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 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.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Character Profiles: Angtamin Sildraug, Traveling Merchant.

[Note: Profiles are an introduction to fictional characters I use in my writing. I'm not entirely sure this feature is a good idea, or if I will leave them up. Since it's a holiday weekend, I am inspired to give it a try. I reserve the right for details to change during revisions.]

Name: Angtamin Sildraug
Race: Anrovian Elf
Sex: Male
Age: Young adult. At first introduction, he is ~185 years of age.
Physical Description: Shoulder length silver hair, tanned skin, brown eyes. Broad-shouldered and muscular (for an Elf) with a slightly stooped posture. Ordinarily handsome (as Elves go), no striking physical features or scars (at this time).

Family (as of Catalyst): Angalamor (Father), Iluvianne (Mother), Turgen (Uncle, missing), Valmiros (brother, elder), Fuitirin (brother, younger), Kortirion (nephew), Lirilwe Cantralone (wife, deceased).

Hobbies: Collecting feathers, music, travel, trading.

Origin: The idea of (adult) Angtamin began early last decade while playing GemStone IV, though I have used him in other RPGs. Originally, he served as a secondary merchant persona who would be more neutral in character - my other primary characters were too strongly opinionated to play the role of merchant. He was first conceived as a soft spoken stoic, someone who could be relied upon to refocus the family energies, to provide calm and logic to heated situations. He added an austerity to certain rituals and relationships. Logistically, he enabled the transfer of loot between characters and enabled transactions with characters that my primaries would not interact with. When there were times that a situation required tact and diplomacy, those were the situations that Angtamin was brought in.

Inspiration: I come from a rather large, extended family, and I see that as more of a common occurrence in (early/primitive) Zherlios. My own uncles had great influence on me as a child/young adult, serving in many ways as big brothers throughout important parts of my life. Angtamin is a tribute to the love I still have for my uncles and the role they play/ed in my life.

Evolution: In Catalyst, I had to be honest about the lifespan of Elves, so it didn't make sense for a (relatively) young Angtamin to be overly mature and patient, as he was in his origins. I wanted, instead, to write from earlier in his life, to show more of his history, and to provide the reader an opportunity to see his development. In Catalyst, he is regarded as a powerful warrior, politically notable as the son of the tribal warlord, who has forgone the ways of war to take up a life of trade and travel. He is under pressure from his elder brother (heir apparent) to rejoin his tribe. However, none of those pressures outweigh the reason that drove him from his forest home, the reason that he truly partakes of the journey in Catalyst. In this, Angtamin is at a crossroads in his life, one that he may not survive.

Quote: (subject to edit)

To his nephew, on the subject of sparring with blunted spears.

There is nothing infinitely more profound towards learning than loss. The greater the loss, the greater the lesson. You will never gain as much skill from sparring your friends as you will fighting for your life. You will never appreciate love moreso than when your heart is broken into countless pieces.

It is through Chaos that the greatest growths take place, nephew. Chaos tears apart the earth beneath your feet and teaches us how to stand more sure-footed. There is no better lesson than pain.

And that is why I will beat you every night...