Wednesday, January 21, 2015

[Re-read] Sansa VII: The False and the Fair

And we're on the last chapter of A Storm of Swords. It's been a long ride. The novel is of course best when devoured within a week or so, by stretching it out like I've done the book kind of lost its nerve, but then again I couldn't have done it any other way. Today's chapter is one with some very memorable scenes, scenes that perhaps have become iconic - the esoteric metaphorical building and razing of Winterfell by Sansa in the snow, and Littlefinger finally revealing his ruthlessness. I even have the snow castle art print hanging in my home office (picture on the left). Over at Tower of the Hand, this chapter is rated a whopping 9.15. For a last chapter, it is surprisingly personal. Weirdly, I never think of this chapter as the last chapter, for some reason my mind puts it somewhere near the end but not at the very end. Yet this remains the last chapter, and if you were around fifteen years ago you might remember how fricking necessary it felt to know what would happen next. The pacing of this novel where each chapter is like a wave bringing you closer (or farther) from shore, the intricate plotting, the intensity of so many scenes and character experiences, it was a rush to read this novel the first (and second and third) time. By the time A Feast for Crows finally arrived, it felt like hitting a wall. All of a sudden the relentless pace of Storm was replaced with a more plodding style. The intensity was gone. I think this caught a lot of people (myself included) off-guard. Maybe Feast should have started with a bit more intensity which Martin then could gradually cool down for a better transition between novels. Oh well what do I know. Let's read Sansa VII.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Steven Erikson's "Willful Child"

Right, finished two ebooks, not bad. The first one is actually a free sample of a few upcoming Star Wars novels. Now that they have turned all the countless existing novels into "Legends" (as in, no longer canon) and rebooting Star Wars literature, I thought maybe it was time to jump back into the literary version of the saga.
I remember the excitement back in the early nineties when Star Wars returned to the public consciousness with Timothy Zahn's novels beginning with Heir to the Empire. That trilogy was fairly interesting, and remains perhaps the best Star Wars read (not that I have read that many novels, perhaps twenty). Which means that generally I find novels based on my favorite movies to be bad. With the sampler, however, I got a chance to get a taste of the new canon. And its taste is dry.

The sampler contains four samples - two of the novels represented have been released since (A New Dawn and Tarkin), while the other two are still to be published (Heir to the Jedi and Lords of the Sith). And none of the samples give me the Star Wars feels. It's all dry, overlong passages of describing pseudotechnology; controls and consoles and projectors and characters standing around talking while using said technology. Of course, samples only have so many pages but then why do they pick such boring bits from the early parts of the stories? Star Wars is all about action and adventure; a space fantasy. Yet these samples feel more like Star Trek. In short, these samples did nothing to make me want to shell out money for them.

Now, Steven Erikson on the other hand is consciously trying to evoke Star Trek in his off-beat novel, Willful Child. If you read this blog you'll know I have gushed about the author on many occasions. His Malazan books are simply breathtaking, and his attitude toward his fans is an example for other authors. It was only a given that I would buy Willful Child, and the free sample over at TOR made me think this was going to be great fun.
Unfortunately, and for the first time, Erikson disappointed me with this one. This is basically the exact opposite of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Where that epic, massive, sprawling series gives you so much to ponder (especially the latter half of the series) - where you begin to realize this series goes beyond fantasy and becomes something more - Willful Child is short, devoid of any deeper themes and it all takes place (well, almost all of it) aboard the titular starship.

Two things that made me not really feeling it:

One, I think you really need to know your Star Trek to get the most out of this one. It's a parody, the chapters mimicking the episodic nature of the Star Trek TV series, and I am sure a lot of the jokes flew past my head because they were based on particular events from the series (though I can't know for sure). This is of course not Erikson's fault. Still, there were quite a few silly moments that made me chuckle, but mostly I felt myself skimming through to get another chapter done.

Two, for some reason Erikson's otherwise fantastic droll humor (see Tehol and Bugg in the fifth Malazan book, "Midnight Tides", for a great example) has morphed into a more juvenile-sounding kind of humor that at times feels almost embarrassingly sexist (I know it isn't meant to be that way, but this is how it comes across in many scenes). There are some great droll lines in the book, some of the banter is perfectly Erikson, but he made the main character - Captain Hadrian Sawback - quite difficult to like. He reminds me the most of Zapp Brannigan from the Futurama series. Imagine reading a whole novel about him.

The novel also felt a bit repetitive (perhaps because of its episodic nature, perhaps because some of the jokes were repeated - like the alien doctor deflating when he is delivering long lines), yet at the same time you can sense how Erikson had a blast writing this. It feels like some kind of therapy, which I am sure anyone would need after coming down from The Crippled God, last of the Malazan tales. A breath of fresh air for Erikson, a bit of a let-down for me. By now I trust the man enough to be sure that his next Malazan novel, "Fall of Light", will be awesome. Erikson has also expressed his desire to write more adventures aboard the Willful Child. I won't be in for anymore rides with Hadrian and his crew, but if you like Star Trek (or Futurama, for that matter) you might find something to enjoy. And really, it is never badly written or anything. Erikson remains a master of prose, any kind of prose as far as I'm aware. This was really just a "love it or hate it" - thing.
For my part I think this was three stars out of five.

Phew, and with that I have another book crossed off my "To Finish" - list. This leaves only The Way of Kings, Wolf Hall, Assassin's Apprentice, The Companions, The World of Ice & Fire, The Red Knight, and so on and so forth.

Friday, January 9, 2015

[Re-read] Jon XII: Settle in the Kettle

Wowsers, chapter 80 already?! ("Already" is taken with a grain of salt, obviously, but still...) Have I skipped a few chapters, getting confused because the chapters have character names for titles? I actually had to go back and check but it seems that I'm indeed very close to finishing A Storm of Swords ... again. This last Jon Snow chapter, the wondrous last Sansa Stark chapter after that, and finally the epilogue. It's taken me a while to do this re-read, I admit. I posted the prologue back on May the first, 2012. Now I usually don't read this slowly, it's the actual writing down of thoughts and finding time to do so that has slowed down my pace. Without distractions I read a new Ice and Fire novel in a couple of days. Of course I'm not paid to sit behind a monitor and write all day, so there's that.

This week I've been mostly worrying about the terror in France, and working on a draft for a compendium of everything I've made up for my role playing game setting (such an endless thing, too; I have well over 300,000 words in that project already, and there is still so much to do - this is material stretching back to the nineties which I'm trying to incorporate with stuff made up all the way to, well, yesterday). I've made myself a Smashwords account and I am planning on, when and if I finish it, publishing it there so that other fans of RPGs/medieval fantasy settings maybe can get something out of it. I don't know. It just feels like all that stuff should be shared, be out there. Anyway, without further ado, let's get cracking on the last Jon Snow chapter of the magnificent A Storm of Swords.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Peacock Vow

Happy new year!

It's already been 2015 for a week - so far it feels quite similar to 2014, only with some great fantasy prospects ahead of us, in novels, games, and movies. I still have a number of books to finish before I get to my first proper read of the year, but I am (finally) on the home run with Steven Erikson's Willful Child, with the other books close-ish behind. My reading time is still suffering from the need to be online to check for Star Wars VII news or the discussion thereof, I really need to get my act together so that I can get to that enticing little novella placed on my Erikson/Esslemont-shelf, the only Malazan-story I have yet to read, The Wurms of Blearmouth. And of course I still have a good chunk left of The World of Ice and Fire although that piece of work isn't enticing as such - it doesn't whisper "Come read me" and that's because, plain and simple, it's a tad boring. More on that in some later post! Presumably.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 - A Feast of Fantasy?

Here we are, with only one day left of 2014. I find time fascinating. No matter what we do, we can't stop its march onward. Soon, we'll be in 2015, and we can begin asking the same old question again: Will this be the year?

It might not become the year of The Winds of Winter, but for those of us who love good fantasy, the year is shaping up to be quite solid without Mr. Martin as well. Now, if you look at this "Can't Wait for..." - list on Goodreads for the next year, you'll notice that The Winds of Winter is present but that's of course because of hope, not because anyone has said anything definitive about a release date. I'm not saying we won't get another novel in our beloved saga in '15, because he might just surprise us all, theoretically speaking at least. There are a few other titles too that I'm not too sure we'll see, but if we for a moment imagine that all these books will be published in the year to come, we do have a real feast of fantasy ahead of us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Re-read] Samwell V: The Choice is Sam's, actually. Kind of, anyway.

How did it come to this?
Last night I got a call from a neighbor asking if I wanted to go see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and, well. I wasn't particularly keen to see Peter Jackson thrash the legacy of Tolkien even further after the two previous Bilbo Baggins films, but then I heard that the teaser trailer for Star Wars was being shown, and that got me all excited - to see it on the big screen. Imagine my disappointment when they showed the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings instead. Oh well; the main attraction was to be the third Hobbit film, and there was very little in it that I was able to truly like - a few shots toward the very end of the film that truly evoked the sense of Middle-earth. What the heck happened after Fellowship of the Ring? That film genuinely drew me in, and most of the scenes felt real and tangible; The Battle of the Five Armies felt like an especially hectic cartoon most of the time, and whenever there was a scene that was supposed to be poignant it just became laughable. I still like whatshisname's performance as Thorin Oakenshield, though. But what a mess of a movie.
At so many points I could only laugh at the silliness - grumpy Legolas, overacted Galadriel, the menace of the Ringwraiths reduced to cartoon-like silliness, Tauriel's unconvincing love, the need to overdo everything (towers falling to neatly wedge between two cliffs to form a bridge), Azog's swim beneath the ice, it was all so fricking soulless. Boo/hiss!
I suppose I could go on and write a grand dissertation about why I feel the Hobbit trilogy doesn't do justice to the source material, or even Jackson's own The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The films manage to both be overwhelmingly epic and detailed and at times beautiful yet they are never exciting or all that interesting; they are frustrating but not nearly as frustrating as the Star Wars prequel trilogy was, fortunately. The biggest sin, I think, is that The Battle of the Five Armies felt more like I was watching a Dungeons & Dragons film (we even got a token Scottish Dwarf) than a piece based on J.R.R. Tolkien's works. Enough about that, I've got to counter this dose of bad fantasy with some good fantasy. And what's better than A Storm of Swords? Not much, I reckon.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wrapping up '14

Wow, how can I forget each and every year just how crazy busy December is? There's almost no time to geek out on anything. When night falls, I can barely keep my eyes open to read a good fantasy novel or what have you.

However, last night I had a total geekout when I took my firstborn to witness an orchestra play the music of Star Wars. It was brilliant, though I'll never understand why they omitted playing Han Solo and the Princess, perhaps my favorite theme from the saga. Not complaining, though; we got music from the entire saga and the orchestra performed it flawlessly. In addition, the performance was enhanced by people from the Nordic 501st Legion in full suits. Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Jango Fett, C-3P0 and more made it a memorable night for both father and son. Also, it made me want to get my own high quality suit and join the legion. Oh yes, the Star Wars fanboy in me is fully awake these days and it's probably only going to get more intense in the year to come. Have you felt it?! The dark side...and the light.

Still, A Song of Ice and Fire has a special and large part of my heart as well, despite all the obstacles the franchise throws in my way; the long waits between novels, the half-baked merchandise (okay, okay, there are a few gems as well). Today I visited a LFGS (local friendly game shop) and there was a lot of Game of Thrones-stuff there (particularly all kinds of drinking gadgets - cups, steins, shot glasses...) but I am more fond of the stuff that's based on the books than the TV show. I almost bought the 2015 calendar but eventually I ended up with Steven Erikson's latest novella, The Wurms of Blearmouth, completing my collection of all things Malazan. I wrapped it in gift paper and won't open it until Christmas eve, though. Gives me the time to finish Assassin's Apprentice, Willfull Child and The Companions on the Kindle. So that's one Christmas present down, a whole lot to go. But as always, the best Christmas present would be an announcement on a certain blog that is not a blog about a certain finishing of a certain novel. I'd definitely yell hooray for that.

Before I've often done an "End of the Year" post trying to summarize good geek-stuff from the year. This year I'm going to keep it short. Just like I've felt 2014 has been: Short. Time flies. Here's a list of things I thought made being a geek extra nice in the year that was.

1. Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens teaser trailer
Rekindling my love for the original trilogy with an 88-second blast, the teaser was more than I had hoped for after the soul-crushing disappointment of the prequel trilogy. It has completely occupied my thoughts since it was released two weeks ago, as you might have noticed. I just can't help but love this stuff.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
What a fun movie that was. I still haven't re-watched it, a blu-ray copy is on my Christmas wish list so I'm hoping to see it again soon (and hopefully it's just as enjoyable then).

3. Legend of Grimrock 2
The only game that has kept me hooked until the grim finish line this year (though this is mostly due to my crappy computer not being good enough to really enjoy a few other promising titles such as Divinity: Original Sin). I love me some dungeon-crawling and this game provides it to the point that I got sick of it.

4. Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools
In my humble opinion the best fantasy novel of the year. I voted for it on the Goodreads Awards.

5. The World of Ice and Fire (at least the half I've read so far)
After all the negative things I've said about this work, it still ended up being a fairly hefty tome of lore, with some absolutely amazing artwork and some very interesting details nestled in there for the starving fan of Ice & Fire.

So...with only five notables, I have to say that 2014 perhaps was a bit of a lean year for the fan of all things nerdy. Dungeons & Dragons returned with its 5th edition but I never felt an impact. A number of fantasy novels were good, but not great (Joe Abercrombie's Half a King deserves a honorable mention). There were probably a lot of great video games (Dragon Age Inquisition perhaps?) but until I can scramble together enough money for a good rig, they are lost to me (boohoo).

2015 on the other hand sounds pretty fantastic already with a new Malazan book from Steven Erikson, that Star Wars movie, a new season of Thrones, and, fingers crossed, maybe please maybe The Winds of Winter? I'm not counting on it, but a man must hope. Valar mohopefulness.