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Archive for February, 2011

Just read this on Locus Online: Lawrence Person’s Top Ten Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films of 2000-2010. Seems like a solid list and I agree with pretty much all of his comments on the films listed. I think District 9 could have been mentioned. At the bottom, there’s a run down of some turkeys of the decade – Anyone seen Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter?

What movies would you add to the list?

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This story should be familiar to anyone who’s read that compendium of old tales of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion. The narrative presented here, though, is an expanded version drawn from various manuscripts written by Tolkien at different times and seemingly never finished. Tolkien’s son, Christopher Toilkien, in a pair of appendices, describes how the tale of Húrin’s children evolved through different versions, including a couple of attempts to write it as a poem. Although published before in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales (both books put together by Christopher Tolkien), this version includes more detail about Túrin’s wanderings and adventures.

And really, despite the volume’s title, this is Túrin son of Húrin’s tale – his older sister dies at a young age, and his younger sister only comes into the story as a protagonist towards the end.

The story is a tragic one. Túrin is a doom-cloaked character who struggles throughout to escape from the machinations of Morgoth and of fate. While he is a brave and skilled warrior, he is also stubborn and constantly ignores the good advice given him – and in doing so he dooms others.

For the tale is set against the backdrop of one of the darkest periods of Middle Earth history: Morgoth – the spiteful Vala – reigns in the north and sends down hordes of Orcs whose ferocity, trickery and sheer numbers best the armies of Man and Elf alike. Túrin’s father, Húrin is a captive in Angband and has to watch while his son commits mistake after mistake.

The writing style is very similar to that of The Silmarillion, but with much more detail and dialogue, and strives for an archaic, almost bardic tone – one that is done with skill and authority, but that also rings faintly ridiculous to a 21st century ear. The story has plenty of twists and turns and is quite moving in places, and is quite a short read. And, like, The Lord of the Rings, it’s a very dark tale and its conclusion even darker.

One has to wonder how necessary this book was. The story already exists in The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales, and the former, at least, of these provides much needed context to this episode of Middle Earth history – context that isn’t provided here.

Still, I enjoyed reading it. It’s nice to read some good old-fashioned fantasy that isn’t full of Americanisms and hundreds of pages of padding, although it’s not nearly as good as Tolkien’s more famous works.

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This is the thirteenth and penultimate book of The Wheel of Time and the second completed by Sanderson since Jordan’s death in 2007.

In it, Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, inches ever closer – well, it actually starts, with hordes of Trollocs invading the Borderlands, although none of the main characters do anything about it (OK, Rand goes up and destroys a load of shadowspawn – but only once the’ve all but destroyed the city of Maradon). Also, various subplots are tied up with marriages and other couplings.

While I enjoyed and was even moved by the previous volume, The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight left me unimpressed for various reasons.

Firstly, and most annoyingly, Brandon Sanderson’s English sucks. As noted in the previous review, he continually writes that people ‘meet with‘ or ‘speak with‘ other people. Both of which sound jarringly contemporary American, and the former of which, I suspect, the author uses in the mistaken belief that it sounds more old-fashioned. That wouldn’t be too bad, but characters start answering questions with ‘Sure’ and using other anachronisms. Plus, the book is badly edited and is full of sentences that don’t make grammatical sense or have words missing.

There is also a strange time lag contained within the book, one that makes you think there is something suspicious about Rand’s father, Tam: he seems to have an ability to be in two places at the same time. For part of the book he is in Perrin’s camp, but this alternates with sections showing him around his son. This is explained by the fact that Perrin’s timeline is a month or more behind that of many of the other main characters. This probably stems from that narrative black hole that was Crossroads of Twilight – a book that focused a lot on Perrin, and took place in large part before the events at the end of the previous book. The differing timelines didn’t seem to be flagged up well enough to let the reader know what was going on (I’ve read comments by lots of people who were as confused as me). Having such a marked discrepancy seems pointless – Sanderson could have chosen to advance Perrin’s story in The Gathering Storm and thus bring him up to date with the other main characters. At least everyone’s on the same time by the end of the book.

Having said that, Perrin’s narrative in the current book was the highlight of the story. Although his standoff with the army of whitecloaks seemed to drag on a bit, it was also a convincing moral dilemma for both Perrin and Galad. The main element of the story was Mat and Thom’s quest to rescue Moiraine from the Tower of Ghenjei. Effectively, they spend the whole book talking about it, and then in the last four chapters they go and do it.

Rand only appears in the book from the perspective of other characters – clearly he is planning something that the author doesn’t want us to know. He’s also been magically transformed (I’m not sure if I should be using the word ‘magically’ literally or facetiously) from a tortured, unwilling messiah-figure into a gentle, wise benevolent dictator by his epiphany at the end of the previous book (about halfway through the current book, from Perrin’s point of view). This development of his character was too much of a sea-change to be believable for me. Egwene has similarly become a wily, scheming Amyrlin – one protrayed as being far cleverer and more mature than the Aes Sedai she rules over – even though she’s barely more than a girl.

While I enjoyed The Gathering Storm a lot, for me, this book is a return to the level of emotional impact of Knife of Dreams, which I described as no longer inspiring the wonder and pleasure of previous volumes. I feel that Sanderson’s writing is governed by the need to complete items on a narrative checklist, simply to get them out of the way so that Tarmon Gai’don can commence. While Robert Jordan took far too long to advance his story, Sanderson is doing so with perfunctory efficiency. Still, only one more book to go and then the whole thing will be over … until the publisher/Jordan’s wife decide to get someone to write the prequel novels Jordan had been planning, and probably a bunch of other prequels à la Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson’s epic Dune barrel-scrapage.

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This book consists of three novellas or long short stories: ‘Blood Follows’, ‘The Lees of Laughter’s End’ and ‘The Healthy Dead’, each about a hundred pages long. The three tales concern two necromancers, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and their luckless manservant, Emancipor Reese, and their disastrous adventures together. The first is a murder mystery, with a city guard captain as a main protagonist, and it shows how Reese comes to be employed by the two dark sorcerers; the second is about undead beings rising on a voyage by ship; and the third is about the fall of a fanatical regime that punishes all forms of indolence and unhealthy behaviour.

The three stories take place in the world of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series; not only that, but they are evidently contemporaneous with the events of the epic fantasy series. Bauchelain, Broach and Reese have walk-on rôles in at least one of the books – I don’t remember which.

These three tales have a more comedic feel than the Malazan books – they are full of murder and mayhem treated as slapstick. Luckless Mancy, the manservant, reads almost like a Robert Rankin character, full of self-pity and knowing verbosity at odds with his working class station.

The stories are similar to the Malazan books in the way they are structured. Instead of sticking with a single protagonist’s viewpoint, they skitter about between a number of viewpoints. But, whereas the novels dedicate long chapters to each character, or a pair of character, each chapter in the Collected Tales takes up no more than four or five pages, and often as little as a single page. This, I feel, gives the novellas a very disjointed feel, making them difficult to follow and difficult to care about.

The best story is the last one, ‘The Healthy Dead’. Its narrative is the easiest to follow – perhaps because I’d had time to acclimatise to the writing style – and its satire of the health and fitness fads of our world and the zeal with which people follow them is quite entertaining.

On the whole, though, this volume left me underwhelmed. Erikson’s writing style seems more suited to the epic narrative of the high fantasy series and less to the intimacy of the short story. As a completist, I like to read these ancillary volumes that authors put out, but this book really adds nothing to The Malazan Book of the Fallen and the stories themselves aren’t that great.

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