Category: Literature


Life is Good in Vegas

I am now a resident of Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World, Lost Wages, Glitter Gulch and Sin City. When I left Vegas in 2006 I never thought I would come back but that is how life works I guess. I have a roof over my head, a new car and a good job. It works for me.

Along with all the usual concerns I have been exploring the local gaming scene to see what I can find. A lot has changed since I left but I am happy to report I have at least found a regular Pathfinder Society game to play in, I will be attending my first Vegas Game Day (a monthly event) this weekend and I am keeping my eyes open for other gaming opportunities. The Little Shop of Magic has been around for a long time but back in 2006 I lived on the wrong side of town to make regular trips. Living in the Summerlin area it has become the crux of my gaming experiences this time around and I have been nothing less than impressed with the store and its staff.

Today is the start of Teach Your Kids to Game Week. DriveThruRPG is offering all sorts of goodies for very low prices which I encourage you to check out. Even if you don’t want to spend any cash before the holidays the important part is you spend some quality time with your little ones playing games. Do your part to foster the next generation of great gamers.

Cool Links

  • Towers of Midnight Audiobook Sweepstakes – Sign up for a chance to win a free copy of Towers of Midnight (audiobook).
  • The Lazy Dungeon Master – Michael E. Shea, also known as Sly Flourish, has released his latest book for dungeon masters who like to run their games on the fly. This book is available in several formats for the very low price of $5.99
Hell's Door Opens

The first novel in Jon Creffield’s ‘Hell’s Door’ series.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Jon Creffield’s Hell’s Door Opens for review. Check it out on Flames Rising DOT com.

The Eye of the World

Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World

“The Prophecies will be fulfilled,” the Aes Sedai whispered. “The Dragon is Reborn.”

Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World is an absolutely incredible book. It comes as no surprise that The Wheel of Time is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time and technically the series is not even complete yet. From the opening of the novel in which we witness the Breaking of the World to the battle at Tarwin’s Gap where Rand destroys the trolloc army by channeling the saidin found within the Eye of the World this story is epic in every way. Yet most of the characters we follow are anything but epic. Rand is a farmer. Perrin is a blacksmith’s apprentice. Egwene trains to become a Wisdom. Matrim is… a trouble maker. They are very simple people who live a very simple life. What makes them epic is how they rise to the occasion when confronted with dangers they could not have imagined before the trollocs attacked their village. They barely understand the evil coming for them and yet they find it within themselves to be heroic.

Gamers looking to recreate the Wheel of Time experience at the game table will be happy to know that much of the work has been done for them. Wizards of the Coast published The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game over a decade ago and it is still pretty easy to find copies of it floating around. This game is based on the D20 system used by the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons which was also published by Wizards of the Coast. Amazon.com has listings for used copies of the book starting around $20. For those who are not fans of the D20 system it is not hard to adapt other game systems to work for you. The Dragon Age RPG, Exalted, the Palladium Fantasy RPG and Savage Worlds all offer game systems which can open the doors to Jordan’s world with very little extra effort.

Tips for Gamers

Villains Are Not Omniscient
Ba’alzamon is a great villain because he knows that the Dragon has been reborn but he does not immediately know Rand is Lew Therin Telamon reincarnated. He sends forth his minions to search for his nemesis and it is many years before he knows enough to commit the strength of his forces. Even then he has only narrowed the search down to three young lads; Rand, Matrim and Perrin. He haunts each of them until Rand’s power manifests and the Dragon is revealed. Ba’alzamon is very powerful and is well informed but he does not know everything. He is not perfect. Neither should your villains be perfect. Villains who make mistakes or who must work hard to achieve their goals make for much more interesting characters.

Don’t Split the Party!
We all know that mantra, don’t we? A good deal of the time this is very good advice but as Robert Jordan displays sometimes “splitting the party” is a good chance to not only challenge each individual character but to allow them to grow in ways they could not have otherwise. What would this story have been like if these young ones from Emond’s Field had never been separated from Moiraine Sedai? It would have been a shadow of the tale penned by Mr. Jordan. The lesson we can take from this as game masters is we need to provide opportunities for individual characters to shine. Sometimes that means we need to allow them to split the party and be prepared for when it happens. In a narrative heavy game that is not too difficult but with a game like Dungeons & Dragons 4E these kinds of developments demand a little more work on the part of the dungeon master. Try cutting the number of monsters in the next encounter in half if only half of the party is present. That is an adjustment you can make on the fly.

Up Next: Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Book One of the Dresden Files

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New Spring: The Novel

New Spring: The Novel

On December 21, 2011 at 8:55 a.m. EST Brandon Sanderson announced to the world, “Ladies and gentlemen, A Memory of Light–the final book in The Wheel of Time–has been finished.” While there are still several revisions to be handled as well as printing, marketing and general hoopla before the book officially sees publication but this was still an important moment for fans of The Wheel of Time series. For many readers the announcement represents the culmination of a journey which began twenty two years ago in 1990 when The Eye of the World first hit the shelves. In fact, it is a moment many readers were worried would never be seen as James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (also known by his pen name, Robert Jordan among others) announced in 2006 he had been afflicted by cardiac amyloidosis, a condition which took his life in September of 2007. He continued writing until he passed away and prepared notes as well as insights with his family so the book could be completed. Later Brandon Sanderson was chosen as the writer to complete Jordan’s work.

Personally I have been a fan since I was first introduced to the series in 1995. However, as the series stretched beyond the six books which were originally planned (A Memory of Light will be the fourteenth book in the series) it became harder and harder to continue reading the books. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it became harder to finish each book knowing there was still so far to go before we would see the end of the story. A decision was made. Although I purchased each book as it was released I did not read them. I placed them on the shelf and forgot about them. I decided I was not going to read the series until it was complete. With Sanderson’s announcement concerning the final book and a tentative release date some time in 2012 I decided it was time to start reading The Wheel of Time once again.

However, after much consideration I decided that I could not begin reading the series by cracking open The Eye of the World. In 1999, Jordan published a novella titled New Spring in a collected anthology of modern fantasy called Legends. The novella was later expanded into New Spring: The Novel, which was the story of al’Lan Mandragoran, the last royal heir of Malkier, Moiraine Damodred, niece of King Laman Damodred of Cairhien, and Siuan Sanche, the daughter of a fisherman from Tear. The story is a prequel to the events which take place in The Eye of the World so instead of reading the books in chronologically order of publication I decided I needed to read them in the chronological order in which the story unfolds.

New Spring: The Novel is an interesting book because it gives us a new perspective on three of the most important characters in The Wheel of Time. Each of these characters are individuals who have been chosen by destiny to play an important role as the wheel turns even if doing so is perhaps the one thing they want less than anything else. Lan is heir to the lost kingdom of Malkier, a symbol of all that has been lost to the Dark Ones, and supporters rally to him in hopes that one day he will lead them to reforge his lost homeland. Moiraine is a viable candidate to claim the throne of Cairhien and the Aes Sedai have a strong desire to place one of their own upon the that very throne. Siuan comes from lowly beginnings but her strength with the One Power and her unique abilities to sort out complicated puzzles and take command of those around her doom her to rise high within the ranks of the Aes Sedai. New Spring chronicles the beginning of their journey towards the Dragon Reborn and details how influential the forces are which stand against them. For anyone who has decided to finally indulge in this epic of fantasy literature this book is the perfect place to start.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty Pleasures (1993) was written by Laurell K. Hamilton and is the first novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Anita Blake is a tough as nails Animator (necromancer) who moonlights with the St. Louis police department dealing with the cases they are not equipped to handle, namely the kind involving blood sucking vampires. In Anita Blake’s world vampires and other supernatural creatures not only exist but they have come out of hiding as well. In the United States of America the vampire community has fought for and won rights under government law which makes life for a vampire hunter like Anita difficult at times.

In Guilty Pleasures the vampires of St. Louis have been targeted by a murderer who has a taste for only the most powerful vampires in the city. Anita hunts vampires because she fears them and the last thing she would ever want to do is help them find the killer but she quickly finds she has little choice in the matter.  Nikolaos, the most powerful vampire in St. Louis, sadistically manipulates Anita into taking the case. When Anita is mortally wounded by a vampire which cannot control itself she is saved by Jean-Claude who “gives her part of his life force” (also known as Marking) making her more resilient than your average human. Nikolaus wants Anita to find the murderer but there is something else the thousand year old vampire wants as well. She wants Anita.

Anita narrates her own story in the first person which adds a great deal of depth to what would normally be considered your typical supernaturally charged action thriller. Through Anita’s eyes we are immersed in the terrifying world of vampires, undead and were-creatures which Hamilton eloquently constructs even while we are swept along at neck break speeds. Hamilton surrounds Anita with colorful characters which works well with the fast pace of the narrative. Willie McCoy, the polyester wearing vampire middle man, only appears for five pages at the beginning of the novel but when he shows up later on he feels like an old friend come back for a visit. Hamilton is a master of constructing memorable characters with very few words.

Anita is a great character because she is such a strong woman who fits naturally into her own skin. She does not struggle with her identity, she is who she is and that is a refreshing change of pace in literature featuring female protagonists. Where Anita runs into conflict is where and how she chooses to express her sexuality and who she wants to develop relationships with. She attracts men of all kinds but she is very particular about who she lets into her private life. She is attracted to Jean-Claude but he holds power over her and Anita will not allow herself to be subjected to a life as a vampire’s servant. She and Phillip share a common, traumatic background and in a strange way she is attracted to that but she cannot allow herself to succumb to the trauma of their experiences like Phillip has.

Ultimately Anita needs to be strong because Hamilton is not going to show her any mercy in this book. The horrors which Anita confronts would drive most mortals insane but she finds a way to overcome and fights her way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Pity the vampire that gets in her way and be ready to clean up the mess when she is done.

Why I Don’t Hate Twilight

Twilight

Twilight

Twilight is trendy right now. Hating Twilight seems to be just as trendy as well. Generally it is hard not to think of people as existing in one camp or the other but personally I stand outside the dichotomy. I don’t hate Twilight. I don’t love it either but I don’t hate it. People find it strange when I say something like that because they know me. I make all the usual jokes about sparkly vampires. I like to talk about the differences between a sexual encounter in Twilight which ends with a joke about a ruined pillow and a sexual encounter in an Anita Blake novel by Laurell K. Hamilton which ends with shattered collar bones and brutal scars (both physical and emotional) which will be carried for life.

I poke fun at Bella who goes catatonic when “her man leaves her” and groan at the Twilight trailers for the movies. That goes double for the trailers for Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 because Twilight fans are fooling themselves when they say “I don’t know how they are going to handle that book in one movie. So much happens!” Trust me, the movie studio could have easily filmed that story in a single movie but then they wouldn’t be milking every penny out of the hordes of Twilight fans out there. They did each of the novels in the Lord of the Rings series as a single movie. I know they could have done the same with Breaking Dawn.

But I don’t hate Twilight. To be blunt, Twilight is a great gateway drug.

Vampires have been around for a very long time. Long before Bram Stoker gave Dracula to the world (in 1897 for the record) the creatures of the night we generalize as vampires had already been making appearances in cultures all over the world for thousands of years in various forms. Even if we limit ourselves to literature we are still talking about a century or two of exploring the dark world of the vampire. Compared to all that Twilight really is just a drop in the bucket so we need to start thinking long term about what we are going to do with all these new vampire fans after Bella has lost her appeal (even if she does smell SOOOOOO good).

However, Twilight is not the only vampire in town. In cinema the sparkly vampires are keeping company with the much darker “No God!” vampires in movies like 30 Days of Night and the frightening young vampire Eli in Let the Right One In. In literature authors like Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter), Charlaine Harris (The Southern Vampire Mysteries a.k.a. True Blood on HBO) and Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) are all exploring the realms of vampires and other supernatural creatures. On television The Vampire Diaries (which began as a series of books for young adults back in 1991) is certainly tapping into the Twilight fan base but as the show continues to thrive it is growing beyond its humbler beginnings. White Wolf Games has been celebrating the essence of the vampire since 1991 and in celebration of twenty years in the World of Darkness they released the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire the Masquerade this fall. Inevitably some of those Twilight fans are going to look beyond Edward and ask themselves, “What else is out there?” We will be there waiting with open arms, ready to show them where to take the next great step in their journey.

Unfortunately, that will be a difficult bridge to cross if we burn it long before the Twilight fan base finds themselves ready to cross it.

There is no simpler way to put it. No one is asking you to love Twilight. I don’t love Twilight. However, we need to find a way to stop hating Twilight because sooner or later Twilight will be a thing of the past but our community will still exist. It will be a better place if we can find a way to ease these tensions and welcome all these new vampire lovers into the fold before it is too late. Our community can benefit in the long run. So because of that hope I have for the future of our community I don’t hate Twilight. I hope maybe some of you can find a way to stop hating Twilight too.

A Dance with Dragons

A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

While sitting down to write this review I wondered about the core theme of this book and how it contributed to A Song of Ice and Fire series. Much like the pieces in a game of cyvasse the characters in this series are always moving around and interacting with each other in interesting ways. While this makes for interesting storytelling it does sometimes leave readers grasping when it comes to pinning down the central theme of each book.

So what is the central theme of A Dance with Dragons?

It took me a bit to come up with an answer to that question. I traced each character through the novel and followed each thread of story until I realized the most prevalent aspect of this book is that every character was going from one place to another (sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically). Each character was trying to get from “here” to “there” and like every great thread of story in this series Martin has insisted that no journey consists of a straight line between A and B.

Tyrion is on a journey to reach Daenerys. Actually, a lot of people are on a journey to reach Daenerys. Daenerys is trying to find her way to peace for Meereen. Cersei is trying to find her way back to power. Jon Connington wants to return home and restore his honor. King Stannis is trying to claim the strength of the north and leads his army towards Winterfell to take it from the Boltons. Lord Commander Jon Snow seeks a way to save the Realm from the Others and it seems like the only way to that goal is through his allies.

By the end of the novel some find their way and some do not. I would tell you more but that would be cheating. However, their destinations are not the essential core of this novel. Those sweet fruits are being saved for the final two books in the series. This novel is about the journey and the inevitable truth that none of them are really prepared for what they will face along the way or what they will find at the end of the road.

Tyrion, so wise to the ways of the world, learns that he is less a player in the Game of Thrones and more a piece which is being moved by the real players. However, he has potential and he can become a player if he so wishes. Daenerys teases that “she is just a young girl” and does not understand the affairs of statehood and warfare but learns the hard way that she may have actually been as naive as the part she played. Now instead of “never looking back” she must “go back to move forward.”

So the journeys of “character development” are even more important than the literal journeys taking place. Meanwhile, Martin weaves his characters back and forth so their threads become tighter and tighter as the narrative progresses. Readers should be aware that their favorite characters may or may not find their destinations in this novel but they will all be richer characters for it in the end.

Do I have any complaints about this book?

Unfortunately, I do. More so than any of the other books in this series Martin’s editing skills have gotten sloppy. In most cases I can ignore editing errors but this book is full of them. Even overlooking the minor ones this book is plagued by characters who change gender (according to the pronouns) and cases where things are just amiss. His name is Tormund Giantsbane, not Tormund Giantsbabe.

I digress because I do not want you to think I did not enjoy this book. I loved this book! I love the entire series and I hope it is not five years before we get to read The Winds of Winter.

“Valar Morghulis.”

“Valar Dohaeris.”