters.

Bouncing the Grinning Goat by Shannon Hale – At home Spark spends all her time doing chores and looking after the younger children. But she longs to escape boring domestic work for adventure. One day she borrows her brother’s sword and armour and runs away from home.

The Scout by D.J. MacHale – A longer story (52 pages). Scouts wear uniform. Scouts follow the leader. Scouts get to travel in rocket ships to explore far away planets. It seems like Kit, a trainee scout, is on a wilderness survival course but there is a twist. In the ending there is a parallel between the protagonist’s world and tribal regions of Pakistan. For readers who draw the parallel, the Scout condones drone attacks and condones killing children (families are erased from the Scout).

Rise of the RoboShoesTM by Tom Angleberger – Short funny with comical illustrations about walking aids that get an idea for world domination! Unable to walk, the fall of humans is assured! But there could be another sartorial contender on the horizon.

The Dirt on Our Shoes by Neal Shusterman – Funny and gross story of colonising a new planet, by one means or another.

Plan B by Rebecca Stead – Amusing story from the perspective of an alien family masquerading as people to spy on Earth. The aliens aren’t perfect at pretending to be humans so they sometimes make mistakes and have to remind each other to breath.

A Day in the Life by Shaun Tan – a short graphic story, each page is a line-shaded fantastic life scene with a caption.

The Klack Bros. Museum by Kenneth Oppel – Ghost story. When young Luke is delayed between stops on a railway journey, his father suggests that they visit a creepy museum.

The Warlords of Recess by Eric Nylund – Charming children’s story about an alien invasion of an elementary school. A rule-bound Alien Empire set their sights on Earth. Conquest rule 39 requires that alien warriors win three battles against the Eathlings before the Aliens may conquer Earth. Mistaking 12-year-old pupils outside at recess in an Elementary School for trained combat warriors, the alien warriors land and begin gunking kids with sticky green slime. The fate of the Earth depends on Josh and Tony, two geeky kids watching from the sidelines – do the aliens have a weakness that they can exploit to save the Earth?

Frost and Fire by Rad Bradbury – The longest novella. A stunning imaginative portrayal of a quickened life on an alien planet. Some stretching vocabulary.

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I’ve played about half the 2013 interactive fiction competition entries, and Coloratura by Lynnea Glasser is the best so far. The narrative is a science fiction story with strong horror elements. In some horror games you hear of bad things happening in a remote place and you may just meet a horrible monster! In this game, things happen – but you’re close to the action – you’re the monster!

You love nothing better than to sing sing sing! The whole universe sings in pure saturation. But out of timeless bliss comes dissonance. Hurt. Jolted and jostled. Disarranged. You can feel some beings around you but they are benighted. Blind, solitary voices groping in cacophony, colours awry. If only someone would help them! They just need somebeing to reach out…

Coloratura is a full-length parser-based game which can be completed in an hour or two (if you solve all the puzzles). There are HINTs and HELP (you can enter highlighted words in this review into the game as commands). You mostly interact with the game by typing commands to the protagonist like “GO NORTH”, “TOUCH MAN”; and occasionally by asking the protagonist to command another character “CAPTAIN, LISTEN TO ME” (this means that the protagonist should ask the captain to “LISTEN TO ME” i.e. listen to the protagonist). The game reports the result of a command (it might succeed or fail). The game world changes each turn (and as a result of successful commands).

There is a large graphic map provided with the game download. I didn’t find it easy to locate the protagonist on the map – it was not until half way through the game before I could match locations (which the protagonist visited) to those depicted in the map; by then I had stopped looking at the map.

When you type commands in this kind of game, you rely on the game recognising what you want the protagonist to do, and responding aptly. The game’s responses to commands show good intuition from the author or capable testing or both. Serving the player so well demonstrates uncommon mastery. In a departure from convention, the alien protagonist can’t carry things. There are environmental puzzles – when the alien touches some objects, the alien embodies their character e.g. touching a hot thing makes the alien hot; now you can heat something by commanding the alien to touch it. If you’re finding it hard to get started, EXAMINE things mentioned in descriptions, and try TOUCHing things.

There were one or two glitches which escaped editing. There are two protagonists but the WAVE command gives the response for the first protagonist (an alien) even if the second protagonist (a human) is the current protagonist (in the EPILOGUE).

The language was mixed: sometimes creative and beautiful, other times like a bad translation. With a nod to Shyamalan the protagonist is shy and retiring not a bloodthirsty rampager. More cultist than wirehead. The creature’s chromatic sense of human character’s emotions’ is delightful although using the creature’s colour-shifting powers on people was disturbing. I loved the glimpses of a horror story from the reverse perspective. The (best) ending cleaves to the horror theme, a gothic departure from realism which may be a little frustrating for science fiction fans.

I will be surprised if there are more than one or two other entries as good as Coloratura. If you can cope with entering commands to make things happen (and don’t mind an inhuman protagonist who may become sympathetic through the story), I recommend it highly.

SGU TV logo

I found the first two episodes slow and boring, science-fiction wallpaper. Recalling the exciting film, Stargate (1994), and entertaining knock-about television series, Stargate SG-1, I didn’t know what this new US television series was for.
But by episode three the characters begin to come to life, and a lost in space premise emerges. Advanced technology is discovered on Earth. While investigating, a Scottish scientist, a MIT drop-out, and sundry soldiers are blasted into space when it turns out that they were in a spaceship.

As in similar works, the crew cannot recognise the stars – they may be hundreds of light years from Earth. Unlike the film, Lost in Space, and unlike television series Startrek:Voyager, the controls for the spaceship are mysterious to the crew. Indeed survival is uncertain as the power for life support is limited.

This series reproduces familiar Stargate elements: a scratchy expert conflicts with a dictatorial military leader. The characters have strange experiences investigating advanced technology and exploring alien worlds. The characters are older than in prior works. It’s still quite slow, after episode four we still haven’t seen a walking talking alien, but the spaceship has entered a habitable solar system after running out of fuel – the crew must explore.

Ethnically, the cast is almost completely white in these early episodes, although more diverse characters appear later in the series.