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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

RIP

::sniffle:: More than a little upset by the death of a man I never met, but who filled many quiet (and laughter-filled) corners of my life from late childhood reading Truckers before graduating to Discworld.

The following quotes seem to sum things up more eloquently than I can.

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

“Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job.”

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

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Umm, yeah, it’s been a while. Ah well, forgive me?

I’ve just discovered Goodreads, something I’m sure many of my avid readers have known about for a long time. I’d heard of it a while ago, but never gotten round to trying it. So I’ve rated a few things, added a few things and generally messed around with it a little, but not all that much yet. You can follow/friend/see what I’m reading here.

One of the bits of functionality that’s rather nice is you can become a fan of an author – and receive updates/news/blog posts. Which means as well as confirming, depressingly, that neither Rothfuss nor Weeks even have an expected publishing date for Book Three of their trilogies, (but Rothfuss wins, cos people have been reviewing his unwritten book for him, and he’s added a nice post asking for them to let him have a copy as he’d like to know how it turns out in the end….)

Anyway, I stumbled across the unexpected news that Hobb is back at it, and plans to release the first on a new trilogy about Fitz and the Fool this summer. I’m unsure of this is good news or not. If you read the last post on here (yes I know, it was a while ago – go remind yourself what it was about, but be sure to come back) you’ll know of the view shared with Waxy, that sometimes an author really should stop trying to write new stories and just live off the royalties of the existing books.

I love both Fitz and the Fool, and have shed many a tear over Nighteyes, Burrich’s sacrifice, the Fool’s torture and so on. And I hope (wildly and possibly foolishly) that she can write at her former level once more now she’s dealing with characters she’s very familar with again. Maybe the monotonous and lifeless Dragon books are a blip best consigned to the second-hand book shop.

As to what she will do with the characters, its hard to guess. Molly and Fitz appeared to be, finally, living”happily ever after”. It almost seems cruel to tear them apart again (but equally not much of a story if they stay tucked up in their home together!). Will she take us back to the Fool’s motherland, where I vaguely recall (correct me if im wrong) he was planning on heading with the Black man.

I don’t know. We’ll have wait till August to find out. In the meantime I have a gradually increasing “Want to Read” virtual shelf on goodreads (have a look and make a recommendation if you like)

My to-read shelf:
SorceressPol's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (to-read shelf)

along with 2 new books for Christmas, Making Steam (the new Pratchett) and the first Wheel of Time book – a series that’s somehow passed me by in the last 20 years.

Happy new year and happy reading.

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This month I’m handing my quill and ink pot over to fellow fantasy fan, Waxy.

It’s commonly held that “everybody has a book inside them” and clearly most authors who make a living from it have a few more than one, but once you’ve committed your life to being an author is there any way off the merry go round?

What brought on this ambling line of thought was finding out that there is a new Robin Hobb book out soon, the 4th (in what was going to be a trilogy) in her Rain Wild Chronicles series (and also the fact I have little productive stuff to do at work today).  Hobb is an author that was exceptional – that’s right, I said WAS.  The Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies are in my list of all time greats, the Liveship Traders took time to grow on me but I still class them as a highly accomplished and often read series.

But then came Soldier Son Trilogy, and knowing I was an avid fan my sister bought me the first in hardback for Christmas one year.  A hardback as a gift is a mixed blessing – excellent to have the book so early, but damn her as I then had to buy the next two in hardback too (see her matching covers blog for more on that topic).  Anyway, I wander off topic, Soldier Son… looking back now it was the start of the rot.  I never really engaged with the characters and the entire series felt a little flat, I went on to buy all of them because it was Hobb and I kept expecting the story to pick up and really get going.  But it never did and I’ve never felt the need to revisit the series.

Then we have the Rain Wild Chronicles back in the often visited and familiar realm of the Elderlings, surely this would deliver.  I read the first, eventually bought the second whilst bored, vowed never to buy the third.  The biggest issue I think is that the story is completely linear – there are dragons & keepers going up a river, the group has 1 lead and, say, 8 other characters so there is a limited number of interactions and diversity to reveal any depth to the characters.  The Farseer trilogy also only followed one lead character but had a wealth of interlocking threads: there was Molly & the Buckkeep town kids, Burrich and the stables, Chade and his tower, Verity & Kettricken, Regal, Shrewd – so many interactions and different levels of authority and feeling.  It gave Fitz a humanity and depth of character rarely seen outside the real world.  And it must have taken great effort and emotion to write such a rounded character and build up those layers.  I don’t mean to Hobb-bash, but I think it is that effort and investment of emotion that is lacking in later series.  I genuinely love her first few series and would recommend them to anyone, but as a fan(atic) I feel deeply disappointed in the more recent scribbling.

We see a similar thing with Trudi Canavan, her first series (The Black Magician) was exciting, involving and a great read.  Her second (Age of the Five) was such a linear and obvious storyline that I guessed the ‘big twist’ of the series whilst only about 100 pages into book one (it’s revealed at the end of book three).  Whilst there were a couple of minor side plots for occasional interest it was a shame that Black Magician couldn’t have been followed up in more style.  I read the first book of her third trilogy, (which is back in the world of Sonea, the black magician), and, if I’m honest, barely remember it or the characters in it – which probably says more than any long winded review could.

the-endAnd so I ask at what point authors should hang up their quills and stamp a final “The End” across their bibliography.  Whilst some writers it seems are fated to be taken from us before their brilliance runs out (Sir Terry Pratchet immediately springs to mind here), others are slowly driving away their dedicated fans by chasing another pay cheque and churning out emotionless characters and dry plots.

My take on it is that at some point the fire dims, the passion fades and being an author becomes nothing more than another job.  You log your hours, stack up your word count and, if your early works were good enough, you can probably secure some juicy publishing bonuses for a couple of series before your fans finally give up on you.  It’s rare that an author has the strength or conviction to stand up in front of a publisher and STOP.  So here is my plea:

Don’t cave in to the pressure to put out another book next year, a new trilogy idea in 2015, a new series, a new world – live on your savings and back-catalogue sales, go work in a coffee shop, go back to whatever you did before that first big break and wait.  When you get the fire back, when that story line hits you, when you start to genuinely miss the time you spent with Fitz, Nighteyes, Sonea, Kylar etc then, then you should pick up a pen again and go back to your publisher with an idea.  Until that happens the chances are your series will be flat, lifeless and a huge disappointment to fans worldwide.

For this reason among others I have spent a lot of time on Amazon recently tracing more obscure authors in search for my next hit of pure emotion.  That moment where a character dies and you find yourself unconsciously welling up (Nighteyes in the Tawny Man trilogy gets me every time).  My old faithful authors are failing to deliver the goods anymore – so let’s go out and find the young blood coming up through the ranks.  I’ve recently come across Sullivan and Lynch and (a couple of years ago) Weeks – not all my new finds are classic gold, and other than Weeks I don’t think any of them match an early Hobb, but they are still great new additions to my library that was starting to get stale and dusty.

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Are you bothered if you have books within a series that have different style covers? I know of at least 2 people who may be reading this and literally cringing at the thought of that mismatched book shelf!

I quote from an email with a friend:
“Books have to have the same style covers, otherwise it’s illegal.  Everyone knows this.  It makes your bookshelves look untidy.”

Does it matter to you?

Jumping from one style of cover to another does make me want to go out and re-buy the books so the covers all match. Especially as usually one is a far more fitting and accurate style for the book than another in my opinion. And by accurate I think I actually mean deliberately vague! I’ve realised covers I tend to like are the ones which hint at a character, suggest what someone or something looks like, and don’t take the main character and slap a big picture of them on the cover. That image can never match what is in my head, and if it does, then it won’t match what you’ve imagined! Which is exactly why Kingshott has been deliberately very vague about describing his lead, Tristan in The Magic of Prophecy:

“I wanted to avoid describing him too closely as I wanted the reader to create their own image of what he looked like.  I always liked the fact that no two people see the same thing when they read a book and I wanted to leave Tristan as open to interpretation as possible, just to see how different people saw him.”

A successful cover depends a lot, I suspect, on the brief the artist is given by the writer/publisher. I wonder how many artists have actually read the book before they do the illustration for it.

To borrow from Goldilocks – Is it too blatant, too bland, or just right?

Polgara Too blatant?

Here we’ll take the example of Eddings’ Polgara the Sorceress. The American edition has a cartoon-like buxom young woman in a typical medieval dress looking directly out of the cover at the reader. The UK version has a softer image, still of a woman but she’s got her shoulder turned away, it’s just a bit more subtle than the American “look at me, the obviously mediaeval style dress, white lock in hair, owl on arm”. I’m thankful they’ve never tried to draw Ce’Nedra, she’d look like a Disney fairy!

Hobb’s book covers, on the other hand manage to provide examples of both the too bland and the ‘just right’. Sadly it’s the original UK covers that are a good example of a fantasy cover, and the latest reprint which are terribly bland.

Starting with the originals: We have John Howe to thank for these. Taking Royal Assassin as an example, look at the well-balanced mix between hinting at detail without force-feeding a main character’s image in your face (something he slides into in the Fool trilogy later on incidentally, oh and don’t start me on what that red dragon is doing there…). Notice the lovely stone carving in the borders, the little portraits of people in the book, sketched in the corners, not right in your face, and there’s Buckkeep Castle high on the cliffs above the town – it’s clear early on in the book that it’s the castle there on the cover, but it’s still an image viewed from some distance, leaving the reader the time and space to fill in the details themselves. There are no attempts here to portray too much detail, for example, he’s steered well clear of the oft-mentioned, and somewhat tantalising, tapestry of the Elderlings which hangs on the wall in Fitz’ room.

And now, sadly, we have a bland reprint in the UK. It’s like they ran out of time and forgot about the covers, panicked and chose an animal that was loosely relevant to that book in the 5 minutes before it was due at the printers. A Deer. A Dragon. A Wolf. All plonked in the centre of the cover. There’s no intrigue. There’s no detail. There’s no subtlety. There’s no pondering what will happen, who the people portrayed on the cover are (incidentally that was something Josh Kirby was very good at for Pratchett), there’s nothing to entice you into the book at all. If you don’t have the books to hand, can’t remember what the covers are like, or for some crazy reason haven’t read them (why? why?) then you can see an example of the 2 different UK covers, along with the truly terrible US one on Hobb’s own site. (Gah! And I’ve just noticed on the French cover Fitz, who is continually referred to as dark haired (to emphasis his Farseer family links) has gone blond!)

In the modern world where most people’s attention span is only 15 seconds, everything is super size, neon bright, in your face and loud it takes bravery to be subtle, but when considering books it’s the subtle which attracts.  When I’m looking for a book I want a delicate intricate plot with deep characters – and the cover should reflect this.

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Just a quick post today, as you might be interested to hear that the unpublished fantasy book written by a friend, which I mentioned magic-of-prophecyin my post about maps is now published! And he’s still kept the physical appearance of his main character, Tristan, obscure.

You too can now own a copy of The Magic of Prophecy by Mark Kingshott, complete with shiny new cover. I must get round to re-reading it before the second book comes out!

There is a Kindle version too I believe, but after my mini-rant about e-books I can’t link to that, if you want it, I’m sure you can find it on Amazon yourself.

Happy Reading.

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Look. Isn’t it beautiful?

The Blinding Knife, Brent Weeks

A nice hefty hardback, completely new with shiny, embossed lettering on the front. Pristine. (I hate it when people break the spine of a book – it’s sacrilege!) As to the actual story, I couldn’t comment yet – it’s only just arrived, and sadly I’m not first in the queue to read it.

However I can tell you a bit about the first book in the series – The Black Prism. It was…different. For those of you that don’t know Weeks’ writing it’s good solid fantasy, though he has rather too graphic a taste in gruesome torture, violence and monsters, for me really. For example the Ferali from his first series – The Night Angel trilogy.

The Black Prism introduced a new concept for magic, chromaturgy, which focusses on how people see and use colour (put simply, people can use the different colours they can see to make a magical substance that can be shaped/molded into different uses – so the more colours you can see/use, the more wide-ranging your magical abilities). I like the use of the fact women can see more shades of colour than men. (For more, semi serious ramblings on colour perception and naming see the XKCD study).

There are a good few twists and turns through the first book and some quite engaging characters. But it was unusual in that almost nothing happened for most of the 700 odd pages. Now that happens in some books, but generally they’re badly written ones. But it didn’t matter, because “nothing” happened in a really addictive way.  There was a lot of detail and a lot of background to the characters and what had happened in the world before the time the story is set. This was cleverly woven in throughout the book.

I’m looking forward to reading this shiny new book and finding out what (if anything) happens next.

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…a TV series that was better than the book it was based on.

I’m talking, again, about Game of Thrones. The first book was a bit painful but I still watched series 1 on TV.

Unusually for an American series it was 10 episodes of an hour each, rather than the 24 or so episodes of 20 minutes with at least 10 mins of adverts that make up most American series. A couple of the episodes were a little dull – but so was the book at those points.

But it was good. Definitely better than the book, which surprised me because the tv series was very close to the book – these things usually get distorted and the story changed once the TV people get their hands on it. It was well scripted to keep the good bits of the story without geting bogged down in unnecessary dullness the way the book did.

On a tangent I watched the kids film The Spiderwick Chronicles recently, it was great, but when reading about the story and the author later on you realise the film was snippits of about 4 books mashed together to make the film. It made a good film, which made sense and flowed, but I wonder how much you miss out on. If they thought the story would work as a film why not make them faithful to the books.

Anyway, back to Game of Thrones – a lot of the dialogue from the book was used directly by the actors – with more bits added obviously as there wasn’t a narration. Most of the extra dialogue to fill in detail not covered as dialogue in the book was added whilst people were having sex. In fact I’ve just discovered there’s a new word for it, made up because of Game of Thrones –  “sexposition“!

And here we come to the first major problem with the tv series. The sex. There was so much of it. Most of it wasn’t in the books and was totally unnecessary. It may have been titillating to flash boobs and so on on-screen to keep people’s attention but  added nothing meaningful to the story. If they thought the story was so weak they had to pad it out with sex scenes then the producers should have done something different. Or not adapted the story in the first place.

And now the other problem, linked to the whole unnecessary sex thing.

The children (mainly Ned Stark’s offspring) are portrayed as several years older than they are in the book. I can see why – you couldn’t have Daenyrys and Sansa as the 16 and 14ish that they are in the books with them getting married/betrothed/having a child. But they are still acting and speaking as if they are the age in the book – it doesn’t fit. Either keep the actors portrayed accurately as the books are – which makes sense. Or the directors/writers needed to change the language to fit the older child they are portraying.

Overall the actors were well chosen and roles were well acted – I think Peter Vaughan portrayed the blind master Aemon very well.

Interstingly, the TV series made me warm to characters I hadn’t particularly liked, or cared about before. In particular Tyrion – the dwarf youngest Lannister son had a great role, and I can see him growing in importance (but not stature) as the story progresses further.

At the end of the series I WANT to watch series 2. Unlike at the end of the book where I just wanted to know what happened to a few characters because it didn’t end neatly. But not enough to actually want to read the books.

What did you think? Better than the book? Worse? About what you expected?

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