Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another toast to the Man

SO, what's holding up my next A Storm of Swords post? Well, most of the blame goes to the fact that summer finally came for a quick few days, leading to all manner of conventional lifestyling, like BBQ-parties and outdoor activities. Who would've thunk?
A little blame goes to SFFWorld, the fantasy/science fiction-forum which runs these internal short story and flash fiction competitions and I've kind of been writing a short story that I really like writing and revising, and which by no accident is sufficiently influenced by Steven Erikson, who I am unable to shut up about these days. 

The author has published a short but wonderful comment on his upcoming novel Forge of Darkness (to be published in five days) right here at TOR, which goes a long way in showing what kind of communication this author has with his fans (he wrote this while on summer holiday in Southern Europe, mind). I've previously mentioned how graciously he answers fan questions at TOR's re-read, and now Bill and Amanda have returned to start blogging the seventh volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, "Reaper's Gale" (which I found the weakest link in the ten-doorstoppers chain, but suspect it's rather awesome now that I have a firmer grasp on the setting). They've been at it for two years now, and still there are books eight - ten, more Esslemont novels, and of course the book that I am anxiously awaiting, the first in Erikson's new trilogy taking place aeons before his main series, and which the author notes may draw in some fans of more traditionally structured epic fantasy books. When TOR and Erikson also publish an excerpt of both the prelude and the first chapter of the book online, there can no longer be any doubt that Steven Erikson is the uncrowned king of fantasy. Well, in my mind. I am well aware how much of a love/hate- thing his prose is, heh. And some other authors who I have followed and revered are somewhat on the backburner, if you know what I mean. Well, Joe will soon hit me in the ass with Red Country. It's another good year for fantasy. There's even another Malazan novel scheduled for the fall (Ian C. Esslemont's Blood and Bone). 

It feels strange to sense how my dedication to all things Westerosi is quietly transforming into an appreciation of other authors. Not too long ago I claimed that nothing could give me the same fix as A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. Maybe I'm finally growing up. After all, I'm closer to forty than thirty. 

Nah.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Too late, too late

So here I am, supposed to have gone to bed a while ago, but stuck in the final game of a Magic Online tournament. Yeah, I'm in the finals, I'm beginning to learn this whole drafting thing. It's very exciting, actually. Well, for a pixellated version of a card game about wizards and dragons and undead, I mean. In a draft like this, I am biting nails as I wonder whether I have put together a good enough deck, and what hideousness my opponents will throw at me. Well, to my own surprise I've been able to hold my own up until this point. Only two players have six points which means I'm facing the most difficult match at the moment. And it's not going well, I must admit. He's got 17 points of life left, and I'm down at 7. I'm not drawing any of the Vampires I need to get my deck going (there is this game mechanic that allows them to grow stronger as they "feed" on my opponent, and without them I'm helpless). Oh well, I am quite comfortable with a second place in this tournament. There will be a few boosters in the prize.

And round 1 is over. I lose.

I must win round 2, which will open a third round to determine the winner, if not I'm toast. Silver toast.

...But I must sleep...
oh...
the pains we go through as geeks... :P



Sunday, July 22, 2012

In memory

Today is exactly one year after more than sixty people were brutally murdered in Norway. The whole nation is in mourning for those who lost their lives, and there have been a variety of arrangements throughout the day, culminating with a concert beginning about now (with Bruce Springsteen rumored to make an appearance). 
I was about to blog another chapter from A Storm of Swords, but that's bad form today. Lady Slynt is sitting with tears in her eyes watching the proceedings on the television as beautiful songs are performed with lyrics most fitting ("Some die young..."); being a small country, very many people were affected directly and indirectly by the terror of last year, and so in my own small way I'll leave it at this for now.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Geekt.

I'm on a holiday again, but this time I brought a computer and am staying at a place with le Internet capabilities. I don't know, I believe I relax more without the net when I'm off, but at the same time it is pretty nice to have the net available. 

MtGO's new log-in screen. Is Sorin Markov an Anomander Rake wanna-be?
This week, Wizards of the Coast made public their latest beta version of the immiment new client for their Magic: The Gathering Online game to which I've been somewhat on-and-off hopelessly addicted over the last couple of years. Well, addicted is too strong a word - but I do put in a game now and then, and occasionally pay (through the nose) to participate in a so-called booster draft, which is the most enjoyable part of the game. I played in a tournament draft last night and came out pretty good, winning three (digital) booster packs. It's fun, at least in small doses. Haven't played anything else, really. I kind of lost interest in Diablo III after reaching level 10 (guess that's better than the sad alternative), I want to play Crusader Kings II but it's too time-consuming, and Skyrim? I want to play that too (still at level 20) and I like it and everything but somehow it's not pulling at me the way Legend of Grimrock, for example, did; I simply had to finish that game (but then, I knew, it had a fixed end not too far in the future; guess this means I should look for shorter games, but they are quite rare in the RPG genre).

The new and much better looking interface has me a little extra addicted these days, though, but I am trying to keep myself occupied with reading great books and fiddling a bit with my own writing. I am really enjoying Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear, though there's something strange with that book - it is very easy to put away, or to not read in it for a while; yet it isn't boring or uninteresting. Once I'm "in" the book, I am enjoying it a lot, more than The Name of the Wind; mainly the humor is top notch, in my opinion, although of a far more innocent kind than, say, Joe Abercrombie's. Rothfuss has some fun ideas in this book, particularly the scenes where Kvothe loses his social competence due to an insidious type of poison, and like the first book in the series, it reads like a more mature Harry Potter. Kind of. No, not really. But you know what I mean. 
At the same time I'm almost halfway through Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear, also a second book in a series, and that one is also entertaining for its world-building, in this installment based heavily on Middle-eastern cultures, and it feels like an almost entirely different book from The Painted Man, although threads are beginning to come together. Third, I'm (still) re-reading Gardens of the Moon, just a page here and a page there in between everything else, but it remains a much more enjoyable experience the second time around. And fourth and finally, I've got this tome called A Storm of Swords begging me to read it a tenth time. I've decided to tackle a new chapter later today or tomorrow; for now, we have the first day of sun in two weeks in this miserably cold land, and so I'll be (hopefully) outside more than inside. The only problem with being outside is that means being offline :-P


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kwik-e-Rant

Lots of casting news regarding HBO's Game of Thrones' third season, but honestly I am a bit tired of the buzz around the TV show, and none of the actors really made me go whoaaaaa (nor did anyone make me go boo and hiss, for that matter). Fun to see a Norwegian cast in the role of Tormund Giantsbane, very suitable as 'Tormund' is all but a Scandinavian/Norwegian name, but still, I am barely able to utter a "meh". I am definitely no longer among the hardcore Ice and Fire fans who gobble up anything related to the series with the zeal of a Catholic priest visiting the boy scouts, but I damn sure would like some news on Martin's progress with The Winds of Winter, being the sixth book of the A Song of Ice and Fire-saga, as you may recall. It's already been a year (and two days) since A Dance with Dragons was published (oh, I remember the book being photographed and put online so we could get an early start, and I think I know who did that mischievous deed as well - no, it wasn't me), and what has he revealed so far?
That he wrote a few chapters for book five that were pushed back, and in one sentence in a post not so long ago, he mentioned that he was working on it (after mentioning twenty other things he was busy with). However, the increased pressure on the author notwithstanding, mr. Martin deigns it useful to go on a holiday to Spain, or spend time promoting yet another computer game based on his intellectual property (note that the company producing the game is called a 'global leader' in online video games, which is an outright lie; and do also note how Martin doesn't allow comments, seeing that previous posts about previous Ice and Fire video games have contained some mild criticism of said games - no one dares offend the great Jabba telling him outright just how stunningly bad those games are; or people do, but the comments aren't allowed).

It's the same old complaint, stretching back to before the release of A Feast for Crows. I know. It's the "entitlement issue". It's the demand for Martin to do nothing else but write his series. I should read something else. You know, I do. And in the process I've discovered some wonderful authors who keep a very good tone with their readers, authors who have no qualms about sharing some of their secrets with their fans, and indeed even a few who manage to be nearly as good as the first three Ice and Fire-novels. 

Martin complains about the emails he receives, and how he has only two days to answer them before he has to go off to a con before going to Spain. If he can do this, after all the adulation and praise and fame he's received the last year, I feel it's even more important to stay level-headed and see through the veneer, and continue to complain. I wouldn't complain if there was nothing to complain about, would I?


Thursday, July 12, 2012

[Re-read] Davos I: Rock in a Wet Place


Cracking knuckles and flipping open A Storm of Swords, let's see, after Tyrion I comes...Davos I. Cool. I can't remember whether I believed he was dead or not after Clash, but they sure made him look dead in the TV series, didn't they? Wonder how many viewers believe him to be dead. He's never been a favorite of mine, good old Davos, but neither has he been a character I have disliked. He's just a bit bland, I feel, especially considering him being an ex-smuggler. On the other hand, if Martin had made him all cocky and cool he'd just be a new Jaime Lannister, and nice mellow people there are few enough of in Westeros at any rate. Well, you heard it here first: Davos is alive, if not kicking.

- a bit like this chapter, then. The setting is a lone rock protruding from the waters, inhabited by Davos only, which gives us a somewhat unusual - for the series - piece where all we have to go by is Davos' inner monologue and his perception. Truly a limited third person chapter. It is known. It is also a bit boring.

He's been hanging on this rock for several days (three or four), and there really isn't much to do except trying to pool rainwater to stave off thirst, so you can hardly expect it to be a soul-shattering, series-defining chapter. However, I am sure Loras Tyrell will feel it grossly unfair that him leading the siege of Dragonstone is barely described in the books while Davos gets a whole chapter on a barnacle-encrusted rock for himself. Robb Stark's adventures in the West were also relegated to hearsay and juicy gossip. Am I trying to say that it was a bad decision to include this chapter, instead of having a one-sentence flashback where Davos tells someone he spent three days on a rock? Maybe.

The first paragraphs deal with Davos thinking of death, basically. Dying from thirst, or dying from hunger. Or dying from fever. Or how about death by crab-nipping? What Martin manages to do skillfully here is give us an idea of Davos' hopelessness, his despair at facing the torture that is being trapped on a small rock. In this manner it reminds me of Tyrion waking up after the Battle of Blackwater where we also got to feel the suffering to a certain degree.

We get some cool descriptions of the spear-like rocks jutting up from the bay's cold waters, and Martin goes on to explain about the currents (otherwise we'd be wondering why Davos doesn't just swim over to land). His shelter is a small cave, so it isn't all bad. I know for a fact there are people even in the real world who don't even own a cave. We are again reminded of his thirst, his hunger, and his exposure to the elements. We see a glimpse of darker thoughts from Davos when he tells himself he should die and be done with it ("The gods beneath the waters have been waiting for me (...) It's past time I went to them"). Incidentally, the interesting bit here is that Davos refers to gods beneath the waters, which is - as far as I recall - the only time a character worshipping the Seven thinks or speaks of gods beneath the waters. Who are these gods Davos thinks of? The Drowned God of the Iron Islands? Or is this a slip from the author? Or is Davos just thinking casually of "the gods" like people do these days ("gods know I want a new computer" is something I could utter despite being an atheist).

Anyway, the chapter eventually shifts its dark tone when Davos spots a sail. It is a ship, and it is actually approaching (here I would have chuckled if Davos muttered, "Didn't see that one coming" - you know, because it's obvious since we're starting the chapter on a rock that he'll probably be saved somehow and a nearby ship would be the easiest solution).

Martin lets us stay a while on the torture rack with Davos thinking how he doesn't deserve to be saved, that he should be dead like his sons, that he is nothing more now; in fact, now that I am re-reading it I am honestly surprised how quickly Davos recovers from this ordeal (unless I've forgotten). There's a long paragraph retelling the battle from A Clash of Kings which I'm glazing over, again Davos feels sorry for himself, thinks back to the battle more, this is really stretching the chapter with a good old breastplate stretcher but at the same time it obviously gives readers the opportunity to get back into Davos' story and what happened before this chapter, so I'm not complaining, just taking a mental note. More interesting is it when he thinks back to his smugglers' days, which is more interesting simply because by this point we don't really know much about him, do we? Unfortunately we don't really get anything juicy or interesting because he snaps right back to thinking about dying, his sons, the pyre of the Seven (back on Dragonstone) etc. He goes on thinking about Melisandre, indicating he does spend some time thinking about the red sorceress, and reminding us that he really doesn't like her. Get on with it! Get saved!

He clambers out of his cave and finds the best possible spot (which isn't really good at all - hey, this is Westeros - nothing comes for free, which incidentally is the motto Martin should use for his Not A Blog), Davos begins to shout and scream for help, and eventually sailors lower a smaller boat and go out to get him off the rock. Toward the end of the chapter there comes a quick reflection from Davos - what if these sailors belong to King Joffrey? Then they would probably kill him just like that. Fortunately, these are Lyseni, and they still serve Stannis. So Davos is indeed quite lucky. In his mind, Davos thinks that this is the Mother's mercy (subtly reminding us, in case we're confused, that he still holds to the Seven), which strengthens his resolve and makes him realize that he still has a king to serve, others sons, and his wife; it is, in essence, Davos' loyalty that swims up and shakes him, and all those pages of death-wishing become somewhat obsolete, don't they? Well, on re-reads at any rate. I am sure I was pretty excited reading this the first time, but for a re-read this chapter isn't the most interesting. There's exactly one plotty thing happening, and that is the rescue. No, I think I'm gonna say this chapter could have been condensed to a flashback, but all right, there it is, and it is still better than most chapters in, say, A Dance with Dragons, so there is that.

Another unusual thing about this chapter is that it actually ends on a happy note. How many chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire do that? Kewl.

Ok see you thnx bye!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

One more note on the awesomeness of S.E.

I know I have complained more than once about George R.R. Martin not being the nicest person toward his fans (a few excepted of course). I've ranted about how he uses his blog for everything except Ice and Fire, which fans are interested in, and curious about.

Now, over at the Malazan Re-read I asked Steven Erikson a question, and lo! and behold. Not only do I get an answer, I get a fricking essay from him.

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/06/ask-steven-erikson-your-bonehunters-questions

(My post is #32, his response is #33).

While Martin juggles a hundred projects (or so it seems), Erikson commits himself fully to his novels and has just finished the first one in a new Malazan trilogy (The Forge of Darkness) so he probably had some time right now to talk about characterization (before he plunges into the second book of the new trilogy). But still...what a guy. For each book he makes himself available not only to answer questions but actually goes somewhat in-depth, too. People are different of course. When GRRM says "I don't like to talk about that stuff" (A Song of Ice and Fire) we have to respect that. But we don't have to like it.

Now, Erikson didn't quite answer the question I believe - I need to read it through properly what with all those strange words like fecund), but still. BUT STILL. This is a level of interaction with his readership no authors (that I am aware of) are capable of; but many have good, informative blogs, like Rothfuss or Abercrombie to mention two obvious ones, and these are the exact opposite of GRRM's grumpy, out-of-date, uninformative blog. He's spent a total of 16 words on The Winds of Winter information so far this year.

When friendly readers ask him questions related to his magnum opus on his blog, Martin gives short, terse and actually also rude answers. Yeah, I'm again thinking of the PR value of Not-A-Blog and how the man himself diminishes it. Usually, though, he just doesn't answer any queries related to his writing - for example, in yesterday's post Home Again..., a fan asks several (good) questions: How much time does Martin have for writing? (I'll answer: about a page a month), Do you budget a certain number of hours/day? (I'll answer: Not really) Does your assistant help you with scheduling your work? (I'll answer: He's down in the basement looking for more collectibles to sell)
You might object that Martin probably hasn't read these questions, but then as you scroll down, once another fan asks about a collectible, he's right on it. So why can't Martin answer these questions when he has time to answer that there will be a calendar painted by Marc Simonetti? Seems to me he simply doesn't want to. Which is fair enough. But it's so damned transparent it hurts.

I wonder what the people who paid through their nose for his writing lessons at Clarion West in Seattle learned.

'Nuff said.
Coming up: Re-read post.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Words

My follow-up to Re-reading A Game of Thrones: Waiting for Dragons, Re-reading A Clash of Kings is currently in production after a pretty long delay.

I've also written a couple more flash fictions and a short story for SFFWorld which I've put up on my Words are Wind sub-blog: "The Foreboding Presage" (short story) and the flash fictions "The Bride Unknown", "Blades for Armot", and "In Akasumi's Garden". I didn't win with any of these, but the story about Akasumi got some good feedback.

The short story was written for the current round (May-June) and is currently being voted on over here, with one more day to go.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Last Week in Denmark


So I've been away for a week or so, visiting beautiful Denmark. While there, I blogged a little on my smartphone so I could just cut'n'paste it here now that I'm back home. I began a new re-read post before I left but have to get back to it.


It's July the second, and I am on a short holiday to the eastern coast of Jylland, the largest landmass of fabulous Denmark. I love this country's mix of Scandinavia and the European nations further south, such as Germany. Unlike Norway, Denmark has an interesting medieval history and there's the odd castle ruin to gawk at. One rather terrifying thing about this otherwise sweet and relaxing week is the fact that I'm offline. I'm writing this using the Writer-app for my smartphone, so I can cut and paste it into the blog once I have returned. So what can a geek do, trapped in a rented villa by the sea, with great people but none of them even remotely interested in the delights of secondary worlds? No computers, no dice, no discussions about the worthiness of Tom Bombadil or the circle-shape of Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy?
The answer, of course, is reading. Nice fantasy reading. It's actually easier to be immersed here in a remote corner of Denmark with nothing to take my attention (except being social and a father, of course).
Point being, I've finished Peter V. Brett's "The Painted Man", started and finished Steven Erikson's "Cracked Pot Trail", and am now enjoying - simultaneously - Patrick Rothfuss' "The Wise Man's Fear" (a deliciously fat hardback bought on publishing date) and Brett's "The Desert Spear".

Yes, "The Painted Man" turned into a read good enough that I've jumped straight into the sequel. Somewhere during the book's last half I was entertained enough to finish it (unlike a long row of fantasies on my shelf). It did have some major flaws, such as authorial intrusion, POV confusion and some awkward and/or predictable plotting, but it also has a neat concept in the shape of worldwide, nightly demon risings that would make for an interesting roleplaying game setting, and some good character building (with a notable downer for one of the characters).  Most of the novel is buildup, giving us unusually detailed and long backgrounds before merging all characters before the conclusion. It was a (for me) fairly quick read and once main character Arlen discovered the ruins hiding a certain spear, I knew I wanted to follow this story. One thing remains an overhanging threat to my immersion. This is related to the core concept of the demons and, specifically, the magical wards of protection used against them. I found myself asking questions beginning with "But why...?" quite often. In other words, the concept is great but feels shoddy. I don't want to explain this further so as to not spoil anything, but when the concept is vital to the story on all levels, it is a bit of a shame that it doesn't hold entirely together. Still, I'd give "The Painted Man" an 8 out of 10 on the fantasy literature scale.
"Cracked Pot Trail", Erikson's latest novella, is entirely different. Complex, philosophic, experimental, at times absurd and certainly macabre, Erikson plays with language like no other fantasy author, and I am amazed by this story, its peculiar cast of characters, everything but a somewhat dissapointing ending. Since January 2010 I've gone from curious to intrigued, to wowed, and now with this novella, to sincere admiration for Steven Erikson. Now that I have read everything Malazan, I can only look forward to Erikson's next work, "The Forge of Darkness", scheduled for NEXT FRICKING MONTH. He's more machine now, than man. But his prose is oh so human, especially evident in "Cracked Pot Trail" where Erikson comments on a fair few human conditions. Despite the - in my opinion - somewhat lacklustre ending, this novella was incredibly entertaining, providing laughs as well as reflection. There is so much packed in here, and it seems quite clear to me that the Trail is an outlet for Erikson to have his say on the subject of writing as art. And art it is. A solid 9.5 out of 10.

As for returning to Kvothe's adventures - I sense a more confident writer and a good story to come, not too dissimilar from "The Name of the Wind".

And George RR? Is he being left behind in the dust? Not yet. There's still nothing quite as awesome as the first three novels of ice and fire. I guess Erikson will never be mainstream. His legions are growing though. But Abercrombie is coming with a new book and he's only been improving. And there's always a new author to discover while Martin is in limbo five years at the time. Maybe "The Forge of Darkness" will propel Erikson into his proper league. Maybe Abercrombie will outsell "Eragon". Maybe .. I love maybes. They belong to the genre.  Arf now I wish I could go online and check out fantasy news.
  - -
  July the sixth; the last (holi)day, and feeling the Interwebs abstinence! For some reason I decided to let "The Wise Man's Fear" lie and read an old fantasy I've long wished to read out of curiosity; a story about a character I vaguely remember from crossover stories in the comic book series "Conan the Barbarian" - yes, I've read Michael Moorcock's "Elric of Melnibone". About time I'd say, for a fantasy freak. The character of Elric is intriguing to an extent, but the framework is woefully undeveloped. It feels like a first draft, but of course fantasy has come a long way since Elric began his adventures. Short descriptions (often with paranthesises), quick jumps between plot points (a grand naval battle is over within a few pages despite an interesting setting in the shape of a maze harbor), ye olde assistants (often immortals) that never give a straight answer..it feels like reading a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Still, there is something alluring about this pulp, it's hard to define what makes it work despite massive flaws. It's a breeze to read, like reading a comic book. It hasn't aged well but now I know more about Elric, Yyrkoon, Stormbringer et al. I'd give it a 6.5 out of 10. It also makes me appreciate the more voluminous works of contemporary fantasy.

Also, I found a few packs of Magic: The Gathering 2012 in a small toy store, visited the ruins of a castle, and finally caved in and bought the latest Star Wars DVD set. More money for George Lucash, and an increase in geekery over the last couple of days. Also, sun and sea. Mmmmm... I wonder if there's news on The Winds of Winter. So long ago since I was online..literally days! Nah who am I kidding. We're all back to square one, in the midst of yet another long wait.