Wednesday, January 28, 2015

(Never tell me the) Odds

Right. I've finished a couple of books this week (astounding, really), so next up will be the epilogue of A Storm of Swords. Hit the jump to find out what I thought about Assassin's Apprentice, The Companions and a non-fantasy book about a certain movie I happen to love a long time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

[Re-read] Sansa VII: The False and the Fair

And we're on the last chapter of A Storm of Swords. It's been a long ride. The novel is of course best when devoured within a week or so, by stretching it out like I've done the book kind of lost its nerve, but then again I couldn't have done it any other way. Today's chapter is one with some very memorable scenes, scenes that perhaps have become iconic - the esoteric metaphorical building and razing of Winterfell by Sansa in the snow, and Littlefinger finally revealing his ruthlessness. I even have the snow castle art print hanging in my home office (picture on the left). Over at Tower of the Hand, this chapter is rated a whopping 9.15. For a last chapter, it is surprisingly personal. Weirdly, I never think of this chapter as the last chapter, for some reason my mind puts it somewhere near the end but not at the very end. Yet this remains the last chapter, and if you were around fifteen years ago you might remember how fricking necessary it felt to know what would happen next. The pacing of this novel where each chapter is like a wave bringing you closer (or farther) from shore, the intricate plotting, the intensity of so many scenes and character experiences, it was a rush to read this novel the first (and second and third) time. By the time A Feast for Crows finally arrived, it felt like hitting a wall. All of a sudden the relentless pace of Storm was replaced with a more plodding style. The intensity was gone. I think this caught a lot of people (myself included) off-guard. Maybe Feast should have started with a bit more intensity which Martin then could gradually cool down for a better transition between novels. Oh well what do I know. Let's read Sansa VII.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Steven Erikson's "Willful Child"

Right, finished two ebooks, not bad. The first one is actually a free sample of a few upcoming Star Wars novels. Now that they have turned all the countless existing novels into "Legends" (as in, no longer canon) and rebooting Star Wars literature, I thought maybe it was time to jump back into the literary version of the saga.
I remember the excitement back in the early nineties when Star Wars returned to the public consciousness with Timothy Zahn's novels beginning with Heir to the Empire. That trilogy was fairly interesting, and remains perhaps the best Star Wars read (not that I have read that many novels, perhaps twenty). Which means that generally I find novels based on my favorite movies to be bad. With the sampler, however, I got a chance to get a taste of the new canon. And its taste is dry.

The sampler contains four samples - two of the novels represented have been released since (A New Dawn and Tarkin), while the other two are still to be published (Heir to the Jedi and Lords of the Sith). And none of the samples give me the Star Wars feels. It's all dry, overlong passages of describing pseudotechnology; controls and consoles and projectors and characters standing around talking while using said technology. Of course, samples only have so many pages but then why do they pick such boring bits from the early parts of the stories? Star Wars is all about action and adventure; a space fantasy. Yet these samples feel more like Star Trek. In short, these samples did nothing to make me want to shell out money for them.

Now, Steven Erikson on the other hand is consciously trying to evoke Star Trek in his off-beat novel, Willful Child. If you read this blog you'll know I have gushed about the author on many occasions. His Malazan books are simply breathtaking, and his attitude toward his fans is an example for other authors. It was only a given that I would buy Willful Child, and the free sample over at TOR made me think this was going to be great fun.
Unfortunately, and for the first time, Erikson disappointed me with this one. This is basically the exact opposite of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Where that epic, massive, sprawling series gives you so much to ponder (especially the latter half of the series) - where you begin to realize this series goes beyond fantasy and becomes something more - Willful Child is short, devoid of any deeper themes and it all takes place (well, almost all of it) aboard the titular starship.

Two things that made me not really feeling it:

One, I think you really need to know your Star Trek to get the most out of this one. It's a parody, the chapters mimicking the episodic nature of the Star Trek TV series, and I am sure a lot of the jokes flew past my head because they were based on particular events from the series (though I can't know for sure). This is of course not Erikson's fault. Still, there were quite a few silly moments that made me chuckle, but mostly I felt myself skimming through to get another chapter done.

Two, for some reason Erikson's otherwise fantastic droll humor (see Tehol and Bugg in the fifth Malazan book, "Midnight Tides", for a great example) has morphed into a more juvenile-sounding kind of humor that at times feels almost embarrassingly sexist (I know it isn't meant to be that way, but this is how it comes across in many scenes). There are some great droll lines in the book, some of the banter is perfectly Erikson, but he made the main character - Captain Hadrian Sawback - quite difficult to like. He reminds me the most of Zapp Brannigan from the Futurama series. Imagine reading a whole novel about him.

The novel also felt a bit repetitive (perhaps because of its episodic nature, perhaps because some of the jokes were repeated - like the alien doctor deflating when he is delivering long lines), yet at the same time you can sense how Erikson had a blast writing this. It feels like some kind of therapy, which I am sure anyone would need after coming down from The Crippled God, last of the Malazan tales. A breath of fresh air for Erikson, a bit of a let-down for me. By now I trust the man enough to be sure that his next Malazan novel, "Fall of Light", will be awesome. Erikson has also expressed his desire to write more adventures aboard the Willful Child. I won't be in for anymore rides with Hadrian and his crew, but if you like Star Trek (or Futurama, for that matter) you might find something to enjoy. And really, it is never badly written or anything. Erikson remains a master of prose, any kind of prose as far as I'm aware. This was really just a "love it or hate it" - thing.
For my part I think this was three stars out of five.

Phew, and with that I have another book crossed off my "To Finish" - list. This leaves only The Way of Kings, Wolf Hall, Assassin's Apprentice, The Companions, The World of Ice & Fire, The Red Knight, and so on and so forth.

Friday, January 9, 2015

[Re-read] Jon XII: Settle in the Kettle

Wowsers, chapter 80 already?! ("Already" is taken with a grain of salt, obviously, but still...) Have I skipped a few chapters, getting confused because the chapters have character names for titles? I actually had to go back and check but it seems that I'm indeed very close to finishing A Storm of Swords ... again. This last Jon Snow chapter, the wondrous last Sansa Stark chapter after that, and finally the epilogue. It's taken me a while to do this re-read, I admit. I posted the prologue back on May the first, 2012. Now I usually don't read this slowly, it's the actual writing down of thoughts and finding time to do so that has slowed down my pace. Without distractions I read a new Ice and Fire novel in a couple of days. Of course I'm not paid to sit behind a monitor and write all day, so there's that.

This week I've been mostly worrying about the terror in France, and working on a draft for a compendium of everything I've made up for my role playing game setting (such an endless thing, too; I have well over 300,000 words in that project already, and there is still so much to do - this is material stretching back to the nineties which I'm trying to incorporate with stuff made up all the way to, well, yesterday). I've made myself a Smashwords account and I am planning on, when and if I finish it, publishing it there so that other fans of RPGs/medieval fantasy settings maybe can get something out of it. I don't know. It just feels like all that stuff should be shared, be out there. Anyway, without further ado, let's get cracking on the last Jon Snow chapter of the magnificent A Storm of Swords.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Peacock Vow

Happy new year!

It's already been 2015 for a week - so far it feels quite similar to 2014, only with some great fantasy prospects ahead of us, in novels, games, and movies. I still have a number of books to finish before I get to my first proper read of the year, but I am (finally) on the home run with Steven Erikson's Willful Child, with the other books close-ish behind. My reading time is still suffering from the need to be online to check for Star Wars VII news or the discussion thereof, I really need to get my act together so that I can get to that enticing little novella placed on my Erikson/Esslemont-shelf, the only Malazan-story I have yet to read, The Wurms of Blearmouth. And of course I still have a good chunk left of The World of Ice and Fire although that piece of work isn't enticing as such - it doesn't whisper "Come read me" and that's because, plain and simple, it's a tad boring. More on that in some later post! Presumably.