Archive | August 2012

The Art of Oneupmanship

I’ve accomplished a wagon load of reading this summer (5 books of A Song of Ice and Fire not withstanding) and finished the 12th novel for the Black Library’s Gotrek & Felix series, Zombieslayer.  

Its a Warhammer-Fantasy series that follows Gotrek, a dwarf that’s taken the Slayer Oath to seek death in combat in order to atone for some past dishonor, and his human “rememberer” Felix, the character who’s eyes are used to see this world. Felix, as a young poet, took a drunken blood-oath with Gotrek to follow him and record his death in a grand epic so that his tale would live on forever. Gotrek’s either the best Slayer that ever lived, or the least-successful Slayer as he’s never been able to find a foe that could fell him.

Anyway, the series was originally written by William King.  His first few books are absolutely brilliant, the third in the series, Daemonslayer, being my favorite.  King took time away from writing after the seventh novel and left a void in his place.  

Enter Nathan Long, a former (struggling) Hollywood screenwriter, who took Gotrek & Felix’s mantle up in the 8th novel, Orcslayer. Orcslayer is visceral, it has quick action and relentless pace. I re-read it two days ago in two sessions.

Anyway, I thought to re-visit Orcslayer because of Zombieslayer.  These books by Mr. Long, while the titles may leave the uninitiated something to desire, are absolutely fantastic. The thing that really gets me about Long’s novels over King’s is his ability to amp up his conflicts one over the other over the next.  Each situation is bleaker and more high-strung than the next!

Orcslayer sees Gotrek & Felix try to re-take a dwarven hold back from invading orcs.  SPOILERS: Their first plan is sabotaged, the second has them run into trolls in the mines underneath the hold, then they must face the orcs and hold them off so a dwarf army can reach them, then the orcs become reanimated by some fell magic, then a group of dwarves they’d rescued is overcome by the same magic, then one of their companions and Gotrek’s oldest friend succumbs as well before even Gotrek and Felix square off near the end! Phew.

Zombieslayer takes that same pace and tries to one-up it. On a night where Gotrek & Felix have marched with a human army to deal with a massive beastman (think goat-headed minotaurs) herd and succeeded at the nick of time, an evil necromancer raises every slain man and beast back from the dead to conquer all humankind. It’s midnight, everyone is wounded and exhausted from fighting a war and then everone that has died that day stands up again.  That’s page one.

Having fled 10,000 zombies, the remains of that army plus Gotrek & Felix hole up in a major castle to withstand this invasion and wait for reinforcements.  Seems reasonable and safe. I was cringing in my seat, reading this book on a plane, when going over the passage where Long describes how the foul necromancer uses his magic to spoil every morsel of food the defenders had:

“Sister Willentrude was opening a sack of onions that had become black balls of slime. Bosendorfer was picking distastefully through apples and turnips gone brown and runny while Zeismann was cringing away from the hard sausages that hung from the beams, their casings split and giving birth to a swarm of flies…”

I put the book down after that passage and thought to myself, “That’s magnificent!” Every hardship and every conflict was more dire than the last in this book.  I could not have appreciated the craft, the cruelty and malice subjected to his characters.

I know not where the story could possibly go after this, nor if Gotrek & Felix will have a 13th novel.  I highly suggest it to those looking for solid Fantasy books – especially those familiar with the Warhammer universe. Nathan Long injected a shot of dinitrogen tetroxide (rocket fuel) into this series and I dearly wish to see more of where it is headed.

Fun with Verb and Noun

The council chambers shook with excited voices and the scuffling of chairs for several prolonged minutes until everyone found their seats and order was called.

Noun pushed his spectacles up to a comfortable position upon the bridge of his nose before striking the gavel.  “The Council will now come to session. We call forth the plaintiff, the defendant, and the witnesses to take their places.”

Chairs shuffled as council members and spectators changed positions.  When the hub-bub died down, Verb called out over the meeting in a clear, pinched voice.

“Adjective, you claim the defendant Adverb is responsible for the crimes of pushing, shoving, mayhem-causing, and general disobedience.  Do you have anything else to add?”

Adjective huffed his chest out and spoke in a loud voice, his words crass and brazen.  His claims were outlandish, yet concise and accurate in their detail.  Several members of the council looked awestruck or even blanched.  Falling over in his seat and crashing over into the aisle, a dangling participle fainted.

“And Adverb, how do you respond to these accusations?”  Verb asked.

“Loudly! Shrilly! Antagonistically!” Adverb shouted back at Adjective.  The plaintiff looked smug with a dash of coy.

“Do you have a specific response to the crimes for which you are accused here in this court?” Preposition asked as she leaned over the table towards the defendant.

Adverb glared at the council intensely, furiously bringing his hands to his sides, and showing his contempt unashamedly. “I declare enthusiastically that I am not warily responsible for these crimes, nor am I exactly certain this council has the power to ascertain their significance.  In fact-,”

“Oooh, I’m getting used!,” declared Hyphen from the back of the chambers.

“There will be no disruptions in this case.” Command glowered from the front of the room.

Adverb paused awkwardly, then began earnestly, “In fact, I have the right mind to forever quit this court’s proceedings, absolutely and positively,” he finished grudgingly.

A commotion exploded across the room.  Voices rose and cries of surprise echoed off the ceiling.  Every spectator had an opinion on the defendant’s position and yelled it out towards the council like angry kernels of popcorn erupting into a bowl.  The anger of their voices caused the pronouns to cry. Every he, she, and it ran to their mother and pressed wet faces into their skirts.

Command roared for silence and was obeyed.

“We have heard the defendant’s position.  Plaintiff, how does this fare with you?” Noun bit at a cuticle as he glanced Adjective’s way.

Adjective thought a moment.  His face betrayed a vast bevy of emotions.  He looked dispirited and sullen one moment, but transfigured into looks of deep, mindful thought and diplomatic grace.  His grin was sublime as he answered the council. “I accept!”

The chamber now erupted in applause. Two conjunctions leaned into a hug and a kiss, no longer separated by the commotion or chaos of the case, but now joined in bliss at the decision.

“We do hereby agree that Adverb is no longer bound to the rules and regulations of this blog and is free to dispense his usefulness elsewhere in the world and seek employment however he wish.”  Verb pronounced.

Noun coughed into a fist.  The room quieted, hanging on the elder’s words.  “You may go, Adverb.  We wish you much success, prosperity, and attainment on your journey into the free worlds of men, women, and animals.  Hopefully, you can find your place,” Noun winked.

Penny Arcade shows the fun usage of proper grammar…

Welcome to LA

I hate mornings.

The dream I had last night was under a burned orange sky with a fried sun that needed its oil changed.  I’d seen that sun before in dreams where I die.

There’s a pregnant woman, a black-haired Hoosier in every sense of that word.  She’s completely ordinary except for her size.  In this dream I’m 12 or 14 and wandering around an apartment complex with terraced gardening.  I’m playing on this stepped landscape when the woman cries out in pain and panic.

Her vomiting is sudden, as if she didn’t have enough time to retch properly. She fountains liquid all over her chest and the ground.  Her bubbling is sickening.

People come to watch or try and help her and the dream shifts the way dreams do – everyone is now at a bus stop or a sports arena.  I’m not sure, we’re all too hypnotized by the woman’s sickness to notice.

She continues to vomit, sudden and surprisingly.  The stuff coming up is volumetric, thick and soupy, egg-whites and oil, then doughy un-baked bread and bog water.  Some horrid mix of kim chee and Drain-O.

I’m afraid to smell.  People think she’ll die or start throwing up blood or her unborn – even though nothing about those systems are connected.

My eyes flutter – trying to escape this terror dream.  The first sound this morning I hear is the clacking of picture frames on the walls and then the blinds chattering from the windows.  To me, it sounds like a proper wind or electrical storm has finally struck southern California, but then there’s the sensation of what could be a small person jumping on the bed.

Neither the cat or Dani show any sign of notice.

Was this a psychic disturbance caused by my overactive imagination?  Was there a disturbance in the force of a million dream voices crying out?

My phone buzzes on the nightstand with a text. I read it and wake Dani with a hrumph.

“Well, I guess we really live in Los Angeles now.  That was our first earthquake.”

The Promise of Potential & Effects of a Lie (A Dance with Dragons)

I did it, finally. I am caught up to date with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, having just finished A Dance with Dragons.

I will be a little more delicate than I was in my review of A Feast for Crows here, but Spoilers there may be.

What the Feast lacked, A Dance with Dragons did provide for me: Tyrion Lannister, some Stannis action, action upon the Wall, insights from Davos Seaworth, and my Queen and Khaleesi, Danaerys Targaryen.  The inclusion of those characters to start with raised the bar from Dance’s predecessor.

Some of Feast’s problems, however, followed closely into this book.  Martin decides to take his time, to really stroll in his characters’ shoes for certain parts of these last two books that surely enriches this world he’s built, but DAMN if it doesn’t bog things down.  As I tired of Brienne of Tarth’s ambling quest to find Stark children (which all readers knew she had no hope of finding since we knew from other perspectives that they were far, far away from the Maid!), I tired of sailing and the issues of sailing all the way to the Slavers’ Bay with Tyrion, Jorah, Quentyn, and Victarion. I take that back, I was actually relieved to get some Vicatarion in there, he accomplishes something by way of plundering any damn boat he sees, at least.

I tire of these story lines where we follow certain characters in the promise of wherever they are going could lead to the accomplishment of something, which actually lead no where.  In Clash of Kings and Storm of Swords, we kind of get the same thing with Arya and what I’d dub her “Tour of the Riverlands” which circled the action, but rarely paid off.  Arya’s was transformed by those events, however.  The near third of a book following Brienne accomplished little and transformed her not; this third of a book following Tyrion was more entertaining(as that’s what Tyrion does), but only managed to bruise him and the reader some, as nothing was accomplished.  The promise of connecting Tyrion Lannister’s wit & tactical acumen with Danaerys & her righteous dragonquest fizzled and failed.

Here’s the problem: while Martin maintains his character’s viewpoint in the world around them, doing it so completely and making them believe the lies surrounding them, he drops off too many hints or outright facts to the reader so we know the follies of these characters and are forced to follow along on these fool-quests.  I only hate Brienne’s story through knowing she’s looking in the wrong places for Stark children.  I know Arya’s whereabouts from her perspective, so I find little enjoyment in watching several different stories of Northerners who want to race towards Winterfell and rescue poor little False Arya from her imprisonment with the Boltons.  All the readers of this book know she’s on the wrong continent!  I care little and less for each of Melisandre’s visions and warnings when one carries any weight out of four.

The author lies to his characters to be realistic about the game they all play for control over one another, but drags his reader through the same lies over and over again.  We hear the cry of wolf from one perspective, but witness the reaction from four different sources, which gets tiresome in my view.

The backs of these books all say, “Time Magazine proclaims George R.R. Martin as the American Tolkien.”

Tolkien is Ser Barristan Selmy.  Ser Barristan is honorable, steadfast, and truthful.  He holds himself to the ideal of the vow he swore, even after being cast aside.  You can trust Ser Barristan to do the right thing, even if that’s tell you things you don’t want to hear.  I’m one of few that prefer the Silmarillion to LOTR. Tolkien has no qualms about telling you things you don’t want to hear, but he will tell them true.

George R. R. Martin is Roose Bolton.  He delights in your torture.  He’s going to feed you a lie and ask you how it tastes, then leech that feeling from you quietly.  He’s not the Bastard Bolton, Ramsay – flaying the reader and telling them they have a new name.  We can take solace in that, at least.  But he’s the quiet Dreadlord.  He wants everyone to know that there is a lie, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.

7 (out of 10) Dragons Dancing.

ADDENDUM: Tormund Giantsbane should be the main character of the series.  In fact, he is already.  This book was actually called A Dance with Tormund.  Tormund Dragondancer.  Every Tormund belch is a song of ice and fire.

It is known.

Prometheus Spoiled

I’m ready to have a serious discussion about Prometheus.  The movie has been out long enough that I won’t beat around any spoilers, either.

I’ve seen Prometheus three times.  Opening weekend, I saw it with the knowledge this was a movie in the same universe as the Alien series, pre-dating those.   A week later, I saw it with the Cavalorn “Space Jesus” theory fresh in my mind.  This week, I managed to see it for $1.50 at the cheap-o theater that never shows movies on opening weekends.

From a perspective of interesting characters, dynamic visuals, and some sci-fi horror tropes, I like the movie.  As a narrative of how life was “evolutionized” across the cosmos, not so much.  There’s just too many holes in the script & character motivations for me, which is disappointing as I think this is the only movie I was truly excited to watch this summer.

I think the association with the Alien series ruins Prometheus, in a way.  That first viewing, I was left disapppointed.  The movie wants to follow an Alien flow and spook you out with each reveal.  In that sense, the movie is what my father called “un-relenting” in its violence and suspense.  The moment Fifield & Millburn are confronted with a life-form that has touched the black goo(ugh, black oil? black stuff? I’ll touch this later), you know nothing will be the same for the rest of the movie and that here’s where people will start to die.

The movie also wants you to know from the start that David is a robot and that robots cannot be trusted.  The movie actually uses this as premise – knowledge you should understand as you see David for the first few scenes(VERY inspiring BTW – Fassbender is hypnotic as this Pinocchio construct).  There wasn’t even a revelation of this fact, as opposed to Aliens where you meet Lance Henrikson’s Bishop and see some awesome knife-play before the reveal that he’s a robot.

Character motivations also eluded me in several instances. The so-called scientists of this expedition are complete jokes of their supposed professions.  From the get-go, I should have expected this as Shaw & Holloway are more concerned with the questions they will be asking the Engineers than the discovery of them.  I liked the Vickers character so much more with each viewing as I felt she, as one of the few non-scientific characters, added some scientific logic and reason to the credibility of the Prometheus’ expedition.  After Shaw finds the first Engineer’s head, she’s so overwhelmed by the possibility of speaking with one of them that they put a current of electricity through the thing’s brain to “trick” it into thinking it’s alive and blow it up in the process.  Read that sentence again.  She’s worse than Dr. Frankenstein, not a scientist.

The Cesarean scene’s totally wrenching.  If that doesn’t make you squirm in a seat, nothing short of the after-effects of an alien impregnation will.  Given that, shouldn’t that scene have a little more weight to Elizabeth Shaw’s character?  She knows she’s barren – and this a character of convictions – but shouldn’t she have some sort of suspicion about David & the plans of the Weyland Corp after that?  She doesn’t, though.  She’s still in the pursuit of her Engineers and the chance to get her questions answered, which is more important than understanding why the robot son of a dying man has infected her significant other with an alien substance (which he didn’t know the consequences of admittedly, but was still quite malicious), allowed her to be impregnated with this hybrid sperm (where she could never be impregnated before), and wanted her to put her back to sleep with this “untraditional fetus” still intact.  I think there should have been a little more mistrust & paranoia there.

Let’s get to the black goo, now.  This substance, which never gets a real name or title, is the real catalyst of the entire story and never gets a defined mechanic of what it is and how it works.  The chamber all the stuff is stored in has some daunting art of human-like physique, but the back of this chamber has a sculpture that REALLY resembles the Xenomorphs of Aliens.  It’s contained within these pewter-like vases, yet seems to be also the material these vases are made of – that’s right.  Is there a difference between the black goo that melts off the top of the vases and the black goo contained within the vases?  Look at the events:

To open the movie, an Engineer swallows a cup of it and begins to immediately decompose, falls into a river where his DNA breaks down, and new life eventually rises up from this event(OK, that’s event 1).

When worms on the world they land on come into contact with the black goo, they quickly evolve into the pale-white snake things that attack Millburn and totally look like the face-huggers of the Alien series(Event 2).

David takes a drop – a pen-tip’s amount – of the black goo and allows Holloway to ingest it, which makes him start to decompose like the Engineer of the opening and Holloway allows himself to be killed so as to prevent infection(Event 3).

An injured Fifield, having been burned by the acid-blood of the pale-white snake and then ingesting the black goo, shows up at the Prometheus horribly mutated and blood-thirsty with uncontrollable strength and astounding resilience to gun-fire, actual fire, and the poisonous atmosphere of the world(Event 4).

OK – I agree with Janek(my favorite character & actor of late, Idris Elba), this substance is a weapon gone wrong and cannot go back to the Earth.  But what is it?  Is it  a poison?  Is it the essence of life?  Is it a broken-down version of the Xenomorph DNA?

Is it a sentient alien substance that can infect humans, control their mind, and also protect them from radiation which it can unleash – oh wait that’s the X-Files.

Oh, silly Krycek…

THIS substance is the crux of the movie and possibly the whole franchise of futuristic Ridley Scott movies, yet it gets a complete glossing over.

I like thinking the black goo is more akin to being a broken-down version of the Xenomorph’s DNA, this theory holds together better, but not well.  Supposing that’s true, then the combination of Xenomorph & Engineer is where humans come from, it mutated the worms into becoming hybrid-like Face-huggers, and also explains better how Holloway’s corrupted seed becomes a mutant squid inside Shaw and then gives birth at the end of the movie to a proto-Xenomorph.  I have no ideas on how it affects Fifield and leads to that series of events, however.  This theory (or the entire movie, come to think of it) also doesn’t explain what happened to the Engineers 2000 years ago that they either abandoned or died out on this world – since there are no Xenomorphs yet and every beaker and flask of the black goo seems contained when humans arrive.

So, there’s already rumors of a sequel that will just provide answers to the many questions Prometheus leaves its audience.  I don’t know what to think of that yet, but Xenomorphs and the Predators should be involved, don’tcha think?

I may not have stated this before, but I like Prometheus.  The movie is entertaining and thought-provoking.  The things it draw from – 2001: Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, the Alien movies – and the characters are superb.  The story is just so incomplete I feel like I got Ridley Scott’s notepad he left on a Denny’s counter instead of a finished script.

Oh – and minus Guy Pierce.  He was shit in the film.

 

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