Sunday, May 29, 2016

All Darkness Met (1984)

All Darkness Met is the godfather of the Game of Thrones. The list of dead major and minor characters beggars the imagination. Glen Cook shoved an entire three year war and military campaign into a single book. At times, the book reads like a standard fantasy novel, and others, summarizes vast military land battles into a few pages, rattling off one death after another.

The story centers around Bragi Ragnarson, who, ten years ago, had defeated the Dread Empire. Things don't take long going from bad to worse as named characters get killed, kidnapped, and sidelined. The Dread Empire wants revenge for its previous defeat, and it's had ten years to amass legions. What begins with assassination and skullduggery ends in a knock-down, drag-out war with a body count in the millions.

Brutal, unmerciful, and containing almost no feel-good moments, this military fantasy answers the dorky question, "If wizards could do X, then why didn't they?" In this book, they do. The magics are fearsome and frightening, bypassing immoral and going straight for reprehensible.

Cook's writing has risen to the complexities of this work, finally bringing to fruition this idea of military fantasy. It's a frightening war combining the worse elements of medieval warfare with the worse elements of modern warfare.

The ultimate downfall of this book is that it bites off so much that it can't even pretend to chew it. This book could have been written as an entire series by itself, spread across four or five more books. The sheer amount of narrative condensation is unbelievable. Glen Cook's skills have risen considerably just to produce this work, but this military fantasy genre demands even more than Cook can achieve. For every prose problems that he's solved and mastered, he invents two new problems. The narrative often bogs down under the weight of its own ambition, requiring vast summaries just to bring the book in at a publishable word count.

If you like this sort of fantasy, this is worth a read. If you don't, it's going to turn you off.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

2015 eFestival of Words Nomination for Best Fantasy Novel

eFestival of Words is a virtual book festival focused on the ebook industry. This year, <i>A Crown of Silver Stars</i> received a nomination for the Best Fantasy Novel category. I am  humbled and excited. I don't see winning (you should see the field) but I am very honest when I say that with this nomination, I feel like I've already won. I wrote something that at least one somebody out there thought deserved this award.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

October's Baby (1980)

October's Baby (1980) is the second book by Glen Cook and the second book in his Dread Empire Series. Dense, often abbreviated, and somewhat wayward, the book often resembles a history more than a narrative. The novel often feels very wayward, filled with many engaging ideas given only cursory exploration, and when it does look like ideas may be explored, switching to a different feel and style without warning.

From its opening, the story misleadingly appears to be a normal sword and sorcery style book. Bragi Ragnarson is the lord of a minor land grant, but with a newborn heir kidnapped and a throne in balance, he's called back to active service. The book doesn't stay there, taking the story into full-blown military fantasy, with the story turning on battles and sieges rather than chutzpah and chance encounters. By the end, it's an all-out battle for the fate of the west.

Being among the first true military fantasies, if not the first, Cook hasn't figured out how to tell this sort of story yet. The whole thing still feels like a chimaera, but this time, you know which sort of animal the work is supposed to look like. For the first time, it's apparent that Cook hasn't merely stretched the sword and sorcery subgenre, but created a new thing, a new subgenre, military fantasy, one that he would perfect in his Black Company series.

The narrative is dense, often so dense that if you skim a paragraph you miss so many details that you need to go back and reread. There's no fluff here.

The narrative hops between four or five characters, with these changes well signaled to the reader. You'll have no trouble following the point of views of each actor.

This book is brilliant in many ways, mostly in the way that it goes into brand new fantasy territory, but the cost of this brilliance is a leaden narrative, one that leaves the reader shuffling through the work.

Objectively, the books is a bit of a mess, alternating between traditional human-centric narrative, summarized history that's part of the unfolding story, and detailed summaries of major battles. Although there is a through-line with the Dread Empire, the lines doesn't feel very satisfying.

In the end, the book feels less like a narrative and more like an elaborate report. I'm giving this book a low score, not because I think it worthless, but because the number of people deriving enjoyments from this titles will be in the minority. Getting through the middle of this thing felt like an absolute slog for such a short book. However, I won't call it a dog because there are cool things about this book, just not enough for me to rave over. The reach its true potential, the book really needs to be 3x longer.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

I spent from December to March playing Elder Scrolls Online. I paid $30 for the privilege, and I feel that I got my money's worth out of the game.

The game itself is split into three segments: the primary play through, where you get all the side-quests and world-building quests, a second and third play through where you play through the storylines of the other factions, and a PVP storyline (I suppose, as I didn't do much PVP). Once you get to be a high-enough level, you can PVP, while the other area storylines weren't opened to your character until they completed the main storyline.

I appreciated how the game split the storylines into manageable chunks for their writing teams. One team wrote the main plot, which was the same everywhere you played. It didn't interact with the regional plots very much, instead focusing on the big story that drove all the regional stories. The guild stories spanned all regions as well, but they were optional (I assume). Each guild had its own crisis and opened up its own area in the end. Finally, each region had a crisis connected to the character of each region. The regional storylines were all unique, so the only way to experience them was to play through a second and third time. With this structure, each team was able to plot very independently, making an otherwise impossible situation workable.

Your character advanced levels, but in addition to advancing levels, they also collected experience in their skills. Even with allowing you to reallocated, you couldn't just become an expert in a skill immediately. You had to work it up. However, once you drop a skill, you'll maintain any experience that you have in it, so swapping back is easy, if expensive.

In terms of disk space, the game was a whopper, taking up 50 gb.

I played the game as an extended single-player game. I rarely teamed up with anyone, but I got through most things fine. Some things were frustrating, but often I only needed one other opportunistic player to team up with. Many dungeons were closed to me, but I don't feel that I missed much.

I found the crafting practical if uninspiring. I studied smith. The crafting gave me some advantage, but no more so than money would have. I could have gotten by on looted equipment. Crafting itself was mostly creating static recipes with mix and match bonuses.

All in all, the game entertained me well while I played it. I got halfway through the second set of quests when I hit my "I'm done with the game" apathy. I just didn't want to play it any more. My attention had simply wandered. That happens with me, which I why I only paid $30 for the game.

Overall, I rate the game as an enjoyable experience and I recommend it to my friends. It's a fun Elder Scrolls distraction and a fine addition to the Elder Scrolls line. Have fun. Play it. When you're done, move on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Final Fantasy V (1992)

I played through the Android version of Final Fantasy V over the last few weeks. Clocking in at 30-40 hours of main-story game play, I found the game light-hearted, fun, having a well paced story teamed up with an interesting job mechanic and usually interesting boss fights. From my perspective, this was the most fun that I had playing these older-versioned Final Fantasies. Much of the game hit my sweet spot.

A meteor lands, uniting four unlikely companions, who gain powers from the shards of a destroyed crystal. What's destroying the great crystals? This can't be good. It's an adventure that leads across three worlds, and in the end, battles to save existence itself.

For the most part, play went smoothly. I figured out the jobs. I found many interesting little things along the way, but also missed quite a few. The money managed out reasonably. I rarely had to grind for more than a short while to cover my gear or gain a few levels. Most of the time, I didn't need to grind at all, but generally, grinding a little is a smart thing to do in these early FF's. The auto fight mode worked acceptably, repeating your previous commands, easing the oppressive weight of ordinary fights. The spells and items all work like you'd expect in the Final Fantasy genre.

I did have some difficulties with the game. I had a tendency to hit plot points where I couldn't figure out where to go, so I wandered around until I got lucky. On a few levels, I couldn't quite figure out the dungeons, but my 9 year old daughter proved invaluable in helping me. The final battle proved difficult until I read about how the boss functioned, then I was able to beat it handily.

As a complaint, the end credits went on forever and a day.

The fight system itself was timed, which is a type of fighting that I dislike, but turning down the speed aided me greatly. I vastly prefer paused-time combat. Even so, I found it tolerable and not too annoying in this iteration. At times, I did get frustrated as time was supposed to stop as I picked spells (I picked that option), but on many boss fights, my character died while I was in the spell menu. That's a big no-no. That's why I dislike timed-input fights.

All in all, I do recommend this game for the RPG aficionado. It's good fun with a light heart and an optimistic tone. That's how I like my games.

A Shadow of All Night Falling (1979)

A Shadow of All Night Falling (1979) by Glen Cook is a curious beast, a chimera inside a genre of chimeras. The book at times feels like an oral history, adventure, sword and sorcery, drama, and a few other things that I haven't quite identified. The plot seems simple enough, but wanders wildly from your presuppositions. At random points, the text devolves into confusion, while at others, the story stops delivering any energy at all. The points of view are myriad, far more than are fashionable now. All told, the book shows every symptom of being a first book, which this is.

Set inside his Dread Empire world, the story follows the tale of Varthlokkur, a wizard, a man named Mokker, a woman named Nepanthe, and Nepanthe's brothers, the Storm Kings. Their ambitions clash, where not everyone can be a winner, and not everyone can be a loser. Think of this story as the great-grandfather of Game of Thrones, where the rules of writing such a story aren't understood yet, but the power of such a story is recognized. In fact, this assertion isn't far from the truth. GoT didn't spring from Martin like Athena from Zeus's head.

This book represents the first steps of military fantasy separating itself from sword and sorcery. The common man using his wit and intelligence against godlike sorcerers begins its here. This is it. I've found no book further down the root of the military fantasy tree. As such, this book breaks so much new ground that that Glen had no hope of writing a decent book.

The character here seem decent enough and well differentiated, if a bit flat. You don't get anyone confused. They each have their own agendas and motivations, which is part of why this book fails on so many levels. This book was simply too complex for a new novelist to write. Consider Game of Thrones, where so many viewpoints requires a thick tome to follow. You could have easily doubled this book's length without it feeling padded.

If you are tired of turnkey fantasy, you should certainly consider this book. The stories and ides go in many interesting and unexpected directions. Likewise, a fan of older style sword and sorcery should feel fairly comfortable with the work.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Maid of Memory

My work-in-progress has grown far longer than I ever thought, so I'm splitting it at 90k words and calling it a book. I sent "Maid of Memory" out to my first readers with all its warts intact.

Here's a very rough blurb.

Pabi Ae has no memory of her life before now. The Scholar's Sickness has taken her past from her. Orphaned by war, Pabi recounts her tale where she served as a maid for an epic swordswoman, striving to thrive in a world where she is outclassed in every dimension.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Dragon and the George (1976)

1976 brought us The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson. Light hearted in tone and theme, the story centers around Jim, whose girlfriend is pulled into anther world, so he chases after to rescue her, only to find himself in the body of a dragon.

While the book showed initial promise, especially in the light tone, and the writing usually felt crisp and refreshing, I found the story rather wayward in execution. The middle, especially, felt lost, at times jerking itself about, its course corrections feeling erratic. If the story was more solid, I would easily bump this book up to four stars. There really is a whole lot that I like about the book, but somehow the pieces just don't quite come together right.

Despite being a fantasy novel, the book read more like a science fiction novel, putting its attention more into the details and circumstances than most fantasy novels bother with.

Although the tale is light hearted and amusing, the book isn't actually a comedy. Don't expect to laugh out loud, but do expect to smile. All in all, this book is marshmallow fluff, but that's no insult. Sometimes, we all just need a little fluff.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Swan Song (Cover)

I'm working on the cover for the Swan Song omnibus. Here's my current version. Maybe a tweak or two more if I keep liking it.