Friday, October 17, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime IX: Dejection by Rejection (and a flabby...)

It's Friday! That's pretty good all by itself, but in addition I am treating myself to another chapter feat. my favorite character (at the moment, at any rate), Ser Jaime Lannister! And I'm reading it while listening to a classic King Diamond-album, Them, from 1988, one of the most glorious years in the history of metal music. Not saying King Diamond enhances the reading experience, but I just needed to get off my chest how awesome this Danish horror-metal-meister is. His music - and perhaps especially his vocal styles - are a love it or hate it thing. However, I didn't come here to extol the virtues of King Diamond, but the (slowly appearing?) virtues of Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the most ambitiously written characters in the fantasy genre. Last time we saw him, he was having a meeting in the White Sword Tower and checking out that White Book, now let's see if this 73rd (!) chapter in A Storm of Swords features more color.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nostalgia for Yesterday

I'm steamrolling through Joe Abercrombie's Half a King, now at an impressive 68% read. I have realized by now that the actual physical book must be quite short (for a fantasy novel), which accounts for some of my unusual speed, but the book is also eminently fast-paced and readable. Compared to The Way of Kings which I started four years ago, it feels like I'm reading at warp speed. Anyway.

Yesterday was a big day, folks. October 15th, 2014. A day to be remembered. Spoilers for Episode VII after the jump.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I'm so busy with work these days - I'm actually writing this at a conference hotel, having a quick break between lectures - that A Storm of Swords and other nerdities have to wait for a while. However, I can't help but feel the need to extol my joy at Legends of Grimrock 2 being released tomorrow! It feels like only months since the first game was published, but time, as always, seems to fly, and here we are, and the sequel is a reality. I'm excited to see if they have been able to keep that claustrophobic old school atmosphere of the original, knowing that the sequel will include outdoor areas. I'm excited to have another dungeon to delve, 'cause dungeons rock when brought to life in computer games. I only wish I had time to actually really sink my teeth into Grimrock 2, instead of the sporadic bursts of dungeoneering I will probably end up doing. But a little adventure is better than no adventure, eh?

After I finished Assail (see previous post) I immediately turned to the next book in my e-queue, which was Joe Abercrombie's Half a King. I wasn't expecting much, to be honest, and the excerpts published online almost made me not buy this work, but now that I'm 1/4th through it, I am glad I did. I'll save the whys of it for the review. After Half a King, the next book in the e-queue will be Prince of Fools, Mark Lawrence's fourth, and the first in a new trilogy set in the world first presented in the Broken Empire trilogy. I'm excited to get into that one as well, as I'm hearing good things about it, particularly the character interaction and humor.

In 1990's classic Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, I am reaching the end, slowly. I'm in the final dungeon (or castle), looking for the body of King Richard, encased in carbonite. I have to free him and defeat the enemy, the witch Scotia, before I can say I have beaten the game. It's a tricky dungeon, though, and I keep walking into teleporter traps that, in actuality, just serve to make me less interested in finishing - bit of a shame, that. The first half of the game was definitely more enjoyable as the obstacles were easier to overcome, I suppose. Still, I wonder now how I could let such a game be unplayed back in the day, as it caters so fully to my tastes in gaming.

And in the land of Ice & Fire, Martin has uploaded a number of interviews, none of them bringing The Winds of Winter any faster to these shores. Season five of Game of Thrones seems to break out of adaptation mode entirely and is going its own way, people are tired of the same theories discussed over and over again, in general these are long and slow days to be a fan of all things Ice & Fire, but I suspect there will be another surge of interest (a spike, if you will) come the end of the month and the release of the world book - followed by another plummet into long days of waiting. But will the next spike be The Winds of Winter? Only the elite knows.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

[Review] Ian C. Esslemont's ASSAIL

When I began reading Assail, the latest volume of lore set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was excited and went through the first chapters pretty fast. It was good to be back in the setting created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, and I was curious about this mysterious continent of Assail, and how Esslemont would tie up the many plots found in the five books preceding this one, Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne, and Blood & Bone. I loved that last one, with the adventures in Jacaruku, a story full of humid jungles and mystery. This time, we get a story full of frigid northern landscapes and a little less mystery (but still more than enough to confuse me, as Malazan books always do).
However, about halfway through, the story began to sag under its own weight of similar plot-lines and characters that became indistinguishable. Everybody was moving, either by foot or by ship, through similar landscapes and it all became a blur. Some characters were more interesting than others, but in general Esslemont once again struggles making them really come alive and leap off the paper - something George R.R. Martin remains the master of, and something that Erikson improved over his ten books in the Malazan saga.

Monday, October 6, 2014

[Re-read] Daenerys VI: Meereen, it rhymes with queen (and also "Wish I had a time machine")

Today we begin wrapping up A Storm of Swords, with Daenerys Targaryen's last chapter - imagine reading it in, say, 2000, and then being told that you won't get to read more about the Stormborn's (mis)adventures until 2011. That's eleven years we waited for her story to continue, and one could argue that with such a long drought, her story-line in A Dance with Dragons perhaps became doubly disappointing to those who expected more action from the warrior queen. Throughout her tale in the first three books, there was always a hint of the somewhat exotic yet firmly swords & sorcery type of adventure, with more than one element from Conan the Barbarian - type tales present. Then, eleven years later, when readers got a confused teenage girl fantasizing about the flamboyant Daario Naharis and generally spending most of her time on her ass in Meereen, well, disappointment seems almost bound to rise. To have risen? Well, as I've said before, when I get to my planned re-read of the two last novels with chapters mixed up in what has become known as Feastdance, maybe it will all work out somehow and I'll find other aspects of her tale to enjoy. But that first time through A Dance with, was that boring. Whenever there was a new Daenerys chapter coming up (or Jon, for that matter), it was like a speed bump in the road. A bump so big it made me rather want to stop and take a break. This is kind of drastic compared to the way I devoured the first three books. However, we are still in A Storm of Swords, and although this chapter does set up what we should have been expecting perhaps, it stands stronger because it is built upon what has come before. I am very curious to see if Daenerys' character is consistent from Storm to Dance, or if Martin indeed felt forced to "lock her up" in Meereen only for the other story-lines to "reach" her, if you know what I mean. Also, I have to admit it's kind of funny seeing TV-show-only fans being impatient with Dany's invasion of Westeros. THAT BEING SAID, let's rock our way through Daenerys VI!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Time doth fly

I had a plan to re-read a chapter today, but alas! time doth fly, and with visitors and work and this and that and also that that, I just couldn't fit it in. Will try to get a new post up soon.
Meanwhile I am about halfway through classic Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos. Last night, struggling through the maze forests of the kingdom, I came upon a white tower, and upon entering it I got a good kicking of nostalgia - it was like playing Eye of the Beholder II: Legend of Darkmoon all over again, wondering what's behind the next door, fighting horrible creatures, finding keys and the locks to match, and generally having a blast adventuring through this. I admit it became too difficult not to look up some help on the Interweb, especially when I somehow ended up in a hallway with only a pit to exit through, a pit which threw me right into a room so crowded with monsters I could barely move. Since I'm stubbornly playing with only one save game, it looked like the adventure was definitely over. However, the Interweb told me there was a button in one of the walls of said monster-infested chamber, and so I managed to hack my way there, hit the button, reveal a new passageway, and get out of there. That's what I both love and hate about these old school games. They don't exactly hold your hand. I remember being stuck for months in aforementioned Eye of the Beholder II, and no one knew what I had to do to get on with the adventure. One night, while heavily affected by beer, I suddenly got the solution right, but when I woke up the next day I hadn't saved the game and had forgotten what I did to open that pesky door. Fortunately, a week or so later, I finally got the combination right that opened that pesky, pesky door. I remember it vividly; especially that great feeling of accomplishment and to know the adventure could finally continue. It's the same now, with Lands of Lore, although it is slightly more difficult as this game requires you to move up and down between dungeon levels a lot more. Harder to keep track of the puzzles and such. But I am trying to play it almost without looking at solutions, but these days I can't muster the patience the way I was able to before (simply because I didn't have access to help). Anyway, running through the adventure keeps my fantasy fix need in check, which is good as the three-day tabletop session I was supposed to run in a few weeks has been cancelled. Sad face.

Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos (and its sequels, Guardians of Destiny, which I never liked, and III, which I never tried) is available on the great site GOG, along with a host of other videogame classics. Could my sudden urge to play Lands be because I am waiting for my pre-order of Legend of Grimrock II? Possibly. Man, I love games like this. I so want some company to build more games like this, based on classic D&D modules for example, or to reboot those old gold box games like Pools of Darkness and Secrets of the Silver Blades. Now I'm off to see if I can get back those phantoms guarding the second level of the White Tower. I just have to beat this game now, at the cost of other geekery.

Oh, Ice & Fire. Martin's put up a post about the upcoming The World of Ice & Fire. I've been quite negative about this release before (both here and at Tower of the Hand), but I have to admit that I have caved in and pre-ordered a physical copy of this tome of lore, so expect a review soon after it has arrived sometime near the end of October. I kind of feel dirty throwing this money at the people who have treated me and many other fans badly, and who did a pretty lousy job editing/typo-checking A Dance with Dragons, but I need, well, that Westerosi fix as well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancient lore

Earlier this week I got this always recognizable itch, the need to delve into some kind of fantastic adventure, preferably through my fave hobby, roleplaying. But since our next Friday-Sunday session has been cancelled I had to resort to other methods to scratch that itch.
Looking through old RPG books only makes it itch more, but it is nice at the same time, imagining what I would do if I was a character in this adventure or that location.
However I needed to experience a fantasy story not just read about it, so I decided to play a CRPG. Trawling through a list of classics I suddenly realized I had never really played Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, a venerable old school fantasy game that, if I remember correctly, was the spiritual successor to the classic Eye of the Beholder trilogy of games. Indeed, the gameplay is similar, but I don't remember why
I never played this one, despite being  a massive dungeon crawl fan. Maybe because it was simplified? Because I could not build my own party?
Anyway, this time I went for it, and the sheer nostalgia of the crude graphics alone was comforting. The plot in Lands of Lore is typical golden age CRPG style, that is, simple and quite ridiculous really, but it is only meant to provide a framework for the travels through dark forests and mines, one square at a time. Yes, it does not look or feel good to travel a forest that is basically a hedge maze - roaming the icy lands of Skyrim feels much more real - but there's something alluring about these old games anyway, and I believe it is simply the fact that they don't hold your hand (I don't want to tell how long I spent figuring out how to defeat the guardian of the Urbish Mine), yet are very easy to jump into for a moment or two when time allows. I am trying not to rush through the game by using walkthroughs et al, but sometimes I have to take a peak to eliminate time running in circles looking for an answer to some clue. It's a tale in which I hit the Save-button a lot, to avoid re-running large sections because I forgot to save and got killed by some nefarious monster jumping on my back. It is, in a way, the opposite of many of today's fantasy games, because it provides a challenge. A challenge in a fantasy environment ... scratches that itch I occasionally get from not having played tabletop RPGs for a while. 

Meanwhile, I am almost done with Ian C. Esslemont's Assail, I admit I have slowed down as my interest in the tale waned, as I shalt explain in a future review. I've been following the usual Westeros-related websites for news on anything that could hint at The Winds of Winter, ending up reading another batch of theories on this and that, reading an analysis of the possible future of Brienne and Jaime, and generally being unhappy that there's no news forthcoming. I am still utterly mesmerized by the fact we are getting a new Star Wars episode and spend too much time following news and rumors on it, and I still wish there were more hours in the day for all things geek. 

The next re-read post on A Storm of Swords should be up sometime during the weekend, hopefully. Kind of busy these days.