Book Challenge #97: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

I’m doing a bit better on my book challenge this month. This time I’m reviewing The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, published in 1992. This is the first book on the list so far that had never heard of, and the first one that I’ve given a 5/5 rating. Read on to find out why I loved this book so much!


This book takes place in the near future 21st century, where historians not only study the past via archaeological digs and old tomes, but also by traveling back in time to experience things for themselves. The technology is in its growth phase in the book, established enough that there are protocols for it and trained technicians to oversee it but new enough that whole swaths of history are still off-limits due to safety concerns. Kivrin, our protagonist, is a bright and determined student at Oxford who wants to be the first to visit the 1300s.

The novel opens as Kivrin is being prepared to leave for her journey to 1320. There’s comedic but all-too-real rivalry between departments or schools at the university. Her mentor Dunworthy specializes in less remote time periods that are more routinely open to time travel, and is concerned about her safety and the way the drop is being rushed. Meanwhile the acting head of the medieval department appears more focused on the prestige and opportunity he might gain by pushing the project through before the actual department head returns from Christmas vacation. Kivrin herself is just excited to be on her way to see the middle ages at Christmastime and wants everyone to stop worrying over her. The whole book is full of genuine-feeling interactions between characters with real motivations and expressions and it’s part of why I enjoyed it so much.

The drop to 1320 appears to be a success, but shortly after it is completed the technician in charge comes down with a serious illness. Unbeknownst to the modern characters, Kivrin also becomes ill upon arrival in the past. The net that allows time travel is supposed to be impervious to things like diseases coming back through, but did something go wrong? The story splits, and follows both Kivrin’s experiences in the 1300s and the epidemic happening in 21st century Oxford. We get treated to the antics of overprotective mothers, precocious children, and status-seekers across the centuries. There are heroes and saints and villains but mostly there are average folks just trying to make the best of terrible situations and get on with their lives.

What started out as a story about time travel turned out to be part medical mystery, part survival story, and part family drama. It was so satisfying to watch these parts unfold in tandem across both timelines. Also, though I don’t usually like children in general, it was impossible not to become attached to the children in this story. Colin, in the future, watches the epidemic unfold with morbid fascination, ducking past quarantine lines, helping in the hospital, and endlessly sucking on his everlasting gobstopper. Agnes, in the past, could be any young girl in any age, playing with her puppy, teasing her older sister, jingling her new bell during mass when she’s supposed to be quiet. I absolutely cared about these characters and wanted them to have a happy end to their stories, even the ones who, from one perspective, had already been dead for hundreds of years. I stayed up way too late reading the last section of the book in one go because I was too invested to put it down before I knew what happened to all of these people I cared about. And that’s leaving out the biggest question: Would KivrinĀ  ever make it home?

The strength of the last book I read for this challenge (Perdido Street Station) was in the deft complexity of the story threads and the way the city itself felt alive. By contrast, I was almost always a few steps ahead of the plot of The Doomsday Book, but it didn’t matter in the slightest because I genuinely cared about the characters and wanted to see how things played out. It also helped immensely that the grim realities of life in the middle ages and in the midst of a modern epidemic are at least partially offset by moments of humor and human kindness. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

The past is wonderful and terrible and nothing like you imagined, but you will be glad you made the journey.

TL;DR:

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Rating: 5/5 stars

Verdict: Deeply human and relatable characters and an engaging story make this my first 5/5 book of the challenge. You should read it!

December Gaming Goals

First, how did I do on my November goals?

November Wrap-up

WoW

Level another alt to 110 – Yep! Got my druid up there high enough to run LFR.

Get a Legendary for my Monk – Yes, though sadly it was literally the worst possible one.

Get one of the falcosaur mounts – Check! I’ve been riding my snowfeather since I got her.

Clear the new Karazhan – Check! We’ve fully cleared it two weeks in a row.

Destiny

Run some strikes with my friends – Sort of? I ran one strike with my friends, but when I tried to run more I kept getting disconnected.

WildStar

Play at least once a week – Fail. I’ve ducked in just twice in November.

Finish seeing the Arcterra content – Nope. Not even closešŸ˜¦


December Goals

WoW

Clear Trial of Valor. We got Helya to phase 3 last night so hopefully as long as everyone keeps showing up for raid as the holiday approach we should get this.

Level a hordie alt to 110. My priest is 105 so hopefully this should be easy as long as I avoid more pugs like this one.

Complete the new raiding with leashes and get my starbunny pet. I only need one pet from the Lich King to get my invitation to Algalon’s trial.

Destiny

Get my connection issues resolved and play some strikes with my friends without getting disconnected.

Get my light level up above 310. I’m still sub 300 right now but if Bel keeps dragging me around this should go quickly.

WildStar

Play at least once a week. I’m gonna keep trying because damn it I love this game.

Diablo

Beat Diablo 2 in time for our Aggrochat game of the month podcast. Right now I’m almost finished with chapter 1 so I need to spend some quality time.


I set relatively modest goals for December because honestly I want to spend all my time playing Final Fantasy XV. I’m not setting any goals for it though because I don’t need any motivation to get me to play, and because I’m not far enough into it to know what reasonable goals would look like!

 

 

Halls of Valor: Descent into the Void

Who doesn’t love stories about random groups gone horribly wrong? I sometimes joke that I like running with strangers just so I have stories to tell and new things to complain about. Last night I had a particularly awful pug that I want to share with you. It was painful, but I think it also says something interesting about the state of WoW in Legion.

To set the scene, I had decided to work on my long-neglected hordie priest last night. She used to be my main back in my raiding glory days, and I always get a little sad when she’s not caught up in a new expansion. She was level 104 and had gotten the story quest for Halls of Valor, so I decided to run it. I’d been leveling as shadow and didn’t want to try remembering how to priest heal so I queued as dps. In retrospect that was definitely a mistake.

We zone in, a few people say hi. I don’t know whether this is because I’m trying to make more of an effort to at least say hello or whether the climate of the game is slightly changed, but I have had far fewer silent groups this expansion. Anyhow we pull the first trash and wipe. The pally healer is there but barely healing, and the demon hunter is still sitting at the entrance. We limp our way through the early trash and to the first boss and the inactive demon hunter finally joins us. Wipe on the first boss. There’s very little healing happening so I’m trying what few shadow priest tricks I have to help things along and we finally clear the fight and move on. The trash up to and inside the great hall goes the same way, people occasionally die and run back. We head to Fenrir first and two things are clear: the tank does not speak english and really likes to run ahead, and the healer is either very new or very unaware and also likes to facepull all the trash. You can see how this might be a bad combination. We wipe to wolves, we pull huge groups of adds. One spectacular time the warlock and I managed to finish things off and prevent a complete wipe. On the boss the healer got focused and did not move but miraculously survived due to pally hax that were mysteriously forgotten by the next boss. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

I had a moment of clarity running back from one of the trash wipes that maybe we should kick the healer or maybe I should just cut my losses and try again another night, but a sick part of my brain wanted to see how things would turn out. We run to the valkyr boss with only one extra healer trash pull. I see on the two mini-boss pulls that the healer does not move to the shield or dodge the evil light orb spam, so I expect the worst for the boss fight. Note I probably could have said something about how the fight works but the 3 of us dps were so traumatized we were just keeping our heads down and praying for things to be over. The tank pulls the boss and keeps her in the middle of the room, ensuring that we get all of the mechanics to deal with. This shouldn’t be a problem on normal mode, but as predicted the healer does not get in the shield or dodge orbs and dies. Somehow between good tanking, my sad shadow heals, and decent dps we still killed the boss.

At this point I suddenly realize there’s still two bosses left and I don’t want to go on anymore. The warlock is complaining loudly, but only in a general way, not calling anyone out. I have to summon my repair mount before we head to Odyn’s room because all our gear is broken. The healer does not come out to repair even when asked to. The tank very earnestly tries to tell us some things that might be important or possibly offensive but I think they’re speaking portuguese and my will is too broken by now to bother pasting it into google translate. We fight the trash in Odyn’s room and the tank dies again. I am truly becoming one with my shadow priest now, praying for the sweet release of the void.

The god-king fight is interesting in a painful sort of way and my mind detaches and watches from elsewhere. The tank pops the shield on the pull, so it is gone by the time we need it. Somehow we live. Nobody wants to touch the aegis after that, so it falls to me and I try not to eff it up. The healer remains morally opposed to standing in shields and pays with their life. Through the power of wishful thinking and also soulstones we still managed to finish the fight but it was close. The warlock and I are brothers now, our bonds forged in stolen souls and void healing and despair.

The Odyn fight is predictably tame by comparison. I already know the details of our failures before they happen. They were etched into the creases of my brain by all that came before. My yogg-saron tentacle pet whispers to me of my shortcomings. Did I summon it? Did it manifest on its own in my weakest moment? I don’t remember. There is so much death. We beg borrow and steal whatever magiks we can and it will never be enough.

And yet, in the end, there is victory. I cannot tell you the details. My mind had entered a void state to protect myself from trying to comprehend the horrors I witnessed. Somehow Odyn deemed us worthy. Truly the mental workings of gods are unfathomable. I imagine my warlock brother and I sharing a silent, glazed-eyed nod before departing back from whence we came. It is finished.

The interesting coda here is that I realized this was the worst pug I’ve had in ages, but we all stuck it out. Nobody raged. Nobody left. Nobody vote kicked the terrible healer. Nobody helped them learn either, but it’s a start. I’m as much to blame for that as anyone else, but by the time I realized how necessary it was I no longer had the energy to bother explaining things. Maybe I could have made a difference. Maybe they would have just gotten mad at me for trying. In any case it made for a fascinating story and weirdly gave me hope for the future of the game. The players might occasionally be terrible but the toxicity has been low lately.

Maybe next time I’ll just queue as heals though.

An Alt Problem

It is no secret around this blog that I have a serious case of alt-itis. In a lot of ways I envy folks that have one fixed character in an MMO and can focus all their time and energy into making that character the best it can possibly be. I sometimes try to do that, but far too often I get curious about how other classes feel to play, or even just want to replay the leveling content from a slightly different perspective. This has led over the years to a truly massive stable of alts in many games. The closest I’ve come to a single focused character is in FFXIV, where at least you can try every class on the same character. Even there, I have a couple low level alts bouncing around because I wanted to see the main story over again.

In WoW, which I’ve been playing for almost 10 years now, I have a giant pile of alts spread across factions and servers. This problem was exacerbated by the pre-Legion invasion event, which let me level quite a few more all the way up to 100. Horde side I’ve got 2 priests, 3 hunters, 2 druids, pally, mage, lock, shaman, DK, rogue all in the mid-90s or higher. Alliance side is also looking crowded, with priest, pally, druid, demon hunter, 2 mages, 2 hunters, 2 monks all 100+, with a warrior, priest, and a DK in the mid 70s as well. I’m probably still forgetting someone. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. Believe me, I’m incredibly glad that garrisons are no longer the gold making machines they once were, because in Warlords I spent all my time swapping between alts and doing chores instead of enjoying the game.

In Legion I’ve been a bit slower dealing with all these alts, and my usual mode of operations feels much less satisfying than it used to. Part of the reason I like having so many alts is to be self-sufficient with professions. Legion’s profession system is so painful that there’s much less incentive for using alts this way now. Heck, even my “main” still hasn’t maxed out her jewelcrafting. Once I got to the point where the only skillups to be found were not 100% chance from rank 3 necklaces that cost at least 4-6 blue quality gems to craft and sell on the AH for less than 1 cut gem I threw up my hands in disgust. I’ll get to the skill cap in about 3 months worth of Darkmoon Faire rather than waste my time and gold right now.

My other alts are in similar positions. I’ve got 2 monks, a mage and a druid all at 110 and none of them have a maxed profession. It just doesn’t feel worth it for the effort involved. I’m slowly working my way through the profession quest lines at least, and I do like that there is a bit more flavor injected into professions this expansion. The forced dungeons and the usual trap of being able to craft things that are expensive to make and useless to you by the time your skill is high enough to craft them are a huge turn-off though. I’d like to be able to make my own enchants and flasks, but the highest rank recipes are still pretty far out of reach on characters that I don’t want to be playing more than my main. At least I can do some gathering, and so far sending mats to my guildies in exchange for goods and services seems to be the way to go.

Leveling alts is extremely fast this expansion, but there’s not much payoff once you get to the level cap. I applaud the huge amount of “stuff to do” in Legion, it is definitely the most engaging expansion for me since Wrath. That same wealth of stuff to do makes alts overwhelming. I’ve obviously reached the point here a couple months in where I want to be branching out a bit with different classes and professions but it doesn’t feel good right now to do so. I’m still in love with this expansion, but it is not conducive to my alt-loving playstyle.

Book Challenge #98: Perdido Street Station by China MiĆ©ville

It’s been 2 months since my last entry for my book challenge. This means I’m officially in violation of my self-imposed rules, since I’m supposed to get to at least one book a month. Fortunately I made up the rules and there’s no penalty for breaking them, so I can carry on and futilely try to describe Perdido Street Station, published in 2000. Here goes nothing.


Continue reading

Keeping it Together

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Oh look, another Karazhan post! I was struggling mightily last week under the combined weight of the election results and some personal and familial medical issues. I missed our guild’s weekly raid night as a result, which made me feel even worse, more isolated from my friends and stressed out about things I couldn’t change. Luckily I got to dive into Kara twice this week to help take my mind off of my real world woes. On Saturday I went on my mage with a mix of alts and mains just to see how far we could get. The answer was that we cleared Opera and got some attempts in on Maiden. It was a bit rough, and makes me incredibly glad that Blizz will be releasing a less highly-tuned heroic version of the instance. I had a great time working through the fights with my friends, but with our gear mix it will probably be a long time before we can forge all the way through to the end.wowscrnshot_111316_224124

Sunday night however was our fixed Kara group night. We didn’t try to extend the lockout from last week, but instead started over from the beginning using what we had learned to aim for a smooth run. And it was far smoother than last time. For one thing, we didn’t get lost so much this time! We 1-shot a few of the fights that gave us trouble last week, including the dreaded Moroes. As the night went on and we started getting into the 2nd half of the instance I was feeling sick and exhausted and unfortunately it started to show. We wiped on Shade and had some unnecessary deaths, but we worked through them. We killed the Mana Devourer with just a couple attempts since we got our strategy sorted out between last week and this week. The whole 2nd half of the dungeon is incredibly well made and interesting, both to look at and mechanically. There’s even a nod to the old chess event.wowscrnshot_111316_225106

The last boss was a nightmare of RNG and insta-kill mechanics. Some of the fights in new Kara, like Moroes and Shade, feel like huge healing checks with a frantic healing pace and a drained mana bar at the end. This horrible beholder-like boss, on the other hand, had very little I could actually heal through and was much more dependent on everyone not screwing up. We did eventually manage to kill him, but only after many many wipes, most of which were caused by me being too tired to focus on the boss’ positioning of disintegrate and dispelling and healing horrible balls of doom and not standing in barrage nonsense. I’m hoping next week I can redeem myself with a smoother run.

I stand by my evaluation last week though, new Kara is an incredibly well made instance and a hugely fun time with a solid group of well-geared friends. I can’t wait to get good enough to make a run at Nightbane and his fancy mount someday. Thank you to my Kara groups this weekend for giving me a great distraction and making me laugh when I desperately needed it.

Curiouser and Curiouser

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This weekend I dove down a rabbit hole of nostalgia and it was magical. Ever since even the hints of a new Karazhan started to surface, long before Legion was released, I started to get a bit hyped. Once Legion launched and I saw how good of a job they’d done with the Broken Isles, I got even more hyped about the new Kara. I dared to hope that it would do justice to the original. You see, I started playing World of Warcraft near the start of The Burning Crusade, its first expansion. Karazhan will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the very first raid I ever set foot in. I made some great friends, and got completely hooked on raiding. By the end of that expansion I had healed, dps’d, and yes, even tanked my way through Kara many times. The raid was oozing with character and charm, a fully realized haunted mage tower big enough to get lost in for hours.

The new Kara is the same, but different. I mean this in the best possible way. It certainly still is big enough to get lost in, as we proved immediately, getting lost on our way to the first boss. The first half of the instance is essentially the same old space we knew and loved. Even the bosses are all reprisals of the originals, and they are just as brutal to learn as the originals were. We one shot the first boss, the Opera event (it was “Westfall Story”), but most of the night was spent learning fights, picking ourselves off the floor and throwing ourselves at bosses until we won. The Moroes fight in particular was just completely brutal from a healing perspective. It was also really fun, because it was every bit as satisfying to kill that boss as any raid boss. wowscrnshot_110616_235012

In fact the whole take home message of our first night in Karazhan was that this truly does feel like a 5-person raid rather than a mythic dungeon. The scale of the place is still epic, the fights are punishing, and it doesn’t just feel like a rehashed, slightly harder version of something we’ve already done. Even though that’s exactly what it is. Kudos to the devs for pulling this off spectacularly. The vague ingrained wisdom we all had from clearing the original Kara served us pretty well, but things were also different enough to offer some great surprises. It has been a very long time since I laughed as hard on the way back from a wipe as I did last night, and that alone was worth the price of admission.

After the first 5 bosses, the instance switches to some new sections. There were a lot of surprised and pleased reactions. I don’t want to completely describe the whole thing, because if you get a chance to experience it for yourself you absolutely should. We spent over 4 hours in there, and managed to kill 6/8 bosses and get some solid attempts in on the 7th. That’s definitely on par with a raid, rather than a dungeon.Ā  I absolutely can’t wait to get back in and see the rest of it, and to do it again next week now that we vaguely know what we’re doing.

Blizz took a big chance re-working such a beloved instance, and it paid off hugely here. I’m also glad to hear the news from Blizzcon that they’ll eventually be releasing a non-mythic version of new Kara so even more people can experience it. I had an absolute blast, even if some of the fights made me cry a bit as the healer. It was a pitch-perfect nostalgia bomb and I hope it inspires even more people to fall in love with the magic that is Karazhan.

Entitlement, RNG, and Fun or Lack Thereof

I’ve been one of the last folks in my raid group in WoW without a legendary item. We’ve been joking that of course I’ll get one of the worst possible ones for my spec if and when I ever get one, and the prophecy has been fulfilled. Last night, right before raid, I opened an emissary chest and got the worst possible legendary in the game. Not only is the effect mostly useless in raids, but it is a ring, which means no primary stat boost, and it doesn’t even have my best secondary stat on it either. I had been mentally preparing myself for this, because such is my luck, especially in a world where my pal Belghast steals all the good luck for himself. However I wasn’t prepared to have my shame broadcast to the whole guild at peak time when everyone was getting ready for raid. I tried to be good-natured about it, merely vowing eternal vengeance against and angrily shaking my fists at everyone who made fun of me for my bad luck.

I’m aware there are community members who think that everything is sunshine and roses, and that people who get a legendary item and then have the nerve to complain about it are entitled jerks. My honest opinion here is that those people can go eff right off. This particular item has multiple attributes that work against it, making it unattractive to almost everyone.

  1. It’s a ring. However you feel about most legendaries, anything that gives you a huge ilvl bonus to your primary stat is likely to be more exciting than a ring with secondary stats only.
  2. It drops for every class and spec. I’ve seen this item drop a lot, because it can drop for anyone. Even if it were more useful, this blandness makes it seem less fun than an item specially crafted to boost your chosen class.
  3. Its special ability procs from applying a loss-of-control effect, which is something that most raid mobs and dungeon bosses are immune to. So most fights you won’t even get any special benefit from it.

Even Blizz acknowledged that there’s a few legendaries that aren’t as exciting as intended, and as far as I know there may be some changes to those items in the works. I prefer a system where I can work towards big ticket, game changing items like the legendaries represent. Or at least have some protection from horrible RNG, like with Kanai’s Cube in Diablo 3. There, if you just can’t get the item you need to drop you can keep trying to craft it in the cube. It is still RNG based, but there’s some protection there for people with terrible luck. It would also be different if there was anyone outside of a PvP setting that really prized this particular legendary turd. Instead, I’ve seen it drop over and over again, and never has the lucky recipient been excited. Always it is met by complaint and murmurs of apology from the rest of the guild. That’s bad design.

Item drops in dungeons can be good or bad, but there’s always another chance to run things again tomorrow and get something better. Bad legendaries feel extra painful because you’ve been waiting for months to get one, and know you’ll have a long wait for another chance. Meanwhile your friends get shiny new toys that change their playstyle or give them cool buffs. I feel a bit similarly about some of the incredibly hard-to-get hidden artifact appearances, but at least there it is all cosmetic. Nobody feels like they are letting their raid team down because they can’t get their artifact skin to drop, but I feel like I’m not healing as well as I could because I am missing a vital piece of gear.

I honestly attempted to vendor the stupid thing in protest when I got it, but sadly the game won’t let me. It is hard to even justify using it as a “stat stick” since the stats on it are pretty poor for me. All I can do is complain and joke about it and try to defuse some of the frustration of the whole thing. And pray to RNGesus that maybe next time I’ll get something useful.

November Gaming Goals

There’s a trend of folks setting various gaming goals for themselves each month. At the very least it is a way to see what I’ve been working toward and maybe create a little blog fodder so I don’t abandon this Mansion.

WoW

Level another alt to 110. I have one Ally druid at 105 so she’s probably the one that will get there first.

Get a Legendary for my Monk. This is more of a wish or a prayer than a goal, but at least I should be doing more dungeons for more chances at the drop.

Get one of the falcosaur mounts. I’m farthest on the snowfeather quests, and I think that is one that doesn’t require the Nighthold raid to complete so it should be doable.

Clear the new Karazhan. I have most of an attuned group for this, just need to find one more regular to join us and hit the ground running.

Destiny

Run some strikes with my friends.

WildStar

Play at least once a week. I miss this game but it is hard to make myself spend time away from my WoW goals.

Finish seeing the Arcterra content. Yup it’s been a while since I was playing regularly.


These are pretty modest goals so hopefully I’ll be able to achieve them all this month.

A little privacy

You’ve all seen me ramble about some of my social anxiety issues before, but Blizzard has brought it all back to the surface again. In patch 7.1 there’s a new Quick Join feature that allows your friends to see that you’ve joined a queue or a group finder group and easily join you. In theory this can be great. In practice I’m not sure this is something I ever want to use. I’m too timid to randomly join anybody who was starting a queue, I would rather pug than impose on my friends. Conversely, sometimes I want to pug, for the goodie bag or because I’m feeling antisocial. If a friend asks to join either I have to tell them no and feel bad, or let them join and then I’m not doing the pug I wanted to do. At least if you queue for a Call to Arms (goodie bag) it will not show you as available for Quick Join. Maybe I will start only queuing for things that are Call to Arms, honestly that’s not super different from how I play normally. Still, I will continue to shout this from the rooftops: Give us a damn invisible mode already Blizzard.

This also complicates getting mythic or M+ groups for people without a lot of friends on their list. Now any group that forms has a higher chance of filling up with friends-of-friends before strangers get a chance to sign up. This means if you have a huge friends list your chances of doing more mythics just increased, and if you have few friends it will be even harder to get a group. Just add regular mythics to LFD already Blizzard. This Quick Join tool is solving a much less pressing problem, and causing new ones.

I’ve been slowly working my way back up to a friends list with nearly 20 or so people on it, which is about 20 more people than my anxiety could handle before. If this new tool becomes a problem for me, I’m back to either purging my friends list or just running away from the game again. I get that this is not a problem that most people have, but I also know I’m not alone. It would be nice if Blizz ever once gave any indication that they acknowledged people like me exist and have valid concerns.