tisdag 24 april 2012

Finished the Cold Commands!

And I finally finished The Cold Commands last night! Been busy with work a lot lately but yesternight I finally dug into it and did the last 100+ pages in one last sitting (well lay, as I was in bed). Can't shake the feeling that Richard Morgan does himself a bit of a disservice with his graphic male on male sex scenes. The build up is great, the atmosphere and general feel of the books is dark and moody and his worldbuilding is neatly tied together with bits and pieces of backstory added along the way on the world- and charactershaping events of the invasion of the Scaled Folk. But when you discuss the book pretty much everything comes back to the gay sex scenes and their shock-value. But that's a completely other discussion, I'll just state that Morgan is, in my opinion, one of the powerhouses of the Sci-fi (and fantasy in part) genres of today and deserves a read no matter your sexual orientation or preference.

I'll try to have a review up in a day or two.

lördag 21 april 2012

Myth: the Fallen Lords

Myth: the Fallen Lords
 In 1997 Bungie Software released the first of the two Myth games that they would release before they were bought out by Microsoft in 2000.

Just based on game mechanics Myth was a leap forward, dispelling need for resource management and gathering, and instead focusing on squad and unit micromanagement. In Multiplayer games each player was given a set of points which they would use to buy units before the game started, enabling the player a great deal of freedom to specialize their tactics. A wide range of units were available ranging from undead suicide bombers called Wights to ent-like Forest Giants and on to hound-like Ghôls, who were worshippers of the Dark Gods and could throw lobbed off body parts on their enemies.

But it was in the solo campaign that the game excelled.

Set in a world dominated by a cyclic turn of events every 1,000 years would see a prosperous era of peace destroyed by great forces of evil lead by a character called the Leveller who would usher in an era of darkness and suffering. At the time of the first game an evil warrior-mage called Balor has sacked a great city called Muirthemne and is spreading his hordes of dark creatures across the continent and the few remaining free people are hard pressed in their fight for survival. I give you the Intro Cutscene Movie.

The game follows the desperate struggle out of Madrigal and through 25 levels as the company take the fight to Balor and his most powerful generals, the Fallen Lords. The player commands a small squad of characters through desperate sieges, fleeing impossible odds and deep in enemy territory on covert assassination assignments. The game is beautifully narrated by one of the soldiers in the squad keeping a journal on events. (Hear that, fellow Cook fans!?) I recently read a review on the GURPS Myth companion and can wholeheartedly agree with the opinion that the narrator-actor is one of the, if not the finest of voice-actors I've heard in a computer game.

The game draws heavy inspiration not just from Glen Cook's literature but also from pop-culture and a lot of Celtic mythology. Balor, as the Leveller, and his Fallen Lords lean heavily on the Dominator and his the Ten Who Were Taken and the Leveller character is actually prefaced by a great comet visible in the sky much like in the first few of the Black Company novels.

The northmen, Berserkers, are scottish Braveheart-inspired warriors with face paint and fur-underwear (He-Man, anyone?) and impressive names like Thrend atop the Piled Dead and Hjonfing with Arms Soaked Red.

Many of the characters have received names from Celtic mythology as mentioned, with Balor of the Evil Eye the most apparent one.

I'd say the most impressive thing about Myth: the Fallen Lords is it's immersive and impressive story, it's legends and it's worldbuilding. The general feel of the game is dark and brutal, it's a hard world and the player is fighting on the brink of total darkness and against almost impossible odds throughout the game. The legends of older times, with great heroes and notorious villains, are told not just in the cutscenes and journal entries by the narrator before every level but also in the flavor texts of the units as well as in in-game dialogue. It is a rich world that Bungie paints, with many mysteries and puzzles for the player to solve if they're so inclined.

If you haven't tried Myth: the Fallen Lords or Myth 2: Soulblighter you have definitely missed out on something absolutely special. Games like these are, well at least to me, one in a lifetime. Especially if you're a fantasy fan down with the dark, dirty and gritty.
Get to the bargain bin, and if you fancy a co-op drop me a line!
And if you're itching to get into the deeper lore of the game, drop by Myth.bungie.org, the absolute foremost of sites dedicated to this unbelievably under-appreciated game.

tisdag 17 april 2012

The ever growing pile!

There are a couple of new releases out there that get my panties in a bunch, so to speak. My only regret is that the ever growing pile of to-read books is increasing so fast I barely have time to open the last book before another load wells up. Like so many before me I face the reality of having to either impose a certain kind of structure or risk being trampled in the stampede.

I struggle to make sense of all the new talent cropping up, as well as all the distinguished writers that I just haven't gotten around to, and arranging them into a manageable order. Normally books that follow in a series would take precedent over novels if I had begun the series beforehand, but now that you've begun a couple of series that look like they will take some time to finish on the author's side of things I think I need to re-evaluate some of them. Trying to categorize everything and setting a reading schedule seems a roundabout way of getting things done but at the moment it seems the only way out.
So for the price of pain-ease, here goes:

Must read
Orb Sceptre Throne | Ian Cameron Esslemont
A Path to Coldness of Heart | Glen Cook

Highly rated
Throne of the Crescent Moon | Saladin Ahmed
Scourge of the Betrayer | Jeff Salyards
Railsea | China Miéville
The Dragon's Path | Daniel Abraham
The Winds of Khalakovo | Bradley P. Beaulieu

And that's not mentioning the wide back catalogue of stuff that you never seem to get around to nor the fact that I already have one pile lying around awaiting perusal. Negative reviews on the reputedly slow pace of Embassytown didn't help it's case even with a couple of award-nominations so it's slipped a bit. But I still have Mark Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack as well as The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. There's also Stephen Deas in the pile with the Adamantine Palace and then the high-paced Druss-clone Kell's Legend from Andy Remic.

Any suggestions on where to go once I finish the Cold Commands?

måndag 16 april 2012

Night Shade Books sale!

Way back when, I ordered some Erikson novellas from Night Shade Books. I usually don't go that route since I feel the need to support my local stores around here but this was long before any of the novellas were available from mostly anywhere.
And I have to say I was impressed with both the friendlieness and the punctuality of their deliveries. I had some further contacts with them after that and have to say they're a publisher that I wish all the best. Not quite fallen on lean times, but hit with the 'Publishing Apocalypse of 2011' in their own words.

If you're missing a couple of books in your collection, or want to pick out something new, head on over and get in on the 50% clearance. There's a 4 book minimum but I don't think it'd be too hard finding a couple of gems in their catalogue. Nightshade Books - 50% off!

söndag 15 april 2012

Coming soon(tm)..

The pretty recent ramblings on Glen Cook's writing got me to thinking of one of two computer games that have totally taken over my life in the past. From before their XBOX and Microsoft buy-out-in but after the Marathon series for the Mac crowd, Bungie released a wonder of a game called Myth: The Fallen Lords.

Box cover, Myth: the Fallen Lords

A quick glance will make you see how much of an inspiration Cook was for the team behind the game. The story, characters and just the overall feel of the game showed a stroke of genius, and with Fallen Lords such as Shiver, the Deceiver and the Watcher all more or less controlled by Balor I was sold before I even tried it myself. The immersive story and the fantastic cast of characters gave you not just hours of an entirely new genre of a game but also years of speculation on different events and characters that were never even seen in-game.
Map, Myth: The Fallen Lords

I'll try to get the feature thing up during the week, but if you have the time do a search for Myth: the Fallen Lords. There are still a few websites dedicated to the game and its running, even now. 14 years after it's initial release.


fredag 13 april 2012

A friday like any other

Not much to report, been a long day at work but I've got the Cold Commands with me and will get some short reading done before training tonight. I've been working hard at staying away from the second season of the Game of Thrones tv-series. As much as curiosity has me piqued, I rather enjoyed the Tuesday-Night-Whiskey-And-Game-of-Thrones-orama from season one and look forward to completing the second season in one sitting with good friends and good drinks. I can make do with books in the meantime.

I noticed Tor has released an excerpt of Esslemont's Orb, Sceptre Throne (well, yesterday) which sparks some memories of good reading in the Malazan universe. I look forward to reading it, but where once I would throw myself at the chance to dive back into the lands of the Free Cities, and Darujhistan in particular, I now look at the pile of books that I still haven't gotten around to reading and feel like it can wait a while longer. The Crippled God, with it's inconclusiveness, satiated my hunger while at the same time letting me down a bit. I've been reading Erikson's Malazan novels nigh on 11 years now starting out with Gardens of the Moon after graduation in -01. I'm sure I'll get around to Esslemont's continuation in time, but the urgency isn't quite there as it was before. And I'm fairly certain it's not just the fact that Esslemont's writing is radically different from Erikson's. I quite liked both Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard, and can't say I have a problem with his writing per se, but I just feel like the whole world has so many loose ends that the suspicion is slowly creeping up on me that what seemed a Kellanved/Dancer-esque masterplan has fallen far shorter of what it promised to be when they set out.

Might just be that I haven't re-read the novels for the last two installments in the series so I'm a bit out of touch with where I started. But at the moment there are entirely too many new faces to acquaint myself with so any rennaisance will have to wait a bit longer.

torsdag 12 april 2012

The Tower of Fear

I had a hard time getting ahold of the Tower of Fear by Glen Cook as it seems to be out of print mostly everywhere. In the end I managed to find it at one of the local stores here in Stockholm, SF Bokhandeln in Gamla Stan. I've had a harder time finishing books lately what with work taking up the better part of days and evenings and then trying to have a somewhat working relationship so the Tower of Fear, even comparatively short as it is, probably took more than two weeks. Not a good reading tempo if you really want to immerse yourself in the story in my opinion, but there's not always a choice. But with that said, I'll get on with my thoughts on the book.

The Tower of Fear
Most fantasy readers, and some science fiction ones as well, should be well aquainted with Glen Cook. He is a lynchpin in the industry, a great re-inventer of the genre as well as a great inspiration to many of the now genre-defining writers. I had somehow gotten the idea that the Tower of Fear was one of Cook's earlier books but after some Wiki research I've been proven wrong.

The book was published in '89, at the time of the Silver Spike (another of Cook's great achievements), and so falls somewhere in the middle of his staggering catalogue. It tells the tale of a city conquered by an Empire of short bald men (something which seems a pet pieve of Cook's) rife with intriguing factions seemingly more concerned with getting one up on the other than the local populace. The conquest was only made possibly by the improbable defeat of the city's great sorceror-tyrant, Narkar, in a sorcerous duel. The city is divided between two forces, The Empire of Herod and their allies the Datars have a strenuous hold because of their few numbers but they are opposed by a rebellious faction called the Living, made up of some of the surviving soldiers of the last battles before the city was conquered. In between stand the citizens of Qushmarrah, trying to get on with their lives. Centered on a family caught in the middle of the struggle between these two, and a third more shadowy faction Cook weaves a tale of feint and counterfeint and at last a cataclysmic (well, on a city-level at least) turn of events flushes everyone out, and scrabbling for the lives. As usual Cook deals in the many shades of gray, and while no sympathy is spent on Narkar his minions are depicted thoroughly and with, on many levels, likable characteristics. He has a way of humanizing, and rationalizing, the most selfish and 'evil' acts which lends the story itself more depth. And while the pragmatic and cynical soldiers and minions deal out their hurting, they have very varying reasons for doing so, and in many cases they still to cling to lofty ideals and romantic notions.

Cook is also very good at painting a vivid setting, with passing history or memories, that sends you grasping for more hints and wondering at the wider picture. There's revelations about Narkar's past that set me thinking about the events that saw him end up in Qushmarrah. Fa'tad al-Akla is another character who's not really central to the viewpoints of the story but who's backstory is fleshed out further and further with the mythos and historical recollections of other characters in the book but that still leaves you wondering at the how's and why's.

As more of a sidenote I can say that I love the way Cook's uses magic and it's users. There's just enough information available to piece it together but it's mysterious and flawed in the way of the characters that use it. While not quite on a par with the Dominator, Narkar is depicted as a terrible tyrant and someone who was seemingly indestructible. And then in a passing sentence he is made that much more human.

All in all the Tower of Fear is a tale as strong as Cook's finest. I wouldn't put it quite at the top of his works, but for me personally it's definetely a top 10. It works much in the same vein as the Black Company novels and the Dread Empire chronicles and to me it felt more solid than the Instrumentalities books. I haven't finished that series yet though so that might be some explanation. I admire Cook's way of managing to pack as much characterization, action and depth of story into just 375 pages as he does, much like he did in the aforementioned the Silver Spike, something which I feel a lot of writers today have problems with. There's a beauty in dramatic prose and witty dialogue but Cook's succinct and seemingly brutal way of telling a story takes fantasy literature back to it's core. While at a glance it might feel shallow and cold but Cook's greatness as a writer lies in his ability to flesh out his world in just a passing sentence or with an observation on the fly from one of his strong characters. The grandness is only hinted at, but the story as a whole is that much greater for it.


REMINDS ME OF: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie with the same clear-cut sense of what makes a good story without too much embroidery.

onsdag 4 april 2012

We have lift off.

I'm just going to try and see how this works out with a new template. Feedback, even if not encouraged, will be taken into consideration.

Just a heads up that the background is based off of this slick original painting of Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro battling it out on Ganryu Island. If you haven't, make sure you read the awesome depiction of Musashi's life, by Eiji Yoshikawa and translated by Charles S. Terry.