Monday, April 11, 2016

Transcendence Express by Jetse De Vries

“The greatest job is the one where you make yourself superfluous.”
-- Transcendence Express

After the nightmarish human-eating of The Bird Catcher, we move on to more straight up science-related concepts. Transcendence Express, as you might guess, deals with human transcendence. In this case, via biologically-grown quantum machines. I could get into that.

Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar

Let’s All Talk About the Biological Computers
Technology is the focus and the folks in this story are an afterthought.
The best way for me to describe De Vries’s character development is comparing it, for good or ill, to the work of Isaac Asimov. Think back to any of Asimov’s Robot stories, where one engineer is having a conversation to another engineer about recent robot developments. What do the engineers look like? Who cares! Tell us more about the robots!

Instead the human beings serve as a framework to show the scientific revolution taking place. There’s no changes in personality or evolution of character, both are pretty static when they aren’t having weirdly awkward personal moments.

Your Childhood is Obsolete
Transcendence Express imagines a discovery allowing complex quantum computing devices to be grown out of common easily-available chemicals.

The action happens in a third world village, with a couple of Dutch teachers showing the kids how to make their own wooden cases for receiving the developing computational goo. 

Is this a disruptive revolution? It must be, but the reader is left to imagine most of it.

Other than one kid getting upset because his father won't alter the traditional planting schedule, we are left to wonder where the world will be after a year or two of biological enhancement. 

Will the AI's be running the show? Certainly this is the most efficient outcome, even the most friendly to the humans if they get a better yield out of the deal.

Looking to the Future Of World Speculative Fiction

Transcendence Express is forcing a disruptive revolution on a personal level: I'm wondering if I picked the wrong book off the shelf to start my review series. Perhaps I should pick a story I've already read before committing to writing a review of it?

I think the only way to determine an insurmountable failure is to do it one last time.

If the next story strikes out, I'll try to switch to something else. Because that's how they do it in baseball, so it must be right.

See everyone next time when we explore:

The Levantine Experiments
by Guy Hasson

Friday, April 1, 2016

Down the Rathole with Gamewright's Slamwich

The wind was howling. The heavy rain was splattering against the windows. In the darkness, I huddled at my desk, wrapped in a threadbare shawl. I swore in the darkness...I would have Slamwich’s secret!

In sunnier times, one bright Easter morning, my daughter opened a strange present in her basket. It was Slamwich!
The Slamwich game, complete with Lunch Box
for easy transport and storage
This game had always existed in my periphery. I knew of it, but never about it. From the instructions it sounded like a commercialized form of Slapjack. Everyone’s played Slapjack, the kids love Slapjack. No childhood is complete without looking for those lovable jacks to slap.

The entire deck is dealt out as equally as possible, with the remaining sandwich cards (if they exist) going face-up into the middle the start the pile. Everyone has their own little deck, and cards are played by flipping them off the top and putting them in the pile, going around in the circle of players.
There’s no choice in which card you play, it’s always the top card.

Suddenly! The Slappening
You might think the game sounds pretty boring to start with. Well, you are right. The flipping the cards off the top of the deck action is only the framework of the game. The beating heart, and where the real fun lives, is in the slapping.

There are 2 combinations. Double Stacks and Slamwiches. 

Doublestack Slamwich Cards
Double Stack
2 matching cards with another card in the middle
A delicious meatball and sardine Slamwich
Spy either of these combinations of cards and any player, no matter whose turn it is, can bring their hand down in an almighty slap of power over the top of the pile. First hand on the pile takes the pile.
Then, whoever took the pile starts a new one by playing the top card of their deck. The won cards go to the bottom of their pile without shuffling, essentially becoming more ammunition for continuing play.

Thief cards in Slamwich
Slamwich Thief cards
Thick as Thieves
If you see a Thief card, this is also grounds for a slapping. Preferably shouting “THIEF!” as loud as possible. Everyone loves the thief cards, because they are easy.

The Muncher Conundrum
Here’s the source of my confusion regarding Slamwich. In the game there are a bunch of these “Muncher” cards with numbers from 1 to 3 on them.
Muncher cards from Slamwich card game
All the Muncher cards

When you play a muncher, it’s like a whole new thing. The next player has to play (one at a time) the number of cards on the muncher, hoping to play yet another muncher and pass the challenge to the next person like the curse off a magic monkey paw. Otherwise the person who played the muncher wins the pile automatically.
And as I mentioned before, a lot of the muncher cards have a number 1, meaning you get only a single try to beat the muncher. This didn’t seem very fun, it felt overly complex, and it didn’t look like any version of Slapjack I’ve ever played.
So I went to the Internet and did my due diligence. And what I found blew my mind.

A Dark Discovery
Slamwich had only the most rudimentary connection to Slapjack. And what was with all of these Munchers?
Well, the Munchers made a lot more sense when I finally found Slamwich’s true roots. Slamwich is definitely a commercialized version of a traditional 52-card game. But that game wasn’t Slapjack.

Cryptic Considerations
The shock! Every hand of Slamwich I had so far played with my kids, I had inadvertently been culture-jamming their little brains to understand and successfully play Ratscrew.

And here’s the deal with the muncher cards. In Ratscrew these are the face cards, which is why there are so many of them. And these face cards are actually part of the normal, boring game you play while you look for slapping opportunities.

When a player uses a muncher card, this represents a “challenge” to the player on the left. And yeah, it might not be terribly fair. But that’s because the real winner of Slamwich, or Ratscrew, is the one with the fastest, meatiest hand who can take advantage of the sudden slapping opportunities when they unexpectedly show up.

Is Slamwich better than just playing Ratscrew with normal cards? I think the answer is yes. The game reduces the number of face cards and adds the thieves to reduce challenges and increase slapping. Children crave the slapping.
Unfortunately, the cards are bread-shaped, and they are as weird and obnoxious as you might think for dealing and forming a deck. Luckily in Slamwich there is almost no shuffling otherwise play would be practically impossible.
The sandwich ingredients are thoroughly disgusting, which is immensely appealing to kids. No one wants a gummy bear and sardine sandwich, unless of course you are playing Slamwich!

If you want to get the flavor of Slamwich, just deal out a deck of cards and use your favorite Egyptian Ratscrew rules. Just go easy on the slapping, and prepare to be defeated by any 10 year old with a decent set of eyes in their head.