Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shared Fantasy: Potential Series

Shared Fantasy: Potential Series

This is a sort of specialized list.  I took a list of books my girlfriend has liked and a list of books that I have liked and fed them into the internet and came out with a list of Fantasy Series that we may both enjoy together.  The reason is that we had so much fun while I read Harry Potter and then again while she read The Lord of the Rings.  We want to recapture that kind of feeling by reading a whole new series that neither of us have read and discuss it while we read the series.  My girl goes more towards the fairy tale side of things as she's a fan of Robin Mckinley and Gregory Maguire.  My tastes are varied, but I generally like a lot of magical weaponry and questioning what makes us "human".

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Ever watch that rare Disney movie "The Black Cauldron"?  Well that was a movie based on the second book in the series.  My girl and I have watched "The Black Cauldron" and while it had problems, it was really cool for the era it was made in.  Did you like how the Harry Potter series "grew up" with Harry?  Well this series does that, as we follow the protagonist from childhood to maturity.  There are 5 books in the series, but if you've read through Harry Potter, then these will be pretty easy to get through as they are not huge tomes.  It is NOT like Harry Potter as it takes place in a new fantasy world instead of our world.  Its really pure fantasy.

The Books of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

One of my all time "needed to have read" series.  This series was passed around the theater when I worked there in my teens and early 20's.  Plenty of female co-workers read it as well and seemed to like it.  Basically there are magical swords forged by the gods that each have something special.  One will make it possible to defend a town, but the townsfolk will always hate you.  Each of them have that one drawback.  It is fairly short, usually the trilogy is collected into a single tome.  The cast of characters is very large, and this is the real reason I would like to share this with my girl.  We loved talking about the lesser known characters in Lord of the Rings, and when we talk about our favorite Harry Potter characters, we gravitate to the B-cast.  I think this will be great, not only because of the large cast, but the philosophical questions the swords present.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

A youth finds out he is actually a magical person in our very real world.  That's right!  A Harry Potter analogue from the 1970's!  Well, this is here because of that, and because this series won so many awards as they were written.  From what I have read in reviews, this series focuses much more on European Mythology than Harry Potter does, but doesn't get into myth to the extent of Percy Jackson(which I haven't read).  Harry Potter is very "Raul Doll" inspired fantasy, and The Dark is Rising is more epic fantasy, so I think it will be plenty different enough.

Previously Talked about Books

Generally if I'm interested in it, I'm interested in sharing it with someone.  So here are my previous links to my previous lists.  Of particular interest of reading with my girl is "The Dragonriders of Pern", "The Magicians", "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn".  I just did not want to repost what I said about them here in this post, head over there and check them out maybe.

Epic Series Candidates

Stand Alone Novel Candidates

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Star Trek Enterprise: I Took That Pill

Ok.  Let's do this.

Was Star Trek Enterprise as bad as they(including me) used to day?  I think its about 75% as bad as what they give it.  Did I get used to the horrible beginning song? No, and quite frankly the refusal by the producers to give it up was a huge "F U" to fans that were genuinely trying to help by the 3rd season.  Were the actors horrible?  Absolutely not, the only real fault I could find with the cast was that Jolene Blalock had a hard time playing a Vulcan, especially in the first 3 seasons, but sadly by season 4 the show was just about over.  Was the writing as bad as they say?  Yes, and worse.

I'm not really sure how to proceed aside from maybe expounding on some of those things?

The Cast

I really can not find fault with the actors and actresses that played in this series.  I have always been a fan of Scott Bakula, which is why I gave him the benefit of a doubt when they cast a "known" actor as the new captain.  Bakula has serious geek cred, especially in series that were taking place when sci-fi was not taken seriously on television.  I think the writing keeps Captain Archer from being one of the greats, but overall I do like him more than Sisko, and a hell of a lot more than Pine's Kirk.  Connor Trinneer won me over as Trip Tucker and in the end I think what most pisses me off about the "end" was what they did with his character.  I feel like he knew it was bullshit as well, and so his worst acting, his worst performance was also his last one as Trip, and I feel he did it on purpose.

And thus ends the characters that got enough development to be on par with even the "B" cast of Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager.  The writing kept us from getting to know and love Hashi Sato, Malcolm Reed, and Travis Mayweather.  The actors; Linda Park, Dominic Keating, and Anthony Mongomery, all were terrific for what they got to play as.  The entire first two seasons they are almost set decoration, with one episode each to "shine".  Reed notoriously got "his" episode devoted to how boring absence of his personality.  Seriously, what the hell?

That leaves me with one last character.  This character kept me interested in the show even when it got "slow".  Doctor Phlox, played by Peter Billingsly, deserves a medal for bringing the only bit of character into the cast that resembles what we all loved so much about the characters of Next Gen and its spinoffs.  If you're a fan of Data, Quark, Seven of 9, or ANY of the doctors, he's like all of those in one.  If I have one sadness about Enterprise being over, its because Phlox doesn't get more time in the sun.

The Writing, Plot, etc

Ok we have to separate these into certain "eras" of the show.  The first and second season are easy to group.  The people in charge of the show at this point really did not know where to go.  They had a vague meta-plot that resembled a washed down DS9 type thing, and then had plenty of episodes about nothing.  Things happened, yes, and there were a couple of "our first time blah blah" for the Trek fans, but really not a lot happened to progress characters or anything really.  I would have to say there were 3 "good" episodes if I am pressed: Dear Doctor(easily the best of the first 2 seasons), Carbon Creek, and Dawn.

Season 3 can best be summed up as The Deep Space 9'ification of Star Trek Enterprise.  This is when the Meta Plot took over and ate the show alive.  You can not really watch these shows out of context because its essentially a season long episode.  This is the same problem I had with DS9.  You have to care about that meta plot as well, and frankly it was very slow to start with getting interesting.  I have to say though, that the most exciting and tense parts of the entire series was the last 5 episodes of this season.  This is also the season where Shran becomes the 3rd best character in the series.  I eagerly waited and got much happier when he appeared in an episode.

Season 4 is all over the place.  It starts out strongly, living off the good accomplishments of Season 3, but then gets slow in the middle when it starts being a "we're going to give nods to past Treks" tribute show.  The overarching meta plot style of season 3 is axed, and we're given a 3-4 show meta plot mini-series of sorts.  The writers try and "fix" Vulcans and explain why they are all emotional dickheads for the first two seasons, but its a "fix" that's too late to save them.  The middle of season turns to shit as they focus on Klingons and Wrath of Khan sub plots.  The series starts to end strong as we get the core of the Federation coming together, something we've been wanting to see since season 1.  It was criminal that they did not get around to making Shran the first Andorian in Star Fleet during this season.

The finale.  This is the shit of the shit for episodes, holy crap.  This is also a slap in the face of all the actors and hard working people that put in effort to get this show being better the last two seasons.  They basically take the finale out of the hands of the cast and crew, and give it to a gimmick of being part of a Star Trek Next Generation episode, literally.  They do sort of try and save their ass in case they get put in sindication, and set it to the 10th year of the Enterprise mission, leaving plenty of years of stories left to do for the crew.  Star Trek has had a good track record with finales.  Their writers knew they had to keep things vague enough to allow for speculation and future growth, and yet have things end on a good enough note for the characters in general.  We are invested in these people and we want them to overall end up well.  Enterprise's finale says "fuck that".  We end on a depressingly shitty outcome for 2 of the 3 "headliners".  We have an uncharacteristic turn of face for one of them that leads to easily the worst acted, thought out, and forced scene of the entire FRANCHISE.  It is almost "Spock's Brain" caliber of shit.

You want to come away from Enterprise on a good note?  Skip the last, and leave Terra Prime as the finale.

Final Thoughts

I do not feel like I wasted my time.  There are a handful of really "great" episodes, but really only "Similitude" can be watched out of context and enjoyed, the rest have to be part of a mini-feature length+ movie.  The cast saves the show from being a total wash out, but the writing NEVER gets there like it does for the other series.  Is it worth

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fantasy Stand Alone Candidates Thrimidge 2014

A "Stand Alone" is a book that has a self contained story.  There is a beginning and an ending within its pages, and there are no other books that are needed to finish its particular narrative thread.  This does not mean that a Stand Alone book must take place in a world where other books do not.  There are several stand alones that happen to side characters or other parts of a world that an epic series takes place in.  A Stand Alone is a great place to start if you are curious about a particular author.  I used Elantris as my starting point on if I like Brandon Sanderson or not.  It is a horrible feeling to dislike someone's writing style, but be stuck reading it for 4-8 books because you want to know the outcome of a story.  They are also great for a change of pace.  I am technically reading through a few epic series in both science fiction and fantasy, and having a one shot in between books to allow me to think about the previous book or to change pace is really helpful.

Without further stalling, here are the ones I'm considering as of late:

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Several websites list Tigana as their #1 pick for a fantasy stand alone.  Sometimes this worries me because some of these sites favor Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings, but apparently Tigana is widely accept by both camps as of late.  I am very hesitant to read Kay's stuff because he does a lot of "real world turned fantasy" stuff, of which I'm not a huge fan of.  I hear he is a great writer and not just  a great story teller, and I'm interested to see if I like him, which is why Tigana is on my list.  It is a story about a musician(lots of those around these days) and his friends struggling against a tyrannical sorcerer that has enslaved the free world.  This book is also in #1 lists for "most feels evah"

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

This book has gotten a few add on novels, but the original was meant to be a single story and can still be read as one.  This sounds like the kind of gritty "Game of Thrones" stuff that I can actually take.  This book gets put on the top of lists about Anti-heroes, and for people that like characters such as Wolverine, The Punisher, and Kratos.  These kind of adolescent "power trip" fantasies are my guilty pleasure.  Its no surprise then that he wrote the God of War novelization...  I love reading about some smug, snooty asshole that thinks he's untouchable get confronted by the true unstoppable monster in hero form.  Its the story of an assassin doing what assassins do.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I owe it to my childhood to read this book one day.  It exists in this world though, that if I never read it, the story never ends.  That's not meant as a pun, its just that I don't want it to be "over" in the same way that Star Trek Next Gen had to "end" one day, or that Tolkien's stories had to "end" for me.  One day...

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has a popular set of books, a couple of trilogies, that are liked by those that like Game of Thrones, but are said to be made of sterner stuff.  I'd like to see how his writing is, and if he can do epic army clashing fantasy without resorting to "shock" factors like Game of Thrones.  That's what I'm reading in the previews of this book anyway, and epic battle to end all battles or some such.  Sounds good.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Yet another stand alone that later got a sequel.  This is urban fantasy, and I have an urban fantasy series already with Dresden Files.  I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan, but I'm reading reviews that compare this to a more "serious" Harry Potter.  This comparison doesn't intrigue me as much as almost all the reviews say this is a book about the struggle to attain something someone desires so much but likely will never have.

Bonus: Elantris
If you haven't read my non-spoilery review, here it is: Elantris
Well worth the read, a good book.

Also my fantasy series candidates are here: Fantasy Series

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Potential Epic Series 2014

When it comes to the list of books I have read, science fiction dominates by a wide margin.  Aside from Dragonlace getting close to being read 20 years ago, and Lord of the Rings, which I've read twice in the past 10, there are not a lot of epic fantasy series that I have gone through.  I crave that epic fantasy style that stretches across multiple books, but I am also extremely picky.  I have a long-form series I am already reading through(Dresden Files) and I have Discworld if I want to add even more.  Those are different than something like Lord of the Rings.  I shy away from Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones because I hear so many things about "bad books" or "rough patches" along the way, and there's simply too much out there for me to put my time into that.

Anyways, this post is about my potential next series.

Lyonesse and Dying Earth by Jack Vance

I owe a lot to Jack Vance, and if you know me then you know I place an inordinate amount of effort into "getting" or "knowing" influences to things.  The entirety of Dungeon and Dragon's magic system is based upon Jack Vance's magic systems in these two series.  I hear they are wonderful, and since they were more or less developed along with Lord of the Rings, they did not take inspiration from it.  Its like a whole other side of fantasy that would find others melding with Lord of the Rings style stuff to create things like Wheel of Time.

Why I am having second thoughts: The Dying Earth series has a HUGE gap in between the 2nd and 3rd book, decades of a gap.  It is also generally a collection of loosely tied together short stories.  I have a book of short stories on a list that I want to read first, so that kind of takes out Dying Earth.  Next is Lyonesse.  Its Arthorian and Atlantean undertones set in Welsh mythology.  Yes, it also takes place on Earth.  Generally I stay away from Earth based fantasy, but Arthur and Atlantis is of huge interest to me... but... I just finished Elantris, and if you can't tell by the name, is hugely influenced by Atlantis.  None of these detractors are deal breakers... I just think it may be the wrong time.

Dragonriders of Pern by Ann McCaffrey

Dragonriders of Pern is the archetype for human/dragon relations in the fantasy boom of the 1980's and 1990's.  The fans of Pern are some of the most hardcore fans to not have their object of affections burst into the mainstream.  Their devotion lead to "living" campaigns in forums before that was a big thing on the net.  They had a large community in the text only MMO's of their day(M.U.D. variation named M.U.S.H.) and have held large events at Dragon'Con for over two decades.

Second thoughts:  It has gotten to be a very long series with numerous short stories and stand alone novels that I am afraid to invest my time.  Now... to be fair, I had  a stopping point in Dragonlance that I have not went back on, so maybe I'm just thinking of excuses.  I really hope I love them so much I end up reading all the books by Ann and now her Son, but it does make me apprehensive.  I think I've read that the two main trilogies are good enough to not need outside things, in fact they stand apart themselves as well.

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams

I do not know Tad William's books.  I do not know his reputation aside from what I read on the net.  I wanted to read one of his "stand alone" books to see how much I like him(same reason I read Elantris by Sanderson), but his one fantasy novel that fits this bill is about a rocker transported into a new world... a sub-genre that is surprisingly populated.  Unlike the others of the genre, which died out at the end of the 80's, this book about a rockstar turned hero was written in the 2000's.

That said, I think this trilogy could be great.  So much so, that I am hesitant to not read it because I also have a list of epic novels I'd like to share with my girlfriend as we read and discuss them, much like we did with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Hunger Games.  Seriously, that's the only drawback... it might be too good for my purposes.

The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

I'm not a fan of riddles.  Its too easy for someone to lord themselves over someone when they know the answer, and it seems like they have a smug satisfaction even though it is not like they came up with the riddle in the first place.  Anyway, that's the detractor and I started with it because I think that's the only bad thing I can say about it.

I once read an article saying Patricia A. McKillip puts many authors to shame because she creates these worlds of fantasy without having to do it with long, drawn out expose'.  She had a book of short stories(mentioned above) that for each one she is said to create a believable world worthy of a series of books each.  I have been intrigued since reading that, and to my surprise she has been honing her skills for decades.  Riddle-master is her original trilogy that put her on the map.  I think that will be what I start this week.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Post-Mortem: Elantris(low spoilerage)

by Brandon Sanderson
A stand alone novel

The story of why I read this book has many smaller folds.  My girl and I were looking for a new book series that we could read together so we could interact like we did with Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings.  We rather enjoy our discussions and perceptions of the characters and the plots of books, but we're both sort of tepid when it comes to committing to a multi-book series.  I decided to look at some stand alone novels by people who had done book series.  Several names came up, Tad Williams, Jack Vance, and many others, and then I saw Brandon Sanderson's name.

Brandon Sanderson is known right now as the hand picked successor to Robert Jordon, chosen to write the last books of the Wheel of Time series using Jordon's notes.  Wheel of Time is the classic example of what I feel is a trilogy or quadrilogy that so obviously starts being expanded purely for profit.  Just like with A Game of Thrones, people can point to the book where the author said "let's see if we can stretch this out".  I am no fan of Jordon(on a side note, I am more likely to read the his novels than George R. R. Martin's though), so I almost passed on Sanderson's entire body of work, an unfair and now admittedly stupid thing to think.

Elantris had me after reading its back cover, where it explained people would become Gods and reside in a magical city for all eternity; except eternity ended ten years ago.  Yes, its a story of demi-gods that had fallen from grace.  They did not become evil, they became some sort of living zombie creature, too pitiful to die and too insane to live normal lives and one of the main 3 voices in the book had just become one.  It is a hell of a start, and proper bait for me to bite at when it comes to describing a book.

Sanderson's style won me over immediately.  I am not a fan of writers who write "smart" to prove they are smart, yet I am not fan of drab and boring writing either.  Sanderson is a great example of people taking inspiration from The Hobbit more so than from The Lord of the Rings when it comes to plain exposition.  I love it.  I can fly through pages without pausing, and remember everything I've read.  When the action gets intense, my reading does as well.  Also unlike a few recent books I've read, the author doesn't linger too much on certain details and use that to continually fill space with description.  I read a book recently where food was unusually focused upon at all times, despite it not being central to the plot.  I do not know if starving himself was the author's way of getting into the writing mood, but it certainly seemed like it.

The character of the Princess was the next thing that won me over.  She is a really great protagonist, if a little cliche in our day of "a princess that's not a lady" arch type, but something about her made me like her.  Unlike the first Shrek's Fiona, Repunzel in Tangled, and a few others; Princess Sarene does not grate on my nerves with her insistence on proving to an audience that she's crude.  The other characters grew on me as well, and I actually found that I wanted more from almost all of them; something that Sanderson sadly stayed light on.  Most characters show their true selves by the end though, and none of them are a disappointment in this respect.

The plot is really well done.  If you are well versed in this type of literature, you can guess several things that are going to happen; its just the nature of the genre.  However, Sanderson does a good job of presenting the real clues only a chapter or so before it happens, so you do not spend half the book saying "I bet this is what's going to happen, I'm 90% sure".  It really is pretty smart to do it the way he does, he simply doesn't foreshadow real facts till right before the reveal.  The plot focuses on Hope without being sticky sweet.  There is sorrow, remorse, and regret in this book, and the reader will feel it as well.  But also there's Hope, and I think the reader will feel it as well.  Not exactly the kind of hope that a movie like Braveheart brings, but a yearning in the back of your mind that you want the good guys to succeed.  In many of today's plots you aren't sure who is the good guy, or if the protagonists coming out on top is really anything more than a changing of the despots.  I am all for "gray" characters, as I name them, the bad that aren't so bad, or the good that aren't so good, but they have to be done right.  Elantris doesn't touch on gray all that very much, but where it does, it offers a nice shade away from the view points of the always morally "right" view points we get.

The book really bursts open the last 100 pages or so, and will leave you wanting more of the world.  Seriously, while being a great stand alone novel, and self contained, it sure could be the opening of something grand.  The world, the veil of a fantasy world with only a few bits of fantastic things, and a legend, gets blown wide open toward the end and you almost wish immediately for a book that expounds on it all.  Oh, and that "burst" is not exactly what you've been waiting for from the start, its not as obvious a veil lifting as you think of from the very beginning.  Again, Sanderson knew what he was doing.

The bold princess is bold.  The magic is truely magical.  The suspense is paid off.  The epic story ends epically.  I could only hope certain ongoing series that I am reading right now has this sort of pay off(lookin' at you Patrick Rothfuss).

I give Elantris my highest mark: recommending it whole heartedly.  I can't see people that enjoy fantasy novels being disappointed in it at all.  I am not one to ask people to read things that I think could be a waste of time in the least.  I would want to know what people have read and liked before I recommend something, but if someone just said "Fantasy", Elantris would be right after The Hobbit(the Lord of the Rings requires some dedication compared to The Hobbit).

Media with related themes:

Atlantis mythology of all types
Grandia by Game Arts
Vagrant Story by Yoshi Matsuno
Zombie literature
Political drama