Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013>2014

We're less than two hours away from 2014 in the northern hemisphere at least, and people are already sending up their money in the form of firecrackers. December 31st is a day of reflection and when looking back at 2013 with my geek-glasses on, I can honestly say that '13 wasn't the most memorable of years. Not that it was bad - but was there anything outstanding?

In fantasy literature, there have been a few titles released but I think I only own one - The Red Knight, which I haven't read yet. Oh, wait - Ian C. Esslemont's Blood & Bone of course. No wait again, that's a 2012 title right? I was thinking of Red Country (Joe Abercrombie) as well, but that one's a 2012 release as well. That was a good year. That was a nice read, and probably his best. I guess the Dangerous Women anthology I am currently reading is a contender. As was the The Making of Return of the Jedi book. But both of them aren't novels

In fantasy movies, well, there was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Aside from the wonderful coolness of the word 'desolation', it wasn't very good. There were probably other good movies but when does one have time these days for movies? 

In fantasy computer gaming, there wasn't much at all. There was, but not anything a grognard such as myself found interesting enough to throw money at (though 2014 looks more promising in that regard!). 

I am left with Game of Thrones' third season as the main fantamagimminy of 2013, and it was a fantastic season for many reasons so well deserved. I am looking forward to new novels by Erikson and Esslemont (and one can hope Martin against all hope), games like Everquest Next and The Elder Scrolls Online and Legend of Grimrock 2, and tomorrow we can all happily say, "next year we'll see Star Wars Episode VII". 

One final note - the realm of heavy metal never dissapoints, as my three favorite albums of the year 2013 can attest to: Watain's The Wild Hunt, Carcass' Surgical Steel and My Dying Bride's EP The Manuscript.

Go 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sherrilyn Kenyon's "Hell Hath no Fury"

Well, all right, this one was a bit different in style and tone from most of the other short stories, in that it was a quick read with little character development and a fairly predictable plot. Think The Blair Witch Project as its main influence but with a flair of magic to it. I can't really say much about it without spoiling the plot, but I have to say it is not a favorite. For some reason, it just didn't grab me the way some of the other stories did. It did not build up a rationale for the characters' Ghost Busters-like operations, and at least one story point felt too predictable within such a short story, it was as if everything had to be related/connected, if you know what I mean. In short, I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief. Still, a nice piece, no doubt, but compared to some of the high quality stories in Dangerous Women it fell short.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Diana Gabaldon's "Virgins"

Christmas is taking a toll on my geek habits, so there's been little reading and less gaming, but I had a great time last night when I played with an old band at a local reunion show with other acts from yore. Great to meet old friends and great to see that our songs written in '93-'95 still go over well. I have a headache almost comparable to Ned Stark's.
I have finished Virgins, though, which took me a while not just because it was a little bit longer (or it felt that way) and because the author employs dialect and slang in the characters' dialogue which made it a bit hard for me to read. The plot itself is rather simple, but embellished with a strong sense of time and place, making it, along with Nora's Song and A Queen in Exile  historical fiction. I liked it well enough, and here we have a few male characters who are actually not sex machines, so that's good...but the story didn't really grab me, and I am not sure why. It was a little bit too long, perhaps, and dry kind of. The title of the story didn't really come through thematically, or at least I wasn't aware of it, and I found myself a little confused over certain aspects of the tale, mainly the femme fatale. Next up is Hell Hath No Fury. And inching closer to George R.R. Martin's contribution.
Other contributions from the main man include a happy x-mas message (if I were his PR consultant I'd probably advise him to gift his devoted fans a sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, or an update on the progress), yet another football post and this year's big new category of Not-a-Blog-posts, posts about his cinema. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Game of Thrones on the big screen. I am sure that if HBO struck a good deal, setting up a few more runs of the series in cinemas around the world could prove a big success. Moderately big, anyway.

Not much geekery, then, but a whole lotta metal. And I can certainly live with that. However, it is Christmas and one thing I have "always" found a necessary ingredient for coming into that Christmassy mood, is Tolkien. I don't have the time to re-read his works but maybe I'll throw in a viewing of Fellowship of the Ring. 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Diana Rowland's "City Lazarus"

Another short story devoured (though not with frenzy), and one which I found, well, not among the most interesting. That being said, the quality throughout this volume is rather high (or I am getting mellow) and "City Lazarus" is absolutely worth a read. It is kind of a post-apocalyptic tale, like the previous novella, but in this case it's a look at New Orleans after the river has changed its course and no longer is the city's lifeblood. The story opens with a strong hook, and features a male protagonist who, and this is not the first time in this anthology, is kind of a dick. Sure, he's better than the other male character in the story, but I find myself wondering what kind of view these female authors have of men. It feels like, and I am exaggerating here perhaps, but I'm left with the feeling that all men are scumbags. There's been quite a few scumbags throughout this anthology, sexist man-pigs who cannot control their penises if their life depended on it. Perhaps more surprisingly, and this also turns up in "City Lazarus", is that so many of the women in the story are empowered by being sexually attractive. In this regard, Abercrombie's character Shy is perhaps one of the few where that bit doesn't feature. In the last stories, however, women are regarded mainly as sex objects or, as is the case with this story, women use sex to further their own agendas. Which, again, is a pretty depressive view of men and women.
Anyway, it's a nice gritty tale, combining a touch of post-apocalypse with romance and noir, which is inspiring but the story isn't very uplifting (not that I need a story to be uplifting, I am just saying). It was a little confusing at first, with names thrown about, but in the end the story is neatly tied together, there is almost a circular motif here, and the dialogue is good. Not among my favorites so far, then, but it is still rather refreshing to read some stories set in a non-high fantasy environment.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The desolation of story

I finally got around to seeing the second Hobbit movie last night. I wasn't very hyped, as the previous one didn't really do it for me. I expected a CGI spectacle and that's what I got - where in 'The Fellowship of the Ring' we had the Moria sequence as all-out spectacle, in the middle of an otherwise fairly grounded and well written script, here we are fed one dizzying whirlwind of cgi overdose after another.

THE GOOD:
Where the CGI has been given enough of the budget, it is rather good: the spiders of Mirkwood and Smaug. Some good shots here and there.

Smaug was a hit, I think. Well done.

The acting was, in general, solid, with a special nod to the guy who portrays Thranduil.

Some evocative panoramic shots.

Laketown was well realized, most visually interesting setting of both movies.

THE BAD:
Legolas was unconvincing and unnecessary.

Little time for characterization.

Too hectic.

Lots of unconvincing CGI. Most orcs didn't feel real to me.

The "let's kill Smaug" sequence was horrible in execution and writing and had me wanting the film to end. Reminded me of the droid factory scene in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, more reminiscent of a video game level.

What is with the notion that bigger is better? No subtlety as you are hammered, battered and bludgeoned with action that is so over the top it becomes unbelievable, thus ruining immersion. Where are the subdued yet emotional moments? Not in this film.

I'm no Tolkien purist in the overly nerdy way so I don't mind changes, but splitting the movie in many strands when there is only one plot feels wrong on many levels. I didn't care about any of the characters except Bilbo, really. And he wasn't the main character either in this film. What a mess.

THE UGLY:
Several sidestories went by so fast you barely registered them; I'm thinking of Beorn specifically.

Gandalf facing Sauron himself creates a rather big plot hole when we get to 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.

Putting Azog in Dol Guldur was a strange choice. A new orc (also unconvincing) was sent after the dwarves and I am not sure if this made any sense. Sauron needed Azog as a battle commander? Unnecessary to say the least and adding nothing.

Fewer than last time, the nods to the "original trilogy" are still jarring. Specifically Peter Jackson showing up in Bree, and the whole Bree-intro mirroring the Bree-scene in Fellowship, including the seemingly Undying Black Cat of the Prancing Pony.

THE UNFORGIVEABLE:
The love triangle coming out of nowhere, featuring Kili, new character and hot hot female elf Tauriel and dour Legolas didn't really do anything for me. It wasn't Anakin-Padme bad but it did get close. Shame this will have to be resolved in the final installment.

The locations often look unreal, even when they probably are real. Both Hobbit movies lack that feeling of Middle-earth that the Ring films provided. Maybe it's just me.

Sigh. I guess I'm too old for this stuff. Kids will probably gobble it up, playing outside pretending to be Legolas jumping all over the place to kill and maim orcs in a variety of creative violent ways.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nancy Kress' "Second Arabesque, Very Slowly"

Why, it's almost Christmas Eve again. Man, those years fly by. Personally I am of the opinion that the world would have been a better place if we celebrated Christmas the traditional way only every second year; and in the years between we could, instead of spending gazillions on expensive gifts and food and glitter, you know, donate some money to help people who don't have the opportunity to partake in such gluttony. It would also help save the environment if we suddenly decided not to wrap stuff every second year. Trees could live a year longer. And, the kids would look even more forward to it if there was a little more time between each such Eve. Today's kids (and this is my subjective view of course) in this part of the world don't know what to wish for, dammit. They already have so much. So I'm not fighting that elusive "war against Christmas" I see mentioned here and there on the web but more of a "war against overindulgence".
As most years since '99 or thereabouts, my own Christmas wishlist is rather modest. I would be extremely happy with a new A Song of Ice and Fire book. This year, The Winds of Winter would've been a great treat. Imagine enjoying that one surrounded by the restful spirit of Christmas. Now in case this wish won't be granted (the Santa is a fickle god), I still have about half of Dangerous Women to read, and it's been a treat so far, so I'm happy with that. My second wish is not that modest. I still desperately want a powerful new computer. Maybe in 2014, I'll somehow manage to get hold of one. If not, it's not that big a deal, either. As Christmas movies are wont to remind us, there are more important things in life than, you know, stuff.

Which is exactly the kind of feeling you're left with after reading Nancy Kress' Second Arabesque, Very Slowly. Behind the curious title lurks a post-apocalyptic tale of a group of people keeping together against the adversarial environment around them, but unlike other post-apocalypses I am aware of, this one doesn't feature lots of cool tech and a decidedly heroic main character. Instead, this story is told from the point of view of an elderly woman (that's the second old woman POV in the anthology, statistic freaks), who is part of a group because she is useful to the group as a nurse. The mentality of the male characters is pretty rough, and women have been degraded to sex objects (there is even a "Sex List", with the alpha male on top); the story goes that most girls and women have lost their fertility, so any woman who is fertile must have sex with all the men in the group to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. Rather dark, then, as it should be in a post-apocalyptic tale, but I'm not a big fan of the notion. Fortunately the author also shows us a male character who isn't worried about being on the Sex List, and would rather learn ballet. Well, that sounds kind of strange, perhaps, but when you read it you'll understand how it all fits together. I found myself mostly enjoying this story. It's not a genre I'm particularly familiar with, but the setting was vividly described, and it has a certain nerve that kept me going, wondering what was going to happen next. Most of all I felt sorry for how the girls were treated. The ending was perfect, though, giving both closure and some 'openendedness' (did I just invent a word?). In a way, this story was a bit movie-like in the way the scenes flowed together.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lev Grossman's "The Girl in the Mirror"

Unlike the previous few stories this one did not awe me in the same way, and I know why - because the concept of a wizard's school is so ingrained as a Harry Potter thing that it is quite hard not to envision Hoggwarts when reading about these girls studying magic. The rooms we see are similar to Hoggwarts too. And I realize that this might just be the author doing it on purpose, but for me it doesn't quite work. He employs a few tricks to take us away from happy Potter-land, though, like fouler language, but in the end, this story could have worked as a small Potter episode, featuring other students at Hoggwarts. Naughtier students. This school is in the USA however, and the author does employ some good ideas that made reading it entertaining; especially the sequence where the main character, Plum, ends up in a transdimensional kind of world within the school. It's all very magical, while the plot itself is decidedly mundane (though fun): a group of girls calling themselves the League are pulling a complex prank on another student. The author nails Plum as a young female character, the way she talks and thinks is spot on, and the best part of "The Girl in the Mirror". The ending left me more confused than thoughtful, though. If you could explain to me just what the heck happened toward the end there, I'd appreciate it. So in conclusion it is certainly a well written little tale, but the trappings made it hard for me to immerse myself, which is my fault, not the author's. It was funny and engaging, and easy to read (for a non-English-speaking fellow like myself).

This puts me about halfway through Dangerous Women, and Martin's piece is looming nearer but so far I am quite content with what I've read so far. From regretting the impulse purchase to being happy I bought it, after all.

There are rumors floating, by the way, that Martin is almost done with The Winds of Winter. This mongering of rumors appears to have been born out of an interview with Roy Doltice or whatever his name is, the guy who did the audiobooks and played the pyromancer Hallyne in Game of Thrones. Maybe this is why Martin can so comfortably state on his site that he's going to relax with some football on TV? Or maybe it's just crock and we're still years away from a sixth novel., as the author himself has indicated in various interviews. It is so easy to cling to hope, when reality is disappointing.

Sharon Kay Penman's "A Queen in Exile"

Now this is an author I've read before - specifically, Sharon's debut novel The Sunne in Splendour. Once I had digested the three first volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, oh, way back when, I was itching to delve deeper into medieval stories. Martin got me excited about the Wars of the Roses, which in turn led to my interest in Agincourt, the Hundred Years War, and all the other dramatic events of the Middle Ages. Among the many books I bought on the subject was Penman's. I've read half of it before I stopped reading. It was just too slow, too real if you know what I mean for my tastes. The style was too detached, not intimate and direct as in Martin's work. This style is the same many years later in "A Queen in Exile", but being condensed into a short work, Penman moves along at a brisker pace, fortunately. The story feels partially detached with entire sections reading more like a history book, while other parts go directly into Queen Constance's point of view which make the story more exciting. It is certainly the better of the two medieval/historical stories in the anthology so far, and I read it with interest because I didn't know much about these particular events surrounding the Queen (who is really more of an Empress, and is addressed as such in the story itself).

The most interesting thing was that the story of Constance seems to have inspired Martin, as I recognized several elements from history that make an appearance in A Song of Ice and Fire. Primarily, Constance finds herself in a tense situation that mirrors a situation Queen Cersei finds herself in; the Kingsguard of Westeros could be inspired by the imperial guards (and Sir Baldwin reminds me of Ser Jorah Mormont or a Kingsguard), and I couldn't help but think of Viserys' crowning when I read about someone receiving a red-hot glowing crown on his head.

Brandon Sanderson's "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell"

Another story in the Dangerous Women anthology read, and this one really surprised me in a good way. I like the setting and the characters, there's a great pace and some ominous descriptions, with the stars of the story being the restless shades. Somewhat similar to Brett's The Painted Man in concept, but still different enough to feel original. My favorite so far, definitely. Sanderson delivers in this short story, which feels like the opposite of his The Way of Kings which feels relentlessly slow and padded. I don't want to spoil anything about Shadows for Silence... but pay attention in the beginning. The story twists and turns and took me places I didn't expect but in the end it all fell neatly into place. Tight, with its own voice, Shadows for Silence... is a story I want to read again. Great atmosphere, interesting setting and characters, though I am sure Sanderson could have written a hundred pages more about them if he could do so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

[Re-read] Samwell, II: Everybody listens to Slayer, Part II of II


Now THIS is a potential meme-pic.
Well, what do you know, here is the second part of my re-read of Sam II, the 34th chapter of A Storm of Swords, the book that, along with A Clash of Kings, remains high on my list of favorite novels (as in, number one and two, alternating by mood). There they seem to remain in the good company of A Game of Thrones, Best Served Cold, The Lord of the Rings, Deadhouse Gates and a few others. Without further ado, let's jump back into the narrative. Gilly was giving birth and it turned out to be a son; Sam had trouble dealing with it (as well as dealing with a dying man) and went outside. We were reminded of his prowess when facing an Other, but Samwell himself didn't wish to be respected for defeating the Other, because he thinks it was all about the dragonglass blade he used. And he's right, but Sam, you still need to be pretty brave to drive said blade into said being! A faceslap is imminent if you do not realizeth this!
Have a little faith in yourself, build your selfesteem, man. What else is there to do beyond the Wall (aside from starving, freezing and marching?)

Sam re-enters Craster's "keep" (his doors are made of deer hides, that should give a hint as to just how much of a keep it really is). Mormont follows him inside, asking him what kind of fool he is for suggesting they take Gilly's newborn son with them. The question reveals that Sam had thought of taking Gilly along as well, hopeless romantic that he is. Mormont doesn't want to hear it and raises a hand. 'Cause the head ain't listening. It is a quality character trait to have, though. Compassion, that is. Compassionate characters have a tendency to resonate with readers in a way, makes them easier to like - which again makes it all the more exciting when they get in trouble and you want them to survive. Not that I ever think of Sam as one of my favorite characters. Don't know why, really. I like him better than Jon Snow, that's for sure. Perhaps it's a tad too easy to feel pity for him, instead of respect. Not just because of his denial of bravery, but because of his unusually unkind father (not unusually unkind in the Westeros-sense of course). Still, the braver Sam gets, and I suppose that is one part of his story arc - finding courage - we might end up liking him more and more. And maybe you like him a lotsalot for all I know.

When Sam returns to see to Bannen, the man's dead. Dirk is mighty upset with Craster, because he thinks that if Craster had only given them enough food, Bannen would have lived. It's a simple setup, really. Martin keeps adding malcontent, building up the crows' dissatisfaction. Giant, however, thinks Craster's done all he can, so we also realize not everyone within the Night's Watch group agree. Nice and realistic, that. They burn Bannen's corpse, divide up his possessions. Got to love Mormont's little funeral speech, which says so much without saying much: "He was a brave man, a good ranger. He came to us from...where did he come from?" 

The smoke in the hall makes Sam sick. When he looks at the fire, he thinks he sees Bannen sitting up, but it was just...well, what was it? Since we know that some characters actually do see things in the fire (Melisandre specifically of course), did Sam actually see in the flames that Bannen rises as a wight? The argument against this is that they burn Bannen's corpse and bones don't come back to life. For some reason. No Harryhausen-style skeleton warriors for HBO, then. Disgusting and lovely at the same time kind of when Sam's mouth waters at the smell of Bannen's burning corpse. Not lovely as in sweet and romantic, of course. Lovely detail, I mean. I think. Anyway, Sam doesn't think it's very lovely so he runs off to throw up. 

While on his knees throwing up outside, Dolorous Edd shows up, dryly asking him if he's digging for worms. Edd has had the same thoughts. "Never knew Bannen could smell so good." Good thing they didn't bring applesauce, because that would have pushed our Dolorous Edd over the edge. What's with all these notions of cannibalism cropping up more and more? Are we building toward scenes set on the island of Skagos, where cannibals supposedly exist? I kind of like to think so, from a Rickon/Osha-perspective, that is. Not that I need or feel like reading about cannibalism. Strangely enough I wrote a short story about a woman eating body parts earlier today. I'm using this new and great tool (it's not new, it's new for me), Scrivener, to write my fiction for SFFWorld's competitions. It was really helpful in getting me to finish and edit a longer short story which I began right after last month's NaNoWriMo.  Because I finished NaNoWriMo succesfully I got Scrivener for half the price. It's like a little writer's studio, all its missing is coffee. 

There's some unnecessarily detailed info about Edd taking a leak, but while he performs the deed, he comes up with all kinds of strange dialogue that is both enjoyable and makes you think, especially his comment that Dywen thinks they should learn to ride dead horses, because in one way he's right about it. It could also be read as rather ominous and it could foreshadow Dolorous Edd's death at the hands of the dark forces of the North. 

Craster's mood improves when he learns the Night's Watch has decided to leave, and promises them a feast. Tables are dragged forth by wives and daughters. The only chair in the hall is reserved for Craster, while the guests sit on the floor, knee to knee. Mormont goes to sit next to Craster. Sam finds a place between Grenn and a character I don't think we've had named before, Orphan Oss. Horses are roasted (the horses that died bringing the Watch to (ahem) safety here). Sam seizes an onion eagerly (one half of it is black with rot, just like the Onion Knight has a dark past..?) And then, trouble starts. Go trouble!

The men of the Watch begin to complain, respect for the master of the house be damned. Ulmer asks for more bread; Clubfoot Karl complains and calls the women serving them stupid; Lord Commander Mormont tries to calm them down, but Clubfoot Karl says that Craster is hiding (better) food from them. You just know this will lead to violence when Craster narrows his eyes. When Karl calls Craster niggardly and a liar, you can be certain. I don't remember what I thought when reading this sequence for the first time; did I anticipate trouble, when Craster was just one man with a host of women for defense? Did I think of the importance of guest rights? Mormont agains tells them to shut up, but now the men of the Watch are egging each other on, until Clubfoot Karl pushes back his chair from the table and begins insulting Mormont as well. Now that's a great twist, isn't it? I never really saw it coming and it floors me every time. I never expected mutiny. I probably expected an assault on Craster, but not mutiny. 

An uncomfortable silence follows, and then Craster rises, axe in hand. He's had enough. He tells the guys"Bloody bastard!" at Craster, and Craster roars in anger, vaults across the table, knives are drawn, Karl stumbles and trips over a knight (Ser Byam, we hardly knew ye) and then, again rather surprising, because here I thought Craster would show just what a bad guy he really is, Dirk opens Craster's throat from ear to ear. And that was Craster. 

who have been insulting him to leave the hall (actually giving them a chance). But it is not enough. One of the Garths shouts

Mormont, shaken, cries that the gods will curse them. Perhaps bluntly we are reminded through him that "there is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man's hall" (again building up a certain wedding at the same time), but Mormont's time seems to be over as well. The men are sick and tired, angry and desperate. Ollo stabs the Lord Commander in the belly. And then the world went mad. Not easy, being Sam Tarly. Not all the time, at any rate. It's easy to sit in a cellar reading books. But this? Poor boy. He finds himself, much later, sitting cross-legged with Mormont's head in his lap. The first time I read this I thought Mormont's head was physically separated from his body (and who can blame me?). There's some raping going on, and some looting. "Tarly," the head says, "Go."
Where? Sam wonders. To the Wall, of course. Where else, poopoo? Mormont tells Tarly to tell them everything of what has happened. Sam is given a quest! He is surrounded by rapists and thieves and murderers (lest we forget what the Night's Watch is really made of) so Sam better get the hell out of there before they get tired of looting the larder in the cellar and raping Craster's wives/daughters/what-have-you. Gilly reminds Sam that he promised her his help, and he says that Jon can help her, not him. "Look how fat I am," he says, though I can't help but think he must have lost a pound or sixteen since his introduction. When the light in Mormont's eyes goes out, Sam knows he has no other choice. I love how everything is interconnected in a way that makes it the only plausible thing for Sam to do (escape, that is) - a final warning is added to get Sam up off his ass. "They'll be here soon, the sons." That is, the Others and wights, I suppose. 
As I said, lovely how Martin ties it all up to a point where Sam just has to go (and take Gilly with him). Maybe I'd like the chapter more if we got more direct action (most of the actual mutiny takes place as a flashback) and less Dolorous Edd pissing, if you know what I mean. The structure, then, of the chapter, could be better, nitpicker that I am.

Next: Arya (well, not really next because I  finished another Dangerous Women short, but you know what I mean). 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lawrence Block's "I Know How to Pick 'Em"

Well, if Wrestling Jesus had some bad language and bad manners, I Know How to Pick 'Em takes it up several notches in the uncomfortable department. Rather daring in a way, the author gives the reader some rather explicit scenes that I'm not sure I really needed to have spelled out for me so bluntly. The author did successfully twist my perception, though - all along I thought the woman who is the main character is the dangerous woman in the story, turns out - after some thinking, because this story did require some thought to piece it together - it turns out that the truly dangerous woman was the mother of the point of view character (I hesitate to call him the main character because, even though he really is, the focus is mostly on the femme fatale who grabs his attention as well as body parts). It was confusing, and at times somewhat disgusting (I'm not offended - it was just eeew at times) so my first impression after reading it was something like "this was the least interesting story so far". But lo! The story kept churning in my mind because I couldn't make sense of it in a way (I am trying to avoid spoiling stuff here, so bear with my vague ways), and then it dawned on me and I realized it was rather cunningly crafted and that perhaps the naughty bits kind of overshadowed too much the plot, it distracted more than added to the experience in a way. But there's a psychological look at a character at play here, that really demands a re-read of "I Know How to Pick 'Em". It's not a favorite, but I do respect what the author accomplished with this tale. And I suppose it's a bit brave too, this text.

I've started the next story already and the first pages surprised me totally. You see, the next story is a Brandon Sanderson story and all I can think of when I see his name is "sloooo-ooo-oooow" due to The Way of Kings (though I admit it could be just me being slow, what with having that massive slab of book on my nightstand for more than three years), and then this story kicks off and goes straight into great, quick characterization and a nice atmosphere that made me go back to see if I actually had read the author's name wrong. The best part so far is the great names the characters in this story have. I would like to read more about this world where people can have such cool names. Maybe Sanderson has written novels in this setting for all I know. I need to check it out.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Megan Lindholm's "Neighbors"

Just a quick post, time is really not on my side today. So, I came to Neighbors, the eighth short story in the Dangerous Women anthology. I didn't realize until I read its introduction that Megan Lindholm equals Robin Hobb, who I obviously know (though I admit I haven't read much of her - I've tried, but gave up because they were so slow). Slow was the immediate word that came to mind when I began reading this text. The main character is an old, slow woman, living in a dilapidated house, so there's that. However, I pushed on and suddenly this text, when a mysterious event is introduced, really soars and I was practically floored by the quality of the prose; Lindholm/Hobb really nails the main character, Sarah. She feels so incredibly real with all her woes of age, and likewise her son's concerns feel very realistic, as does their dialogue. There are some vivid descriptions, and the central mystery remains a mystery you just need to figure out, reading on to try and puzzle it together - is it all just going on in Sarah's adled mind, or is there truly something supernatural going on in her street? The ending left me a bit unsatisfied though, but everything up to this point is just excellently written and I think Neighbors, despite its dull title, is the finest story in the anthology so far. I also like that the story relates to the anthology's title in a very different way than the other stories. In this case, the woman is dangerous mostly to herself.

I actually think I'll find time to finish that Sam chapter later today, if I can stay on target with all my other to-do's. Keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Joe R. Lansdale's "Wrestling Jesus"

Wow, that was a different kind of novella. I wondered what the story would be about since the title was all kinds of interesting. Was it about someone who struggled with their faith? At least, that was my first suspicion. It really wasn't. 
This was a strange tale, full of foul language that could make even George R.R. Martin blush (okay, maybe not that foul - but we're talking language from the same neighborhood), a curious collection of characters (well, the main character is ye archetypal boy who gets bullied - and how - but the secondary characters are strange, stranger and strangest), and it's a story that supposedly goes on in our time, with no magic or science fiction stuff whatever, but at the same time it is kind of a fantastical tale because you have to believe that ninety-year old men (I don't actually remember the age of these characters) are uncannily fit for their age and are boxing. There's this incredibly hot femme fatale, you see, and the two doddering boxers meet up occasionally to fight over her, and whoever wins the game wins the woman. She is dangerous because, apparently, she has put a spell on these two old-timers. She's like a voodoo witch type of character. 
If this didn't sound a little bit strange to you, okay. At the same time, it was well written and kept me wanting to read until I finished it, partially because I wasn't quite sure what I was reading and had to see how the author would tie this zaniness up. In the end, it was a fun and memorable little piece. There was one scene in particular that bothered me more than texts usually do; on his way to meet the X-Man (one of the boxers), the main character (I have forgotten his name already, no wait, it popped up in my head right now - ) Marvin faces a bully who actually, after knocking Marvin down, squats over him with his trousers down, telling Marvin to actually lick his ass. With assorted nasty dialogue added. Spicy. 
The tale isn't entirely the old trope of 'poor kid gets beaten up finds master who teaches him to fight', though the author certainly riffs on it, though. Well, it's there, but it's hidden beneath layers of swearing and strangeness. I honestly don't know where to rank this among the tales I've read so far in Dangerous Women. I liked it, and I kind of didn't. It was good, but not all the time. That bully could be Ramsay Bolton as a kid, though. That's a plus I suppose. I do recommend it, though, if only for a somewhat different reading experience. 
Following on the epic, serious Raisa Stepanova, though, Wrestling Jesus is definitely one odd duck. The title, by the way, isn't as clever as the story itself though. Jesus is the other boxer in the story, who X-Man fights for the rights to the beautiful voodoo lady. Now her name I have forgotten, much as I keep forgetting to finish that Samwell Tarly post. 
No other geeky news to enjoy either. It's been correcting term papers all week long, but now I'm almost done, which feels good. Oh, there is some news. Martin is showing movies again at his cinema. Shame it's a twenty hour, 1000$ flight or I'd definitely go watch weird movies at the Cocteau. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Carrie Vaughn, "Raisa Stepanova"

Another day, another short story (or novella or whatever they want to call it) read. Raisa Stepanova is a well-written story that manages to pack a lot in few pages. It stands out by virtue of its setting and characters (Russian female fighter pilots) and surprised me pleasantly. There is some heavy-handed exposition that the reader needs in order to understand a certain motivation belonging to the titular main character, but it isn't really all that aggravating. Fluid, fast-paced, good dialogue, interesting setting, this is the kind of story that could turn into a good movie.
A good thing about Dangerous Women so far is that it really presents a vivid variety of settings and characters and styles, and for each new story I have to kind of readjust and realize that stories can be pretty entertaining without being the kind of fantasy I normally enjoy.
After this anthology, I am definitely going to sit down and write a list of my to-read-pile-books, decide on an order and actually read them through one at a time. Okay, maybe two at a time; one physical book, one ebook. Sometimes I have only one or the other available. I've got a bunch of physical books on the nightstand, including King of Thorns which I paused for this anthology, a Dutch novel my father gifted me (with the signature and a greeting from the author) entitled De Tovenaar (translated The Wizard, but according to the blurb, there is no magic in the book so I am curious about that), Miles Cameron's The Red Knight is still waiting, and then of course - still not finished since January 2010 (!), Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings. I'm going to put it right on top of the list because it is really about time I finish it. And who knows, maybe it picks up the pace and the last half is a riveting, non-stop entertainment ride without an equal in the world of fantasy literature. Okay, I doubt it. But one can always hope.

Tonight is the premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I'm not going in the middle of the night for it (I might have considered it if the first installment had awed me the way Fellowship of the Ring once did), but I'll probably end up seeing it sooner rather than later, out of curiosity more than a genuine interest in seeing the continuation of the story. A curiosity mostly born out of wanting to see what Jackson and his team have come up with this time to pad the movie into a suitably epic length (from what I understand there's a whole non-Tolkien Legolas-subplot in there; perhaps a good choice, I reckon he's a fan favorite).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jim Butcher's "Bombshells"

Yup, I managed to finish this one. It really has that Fables vibe. I was surprised and taken out of the story by a sudden influx of Star Wars quotes, and the rest of the short story didn't really keep my attention. It was a creative story, no doubt, and though I'm not sure I understood everything that was going on in this story it was entertaining - but maybe just not my cup of tea. It has made me a little curious about The Dresden Files but probably not enough that I'll actually go out and buy. 

In other news, Telltale Games have officially announced that they are working on a Game of Thrones game for the PC. People seem to be excited about this because Telltale apparently make good games as opposed to the producers of the two previous attempts (both miserable games, really)*, but I think I'll await this one with a decent amount of suspicion. I think a great Westeros-based PC game would put you in charge of a House, dealing with strategic decisions on a campaign map, political stuff and war and all that, and then you'd have this other part of the game in which you managed your own household (a bit of RPG, then) - you know, mix up Medieval: Total War, Birthright: The Gorgon's Alliance, and a variety of cool board games and maybe even elements from Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying

* Yes, I'm aware of a third game - the Facebook one - but does it really count as a game?

Melinda Snodgrass' "The Hands that are Not There"

So I read another of the stories in the Dangerous Women anthology, this time Melinda Snodgrass' science fiction tale, "The Hands that are Not There". I thought it was surprisingly well written and interesting throughout, and feels more like a coherent, self-sustained story than the others so far which felt more like "glimpses". I don't know if the setting for the story is something Snodgrass uses in other stories, but it felt 'complete'. It was interesting all the way through, and was the first of the stories to leave me thinking after having read it. It seems my prejudice against the author was unfounded and I gladly admit that Melinda knows how to spin a good yarn. Next up is a story Jim Butcher, "Bombshells", and it is something I suspect fans of Harry Dresden will look forward to. Personally I have never read any Butcher though I've heard of this Harry fellow. I had expected it to be quite different from what I'm reading in "Bombshells" (I've started it and will finish it tonight if my eyelids don't drop). I had expected some kind of science fiction-like setting but there you go, I really knew nothing. Instead I'm getting a setting where, at least as far as I am aware, we're closer to something like Neil Gaiman's stuff (like his American Gods), the blending of the mundane and the magical. Pleasantly surprised again, though it seems I won't get to know Harry himself because apparently he's dead.

I honestly didn't think these stories would capture my attention the way they have done so far, to the point of me almost forgetting to finish that Samwell chapter (and it makes me hope and wonder - will Martin's story, which is saved for last of course, also entertain and bedazzle?).
In addition, my latest acquisition for my Forgotten Realms collection is the solo adventure Knight of the Living Dead, not the most famous product in that line, and quite different from other Realms material due to the fact that this is a book that works like those classic Fighting Fantasy books, you know, where you choose what to do next and then you flip to entry 44D to see what happens. I haven't delved too deep into the adventure yet, nor do I feel it gives me the same experience as a regular roleplaying session but it's fun. Also, the title is very appropriate, wordplay and all. Evocative cover, too. I love those classic D&D covers by Jeff Easley et al. I'm about to find my d12 and pencil and see if I can survive the next couple of pages of the text.

In the meantime, I see Mr. Martin himself has been directing attention to the anthology as well.  Next: An update on the progress of The Winds of Winter. Give us a percentage, is all I ask. "I'm 23% done." Okay cool, nice to know.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Nora's Song" (Cecelia Holland)

So, I was pleasantly surprised by the second story in Dangerous Women to the point that prose-wise, it did actually trump Joe Abercrombie (but never in coolness). This led to curiosity about the next story and so I found time to read Cecelia Holland's Nora's Song, the third story in the anthology. 
Really, I should read more anthologies. These stories I actually manage to finish (looking at my 'currently-reading pile' I am almost stressed: The Way of Kings ,King of Thorns, Wolf Hall, Elric: Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Life in a Medieval Castle, Forgotten Realms: Prince of Lies, Forgotten Realms: The Night Parade, The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, Forgotten Realms: Swords of Eveningstar, Forgotten Realms: Shadows of Doom, Sovereign, and there are even more. Though I am considering actually just dropping those Realms novels as they are so badly written). 

Anyway, Nora's Song grabbed my attention from the get-go, as the author introduction made it clear that the story would be a historical one, specifically about Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, two interesting figures whose faces, in my mind, belong to the actors in the classic The Lion in Winter (1968)  - Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn. This story though, is from the point of view of one of their daughters, Nora, and I found it a well-written (in the somewhat dry tone that historical fiction always seem to have) tale, and I followed along but, for some reason, it didn't really grab me, and the ending had me confused - was that it? It felt like a glimpse of some event without a real story in it; when the story ended, I didn't feel that anything had changed, not really. Then again, I might just be too dim to understand and appreciate the story and maybe there was stuff here to read between the lines that I just didn't catch.

The fourth story in the anthology is by Melinda Snodgrass and her name alone made me feel less motivated as she is involved with Wild Cards which I have a natural disliking for (surprise!). I am giving her the benefit of the doubt, though, and I am halfway through her story, and it isn't bad at all. Fortunately.

I'll try and get the second half of Sam's second chapter up soon. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Megan Abbott's "My Heart is Either Broken"

So there I was earlier today saying Abercrombie was going to be hard to trump, and the very next novella in Dangerous Women is actually rather good in a wholly different way. It is the kind of story I'd probably skip if it weren't for the fact that I decided to read everything in here; the first few pages are a bit confusing as you have to puzzle together the who's and what's and why's, and it takes place in a contemporary setting - and yet, as I read on and began to understand where the story was going, I realized that the characters in this story were very well realized, and I was actually getting more and more curious to see where the author was going with it. The prose is excellent to the point that it just can't be compared to Abercrombie's Some Desperado at all, really. Surprising, and I already begin to feel that maybe buying Dangerous Women wasn't such a bad idea after all.
The perhaps pretentious-sounding title of the piece is lovely in my opinion and though it doesn't really give away the story, it...I don't know, it kind of suggests something different from what you get.
I also realize I have actually never heard (let alone read) about the author, Megan Abbot, but this could be due to the fact that she is writing in a literary genre I am not familiar with (said Captain Obvious). I'm suitably impressed and curious about her other work, so in that sense this anthology is already performing one of its primary functions, I suppose.

Desperadoes

Haven't bought anything since last night (I've only slept, eaten breakfast and gone to work, though, but still)! George R.R. Martin, in a response to my rant yesterday, was interviewed right here and told his fans to stop "pressuring him".

“Sometimes I just wish [the fans] would stop pressuring me about it. It will be done when it’s done. [...] I’m a slow writer, I’ve always been a slow writer, and these are gigantic books.”

In a way, I sympathize. The more I try my hand at writing, the more I understand that it is an undertaking not done lightly. I do wonder at the "fans pressuring him" bit, though. People who send him e-mails? There is nothing on Not-a-Blog, because any questions regarding The Winds of Winter are automatically deleted by Squire Ty so George doesn't have to see it. Is he checking out people's comments on various websites? In that case, he's seeking it out. Are people still sending him e-mails? Well, how about setting up a second email account which you only use professionally to keep in touch? Let the hate mail pour in, you don't have to open any of them. Really, you don't have to.

He also says he's a slow writer, but that didn't stop him from publishing A Game of Thrones, A Clash of KIngs and A Storm of Swords in a timely fashion - neither has this slowness stopped him from getting other stuff done, be it editing anthologies or writing other material. So, in my opinion, the excuse doesn't really hold water and is more a sign of Martin having other problems when it comes to wrapping up this saga we're all so invested in.

The books are gigantic, though, and one should expect them to take a while, but they are not larger than previous volumes - they have gotten more complicated to write, rather. It ties in with my rant yesterday about getting arcs out of the way.

Funny how the New Yorker article is mentioned, though. Never forgotten!

Another desperado is Shy, Joe Abercrombie's character from Red Country, who is also featured in the opening story of Dangerous Women. Yes, I read it last night. And boy, was it short! Such a breeze. And it was not really a story, but rather a glimpse of Shy's life. A great glimpse, though - Abercrombie remains a master of sarcastic, fast-paced, terse, entertaining fantasy (though in this particular case, the fantasy is almost completely lost beneath the veneer of western-style). 
It's basically one action scene, a typical Western really, but the way Abercrombie writes it makes it fresh and entertaining none the less. 
But it's such a brief text, I was kind of disappointed about that.
It just ... petered out, kind of, but western-style. 
His prose is fantastic though, and it will be very hard for any of the remaining stories in this collection to trump the opening.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Oaths

It's madness, I tell you. Of course I had to buy Dangerous Women. But this time, I bought the e-book. Cheaper and saves space. I am really looking forward to reading Joe Abercrombie's piece. I will obviously read Martin's article as well, out of morbid curiosity really, and will throw my thoughts up here once I have finished it and reflected on it. I'm going in with a negative attitude - not a big fan of Targaryens, not really happy that we got this piece instead of a Dunk & Egg novella, not really feeling it, you know? So maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I do try to be positive about it, but it's so hard to stay enthusiastic with all the disappointments provided over the last decade. 
Some people, myself included, just want to see A Song of Ice & Fire finished, and such interludes as the novellas and this Dangerous Women piece don't serve as appetizers but rather reminders that we're far behind schedule when it comes to the Others and the war for the Dawn et al. Some people are probably not as invested in the saga, which leads to them shrugging and saying "there are other books you can read", and I'm thinking they are just not that devoted to the story as others. At least, it could be one factor in explaining why some of us are mighty wroth and some don't really care that much. 
Imagine if George Lucas, after The Empire Strikes Back, stopped talking about Star Wars, stopped updating the press on the progress of the next part of the story, began releasing "small" films instead...there would be an outrage like never before in the history of entertainment. First, the story is immensely popular, and second, Empire has quite a few loose ends that leave fans wanting to know what will happen next. Which is precisely where we were after A Storm of Swords, after A Feast for Crows, and now after A Dance with Dragons. There is just so much stuff that needs resolution, and it doesn't look like we can expect to get all the resolutions, and hence people who are really obsessed over Martin's creation become impatient, angry even, when nothing much happens.
And I'm not saying Martin isn't working on Winds. Something might be happening (not when he's in New Zealand, obviously, but now he's back home). He could be writing. But he doesn't tell us. And that adds to the problem, in my opinion. Ignoring us "trolls" is a fine tactic, of course, but it doesn't make people more inclined to look positive on the author's current way of handling PR. 
Anyway, I hadn't really planned to go off on yet another rant, but here I am, with Dangerous Women freshly downloaded from amazon.

And knowing myself, I'll probably put down the ten or so other books I'm reading to start yet another tome of lore. I'm promising myself, here and now, that I won't buy another book from now on until I have finished all the books in my to-read pile. Because the pile is just piling up. 
Also, I was lured into a trap on Steam yesterday, with an enticing sale - the gold edition of Civilization V for little money. I bought it primarily to test out the Faerûn mod (Forgotten Realms) which I read about here and made me curious, but that mod refuses to work so here I sit with, as we in Norway are wont to say, with my beard in the mailbox. 
Will I ever play Civilization V or will it become yet another title to mock my impulses? At least it was cheap. It's December, though. Maybe I will find time to check out this game during the holidays. 
I'm making myself another promise right now; I'm not going to buy any videogame either for the foreseeable future. Well, at least until Legend of Grimrock 2. And of course if Winds should suddenly materialize that one is excluded from my "not-buying" oath. 
So that's two oaths. While I'm at it I also swear not to spend money on anything really because I really need to get my cheeks together and start saving up for a new computer for really reals. 

Ah, feels good to become a miser. Finally. 

As for Sam and his adventures beyond the Wall, winter is coming.

Monday, December 2, 2013

[Re-read] Samwell, II: Everybody listens to Slayer, Part I of II


You know what I would really really like right now? I am seated at the window, laptop on my lap (indeed I am using it as intended), looking out over wooded low mountains covered with frost and last night's fresh snow, beneath a pink dawn sky. It's rather beautiful and evocative. I would really really like to hold in my hands, instead of the laptop, a copy of The Winds of Winter. The smell of a freshly printed new volume of Ice and Fire, with a thousand pages of unexplored Ice and Fire territory, a cup of coffee at the ready, and seeking answers. Oh my, I do miss that feeling of having an entirely new novel in the series to devour. It doesn't happen too often, we can agree on that, right? To flip open the book, look over the maps, excitedly look at the chapter headings to see who's in and who's out...to get back into the story wondering what Martin will serve us next.
I suppose many fans find reading his other material a way to alleviate this yearning for a new book - in just three days' time, Dangerous Women will be published, featuring George R.R. Martin's novella The Princess and the Queen, and for many fans this will be a nice morsel while waiting for the main course.
Personally, I am not curious about this text at all. Not out of spite or anything, it's just that I don't care that much about the Targaryens and their dragons and their history. Certainly I care less than Martin who seems to have developed a great love for this part of his creation. If the novella had been the fourth The Hedge Knight tale, you know, a proper story instead of a history, I'd buy it. As it is, I am offered a bite while I wait for the main course, but I don't like the food being offered, so I'll have to live with that, or eat it anyway. What to do, what to do? I am hungry, but not that hungry. However, there is also a story in the collection from some guy who calls himself "Joe Abercrombie", and that might just be a good enough reason to cave in, after all. We'll see next week whether I am the owner of a copy - I think that if I go for it, I'll go for the e-book. I simply have run out of space on my shelves. And space for more shelves.

A Storm of Swords, then, and Samwell Tarly's second chapter. I suppose re-reading this novel is my way of   That's really what this blog has been all about since I set it up back in 2009 or thereabouts. To scratch that famous itch. To get a fix. At least I don't have to wonder about Brienne anymore (well I do still wonder what word she said, as we haven't been told explicitly, but at least I know she isn't hanging around anymore). Samwell Tarly, it is! At once an obvious homage to another Samwell, although with the opposite main trait of being cowardly instead of being brave (but that's changing all right), I've always found Samwell to be somewhat too stereotypically portrayed,  but at the same time he's rather different from the rest of the cast in terms of personality, so I'm fine with it. There's also, as one would expect from this series, a rather convoluted and dark background to the character explaining some of his behavior - such as having a rather unsympathetic father (I know, I'm putting it mildly) - something he shares with the Lannister Three.
I have to commend Sam's listening habits.
staving off the hunger for a new novel in the series.

The chapter opens with a typical Martin contrast, with a woman giving birth up in the loft, and a man dying by the fire. Death and life in juxtaposition. Will we see this contrast explored further in the chapter? Let's check it out. It is a useful hook for inviting the reader to read on, of course. Samwell doesn't know which one scares him more, which is kind of funny. Bannen's the guy who is dying, complaining about the cold and not able to drink the onion broth Sam is trying to give him. I sympathize with Bannen there; I cannot imagine onion broth tasting anywhere near good. Craster, still alive (and I admit, a little to my surprise - watching the third season of Game of Thrones has screwed with my perception in more than one way), comments that Bannen can be considered dead - within earshot of the man, of course - immediately reminding us of Craster's personality - he's rather indifferent, as Martin perhaps too bluntly states in the following sentence (what I mean is that the reader gets how indifferent the man is to Bannen's fate by his dialogue, and that we don't need the added "Craster eyed the man with indifference". Bedwyck, better known as Giant, asks Sam, by calling him 'Slayer', if they had ever asked for Craster's counsel - and by that dialogue we see that Giant isn't very interested in Craster's opinion and neither is he afraid of him. Martin excels at showing what characters feel and think through dialogue, it's brilliant at times, like here. Sam cringes at the nickname Slayer, instead of headbanging and hailing and shouting Slaaaayyyeeeeer!! which is possibly what I would have done. You see if you're a metalhead and into Slayer, you're not just into Slayer. You're intooooooo Slaaaayyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!
Giant complains to Craster; Craster had promised food and fire yet is stingy with the food. Craster tells him to be glad he is providing them with fire (or rather, warmth). We are given a description of Craster at this point, probably to remind readers. He is kind of the polar opposite of the friendly loner you often encounter in fantasy tales. Instead of inviting the adventurers to the hearth to share tales over an ale, Craster is a repugnant fellow who's not really interested in helping out at all. Imagine Biblo and the dwarves coming upon Beorn's homestead and they found Craster and his happy family of inbreeds instead. Heh.
Craster launches into a speech which I suppose is in defense of his decisions: "I fed you what I could, but you crows are always hungry. I'm a godly man, else I would have chased you off. You think I need the likes of him, dying on my floor? You think I need all your mouths, little man?"
Not sure if those excuses hold up if you are into solidarity. Still, maybe Craster has a point - he is gambling on his own existence (if it is true that he is running out of food, that is). Also, we can assume that he is worried about keeping himself in the good graces (?) of the Others. And maybe, just maybe, he is worried that the Others will come and kill them all and he wants to get them off before the Others arrive. A stretch perhaps, because Craster never seems to be rushed.
Interestingly, Sam wishes they had a maester who could help Bannen better than he can. Was Martin already at this point considering sending Samwell Tarly to Oldtown? I see this as foreshadowing, regardless. Nice. Reading it again, it is also ironic, because Bannen suffers without a maester and we know that Sam might just end up being a maester later in the story, but by then, of course, it's too late for Bannen. Apparently they have hacked off Bannen's foot as well to keep it from killing him, so there really is no hope for the man and one can only feel sorry for him. The hardest part, then, is that he has to listen to Craster's indifference.

So, they are inside Craster's hall, the black brothers who fled the Fist, drinking onion broth (mmmm....) and chewing on chunks of hardbread; some are even worse off than Bannen; they have lost a lot of the supplies that could have been useful in patching up these fellows, so it is left to Sam and the other stewards present to try and treat their patients as best they can. It's warm inside the hall, Sam muses, but they are given too little food. Martin makes sure to spell that out for us over these first pages of the chapter and one might wonder if the need for food might lead to something. Heh (Walder Frey is my ghost writer). There is an entire paragraph dedicated to their need for food, even; also, Sam worries that Craster might know about him and Gilly, but Martin doesn't delve too deeply into these fears (which one could take as a sign that it won't be important, while the many mentions of food might indicate that it will be important).

Bannen continues to complain about the cold, and Sam feels cold himself, despite the heat we've been told about. Also, he's really tired. He wants to sleep but when he closes his eyes, nightmarish visions of dead men shambling appear before him. Upstairs, Gilly continues to give birth. Now, as it is, I witnessed a birth only seven months ago, and I'd argue that it would be scarier to have a man dying on the floor. Craster is annoyed by Gilly's "shrieking", and threatens to go up and slap her into silence. I've spoken about the bestiality of many characters in the series before, and here it is again. How inhuman are you when you want to slap a woman giving birth for making noises? He really needs therapy. And a cell.
The otherwise forgettable ranger, Ronnel Harclay, reminds them that they are beneath Craster's roof: His roof, his rule. In other words, they should not interfere. The whole shtick on guest laws runs through much of A Storm of Swords and it is obvious why - we are headed for a quite dramatic scene in which these laws/rights are violated like never before, and to build up to this, Martin tells us often how important these laws are to the people of Westeros, to make the impact of the infamous Red Wedding even more gut-wrenching. In the NaNoWriMo story I wrote this month, I had a character named Ronnel. Subconsciously taken from A Storm of Swords, or coincidence? I lean toward coincidence on this one. I would never have known if there was a Ronnel Harclay in the series if someone asked me.

There are more descriptions to remind us what a bad man Craster is, another reminder of guest rights, and a recap of what happened before between Sam and Gilly before we can get on with the story - which happens when Sam realizes Gilly is giving birth to a boy (it's kind of strangely written because they say "his head" but if only the baby's head has exited the you-know-what, how do you know it's a boy? does the baby have really manly looks? A beard? Bushy eyebrows?). Anyway, the point is of course that if Gilly gives birth to a boy, that means Craster will give it to "his gods" which any HBO-viewer can tell you are bad gods. Bad gods for bad men. Is Martin making a point? I dunno. But I like to think so.

Sam can't take it anymore, what with Bannen dying before him and Gilly howling above (to Craster's annoyance - man does Martin make some of his characters disgusting; Craster certainly's in the top, uh, thirty or something). Sam walks outside, into a cloudy day, some patches of snow weighing down branches which makes for a nice visual; water is melting, so it can't be very cold (in fact, I guess this means it is at least 1 degree above Celsius which is what I consider the threshold temperature concerning the wearing of T-shirts outdoors - okay, I am exaggerating a bit but it really isn't that cold - but then the winters around here tend to bring minus 10 to 20 degrees Celsius - not this year, though, it has been worryingly mild). It's a good thing though, because melting snow means that the Others can't be close by right? (Only I'm not sure Sam has connected this yet).

There have been no attacks and Craster says it's because he's a "godly man", which is ironically funny for the reader/viewer who knows more, but this could be a line that a casual first-time reader will never pick up on. Oh, the nuisances! When he says, "You best get right with the gods", isn't he basically saying, "You better try to be friends with the Others"? And if people all over Westeros would pay the Others tribute in the form of baby boys, would that be enough to keep them off? Kind of a bad deal, though, especially if you want the human race to continue. Also, this makes me wonder why the Others specifically want baby boys (or whether this is just Craster wanting to keep all the women for himself). Quite dark territory this. Oh, Gilly apparently has told Sam that Craster makes all kind of offerings to the Others, so it seems they are not specifically target baby boys after all. Is there a thematic link here to the Baratheon bastards dotting the landscape? Are the Others perhaps looking for one specific sacrifice? It's an entertaining thought - what if they want/need the blood of the Azor Ahai reborn? Far out.

Sam encounters a group of his brothers entertaining themselves by shooting arrows at a butt they have built, Sweet Donnel (brother of Ronnel?) in the process of firing an arrow at it as Sam approaches. I bet these guys would have liked an iPad. Ulmer's up next to shoot, and we learn he has once with the Kingswood Brotherhood (nice way of putting some info on that organization into the text here - by having people from all over the place in the Night's Watch, Martin really stands free to introduce whatever background he wants to develop). What little we learn of the legend that is Ulmer is quite interesting as Martin keeps it brief and enticing (it involves Dornish princesses, gold and a Kingsguard). There's some banter to enjoy, and we get our first (I believe) couple of Dicks (lots of Dicks in A Feast for Crows if I recall correctly) - Fletcher Dick and Old Dick. I wonder if Martin was giggling hysterically while coming up with the idea to have a lot of characters named Dick with nicknames appended.. If so, -1 respect points. There's even more background on the Kingswood Brotherhood (one could almost assume they will become important to the plot one of these days, or we have drifted into exposition for the sake of worldbuilding territory - it's really around this point in the story that Martin begins to slacken on the tight-paced storytelling). "Slayer", Sweet Donnel calls, the way Martin italicizes it suggesting it is said in a mocking tone, "Come, show us how you slew the Other." Indeed, and realistically so, not everyone believes the tale of Sam the Slayer. I like that. I like how Martin keeps us grounded; his people are real, they don't believe everything they hear (well, not all of them). Sam is immediately afraid he'll fail, telling them he had used an obsidian dagger, not an arrow.

What we get here is a fine example of peer pressure, medieval style. Even otherwise nice Grenn gets in on it, they all want to see Sam shoot, probably to have a laugh. These guys are bored and cold and probably a little annoyed by Craster. However, it seems that Grenn isn't really understanding the underlying motives here, which is a nice little touch. Sam having to explain it to him takes away from the scene, though, I find; as if Martin didn't trust us enough to read into it ourselves. I can understand if he suspected me of not paying attention, but you guys...

Sam repeats that it was the dragonglass (obsidian) that had done in the Other, and that he is no hero or "slayer". SLAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEERRRRRR! R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman :(
Exposition follows, giving us details on where the discovered dragonglass has gone to (which I guess we need to know in the event that the Others actually advance on the fricking Wall). Sam doesn't think they have enough though. Depends on how many Others there are, of course. Does Sam know something about their numbers? I don't think so. Sam wonders what comes first - the cold, or the Others. I suppose it's an important question, but I am not sure it really matters once you face one of them. Sam also believes the Others are emotionless, which I suppose we should keep in mind. Either Martin is setting us up thinking the Others are these undead, icy automatons, and they actually are more (in the prologue of A Game of Thrones there is a hint that they speak a language of sorts, am I right?), or they are forces of nature without minds...but I tend to think it's the former. Sam misses Jon Snow (who is with the wildlings). He thinks back on the horrors of his recent experiences, until his train of thoughts is interrupted by Mormont's raven calling, "Snow." Coincidence?

The Lord Commander appears and tells Sam to come with him (after having stated that they will have to leave). Mormont complains that they had forgotten what dragonglass was made for and asks if it is truly made of dragons (Sam replies it comes from the earth) - still, a hint that there is a link between dragons and obsidian - did the Targaryens fight the Others back in the day? Did the Others cause the Doom of Valyria? Sometimes I feel like I have questions that only one man can answer. Oh wait, "the children of the forest used dragonglass" . That kind of sucks the life out of my Targaryen suggestion. Craster appears to interrupt their discussion, telling them he's had a son. "Son," Mormont's raven replies. Seriously, I had whacked the thing a long time ago. Craster tells them it's time to leave, he's sick of having the Night's Watch around (or so he makes it sound - could be he just wants them gone before he makes his offering to the Others); Mormont tells him they aren't strong enough to ride yet, but Craster won't have it (further suggesting he's in a hurry to get rid of his visitors).

When Craster complains that with the baby he "has another mouth to feed" (an obvious lie), Sam squeaks that the Watch could take the baby with them. Craster's eyes narrow. That actually scares me a little. The Lord Commander understands that Sam is making a mess of diplomatic relations, and orders him inside. And to be quiet. I don't know where Sam found the courage to speak up like that; he must really like Gilly to want to save her son. He's basically risking everything here.

And now I need a break lest I drop off the chair and onto the floor, to lie there in a semi-perturbed state of semi-consciousness. Which means I'm splitting up this post and get to the rest of the chapter in a post very soon.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

December's In, November's Out

Wow, NaNoWriMo.
With only 1,000 word shy of 50,000 and three days to go I feel elated. Elated because I was able to push myself to do this. Exhausted and tired of the story, which isn't so much a story as lots of talking heads. The draft needs some seriously violent tweaking, but still, I have written all that stuff and I did it in under a month. It gives me the idea that I can write a long story if I want to do it enough. It would take much longer to write something that would be actually worthwhile for anyone else, of course, but still.
I did need an outline which I had beforehand, though, to be able to push through when it dragged. Several times I found myself mindlessly turning outline to flowing text without changing much - at other, more inspired times, I changed things around, gave the wording some thought.
All in all, a really interesting experience which I feel has taught me a lesson or two on time management and the writing of words (I do know a little bit about the writing of words, of course - Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A Clash of Kings Part I, out on December 22nd, comes in at around 100,000 words I believe) - but writing fiction is an entirely different matter, of course.

In the meantime, I sucked up J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Return of the Jedi like a sponge and finished it at record time (me being a slow reader) - only other books that urge me to read that voraciously are, of course, the volumes that make up A Song of Ice and Fire. I put up a few thoughts about Rinzler's book on the making of Jedi in my silly new Star Wars corner.

Which has brought me back to Mark Lawrence's King of Thorns. At first I was like, mmph, this doesn't really grab me like the first book's beginning did, but a few chapters in and we're getting some fun dialogue again. The black humor that made the beginning of Prince of Thorns so entertaining is back. While Prince disappointed as it developed, it's still a pretty fun romp. It's not in the league (by which I am referring mainly to Martin, Abercrombie and Erikson, and perhaps Rothfuss - oh, and Tolkien, kind of) but it certainly lingers close to books like The Painted Man and Throne of the Crescent Moon. The B-list, as I call it. Good, at times perhaps even great, but not consistently awesome.

I've been enjoying a few casual forays into the wilds from my home base in Nashkel in Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. I don't know what reviews say, but I certainly find this enhanced edition does really enhance the game in many ways. It's lovely to be back in Baldur's Gate. I played the heck out of it when it was released. Now I park my characters in Nashkel and then occasionally take them out to clear a map. A bit more of a casual way of playing it than what I did the first time around. Highly recommended for fantasy fans of any stripe and probably the best computer RPG ever built. There is so much more story in this game than more recent RPGs. Even though I am ordering a couple of tiny characters around a 2D environment the game is very evocative and captures the flavor of the Forgotten Realms well. And boy would I love more games like this. Sigh.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My new Star Wars blog.

As you may or may not know, not only am I very fond of A Song of Ice and Fire, I have always been weak for the original Star Wars trilogy as well. Instead of writing about that particular saga here on Stormsongs, I have set up a blog where I can blabber on about Star Wars and the upcoming Episode VII specifically.

In this blog, which I have called Star Wars: The Dark Legacy I will post musings on news as it comes out from Lucasfilm/Disney, and try to build my own vision of what a seventh Star Wars episode could look like. Feel free to drop by, or ignore it like Cersei versus other people's feelings!

Could you imagine a space epic like Star Wars only instead of stylistically going the high fantasy route it went Martin's grim'n'gritty route? Maybe that's the next big thing: Game of Thrones in space.

[Re-read] Tyrion, IV: Of gold and mud - Part II


This post contains a heavy spoiler from the end of 'A Storm of Swords'. You have been warned. Sincerely, Bowen Marsh.

All right, where was I? I was pretty confused reading this chapter two days ago, but in my defense I was very tired and not really focused. But that's how it is, sometimes, isn't it? The chapter never seemed to end, nor did it have scenes that really grabbed me by the, uh, attention. Let's see if, upon finishing the chapter, we get some juicy stuff to rattle our sensibilities. Speaking of sensibilities, it seems I am not the only one who finds The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister a somewhat useless product for which actual trees have paid with their lives. On Amazon.com's page, the book's current rating is a cool two stars, with 28 reviews giving it one star and 4 reviews awarding it with five stars. Not out of spite or anything, but I do hope that this brings home the signal that people will buy Ice & Fire stuff, but that we're also reasonable human beings who won't buy everything with Martin's name on it. If not, we may have to face further titles such as The Back-and-Forth Considerations on Ruling of Daenerys Targaryen, Fabulations on my Sister by Jaime Lannister, The Various Conquests of Gatehouse Amy, Etiquette & Protocol as Defined and Refined by Shitmouth, Where Honor Gets You: A Guide by Lord Eddard Stark, Things Bastards Say: A Collection of Quotes from Luminaries in the Realm of Bastarddom, Quotes that Suggest Varys Feels Less Manly, and of course The Complete Collection of Hodor Quotes.
So here I am complaining about a book about A Song of Ice and Fire while I'm writing books about A Song of Ice and Fire myself. There's a difference, though, isn't there? I've spent years writing about these books, while I could have copied/pasted quotes from the books in half an afternoon. Same goes for many other fans who are writing about Martin's works and worlds, engaged in activities which show our affection for the series. There's a lot of these kind of books available these days, and all of them are more worthy of your attention as an Ice & Fire-devotee than a book of quotes you already know full well. The worst part of it is that when taken out of context, the quotes aren't even that great and some of them are definitely not the kind of lines of dialogue you want to have lying around on your coffee table. And now I shall stop ranting about this publication for ever and ever!

SO, Tyrion was having a chat with his delightful father, Lord Tywin Lannister, who has just told his son that it is useful to show off your wealth because he equates this with showing off the power of his family - but he is not going to forgive the throne's debt to his house to make it easy: Tyrion just has to conjure up the money needed for the expenses of the royal marriage. And again, thanks dad. You are the best. How can you not be the best dad ever when you casually throw in a request to get it on with Lady Sansa Stark, a young girl who has been living in hell since forever, possibly on the brink of suicide who has but recently become a woman (in practical terms, that is).

Tywin is, perhaps interestingly, "puzzled" by the fact that Tyrion has no problem 'bedding whores' but doesn't want to force himself upon Sansa. Interesting because this icy man is always shown as being above petty lust, yet here he is puzzled - in other words, he does show a certain understanding of lust. I mean, here we have a tiny hint that he thinks more like Tyrion than he would ever admit. We'll see where that gets him toward the end of the novel. Tyrion tells him Sansa is too young, but Tywin doesn't want to hear it - because, once her brother is dead, which Tywin says with an absolute certainty (and thus it could be seen as foreshadowing in a way) she will be the Lady of Winterfell. He tempts Tyrion here - "claim her maidenhood and you will be one step closer to claiming the north" - note that he says 'one step closer', thus not promising his son that he will actually become the Lord of Winterfell, I love that insinuation from the author that Tywin isn't really thinking of Tyrion as a future lord. Another possible foreshadowing, or at least a clue that may lead to a separation - the High Septon or a Council of Faith have the authority to annul a marriage if the wedded haven't had sexy-time all night long. Will we see this happen? Maybe. At least the author has put it in there for us to read, so that we can believe it when, in the future, we'll see an annulment of a marriage.

Next up Tywin tells Tyrion that Mace Tyrell has refused Tywin's offer to marry Cersei to Willas. Cersei, however, does not know - and Tywin reminds his son that he is not going to tell her. Again, the TV series departs drastically here, where Cersei knows she is to be married to a Tyrell. In the book, she is never to know about the offer, as Tywin states clearly that for all practical purposes, there never was made an offer in the first place.
That is kind of funny, and juicy, and another game-changer that kind of flies under the radar. This lightens Tyrion's mood, though. He likes that his sister, who thinks so highly of herself (at least the way Tyrion sees and knows her) has been refused. Tywin suspects Lady Olenna - the Queen of Thorns that is - for interfering and forcing her son Mace to refuse. Tyrion has to laugh, and I kind of feel good for him, that he can still laugh - but usually it is at the expense of someone else, often his sister. It is quite a dysfunctional family, no doubts there.

Pycelle enters the room, giving Tyrion the evil eye (Tyrion had his beard shaved off back in the good old days when he was still the most efficient Hand of the King in the annals of Westeros). He wishes to speak with Lord Tywin privately, but Tywin says Tyrion can stay. This of course makes me curious and interested because if we know our Mr. Martin, Tyrion will learn something possibly shocking or revealing or something that twists the plot or his fortunes. Excited, I flip the page (actually I just click a button as I'm reading this chapter in a Kindly way) -- but it's "just" news from the Wall. One would wonder why it's so important to Pycelle that Tyrion doesn't hear this - did he plan to tell Tywin something else and when Tyrion doesn't leave he just improvises on some useless news from the frigid upper north? Even Tywin tells Pycelle that "this warning isn't new" (the warning being that wildlings are moving in great numbers beyond the Wall) - however, there is news of Lord Jeor Mormont's death, which is news. Tyrion, having met the man in person, had liked the gruff Lord Commander but he does not express any outright grief. Pycelle proffers Tywin a letter addressed to all "five kings" (you just know Tywin has to take that as a slight) which states that the Wall is expecting an all-out assault from the wildlings. Of course, this takes (once more) the focus off the reality of the threat as Tywin gets annoyed and begins complaining that there is only one king and that's Joffrey Baratheon. This makes Tywin less interested in dealing with the Night's Watch simply because the Watch isn't acknowledging that there is only true king of Westeros.

Tywin suggests that the Night's Watch needs a better Lord Commander who can bring some discipline to Castle Black - and I would so so so love it if the story had taken Tywin to the Wall instead of the privy! Imagine Lord Tywin Lannister forced to take the black! That would be hilarious and interesting all at the same time and could provide for some very interesting story developments. Of all the characters Martin removes from the game of thrones, I feel Tywin is the one that weakens, rather than enhances, the stories to follow; Ned Stark's death set into motion a fantastic and dramatic story - Tywin's demise just kind of leaves a hole. /sad Slynt.

Oooh! /happy Slynt! Slynt is proposed as the next Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. An all together fitting role for one of the most misunderstood and loyal men under the lion banner. Pycelle seems to suggest Janos Slynt mostly to wex Tyrion, though. And Tywin can just enforce this decision because if the Night's Watch doesn't accept Slynt, well, then Tywin doesn't send them more men. Simple as that. Might makes right. Tyrion tries to tell his dad Slynt is the wrong man; but Tywin won't have it. "There is a tool for every task, and a task for every tool." Couldn't have said it better myself. With that, Tywin orders Pycelle to send a letter to the Watch: they cannot spare any men for the Wall right now, but behave and install Slynt as Lord Commander, and we'll see. What a man, Tywin Lannister. Cunning and cold, enigmatic and ruthless. Truly a loss for the story, if not for the realm.

Tyrion regrets not having killed Pycelle and Slynt, but thinks to himself that at least now he has learned (by ordering the murder of Symon Silver Tongue), and thus ends the chapter with a last reflection: See how fast I learn my lessons? It's not a WOOWIIIEEEWEEBAABANG cliffhanger ending but it is quite chilling in its foreshadowing. Martin is almost spelling it out for us. You know what I mean. Their later confrontation featuring crossbows, poop and whores.Among other things.

And that wraps up Tyrion IV, not the most brilliantly written Tyrion chapter but still a decent read with some interesting politicking and a few funny lines of dialogue. I am not sure I understand Pycelle's motivation toward the end here, is it just to wex Tyrion that he suggests Slynt for Lord Commander or is there more to his agenda here?

Next time: Samwell Tarly, darling.