Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 - A Feast of Fantasy?

Here we are, with only one day left of 2014. I find time fascinating. No matter what we do, we can't stop its march onward. Soon, we'll be in 2015, and we can begin asking the same old question again: Will this be the year?

It might not become the year of The Winds of Winter, but for those of us who love good fantasy, the year is shaping up to be quite solid without Mr. Martin as well. Now, if you look at this "Can't Wait for..." - list on Goodreads for the next year, you'll notice that The Winds of Winter is present but that's of course because of hope, not because anyone has said anything definitive about a release date. I'm not saying we won't get another novel in our beloved saga in '15, because he might just surprise us all, theoretically speaking at least. There are a few other titles too that I'm not too sure we'll see, but if we for a moment imagine that all these books will be published in the year to come, we do have a real feast of fantasy ahead of us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Re-read] Samwell V: The Choice is Sam's, actually. Kind of, anyway.

How did it come to this?
Last night I got a call from a neighbor asking if I wanted to go see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and, well. I wasn't particularly keen to see Peter Jackson thrash the legacy of Tolkien even further after the two previous Bilbo Baggins films, but then I heard that the teaser trailer for Star Wars was being shown, and that got me all excited - to see it on the big screen. Imagine my disappointment when they showed the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings instead. Oh well; the main attraction was to be the third Hobbit film, and there was very little in it that I was able to truly like - a few shots toward the very end of the film that truly evoked the sense of Middle-earth. What the heck happened after Fellowship of the Ring? That film genuinely drew me in, and most of the scenes felt real and tangible; The Battle of the Five Armies felt like an especially hectic cartoon most of the time, and whenever there was a scene that was supposed to be poignant it just became laughable. I still like whatshisname's performance as Thorin Oakenshield, though. But what a mess of a movie.
At so many points I could only laugh at the silliness - grumpy Legolas, overacted Galadriel, the menace of the Ringwraiths reduced to cartoon-like silliness, Tauriel's unconvincing love, the need to overdo everything (towers falling to neatly wedge between two cliffs to form a bridge), Azog's swim beneath the ice, it was all so fricking soulless. Boo/hiss!
I suppose I could go on and write a grand dissertation about why I feel the Hobbit trilogy doesn't do justice to the source material, or even Jackson's own The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The films manage to both be overwhelmingly epic and detailed and at times beautiful yet they are never exciting or all that interesting; they are frustrating but not nearly as frustrating as the Star Wars prequel trilogy was, fortunately. The biggest sin, I think, is that The Battle of the Five Armies felt more like I was watching a Dungeons & Dragons film (we even got a token Scottish Dwarf) than a piece based on J.R.R. Tolkien's works. Enough about that, I've got to counter this dose of bad fantasy with some good fantasy. And what's better than A Storm of Swords? Not much, I reckon.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wrapping up '14

Wow, how can I forget each and every year just how crazy busy December is? There's almost no time to geek out on anything. When night falls, I can barely keep my eyes open to read a good fantasy novel or what have you.

However, last night I had a total geekout when I took my firstborn to witness an orchestra play the music of Star Wars. It was brilliant, though I'll never understand why they omitted playing Han Solo and the Princess, perhaps my favorite theme from the saga. Not complaining, though; we got music from the entire saga and the orchestra performed it flawlessly. In addition, the performance was enhanced by people from the Nordic 501st Legion in full suits. Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Jango Fett, C-3P0 and more made it a memorable night for both father and son. Also, it made me want to get my own high quality suit and join the legion. Oh yes, the Star Wars fanboy in me is fully awake these days and it's probably only going to get more intense in the year to come. Have you felt it?! The dark side...and the light.

Still, A Song of Ice and Fire has a special and large part of my heart as well, despite all the obstacles the franchise throws in my way; the long waits between novels, the half-baked merchandise (okay, okay, there are a few gems as well). Today I visited a LFGS (local friendly game shop) and there was a lot of Game of Thrones-stuff there (particularly all kinds of drinking gadgets - cups, steins, shot glasses...) but I am more fond of the stuff that's based on the books than the TV show. I almost bought the 2015 calendar but eventually I ended up with Steven Erikson's latest novella, The Wurms of Blearmouth, completing my collection of all things Malazan. I wrapped it in gift paper and won't open it until Christmas eve, though. Gives me the time to finish Assassin's Apprentice, Willfull Child and The Companions on the Kindle. So that's one Christmas present down, a whole lot to go. But as always, the best Christmas present would be an announcement on a certain blog that is not a blog about a certain finishing of a certain novel. I'd definitely yell hooray for that.

Before I've often done an "End of the Year" post trying to summarize good geek-stuff from the year. This year I'm going to keep it short. Just like I've felt 2014 has been: Short. Time flies. Here's a list of things I thought made being a geek extra nice in the year that was.

1. Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens teaser trailer
Rekindling my love for the original trilogy with an 88-second blast, the teaser was more than I had hoped for after the soul-crushing disappointment of the prequel trilogy. It has completely occupied my thoughts since it was released two weeks ago, as you might have noticed. I just can't help but love this stuff.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
What a fun movie that was. I still haven't re-watched it, a blu-ray copy is on my Christmas wish list so I'm hoping to see it again soon (and hopefully it's just as enjoyable then).

3. Legend of Grimrock 2
The only game that has kept me hooked until the grim finish line this year (though this is mostly due to my crappy computer not being good enough to really enjoy a few other promising titles such as Divinity: Original Sin). I love me some dungeon-crawling and this game provides it to the point that I got sick of it.

4. Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools
In my humble opinion the best fantasy novel of the year. I voted for it on the Goodreads Awards.

5. The World of Ice and Fire (at least the half I've read so far)
After all the negative things I've said about this work, it still ended up being a fairly hefty tome of lore, with some absolutely amazing artwork and some very interesting details nestled in there for the starving fan of Ice & Fire.

So...with only five notables, I have to say that 2014 perhaps was a bit of a lean year for the fan of all things nerdy. Dungeons & Dragons returned with its 5th edition but I never felt an impact. A number of fantasy novels were good, but not great (Joe Abercrombie's Half a King deserves a honorable mention). There were probably a lot of great video games (Dragon Age Inquisition perhaps?) but until I can scramble together enough money for a good rig, they are lost to me (boohoo).

2015 on the other hand sounds pretty fantastic already with a new Malazan book from Steven Erikson, that Star Wars movie, a new season of Thrones, and, fingers crossed, maybe please maybe The Winds of Winter? I'm not counting on it, but a man must hope. Valar mohopefulness.

Friday, December 5, 2014

[Re-read] Tyrion XI: Dysfunction Prevails

[Spoilers almost from the get-go; read at your own risk]

Five days and my life is still distorted from the disruption of the Star Wars teaser trailer; last night, however, I was able to focus and read another chapter in Assassin's Apprentice as well as another chapter in Willfull Child, and today I'm ready to re-enter the gritty, treacherous, exciting world that George R.R. Martin dreamed up for the enjoyment of us all. It's a good thing it's arguably the story's most entertaining character leading this 78th chapter of A Storm of Swords. If anyone can keep me sane in the aftermath of Black Friday, it's Tyrion Lannister.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

So how goes the game in all of this?

A tantalizing, hype-inducing image of awesomeness and then some! Can't wait.
Right. The whole weekend and the start of this week my brain has been fully dedicated to the Star Wars saga. It's like a virus taking control over a computer! I have watched the teaser trailer countless times, and my feelings about it change all the time, from wonder and amazement and love to worry and skepticism and everything in between. I haven't read one word in any of the books I'm reading, because I have drifted toward Star Wars forums and websites. It overshadows everything else, simply put. That's apparently how important this is to me, even though some part of me tells me to get over it and "it's just a movie" (a sixth diminishing return in fact!) - but the magic of Star Wars is strong and overwhelming. No, not Jar Jar Binks. The originals, man. And, hopefully, these sequels.

Anyway, this also tends to overshadow my love for A Song of Ice and Fire which I technically find a more impressive cultural expression/story, but all I really need to do is go to George's website to get that magical feeling of Westeros to the fore of my brain. I mean, there's this insanely interesting post where George is displeased with a sports team (so he does know what it feels like to be let down by something/someone he is a fan of); he also has no words regarding another sports team; and in case you thought the man had learned anything about treating his fans there's even more Wild Cards to be advertised. Right. Well, say what you will about American football teams not performing well enough, I think George could perform a little better himself. If Martin can be entitled, so can I and any other reader disappointed with the man's lack of progress and the lack of communication with the people who carried him on their shoulders all the way to worldwide fame and embarrassing riches.

Before I get too pessimistic, Telltale Games are releasing a Game of Thrones (yes, based on the TV series) video game, simply titled Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series, Season One. This review at PC Gamer (UK) gives me a little hope that we will actually see our first worthwhile game based on Martin's intellectual property. Unfortunately you can't build your own character(s) or House, nor is it truly a CRPG the way I ravishingly love them, but a good point'n'click adventure could be a nice addition to the collection. I'm still hoping someone takes the rules system for Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game and translates it to a more free-form CRPG (or even a strategy MMO where players create their Houses on small servers, interacting on several levels - as political leaders, inhabiting family members' avatars etc.) Too much to hope for? Of course. That's what A Song of Ice and Fire is partially made of.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Have you felt it?

Right...so I finally got to watch the teaser trailer for Episode VII yesterday and have been spinning it a dozen times since. Bit of a ramble, as such teases tend to make my mind go all over the place and I'm not even sure I agree with what I wrote. I also realize I didn't comment on the voice-overs (there are two, though the voices are quite similarly pitched/styled). I thought it was a bit goofy. It looks like winter is coming with that Sith Lord...

I went to starwars.com and was greeted with a picture of two TIE Fighters and the Falcon and I wondered for a moment if it was a shot from Star Wars: Rebels. Looking more closely, it said "Teaser trailer". Well, that wasn't a good start. So I hit play and...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A day long remembered

The big day has arrived!

No, not Black Friday. That's just meant to trick you into buying stuff that, while on sale, still was cheaper to produce than the price you paid for it.

No, today comes the teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I'm ready at the screen, eyes open for any sign of it appearing online. Probably about eight hours early, but still. I haven't been this excited since...since A Feast for Crows was on its way in the mail from Amazon, I suppose. That was really exciting. I remember the book finally arriving, and me rushing out to the post office to pick it up, going home, unpacking it...taking a selfie with the book as if it wouldn't be real without photographic evidence, and then jumping in and ... erm. That has to wait for my re-read of Feast and Dance. Still four chapters and an epilogue to go.

In other news, I finally found half an hour to flip a few more pages of The World of Ice and Fire. I admit I'm losing hope with the endless reams of texts about the Targaryen kings. So many names and back-and-forths, its almost like reading the bible. Too little juice, too much bone. Still, the quality of the art is very high and while the typos have become more prominent it still reads better (technically) than Dance.

Expect the next A Storm of Swords post after the weekend. For now, it is time to hopefully celebrate a glorious return to form for the saga that has been part of my life since 1982/83.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Season Five Teaser

It must be the old gods working their magic. I had barely finished my last re-read post (Jon XI) where I talked about being excited about tomorrow's Star Wars teaser trailer and bemoaning the fact that maybe Martin will be overshadowed if he doesn't soon finish The Winds of Winter, and what do we get? A teaser trailer for Game of Thrones Season V. Maybe HBO knows they need to do a little more to stay relevant now? I don't know. I just thought it was funny the (excruciatingly) short Arya Stark teaser came out this week. Another link between GoT and SW is that there are rumors of a third actor/actress from GoT joining the SW cast.

We already knew that Gwendoline (Brienne of Tarth) and Miltos (Syrio Forel) are part of the Star Wars cast next year, but apparently Jessica Henwick will play a role in Star Wars. She's the actress who will play Nymeria Sand in the next season of GoT. A strange casting, methinks. She kind of does not look like a Dornish character (I can live with that), or Oberyn Martell's daughter (that's the hard part).

I have to admit that I like getting my two favorite stories crossing like this but I am also worried that whenever I see Gwen or Miltos on screen in Episode VII I'll be seeing Brienne of Tarth and Syrio Forel.

[Re-read] Jon XI: Dangler of Carrots

SO, I've lamented before how I don't have the time to watch movies anymore. Back in the day, before so many other things preoccupied my time, I watched a lot of movies. I loved watching movies. But now I've realized that theatrical trailers for movies are becoming so long and show so much of a film that I can basically watch those instead of the full films and get away with a general idea of the plot and how the hero eventually reaches his goal. I watched a few movie trailers earlier today and, after having seen them, I actually lost the desire to watch these films because the trailers told me enough. Perhaps the trailers I chose to watch are for films that are exceptionally cliché/predictable, but really. At least I have saved a lot of hours in this way. The trailers I watched were for the movies 47 Ronin, Hercules: The Legend Begins, Homefront, and Seventh Son (yeah I generally look for scifi/fantasy movies which might be part of the problem of finding tired stories). These trailers lay it all out - the film's premise, the basic plot, the characters, and the question becomes "do I want to see all the bits in between?", and not a desire to learn more, or a wish to see it all. None of the trailers leave me with a sense of curiosity or excitement.

So why am I thinking about movie trailers all of a sudden? Well, in two days we are getting our first glimpses (eighty-eight seconds, to be precise) of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (wow, I think I have actually not talked about the subtitle on here .. at length), so that's probably the link. I am insanely excited about this teaser trailer as it will most likely determine my hype level for the next year. In a way, I hope it turns me off, so I don't have to go all Star Wars-crazy again...but I suspect that, being a "teaser" (which is the format all trailers should employ, if you ask me), it will show me just enough to get me excited and not enough to form a solid opinion on what VII will be like.

Maybe Jon Snow can help me stay grounded and off the Star Wars fever. He's a fairly grounded guy, himself, if, in many ways. Off we go to the seventy-seventh chapter of A Storm of Swords! But, really, Mr. Martin, you're facing some stiff competition in the years ahead. A new novel would be quite useful in staying on top of the game...of thrones.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

[Re-read] Samwell IV: Plodding On

Great news, everybody! George R.R. Martin recently announced that he is about halfway through The Winds of Winter. This means, by careful estimates, that we might possibly see the book released in 2016/2017. He might be slow, but it seems he has grown comfortable with his new schedule of one or two books a decade. Of course, there are arguments in the linked thread that suggest taking Martin's comment literally is unwise; maybe he meant that one half of Winds is super-done, totally finished, delivered to the editor..and the other half is in a rough state. Well, that's a big fricking maybe right there. With no updates from the man himself aside from this half-hearted comment, it is impossible to know just how close or how far away Winds is. Some are positive - cheer up, the book is halfway done; others are more pessimistic - the book will never be done. The comment does elicit reaction one way or the other, myself I'm leaning toward pessimistic but not dramatically so; I am confident we will have watched and digested Season 5 and maybe even 6 before we can enjoy another novel in the series. It seems to me that Martin has given up trying to stay ahead, and resigned. Gotta love that one commenter who says that, well, you know, maybe "middle of the book" means 95% finished. If he decides to split it into two volumes. Yes, people are getting desperate. And so many more readers will now know what it means to suffer through one of the Long Nights between books. And so many will read, and re-read, the books in existence as if that magically will enhance Martin's writing speed. Which is kind of what I'm doing right here with this blog, so let's flip open to Samwell's fourth and last chapter in A Storm of Swords and for a moment forget the darkness that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds us together.

Friday, November 14, 2014

[Spoiler-free review] Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools

All right, so I finished another fantasy novel last night. Like Half a King (Joe Abercrombie) before it, I ripped through it with a speed and dedication that I often lack. Now, I know, some of you read a slim novel like this in a day, but I really don't have that kind of time. Still, the point is that Prince of Fools, then, is a good old yarn with a drive to it that makes me want to read. It's not the kind of novel that lingers on the nightstand for fricking years (I'm looking at you, Sanderson's The Way of Kings, among others), it has a direct, immediate and fast pace with a narrator of dubious morality that just draws you into his world and demands attention.

In that sense, Prince of Fools is quite similar to the trilogy that precedes it. In The Broken Empire Trilogy (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns) we saw Lawrence's world through the eyes of a narrator with dubious morality - Jorg of Ancrath - but the main character in this new trilogy in the same world - Prince Jalan of Red March - is a different enough fellow from Jorg to become his own distinct lead.  Where Jorg leaned toward violence, Jal is of different cloth, yet the two aren't entirely dissimilar either.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Erikson does it...again

SO, the Malazan Re-read at TOR is over, and people can ask the master questions. And he's already popped in, answering questions where he can.

What an author!

To quote him,

I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to engage with you all, via this screen and TOR.com, as well as via your emails to me through StevenErikson.com. While I may not be able to respond to each and every one of you (I’d never get any work done), be assured that I appreciate your reaching out to me.

Doesn't that make you wish a certain other author would love to be so forthcoming with his readership? Of course, he's in a different league and his way to communicate material to his fans might well be to release the lil' juggernaut The World of Ice & Fire.

I have finished the section on the most ancient history of Martin's world (next up: the Targaryens) and I have to admit that, at least so far, the book is pretty well written. Haven't even noticed any glaring typos (something I feared based on the amount of typos in A Dance with Dragons). A pleasant surprise then, so far, and even in those few first pages of most ancient history there were some interesting nuggets of information that gave me new understanding, and even introducing a faction within Westeros we haven't seen yet. There is text that supports certain theories here, too, such as a possible link between the Children of the Forest and House Reed. 
And the art is pretty darn good, overall. 

I am actually looking forward to delve deeper into the tome - it is not as ponderous as I feared.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

It has arrived

Well, today it arrived in the mail. The World of Ice and Fire. Martin's name is so huge it's totally easy to miss that there are two more authors. The book was about the size I expected it to be, which is fairly large, let's call it a tome.

I've flipped through it quickly, and there's a huge amount of text here, so my guess is it might be a ponderous tome. I fear my review will not be forthcoming this side of 2014 if I am actually going to bother reading all that stuff. Man!
(Prince of Fools, first, though. I got through the sagging bit and am now back on track at about two-thirds done. Great book but after a great opening I feel the three stories about Jorg that Mark Lawrence wrote first remain the better tale. Unless the last third of Fools ramps it up in terms of humor and excitement, that is.)

And there's some great art - some really great art - in The World of Ice & Fire; and much less of it recycled from Fantasy Flight Games products than I feared (buying the two The Art of Ice & Fire books I could have just gone through my collection of A Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game cards to see the same art - mostly). There's one particular piece here that really awed me (I haven't seen all yet, just flipped through remember), I am so going to try and scan it, sharpen it, and show it here and/or use it as my new dual monitor wallpaper. It's a classic scene painted a hundred times before, but this one really stood out. It had a..haunted quality to it. Esoteric, if you will.

It's not giving me the Westeros fever, though; I'm still heavily infected by the Star Wars virus. Made me watch old Star Wars documentaries instead of finishing Legend of Grimrock 2. Made me tear into the olde box of vintage action figures and vehicles, just looking and putting it all back.

There's only one cure, and that's The Winds of Winter, and no, not dinosaurs. What annoys me most about Martin's latest post (besides it not being about said Winds) is that I wanted to write a medieval dinosaur novel! Oh well.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen Wrap Up

During my re-reads of A Song of Ice and Fire, I came upon Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Gradually, book by book if you will, I became more fascinated with the series - but it wasn't until I discovered TOR.com's re-read that I really began to understand just how deep and profound these books are, and just how great it would be to re-read this particular series - even more rewarding than Ice & Fire in the sense that there's even more details, even more foreshadowing, even more subtle clues to discover and re-discover.

[Re-read] Arya XIII: Valar D'oh!aeris

Yesterday was an exciting day for Star Wars geeks across the globe, with Lucasfilm announcing the title of Episode VII. Now, any sane person would hear it, shrug, and go back to business but I was adequately swept up in long discussions online on the meaning and quality of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How can a simple movie title cause so much excitement and cause for wasting away time on the Interwebs? It's the same effect that makes me write about A Song of Ice and Fire, of course. Being a fan. A devotee. It's what makes people build websites dedicated to their favorite entertainment. The kind of entertainment that's so solid it becomes something more; an experience, a phenomenon. For some it's Star Trek, for others The Lord of the Rings. For some poor souls like myself we find intense passion for more than one such phenomenon, which makes it difficult to juggle. Feeling so strongly about invented material is both a great feeling, but occasionally it also feels like a drain on my energy as well as my time. I have only a limited time of the day to devote to all those things I love and enjoy immersing myself in, and it's kind of annoying. Also, obviously, a luxury many people in the world can't even fathom. At any rate, I have come to the point I'm almost scheduling my nerdist hobbies. One hour for gaming, one for reading, one for writing etc. It helps. And Fridays, well, Fridays I try to reserve for my A Storm of Swords re-read. So here we go, with Arya Stark's last chapter in the novel, a very poignant chapter at that.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Wow, how many years since those Ice & Fire art prints were published?  I think it was 2007, so that's seven solid years ago. There were three released (as far as I'm aware), painted by the fantastic Michael Kormarck (my favorite Ice & Fire artist) - one featuring Ned Stark cleaning his greatsword Ice in a quiet moment in the godswood; a second featuring Sansa Stark building a miniature snow-Winterfell; and a third, featuring Jon Snow and Ghost. Well, I bought the two first all those years ago, and lo! and behold. Today I finally framed them and hanged them on the wall. At least I'm following tradition by waiting so long. But seriously, I'm so glad I finally got them up. The last years have been turbulent, so the prints have just been lying around, but now that I have an office-ish room, it was time for Ned and Sansa to get what they deserved. Well, Ned got what he deserved in King's Landing, of course, but you know what I mean. Only shame is that I haven't been able to keep the prints in pristine condition, there are some creases, the Sansa one is probably too damaged to be hanging on the wall in the first place, you see it when the light shines on her from a particular angle. Well, that was the Ice & Fire news. 

Yeah, I caught the newsflash on the seventh season and the actors signing and getting more money and that whatshishname Jon Snow is on the list as well, but that hardly counts as a spoiler. Even my dim brain caught on to the Ghost-warging-thingy at the end of Dance there.

In other news, I'm halfway through Mark Lawrence's King of Fools and boy, it's good. Not better than Jorg of Ancrath's adventures in the Broken Empires trilogy (not yet, anyway) but just as - and that's saying something. It's already so entertaining I gave it my vote at Goodread's annual Choice Awards.

In other other news, I am not sure whether I should be waxing positive about Legend of Grimrock 2 anymore. The puzzles are sometimes so infuriatingly frustrating. And my party is so hungry! But still, gotta love a game that actually is difficult to play well, and which manages to balance old school gaming with modern sensibilities pretty well. Love it and hate it.

And in other other other news, tomorrow there's yet another Steven Erikson novel coming out, Willful Child. It's a Star Trek parody, so pretty far from The Malazan Books of the Fallen, but knowing how droll Erikson can be, it will probably be a hoot. If you're new and you haven't read it yet: Steven Erikson is a genius, although it may take you a book or three to figure that out. Go check this excerpt from Willful Child. Unless you don't want to. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Woooo, it's that time of the year again. November means letting the fingers fly across the keys, trying to get a coherent 50,000 words down.
This will be my third time. In 2012, I bailed out. I didn't have an outline, and I found myself at a loss. Last year, I managed to finish the quest, though the result - a novel I called "Invert the Skies" - well, I had a very detailed outline and I finished but it wasn't a very readable story I think. Not that I have tried to read it, perhaps I should.
This year my outline is a lot vaguer. I have a main character and a setting and a few bits of plot. And I have decided to try out a story in the vein of Joe Abercrombie's "Half a King": a simple one-POV structure with a (relatively) simple linear plot, with a high pace, each chapter moving the story toward the end effectively - no filler just killer, as they say. I believe I read that in an Amazon review of "The World of Ice and Fire", only it said just filler no killer. Sounds promising.

Anyway, my point is, give NaNoWriMo a try if you dabble in writing. It's fun. And a little bit hard some days, obviously. I already know I'll be behind by Monday as the weekend is booked full.

But will I be able to stay away from Legend of Grimrock 2? I have played about 70% of it (at a guess) and there's still much to explore and get frustrated with. Say one thing about Grimrock, say it is has some fricking frustrating puzzles. And a scarcity of food for my hungry heroes. Gotta love dungeoneering though. I'm going to put some dungeon action in my NaNoWriMo '14 novel - but with the sensibilities (?) of gritty.

The World of Ice & Fire

So, three days ago was the release of The World of Ice and Fire. Obviously not as news-worthy as a new novel in the series, but it still seemed to be noticed quite a bit. I have been quite negative toward this book since its announcement back in the 18th century, at first mostly because I feel a book like this should wait for the completion of the novel series, for obvious reasons. So obvious there should be no need to state them, actually.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[Re-read] Jon X: Between the Wall and a Hard Place

Inching ever closer to completing a read of A Storm of Swords for the tenth time (and still missing stuff that other readers with more adhesive brains would scoff at), and getting closer to that Feastdance attempt at getting a more positive view on the two last novels in the series (that sounds ominous doesn't it), and I am at the moment not in that Ice & Fire zone where I am obsessing over the characters and events of Martin's work. I guess I'll soon enough be in the zone again. There's the world book coming out tomorrow, for one. That will probably garner a lot of discussion that will heat the flames of passion for one of my favorite stories ever told. However, I think I won't get overly excited about the series again until there's some hard evidence for The Winds of Winter coming out. A release date, another excerpt...something like that. It feels like it's been really quiet these last months. No, I don't believe we're in a "calm before the storm" situation where we suddenly are given the news we want, but I do hope this means work is being done on that sixth elusive book.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

[Review] Joe Abercrombie: "Half a King"

It's perhaps no secret that I enjoy Joe Abercrombie's sense of humor and his no frills fantasy action adventures, but to be honest I almost gave up on him when I read his debut novel, The Blade Itself, when it was published. There were too few characters I liked, I thought, but what I really needed was to recognize a different strand of characterization, and when I learned to enjoy characters more than flawed, it became a joy. I finished the two sequels that made up the The First Law trilogy and saw an author developing his style book by book, getting increasingly entertaining.
It was with his first stand-alone novel, Best Served Cold, which followed the trilogy, that I became a fan. Here, Abercrombie perfected his style and I still think it is his best novel...or do I? The Heroes was excellent too, with a few scenes that haunt me to this day, and Red Country was good as well.

I was surprised to learn that Joe would leave the setting of all these books - the Circle of the World - to concentrate on a trilogy of young adult novels, and I admit I wasn't sure whether I should buy Half a King or not. Half a King, then, is the first in this trilogy, and it is stylistically something entirely different, though the trappings are similar enough that it could have been set in the Circle of the World, only that the violence is given less graphic descriptions, and the lands around the Shattered Sea (the new setting) have elf-ruins. Otherwise, the two settings are quite similar in that they convey a gritty fantasy world - perhaps the Shattered Sea, the younger of the two, leans slightly more toward a northern European early medieval feel, in particular does it invoke a feeling of reading a story set in a Viking age (or perhaps a setting like the world of How To Train Your Dragon - except for the dragons). 

Abercrombie's style has been watered down here into amazingly fast-paced, tightly written chapters where not a word feels wasted. From the first scene to the last, the writing is economical yet still allows Abercrombie to provide vivid images for the reader's mind. In fact, by writing Half a King, Abercrombie shows that he has more tricks up his sleeve than just the style of his six first novels, and maybe that was one of the reasons Joe decided to write this story this way. 

The story itself is, at least at first glance, nothing that will make your eyebrows develop engines to forever leave their place above your eyes, but there are a few twists and turns that came out quite surprising (to me at least), particularly how Abercrombie dealt with characters' fates. Also, even though the book is labeled 'young adult', Joe isn't afraid to leave characters in pretty dire circumstances - almost all the time. Every chapter is exciting and gives you an incentive to read just one more chapter; it has been a long while since I read a story so quickly (though I admit Half a King is ridiculously short - however, the story that remains embedded in the mind afterward feels just as epic as novels three times its size). 

Yarvi is the main character, a prince, and his mother Cersei Laithlin is an important character to the plot - but the story is really about Yarvi going through a lot of ordeals and gaining friends in the process. These friends are of typical, if watered-down, Abercrombie style. When I say they are watered down I mean the cast of characters in this novel, Yarvi excepted, are painted in broad strokes and we never get the complexities or fun of characters like Glokta, Logen, the Dogman, Cosca, or Monza Murcatto. The plot itself could have run twice its length to allow more time for the reader (and Yarvi) to absorb everything that's going on, but the lean pushing on style works wonders. I am impressed how Joe manages to change gears like this, and I am impressed at how well he writes. 

In the end, I prefer his earlier work, but Half a King still is a pleasant surprise and not at all what I expected. It's exciting, fast, not as fun as his previous work, simpler, has some great turns, and employs a narrative device lifted straight from one of the Abercrombie 'classics'. The book certainly makes me want to read the sequel, but at the same time it is actually so well-rounded it doesn't really need a sequel. Or rather, I don't need a sequel. It was a perfectly satisfying little morsel of fantasy.

And now I'm on the next on the list, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools, and it's completely entertaining already, just a few chapters in. That Lawrence fellow really is a contender for the throne of "black-humored fantasy" Joe has been sitting in for a while. 

In other news, I did eventually beat Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos and I am now mired in the fun that is Legend of Grimrock 2. I wanted to do a post on my victory over the hag Scotia but the world is so depressing these days. 

And in Ice and Fire news? The Ice Dragon is coming out, for the umpteenth time, but with new art! Praise the old gods and the new. Actually, the awesomeness of this allows for capital letters. New Art, people! Buy buy buy buy

Friday, October 17, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime IX: Dejection by Rejection (and a flabby...)

It's Friday! That's pretty good all by itself, but in addition I am treating myself to another chapter feat. my favorite character (at the moment, at any rate), Ser Jaime Lannister! And I'm reading it while listening to a classic King Diamond-album, Them, from 1988, one of the most glorious years in the history of metal music. Not saying King Diamond enhances the reading experience, but I just needed to get off my chest how awesome this Danish horror-metal-meister is. His music - and perhaps especially his vocal styles - are a love it or hate it thing. However, I didn't come here to extol the virtues of King Diamond, but the (slowly appearing?) virtues of Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the most ambitiously written characters in the fantasy genre. Last time we saw him, he was having a meeting in the White Sword Tower and checking out that White Book, now let's see if this 73rd (!) chapter in A Storm of Swords features more color.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nostalgia for Yesterday

I'm steamrolling through Joe Abercrombie's Half a King, now at an impressive 68% read. I have realized by now that the actual physical book must be quite short (for a fantasy novel), which accounts for some of my unusual speed, but the book is also eminently fast-paced and readable. Compared to The Way of Kings which I started four years ago, it feels like I'm reading at warp speed. Anyway.

Yesterday was a big day, folks. October 15th, 2014. A day to be remembered. Spoilers for Episode VII after the jump.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I'm so busy with work these days - I'm actually writing this at a conference hotel, having a quick break between lectures - that A Storm of Swords and other nerdities have to wait for a while. However, I can't help but feel the need to extol my joy at Legends of Grimrock 2 being released tomorrow! It feels like only months since the first game was published, but time, as always, seems to fly, and here we are, and the sequel is a reality. I'm excited to see if they have been able to keep that claustrophobic old school atmosphere of the original, knowing that the sequel will include outdoor areas. I'm excited to have another dungeon to delve, 'cause dungeons rock when brought to life in computer games. I only wish I had time to actually really sink my teeth into Grimrock 2, instead of the sporadic bursts of dungeoneering I will probably end up doing. But a little adventure is better than no adventure, eh?

After I finished Assail (see previous post) I immediately turned to the next book in my e-queue, which was Joe Abercrombie's Half a King. I wasn't expecting much, to be honest, and the excerpts published online almost made me not buy this work, but now that I'm 1/4th through it, I am glad I did. I'll save the whys of it for the review. After Half a King, the next book in the e-queue will be Prince of Fools, Mark Lawrence's fourth, and the first in a new trilogy set in the world first presented in the Broken Empire trilogy. I'm excited to get into that one as well, as I'm hearing good things about it, particularly the character interaction and humor.

In 1990's classic Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, I am reaching the end, slowly. I'm in the final dungeon (or castle), looking for the body of King Richard, encased in carbonite. I have to free him and defeat the enemy, the witch Scotia, before I can say I have beaten the game. It's a tricky dungeon, though, and I keep walking into teleporter traps that, in actuality, just serve to make me less interested in finishing - bit of a shame, that. The first half of the game was definitely more enjoyable as the obstacles were easier to overcome, I suppose. Still, I wonder now how I could let such a game be unplayed back in the day, as it caters so fully to my tastes in gaming.

And in the land of Ice & Fire, Martin has uploaded a number of interviews, none of them bringing The Winds of Winter any faster to these shores. Season five of Game of Thrones seems to break out of adaptation mode entirely and is going its own way, people are tired of the same theories discussed over and over again, in general these are long and slow days to be a fan of all things Ice & Fire, but I suspect there will be another surge of interest (a spike, if you will) come the end of the month and the release of the world book - followed by another plummet into long days of waiting. But will the next spike be The Winds of Winter? Only the elite knows.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

[Review] Ian C. Esslemont's ASSAIL

When I began reading Assail, the latest volume of lore set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was excited and went through the first chapters pretty fast. It was good to be back in the setting created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, and I was curious about this mysterious continent of Assail, and how Esslemont would tie up the many plots found in the five books preceding this one, Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne, and Blood & Bone. I loved that last one, with the adventures in Jacaruku, a story full of humid jungles and mystery. This time, we get a story full of frigid northern landscapes and a little less mystery (but still more than enough to confuse me, as Malazan books always do).
However, about halfway through, the story began to sag under its own weight of similar plot-lines and characters that became indistinguishable. Everybody was moving, either by foot or by ship, through similar landscapes and it all became a blur. Some characters were more interesting than others, but in general Esslemont once again struggles making them really come alive and leap off the paper - something George R.R. Martin remains the master of, and something that Erikson improved over his ten books in the Malazan saga.

Monday, October 6, 2014

[Re-read] Daenerys VI: Meereen, it rhymes with queen (and also "Wish I had a time machine")

Today we begin wrapping up A Storm of Swords, with Daenerys Targaryen's last chapter - imagine reading it in, say, 2000, and then being told that you won't get to read more about the Stormborn's (mis)adventures until 2011. That's eleven years we waited for her story to continue, and one could argue that with such a long drought, her story-line in A Dance with Dragons perhaps became doubly disappointing to those who expected more action from the warrior queen. Throughout her tale in the first three books, there was always a hint of the somewhat exotic yet firmly swords & sorcery type of adventure, with more than one element from Conan the Barbarian - type tales present. Then, eleven years later, when readers got a confused teenage girl fantasizing about the flamboyant Daario Naharis and generally spending most of her time on her ass in Meereen, well, disappointment seems almost bound to rise. To have risen? Well, as I've said before, when I get to my planned re-read of the two last novels with chapters mixed up in what has become known as Feastdance, maybe it will all work out somehow and I'll find other aspects of her tale to enjoy. But that first time through A Dance with Dragons...man, was that boring. Whenever there was a new Daenerys chapter coming up (or Jon, for that matter), it was like a speed bump in the road. A bump so big it made me rather want to stop and take a break. This is kind of drastic compared to the way I devoured the first three books. However, we are still in A Storm of Swords, and although this chapter does set up what we should have been expecting perhaps, it stands stronger because it is built upon what has come before. I am very curious to see if Daenerys' character is consistent from Storm to Dance, or if Martin indeed felt forced to "lock her up" in Meereen only for the other story-lines to "reach" her, if you know what I mean. Also, I have to admit it's kind of funny seeing TV-show-only fans being impatient with Dany's invasion of Westeros. THAT BEING SAID, let's rock our way through Daenerys VI!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Time doth fly

I had a plan to re-read a chapter today, but alas! time doth fly, and with visitors and work and this and that and also that that, I just couldn't fit it in. Will try to get a new post up soon.
Meanwhile I am about halfway through classic Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos. Last night, struggling through the maze forests of the kingdom, I came upon a white tower, and upon entering it I got a good kicking of nostalgia - it was like playing Eye of the Beholder II: Legend of Darkmoon all over again, wondering what's behind the next door, fighting horrible creatures, finding keys and the locks to match, and generally having a blast adventuring through this. I admit it became too difficult not to look up some help on the Interweb, especially when I somehow ended up in a hallway with only a pit to exit through, a pit which threw me right into a room so crowded with monsters I could barely move. Since I'm stubbornly playing with only one save game, it looked like the adventure was definitely over. However, the Interweb told me there was a button in one of the walls of said monster-infested chamber, and so I managed to hack my way there, hit the button, reveal a new passageway, and get out of there. That's what I both love and hate about these old school games. They don't exactly hold your hand. I remember being stuck for months in aforementioned Eye of the Beholder II, and no one knew what I had to do to get on with the adventure. One night, while heavily affected by beer, I suddenly got the solution right, but when I woke up the next day I hadn't saved the game and had forgotten what I did to open that pesky door. Fortunately, a week or so later, I finally got the combination right that opened that pesky, pesky door. I remember it vividly; especially that great feeling of accomplishment and to know the adventure could finally continue. It's the same now, with Lands of Lore, although it is slightly more difficult as this game requires you to move up and down between dungeon levels a lot more. Harder to keep track of the puzzles and such. But I am trying to play it almost without looking at solutions, but these days I can't muster the patience the way I was able to before (simply because I didn't have access to help). Anyway, running through the adventure keeps my fantasy fix need in check, which is good as the three-day tabletop session I was supposed to run in a few weeks has been cancelled. Sad face.

Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos (and its sequels, Guardians of Destiny, which I never liked, and III, which I never tried) is available on the great site GOG, along with a host of other videogame classics. Could my sudden urge to play Lands be because I am waiting for my pre-order of Legend of Grimrock II? Possibly. Man, I love games like this. I so want some company to build more games like this, based on classic D&D modules for example, or to reboot those old gold box games like Pools of Darkness and Secrets of the Silver Blades. Now I'm off to see if I can get back those phantoms guarding the second level of the White Tower. I just have to beat this game now, at the cost of other geekery.

Oh, Ice & Fire. Martin's put up a post about the upcoming The World of Ice & Fire. I've been quite negative about this release before (both here and at Tower of the Hand), but I have to admit that I have caved in and pre-ordered a physical copy of this tome of lore, so expect a review soon after it has arrived sometime near the end of October. I kind of feel dirty throwing this money at the people who have treated me and many other fans badly, and who did a pretty lousy job editing/typo-checking A Dance with Dragons, but I need, well, that Westerosi fix as well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancient lore

Earlier this week I got this always recognizable itch, the need to delve into some kind of fantastic adventure, preferably through my fave hobby, roleplaying. But since our next Friday-Sunday session has been cancelled I had to resort to other methods to scratch that itch.
Looking through old RPG books only makes it itch more, but it is nice at the same time, imagining what I would do if I was a character in this adventure or that location.
However I needed to experience a fantasy story not just read about it, so I decided to play a CRPG. Trawling through a list of classics I suddenly realized I had never really played Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, a venerable old school fantasy game that, if I remember correctly, was the spiritual successor to the classic Eye of the Beholder trilogy of games. Indeed, the gameplay is similar, but I don't remember why
I never played this one, despite being  a massive dungeon crawl fan. Maybe because it was simplified? Because I could not build my own party?
Anyway, this time I went for it, and the sheer nostalgia of the crude graphics alone was comforting. The plot in Lands of Lore is typical golden age CRPG style, that is, simple and quite ridiculous really, but it is only meant to provide a framework for the travels through dark forests and mines, one square at a time. Yes, it does not look or feel good to travel a forest that is basically a hedge maze - roaming the icy lands of Skyrim feels much more real - but there's something alluring about these old games anyway, and I believe it is simply the fact that they don't hold your hand (I don't want to tell how long I spent figuring out how to defeat the guardian of the Urbish Mine), yet are very easy to jump into for a moment or two when time allows. I am trying not to rush through the game by using walkthroughs et al, but sometimes I have to take a peak to eliminate time running in circles looking for an answer to some clue. It's a tale in which I hit the Save-button a lot, to avoid re-running large sections because I forgot to save and got killed by some nefarious monster jumping on my back. It is, in a way, the opposite of many of today's fantasy games, because it provides a challenge. A challenge in a fantasy environment ... scratches that itch I occasionally get from not having played tabletop RPGs for a while. 

Meanwhile, I am almost done with Ian C. Esslemont's Assail, I admit I have slowed down as my interest in the tale waned, as I shalt explain in a future review. I've been following the usual Westeros-related websites for news on anything that could hint at The Winds of Winter, ending up reading another batch of theories on this and that, reading an analysis of the possible future of Brienne and Jaime, and generally being unhappy that there's no news forthcoming. I am still utterly mesmerized by the fact we are getting a new Star Wars episode and spend too much time following news and rumors on it, and I still wish there were more hours in the day for all things geek. 

The next re-read post on A Storm of Swords should be up sometime during the weekend, hopefully. Kind of busy these days.

Friday, September 26, 2014

[Re-read] Tyrion X: Snakes, mountains controversy

When you add the chapter number in Roman to the character names, they become so regal-sounding, I mean, Tyrion X. Regal, or pope-ish, perhaps. I wonder if Bronn's son will be known as Tyrion II, that would be funny. Oh yes, it is time for another re-read, and we are inching ever closer to the finish line of the first of the "original trilogy" of Ice & Fire novels that I still consider to be nothing but amazingly entertaining and interesting. Which is what I also think of Tyrion Lannister up to this point: an amazingly entertaining character, whose sarcasm, wit, scheming & banter makes him probably the most popular in the series. Until A Dance with Dragons, at any rate - the Tyrion we are presented with there is certainly not as entertaining to read about, but is it part of Tyrion's internal changes that he's on such a downer, or is it the somewhat contrived and overlong journey through Essos that takes away something from him? When I begin my somewhat ambitious next re-read project, to read both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons using a suggested order of chapters (known as Feastdance), I will be looking for evidence one way or the other. I want to believe that Martin wrote the changed Tyrion to reflect Tyrion's mental state, and that he will rise again more entertaining and stronger, but somehow I also still hold on to the notion that Tyrion wasn't presented with interesting enough characters and situations to keep him a fun read. In the three first books, Tyrion constantly faces characters and situations that seem to bring out the greatness in his character; think of his friendship with Bronn, his relationship with Cersei (slap!), the way he singlehandedly changed the fortune of King's Landing, The Red Viper and Tyrion's trial, his encounters with his father... in general, Tyrion was always in the midst of exciting plot developments, always actively a part in things, and had to suffer a lot too (the sky cell, captured by Catelyn, his frustrations and love for Shae)....yet in A Dance with Dragons he is traveling, and then traveling some more, on a boat while playing cyvasse without much happening. Okay, that's a bit unfair because there are things happening but these events don't feel as vital or as plot-important, but what do I know, maybe all this setup will get a proper payoff later. Enough about Dance already, we aren't there quite yet, time for Tyrion's tenth chapter in A Storm of Awesome! And it's a highly ranked chapter at Tower of the Hand, so this should be a gleeful devouring of words. Oh, wait. It's that chapter! Ser Gregor Clegane for the [spoiler]win![/spoiler] There will be gnashing of teeth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Keeping hands warm during the Long Night

MAN, when can we get some proper news/updates on The Winds of Winter? It's getting as ridiculous as the long waits for books four and five. There's just nothing.
No wonder I'm drifting more and more to Star Wars VII rumor websites and fora, at least there's something to follow to keep interest up.
Of course, there's the fifth season of Game of Thrones to follow, and there's been articles on the upcoming The World of Ice & Fire, George R.R.'s birthday, and...oh, that about sums it up, but nothing for us to chew on when it comes to that coveted sixth book in the saga.
If I wasn't convinced Martin isn't interested in his story anymore before, I am really beginning to feel it now. The argument that he's not saying anything because fans get fretful is weak; he doesn't have to give us a release date, he can tell us something about the creative process like most other authors have a tendency to do to communicate with their devoted worshipers readers. And the longer we wait, the more fans put the pieces of the puzzle together and can guess the general outline of the remainder of the story, which is kind of tragic in its own way. Once again, the slowness of forthcoming news is maddening. 

But have you seen that awesome new X-Wing (well, parts of it anyway)? Just that little glimpse has me all excited and happy. And just a little glimpse of the process of The Winds of Winter would do the same. Perhaps it's time for another teaser chapter. Given time and enough teaser chapters, we'll eventually, finally, have that sixth book.

Friday, September 19, 2014

[Re-read] Jon IX: Along Came a Fricking Big Turtle (and later, a Fricking Annoying Toad)

Time to dig out A Storm of Swords, we're deep in the endgame now as we open up to the seventieth (!) chapter, and, as I've said a gazillion times before, this book is just astounding, riveting, deep yet light, and so full of twists and turns I still feel it in my gut when I think of, say, the Red Wedding, or Oberyn Martell's failure, or Sansa Stark being whisked away in the night, or Joffrey clawing at his throat as he drops to the ground during his own wedding...so many iconic scenes and images in the series come from A Storm of Swords. And there are so many of them, the list goes on and on. How about Jaime being unhanded? The maiden in the bear pit? The epilogue? There's only one other series that can dish up equally powerful imagery/scenery (in my personal opinion!) and that is Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen. In Martin's books, the scenes become powerful because we are so invested in the characters - in Erikson's works, the scenes often resonate because of the vivid descriptions or because the ideas presented are haunting or epic - he's stuck a few images in my head that just don't leave; the whole ending of the second book in his series, Deadhouse Gates, lingers still; the priest of flies in the same book's prologue likewise. There's something grand and majestic yet darkly disturbing about Erikson's prose that makes him stand out in the crowd of fantasy authors. Oh, look, I've wandered off again. My mind is partially tuned in to the Malazan world these days because I'm reading Assail, of course. I've got about 40% left of it, and I am trying to slow down and savor it (even though Ian C. Esslemont's prose is nothing like Erikson's, it's almost like having R.A. Salvatore write in the Westeros setting - well, okay, it's not that terrifyingly bad; it's just that where Erikson really explores and experiments with the genre and with language in general, Esslemont writes what feels more linear, safer stories that, because they are more simplistic, don't ring as true as Malazan works). ENOUGH ALREADY. Jon Snow is waiting for his ninth turn in the spotlight. He actually has twelve chapters in this book, yet when I think of A Storm of Swords, I seldom think of his part. Is that weird?

Day and night the axes rang.
So opens the ninth Jon Snow chapter, and I immediately have an image in my mind of Jon sitting in his office in a frozen tower accepting all those calls from the axes. Of course, Martin wants to tell us that the Night's Watch is fighting and working, like, a lot, further emphasized when Jon can't remember when last he slept. He's been busy - as have the wildlings on the other side of the Wall, who are basically taking down the forest with saws and sledgehammers, in preparation of attack. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Legend of Grimrock II is Coming

Been waiting for this one, but didn't really believe it would be upon us just yet. But today developers Almost Human revealed it is less than a month away and they are taking pre-orders. A no-brainer for a fan of old school dungeon crawls.

I talked quite a bit about the original Legend of Grimrock and how it rekindled that adventuring spirit that classic computer games seemed to overflow with; games like Dungeon Master and the Eye of the Beholder trilogy, to name two examples. And now the sequel is pre-ordered and I can't wait to get my hands on it. For some reason, exploring dungeons is something I love, except when I get really frustrated when some clever/fiendish puzzle stops me from progressing. This time around, they are giving us some above-ground, outdoor environments as well, so they could potentially be catering to a somewhat larger crowd this time.

Meanwhile, in the world of Ice and Fire news, there's a plethora of nothing new. Life is miserable and full of pain, apparently, but beyond that...no. Nope. Nothing on The Winds of Winter. Who cares anyway?

Friday, September 12, 2014

[Re-read] Sansa VI: Load New Game

Rough week with a virus infection leaving me unable to even squeeze some geek-time out of staying indoors. Well, I've been able to get halfway through Ian C. Esslemont's Assail, and Shadows, the dark elf of all trades wandering the cold lands of Skyrim, has gained another level and a severe bout of vampirism (art imitating life kind of) and I've been binge-watching Firefly and I've spent way too much time following and debating the latest Star Wars: Episode VII rumors (okay maybe I did squeeze out some geek-time after all). The folks over at Star Wars Episode 7 News have kindly opened their cantina for this kind of behavior, and that's where I've been hanging a little. And I suspect I won't become any less obsessed with this upcoming movie over the next year or so. It just pulls me in, even though I know I shouldn't worry so much about a two-hour piece of cinema crammed with silliness. Yet here I am, and that's because of the power of the story of the original trilogy.
The only thing that can make me forget about a new Star Wars movie right now would be....The Winds of Winter. Bring it on, George!
Without further ado, let's read another A Storm of Swords chapter. And maybe for a little while my stupid geekhead can get some rest from that galaxy far, far away...

Monday, September 8, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime VIII: I'm dreaming of a white whiteness

A white book sat on a white table in a white room. 

So opens this eighth Ser Jaime Lannister chapter of A Storm of Swords, and I just kept staring at it for a while. It fits so well right now, because I'm in a bit of stress because I have a gazillion projects going on at the same time and it has just become a bit too much lately, and I feel like I'm ... well, staring at a white book, a blank page. And I hate it, because not doing anything about anything makes me even more stressed. So, in order to tick off some boxes on the too-long to-do list, and picking one that I actually enjoy doing once I'm in the zone, here's • "Write a new re-read post". And all the while I'll probably have my conscience gnawed from within by all the things I probably should prioritize.
Which relates perfectly to Ser Jaime at this point in the story - he's struggling with his priorities, and in this particular chapter we'll get a real close look at precisely that. A character development chapter, more than action and high adventure. Right, let's crack open that white book.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

No news, really.

Doesn't look like I'm going to get in a re-read post tomorrow; the window has been smashed to bits by not one, not two, but three work-related meetings.
This week I've played twenty minutes Skyrim, and I'm about 30% into Ian C. Esslemont's Assail. I've seen a few reviews of it and these reviews haven't been very kind, but I am enjoying this novel a lot for what it is. Yes, the great mystery that is/was the continent of Assail might just be meh, but there is a solid pace, and vivid descriptions of the many hostile environments the characters encounter. So I'll reserve my judgement for now. 

Not much news on the Ice & Fire front this week (or I have missed it). Not a whiff of The Winds of Winter. Joe Abercrombie, on the other hand, gives us this lengthy post, giving his devotees something to enjoy as they wait for the man's next output. The man even dares to call it a "Progress Report". That's a big slap in the face to any Ice & Fire fan, innit. Or maybe not. Come on, George, it is time - no, really it is - for a progress report. Something. Pretty please?

The one bit of news I've seen/heard is that Bran and Hodor won't be in Game of Thrones Season V, which is both a relief (no spoilers) and a bit weird (and, perhaps, even worrying; but maybe people, having become hooked through four seasons, won't mind that much and give the writers/producers the benefit of the doubt). It must also mean that Bran's continued story in The Winds of Winter (if he's even in it) must be really full of stuff Martin doesn't want the world to know yet. Which could be good.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pleasures of the Guilty

Wow, I've had better weekends...

...But last night I found a couple of quiet hours for myself, so just to indulge myself a little extra, I connected a laptop to a 46" screen to get some size and played a little Skyrim. I let all worries about the upcoming week of work, all the meetings, all family matters, things I need to write and do, I let it all go away for a while and allowed myself to immerse myself back into the land of the Nords for a while. And it really made a difference. When I went to bed I felt a lot more content, and after a few pages of Esslemont's Assail I slept soundly (I could've said "I slept like a baby" but as I have a youngling sleeping at my side these nights, I can assure you that sleeping like a baby is a weird, weird, proverb).

When looking through the eyes of my character, the Dark Elf Shadows (yes, he's shown up on this blog before) on a fairly big screen, I immediately fell back in love with the sense of adventure this game provides. Cause what I really was hankering for, was some roleplaying, and so I decided to really "be" Shadows last night. During last night's voyage (I try to skip fast travel for that immersion), I met a ferocious ice dragon harassing the townsfolk of Dawnstar, and later, an even more ferocious blood dragon somewhere out in the wild, attacking a bandit stronghold. Navigating an enraged dragon and angry bandits was a fun experience. That's what gives Skyrim its extra points - the potential for the unexpected. For all the linear quests, you can still strike out and do whatever you feel like, within the frames of the game obviously.

Shadows against a blood dragon, somewhere north and east of Falkreath (which I hadn't visited before last night)

Once again I also noted that the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire must have had some influence on Skyrim, as it feels far grittier and medieval than the four previous The Elder Scrolls titles did. Love it.
I spent a good amount of time trying to defeat a heavily armored orc in a small dungeon, keeping a table between me and him so that I could survive; this fellow could smack me down with one stroke with that bigass sword of his. I wore him down with arrows and fire, until I finally succeeded. And it felt so good! After months with little to no gaming (aside from, say, nine hours in Divinity: Original Sin) it was nice to game away the evening and I didn't even feel guilty about it.

Yesterday, Skyrim was more therapy than guilty pleasure.

Friday, August 29, 2014

[Re-read] Tyrion IX: Ups and Downs

All right! Friday! My favorite day of the week. Not only is it currently the only day of the week where I have time to dip into a chapter of A Storm of Swords, it also heralds the coming of weekend, which in turn brings more smiles all around. Coupled with nice late-summer weather, one can only be grateful for living in a (relatively) quiet corner of the world, though the news likes to remind me just how beyond repair the human race seems to be. Sigh. Anyway; speaking of beyond repair; here's Tyrion's ninth chapter, the sixty-seventh of this magnificent volume of awesomeness. It's a chapter with a lot of characters and a lot of talk, so let's see if Martin can keep us interested and excited in spite of that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Setting Sail for Assail

Back in late 2009, about the same time I started this blog actually, I gave Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon a third and final try. Something about the work appealed to me, but I just couldn't get a hang of it. Reading online that the best thing was to persevere and get through it, I managed to finish it and I was wondering what the heck I had just read - in the sense that while I could envision a lot of the scenes and understood most of it, I still found it difficult to come to grips with Erikson's obtuse, almost excluding style in this first novel. It was like watching a painting but some parts were smudged. Or something like that. 
Still, it left me with enough motivation to continue the ride with the second book, Deadhouse Gates, which right off the bat hooked me with a sinister, dramatic, twisted prologue that I still re-read now and then for the thrill of it. Erikson had improved dramatically between these two titles as well (there's a ten year or so gap in real time between them); and somewhere in the third book, Memories of Ice, the hooks were finally in me, and while I still didn't understand it all, it became more and more captivating. I am glad I listened to those who told me to continue. Ironically, the friend who recommended A Game of Thrones to me nine years earlier, and who in that sense is kind of responsible for me falling headlong into the exploration of fantasy literature, never finished Gardens of the Moon despite me trying to sell it to him. 

The best thing about it all was that I had found something to admire while waiting for George to finish A Dance with Dragons. Not just that, Erikson had at the time only one out of ten volumes left to complete, and the man was pushing out books so fast I could hardly believe it. So only a month later, The Crippled God was published (early in 2010 if I recall correctly) and I had a complete ten-volume series to indulge myself with; and for each volume I became more and more impressed with Erikson's mastery of the language, his quirky humor (which really came to the fore in book five, Midnight Tides), the deep themes and the harsh lessons learned, and eventually I knew I just had to get into the companion series as well. 

Ian C. Esslemont, then, is Erikson's long-time friend and he is as much a power behind the Malazan epic as Steven himself, and his complementary series, The Malazan Empire, fit into the Book of the Fallen cycle and both series feed on/off each other. So as I came close to the end with The Crippled God, I knew I had even more goodies to devour: and like Steven, Ian is a pretty fast writer too (I guess the excruciating wait for Martin to deliver made everyone seem like Speedy Gonzales), and so I spent a long time not having to wait for more Malazan adventures - all the way until last year actually. By then, I had devoured everything, including the absolutely insanely brilliant Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas - do yourself a favor and read Crack'd Pot Trail - if not for the setting, for the beautiful and sinister writing. Such a gem. Anyway - Erikson published Forge of Darkness, a prequel to the Books of the Fallen, and Ian Blood & Bone, his fifth, and then, all of a sudden, I was without a Malazan fix. Until now, and Assail.

Starting the novel has been a bit rough, with constant interruptions, but now I'm into it, back in the world of the Malazan Empire, and I love being there. The prologue of this book is such a visual pleaser (in the sense that it feels cinematic, and I can imagine how great it would look on the screen, with a character being hunted through pine forests covering mountainous slopes, the pursuers...well I won't spoil anything). The same prologue also highlights why I rate Esslemont lower than Erikson, even though they share the world: The writing just isn't as excellent as Erikson's can be. While the "visuals" of the prologue are fantastic, the way Esslemont narrates leaves something to be desired. 

I noticed while reading how staccato the text was (it improves by the first chapter, though). Every sentence of the chase. In the mountains. Is written something. Like this. Lots of stop-start-stops. What I guess I am trying to say, then, is that Esslemont's prose is far from the superb quality Erikson began to deliver about halfway through his 3-million-word cycle. But now, after what, sixteen? seventeen? fat volumes of Malazan Empire, the setting itself draws me in, and the writing becomes but the window into this fascinating, continually mysterious and wildly epic setting. Now, I am looking forward to that quiet half hour I have before sleeping, just to get back there and see what Assail will be all about. 

Looks like I'm going to push out another A Storm of Swords post tomorrow, if luck holds. Until then, I'll leave you with this little piece from Steven Erikson, from aforementioned novella Crack'd Pot Trail. 

My tales, let it be known, sweep the breadth of the world.
I have sat with the Toblai in their mountain fastnesses, with the snows drifitng to bury the peeks of the longhouses.
I have stood on the high broken shores of the Perish, watching as a floundering ship struggled to reach shelter.
I have walked the streets of Malaz City, beneath Mock's brooding shadow, and set eyes upon the Deadhouse itself.
Years alone assail a mortal wanderer, for the world is round and to witness it all is to journey without end.
But now see me in this refuge, cooled by the trickling fountain, and the tales I recount upon these crackling sheets of papyrus, they are the heavy fruits awaiting the weary traveler in yonder oasis. 
Feed then or perish.
Life is but a search for gardens and gentle refuge, and here I sit waging the sweetest war, for I shall not die while a single tale remains to be told.
Even the gods must wait spellbound.

Oh man, now I realize there's one Steven Erikson novella I still have to read. The Wurms of Blearmouth. I had all forgotten about that one. TOR published an excerpt, even. *Smacks head, says d'oh*