Thursday, August 28, 2008

No-one here

It's not really a hiatus, more like a pause, but at the end, it comes to the same: no new reviews on the site. We don't even have time for a (not so) lazy linkage, and that alone should tell you something.

Some of it is summertime; the days are nice and warm and I'd like to say that this fact forced us to enjoy the summer outside in the sun, but I guess it just made us a bit lazy. I even went to the seaside, where I spent a week in a nice, air-conditioned room, reading one book after another. I even managed to start a few reviews - the problem is that finishing them is a whole other thing.

Some of it is that we're all busy with something: some with jobs, some (meaning ThRiNiDiR) with writing a diploma. Both can be pretty tiresome at times, even a job such as mine (I'm working in a small gift shop which rarely gets any customers).

Some of it is WoW. I'm not an addict (yet??), but it sure is easier to do a bit of raiding than to sit down and try hard to find the right words for your review (I envy the native-speakers!). And since two is a company, ThRiNiDiR also plays (not that he minds it ...).

And the last reason, who is entirely my own: my to-read list is full of books that deserve a lot of time and thought, but I'm currently in a mood for easier reads. I'm a bit stuck, but I'm fairly sure it'll pass, as this pause will.

I'd like to say that these are not just excuses, but in truth, I'm not entirely sure. I, however, can assure you that we'll be back. Give us some time, but don't forget about us. :)

P.s.: I apologise for awful grammar; it's just that there's no one around to do the corrections.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wrath of the Lich King (Cinematic Trailer)

For those interested, Blizzard -- the creators of the world's most epic Massive Online Role-Playing Game (the number of players has capped 10million this year) -- has released a cinematic trailer for the tremendously anticipated 2nd expansion to World of Warcrat entitled "The Wrath of the Lich King". Now, even if you are not a fan of computer games you must admit that the trailer, telling the tale of Arthas' awakening -- the main bad-guy you'll get to fight in the expansion -- entaling great narration and even better visuals, looks completely stunning. The thing managed to raise my hackles, will it do the same for you?

Link to the trailer.

If you haven't seen the cinematic trailers for the original game and the 1st expansion "The Burning Crusade" I'm linking you You Tube versions:

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~ Thrinidir ~

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ian Cameron Esslemont - Return of the Crimson Guard (Book Review)

"Return of the Crimson Guard" (Amazon: UK, US)
by Ian Cameron Esslemont
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: PS publishing, Bantam Books

Avowed are coming for their vengeance. It's been a better part of a century since the Crimson Guard took their vow. They scattered across the world, looking for allies, conscripts and power, knowing that they can't stand against the entire might of the empire. But the empire is overstretched and purely defended. Whirlwind took Coltain's host and after Tavore's Bounhunters (with a little help) destroyed Sha'ik they became outlawed. Of Onearms/Parans host little remain after the plague and the homeland suffers in wake of the constant warfare.
---Now the four winds are bringing the Avowed back, for that dish best served cold. But there is still some might in the troubled land, so a quick and precise strike is called for. Straight in the heart of the empire, it's capital - Unta. But the centre is unwell also. Empress Lassen is by all impressions losing her grip on the rains. New players are raising their heads and by all accounts they're playing for keeps. Some with cloaks and daggers, other openly with armies. The weakening of centre has brought about an insurrection on the other side of the continent. Among the rebels there are some dream of past might, some of gods better left caged and some of vengeance against the empress. More and more it seems that this will be another bloody conflict between Surly and followers of her predecessor. With an army the empress sails for Cawn, following the insurgents inland, toward Li Heng.
---Crimson guard must perforce follow, for raising Unta to the ground, but not killing empress would serve no purpose. But their heart is also unwell. Their leader K'azz D'avore has gone missing decades ago and returning or not, nobody knows what is his true will. Nonetheless, the decision has been made and under poorly maintained walls of Li Heng a mighty conflict is starting.


I'll tell you two things directly, to avoid misunderstanding:
  1. As you well know, the impression that one forms during reading is always influenced by his mood. This brings us to point number 2
  2. I dislike reading from my computer (and yes, I've had to read this one from my faithful monitior)
This out of the way, let's get to the essence of things: "Return of the Crimson Guard" is basically – tepid.

Ian Cameron Esslemont has decided to write an epic book. Taking us over several continents (or at least island chains) he brings us to the continent of Quon Tali. We visit numerous locations, previously only hinted at – Unta, the dreaded Stormwall, more of otataral mines, Wickan planes and of course Li Heng and lands of Seti. And all of these will leave you unsatisfied.
Unta and Li Heng have no soul, Stomwall it's function and his assailants still remain a mystery, otataral mines seem more like an prison camp for elderly and senile, and lands of Seti and Wickans nothing but a green blots in the distance. True, the main worldbuilding has been done by Esslemont and Erikson years ago, but still one expects something more tangible when it comes to local geography. So don't expect Seven Cities or Darujhistan from MBoF, or even Malaz city from "Night of Knives". Here the places are no more than badly painted scenography in front of which the story unravels.

And the story itself again is epic. It's the clash of mighty: Lassen and her army, the insurgents that outnumber them greatly, besieged city forced to desperate solutions and of course almost ascended-level Crimson Guard… and all this for nought.
The descriptions of the clashes are usually too disorganised, sometimes, especially in the last part of the book that describes the conflict around Li Heng Esslemont jumps so much from one part of the battlefield to another that you completely loose the main thread for every single piece of mosaic, and for turning of wheels and consequences it brings. The unveiling of the Kurald Galain for instance, that is suppose to present a monumental milestone in the conflict is watered down completely when the story simply runs its course unabated making it look as an afterthought. And less we say about Tayschrenns dues ex machine appearance toward the end the better.
I realise that one of the main objections readers had over the "Gardens of the Moon" was that everybody was too much of a bada*s, but here even those that are supposed to be leave at the best a shallow impression. In general characters for all their might and fame bring little or nothing of it in the story. Laseen (IMHO intentionally) remains a mystery. Kellanved's warleaders: Urko and Toc the Elder, that had subtly became almost legends themselves, play insignificant roles – not in appearance but on epic level. Toc is shown almost as a sidefigure, on occasion (especially in the end) almost pathetic (:sniff: you promised, come back :sniff:). Urko, that had supposedly avoided assassins some two dozen times and leads a big part of the insurgents seems brooding at best and inclined to rely – like the author – on the myth that his name became, leaving most of the leading and work to others, punching away on the frontlines like some kind of blue skinned Chuck Norris. What had happened to the personality, talent and charisma that enabled them to become prominent generals Esslemont only knows.

As usual for the E&E books the entire 'cast' of characters takes on an almost epic quantity, but their interaction I can again only describe as tepid. Interaction between new conscripts and supposedly estranged avowed leaves no such impression, Erekos group is meant to be closely knit but it seems almost vaporous and Malazan solders have lost their usual spunk and cynicism (with one exception – I love the entire 'incest' dialogue).

I have thought for two weeks what to write for the conclusion after all this critique. "Return of the Crimson Guard" is not a bad read, but it's not a good one either. It is a meeting of old friends, comfortable and cozy. You fall in the routine of decoding the world without much effort, but also with a feeling of a listening to an old joke. Again.
So from me it gets:

Related posts:
PS: You can also read an interview that Fantasybookspots Jay Tomio had with Ian Cameron Esslemont here
~ Blindman ~

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hugo Awards 2008

The Hugo Award Winners for 2008 just came in:


  • BEST NOVEL: "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
  • BEST NOVELLA: "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007, Subterranean Press)
  • BEST NOVELETTE: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (F&SF Sept. 2007) [our review]
  • BEST SHORT STORY: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
  • BEST RELATED BOOK: "Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction" by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM: "Stardust" Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM: Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Stephen Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
  • BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST: Stephan Martiniere
  • BEST FANZINE: File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
  • BEST FAN ARTIST: Brad Foster
Congrats' to all the winners!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Meditation on a subject of...

(William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet ; ACT II; SCENE II.)
Not being prolific reader – at least not of blogs – I've been pointed toward a debate on several of them. It all started when aidan at The Dribble of Ink posted a rather unflattering view of the "The Ten Thousand" by Paul Kearney (you can read ours here) and admitted not to have read the entire book. Author objected quite strongly since adian had skipped in his opinion the best part of the book, and claimed that such partial (my words) reading cannot serve as a foundation upon which a work can be reviewed. In ensuing (IMHO quite cordial) debate numerous participants stated some quite strong opinions one way or another, but basically the debate raised an important question:

Can bloggers – this creature with million voices and opinions – come to an agreement as to form and content of a mode of expression (in this case a review) and, in my opinion, more importantly ...SHOULD THEY?

From the beginning blogs have been praised and condemned at the same time. Critics claimed that they serve as nothing but soap boxes (or in some cases pulpits) from which kooks indulge their need for verbal exhibitionism and self-gratification, and so often cause important, even volatile problems to "fizz" away because "real" people didn't take them seriously any more. On the other hand the partisans viewed them as the most democratic form of expression. Everybody could now voice an opinion, on whatever subject they wanted, however they wished. And if problems "fizz" away, there is no blame on the bloggers but on those that cannot use this (over)abundance of information and opinions.

Now, I think that all of us agree that both sides have a point. God only knows that there are a lot of kooks out there :), that's why we stick to our neck of the wood. To our community connected with common interest, in this case SF & F & H (not necessarily in that order). Some of us are active, if not with our blogs than with comments, other just lurkers or occasional visitors. But if we/you wouldn't think that we have something to give, that little piece of that is unique only to us, and that we have the right (or even responsibility) to do it, then you wouldn't be reading this post.

And thinking about the situation described above, I find myself again in similarly ambivalent situation. Some comments to the abovementioned debate, especially those by Robert Walker, claim that this uniqueness should be (my words) harnessed. That an agreement, a convention, a standard should be agreed upon among the bloggers, which would set the basic guidelines for a specific mode of expression:
"What I am suggesting, though, is that following a “convention” like: We call a “review” a piece about a book we read in its entirety, and we call it something else when we didn’t finish the book, can be a good thing for everyone involved. That is the only “standard” I was suggesting. Why? Because I think that there is absolutely no freedom lost (no censoring going on, self- or otherwise), and it also allows for authors to feel that they have been treated fairly. I ask, what’s wrong with that? Again, not down some imaginary slippery slope, but simply on this one concrete issue."[here]
"Thus, maybe it *would* be a good time for the blog-reviewers themselves to set some standards. And no, there really isn’t anything wrong with that, because what that allows is progress based on common vocabulary. That’s a hallmark of any important issue/discussion. And I think that one of those standards should be that if you don’t finish a book, by all means, talk about it, say why, describe your shopping list…just don’t call it a “review.” Call it a “not-review” like you were going to. Fine! Great! Something new! That’s one of the great things about the freedom of the internet.
By setting this kind of standard, I think that you can free yourself from feeling any guilt, or worry, about writing whatever you want. Just call it what it is. It’s actually kind of a simple solution. A lot simpler than trying to re-define what a review is, which is a pretty slippery slope. One I don’t think needs to be taken. Gotta pick your battles in life."[here]
Such a sensible, simple request isn't it? Who in their right mind would dare think otherwise. Not me. Mr. Walker definitely has a point (even if I find his tone in the second paragraph of the last quote a bit scary) far be it from me to deny. Go and read some of the work we published on this blog of ours. I read the parts written by ThRiNiDiR and Trin, even the one written by MadWand. Four of us know each other. We may not be the best friends in the world, but we belong to a single cultural circle, we constantly share information and we managed to reach some kind of agreement how a certain "form" (news, review…) should look like. And still it is obvious that four completely different people are at work. And going a step further, one could also go as far as to say that such a convention, standard would help writers create better, more readable books…

But… (not very original I know)

After you finish with this, go and read some of my past reviews.

Carping SOB, aren’t I?

You see, when I describe the book I do it as if the visitor of the blog had already read it. Usually only hinting at the good points, but trying to thoroughly substantiate those in my opinion faulty. Do I, with such writing also misuse the word review? Must I call it musing or somesuch? It is obvious that my writing can be misinterpreted (look at comments here), so must every publication of mine from now on include an apology? Will I from now on be considered "unprofessional"? Should I be ignored? Spammed in comment section?

Well, I refuse to brood on such things!

It is true, symphony can only be created with harmony. And this is where the path that Mr. Walker wants us to follow leads – to a harmonious, respectable, safe and predicable place. There is no doubt in my mind that some among you yearn for such a place, where your words, your work will become respected, quoted and this labour of love finally accepted and rewarded. And yes, I wish for same. But I refuse to leave the beautiful cacophony (never anarchy) and freedom that blogginng provides. I intend to create my one tune, even if a bit fussy, and entwine it with those others create, and if the ultimate judges – the readers/visitors – decide that I am at fault they're free to say so as well, in each and every instance, and so become the note in this tune of mine. And if they decide that my work is to be rewarded and respected, so much the better.

So, reasonable as it may sound I refuse the idea of even miniscule kind of convention or standard to be set beyond the domain of every individual blog. Are we again to be exposed to the tyranny of majority!? No! Each blog and each blogger should (miss)use whatever terminology he/she decides upon and follow the standards and morality of his/hers own choice. If doing so make us look foolish or illiterate so be it. Leave a comment and tell us so, perhaps you'll fare better.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Catherynne M. Valente - The Orphan's Tales Duology (Book Review)

The Orphan's Tales: In The Night Garden (Amazon: US, UK)
& In the Cities of Coin and Spice (Amazon: US, UK)
by Catherynne M. Valente
Format: Paperback, 496 pages & 528 pages
Publisher: Spectra Books
Once, there was a palace of a sultan, and around the palace, a garden was spread wide and blooming. In this garden, full of beautiful flowers, exotic trees and singing birds, there was also one young, wild girl. No one knew her name and origins - even more, they all turned away from her and never let her set foot onto the palace floor. That was because this girl had dark circles around her eyes like a raccoon, and so people whispered she was a demon, a devil, a cursed one.

But despite all that, one day there came a young boy from the palace who didn't fear the girl. She revealed her secret to this young prince and then told him stories she read in the ink around her eyes ...


As a kid, how fond were you of fairytales? Personally, I loved them. I had a book where there was a tale for each day, a set of 'seasonal' books which included a book of tales for each season, Grimms' Fairy Tales and The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter. Later on, these were replaced by a depressing book, written by Oscar Wilde (The Happy Prince and Other Tales) and a huge, nameless collection of folk tales, edited and collected by Italo Calvino. Maybe you've red other stories, ones I have no clue about, but I'm sure about one thing - my younger self would kill for "Orphan's Tales" and made it reasonable with only one sentence: it's the ultimate storybook. And by this I most certainly don't mean to say that this duology is meant for children only - it's more like a book for children of all ages.

At first glance, "Orphan's Tales" doesn't differ from an ordinary storybook, despite being published in two volumes. The story begins like all classicall tales, there are pretty illustrations accompanying the text, a nicely done deckled edge and the books as a whole are overall quite adorable. But as you immerse deeper and deeper into Valente's wonderful world, you realise there is something more to the tales. There are small details and trinkets we usually don't find in fairytales - e.g. when a girl dances with a Firebird, she inevitably gets severe burns. It's a realistich touch that makes the tales much more believable, despite the fantastic elements and the often grotesque settings and creatures. A touch of light irony is also sensed at times, as Valente plays with the romantic, idealistic view which is found in classical fairytales. In "Orphan's Tales", the brave princes are often stupid, pretty princesses turn out to be half-monsters and your friend in need is the ugliest, most savage beest in the whole forest. But despite all this, the "Orphan's Tales" is essentially a 'serious' storybook, unlike Sapkowski's "Last Wish", where classical tales are turned upside-down and modernised, sometimes even made fun of.

One thing I really adored in "Orphan's Tales" is how incredibly intertwined the stories are. There is a frame narrative that supports a horde of substories, which sometimes lead to a bit of confusion, especially when you fail to remember what exactly all those were about. Both books can also be a bit long-winded if read in one big gulp and one after another, but on the other hand, it's good to read them in that way, lest you forget what exactly happened in the previous volume and miss a lot of little details that connect the stories. For example, the characters from different stories often meet later on or tell tales of one another, which I found thrilling - it's a great cohesive touch and the read is packed with realisations in the vein of "Hey, I know that one!".

While a lot of authors, even some of the masters of the trade, have trouble with writing good endings and therefore often fail to do so; Valente avoids writing a 'bad ending' with grace and certainly succeeds in writing an almost perfect ending. Since I liked the frame narrative a lot and could hardly wait to see how it ends, the fact that ending is well-written is even more important to me. It all clicks together perfectly, creating a rather surprising and (at least for me) very exciting mosaic. The only thing I would wish different is a bit happier ending for Dinrzard, but I guess one can't have everything. Anyways, "Orphan's Tales" is a superb duology and I heartily reccomend it to everyone who wishes to please his/hers inner child.
- Trin -


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