Sunday, December 4, 2016

Wars & Witchery

So I finished Catalyst, yet another Star Wars novel pumped out to sluice more money in the direction of the Disney company. This one is supposed to set you up for the amazing-looking ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, which is premiering in ten days (I know people in the US have to wait a little longer), but if you have watched the teasers and trailers you kind of already know what's going on, no novel really needed.
Seriously, if I had known how little Catalyst actually brought to the table in terms of plot, characters, and fun secrets that would enhance the movie experience, I'd probably skip this one. I'm aware I haven't seen the movie yet and there might still be some form of "enhanced experience" after reading the novel but everything about it makes me doubt it.

If you've seen the trailers you'll have figured out that main character Jyn Erso is going to fix what her father Galen Erso did wrong and Director Orson Krennic is going to be the foil. The teasers and trailers also make it easy to link Galen to being behind the Death Star as an ultimate weapon, and that Jyn is going to help the Rebellion steal the plans for that weapon, leading up to and straight into the classic Star Wars (1977). The clips also show Jyn as a child, and her mother (Lyra); in Catalyst, the story is about the same four characters (though Jyn is only a baby/child throughout the tale), and nothing really happens. Author Luceno just stretches a story out of nothing, really; it's all about Krennic wanting Galen to work on the Death Star. Yes, there are some plot lines woven around this, some feeling very blunt (there's a strong, on-the-nose political message or two in here), and there are other characters involved, and it is the best thing I've read from Luceno so far (which doesn't say much), but the book itself...nothing happens. Not much, anyway. Most of the action is only related after it took place, which is kind of boring especially when you're reading a Star Wars novel. I mean, as an example, there's this exciting aerial attack on a cool environment / location featuring Imperial forces and people hiding, but we're only told about this after. Instead of being thrown right into the action. That's a big sin in my book; and that's why I still prefer Chuck Wendig's Star Wars books which much better emulate the pace, style, and adventurous tone of the movies.

So will I now stop lettimg myself be duped into buying Star Wars novels? Maybe. They have to be especially alluring. Catalyst's lure is that it ties into the upcoming movie (for which I am extremely stoked); others don't have a pull on me (like Ahsoka or Thrawn because they are about non-movie characters I don't care about).

Speaking of books related to franchises - I've found myself immersed in the world of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt again, as I wrote about here, and the (video) game is so damn good and compelling that I found myself buying the first collection of Witcher short stories, on which the game is based. I didn't know much about the Witcher series before delving into last year's number one videogame, but I soon learned about the creator and author, the Polish Andrzej Sapkowskiand the books published so far in English. Sigh, another world of lore to explore...

Anyway, I bought The Last Wish which collects the earliest (chronological) stories of Geralt of Rivia - the Witcher - and am halfway through already. Another cool fantasy to recommend Ice and Fire fans starving for Winter. Will get back to this when I've finished it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 19, Sansa I: CONT'D

Today I've been listening to some pretty obscure music. I mean metal is probably more than obscure enough for most people, but today I've been enjoying stuff so obscure even dedicated metalheads probably don't know everything. Stuff like (checks 'recently played' list in the hands down best music player for Windows, MusicBee) Gorthaur's Wrath, Lux Occulta, Mythological Cold Towers, Concerto Moon, Satariel, Seven Witches, Morphia, Infernal Gates, Possessor, Demolition Hammer, Thanatos, Taetre, Hexenhaus (gotta love that band) etc etc...stuff I usually ignore in favor of the tried and true classics of my youth which I never get over. It was a nice change of pace, digging up music ranging from mediocre to sublime from all over the world. What is definitely not obscure is, of course, A Song of Ice and Fire which has become a household name, but I remember a time when even George R.R. Martin and his masterpiece(s) was something properly obscure. Love that word. Obscure. Obscurity. Once upon a time, the very name of Sansa Stark was something obscure, a secret for those who had discovered the brilliance of A Game of Thrones; unlike your usual fantasy princesses we here had a flawed, realistic and believable character who many loved to hate (and some just hated), and I'd argue Sansa is one of the important factors in the series' success because she epitomizes all that makes Martin's story different from the usual fare. And with that, we'll wrap up Sansa's first chapter in the combined re-read. Join the fun and we'll rule the galaxy together. 
Twenty-four days until Rogue One...dam-dum-dam-DAAM-DAAM.

Monday, November 21, 2016

On the path to ascendancy

Finished Dancer's Lament last week - wow, what a fun fantasy novel. It helps, of course, to already be infatuated with the works of Steven Erikson, as well as the previous Malazan adventures penned by Ian C. Esslemont (does anyone really pen anymore?!), but yeah, there's something about Dancer's Lament that made it stand out even in the good company it belongs in.

Don't ask me how I managed it, but somehow I managed not to realize this is but the first of (yet) another Malazan series - I really thought this was a standalone novel for the longest time, and in a way, it actually does work as a standalone, even though it is (now that I notice) quite obviously the first part of a series called Path to Ascendancy. Whether you begin at the very beginning (Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, 1999) or here with 2016's Dancer's Lament, you're in for a treat, a treat that will force you to think a bit more than usual. I would actually recommend starting out with Dancer's Lament if you're curious about the setting and style but not sure wether to commit. Yes, there will be a lot of stuff that will fly right over your head (and which for long-time readers will be quite obvious and fun nods and winks), but the same thing can be said for Gardens of the Moon. The difference: In Dancer's Lament you are limited to far, far fewer POVs, and Esslemont has a clearer, simpler, less philosophical prose that may make it easier for a new reader to immerse him/herself. In Gardens, the 'real' start, you must acquaint yourself with so many characters and places, and there's no hand-holding (resulting in many people dropping the series before it gets going - and boy does it get going), whereas Dancer's Lament is focused mainly on the adventures of Dorin, as the main character, with the stories of Silk and Itko as two other main strands. That's not too many.

Right, so Dancer's Lament is a prequel, and, this is actually the first time I've read a prequel that I actually enjoy, and that doesn't take away from the already established canon. Erikson made a prequel too, of course, but it's so far back in time it doesn't really feel like one. Dancer's Lament, however, really feels like a prequel as it features two important characters from the "original saga" and how they, well, happened upon the titular path to ascendancy (in Erikson's work, they have already ascended). These two characters happen to be among the most interesting and perhaps fun characters from the main story, so seeing their "young" (or at least inexperienced) versions is good entertainment. While Esslemont is unable to deliver dry wit the way Erikson does so masterfully, he none the less manages to paint these characters with the right colors, and I end up 'believing' this story to be what actually happened prior to Gardens of the Moon. With fewer characters, who were already interesting and established, and keeping the story mainly to one (large) setting - the grand multi-walled city of Li Heng - I'd argue that Dancer's Lament is the easiest-to-read Malazan story so far, a perfect (re)introduction for new, unsuspecting readers. [That being said, I assume reading Dancer's Lament only after the main saga is even richer / more rewarding.]

It's like if the Star Wars prequels were actually interesting and made me believe their version was the actual, true backstory to the original trilogy. Dancer's Lament sticks to the Malazan formula in many ways - cryptic at times, violent and sorcerous, surprising, obtuse, different yet clearly fantastical - but Esslemont keeps it lean and easy, and the pacing is perfect. This novel, following Esslemont's first six under the Malazan Empire banner ("Night of Knives", "Return of the Crimson Guard", "Stonewielder", "Orb Sceptre Throne", "Blood and Bone", and "Assail"), is without a doubt Ian's best, to the point that many a fan has uttered that this even outshines Erikson's own return to the world of Malaz (his "Forge of Darkness" and "Fall of Light"). Not that I didn't enjoy all those books; it's just that Dancer's Lament strips away some of the more ponderous leanings of previous works, it's more focused, sharper...Yeah, definitely recommending this one. Gotta love the setting, the characters, the mythical atmosphere contrasted with the almost mundane banter.

Ian's been working in the shadow of Steven for many years, despite the two of them being joint creators of the Malazan setting; and it must be quite hard to get out of that shadow for Steven truly is an unheralded giant, but with Dancer's Lament, despite in many ways coming closer to classic Erikson, Esslemont shows more muscles and becomes a master of his world, too. The prose feels more confident, the story has a clear structure (for a Malaz tale, that is - plenty of folk might get confused by certain "side treks" in this tale which are obviously setting up the rest of the trilogy), and there's an abundance of creativity - as there should be in a Malazan tale - elements just begging to be incorporated in your next tabletop roleplaying game (as a GM, I really want to 'steal' Ryllandaras). FOR THE GLORY OF THE MALAZAN EMPIRE (and how it came to be)!!!!!!!!!1


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"Author"?! "Prophecy of dooooOoom"?!?!

Looking at the blog I noticed I had the audacity to call myself "Author of...." (on the banner next to the 'Stormsongs' logo). I apologize for this grossly misleading title, but in my defense I only recently learned that 'author' should be reserved for those who really know what they're doing, and that I should be perfectly happy with the term 'writer'. Which I will change come the next facelift. 

The Waiting for Winter: Part II has been "coming soon" rather long, too. Word is it is actually still in the works, so that you can complete the set of at times inane commentary on A Clash of Kings. But I mean, how long has it been "coming soon"? It's like I'm beating George at his own game, here. Quite embarassing, but it's not on me.

Anything Ice and Fire-related kind of pales in light of today's news, however. The history of mankind is taking a new, surprising direction with the presidential election in the US, which affects us all in the long term. It really is a big, big deal, and it feels like being in the North, knowing that the Others are massing, while watching Cersei take the Iron Throne. Sadness, disbelief and worry seem to dominate European headlines today, and it feels as if we're witnessing (cliché inbound) the beginning of the end...of something.

Palpatine never managed to consolidate his power and become Emperor...he was thwarted by the son of Jabba and Jar Jar. 

[Re-read] A Feast with Dragons, Chapter 19, Sansa I

This is PART ONE of my re-read of Sansa I. Second part coming up as soon as I can manage. As always, possible SPOILERS (though there's nothing beyond ADwD in this particular post.)

Hello, hello, and welcome back to another chapter re-read. Today's subject is none other than Sansa Stark, the girl who is consistently learning about reality (the reality of a fantasy world, that is). It is the nineteenth chapter (already) of the combined re-read I'm calling A Feast with Dragons, using this proposed order. But before we delve into another chapter in the saga that (actually) doesn't seem to end, here's someone praising Steven Erikson and his Malazan saga (which is complete) because Steven deserves our attention for having delivered the arguably most insane (I mean that in a good way) fantasy literature project ever. Not saying George R.R.'s epic saga is sane, though. His ability to keep all the details straight (except a horse's eye color here or there), his clever use of foreshadowing, his plotting etc. is all on a godly level, particularly books I-III (love forever), but he's so famous know it's time more citizens of Earth came to realize there's another series out there, ten fat doorstoppers of the most epic fantasy, that leaves people changed. And that's the hallmark, IMO, of a tier one fantasy story: it changes something in the reader, fundamentally or not. Martin changed my reading habits, fueled my interest in medieval history, changed the way I ran RPG campaigns and how I wrote material for those, and made me try to write a bit of fiction. Erikson...he kinda made me do all this stuff again, so now Martin's influence on me has been coated with a paint of Erikson. What the hell am I babbling about anyway? Let's reeaaaaaaad. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Week in Nerderies

A little bit of writing, a little bit of gaming, a little bit of on, click on!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Excuse my language but ARGHFUCOLA.

What a week, what a day.
So happy with my Kindle (as mentioned in previous post) - a delight to use, increasing my reading time and reducing my Internet-waste-of-time, and then I thought, what the hell I'll bring it to work so I can show my students, maybe some of them would like to see how an e-reader works, and maybe even want one for Christmas you know. Make 'em better readers and all that.
And then I manage to let it slide out of my hands on my way to the classroom (I had my hands full with a lot of books and a PC and whatnot) and there you go, one irritating, annoying, soul-sucking 8 millimeter scratch almost perfectly in the middle of the screen, appropriately placed to make it impossible to ignore while reading - and even more visible when you actually turn on the damn screen as it somehow seems to absorb and spew out the backlight, a brilliant little permanent bolt of lightning marring my 1.3 week old baby Kindle.

Look at that scratch! Totally screwed up my day. 
I hate gadgets so much. But I love them. But they are so vulnerable. So frickin' frail. ARGHFUCOLA. Well well. I guess there's still time to get a replacement, but I'm almost afraid now to get a new one (if I can get a new one, I haven't really looked over the guarantees or rules or whathaveyoumafuc) since one small scratch is enough to fuck up (I did ask to excuse my language in the title of this damned postal rant) the entire experience and fun of owning this (otherwise awesome) thingamagog. SO SADNESS IN MY FACE!
It doesn't help that, at the same time, I'm trying to quit nicotine once and for all. You'll see, that scratch is going to make me pick up my bad habit again. Dammit. ANyhoot.
(One thing that kind of infuriates me a little extra is that the Kindle is built with the screen kind of protected by the surrounding plastic; in practice, falling on the floor shouldn't actually cause a scratch like that, am I right? If you put the Kindle upside down on a flat surface, the screen itself doesn't touch said accursed surface at all, it's sunk. WHYYYYYYYYY

Before this disaster ruined my literary life (about an hour ago), I did finish the third Maurice Druon novel in his series about the French kings of yore, heavily recommended by George R.R. Martin, called The Poisoned Crown, and it is quite similar in every way to the two first books (I hesitate calling them novels, though the third one is the closest to having a mostly coherent narrative with fewer authorial intrusions and straight history lessons).

Coming to the end of this trilogy collectively known as The Accursed Kings (great and fitting title), my next project is to restart (and this time finish) Ian C. Esslemont's latest venture into the Malazan Empire with Dancer's Lament, I really miss me some Malazan, so that will be good. But I am rather intrigued by Druon's work to be honest, and wonder whether I should try and track down the next four volumes of The Accursed Kings, if they exist at all in the English language. There's something about real history and its random twists and turns that appeals to me, and of course it's valuable in the sense of getting a feeling of a time and place so foreign.

Since I'm done with the three-in-one The Accursed Kings ebook, just in time before I fucking missed my accursed Kindle-baby on the accursed floor, here's a short list of vague and not so vague similarities between A Song of Ice and Fire and Druon's work, showing why George R.R. Martin dares call this stuff "the original Game of Thrones". (Not sure Martin ever uttered this statement of course; never trust a cover blurb).

-- Hold yer horses --

* An icy queen
* Three royal brothers and their claims to succession
* Young lovers marry in secret
* Prophecy coming true but not necessarily by miracle or magic
* A physically large character who is not very chivalrous
* And of course all the elements you pretty much have to expect, like backstabbing, poisoning, rape, murder, violence, bastardry, lies, lust, betrayals, battles (not so much to be honest, kinda like Martin in that we hear more about them than actually feeling like we're in the middle of them),  knights and councillors, kings and queens and princes etc. many reminding you of ASoIaF characters (there are versions of Cersei, Littlefinger, Varys, Mace Tyrell, Margaery Tyrell etc. in here, heck, even Quentyn Martell can be recognized)

I guess I could go on and on but dammit I'm going to send a mail and hope to get a replacement reading device of reading now. And then finish up my latest short story, only five days until the SFFWorld September-October 2016 competition ends! With only five days and a massive plot hole I am really not sure I can manage it. And I missed this month's flash fiction compo :´-(
Whether I finish it or not, the next thing to tackle will, of course, be another chapter of A Feast with Dragons, Sansa I (AFFC). Sansa, oh Sansa, what the heck is going on with you and just how much of your TV story is what we'll actually see in the novels and how much is complete crap? I refuse to believe you submitted so easily to Ramsay Bolton (or met him at all). Will we ever learn the true story of Sansa Stark? Stay tuned! One of these years, we may yet get THE WINDS OF GODDAMN SCRATCH WINTER1!