Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Journal | Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Jacqueline Carey

Well, here it is, the end of 2011, and to tidy up my sense of what I've achieved, and what I need to strive for, here is the final bit of my reading journal, the books I finished before the clock struck midnight.

Definitely Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 6) - There was a hiccup in the smooth flow of the continuing storyline here. It didn't trouble me overmuch, but the short story "One Word Answer" will fill in the gaps in Sookie's plotline, for those of you following along.

All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse Series, Book 7) - Bestseller Harris mixes humorous Southern-fried fantasy with biting satirical commentary in her seventh novel to feature Sookie Stackhouse, the bubbly telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, La. (after 2006's Definitely Dead). Sookie attends an all-important central U.S. vamp summit on the shores of Lake Michigan as a "human geiger counter" for Sophie-Anne Leclerq, vampire queen of a Louisiana weakened by Katrina and who will be tried during the event for murdering her king. Sookie knows the queen is innocent, but she's hardly prepared for other shocking murders, not to mention protests by the Fellowship of the Sun, a right-wing antivampire movement. Her sleuthing skills, along with those of her new telepath friend, Barry the Bellboy, are put to the extreme test. Harris juggles a large cast, including several romantic contenders for Sookie's heart, with effortless exuberance. HBO's True Blood, based on this addictive series, is scheduled to begin its TV run this fall.

I can't say too much that I haven't already said. The series is keeping my attention. Harris is a skilled writer, and it's not likely that I'll stop reading them at this point. However, it is what it is - light, brisk, fun, escapist literature. Are there global themes and character developments and other such literary aspirations? Of course. But mostly, it's entertainment. And that's what storytelling should be.

By the end of this year, I was intent on mixing it up. Keeping with my theme of female authors...

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville, Book 1) - Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station?and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew...

I've been wanting to read Carrie Vaughn ever since I read her piece in the Warriors anthology last year. THIS book, I finished in a day. I don't know if it was the story pace or the smoothness of Vaughn's writing style, but the pages flew by. Vaughn is smart and witty, which I had guessed; and I also confirmed that her ability to represent the inner workings of the female mind is amazing.

Of course, by the time all was said and done, it was time to get back into fantasy fiction, and one female author I always enjoy is Jacqueline Carey. After burning through these 300 page urban fantasies, picking up a 960 page epic - well, that's what I read this past week, finishing up Saturday afternoon.

Kushiel's Scion (Kushiel's Legacy) -  Imriel de la Courcel's birth parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions. Stolen, tortured and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood; third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies...and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his mother, Melisande, who nearly destroyed the entire realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure...and her dangerous gifts. As he comes of age, plagued by unwanted desires, Imriel shares their fears. When a simple act of friendship traps Imriel in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess and where a dead man leads an army, the Prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

While I wouldn't recommend starting off with this book, it holds its own as the beginning of a new trilogy with a new protagonist. Kushiel's Dart is where it all begins, and I would suggest starting there.

I can't say enough good things about Carey. Her prose is beautiful, the world-building is exquisite, and her voice is so smooth and sweet, it's like having a naked woman whispering in your ear and telling you the story (while feeding you grapes).

As fantasy fiction goes, this departs from the norm. It's not as rich in political intrigue as GRRM, but close. It's certainly not crude or direct sword and sorcery. There is magic, and it's powerful and mysterious and delicately flawed. The plots are adept, and while not entirely linear, they aren't difficult to anticipate.

As a male author writing about manly things, it's sometimes easy to overlook those subtle nuances of human frailty, and that's something that Carey expresses so well. In the genre of fantasy fiction, capturing sensuality is often failed miserably, and here again, Carey is outstanding.

Some may say that the story is slow, languid like a lazy river, and that wouldn't be untrue. But in the telling of epic tales, I can appreciate the immersion into the character's life and thoughts, and the slow, gradual growth of the troubled child into a young adult with a little experience and wisdom beneath their belt. The story leaves one wanting for more, even after nearly a thousand pages.

In a holiday week where I found myself heartsick, homesick and agitated, this deep escape into Jacqueline Carey's delicious, smooth, sensual and beautiful story was exactly what the doctor ordered. It became its own homecoming, a return to epic fantasy, and was just what I needed to end 2011.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays...

The house is still quiet, the children are still snug in their beds; steam curls and winds its way up from my coffee mug, towards the window. A clear, brisk day and I'm thankful for what has come to pass, and what will be.

I'm thankful that anyone reads this blog. ;-)

In the spirit of the season, here is a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Enjoy.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie Trailers | The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Silly me... I thought this was coming out THIS December. I was wondering why I hadn't heard any buzz about it... heh. Part one will come out December 14th, 2012. Here is the first official trailer.


It's nice to see the continuity from the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy; another reason I'm glad that Peter Jackson has taken on this project.

I am also reminded that the Dwarves are somewhat comical in The Hobbit, seeing as it was originally a children's story (what we'd now call 'young adult'). It's pretty interesting to consider all the tropes that have derived from Tolkien's work, and to see them come alive so well on the big screen.

Between The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones (Season 2) and probably some things I'm not considering at the moment, 2012 will be a great year for fantasy in the mainstream.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011 | Reading Journal, News, Links

There's a theory that most people can be connected to one another, for instance, a famous movie star, within 7 degrees of separation. (I may have this idea completely wrong, but since I procrastinate blogging most of the notions in my head, I'm just going to go with it and see what happens.)


1) Big news this week was the release of our first Game of Thrones Season 2 teaser trailer, featuring the Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) voiceover.



2) Some may argue that there's actually more footage in this "Making Of" video...



Either way, April can't get here soon enough!

3) Speaking of HBO (see what I did there?), it's been announced all over the web that Christopher Meloni, the former Law and Order: SVU regular lead has been cast as a series regular on True Blood season 5. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

(Executive Producer Alan) Ball describes Meloni’s role as “an ancient, powerful vampire who holds the fate of Bill and Eric in his hands.”
Ever since the news broke that Meloni was negotiating for a role, fans have suspected he may be part of The Vampire Authority, the council which rules over all vampires and gives its royalty their power.
4) Those of us in geekdom may recall the buzz a year ago, when Canadian webcomic artist AK Tettenborn of  "Twice Shy" did a parody of Law & Order: SVU - and a month later received the response from the aforementioned Meloni.

The day after the comic went up, I got an email from a man who told me he was Christopher Meloni’s assistant. According to this man, Ice T had seen my comic and sent it to Meloni, who loved it – and could I please mail them a few signed copies? Because Meloni wanted to get them framed and give them as gifts.
The news? Well, unfortunately, as Meloni moves on to become a vampire, so too does AK Tettenborn - she bid the world farewell from her very popular webcomic this week.

Well, all, after a year of Twice Shy, it's time to say goodbye. I've had a great time making comics for you, and while they're not all winners, some of them weren't bad, and a select few were pretty darned good.
ALOT* of them were pretty darned good, AK! Best of luck to you.

1) And speaking of Season 5 of TrueBlood... last night I finished reading Dead as a Doornail, book 5 of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris.

Notable to me was this: This was the first story in the series where Sookie doesn't sleep with anyone! While most of the male characters still want to sleep with her, there was slightly more mystery than romance within.

Also notable, events from previous novels start to have more significance in this book - and - events from within this tale are going to be far more influential in future stories (presumably). In other words, the introduction of longer story arcs.

Overall, still an enjoyable series, though I fear I'm getting saturated - may have to mix things up. I probably won't, though. It's the holidays, lots of stuff going on... keeping it fast, simple, light and fun.

***

Hmm. Not bad, did it in 5. Any of the above catch your eye?

* Yes, I realize I linked to another webcomic, not the one in question. That was today's theme. :-p

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gaming | Stronghold 3 - Trailer

Don't know how I missed this! It's been out since October!



Undoubtedly, because I've been obsessed with Skyrim (which I'll write about .. soonish).

The Stronghold series has always been fun for me, particularly since in gaming, I thrive on economic strategies and building up the overpaid military. Campaign play in Stronghold is not comparable to say, the Total War series, it's notably simpler. However, the builder mode is amazing - and I've used it often in trying to imagine the little villages, hamlets and cities in Zherlios. Apparently, this has been beefed up quite a bit in Stronghold 3.

The graphics look good - nice job, Firefly Studios!


Which means I'm likely to pick this up at some point - and since it's a PC game, I'll be able to get you some nifty screenshots (like the ones below from the official site)! Yay!

Mmm, I love tearing me down some walls! Rawrrr!!


More information is available here, at medievalists.net, and the official site.

Anyone played with this yet?  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading Journal - The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (1,2,3 and 4)

Back in June, I mentioned that I had watched HBO's TrueBlood. In some ways, it was a response to not having Thrones on air - in others, everyone I know, including people whose opinion I valued, (haha), were relatively insistent that I watch the series.

So I did. With relish. Something which I had intended to recount here was that by the end of Season 4 of TrueBlood, I had gone and watched Season 1, 2 and 3. Since I am quite the fan of sex and violence, I was hooked.

Going along with my theme of "I should post more often," I had intended to blog when I finished book 1 Dead Until Dark and then after book 2 Living Dead in Dallas. Failing that, I finished Club Dead (#3) over the weekend and finished (#4) Dead to the World this evening.

Good thing I stopped doing book reviews (more or less).

It's safe to say that I enjoyed the reads. Harris, quite simply, is fun. Turn to HBO for the multiple perspective, very intense, multi-layered drama.

In The Southern Vampire Mysteries, it's all from Sookie's point of view.

There are differences - notable ones - from the novel to the television screen. Thrones may be a relatively faithful adaptation - TrueBlood is not.

In the show, Sookie is a slut, and there's little explanation... in the books, however, it fits. There's several references to how her telepathic abilities make dating a nightmare... what if you always knew what YOUR significant other was thinking? Sounds fun for a day. ;-)

What's different in the book, and takes some getting used to, is that you don't know where all the other characters are, unless they're in the scene with Sookie. Having said that, Harris does a good job of filling in gaps without too much exposition. The novels are fast-paced, not overly complicated, and yet there's twists and turns and character development.

Perhaps not as much character growth as in other fantasy tales - on the other hand, these novels take place immediately following the events of the previous book. Further, the events in the book don't often last for more than a month, if that. How much character growth can you expect in a few months?

This is not exactly how it goes in the television series, so again, it's an interesting thing that HBO has done to make TrueBlood .. hmm.. more appealing to their audience and validating the other main roles in the storyline, by giving the other characters more screen time.

In case you're curious... I find that urban fantasy has the best female protagonists. There are subtleties in the novel, things that women consider or think about, that sometimes seem forced or inappropriate when written by a male author; for instance, Sookie checking herself in the mirror is presented for what it is by Harris - she's a woman in her late 20's discovering her self.

Also, moods and the effect of being tired, or scared or angry - so often this is written to sound like women are nags or moody or confusing, yes? When read from inside the mind of the protagonist, (especially one who reads minds), her motivations and impulses, even as a backwoods 20'something girl, make sense. They're valid. They're understandable. This makes Sookie, who is somewhat vain and certainly flawed, a far more sympathetic character than might be expected.

I don't always agree with what Sookie does, of course, but I get it. It doesn't seem false. Too often, television shows do things that seem ... well, a little flaky. Something to get ratings. (Yes, sexposition scenes in Thrones, I'm talking to you.)

I enjoy reading urban fiction because it seems these are the best versions of available female heroines. We know what we see as we see it, but it's nice to get inside Sookie's head and understand motivations.

(Note: This is why I was such a big fan of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart
- a well written female protagonist is immensely insightful.)

There are plenty of (what I assume are) strong reviews for The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and having plowed through the first 4 books like they were nothing, I certainly understand why HBO picked up the series.

TrueBlood is a different animal, though some of the markings are similar. There was no way they could tell the same story in television, so they did what they had to do, which was give all the other characters more robust storylines and events. Even the ones who live and die do not follow the novels, necessarily.

Certainly, if TB is too graphic or gritty for you - the novels are more fun, lighter, even more amusing. At the same time, if you want to understand some of the finer details about some of the events in the television series, the novels are a good choice.

Mostly, however, they stand alone as different takes on the same basic story, and are interesting and entertaining enough to be viewed as separate works of art. Charlaine Harris, as noted on the book covers, mixes romance, mystery and the paranormal genres without a hitch. She's done a great job in making a fun, fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek romp through the supernatural world, with characters that are enjoyable to read about, and an original and entertaining protagonist in Sookie Stackhouse.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comics | Monday Morning Literary Humor



A little something I meant to share last week, but got busy and forgot. And no, I haven't read "Pride and Prejudice", I'm afraid to admit.

Speaking of which, I will update my reading journal this week, maybe later today, even. Happy Monday!

Comic Source

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Wish List | Thoughts on the Kindle?

Last week, I endured the Black Friday madness - and survived! I'm super tough like that.
One of the things that caught my eye was the Kindle for $75 - I ended up passing on it, for a variety of reasons, the most notable was that .. it was only a $5 discount. It didn't seem necessary to stand in line for an hour to save five bucks.
Image: Kindleport.com

Now, when the E-readers first came out a few years ago, they were more expensive than they are now, which is always rule #1 with new technology: If you can be patient about getting the new technology, you can save a lot of money. But you sacrifice being the coolest kid on the block, which has never been a problem for me. :-p

I'm a bit old school. I like having books. I like the thought of having an expansive library on ornate bookshelves, organized and categorized, reflecting my outlook and interests as a person. It's amazing for novel research, grabbing that old psych textbook or history text, and verifying some things. Notes in the margins.

In this, I cringed at the hundreds of books I left behind in Florida when I moved to North Carolina. In this, E-readers were not interesting to me.

Then something happened. I was looking on Amazon at history books. History was never a strong subject for me, but because I'm writing in a pseudo-prehistoric world, I've become more interested lately in how those hunter-gatherer tribes evolved into the powerful, epic cultures that still have their mark upon the lands, thousands of years later.

I discovered some massive tomes on say, Ancient Rome, the "goto" books, the must-haves, and they were a little pricy. Unless you got the EBook - in which case, they were FREE.

Free books.

Admittedly, pricing on new release Ebooks is not very competitive, in which case, I'd just as soon have real books for the pretty shelves of my imagination/future. On the other hand, recently there've been some amazing sales - recent releases for $3, promotional sales for $1 - only in Ebooks.

Who doesn't love to save some money?

But I've never used an Ereader, so before I put that on my Xmas wish list, I thought I'd ask around and see if any of you have one, what you think of them, and so forth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game of Thrones, Season 2 Production Video


Season 2 - In Production

Hmmm... April doesn't seem so far away after all, huh? Days turn into weeks turn into months... time flies when you're having fun.

I saw some new faces, new characters, and yet some were oddly familiar (Was that Anne Boleyn from The Tudors? Yay!)... I wonder if the DVD set of Season 1 will be out in time to put it on my Xmas wishlist, so I can rewatch the series again before Season 2.. hmm..

How many of you are excited for Season 2 of Game of Thrones?


Source: HBO

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gaming | The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Early Reviews.

Today is the big day, boys and girls. Maybe some of you lucky buggers already have your copy - me, it's going to have to wait until tomorrow, alas.

I was hoping to find some early reviews, beyond the ones I linked yesterday, but ... unsurprisingly, Aidan at A Dribble of Ink beat me to it.

But the reviews look good - as well they should be.

Game of the Year, says me - in theory. I'll get a dozen or so hours into the game and come back with a report, for those who are waiting before making the investment in money, time and social life. ;-)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lord of Souls: An Elder Scrolls Novel by Greg Keyes

Mmm, Skyrim week!

Lord of Souls: An Elder Scrolls Novel

Perfectly, or not, I received the "advance uncorrected proof" copy as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, back in July - then, unfortunately, it sat in storage for much longer than the two weeks I had planned. I actually finished reading it a few weeks ago, but I wanted to write about it this week, with the release of Skyrim.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:
Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the empire of Tamriel is threatened by a mysterious floating city, Umbriel, whose shadow spawns a terrifying undead army.
Reeling from a devastating discovery, Prince Attrebus continues on his seemingly doomed quest to obtain a magic sword that holds the key to destroying the deadly invaders. Meanwhile, in the Imperial City, the spy Colin finds evidence of betrayal at the heart of the empire—if his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Anna├»g, trapped in Umbriel itself, has become a slave to its dark lord and his insatiable hunger for souls.
How can these three unlikely heroes save Tamriel when they cannot even save themselves? 
Based on the award-winning Elder Scrolls® series, Lord of Souls is the second of two exhilarating novels that continue the story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, named 2006 Game of the Year by numerous outlets, including Spike TV, the Golden Joystick Awards, and the Associated Press.

Having played a good bit of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, I was somewhat familiar with some of the world-building terminology... however, the first fifty pages went a bit slowly for me. I am unfamiliar with the first book in this series, and I can't help but think that it might be better to read that before reading this.

However, ultimately, the story stood well enough on its own, and as the novel progressed, certain gaps and questions fell into place.

This is a niche novel, not unlike those by Weis/Hickman - you need to be able to immerse yourself into a secondary world with a deeply established set of rules and protocols, some of which stray from traditional fantasy, others which mirror and echo what you might expect in the genre. In other words, fans of the Elder Scrolls games are more likely to enjoy this.

Greg Keyes does a fine job at characterization - none of the characters are perfect, and while the story itself is somewhat short at just over 300 pages, there's plenty of time to explore motivations, back story, and varying degrees of character growth.

Without giving too much away, the ending was not what I expected for a novelization of a video game. While there was certainly an element of resolution and "happily ever after", which may be too saccharine for some tastes, there were also as many, if not more, tragic resolutions which stayed true to not only the characters, but also the storyline.

The beginning of the tale seemed a little awkward with the prose - but I attribute that to the nature of an ARC - otherwise, Keyes is a solid wordsmith, with moments of levity, humor and vivid description enough to keep the whole work entertaining. What Keyes did not do, to his credit, was spend too much time on meaningless narrative. Perhaps a few spots where a character's introspection was mildly overwrought - but again, it fit the particular chapters where they were found.

Who should read this? Those who have read the first novel, of course. Those who have played Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and those gamers who want a little backstory before playing Skyrim.

Near as I can possibly tell, Lord of Souls has actually nothing to do with Skyrim, as it follows events following the storyline at the end of Oblivion, and takes place in Cyrodiil.


As you can see by the nifty map I snagged from the unofficial Elder Scrolls wiki, Skyrim is a region to the north.

Give it a read while you're burning up the time until you get your hands on Skyrim! I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Gaming | The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim (Part 3) Dragons!

First, this video with Todd Howard of Bethesda Studios.



Then, this IGN overview video, which shows some material I've not seen elsewhere.



The superlinkhappygoodness for today comes from the Bethesda Blog. Follow this link to find 9 different previews and commentary from a 3 hour tour of Skyrim, as well as a host of new screenshots.

To complete today's Dragon theme, enjoy these Skyrim screenshots.



One more day!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gaming | The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, (Part 2) Demo Videos

I did a little snooping and found the extended version of the E3 demo video, as presented by Bethesda Software on their Youtube channel.







Truly looks amazing - and Todd Howard's commentary is somewhat more in-depth than it was in the E3 sneak preview.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gaming | The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Part 1)

Friday is the big day, the day that Skyrim goes on sale. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the predecessor, is easily one of my favorite console RPG's of all time - in my mind, the only thing that could be better than Oblivion Game of the Year edition, is a whole new game.

From the official site:

The Empire of Tamriel is on the edge. The High King of Skyrim has been murdered.
Alliances form as claims to the throne are made. In the midst of this conflict, a far more dangerous, ancient evil is awakened. Dragons, long lost to the passages of the Elder Scrolls, have returned to Tamriel.
The future of Skyrim, even the Empire itself, hangs in the balance as they wait for the prophesized Dragonborn to come; a hero born with the power of The Voice, and the only one who can stand amongst the dragons.
Here's an exclusive video from G4TV, from the E3 convention over the summer.



This looks amazing! I've already reserved my copy.

Too many thoughts and too much excitement for just one post... but

... Improved graphics engine looks great;
... Improved character customization
- special moves
- Duel wielding (!)
- custom skill tree
... 16 miles of terrain, 150 dungeons
... He said, "You can climb to the top of that mountain." I remember being stuck on the side of countless hills in Oblivion.

I'm going to go find some more information and screenshots and videos; In the meantime, what do you think? Any readers of this blog looking forward to Skyrim's release?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reading Journal, Fall 2011

Sometime this past summer, I put all of my books into storage... thinking that it wouldn't be in there long.

Boy, was I wrong. And then I've been busy. The last few months, I've read less than at any time in the last couple years. Shame on me.

Moving right along.

R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness that Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing), Book One.

From Amazon:

Strikingly original in its conception, ambitious in scope, with characters engrossingly nd vividly drawn, the first book in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series creates a remarkable world from whole cloth-its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals-the kind of all-embracing universe Tolkien and Herbert created unforgettably in the epic fantasies The Lord of the Rings and Dune. It's a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anas├╗rimbor Kellhus-part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence-from lands long thought dead. The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great holy war, and like all histories, the survivors write its conclusion.
This book took me about a month to read. Bakker is a graduate philosopher, and it's obvious within the first 50 pages that this is not a light read. That's not a criticism - it is what it is. The characterizations, story arcs, and world building were all quite entertaining, and adroitly executed. The prose and the thematic elements are very dense, however.

It's not a tale for everyone. I found myself thinking quite a bit of Steven Erikson when reading this, though Bakker's style is somewhat different. It's perfect, in my opinion, that Erikson did the cover blurb. Fans of Steven Erikson would absolutely love this first book of the Prince of Nothing series.


George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons.

From Amazon:

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again--beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone--a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .
Dubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time magazine, George R. R. Martin has earned international acclaim for his monumental cycle of epic fantasy. Now the #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers the fifth book in his spellbinding landmark series--as both familiar faces and surprising new forces vie for a foothold in a fragmented empire.
Undoubtedly the most highly anticipated release of 2011, Martin's 5th installment in A Song of Ice and Fire finally brought us up to speed on all those characters missing from A Feast for Crows. More exciting, of course, with the debut of HBO's A Game of Thrones.

What can I say that hasn't been said? If you're this far along in the series, you're not going to quit reading it now. I think some of the reviews were generous, to be honest. But, in fairness, Martin's worst stuff is still much better than most of what's out there on the fantasy shelves.

Dragons has everything you've come to expect from Martin. Beautiful prose, story complexity, character growth and intrigue, and of course, realism, grittiness, grey morality, and death. It's amazing storytelling, and Martin is as good as people say he is.

However, for those who have been waiting years for this... the overall storyline hardly advances. Originally, he had meant to skip ahead five years in the story, and one of the reasons that he did not was because of the convergence of characters around Daenerys, the infamous Meerenese Knot. As a result, the pace within is glacial, and by the end of the book, barely anything has truly happened at all (and most of that takes place in the last 300 pages).

Some reviews were citing this as one of the best books in the series - I have to disagree. A Storm of Swords remains the strongest, without question. Dragons is on par with A Feast for Crows, in my opinion, and perhaps slightly better because the favored characters are present and the landscapes are more diverse.

The reality is ... it doesn't matter. You're going to read it if you've read this far. You're going to wonder and worry about who dies and who gains the throne, and what mischief Tyrion or Arya will get into. It could be years before book 6, but at least we have the HBO series to keep us entertained.

*
George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star Crossed Love

I've been picking at this one for months. It didn't resound with me as well as their other anthology, Warriors, did. I guess I was expecting more of a series of Shakespearean tragedies, and therein lies the flaw of an inexperienced author doing book reviews.

Love and tragedy go hand in hand in fiction, and this short story collection was poised to meet my ideas of how that should be. That's not to say the stories weren't good - they were excellent, if not unusual or unexpected. The Jim Butcher and Jacqueline Carey stories alone were worth the cover price of the books, juicy cherries for fans of their respective epic series.

*

That's all I've got for now. It's been a long while since I've posted about any of my reading experiences, and rather than procrastinate and postpone as I've been doing, it was time to just do it.

I've got some non-fiction sitting on my stack, (ancient Rome material, if you must know), but I feel the need for something lighter and I'm debating whether or not to read Charlaine Harris... or maybe you can suggest something?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Trailers | Immortals, Underworld 4: Awakening

Just the week that I was going to get back to building content on this 'ere blog, I, uh, sliced my thumb open at work. The right thumb. You can laugh, it's funny.

Two movie trailers have me excited - one of them I just found out about a few moments ago.

This first one comes out next week - unfortunately, it's coming out the same day as Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (my most anticipated game release of the year) - let's face it, I'm far more likely to play video games than go out to a movie. Sad, but true. I see myself getting this on DVD for myself as a Xmas gift.



The synopsis, from their official site:

Visionary director Tarsem Singh and producers Gianni Nunnari (300), Mark Canton (300), and Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter) unleash an epic tale of treachery, vengeance and destiny in Immortals, a stylish and spectacular 3-D action adventure. As a power-mad king razes ancient Greece and threatens to destroy mankind, a heroic young villager rises up against him in a thrilling quest as timeless as it is powerful.

The brutal and bloodthirsty King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his murderous army are rampaging across Greece, demolishing everything in their wake with ruthless efficiency. Village after village falls to Hyperion's legions and each victory takes him one step closer to his goal: unleashing the power of the sleeping Titans to vanquish both the Gods of Olympus and all of humankind.

It seems nothing will stop the evil king’s mission to become the undisputed master of the world, until a stonemason named Theseus (Henry Cavill) vows to avenge the death of his mother in one of Hyperion’s raids. When Theseus meets the Sibylline Oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), her disturbing visions of the young man’s future convince her that he is the key to stopping the destruction. With her help, Theseus assembles a small band of followers and embraces his destiny in a final desperate battle for the future of humanity.

There's some striking similarities between this, Clash of the Titans, 300, Troy, even Starz Spartacus, but I don't care. I love it.

Greek mythology is rich with tales that beg to be retold. This one seems even better, in the sense that it's about Theseus and Hyperion, who are less frequently referred to when people talk about the classical period.

In short, big thumbs (heh) up for doing mythology (always good for the genre), bigger thumbs up for doing a story that hasn't already been told too many times. To make it flashy, sweaty, and half-naked... eh, if it gets people into the genre of the fantastic, then it's all good.

*

The second one, however, for me, is 'must see'... if for no other reason than Kate Beckinsale in that outfit. HOT!



I don't know that 3D is necessary, but I guess that's the direction more movies are taking. Frankly, it just feels like another way to get a few more bucks out of the customer for those funky glasses.

This one has a Milla Jovovich / Resident Evil vibe to it... here's the plot outline from their facebook page, you can see what I mean.

After being held in a coma-like state for fifteen years, vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) learns that she has a fourteen-year-old vampire/Lycan hybrid daughter, Nissa, and when she finds her they must stop BioCom from creating super Lycans that will kill them all.
Mmhmm. The effects in the trailer look to be what I've come to expect from the Underworld series, dark and gritty, and Kate as the action heroine pleases me. I know everyone's tired of werewolves and vampires, but the Underworld franchise has always gone its own way, with more of a classic view on the creatures and realistic implications in terms of socio-political perspectives.

In short? Yay!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Video: Red Hartebeest vs. Cyclist

I know I've been lax lately. Very busy boy, and yet, not busy doing the things I should like to be doing. Not yet. Don't worry, content will resume soon.

In the meantime, I caught this via a Facebook link this morning - it was too good to not share.




The most compelling aspect of the video is the size comparison between the prancing antelope (always so victimized in fiction) and the human on a bike. This creature is big and clearly NOT skittish.

Aside, comment on humanity: What do you think is going to happen when you go cycling through the savannah, hmm?

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Creatures in my Backyard | Tibicen Cicada

My last foray into this feature taught me a couple things. One is that my cell phone takes horrible pictures. The other is that it was less interesting to me to post photos on my blog of creatures that I knew nothing about.

Perhaps when I get up to a thousand viewers or so, I can post the mystery beasties. Until then, I suppose I'll do my research.

This big fella spent its final days on the screen door to the "mudroom" (an architectural feature of southern homes, apparently) . After which it fell off and fed a colony of ants.


A little google research led me to identify it as a Cicada from the Tibicen genus. The website bugguide.net had a bunch of (significantly better) photos - this one by Larry Clarfeld most closely resembles the one I found.

Image: Tibicen Cicada by Larry Clarfeld
BugGuide.Net

Early in their season, I made the mistake of tapping one of these buggers with the end of a broomstick - I thought it was a dung beetle - and lemme tell ya, this cicada screamed like a scarab out of a mummy horror movie. Incredible, really. According to this wikipedia article, "Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL) "at close range", among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds."


Some more information from Wikipedia...

The Tibicen genus of cicadas are large-bodied Cicadidae appearing in late summer or autumn. Like other members of the subfamily Cicadinae, they have loud, complex songs, even (in many cases) distinct song phrases. Tibicen are the most common cicada in the United States. Unlike periodical cicadas, whose swarms occur at 13- or 17-year intervals, Tibicen species can be seen every year, hence their nickname "annual cicadas." The lifecycle of an individual, however, is more than a year. Nymphs spend two or three years feeding on tree roots before they emerge. Their annual reappearance is due to overlapping generations. Many other colloquial names exist for Tibicens: locust, dog day cicada, harvest fly, August dry bird, jar fly, bush cicada.
The article goes on to state that the cicada is edible by more than ants,  "Cicadas have been eaten in China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, the Congo and in the United States. In North China, cicadas are skewered, deep fried or stir fried as a delicacy."

I guess I missed out on a good snack.

The short life span of the cicada, its distinctive mating song, and its transformative process all have provided plenty of material for folklores of different cultures, which I won't cite here - my challenge will be to come up with something original in my own writing.

However, something that I will use is the cicada as medicine. Some quick research gave me this information...

The pharmaceutical name of the substance made from this insect is Periostracum Cicadae or chan tui. [...]
Cicada's healing effects are due to its antispasmodic (reducing spasms), antipyretic (fever-reducing), and sedative (sleep-inducing) effects.
Cicada can prevent or reduce muscle spasms by reducing the tension of the striated muscles. It may also delay transmission of nerve signals at the neuromuscular junction, thereby reducing muscle spasms. Its activity may be similar to that of barbiturates, well-known sedatives, and anti-seizure medications. As an antispasmodic drug, it may be effective as supportive treatment for febrile seizures.

You can read the rest of the article here - some pretty interesting stuff.

And that's all I have for today - I could go on about bugs and medicine and so forth, and maybe I will, but for now, we'll keep it nice and simple.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creatures in my Backyard | Smiley Face Moth?

Most of what I write in fantasy, takes place out of doors... primitive, undeveloped areas, with rough structures or things carved from rock. The bitter irony is that, for all intents and purposes, I am a city-slicker. I live now in the smallest town I've ever lived in, in a terrain that (five years later) remains mostly strange to me.

I have done research, have watched an unmentionable amount of NatGeo, Discovery, NOVA, etc. However, when it comes to the outdoors, I remain a city boy.

I'm working on it. I took this picture with my phone a week or two ago, been meaning to figure out what it is.

Smiley Face Moth(?) says, "Have a nice day!"

For starters, I have only cropped the photo to show its relative size against the bricks on the home exterior. Colors are unadjusted.

Death's Head Hawkmoth
Image: Wikipedia
If you look on its back, between the wings, behind its head, there looks to be a big ole smiley face. Now, I've heard of Death's head (hawk)moths, but this doesn't appear to be that.

Until I figure out what it is, I'm a gonna call it the smiley face moth.

Is this the most exciting thing I've found in my backyard? No, but it's the only one I managed to get a halfway decent photo of.

Anyone know what this is? Educate a city boy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Spoilers don't spoil, according to study.

One of the reasons I haven't written anything here about A Dance with Dragons is because I am not sure that I could without spoiling it. But, according to Reuters, I might be doing you a favor.

This article on Yahoo news states, "A new study by researchers from the University of California at San Diego shows spoilers may enhance enjoyment, even for suspense-driven story lines and film plots."


Ha, really?

Now personally, I might agree. Depending on the spoiler. As oft as not, I'm reading for the enjoyment of doing so, for the author's prose and for the way they flow the plot. For interesting characters and clever dialogue.

So, no, a spoiler doesn't ruin it for me. Although, if we're going to talk about GRRM, I'd prefer not to know who is going to die. Or, as in ADWD, appear to die. But even if I know that, I'm still going to read the book and most likely enjoy it with/without advanced knowledge.

The article agrees with me, in that. "The researchers said in the study, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, they found that the success of entertainment does not rest on suspense alone."

Aside, and related, exciting new standards for psychological testing.

"For the study each story was read by up to 30 people and presented in two formats -- in the original version and with a spoiling paragraph inserted in the story." (Emphasis mine.)

Wow, really? Thirty people is enough of a control group to post results in a psychology journal? Bull - if I had tried to pull that sort of nonsense while I was at school, I would have been the class clown.

It's an interesting discussion all the same. What do you think of spoilers?

Source: Yahoo News

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Little update.

Good morning. Got moved. Partially.

Partially, as in, most of my things, including my DESK, remain in storage, along with most my former roommates' things.

So while I have my computer set up (clearly), sitting on the floor is not conducive for clear expression. ;-)

I know that last time I moved my (other) blog went south. Won't be happening with this one. Might be a few days, might be another week or so until I meet with my friends and get the items from storage.

Until the next.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Positive reviews for A Dance with Dragons so far..

Amidst the chaos that is my domestic life these days, I received the confirmation email from Amazon that A Dance with Dragons shipped this week. After what, six years, the long-awaited sequel will be in my grubby hands hopefully by this weekend!

About the time I will be moving. Again. Ha.

I don't know if there's anyone who is this far into the series who actually will NOT order the book at one point or another, but it's nice to know that the reviews have been fairly positive.

Especially when contrasted with A Feast For Crows. I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed with the first read of AFfC, for reasons cited frequently. Brienne's and Samwell's arcs read like a travelogue, Cersei was not a sympathetic character, Sansa was a passive character, and overall the events and characters portrayed were not the ones that were the most compelling and interesting in the story frame.

The second read of AFfC changed that for me, as I grew an appreciation for what Brienne and Sansa and Sam were observing - especially after reading The Hedge Knight last month. Arya/Sandor and Brienne/Pod are reminiscent of Dunk/Egg in some aspects. Fitting, considering Samwell's arc and the demise of Aemon Targaryen.

If you want to read the reviews before you get the book, or if you're like me, and want to read the reviews just out of morbid curiosity, here's some good starting points.

A Dribble of Ink, unsurprisingly, has beat me to the punch with this idea. As well he should. He had a few I was unaware of, which I'll mix in here.

Jo Walton, on the Tor.com blog.

Jace Lacob, at The Daily Beast.
This is, one could argue, a tale of hubris, heartbreak and horror, a world out of balance where death itself is not an ending, and which threatens to swallow up those more fixated on the game of thrones than the true battle for the survival of man.

Lev Grossman, for Time Magazine.
The complexity of Martin's design ensures that we experience the struggle for Westeros from all sides at once. It's as if he's trying to show us that every fight is both triumph and tragedy, depending on where you see it from, and everybody is both hero and villain at the same time.

Remy Verhoeve, for The Wall Street Journal.

Publishers Weekly, as I recall, broke the first review several weeks ago. This one has been called a little spoiler-y, though it didn't offend me much.

Pat's Fantasy List has his review here, as well as the story behind how he inspired a character in the novel who meets a grisly death. (9/10)

The Wertzone has a review here. Adam is probably one of the most knowledgeable sources of Westeros material that I have stumbled across on the internet. (4.5 stars)

Charlie Jane Anders did a review over at IO9.

All in all, A Dance with Dragons is moving, thrilling, horrifying and thought-provoking — and a propulsive continuation to a series that might have seemed like it was losing forward momentum. By the time you put this book down, you're left with no doubt that this story is racing towards a definitive ending, with only two books (or a mere 2,000 pages!) left to go. Some things happen in this latest book that you've probably been waiting for since Book One, and some huge mysteries are resolved.

Chris Y, SF/F buyer for Borders, on their blog (spoiler free).
I loved the pacing of this book. There is a slow buildup to an explosive finish. The last 100 pages are absolutely intense, and there are some game-changing events near the end of the book.

Rachel Brown gives a brief review, followed up by a GRRM interview for The Atlantic.

Jeff Vandermeer gave a heads-up for his LA Times review last week on his facebook page.

James Poniewozik, who covered the HBO series, did a second review for Time Magazine.

Chris Barsanti, for Barnes and Noble.

Steve Bennett, for My San Antonio. (Mild spoilers.)

Bill Sheehan, for The Washington Post.
Filled with vividly rendered set pieces, unexpected turnings, assorted cliffhangers and moments of appalling cruelty, “A Dance With Dragons” is epic fantasy as it should be written: passionate, compelling, convincingly detailed and thoroughly imagined.

That seems like enough, hmm?

Overall, the reviews seem to be positive, with some complaints about the story overlap (which was to be expected), resolved/unresolved puzzles (there's two more books - from an author's perspective, the puzzles should get answered when they become most relevant), and some cliffhangers. What, suddenly GRRM is going to NOT leave us with cliffhangers? I thought everyone was watching HBO...

Less frequently, comments on rambling and/or need for editing. But, truly, anyone who has read the first four volumes comes to expect a certain amount of Martin's stylistic immersion. Clothes, heraldry, feasts - none of those are things that necessarily forward the plot, but it allows the reader to experience the protagonists' stories. (Notably, this was a question in The Atlantic interview.)

Will I do a review? No, I don't do reviews anymore, per se. I'll share some thoughts when I finish. While Martin is an excellent storyteller and I'm as thrilled as other fans by the book's release, his is also a style that allows immersion, escape and above all else, complexity.


Reading GRRM is a strong lesson in how to combine lush prose with intelligent, adult fantasy fiction. For that reason alone, he will always be a must-read for me.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My first foray into Magic: The Gathering



Last night, I went to a pre-release party at a local comic & gaming shop. From midnight til about 5am.

I had a blast.

I suspect that some of the geekier readers of this blog will be familiar with Magic: The Gathering, but for those who are not, here is a quote from Wikipedia.

Magic: The Gathering
(colloquially Magic or MTG) is a collectible card game created by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Magic is the first example of the modern collectible card game genre and still thrives today, with an estimated six million players in over seventy countries.[1] Magic can be played by two or more players each using a deck of printed cards or a deck of virtual cards through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online or third-party programs.
Each game represents a battle between powerful wizards, known as "planeswalkers", who use the magical spells, items, and fantastic creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little resemblance to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.
*

MTG will be the first hobby I've had in years that didn't center around some form of debauchery or sitting in front of a computer or television.

Here's the thing about being an (unpublished) author, and blogging. You're supposed to keep a blog to build up your public profile - BUT - you're not supposed to write about writing, which, frankly, is most of what I think about. So, by way of adding content that might be interesting to people who might also read the book I'm writing/revising, this seems a good fit. 

How and why?

You might have heard that Sony and the PS3 Network got hacked recently, and was offline for several weeks as they repaired network security issues. When they returned, the PS3 Network offered a "Welcome Back" package, which included a trial membership to their elite PSPlus program.

Part of that PS+ membership allows you to download discounted games, or free trials. During that time, my roommate downloaded a trial version of MTG: Duels of the Planeswalkers. He reminisced about how he played the card game in the 90's, and well, I'd heard of it... but, eh.

In the 70's & 80's, I played tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, sure.  In the 90's, though, I switched to computer desktop games and even ventured into online MUDs and MMORPG's when I realized they existed. But mostly, I was DJ'ing and working and partying, and most of the 90's are a blur to me.

But! This was the sort of thing I could do, and I'm always looking for new games to play with my friends. So, I gave it a try last month.


What you can't see is the gorgeous artwork on each of these cards. It's stunning. And moreso, inspiring for me.

What I learned last night was that playing in person was a bit more complicated and clunky than it is to play on the computer. Which was fine, really. It was really a matter of logistics, since I already know the basic rules and am learning the nuances.



There's a bit more to this. This game, like any others, has to progress, grow, develop. "Collectible" card game. Some cards are worth more than others by their intrinsic properties. Other cards are worth more because there are less of them in circulation - the ultimate find in opening up a pack of cards is to find a coveted "mythic rare". Every year, there's a core set released (the event I went to last night), then there's expansions (the next expansion set of cards will release in September of this year).

After two decades, that's a helluva lot of cards! For me, the primary appeal was in the trading of cards. Yes, last night I learned how to play "for real" and that was fun (I lost, often). But it's nice/fun/exciting to know that I can drop $4 on a "booster pack" of 16 cards and - as in the case of my roommate- find a card that's worth about $30.00 to another player. Like this one on the right, that my roommate found (and traded last night).

My roommate has this knack for trading cards. He's the kind of guy that will pick up a pack of Upper Deck basketball cards "with one (spiffy) Michael Jordan" and find FIVE MJ cards. Etc.

And me? In playing on the PS3, I found myself liking the green mana decks (Elves and forests and growth and stampeding beasts - are any of you surprised?), but of course, what do I find when I spend a few bucks?



Now I can't really complain since these are valuable cards, but darn it, it was like a tease, and I indulged myself. And the more packs I bought, the more cards that I found that were not the colors I wanted or to add insult to injury, were really cool black mana cards that my roommate wanted to trade with me so he could build his (pretty badass) vampire deck.

My luck is changing, though. Last night, one of the players handed me a big stack of common and uncommon cards from the 2012 deck. One of those intense players that doesn't even NEED such simple cards! Me, I was focusing on not letting my voice crack. "Really? Thanks!" (My mind was screaming, WOOHOO MORE CARDS, SO PRETTY, SO PRECIOUSSS!)

Though I didn't win last night in my first event/tournament, I did get to open a bunch of packs before they go on sale next week. And amongst a few other decent finds, this bad boy...

No, it's not a "mythic rare" and it's not a $30 card (closer to $2). But, in my failure to find awesome green mana cards, I've collected a decent amount of red Dragon and Goblin cards. And, apparently, there's a lot of good red cards to be played now.

All told, I picked up around 400 cards last night, most of them before they are even out to the general public (although, notably, the M12 collection contains cards that are reprints of cards from previous collections).

I learned that it's nice to get away from the computer and to have something new to babble on about. It's fun having a new hobby, and it's inspiring material for fantasy and conflict and such.

I promise to keep future posts much less lengthy, but what can I say, I write epic high fantasy fiction, and I felt the need to give you some backstory here.

The adventure continues. In coming days, while the world around me is still busy and buzzing with some forthcoming domestic changes and such, I'm still very likely to find some time to put together a few decks and trade some cards with the roommate.

My new goal is to forge a deck and take it to another tournament, see if I can't scrape out a win or two.

I have become my youthful, naive protagonist.