March 9 2011

Meta:Why a blog?

I’ve had this domain for a long time. For most of that time it was a fairly simple set of html pages mainly for holding my two Java books. Over the past couple of years I’ve been gradually de-lurking and being more active on various boards. Especially so on Tor.com.

So, last November I decided to go ahead and make the site over into an actual blog. For content, I decided on whatever interests me at the time. One of the prime reasons for doing this is for me to force myself to actually do some writing–limber up the language muscles. That’s been proceeding fairly well (I think).

The book reviews have been a fun challenge so far. I think I’m gradually getting into the swing of them. My plan is to eventually trick my usual procrastination into getting back to writing some fiction. A couple of thousand words a day and who knows?

Back in college (Iowa State, circa 1985) I took a creative writing course and really enjoyed it. The professor was Jane Smiley–who later went on to win the Pulitzer for A Thousand Acres. At the end of the semester, I had managed to write a number of shorts and all of them managed a SF bent in one way or another. A couple of years later, in grad school, I was in the basement of the Com Sci building and she came by to get some help from the help desk people on typesetting her manuscript (for A Thousand Acres). She remembered me from class and said I should write some more. I agreed. Somehow, 20 some years has passed. I did do the two Java books, but my fiction output has been pretty small. One theory I have is that doing lots of programming has eaten up a lot of the creative portion of my time.

So, there you go — blogging as a form of writing therapy. We’ll see how it works.

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March 8 2011

The Crippled God

The Crippled God by Steven Erikson marks the tenth and final volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I’ll start off by saying that this is a heck of a book that I enjoyed very much. It is the concluding volume of a particular tale–that of the Fallen, but I should note that it is not the end of the Malazan tale. For one thing, Ian Esslemont has a number of books to write in his ongoing series set in the same universe and Steven Erikson has already announced a prequel trilogy of sorts set in the Tiste Andii world. So, while there are conclusions in The Crippled God it is not a complete conclusion and doesn’t provide all answers to all things. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone who has journeyed this far into the tale. The Crippled God itself is also very definitely the second half of Dust of Dreams. While ee don’t get all of our questions answered, but we get a lot of them. When I was done, I had a sense of satisfaction and completeness suitable for a final volume.
I’m going to attempt to side step any spoilers in this first part of the review and make it relatively safe for someone who hasn’t read this far into the series. So the first thing a lonely reader sitting there looking at 10 big books might wonder is–Is it worth it? Does Erikson pull it off?
My answer to that is yes–The Malazan Book of the Fallen is certainly worth it, he does pull it off. It’s a vast journey, fun epic trip across multiple continents (indeed worlds), cultures, species and the human condition. The Crippled God caps off this first part of the journey.
If you have read Dust of Dreams then be assured that many of the questions that are left at the end of that book are answered pretty quickly. There are moments of beauty and moments of despair. You’ll have plenty of moments to pump your fist in approval as long time friends perform acts of epicness. You will also have moments of sadness for those lost along the way. At its heart, The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a tale of tragic compassion. It is a tale of the humanness in the world–both for the good and for the bad.
A final non-spoilery note is that I found it amazing how many events from Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates are referenced and indeed crucial.
Now, I’m going to venture a little further into the book. I won’t be giving away anything that isn’t in the cover blurbs, but if you really don’t want to know anything at all about the contents, then be happy knowing that it is worth reading.

 

Very Minor spoilers:

 

In the first couple of chapters, we have a flurry of threads beginning to come together. The titanic battle at the close of Dust of Dreams certainly left us with a cliff hanger for a year. We find out about some of our favorites within these first two chapters and some people we hadn’t seen for a while. The ground is also set as various people try to catch up to where they presume the main force of the Bonehunters has gotten. Suffice it to say that they do catch up and there is a force with which to catch up.
In the middle portion of the book, we play out a lot of thirsty marching and introspection, but we also see the events in Kurald Galain as the Shake and the Tisti Liosan face off on the First Shore. There is action aplenty in these events, such that the book reaches a medium climax. But wait, there’s more–oh so much more. As the events draw into multiple clashing finales as we move into Kolanse, we find the answer to just what Shadowthrone and Cotillion have been planning.
Ok, now, below the cut I’m going to get a bit more specific. I’m not going to let the whole cat out of the bag, but I’m going to peak inside a bit and talk about a few of my favorite parts and characters.
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March 7 2011

Deadhouse Gates

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson is the second entry into The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. This book was published in 2000, but I didn’t get it until 2001 as it was only being published in the UK at that time and I hadn’t quite figured out the whole international ordering business at that point.
This book follows a few of the characters (Kalam, Fiddler, Apsalar & Crokus) we knew in Gardens of the Moon, but for most of the book we are introduced to a whole new set of characters and experiences on a different continent than the setting of Gardens of the Moon.
This is a magnificent second entry into the series. We have the introduction of Icarium and Mappo–probably one of the most heart rending pairings in fantasy literature. We have The Chain of Dogs storyline.
In the The Chain of Dogs storyline, the Malazan 7th Army, under the command of the Wickan leader, Coltaine, arrives on the subcontinent of Seven Cities just as it explodes into open rebellion.
The army has to fight its way across about 1500 miles of hostile territory while being burdened down around 50,000 refugees. This legendary march becomes known as the Chain of Dogs. There are battles and sorcery and heartbreak galore here. When you get to the end of this storyline, know this: Steven Erikson began the book with the image of an arrow in flight. You’ll know the one when you get to it.
In addition to this, we follow Fiddler and company as they also trek across Seven Cities on their way to Tremorlor–another of the Houses of the Azath. They are accompanied for some of the way by Icarium and Mappo and also by one of the most maddeningly devious characters in Iskaral Pust–High Priest of Shadow.
We also follow Kalam as he continues the plan he and Quick Ben came up with at the end of Gardens of the Moon.
Again, if you become confused as you read, don’t give up–the details are there. If you can’t find them, then check out the reread of the Fallen at Tor.com.

For another personal bit, by the time I read this I also got Memories of Ice (Book 3) and had read it in time to go to Minicon. I mentioned the books to Glen Cook and asked if he had read them. He said that he had and enjoyed them quite a lot but that “Erikson is really hard on his main characters.” This is quite true and also amusing coming from Glen.

March 7 2011

Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson is a great book. I picked this book up in 1999 at Minicon from the DreamHaven book table in the huckster room. I had picked up a number of books (from various dealers) and started reading this one soon after I got back home. I finished it about 1 day later. It’s a big book but I couldn’t put it down.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Gardens of the Moon is the first book in Steven Erikson’s 10 book series–The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It opens with Whiskeyjack looking out upon a burning Malaz city from the heights of Mock’s hold. He briefly counsels a young boy (Ganoes Paran) against seeking glory as a soldier and then talks to Surly–the head of the Claw who is adopting the name Laseen. This prologue sets the tone that this is going to be a book that doesn’t mince words or emotions.
From the heights of Mock’s hold, we are quickly plunged into the Malazan universe. There are historical details stretching back 100’s of thousands of years, rich magic, intricate intrigue, and just about everything else a fantasy needs.
A number of people seem to find the headlong plunge into the world confusing. There certainly isn’t any hand feeding of details. But, if you pay attention you’ll find that what you need to know will be provided.
I think I’ll emphasize that again–Pay Attention. It’s well worth it. If you are finding that details are escaping you, then I recommend taking a look at The Malazan Reread of the Fallen over at Tor.com. That’s a chapter by chapter reread in which we point out many of the details that you will need to pay attention to as you go along.
Here’s an example scene:

A figure had appeared on the ledge before the portal, its arms upraised, long silver hair blowing from its head.
Mane of Chaos. Anomander Rake. Lord of the black-skinned Tiste Andii, who has looked down on a hundred thousand winters, who has tasted the blood of dragons, who leads the last of his kind, seated in the Throne of Sorrow and a kingdom tragic and fey—a kingdom with no land to call its own.
Anomander Rake looked tiny against the backdrop of his edifice, almost insubstantial at this distance. The illusion was about to be shattered. She gasped as the aura of his power bloomed outward—to see it at such a distance . . . “Channel your Warrens,” Tattersail commanded, her voice cracking. “Now!”
Even as Rake gathered his power, twin balls of blue fire raced upward from the center hill. They struck the Moon near its base and rocked it. Tayschrenn launched another wave of gilden flames, crashing with amber spume and red-tongued smoke.
The Moon’s lord responded. A black, writhing wave rolled down to the first hill. The High Mage was buffeted to his knees deflecting it, the hilltop around him blighted as the necrous power rolled down the slopes, engulfing nearby ranks of soldiers. Tattersail watched as a midnight flash swallowed the hapless men, followed by a thump that thundered through the earth. When the flash dissipated, the soldiers lay in rotting heaps, mown down like stalks of grain.

This occurs in Chapter 3. It’s probably one of my favorite magic duels of all times. But, it isn’t just that. As we’ll gradually find out, there is almost always more than meets the eye going on in every scene of the Malaz world. Did I mention intrigue? well, there are intrigues going on here that have their roots in ages past.
Gardens of the Moon — all awesome. If you haven’t read it, get out and read it now. It’s a really good time, since The Malazan Book of the Fallen now has its conclusion with the publication of The Crippled God on March 2.
And now, below the cut are a couple of small spoiler treats:
Continue reading