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, 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.