Friday, December 28, 2012

Ice & Fire bits of tid incoming

Time to steer this vessel back on course. I realize that my last posts have been desperately uninteresting and read more like a public diary, so I'll try to regain focus a bit. Originally, I made the blog just for re-reading A Game of Thrones, but as I'm a geek of many colors I have added a little bit of this and a little bit of that to the blog whenever I felt like it. I've perhaps shifted the focus too far toward being geeky and blabbering on and on about stuff you're probably not interested in. This blog was first and foremost about George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire novels, with a dash of other fantasy literature liberally sprinkled. I think I'm going to try and hold on to that course from now on - yeah, it's another New Year Resolution.


So to dive back into Martinland (one could wonder if we'll ever live to see a Westeros theme park, complete with a variety of torture instruments, great halls with sumptuous feasts for a price, an execution block where you can have your picture taken as you're beheaded just like Ned, brothels, mummers, employees wearing costumes and walking around like Patchface for example, a roller-coaster with wagons built to look like flying dragons - they can call it A Dance with Wagons, tumbling, taste-a-poison booths, a house of horror with wights, Others and huge amounts of discounted copies of Wild Cards books, and so on and so on), here's a few Ice and Fire - related bits of tid.

The master himself has been busy on his blog, even wishing his readers a Merry X-Mas. That's not bad! Instead of another sour life-is-misery post (like the ones I've been putting up this week, yes I recognize my own hypocrisy right here), he wishes his readers happy holidays. This is a step in the right direction. I am amazed that the master still believes in the Santa, however. I grew out of that particular faith when I was about six. And what did Santa bring him? As someone over at Is Winter Coming?, the world's premiere Ice and Fire-forum, called it, "loot from a Dungeons & Dragons game". He's still a boy at heart, just like myself he enjoys geeky presents. A dragon for his garden, books, monster movies...sounds good to me. I do question the gift of turtles, however. Did someone actually give him turtles, and if yes, was this a sly hint that there is, let's be honest, way too much focus on turtles in A Dance with Dragons? Or has the man perhaps become fascinated by turtles in general, hence why they feature so heavily in his last novel and now people are throwing turtles at him? Both explanations seem valid to me. I noticed in the comment one user dared ask for a new sample chapter. That's a great question, actually, Mr. Martin!

He's also posted about being number two after J.R.R. Tolkien; there's been a megapoll for the best fantasy of all time, and only The Lord of the Rings beat him. This is not a surprise; I remember back when I was reading A Storm of Swords for the very first time (oh to be a virgin) that Martin frequently ranked number two in similar polls. Well deserved, Mr. Martin, but ...

Actually, I tend to think that at least some of the people who voted for A GAME OF THRONES were voting for the entire series. Makes more sense that way. You will note that Tolkien's first place winner was LORD OF THE RINGS... they did not divide his novel into its three component volumes, but mine did get sliced into five separate entries, maybe because its unfinished as of yet.

...I have to disagree with this assessment. It's a nice try, but no. You are number two based on the quality and sheer entertainment that is A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. Yes, maybe some people thought of this entire series, I am well aware that there are a few fans of books four and five (and they are certainly better than many other offerings in the genre, no doubt), but it is without a doubt those first three books that have made him the successful author he has become, with a hell of a lot of help from his readers, who spread the word for him long before the general public caught on. Do I sound like a bitter Thrones vet now? That is not my intention. I do wonder, however, how the list would look if people could vote separately for The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King, as well as A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings etc. 
We *could* have seen A Storm of Swords topping the list, in fact. But coulds are coulds. Point is, the first three novels of Ice and Fire guarantees a top spot, and does in fact also guarantee that the rest of the books in the series - if they are ever published - will sell like lemon cakes.

I do like how mr. Martin gives his own top three, especially because these titles aren't all that mainstream - Lord of Light (in my to-read pile for 2013), The Stars My Destination and The Left Hand of Darkness (never heard of this one, but what a cool title eh). 
For me it's currently...well, the thing is that The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a complete ten-novel series that seems to get better for each time a person reads it, and though the series doesn't have the immediately entertaining power of Ice/Fire, and is full of all manner of high fantasy silliness, I feel that taken as a whole, mr. Steven Erikson may just deserve that first spot (no matter how hard it is to "discredit" The Lord of the Rings; I weep at the mere thought). But heck, Erikson is really going out of his way to create a distinctive, unique thing with a complexity and language not seen elsewhere. So I'm giving him the first spot, for the first time since I read Martin's books and decided I liked those better than Tolkien's. 


1. The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Steven Erikson
2. A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin
3. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien


In other Ice and Fire-related news, there have been a few more franchise releases since last I spoke of those, but not that many, actually. Green Ronin Publishing released another sourcebook for their role-playing game, The Night's Watch. It is available here. There's a PDF-version available as well.
Then there is the cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire, by two of Martin's female fans, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer (I bet Chelsea's happy having a Thrones-related name). They even managed to get in an introduction from Martin himself, but then again it shouldn't come as a surprise considering the book's subject material. It's a shame really how so many fans cash in on Martin these days.

Yes, that was tongue in cheek.

Then there's the map book of course, which I believe I've mentioned before. Still no interest in that one. It's the kind of product I really have no need for, but would have bought blindly if I was still crazy-obsessed with the series. 

Elsewise it's been quiet on the franchise front. No news from the upcoming MMO, the two existing video games based on the series already forgotten by most people (classics they were not) - Steam has got them both on sale, by the way, in a bundle. Do note that their scores are 58% (for the RPG) and 53% (for the strategy game) before you buy them. I feel the RPG is perhaps underrated and deserves a 10% or so more to its score, while the strategy game is vastly overrated at 53%.

Finally, there's the 2013 calendar which I'm sure is good, but the Lady Slynt bought me a cool 3D Star Wars calendar so I'm all set up. I wonder what 2013 will bring for fans of the franchise. It doesn't seem as expansive as the last years, does it?

We have, of course, season three of the TV series (just three months to go!), which probably will bring about a small torrent of related wares; new T-shirts, coffee mugs and crap like that. I guess Fire & Ice condoms don't count (please don't tell the pope I linked to these, he would be so upset). I believe Green Ronin have plans for more sourcebooks to be published for their tabletop RPG, but there's nothing solid that I'm aware of. There certainly won't be a new novel in the series to look forward to; The Winds of Winter, like the last two books, will take a while to get done, but I'm still hoping it won't be quite that long a wait as we've grown accustomed to. Where are the action figures? I'm still waiting for the action figures. I want action figures, dammit, Star Wars-style. When I was a kid I received for christmas a Darth Vader collector's case to put figures into, I want a similar one of Ned's decapitated head. Come on, Santa! 

Ho, ho...d'oh

I would buy action figures, you know. Especially of "cannon fodder" characters, say, action figures of House Lannister Knight, or House Stark Retainer, or House Frey Outrider etc. in addition to the named guys and gals. To make small medievally armies of action figures for display. Yes, I am aware I can buy knight miniatures like the man himself enjoys, but I prefer as you MAY have guessed by now action figures. With bendable joints. 

A pretty cool fan-made action figure.


If you feel there's too little good stuff coming out, you could try to mentally go back in time and be surprised and happy all over again, of course.



Resolutions

AH, at last, feeling much better, farewell worst christmas EVAR and let's face the last week of 2012 with zest and health and a reinvigorated drive. As for New Year's resolutions, I have "Read more and write more". Can't believe how few books I read this year. Fourteen books, and that includes a novella and several writing guides. Sigh.

Only fourteen volumes of lore have I completed, and I doubt I'll find the time to finish Blood & Bone before the end of the year (or the three books I'm currently alternating on the Kindle, Deadhouse Gates re-read, The Desert Spear, Darth Plagueis and the sequel to C.S. Friedman's Feast of Souls). Now I am not sure why I feel bad about having read only fourteen books. It's not like people around me in real life read more than me, or that it should somehow be considered "bad" to read little. But I want to improve my vocabulary and writing so I guess that's a good reason for feeling the urge to read more. On the other hand, there hasn't been that big an avalanche of must-reads and I feel I've devoured those novels I should, with a few exceptions I hope to correct in 2013 (books I just know I'll like but which I for some reason haven't bought or read yet - books like, oh, Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, Glen Cook's Black Company novels, Robin Hobb's dragon novels, Guy Gavriel Kay's novels, and so many, many more. Yeah, I am going for it. First Resolution: Read More. Problem with reading more is of course I have to do less of something else and that could fast become the writing bit. So though I'll go for a Second Resolution: Write More, I am not bolding it, baby. I probably also should quit  nicotine (I don't smoke, but I am grievously addicted to a little something we Scandinavians call 'snus'), watch more movies (I'm so out of the loop but maybe that's okay), and most important of all, he said, trying to sound like the lady of Lothlor√≠en, oh, yeah, dammit. It's so important actually it will be an official resolution. So I'm moving 'write more' to an unbolded third. Second resolution: Exercise thy body. More. Or die trying.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hey, it *is* a great game...[poof] aarrffff booo

Man, what a crappy week so far. Was looking forward to enjoy the celebrations and find time for geekery, but I've been down and out up until now. A couple of hours ago I finally began to regain some strength and appetite, and with that obviously the third vital element of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, geekery. First I played a couple of Magic Online-games. It's such an easy game to dip in and out of, and can be played while prone. I purchased (too many) booster packs of the latest set, Return to Ravnica, built a deck based on the new 'populate'-keyword, and to my surprise managed to win a couple of games with it. Then I decided I needed something more meaty. Now Steam's store has a lot of games sales during the holidays so I went there and decided to purchase Mass Effect, which I reckon is one of the few computer roleplaying games I haven't given a whirl. In addition to this first title the sales bundle also included Mass Effect 2: Digital Deluxe Edition, so what the hell. After the download it was time to get into this story. I was quite curious, knowing almost nothing about the game - only thing I've registered is that you play a main character named Shepard. Well, wow! I was thrown right into the story, and for an hour or so I was completely immersed. Great experience, and now I'm scratching my head wondering just how I've been avoiding this game for so long. Unfortunately after 55 minutes the game crashed hard. Reboot and retry and crash. Checking out support forums. Oh. My laptop isn't supposed to be running this game. But it ran so smooth, no graphic glitches, no audio problems, nothing! Buhuu. What a crappy christmas. 

It's time to invest in a new powerful stationary PC, no doubt. Running games on my job's laptop does limit my options with regards to games, graphics and lag and all that. On the other hand, PCs are expensive and should I end up with a monster (my previous monster having slowly died over the last couple of years and not really deserving the title 'monster' since, oh, 2003 or thereabouts) I have a suspicion it could threaten the balance of House Slynt (again). But dammit I want to continue Shepard's investigation of Eden Prime! Oh well. Kind of weird that the positively ancient Mass Effect (2008!!) doesn't want to run while Skyrim does. ME did run better, though, before crashing. Maybe I will have to dig deeper into trying to fix this problem. 

Sitting upright and writing all these words make me realize I'm on my way to getting better, and that's good. Maybe I'll even find the strength to read or listen to music. Seriously I've been a fricking wreck this christmas. It has been unprecious to me.

And now enough with the complaining and the poopoo, I wish you a happy new year and may 2013 bring some much needed enlightenment to many.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Revenge of the Holidays

That's what I get for bad-mouthing yuletide. Now I've come down with the flu. Nothing to be done for it but checking out some fantasy as I lie half comatose on the couch. Today's tryouts include Dungeons & Dragons Online (oh, I've tried it before but once again I have that RPG-itch) and a few other PCRPGs. I tried reading through that Edge of the Empire box I gave myself last night but I'm too, ah, flued, to be bothered. Brain not working much well.

Edit:
Now I don't really know why I haven't played D&DO more, it wasn't that bad once I got used to the frankly irritating equipment/inventory (small icons and not very intuitive); it runs very smoothly on this laptop (but oh how I miss my old dead XPS), and it scratched that dungeon crawling itch. I completed a dungeon, went into the second one but fell to a spider of some sort near the end of it. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Detestation of Yuletide

Seriously I'm not going on more rants for a while but I have to tell you that for all it's supposed goody goodyness I detest whatever you call that tradition which began with the Scandinavian god of fertility, Yule, and is also related to the Wiccan tradition of wreaths, the druidic tradition of mistletoe, the veneration of the god Saturn, Thor, Odin, St. Nicholas, Sleipnir, Mithras and finally Jesus Christ; call it what you will, yuletide, christmas, a happy holiday, winter solstice...it is a feast of gluttony with a message buried beneath heaps of presents, and it suffocates me with its traditional sweet songs, endless reruns of mind-numbing television programs, its religious icons and silly gnomes and santas. 
But the children love it, and everybody around me is deeply mired in the stranglehold of its capitalistic ideals, and so I endure it - in a brooding silence, happy for the days off work this holiday provides, opening up time for...you guessed it, geekery! So there's some good to be taken with the bad.

This year, to ensure I will have something to geek out on come the aforementioned exchanging of gifts, I have  bought a The Hobbit Gandalf action figure and wrapped it in paper and put under the tree, as well as a copy of the recently published Star Wars: Edge of the Empire - Beginner's Game from Fantasy Flight Games (which I am currently considering ripping open right now to have something to read; I've been hit by the flu and while the rest of the family is either preparing the traditional dinner or are outside playing in the tons of snow that have dropped from the sky over the last week, I'm stuck on the couch - fortunately, with my copy of Esslemont's Blood and Bone and my laptop). 

So no matter the amount of socks or gift cards are waiting for me beneath that silly decorated tree, I know there will be some geekery to enjoy the evening for me as well. I also noticed there's a sale on Guild Wars 2...dammit, I've been able to keep away from it so long, but it keeps calling to me...will I be able to resist the urge? Only time will tell. So in a way I am going against my own argument by buying into the trap of buying stuff, but I am kind of limiting myself to a few cheap items - while I see small kids receiving iPads and consoles and expensive stuff that could feed...ah, you know what I mean. Enough..

I hope you enjoy this time of the year more than I do, and with that I wish you a whatever holiday.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Prophetic Revelations

Well so much for December 21st 2012. Fortunately there are already countless other predictions, including one for tonight, so we may yet have a spectacular destruction of humanity. I'd hope that the Mayan calendar's innocence in all of this would lead to more people realizing that, 'Hey, maybe prophecies are nothing but misinterpreted folklore, rumors and hearsay', and rather start worrying about the actual state of the world instead of opting for the easy way out - 'Oh, you know, the world is going under anyway' - and help bring balance to nature. Now, personally, I am of the opinion that if people around the globe dared realize that we have this one life we may have had more charity, compassion, have a greater respect and appreciation for that frail thing called life. But as long as people let themselves be controlled by fear and manipulation - usually in the form of religion, but also other 'supernatural' phenomena long ago debunked by science like astrology - there will be blood. 

In that deliciousest of genres (fantasy in case you were wondering), however, prophecies - often about end times - are often a vital part of the story, as they ground the work in that 'mythical' quality. Hence I can enjoy a good prophecy but I don't buy them anymore than I do, say, an underground kingdom of dwarven miners or a dragon. It's all fantasy. And most fantasy stories take cues from mythology, folklore, and religion. I can enjoy them for what they are and I never expect the author to assume I believe in his stories; I just suspend my disbelief for a while. Now if people could do this to all these ancient mythological texts from all over the world - read them for what they are but not taking them literally or seriously...

Mr. Martin is perhaps the fantasy author who best handles prophecies in his work, A Song of Ice and Fire. He shows how characters try to use prophecies to their own advantage (like people writing books on the end of the world to earn money), shows how prophecies are transformed through history (perhaps not even being prophecies in the first place, but having become interpreted as such at a later time), and sometimes - and this is the fantasy part I guess - having prophecies come true, only in a slightly different way (the setting of the sun in the east). Erikson, too, toys with these things but on a whole different level, as his history stretches for unimaginable long periods of time with characters often living through it all. His Forge of Darkness is a good example showing how history morphs truth, which is what is happening in the real world with Mayan culture, cultures from the Middle East and so on and so forth.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy doomsday

I kind of expected more panic and wild uncontrollable masses flooding the news media today, but hey, there are still a few hours left. Maybe people are tired of doomsday predictions, there's more than enough of them for everyone.
Now as I mentioned earlier I used to be in the camp that thought something would happen, if not an apocalyptic mass destruction, but looking out the window I see snowflakes whirling serenely down and if there was an asteroid or whatever on its way we'd probably have heard it by now from any person with a telescope. 
There are so many suggestions for what can happen, if there are enough suggestions maybe one of them does happen - only, most of the suggestions are really really far out there; there are those who believe we'll be visited by aliens today (which would be totally interesting), some believe we'll see Jesus Christ return to Earth (these two could easily combine into one really); earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and so and so forth; no weather reports indicate any of these, by the way. Of course, surprise tsunamis are known to happen, but if one shows itself today, I am inclined to think pure coincidence, which most of the universe consists of anyway.

Anyway. I felt like doing a post on this day. I've "known" about the date - the Mayan calendar's 13th bak'tun ending, that is - for decades so even though it's likely going to be your average Friday it kind of feels like a special day anyway. Also, yuletide is almost upon us, and like always I sincerely hope for something geeky under the tree, though I know I will end up with socks, boxer shorts, maybe a deodorant and a sweater I'll never wear (because it is probably white and I am dangerous deviant wearing black exclusively). It's hard to wish for geeky stuff 'cause no one in my family have the slightest idea what I'm into beyond knowing I read wacky books (and write about them, too). It's so much easier to buy this stuff myself. Living in the cold harsh North of Europe, getting cool geekstuff means going online to order, and this is another hurdle for others.

I'd probably wish for a new boardgame of the fantasy type, or some cool miniatures I could use for RPGs, or a copy of Star Wars The Roleplaying Game: Second Edition from ebay because I lost mine; or how about a bunch of underground extreme metal CDs not available beyond the Internet's specialized shops? In my hometown the most obscure thing you can buy is a shop that sells magazines from the UK. Yay. So that's why I am now going to visit a few of my favorite webshops - Noble Knight for out-of-print board- and roleplaying games, Hell's Headbangers for evil music, ebay for whatever, etc. and see if I can buy myself a nice geeky present. 

Twenty years ago or so I got a great geek gift - my first own copy of The Lord of the Rings. Was a great night. Family was enjoying themselves, and I was hiding in a corner losing myself in Tolkien's magnificently realized Middle-earth. It's one of the few presents I remember lovingly (aside from all the Star Wars toys I got as a kid); but this year I haven't asked for anything geeky, and now I regret it. So here we go...

...and should the world still exist beyond the next couple of hours I am going to do a new A Storm of Swords post because, wow, it's been a while and stuff.

Happy holidays. May it bring you something otherworldly wrapped in gift paper.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

At Year's End

Many moons ago, I was made aware of the Mayan calendar and, you guessed it, all the associated 'end time' - prophecies and interpretations. It scared me, I admit. It is easy to be scared when all you hear is doom and gloom, and you forget for that one moment to think and rationalize, and go looking for the evidence supporting these claims. It is actually kind of strange to think that today, we are but two days away from the "dreaded date". Ten-fifteen years ago I'd probably be nervous. 
Fortunately I have developed a more healthy view on everything reeking of fear-mongering, propaganda, pseudoscience (though I can't shake the feeling those Ancient Aliens-folks, for all their fallacious research, may be on to something), religion and distortions of truth. If you're not keeping a cool head while traversing the Internet you might just be sucked in by an idea or suggestion and fall for it, never bothering to read up on counterarguments to make up your own opinion. 
I'm glad I've looked into the Mayan 2012 research, on both sides. And while it is still scary to read books I remind myself that these authors seldom come with scientific evidence but bring out their arguments using a language that draws you in and makes you forget to consider the truthfulness. 
If you go out onto the web to find fatalistic material concerning the end of the world, you will find it. But if you go out and look for scientific argumentation against this supposed cataclysm in two days' time, you will find that as well. Meaning that nobody can really know how December the 21st, 2012 will turn out until we actually experience the day, only one side have provided a number of arguments that it will be a regular day, so I guess statistically the chances are best for a regular day. 
Still, the more we ravage the Earth, the closer we come to the day that it will happen (and it seems that it will happen eventually). We're a sad bunch, really. 

Anyway, that was an enormous digression. I wrote the title for this post, 'At Year's End' to present a couple of my personal "Best of the Year"-lists, but as I wrote it my mind automagically turned to the Mayan calendar. So yeah, it's certainly on my mind even though I dismiss the idea (I mean, how many supposed doomsdays have we missed already?). And yet, and yet ... the thought keeps nagging at me, it's gloomy allure keeping hold of me, and when I see on the news that people have built shelters and stocked food supplies...I wonder. If a big change is coming for humanity in two days I hope it's definitive evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. That would change many people's perspectives, hopefully (unless said intelligence is out to destroy us, that would be disappointing). 

And there I digressed again. All right, some geeky 'Best of the Year' lists. These are personal. I really haven't read as much as I should this year, so the list is based on very few reads. Not all items are actually from 2012 either, but I experienced them for the first time in 2012.

BEST NOVEL OF THE YEAR:
1. 'Forge of Darkness', Steven Erikson - Dark and complex, philosophical and fantastical. 
2. 'Blood and Bone', Ian C. Esslemont - Not quite finished it, but it's definitely his best. Review coming soon.
3. 'Red Country', Joe Abercrombie - Say one thing about Joe, say he's darkly funny.

BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR:
1. Snow White and the Huntsman: Fairy tale mixed up with Martinesque (in)sensibilities. Great stuff.
2. The Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists! 

I'm afraid those two are the only really good movies of 2012 that I've seen. I guess I could put The Hobbit on number three, but it really wasn't all that. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted was also quite entertaining and got some chuckles out of me, as did Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. Say one thing about being a father, say you don't watch that many movies anymore and when you do watch one, it's usually one for the children. I do have a few films lying about waiting to be seen, including the third Batman

BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
1. My Dying Bride, 'A Map of All Our Failures' - A dark and ponderous, beautiful and harrowing experience. My favorite band delivered this year, though it sure as strawberries isn't for everyone.
2. Enslaved, 'RIITIIR' - progressive Norse black metal of beauty and originality. 
3. Deathhammer, 'Onward to the Pits' - this is just crazy no frills old school thrash/death metal with the sickest vocals since Paul Bailoff did Exodus' 'Bonded by Blood'.

As passionate as I am about rebellious music, there were a lot of runner-ups for this category. What a great year for extreme music! New works from Desaster, Kreator, Nekromantheon, Nile, Testament, Dawnbringer, Witchtrap, Paradise Lost, Angantyr, Gorod, Moonspell, Hammercult, Angel Witch, Lich King, Pharaoh etc etc etc and even more etc were all worthwhile listens and showed once again that metal never dies (it just dozed off for a couple of years mid-nineties unless you were into it). 

BEST GAME OF THE YEAR:
1. Legend of Grimrock
2. War of the Roses
3. Crusader Kings II

Haven't played much new games this year either. The last months I've been re-investigating old RPGs mostly, from hoary almost unplayables like The Ishar Trilogy (a bargain over at gog.com) to still relevant titles like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate. My Magic: Online fetish fortunately came to and end about half a year ago after having spent truckloads of money on digital cards (I get nauseous just thinking about it); still, I can envision myself lying back in the couch with a game or two in the upcoming holiday but I really really want to avoid spending more money on it. Finally I also tested a fair number of free-to-play MMOs this year, including both Everquests, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Star Wars: The Old Republic and others with none of them able to scratch the roleplaying itch that so often overwhelms me (although there was a time I never knew that sensation as I was gaming all the time). My brief return to World of Warcraft to finally visit the Cataclysm zones was more a guilty pleasure than a fun experience. 

So, what's up for next year, assuming there is a next year? I'm looking forward to the massively multiplayer Neverwinter, indie-RPGs like Project Eternity, the second The Hobbit-movie (has to be better, it must), I don't even know if there's any other geek movie (fantasy movie) coming in 2013, I do hope so of course. There will probably be great quantities of metal albums released next year as well so I am not worried about that. As for novels, I really don't know what to expect. I hope Erikson publishes the sequel to Forge, which is to be entitled Fall of Light, and maybe Esslemont pushes out another Malazan Empire-novel. I guess we won't read anything new from Martin, Abercrombie and Rothfuss. Fortunately, my to-read pile is large enough for many years. 

I am curious about Fantasy Flight Games' new Star Wars RPG, Edge of the Empire, which was published two days ago, I believe. And of course, I guess 2013 will bring us updates on Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII - for good or for ill. 

Oh, and I almost forget - there is of course the third season of Game of Thrones. I haven't really been paying attention like a true fanboy this year, but I know the first production videos have rolled out to whip up excitement. I found they kind of missed the beat with season two, but hope that the third season will be closer to the source material.

If there's anything fantasy or geeky that's coming up in 2013 that I should be aware of, feel free to leave a comment :) It's hard keeping up with it all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A little more venting.

Today they are giving us some information about the insane murderer. In Norwegian newspapers we learn that the boy/young man/lunatic played role-playing games, computer games and was "a deviant in black clothes".
So far, that description fits me like a glove. So why does the media always and ever go into these details? I just don't understand it. It makes me so angry. The media.
Here we have a deeply traumatizing tragedy of the worst proportions, and within days the media finds it necessary to inform us that this person played role-playing games and dressed in black.
Will this lead to eighties-style persecution of Dungeons & Dragons-players? Will some heavy metal artist be blamed for the murders? Sigh. Sometimes it feels as if I am living in an alternate dimension where everything is fricking stupid.

I hate it when this happens (and it does a lot) - last year's mass murderer Anders Breivik (the 22th July shooting in Norway) was repeatedly portrayed in the media as a World of Warcraft-gamer. To what purpose, I don't know. There are at least ten million Warcraft-nerds who didn't go berserk, though. 
And only the finest people wear black.

Damn.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy upon tragedy

[Like GRRM I'm going to talk about something completely unrelated here. Just have to get some things off my chest. It's not often that I use this blog for political/religious commentary but I feel it's warranted this time. Really don't feel like geeking out today anyway.]

The tragedy at Sandy Hook has me a bit out of the loop - the vile actions against the innocent, the unimaginable loss and sorrow - and also how various factions in America are (ab)using the massacre to put forth their political or religious views which sickens and frightens me. Watching it from the other side of the Atlantic I cannot help but think that, for all the great things America stands for, there's a whole lot of people over the sea who behave as if they lived in an underdeveloped desert nation. 

Especially eyebrow-raising are the religious commentators who link the school shooting to their ideas that there should be more god in schools (their particular version of god I can only assume). And here I thought their deity was omnipotent and all-present. To me, reading stuff like this is just like reading "American politicians claim that if kids had been a bit nicer, Santa Claus wouldn't have had to make an example at Sandy Hook". Yes, that silly. But the Santa and god's absence from this tragic event - and other tragic events - is one big huge honking signal that they do in fact not exist. Not that it really matters - it's about people, and in this case people willing to use a terrible unfathomable tragedy to further their own causes and agendas. It's a sick world, all right. 

What about the availability of fricking firearms? Surely there is a correlation between the number of shootings and the number of shooters? When the obvious is so obvious why do people go around it and invent bizarre, nonsensical suggestions? 

Keeping god in schools would prevent such things? Then I wonder just how many cases of child molestation god has prevented in churches and other religious places over the years. The rise of secularization and atheism causes such a tragedy? You don't need gods to have morals. I'm a moral person, and I have never ever believed in the existence of Odin, Zeus, or Huitzilopochtli. What makes a person commit such terrible crimes (and I am obviously reminded of the tragedy in Norway last year where seventy people were brutally murdered) is that these murderers are having complex and disturbing mental problems and these weren't discovered - or bothered with - before it was too late. 

When someone says "How can such a thing happen?" it has become a kind of knee-jerk reaction, because it is so tragic you don't know what to say, but I hope most people really do know that there's a variety of complex factors involved in developing a sick mind to the point that it results in a tragedy. Saying "It's god's plan" is a cop-out that goes against all morality and logic, because there is so obviously no fricking plan beyond the deluded criminal's ill-made decisions. If, according to some speakers in the public sphere, god did have a plan and that plan was to have twenty young children brutally killed to tell us there's too little of him in school, it makes no sense. First of all, these children were innocent; they never decided how much god there should be in their school. Second, it makes god just as vile and vengeful and spiteful as he is portrayed in the bible, which for all purposes can be discounted as a reliable source. Third, and hey I've come full circle, it's just an excuse to further certain people's own agendas and that is what is so frightening about America as I see it (from a distance). 

Facebook, Twitter, blogs...they are full of people who devote their prayers to the victims of Sandy Hook. It is well meant, I am sure, but prayers are notorious for not, you know, actually working, and it doesn't help anyway. Instead of prayers how about sending a card to one of the bereft families? They can hear your empathy, while the sky wizard remains undeniably silent.

To quote an Internet person and to round off this little post:

"Religion has absolutely nothing to do with this. Morality, kindness, tenderness, charity, forgiveness, courage, bravery; these traits are not in any way the sole province of religion. All of these things can and should be taught to children regardless of whether or not their parents believe in an all-powerful, omniscient super-being."

The murdered children are getting the best Christmas present ever. Put this guy away, please. Wake up. Smell the fricking coffee.

Peace out.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Review] The Hobbit

There will be [movie] spoilers.

So, I finally got around to watch The Hobbit in the local cinema last night. 'Finally' sounds kind of weird a word to use considering the film's been out for one day; and it also doesn't really work in the sense that I've long been anticipating this release because I really haven't. Didn't get hyped up until a couple of weeks ago, and then only mildly.
I didn't have any high expectations because I've been quite convinced all the way that The Hobbit wouldn't be able to live up to the previous trilogy, even though that one had its flaws as well.
Of the things I was (mildly) concerned about were the Dwarves, who in previews and promotional pictures seemed 'off', the integration of this film into the overall story-line followed up with The Lord of the Rings, the (ab)use of CGI, and blunt links to the first three movies (you know, nod nod wink wink). Of these four concerns, the film surprised me positively on one of these points, while the three others were as I had feared.

The Dwarves turned out to be quite enjoyable entertainment, and with some excellent acting too - both Thorin Oakenshield and Balin were portrayed in a manner that made me believe in them (the other Dwarves were relegated to the background mostly, though we got a few scenes with the two least Dwarf-looking of them all); the makeup and their movements were far more convincing on the screen than in the previews and pictures, so that was a relief. Also, perhaps surprisingly perhaps not, Jackson didn't go entirely in the 'dwarves are a joke' trap like he did with Gimli son of Glo√≠n in The Two Towers and Return of the King. There are a few comedy bits here and there (few got laughs from the audience, however; the laughs were mostly reserved for Bilbo Baggins himself), but Jackson manages to portray the Dwarves in a more sober manner, tying them closer to the vision of Tolkien - fortunately. In a few flashback scenes with the Dwarves of Erebor we get to see them being great fighters, durable workers and hoarders of riches. Thorin Oakenshield has a strong presence throughout the movie to the point the film could almost have worked as The Dwarf Prince (in fact I felt that Bilbo was underrepresented in this film). Yay for the Dwarves then, mostly. 

I was worried that Jackson would take The Hobbit and build it to be too similar to The Lord of the Rings, and he did. Instead of giving the film (and the two sequels to come) a stronger identity of its own it feels more like a fourth LOTR movie. The references to the existing trilogy come hard and fast, especially in the first half of the film, to the point that it becomes a little bit silly. Entire lines of dialogue are lifted from the original trilogy (feels so weird to call it original trilogy - that's a title reserved for Star Wars isn't it), many of the large-scale scenes are set up to be as epic as those of the three first films (which hurts the film more than it does good, in my opinion, more on that later); and frankly the film throws us one too many familiar face from the originals as well - to the point of the audience laughing during the scene at Rivendell where Elrond introduces Galadriel who was brought there by Sarumann. The scene is clunky because they all show up conveniently and quickly. Of course, The Hobbit does feature Lord Elrond and Rivendell but I feel the film takes it too far in connecting it to Fellowship of the Ring which I find unnecessary. 

There are some nods and winks that do work, however; the entire opening sequence where they go back to the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring but show us different scenes works wonderfully and helped settle me back into Middle-earth; as an example we got to see Frodo hang up the "No admittance except on party business" - sign on Bilbo's fence gate. A natural tie to the first of the films which is fun for those who can run Fellowship through their heads and not a problem for those who don't see the link. 
Gandalf banging his head in the lamp in Bilbo's hallway is another little nod that works in context.

The CGI was one of the biggest problems for me personally. It was also one of the things that bothered me a lot with LOTR. I felt, however, as if Jackson turned it up yet another notch with The Hobbit which I find wrong; The Hobbit should be more subdued, less epic, to allow him to build toward the next two films and the next trilogy in the sequence. Instead, endless hordes of CGI orcses are thrown at us; we're given more wargs (design-wise a big step up from the criminally stupid looking wargs of The Two Towers, but looking just as fake); Goblin-town is basically a repetition of the flight from Moria but with yet more CGI stupidity and unbelievable heroics; while the party does see giants in the mountains in the novel, it doesn't mean Jackson has to give us mountain-sized rocks in the shapes of men throwing rocks at each other only for the spectacle - their appearance is a scene devoid of emotional impact but hey, I am more thirty-eight than I am thirty-six now, and the kids probably gobble this up. The mountain giant scene is a good example of what went wrong here. A display of CGI that doesn't look too bad, but neither does it look convincing; the absurd epicness of it taking away from the dramatic impact; excising the giants and have Bilbo simply slip off the ledge would have been infinitely more exciting than having the party "surf" crashing mountain slopes (similar to the fellowship surfing bridge pieces in Moria in Fellowship). 

To further illustrate the point, consider the finest scenes of The Hobbit. All of them are about character, all of them are scenes that advance the plot and gives us insight: the riddle scene with Bilbo and Gollum is the best example. Yes, CGI is used for Gollum but in this case there's dialogue, there's tension, there's drama, there's characterization. Effects support the story here, and the audience grew quiet and apprehensive, interested in the riddle game. It drew us right back in after a long stretch of endless boring scenes of cartoon characters fighting other cartoon characters usually viewed from a distance to encompass the epicness of it all. Other good scenes are mostly found in the first half, with limited special effects; the Dwarves ringing on Bilbo's bell, the party crossing country on horse and bantering on their way; really, the first half or so of the film almost reaches the excellence of Fellowship of the Ring, while the second half takes on all the flaws that made, in my opinion, The Two Towers and Return of the King less interesting.

Azog, then; the freaking big orc thing with more than a passing resemblance to Voldemort, is another example where CGI ruins the immersion. He looked kind of awesome in his first scene (flashback scene where he decimates Dwarves left and right) but devolves into an uninteresting foil for Thorin Oakenshield, never looking quite real as he rides his cartoon wolf in pursuit. The whole Azog subplot added to The Hobbit is tacked on to pad the film, and though Azog is a Tolkien invention, the film could just as well have done without him. His motivation is simple, kill the Oakenshield because he took off my arm, there's no development or anything with Azog. He's just... there. To suck. 

Seems I already have covered my concerns for the 'blunt links' upward of this sentence so I won't rehash that. Let me quickly drop in a few more thoughts and objections before coming to a conclusion.

Radagast was, in my opinion, just so unexpectedly off course that I didn't know what to make of his scenes at first. Somewhat amusing, but so far out from what we know of the five great Wizards of Middle-earth that, well yes, they took him too far. They are taking most things too far in this film, don't they? Just look at the dish washing scene with the Dwarves throwing around plates and cups and utensils. Was that really necessary? I understand doing the dishes is an important part (it featured in Fellowship as well, remember) and it's the small things that keep the darkness at bay, but making an unbelievable sequence out of it just for the sake of...I don't know why really Jackson deemed it important to show us how good the Dwarves are at throwing kitchen supplies around in a totally disruptive, unbelievable manner. Their escape from Goblin-town: way over the top with gravity-defying feats of acrobatics,taking away any real emotional punch and thus feels as immersive as the lifeless CGI worlds of prequel Star Wars

However, unlike George Lucas' prequel trilogies, The Hobbit has some excellent actors working for it. Martin Freeman inhabits the role of Bilbo Baggins satisfyingly, down to the quirks first employed by Ian Holm (who made a, for me, surprising appearance); it is also Martin's facial expressions and earthly lines of dialogue that generate the most laughs and I suppose empathy from the audience. He should have been more prominent throughout the entire film; he's the winner.
The guy who plays Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage, likewise does an excellent job of inhabiting the character, coming off as both heroic, a leader and a Dwarf. 
The old crew - Ian McKellen specifically - repeat their roles, with Gandalf occasionally spouting similar or exact lines from the Rings movies; the repeat of his 'do not take me for a conjurer of cheap tricks' - cheap trick was especially annoying, because it didn't feel right in the context and it takes away from the first time he does this in Fellowship. Sarumann and Galadriel and Elrond all feel stilted, unnecessary and the movie could have done just fine without them - one of them would've been enough, and that would've been Elrond. They did a good job making them look younger than in the Rings with the exception of Gandalf who looks older and Bilbo who looks right but sounds ten years older instead of younger. Minor minor niggles, just occurred to me so I wrote it down. Elijah Wood was almost as awkward as he was in the first films, but if you blink you'll miss him. He didn't have to utter the word molldor though, that's a good thing.

Ack, so much silliness in this film. I truly wonder in some instances how Jackson could come to the conclusion this or that was a good choice. I was surprised to see the characters coming within sight of Erebor toward the end of the film (and why those stupid eagles set them down on a fricking tall plateau instead of, you know, on the ground) when we have potentially six hours more of movie ahead. Also surprised to have Bilbo find the ring so early on, I believed it would be the centerpiece of episode two. Anyway, no need complaining about what could have been, or what is missing, or what have you. What we got was a deeply flawed movie with some great acting, some good scenes...

...when the end credits of Fellowship of the Ring began rolling back in 2001, I had tears in my eyes. The film had sped past and suddenly we had come to the end of the first part of the story. Even though it had its problems - similar to The Hobbit's in fact - it was a heart-warming adaptation of Tolkien's book and still the best of them in my opinion. When The Hobbit's end credits began rolling last night, I was relieved it was over. The film dragged, and I mean dragged, for long periods. By the end I was so tired of the impossible battles, one after the other, with nothing of worth happening, that I was glad it was over. I overheard a few kids in the hallway today speaking excitedly about the film, but even they seemed to agree that it was a CGI overkill and that by the end they'd had more than enough; also they seemed to agree with me that it is the first half, the build-up and characterization, that was where the movie was at its best.

I do remain a geek and will probably watch it one more to re-evaluate my first opinions. I know I was just as bummed out after The Two Towers but that film grew on me. It also struggled with pacing, overblown CGI, stretches of plodding etc. but it did have a stronger story to tell. 

The most irritating part of the story, however, remains an invention of J.R.R. Tolkien, however: those fricking Deus Ex Eagles, always coming just in the nick of time to save everyone from certain doom. Already employed in Return of the King, their return here becomes, even if they did appear in the books as well, a bit of an eye-rolling event. The scene also shows - again - how bigger and better is not more exciting. The Dwarves are on a precipice, everything is burning down around them, orcs and wargs aplenty, there's always someone dangling above dizzying heights, it gets boring and repetitive. It's in these cases Jackson should consider deviating from the plot to bring us something fresh; as it stands, The Hobbit, especially to people only used to the films, will feel like nothing but a rip-off. Compare it to Fellowship: Both begin with an introduction of ye olden days with cgi battle aplenty; both continue in the Shire with the Hobbits; both have treacherous walkways through the mountains with rocks/ice dropping down on them; both have a vast underground realm of goblins through which the party fights; dialogue is repeated, character facial expressions are repeated; both have Rivendell at the centre with Elrond; this is where Jackson could have tried to make things a little different (but not too different). Oh wait I wasn't finishing bashing those damned eagles. They are so contrived, they do still not look that realistic; Tolkien could have written significantly shorter books based on their existence. "In the ground there was a hole...there lived a hobbit. One day a wizard and thirteen dwarves showed up. The hobbit decided to go on an adventure with them. Gandalf whistled and big fricking eagles came down and carried them to the gates of Erebor." Same goes for LOTR, why didn't those eagles fly Frodo at least some of that horrendously long way to Molldor? Had I made The Hobbit I certainly wouldn't reintroduce these big birds. 

It is all so blown up, so overly dramatic without becoming more believable, so...annoying that they couldn't do the book justice. Two more things that I feel ruined the experience: Reusing music exactly as it was written for LOTR seems to me a cop-out. In some cases it is warranted, like hearing the theme of the Elves when Thranduil the Woodland King arrives (he was cool), but it is never subdued or altered a little to make it unique; it sounds like they just added directly from the LOTR soundtrack CDs; there is an epic choral moment from The Two Towers that gets repeated in an entirely different context in The Hobbit and it is grating. It is like when they copy/paste Yoda's theme over a totally unrelated bit (the droid factory video game sequence) in Attack of the Clones. Bah!

Another thing that looked fricking silly to me was when the party went to Rivendell; first, they are out on a wide open plain eerily similar to Rohan in The Two Towers (probably same shooting location?), they fall down a cave, follow a crevice and suddenly they are in Imladris, bounteous and lush, as if they stepped through some fricking portal. Or Warren. Yes, yes...a Malazan movie would be cool...so cool....

Arf, I think I'll leave it at this, though there's even more to be said. I've never hated on the LOTR films like many Tolkien-fanatics seem to do; I liked them for what they were, and agreed to many of the deviations Jackson devised for his movies. But in The Hobbit I am afraid he fails to sell his vision to me.

I'd give it a 6 out of 10. I am very surprised to see so many raving reviews over at imdb.com



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Geek rhymes with

Yeah, see? I knew it was going to happen. Settled down in the couch last night to learn a little bit more about scripting dialogue and events in Neverwinter Nights, and after a little while I was done with it. I just turned the computer off and was satisfied with my brief stint into trying out the toolset. I'm like a horde of locusts. And now to devour the next geeky thing, consume and ravage until done, and move on. The next big thing will be The Hobbit I presume; there are six new clips available and I must admit I was entertained, not in a oh glorious Tolkien, lord of linguistics and love for nature, thy word is poetry way but still. Seems like solid entertainment for what it is. There's also a twenty minute long behind-the-scenes thing with some interesting footage. Another geeky thing to look forward to is Project Eternity. Don't know what it is but have fond memories of Baldur's Gate and Planescape:Torment? Check it out!

My reading has slowed down this week due to me fiddling with Neverwinter Nights and having a lot to do at work; I'm about 120 pages into Esslemont's latest Malazan Empire offering, Blood and Bone and it is rather interesting so far, with some interesting new and old characters, new sites, mysteries and crazy magic going crazy. The Darth Plagueis novel which I started in my excitement over the news of new Star Wars films has pretty much stalled, due to the text being so utterly dry and boring - it's like the author took one of those Ghostbusters-suck-guns and sucked all the magic and fantasy out of the space fantasy and we're left with, eh, space. A space full of tangled boring sentences with the emotional punch of a piece of toilet paper. Or something like that. Let me give you an example of dialogue found within this tome of Sith lore, which rivals even the prequel movies in being stilted and not really how a character should sound:
Veruna laughed shortly.
"Would that it were as simple as that. The problem is that Kim knows about our separate arrangements, and intends to use this opportunity to send a message to the Trade Federation - as well as to Tapalo's detractors - that Naboo will no longer allow itself to be exploited." He inhaled deeply (no wonder!) "Recalling him from Coruscant would be tantamount to admitting that Naboo remains at the mercy of the Trade Federation, and might jeopardize our standing with many of the trade worlds on whom we have come to depend."
Okay, this is a politican talking but come on. Sometimes I like to pretend this book is called Darth Exposition.
Anyway, I said in an earlier post I would most likely finish this one but now I'm not so sure anymore.

And what about the realm of A Song of Ice and Fire, the very saga that shat this blog out onto the Internet (like so many other blogs and sites)? Any news to be had here? Well, let's head on over to mr. Martin's blog, unique in its decades-old design and bold in its totalitarian approach.

There's an app for people in the United States (but not for Android users). An official Ice & Fire app, for about 50% of the fans. I'm filing it away under 'not that interesting'. 
A post about Season Three of the TV show complete with embedded video. Impressive! Not that assistant Ty can add videos to the site, but that the site actually doesn't break down due to the implementation of such advanced technology. Ah, I am but a bitter man trying to bash George over the design of his website. It's not fair of me, really I see that. 

Mmm, not much interesting news over there, then. All is as it has been since 1999 or thereabouts. Say one thing about Martin, say he goes against the stream. In our rapidly developing society with continuous advances in science (good old proven-to-work science! I love thee) Martin slows everything down to a crawl. So against the stream we must go, something I usually do this time of the year as everyone gets into that hypocritical christmas/holiday/whatever-spirit and I'm like, MAGOO!

Official Ice & Fire app...I scoff. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cold hands

Winter is coming, some say, and is winter coming? some ask but I'll tell you it's pretty frigid cold in the north these days. Winter is simply here (but no winds). We've had a couple of days now with minus 21 celsius (that is, according to an online converter, something like -5,8000 Fahrenheit which doesn't sound that bad really), and that's cold. It's so cold I wish Martin and other fantasy authors dropped by to really feel it. They would perhaps reconsider some of the actions their characters undertake in the icy parts of their settings ^^

When it's as cold as it is now, most days are spent inside, giving rise to geekery, obviously. My latest infatuation is with the 'Aurora toolset', software that allows you to build your own adventure modules for the Neverwinter Nights game. Don't know why or how I happened to get into that. I did buy the game upon its release back in 2002 but never really played it. Seems that was a mistake; making adventures is quite interesting (although the scripting is difficult for a half-geek) and the main game itself is also not too bad an experience. It scratches the fantasy itch, at any rate. 

I am aware there are player-built modules based on A Song of Ice and Fire but haven't tried them out yet (I did download and try the Game of Thrones-module for the excellent strategy game Crusader Kings II, however, the mod being infinitely better than both official computer games based on the franchise, Genesis and Game of Thrones). 
Currently I am trying to adapt a Dungeons & Dragons module, Barrow of the Forgotten King, which I see as a way of learning the tricks of the software by doing. And learning by doing is good. If I still have the zeal later on (which I probably don't have as I'm a fantasy slut and jump all over the place in my pursuit of the fantasy fix) I am going to try to adapt Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire adventure, Perils of King's Landing. Maybe. If I do and finish it I'll publish it online for people to try, of course. 

Nah, I'm probably fed up by then. Always so excited about something and then the next thing comes along. Frustrating, really. And now we're a week away from The Hobbit. If I know myself somewhat well it will most likely trigger an urge to either play The One Ring, re-read The Lord of the Rings, or at the very least go online to bitch about how stupid the dwarves look.

...or maybe pick up A Storm of Swords for another chapter of re-readingness. What a book.