Filed under: General Musings | Tags: Anthony Ryan, Aromathus, Blood Song, books, Fantasy, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal, Spec-Fic
At Long Last!!!!
For those of you who have been reading this journal for a while, you might remember that right after last Christmas I posted an entry talking about several genre things I wished to see in 2014. I can now say that one of the things I wished for has come true: to be hooked into a fantasy series by a new author in the way I remember being in hooked in the past.
First up, I’ll say that it is very rare these days that I judge a book by its cover. This is the Age Of Amazon, after all, where even if we see a new book by a new author that looks really, really good, it behooves us to go home and read the reviews first. No longer do we have to wait for recommendations from our friends, nope: the opinions of hundreds, even thousands, of other spec fic fans are at our fingertips.
This time, though, I was killing time between a successful (i.e I got a report of “you look awesome”) trip to my eye doctor and an RPG session, and so I felt like celebrating. I spent some of that time strolling through a local Barnes and Noble where I saw a couple copies of Anthony Ryan’s novel “Blood Song” sitting on the new books shelf. I examined the cover, skimmed through the book and read a few spots, and thought, “What the heck?” And for the first time since I picked up Steven Erikson’s “Malazan” novels ten years ago, I purchased a new fantasy novel on instinct – and discovered I liked it.
Really liked it.
Or put another way, I’ve found an author who got me to stay up late reading, and I haven’t done that since I discovered Brandon Sanderson.
OK, enough gushing. For those of you who have never heard of Mr. Ryan, I will say that “Blood Song” is, AFAIK, his first novel, and it’s a meaty war fantasy. The main character, Vaelin, begins the story at the tender age of ten. He is left by his father at the door of the chapter house of the “Sixth Order,” which the reader quickly discovers is a sort of Monastic order devoted to “The faith” and skill in combat. In the monastery, he and a group of boys quickly bond together as they suffer through brutal training at the hand of a group of Masters, and by the time they graduate, they are far more skilled at all forms of combat, tracking, and survival than any other eighteen year old warrior, and between his position as the son of a discredited noble and his own native skill, our hero rises to power within his the order.
At this point – roughly third to a half of the way into a 600 + page novel – it is admittedly a pretty typical coming-of-age fantasy tale. However, it is a coming-of-age tale well told. Not only do you come to care about Vaelin and what happens to him, but you also really want to know what happens to his companions and teachers as well.
This is also the point where the book really starts to get really good. Things that are only hinted at in the first couple sections of the book (it is divided into five sections), such as the nature of “The Faith” that the all the main characters follow, his relationship with his disgraced Father, and the lives and back stories of the other characters, begin to weave together. Add in a heavy dose of political intrigue and a touch of well – written romance, and perhaps most interestingly (and that is saying a lot in this tale), a well thought out system of “low magic,” and this tale had me captivated.
Now, as to what the book is not: It is not a tale of high fantasy, ala Robert Jordan, Ray Fiest, or Steven Erickson. Yes, there is magic in the world, but there are no battle wizards lobbing fireballs about. No, this is fantasy along the lines of the best of George R.R. Martin, in that yes, there is magic in the world, but it is hinted at, occurring in the back story and only slowly discovered. It is also done in such a way that you want to keep reading to find out what the heck is going on as Vaelin discovers more about who he is and what magic he has.
It is also not a story for the faint of heart. The training Vaelin and his compatriots undergo is truly, truly brutal, and of the (VERY!) few negative reviews the book has on Amazon, this is the only thing that people really objected to that has any validity. Further, if you (unlike me) dislike well written POLITICAL fantasy, with a good deal of warfare, you might want to skip it as well.
Yet neither of these things compare in any way to the large dose of AWESOME that is Blood Song. This is GREAT book, Aromathians, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you like my writing, or political and military fantasy in general, then this is one to get. Three thumbs up.
Filed under: General Musings | Tags: Aromathus, Batman, Gotham, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal, TV
It’s not often that I give a show with as many strikes against before it even starts as Gotham does a chance. After all, it’s about Batman (well, Bruce Wayne and Detective Gordon, at least) – a character those of you who have been reading my ramblings for a long time know I have a love – hate relationship with. Second, it’s not (unlike, say, Agents of Shield) not continuous with either Chris Nolan’s Batman movies or the upcoming Batman vs. Superman. Third, it is a member of my least favorite genre – cop shows. Finally and most egregiously, it’s on FOX – the network where good SF shows go to die (Here’s looking at you, Almost Human).
Yet it got good early press, and it was on right after another show that I have come to really like (Sleepy Hollow), it is a super hero show, and hey – the DVR has a big hard drive. I have to say I’m glad I did.
I must say I was initially upset that it wasn’t continuous with the other DC properties, true. I guess this is just evidence that DC isn’t as, shall we say, visionary, as Marvel. Of course, their propensity to make every super hero movie property that they own into mediocre at best, but more often simply into bombs, doesn’t help. Yet when they had the chance to borrow (steal) a page from Marvel’s book with Gotham, and tell a story tied in a larger collective franchise, they didn’t. Nope; Gotham is the last thing we needed: yet another Batman origin story.
When I started watching the premiere, it appeared as if my first instincts were correct. The pilot began with the scene we have all seen or read numerous times before: a seemingly random mugger holds up the Waynes as they come out of the theater, robbing them and then for no apparent reason shooting the adults.
This is where the similarities end, though. First, a young cat burglar is hanging from a fire escape and sees the entire thing – very obviously our first introduction to Catwoman. Later on in the episode, we meet the young daughter of the man corrupt police officers frame to “solve” the murder of the Waynes – a young red headed girl named “Ivy.” A very strange but sycophantic mob enforcer with the strangely apt nickname of “Penguin” also makes an appearance. And I’m pretty sure that the geeky – looking research technician at Gotham PD will become the Riddler.
Yep. An origin story, with all the pieces in place, yet done differently enough to make the show interesting.
Yet despite having all the usual suspects present, this is a very different version of the Batman origin mythos, for Bruce Wayne is a bit character in this series (at least so far). Instead, this is well and truly about Detective Gordon. Even less than Agents of Shield, this isn’t really a super hero show at all. Instead, like last season’s aforementioned Almost Human, this is a cop show.
I generally avoid cop shows like the plague, finding them to be either unrealistic, campy, or both, but for whatever reason, this one works. Sure, everything in the three episodes so far hasn’t really been about the criminal plot lines involved, being about character origins of our hero and his foes. Yet it is still unmistakably a cop show. Bruce Wayne and his gadgets aren’t here at all. What is here are simple mysteries aplenty.
OK, maybe not so simple. Where else but Gotham City would you have a human trafficking story where the villain is working for a mob boss and the kids are being captured via means of a drug sold by the company that owns Arkham prison? Yeah, it’s a cop show. But it’s not your ordinary cop show.
Well, I could go on and say lots more plot related stuff, but… Yeah. I hope DC finally gets it right, and that this show, like Agents of Shield, is given a chance to grow. It’s already better – far better – than AoS was after three episodes, and I am curious to see where the writing takes it. Add in clever writing, an interesting (and attractive, to be sure) cast, and a good deal of old-fashioned “everyone in Gotham works for the mob and everyone is so corrupt that Detective Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth are the only two honest people in town” angst, and yeah… it works. It may not be as interesting as AoS, and it may not be covering any new ground, but it’s interesting enough. Give it a shot if you haven’t.
At least until Fox cancels it in favor of “Dancing With Karaoke Singing Chef’s.” 🙂
Filed under: General Musings | Tags: Aromathus, Disney, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal, Rebel, Star Wars
Once upon a time The Mouse made a movie based on a fairy tale about a young thief. This tale was about a young man who gets caught stealing food, and is saved by more powerful people (and beings). In the process, the main character has lots of adventures, finds love with a beautiful princess, quips lots of snappy one-liners, meets nobility, develops friendships, and even picks up an intelligent companion that to the rest of the world looks like just another dumb…. droid.
Oh, you thought I was taking about Aladdin? Huh. So did I. Then I realized something: Star Wars: Rebels is pretty much Aladdin meets Star Wars.
It’s strange how what goes around comes around. A few years ago, the single largest criticism I heard of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon books was that he mish-mashed Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I both heard and read repeated comment after repeated comment: Lucas and the Tolkien family should sue for copy right infringement, fans should be embarrassed to go see these movies (let alone read the books) – and worse. The vehemence of the criticism was such that I came to imagine a lawsuit for plagiarism would soon be in the works.
When I saw the movie, I had to admit, yeah, the criticisms were valid; the movie really was a mish mash of those two stories. Yet… it was also simply another version of the classic heroic coming-of-age hero who saves the world tale, of which Star Wars and Tolkien are both fine examples. So, of course there are going to be similarities. Throw in that the author was a little kid when he wrote the first book, and the story is actually pretty impressive. Derivative? Sure. But that doesn’t make it a bad story, as all authors borrow to at least some degree. And further, how often don’t we see some author getting tagged as “The Next Tolkien!” or “Star Wars for a new generation!”
This means that I find the comments I’ve been reading about Disney’s new Star Wars: Rebels vastly amusing, for as I said in my intro, it really is Star Wars meets Aladdin. The main character – Ezra – is a self proclaimed Street Rat. He is caught by the heroes / Empire stealing food. He meets a pretty princess / demolitions expert (in gaudy pink Madalorian armor, no less) and a mentor with special powers (Caden). They convince him to join a cause larger than himself, not to save the galaxy, but to save his own life and family.
Hey, you know what else this sounds like? The original Star Wars movie – Episode Four. Yep. Not only does this sound like Aladdin, it’s pretty much a re-telling of the original movie as well, except the role of Luke Skywalker is now being played by Aladdin.
Heck, they even DRAW Ezra such that he looks like Aladdin. Hrmmmmm.
So the thousand dollar question is: Is it any good? The fact that it is derivative isn’t a strike against it in and of itself, as I said, but the overlap is pretty heavy. For the first third of the pilot movie I wasn’t sure what I was watching – Aladdin, Episode four, or a new pilot. Further, the artwork has room for improvement. It’s generally good, but… the Wookies look AWFUL. Worse than awful, in fact – whoever drew them should be unceremoniously fired. Quickly.
And, as I said, it is pretty much a straight re-telling of Episode 4. It’s not just some scenes or even the general plot. Nope. It’s also music (the TIE fighter battle as the Falcon leaves the Death Star is used verbatim as the heroes ship leaves the Star Destroyer is used, making the comparison stronger), and dialogue – Ben’s speech about the nature of the force is used verbatim at the end of the pilot.
Yet a strange thing happened halfway in through: I started to forget the flaws, and get wrapped up in the story. Sure, it was borrowing perhaps too heavily, but the story it was borrowing (copying?) is a really, really good story. So when the climax comes around, and Caden reveals to the bad guys what the audience already knows (that he’s a Jedi)… yeah. Pretty good. And when he pulls out his lightsaber, tells his band of rebels to get behind him, and basically says “I got this” as he stares down twenty stormtroopers… and then the baddies back down?
So, yeah. It has room for improvement. But what new show doesn’t? Yet it has the money and the marketing of the mouse behind it, so I hope that like Agents of Shield, it will have time to develop. Is it as good as the Clone Wars TV show was? No; at least not yet. OTOH, Clone Wars wasn’t very good at first, and it was also very up and down as well.
So give it a shot. It’s got potential, and is at least as entertain as the prequel movies were – perhaps more so. Three and a half out of five stars.
Filed under: 1 | Tags: Aromathus, Axenar, Fanfic, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal, Star Trek
It is not often that I come across a piece of “fan fiction” on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter) that impresses me a great deal (despite my own Starfire writings falling into this category). Such writings or projects are famous for placing characters in improbable situations, saying or doing things the character would NEVER say, usually (it seems) to place a fan “avatar” character into a romantic encounter with one of the real characters.
This is as true (more true?) of Star Trek as anything else. In fact, if I were forced to categorize them, many of the Trek novels I read as a kid would even fall into these categories – placing various characters of the authors creation into romantic encounters with either Kirk or Spock.
The transition from fan fic to fan vid hasn’t improved the situation, IMHO. Periodically I see links on forums or Facebook that say “Watch this!” Yet it seems that every time I do, I am disappointed. Usually it is the acting that falls short, and almost as often I’ll see one such as one I gave a cursory glance to earlier today: where some aspiring artist shows off their skill rendering their favorite fan designed starship flying around a starscape doing… nothing. Sure, I get it. You can render a Constitution class starship in glorious detail. But… so? I really don’t feel the need to watch your 3-D video of the USS Lexington as the camera spins around it for four minutes.
OTOH, I recently saw a fan produced movie staring veteran actors of the various Trek shows, and these seem to be getting more popular as we get farther from the last series. This particular one was entitled Star Trek: Renegades, it was an alternate universe concept starring Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and Tim Russ (among others), so the acting was good – to a point. The problem with that production was not the acting, rather it was the script- and the awful special effects. It didn’t matter that the basic concept was very intriguing (for those of you familiar with classic Trek, Charlie X uses the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and kill Kirk’s mother before Kirk was born. Alternate Reality ensues); the script was so weak and the effects so… cheesy that I could barely make it through it.
Oh, right. I didn’t. I nodded off somewhere in there. Sigh.
All this means that when I saw adds pop on Facebook asking me to like something called “Star Trek: Axenar,” I was not impressed. Another fan movie? Sigh. Yet being the Trek junkie that I am, when I saw a link to a preview of the new “theatrical length movie,” I figured “What the heck?
When I did, I Immediately knew something was different about this project. First, it mined deep into Trek lore, borrowing both from the EU and the classic TV show. Second, the brace of actors in the show are top notch. I was especially intrigued when J.G. Hetzler came on playing not a Klingon general – but a Starfleet admiral. Others are there as well; I’d list names, but if you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you enjoy the surprises as much as I did. Suffice it to say that they are all respected genre actors, many of them Trek veterans.
Most importantly, though, are the effects. Simply put, unlike every other fan film I have ever seen, the effects in this “trailer” (it was twenty minutes long!) were of theatrical quality. The new starships look like a Federation starship should, and old favorites – the aforementioned Constitution class ships – look like something out of the digitally re-mastered edition of Classic Trek that came out a few years ago. No cheesy stop motion models, or even worse, ships that look like someone using Microsoft Paint drew them here. Nope. These ships look good.
As for the plot? Yeah. This is what I always wanted to see as a kid – a full length movie about the first war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Ship types right out of Starfleet battles, acting performances that are excellent, and a story told in the manner of a Memory Alpha produced war documentary? This is movie I want to see; the twenty minute long preview was too short!
I won’t get into specifics here; I’ll cut this post off a little shorter than usual and just say “Go. Google this. Contribute to the Kickstarter (when the next one comes up, as it appears to me that they are working the Kickstarter in stages). If you’re a Trek fan, or a Sci Fi gamer (especially if your both), you will be impressed.
Filed under: General Musings | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction
When I was a kid, the first serious fiction (I can’t really count all those Star Trek novels I read in 5th and 6th grade as “serious”…) were the early novels of Tom Clancy. Sure, I had read plenty of Trek novels, and some Star Wars movie novelizations, but the first real, “adult” novel I remember reading was The Hunt for Red October. It was at that time that my older brother, who got me into Star Trek and all things science fiction, saw me reading Clancy’s book and told me “If you like that, you ought to read this,” and pulled Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Footfall off of his shelf. With that, my love of hard SF was born.
I read a lot of books from his collection over the years, and most of them were written by Niven and Pournelle, as well as a large number of Isaac Asimov’s robot novels. Yet the largest number of books in his collection were ones that – with one notable exception – I sadly never touched, those by Robert A. Heinlein.
That one exception, however, is a doozy – Starship Troopers. Sure, my brother also recommended that novel to me, and it didn’t hurt that a decent movie (but truly AWFUL version of the book) came out while I was in college (although I thankfully had read the book twice by then), yet to this day I still consider that book one of the three greatest SF novels I have ever read (along with Niven / Pournelle’s novels The Mote in God’s Eye and The Legacy of Heorot).
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Starship Troopers – well, you should. But if you haven’t, don’t be mislead by the hatchet job movies, from the original ’97 movie (which at least passingly resembles the book) through a series of increasingly awful sequels. No, those are Sci Fi shoot-em-ups that miss the point of the novel entirely: a political commentary on what a citizen should do in a democracy. As a student of social studies and poly sci major, this book struck home to me. Rights are rights because we do something with our lives. People must work for the greater good and be productive members of society, not simply be born.
As an aside, this is why I find Verhoven’s movie to be, well, offensive. Heinlein was a liberal democrat, even a socialist in his early life, so when Verhoven made the movie without reading the book “because it was fascist,” well…. suffice it to say I wanted to beat him for how badly he had missed the point of one of my favorite books.
But I digress. The reason I never picked up any of the other Heinlein novels on his shelf, despite the fact that he had around fifty or so novels by him, was the fact that they were, well…. old. Many of them dated from when he was a kid, and so by the time I started reading them, many were over twenty years old, and had that old, browned, weathered look that only a cheap-but-old paperback book has. Add in the number of them (I didn’t know where to start); well, even after I inherited them upon his death, they are now sitting on my shelf, doubly loved but still unread.
So when I stumbled across an ad on Amazon for the second volume full length biography of the great master, I knew I had to read it. I am glad I did.
I will say that I have so far read only the first volume, which ends with the failure of his marriage and the marriage to the women who would be his wife for the last forty years of his life, but even that has been eye opening. Sure, most of his novels were written after he turned forty, but volume one is both an easy read and very enlightening: Heinlein is not who I imagined him to be, at least in his personal life. I suppose that’s what I get from forming my opinion based on one book 🙂
What he was is a story teller. Sure, he was a naval officer before tuberculosis forced him to retire in his mid-twenties (which is why his military SF rings so true), but he was also a politician, an engineer, and a theorist of soon to be science-fact. Furthermore, he was violently ant-communist and fascist, and pro-American, to the point that he (in several quoted letters) states that his religion is the promise of America; even America itself. Factor in that he was writing at the dawn of (even before) the space age; yeah. I can see how he can be given the mantle of the author of modern science fiction.
He was also prolific. HIs naval pension helped, but through the great depression, he was an author, writing tales for science fiction magazines that no longer exist, living from tale to tale and paycheck to paycheck. The number of short stories that he produced is very different from the way that authors write today, for IMHO, the short story is a lost art.
More than anything, he was a character. I found it most interesting to read his own words, his letters to family and friends. This allows the reader to get into his head in a way that I found fascinating, to understand why he wrote what he wrote, and also the myriad of influences on him (and other writers for that matter).
Writing, I’ve heard, is a solitary process, and it’s true. After reading this book, I can feel a little bit what it must of been like for him. He sat pecking away at his typewriter in the same way that I am sitting here at my laptop – both of us writing about other worlds and other times, and I can’t help but feel a little bit more connected to him.
I can’t recommended both volumes of William H. Patterson’s “Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century” enough. Three thumbs up
Filed under: General Musings | Tags: Aromathus, Geek, hobbies, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Personal
A proposition was proposed to me over the weekend, and while on face value it doesn’t seem to be all that ground breaking, it me think quite a bit about how I – how all of us – spend our time these days: We are in the first “age of hobbies.”
When my friend first made that comment to me, it seemed pretty, well, not true – or even relevant. He went on to explain, though: Before the 1970’s, “gaming” as a hobby didn’t exist. D&D came out in the 70’s, and wargaming, the gateway drug for many gamers my age and older, comes from around the same time. Sure, role playing probably existed in some form before then, but certainly not like it does today.
His next question made me think even more – “What did people do for hobbies a hundred years ago? I mean, other than say, fishing, hunting, and reading, what hobbies where there?” That question really threw me for a loop. Even after ten minutes of conversation, I could really only come up with two: sports, and letter writing, and both of those two are both vastly different today. Letter writing is something of a lost art today. As a historian, one of the things that I’ve heard mentioned several times in recent years is how the writing of history will be significantly different in the digital age. Consider the two biographies I have read this summer, one on Robert E. Lee, the other on the Duke of Wellington. Both of these generals left behind voluminous correspondence. Their letters to friends, family, and colleagues left behind an unparalleled “window into their souls” that modern people, despite being more recorded and documented than ever, don’t have. We know far more about what a politician today says and does than ever before, but very little of what they think – for the simple reason that people don’t write letters to each other anymore (sorry, millennials, one sentence e-mails don’t count…)
The other hobby I came up with – sports – is vastly different as well. Sure, people before the “modern age” played sports, and they might have even followed a favorite team (but I wager that didn’t happen much before, say, 1850.) But today? Today people spend billions on sports – from tickets to memorabilia to trading cards to autographs to entrance fees for fantasy leagues – and more. Sports today is a big business, and while more people than ever play sports in some way – more, far more – do something that didn’t happen a hundred years ago: they watch it. You know, plop down in front of the TV with a bag of chips and an adult beverage and just watch. To bring this back around, my friend and I agreed that while hobbies existed in the past, the generally served a productive purpose. Fishing / hunting. Playing a sport. Things like knitting / crocheting / sewing. Reading and letter writing. Things that, in other words, had a purpose beyond killing time and “having fun.”
Look at today, though. While we started out talking about gaming, the conversation morphed quickly, as I said, and we realized that hobbies are now a major industry in and of itself. Think about it: how many of us know many people who derive their living from a hobby? I know sports card shop owners and comic shop owners. I am friends with game designers and writers. I watch sports – especially baseball, which I can have on in the background while I do other things – weekly, if not daily. Even in that small sphere, how many of these people make their living solely on other people “having fun?” Sure, we’ve always had entertainers, but it is a recent – a very recent – development that such a large portion of society makes their money off of other people’s fun. Why is this? It’s simple, oddly enough, and is a combination of two factors: Affluence and technology.
A hundred years ago, most people worked on farms, or in factories and mines, for long hours six (or more) days a week. The sheer amount of physical labor that most people had to perform left people without time – or energy – to do more than enjoy the occasional holiday. Today, though, as labor saving devices have become common place, we have more time, and more money, than ever before. The common person now has the time to play an RPG all day Saturday, and not have their livelihood suffer from it.
Related is the point of technology, and to make this point, I’ll return to the sports example. In 1875, there were professional baseball teams. Yet outside of the fans nearby the parks, the only way to follow a team was to read about it in the newspaper. With the coming of mass information technology, though, that is no longer true. I can sit in my chair at night with the game on TV as I read about the team in a magazine (how old school, I know), then go online and check my fantasy sports teams standings, flip over to a blog, check up-to-the-minutes scores for any team for any game in the country, even as I realize that the team I’m watching isn’t even from this COUNTRY.
Yep. A combination of technology and affluence.
So what does all this mean? Honestly, I’m not sure. Sure, my chosen hobbies of Pen & Paper RPG’s and board wargames aren’t what they used to be, but there are more ways for those of us who do play to stay in contact (and meet up, for that matter) than ever before. And as technology becomes ever more prevalent, I only see this trend continuing. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure. On face value, yeah – it’s awesome. More ways to have fun is great. Yet… I do wonder. With so much money and time going into hobbies, and so many people making their living off of having fun… Yeah. Bread and circuses, people.
Huh. But maybe I’m just a pessimist. Albeit one with lots of games to play. 🙂