A Clash of Things

October 26, 2011

So, an update on ASoIaF, as of book 2: I still love it.

I really like the universe.

I like the Wall. I like wargs, and the wildlings, and the wights. I like the ten-year summers and the fears of winter. I like the talking white ravens and the direwolves and the dragons. I like Valyrian swords and the dragon-bone daggers and the poison-proof bejewelled chokers. I like Winterfell and Storm’s End and the Dragonstone.

I like the maesters and the Pyromancers Guild and the improving-wizards. I like the black brotherhood, and the sers, and the Kingsguard. I like the Lord of Light and the Great Sept and the Godswood. I even like the three-eyed crow and the wolf dreams and the green dreams, and dream-centic fate-narratives can tick me off pretty quick.

I like the I like the illegitimate children, and the child-brides and the in-bred dragon dynasties – or rather I hate them, but I love that Martin has grounded and spaced his universe with real historical models, and isn’t forcing modern predicates onto it. I like the sypathetic villains and the cold decisions of the heroes.

I like the switching narratives and the timeskips between them. I like the well-trained, but still-blindspot-bearing ten year olds. I like the ongoing mysteries and the bewildering, game-changing tragedies. I like the different fears each character has and the certainties that that particular fear will end the world as it is known.

Yes, this particular volume did strike more of a Wheel of Time chord than the first – implications of former fallen civilisations, of magics long lost beginning to work again with the advent of dragons being reborn, -cool!- and some glimpses of bdsm -mmm,ok-. Overall, yes – good stuff.


Terry Pratchett’s Snuff

October 16, 2011

A short review, I think.

I liked it. A nice juicy Vimes book, that settles down a little from previous installments’ mounting pressure. It worked, in several parts at least, as a mystery, and the change of scenery, authority, motivations and lead characters were refreshing. Vimes, on holiday in the countryside, with, a switch of emphasis onto his domestic cast and a minoring of the Watch cast, was a great change. The continuing theme of Vimes not being certain of who he is, where he came from and being afraid of who he could be become, who he knows he could have been had a few things been different, is a rich seam that bears mining again in this fresh context.

I really liked Sybil in this outing. Pratchett really gets into what character powerhouse Sybil is, being everything Vimes is in morality and everything he isn’t, generally, in social deftness. There is a real partnership there in this book that really works. And, quite frankly, an element of sexual suggestion between the two that really, em, fleshes them out. Also, I particularly like Sybil’s rants to Vimes after someone of rank assumes that Sybil, too, must be a goblin-racist. Real anger there, real rage.

Willikins too, though Pratchett laid it on a little thick. Basically, Willikins has, over the course of the last few books, been fleshed out as a butler who, when called to war, is an ear-taking, nose-biting, beserker-sergeant, and has a backstory as a street youth gang fighter, comparable to Vimes’ own. This was alluded by things like Vimes asking what Willikin’s weapon of choice was in those days – Vimes is surprised at ‘a hat with sharpened pennies sewn in the brim’ as apparently these could take out a man’s eye. Willikins replies with ‘if used with care, yes sir’ while folding laundry.

Now, on his last outing Willikins did use this past to take several dwarf assassins – yes, just yes, and it was awesome – and using a dispassionate butler’s air to humbly describe how, at one point he killed one with the ice knife he was using at the time, then took up the assassin’s flame-throwing weapon, ‘apprised myself of its functioning’ then pointed it down the hole the dwarves broke in by and fired until the ‘igniferous fluid’ was used up, incidentally setting the garden across the street on fire. The whole charm of it was the staid delivery. So, in short, it was sort of weird to see Willikins, say running around with a pocket crossbow, doing trick shots through mobs. Yes, characters can change, and be far less uptight – given that this is set six years after the events above and that Vimes works every day to make his staff relax more around him, that is believable – but did Willikins in the previous books have arm tattoos? Did Vimes constantly compliment Willikins on what a dangerous man he was? I don’t hate it, and I can ride the ride if I want to – I LOVE a battle-ready butler – but it was a little weird.

And the Summoning Dark returned! Awesome, in fact. Usually, the odder stuff Vimes encounters, like the DisOrganizer that predicted appointments and so on disappeared. This was pretty cool, and recurring theme of darkness, and it makes sense that a ‘substition’ would work for goblins too, given that it is completely without need for faith in it.

And a lot of what didn’t strike right with me was ‘weird’. And that is a matter of taste. However, I’ll put it out there:

It seemed weird that when the children’s author revealed her backstory, she was effectively backgrounded for the rest of the story. I mean, part of the story, in the end, was the popular acceptance of goblins as a people, and choosing an artistic method to do it. Why not have her publish a book about it? Even the Jane-Austen-reference character (which I loved to bits by the way) got her book shilled in the end. No reference to an enormously popular good goblin book for kids written by the lady whose mother was raised by them, who specifically went out her way to mention the beauties of the goblin language?

It seemed weird that Fred Colon had this hallucinogenic period where he saw things from a goblin’s point of view, and we never saw anything from HIS point of view, or a goblin’s for that matter, throughout the book. We’re supposed to understand this transformation he has in the end to a friendship towards goblins, but we never see what he goes through, not even an in italics paragraph between other characters’ viewpoint paragraphs. It really failed to sell that aspect to me, while simultaneously seeming to pass a perfect opportunity to do so by.

And then there were the goblins in general – similar problem to Unseen Academicals with orcs, the book where the concept of goblins in the Discworld, coincidentally, was introduced. You see, orcs and goblins are pathologically hated by the populace at large – really, really despised – odd, though not full-blown weird. Where it gets weird is that when present these species for five minutes, they’re awesome. Orcs apparently can become knowledgeable about, pretty much anything – they’re do all great guys who get a bad rap because they were created by the ‘Dark Emperor’. Some of it worked, some of it did not, and some of it could be the fact that we only see one orc who has been well-raised.

The goblins in this? Make beautiful pots out of trash. Oh, not really made pots of scrap, no – glowing, beautiful pots that are intrinsically wonderful. Show them how to play a harp, and they will make Sam Vimes cry with their music. Not even kidding. They’ve a beautiful language within their grunting, apparently, which we never hear expressed. They also have an eidetic memory, something that seemed to be thrown in with orcs too. I just felt I was being told to like something.

And they have a belief about putting their immediate effluvia in pots, to be buried with them. And there is a single murder of a goblin and an outright slaughter of goblins, and the pots never come up in regards to that. One comes up as a mystery plot ploint, the other as a MacGuffin to convert the racist Colon and as another mystery plot point. Never as the object of belief. And we get a line about how the goblins believe they’re being punished for something, but we never come back to that. The beliefs are a central plot point, but never expanded on. There is literally a guy chronicling the goblins writing for half a page at the start who mentions the belief about the pots and that he’ll bcome back to them – he doesn’t back to the pots, and neither does the book.

And you know what? It is mentioned that goblins have perfect night vision. It is also a plot point that the local barge captains have to sail by memory and timekeeping because their lights can’t always illuminate the conditions they sail in. There is a climactic scene where a barge captain has lost his place in stormy conditions, while the barge is filled with goblins. Vimes uses HIS perfect night vision to warn the captain of obstacles. Now, okay that is fair enough – Vimes bonded with the goblins with this nightvision. But still – Vimes is a hero afterwards because of this, but there is never a mention of Vimes slotting goblins-eyes-Tab-A in barge-captain-Slot-B. Or anyone else doing this. It seemed like such a legitimate way for the goblins to become beloved, but it was just unused.

And really, you didn’t have to twist my arm to sympathise with these guys. They’re hunted, enslaved, transported and worked to death. They’re instantly sympathetic, they don’t have to be marvellous harp players. But here is the problem.

It could be taste, because it isn’t just that I like Pratchett. Discworld is formative to me. I think in fantasy parody easier than fantasy-straight. Before Neil Gaiman taught me about vampires as metaphor for social leeches and Joss Whedon taught me about vampires as analogy for teenage years, Pratchett taught me about vampires as alcoholics. And werewolves as bipolar. And zombies as stuck-in-their-ways. And trolls as giant computers, and elves as sociopaths, and dwarves as 50% transvestites. And those were brilliant twists on Tolkien, on existing myth and legend. And then there are these things ‘tacked on’ to the goblins, that don’t come from … anywhere, near as I can tell, and we never see from their point of view like we did Cheery or Detritus or Angua. They’re never people to us, just something to be pitied or beloved.

How do they become beloved? Well, Sam Vimes burns some wicker in a dramatic fashion, giving out free beer, while Sybil Vimes held a concert to showcase a goblin harpist talents. Yes. Then everyone involved was arrested. Also, the guy who apparently headed everything, Gravid Rust? Never appears on page. I don’t mean ‘never appears on page with the heroes’, I mean he never appears. We see his lackeys for two scenes, and we see his henchman Stratford for the most of the book. We didn’t need to see as much, frankly, because he pretty much seems to be Andy Shanker from Unseen Academicals in a different hat – brutal thugs in a passionate relationship with violence, who are savaged/killed, just before the end, by a side character, at night. In the master palette of Discworldean evil, this was a sad duplication.

It was weird that Nobby has a goblin girlfriend. Yes, I know, its Nobby, haha, but also wuh?

Anyway, that wasn’t short, but I had a lot of problems with a book I otherwise loved. So it is hard.

Completely unrelated: A Narnia fanfic on the ‘Problem of Susan’ – really good voice:


And that is 1655.

Wedding of Time and Space

October 9, 2011

So: last year, space exploded.

This year: time disintegrated.

Next year, and probable climax of the Silence arc: Smeg knows.

The format was both similar and distinct from last year’s finale.

On the one hand, the opener was moving creatively through time and space to achieve a specific aim. The ‘villain’ was largely just chasing the protagonists to move them from location to location, the challenge being a ‘disaster’ rather than a single ‘enemy’. The ending causes things to un-happen, and the true resolution is deferred another year. An ancient monument is put to strange use. Oh, and River pointed a gun at Cleopatra and hijacked a pyramid.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a two-parter means there wasn’t that terrible place to claw oneself up from in the second part. Yes, River in the spacesuit is sad for her, but we literally know she is going to be fine. The characters know how to fix the problem from the start, and it is instantly achievable – the conflict is the cost at the loss of the Doctor – and it was so long set up that the risk wasn’t in it with, say, his being erased.

So. Effectively, we did the cliffhanger and resolution equal to last year – it was just the mid-season finale. And that is dynamic – adapting storytelling to an altered schedule. Strange, yes, but it has created what I think of as a mid-arc season finale; the first finale had to be definitive, to cap Moffat’s first season, the finale where this is all resolved will have to be moreso, but this was the middle bit. The bit where we’re armed with the who and the how of the Silence, but vagaries of why and where and when are still in the air.

This was the particularly-timey-wimey season where River was born and died and regenerated, where she hated and loved the Doctor, killed him, saved him and married him. And for those of you who really don’t like River, I feel, because this must have been hell for you, but it is over now. I don’t know if they’ll use her more or less now that it is all out in the open, but at least you’ll know, and all the speculation will calm down.

For me, as I stated, I really was worried about River being Amy and Rory’s kid. There were things that were so risky – like how she interacted with her parents previously and how that was going to fit emotionally. As you know, I hate when the magic-baby plot ‘fixes’ everything. For a while it felt, for me, and horribly, that it might go down that route. Or at least that the risk was there. Cheap risks to children and underplaying damage for a quick fix is a quick route to my anger centre. Part-timelord was tricky.

But, ultimately, it worked for me as the story continued to be told. And then I went back, and watched the Time of Angels two-parter, and everything from the priests, to River legitimately losing it when Amy is in danger both times, to even her giving Amy a booster jab. I may as well tell you now – I’m running on the theory that Rory was erased from River’s mind as well as Amy’s during last season’s finale. That is just what I think – I’d love a confirmation, like they gave to River playing dumb over the spacesuit, but ah well.

Then there was the opening two-parter, and, particularly in retrospect, the trust between River and Amy, the sweet conversation between Rory and River. Tragedy, with the River’s ‘last’ kiss with the Doctor so soon, from her perspective, possibly, after their marriage. I’m not sure there – we’ll need some sort of chart from Moffat on that scale when this is all over. And then Good Man Goes to War, with another sweet Rory talk and some more lovely tragedy. By which time, the fact that she handles such craziness makes sense, given how screwed up she was when started out. In many ways, it must be like having a parent whose recollection occassionally slips.
And when she finally can refer to her parents as parents at the very end, with Mummy and Daddy and so on, it is very, very sweet.

Now that that is out of the way …

I liked the episode. Technically it is even more low-key than last season’s finale, with the action mostly in the all-out mid-season finale. It must wallowed in the delicious anachronism stew and set to boil. I liked Winston and the Doctor – an expository device, but a fun one, with Live Chess and Dorium – and the tragedy, with the death of the Brigadier and forgiving River. I like that Amy’s memory being resistant to change is such a strong piece of the universe. Captain Rory was just lovely, with knowing what was going to happen, just waiting on the when and the how. The eye drives were very nice and made sense. Pyramid was rule of cool, though I was wondering if they were going to use the old bit about pyramids preserving things, but no, and for the best really.

I was kinda hoping to see Canton again, what with the historical figures and the Area 51 thing, but there we are. It would have been nice to see the character simply because a lot of the cool stuff he did in the opening two parter was implied and off-screen – the confrontation with the Silent (I know it isn’t their name, but Le Guin already bagged The Nameless Ones) being his only real chance to shine, and he didn’t even remember it afterwards. Ah well. Yes, the Silent really are just there to escape, as is Madame Kovarian, and they are collectively there just there to hurry the protagonists to the signal, like the dessicated Dalek in The Big Bang. They don’t even go upstairs! I’m fine wih it, though when the Doctor does get to the Academy of the Question’s roots, he really is going to have to punch something, and it is going to have to be pretty big, metaphorically speaking.

Loved Rory and the eyedrive, and it paralysing him at the worst moment, and the Silent taunting him over it, and Amy coming back for him, and ‘We should get a drink”Okay’ and ‘And married”Fine’. Many disliked this end for Kovarian, while I (a) actually felt it adressed a lot of Amy’s expected reaction (b) underlined that Kovarian is middle management and (c) she is probably still alive somewhere, and angry at the Academy, or Amy, or both. I really liked the Doctor, after being confronted at the end of mid-season, and even last season, in part, with what a terrible influence he can be on the universe, to be so convinced that ‘The Doctor is in trouble. Please Help.’ would mean nothing to anyone, and instead the replies manifest so strong as to seem to be sunspots. It is very, very sweet. River saying that her suffering would outweigh all that of the universe? Bit much. Still the fact that she’d be the one to do it does justify that reaction. But I liked the wedding well enough. Yes, it was to a Tessalecta in an aborted universe, but still – they’d never marry him off in a straight-faced fashion.

So a few points. Yes, I too would have preferred a little more on the fact that the Tessalecta could, among other things, fake regeneration. And if River was getting the minaturised Doctor’s life signs, say, then wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to leave, causing the lifesigns to stop, rather than staying around to get ‘barely singed’. They couldn’t play too close to the regeneration previously, I get that, or we’d have all guessed it, and that was a solid double-feint with the Dopple-doctor, but we really couldn’t have a 30-second re-run through from his perspective, just to get the idea? Really?

I really didn’t guess the Tessalecta until it happened. Really. Some say they knew by the appearance of it in the episode, some by the appearance of it in the ‘Previously On’ bit. It just slipped past me. And I suppose the regeneration makes sense given that he could age and change his clothes and cut his hair and fall prey to knock-out blasts – though that last one seemed a little odd, in retrospect. She hit him in the eye, maybe? And the eye drive and physically touching River works because … yeah, I’d like a lot more from his perspective, actually.

Some are saying he should have told the others he was a Tessalecta. I actually liked how this is constructed – at the lake, we have a Ganger-Amy remotely feeding all data and one last Silent wandering about. At thepyramid we had Kovarian and the Silent wandering about, who might well remember what happened there. So – one of the few instances where that worked.

And yeah, the garden was lovely, for the afforementioned relationship reasons. I liked her adapting to her daughter beautifully, and going over the fact that she can remember killing someone and dismissing River’s dismissal. Quite frankly, where this journey has taken the character of Amy has been, frankly, astounding, and a joy to watch, and she is right at the top of my favourite scifi protagonists of all time, to be honest. And the crypt really gelled with the lessons learned, again, from the last season and mid season finales: The Doctor is too big a figure. He has to go back to the shadows.

And yes, I called ‘Doctor Who?’ Quite good – providing that there is a legitimate place to with it, leading into something worth killing him over, something to do with the fields Trensollar (?) and the fall of the Eleventh (probably a bus, right?). But I’m pretty sure they’ve somewhere to go with it. And if Smith stops at three seasons, and they were all this one arc – I’d be fine with it. And that is 1675.

A Song of High Fantasy and Fire

October 2, 2011

So I admit it – I’ve been livecasting on Facebook about Doctor Who, in-progress, rather than blogging about it later. Given its one of the few things I watch that a lot of my F-book friends also watch, this, and e-mails, seems to be a good fit. However, with Doctor Who over this year, excepting the Special, and only a half-season during 2012-proper (the world CAN’T end that Christmas, I have to see the Silence!) I’ll be getting back into the swing of this.

My book reading will, for the time being, be going up on F-book too, while I try this Game of Thrones thing out, as an astoundingly large amount of people I know really seem to like it. I even skipped the last 3 books of the Earthsea Quartet (read: only read the first -really, really good – to catch upon this) when I actually realised how many bannermen of House Stark were in my demesne.

Am I jumping on the bandwagon? In many usages of the term, God yes. I’m giving something a chance because of the buzz around it now, with its tv show, that I was vaguely aware of for years but never really looked into. I am fine with that. I’ve done it before. Even with the stuff that came out in my lifetime, Harry Potter for example, I didn’t start until Book 4 came out. True, I did buy all four solely off the back of the description of Albus Dumbledore in Book 1’s beginning, but I thought Harry Potter was the red head on the cover of book 2 (I don’t use ginger, that and the Cavan-people-are-cheap thing were memes I only encountered in college).

But I know the rules of conduct on the bandwagon. Mostly: just catching up patiently on the material and being nice to people further behind than yourself. It is cool to catch something from the beginning and be a part of that, release to release, but, honestly, realising how much of a following something you’re going into has already is pretty cool too. The first book would be worth the investment in just-knowing-what-people-are-talking-about alone. Ironically, I’ll be avoiding this network like the plague, for now – too many spoilers.

I was burned out on High Fantasy for a while there. Naming no names, but I was really tired of books 600 pages long and not being really sure how much of it was merited. Maybe that really is a taste thing, but it wasn’t for me. Reconciling this with my love of Lord of the Rings, even Silmarillion, is tricky, given all the long, detailed walking they did. The best I can say is that while Tolkien tapped into the epic fantasy by presenting us with legendary characters, who didn’t have sex, get colds or use the bathroom, aand that presenting those realities in a fantasy format is an admiral achievement, there was stuff that wore on me.

I didn’t like that at some point, some of the female cast would be in an in-story bdsm scene. I didn’t like that, while the strength and prominence of those characters was wonderful, there was some baseline ‘bitchiness’ that meant they could not trust the male characters, or other female characters, on some basic level, ever. There was always some undertone of the conniving and the deceptive, while the male characters were open about their feelings and motivations – and I felt that books bore that out, that their short-term, off the cuff rescues worked better than the female’s long-term trickery.

And yes, that is a taste thing. I’m sure I totally misread those situations, or that they weren’t as all-pervasive as I felt they were in those series.

In other series, I really hated the contrivances. I hated the all-powerful place of destiny and people being trapped on Scalextric-track of fate. Some prophecies, some predictions, they came with the territory. But some works seemed to have nothing else. I hated that there was only one person who could do anything. Only one person that could do a particular thing – okay, I can see that. But some, it felt, had a large revolving one person who did and knew everything and was fated to do so. Even that wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the fact that this person had to be entirely unsuited and unknowing of the world they were entering enraged me. It felt like it totally dominated the books I came across for years, that skill was some sort sin.

And you know what – I’m almost certainly wrong about that. There is probably a plethora of High Fantasy books that shuck of Fate entirely, and are populated with a balance of talented, capable characters, and that the books that I’m thinking of were seperated by decades.

I hated the contrivances, with the super-intelligent god-children (mirroring my hatred of super-intelligent robot-children in space opera), with the villains who it seemed were all sociopathic hypocritical fiends and the masses being some poorly herded sheep who turned at the drop of a hat, unless they worked for the villain. I was tired that the only political system that they seemed to know was medieval feudalism, with the odd bit of Roman legislation once in a while. And I hated, hated, hated, that the books had no certain, individual resolutions, just pouring from one to the other.

And I flat out know that that it isn’t all true of all or ever a large section of High Fantasy. I know that was totally wrong. But it was all I knew for a while.

I was in Victoriana for the duration, if you must know. The latest of Rankin and Pratchett, Susanna Clarke, Gail Carringer, etc. It was fantasy, but fate was at a dull roar, the magic systems were a blend of the creative and the regimented, the books plots worked alone and as part of a series and, worst comes to worst, it was about 200 pages, maybe less.

So I’m back. Not to be sourgrapes-laden, but with any luck I’ll have plenty of time before Book 6 comes out to read the first … six. One per year, at least then. I’ll probably regret that statement in a few month’s time. I’ve got a booktoken earmarked for the new Pratchett, and the new Stephen Fry biography, and I’ve got the new Rankin, and some there’ll be some left over after that – I’ll be sure to get both of books three at the same time. And that is 1100 words. Eleven!