Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Arisia 2016 Schedule

I've got some awesome panels this year, though I did have to drop one.  If you're attending Arisia hope to see you around.

Lovecraftian Intimacy: Body Horror & Mind Melds (Sat 2:30 PM, Mariana 2)
Can you have noneuclidean love triangles? In this panel, we'll discuss telepathic bonds & body horror & how they play upon themes of separation, alienation & intimacy. These two tropes present with very different connotations and judgments placed upon them. Telepathic bonds are often portrayed in positive terms, where body horror has its connotation in its name. Are there instances where the horror of telepathy comes forward or where change and melding of the physical body are seen as positive?

 The Drowning World (Sat 8:30PM, Mariana 1)
From The Water Knife to Hurricane Fever, how are science fiction and fantasy taking on climate change, and what second order consequences are we missing?

The Future of Disability in Literature (Sun 8:30PM, Mariana 2)
ST:TNG was famously critiqued for having a bald captain. "Won't the cure for baldness be discovered by then?" Roddenberry replied, "By the 24th century, no one will care." Most SF novels, if they include disabled characters at all, focus on a cure narrative. For the most part, the disabled seem not to exist. Let's talk about SF with universal access, visible disabled characters, and societies that don't force a cure and choose instead to accommodate everyone, regardless of disability.

I'm looking forwards to all three of these, but particularly the Lovecraft and Disability panels.  I have a side project that I hope to some day turn into a conference paper that I can pull on for Lovecraftian Intimacy, and there's a good chance I'll come away with more material to fold into my research.  As for the Future of Disability in Literature, I'm super excited to be the moderator for this, and I'm already starting to look for local conferences where I might be able to talk about this topic more.  I'm having a problem where I'm finding the scope too limiting, I want to include fantasy and the present of representation, I want to talk about coding and stigma, and everything.  Various bits and pieces will likely start making their appearances on my blog, time allowing.  Most of it exists in long hand notes scattered over my desk.

Now back to reading books for the disability panel. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

YOLO Book Club

That's right, YOLO.  Because the teens decided that Teen Advisory Board was super boring, and settled on one of the options that works as an acronym for YOLO (I think it's Youth Offering Library Opinions).  Totally fair opinion, and it is their group.

For clarification purposes, I'm not a Youth Services or even a Teen Services Librarian, though I'd totally love to work as the latter (but not the former).  Actually, at this library I'm not even working in an official librarian position, but rather in a non-professional supervisory position, not that it stops me from librarianing (small library, and the only librarian position besides Director is Youth Services).  I like finding projects and challenges to try out, and that's been a really important part of my professional career to this point.

We have a really amazing Youth Services Librarian, who is super busy with everything but is actively trying to increase teen engagement in the library (including the rebirth of the Teen Advisory Board/YOLO).  And being super busy, she proposed that I take on starting a Teen Book Group.  The next YOLO meeting is in two weeks, so in the meantime I'm spending some time researching possible titles and generally prepare to get this started.  I'm looking forward this.

Monday, December 28, 2015

[Book Review] Midnight Taxi Tango + Giveaway

Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba) / Daniel Jose Older

Coming out on January 5th, Midnight Taxi TangoGet ready by reading the first book in the series, and enter for a chance to win a copy of Half-Resurrection Blues.  Giveaway open through January 5, 2016!

Midnight Taxi Tango is available for pre-order!

Kia may only be 16, but she's a force of nature and with growing experience to the supernatural thanks to her work at Baba Eddie's bot├ínica and friendship with Carlos.  A series of violent "accidental" deaths in a small region aren't merely coincidence, and events conspire to bring separate players onto the same playing field.  And pieces from Kia's past aren't so gone as she thought they were.

There is so much I loved about this book, and the filthy mouthed librarian that is pulled in just is icing on the cake.

Half-Resurrection Blues really set the stage for Midnight Taxi Tango, introducing us to Carlos' world and the existence between alive and dead.  There are things that go bump in the night, and sometimes it takes a spook to catch one.

The multiple viewpoints threw me off at first, especially as our first introduction to a really fantastic new character is her narration of a scene completely different than anything we've encountered so far.

Carlos is a pretty solid character, but what really makes this book for me is Kia and Reza's voices in the story.  Everyone has a unique voice, bringing different flavors with them.

One thing that really stands out to me as a reader is that white isn't the default race in this novel, and it makes for a markedly different environment than the standard urban fantasy.  The voices are strong, powerful, and, to me as a reader, unique.

Seriously though, I can only hope that there's more of Dr. Tennessee in future novels.  I have a total weakness for bad-ass librarians.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Roc (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 18

The battle was won, but the aftermath still must be faced.

We are filled in on the heroics and despair that wove through the day.  Our original party is down by three, though Thorin does get a chance to make amends with Bilbo and break free of the spell the dragon hoard cast over him.  Fili and Kili fell defending Thorin, who would have fallen in battle if it wasn't for the fury of Beorn.

Beorn himself is probably the biggest factor in the tide of battle.  The eagles were big, but Beorn is in many ways a force of nature himself.

With Thorin and the last of his line fallen, his cousin Dain becomes King Under the Mountain.  Dain honors the deals made, and shovels out a 14th share of the hoard.  Laketown ends up with more wealth than it knows what to do with, enough that it can't really even give it away.  As was mentioned earlier, we're talking ridiculous amounts of wealth.

The forces of good have won a huge victory with the battle of the five armies, with the goblin and orc population decimated, and ways that have been long deemed hazardous once again passable without threat.  However, even with everything that's been done, going significantly out of the way to avoid the Mirkwood is still safer.  The realm of the wood elves is still tainted and dangerous.

Bilbo gifting the necklace of silver and pearls is a wonderful moment.  At this point the Tookishness is fading, the pull of home and his Baggins side is growing.  The repayment of debt is earnest, but there's definitely a level of boldness and playfulness here.

What I had completely forgetten about from all my readings of this book is that Gandalf and Bilbo spend months staying with Beorn.  They arrive for Yule and leave with the spring.  Not only that, but Beorn has opened his home to visitors and reveling, and someday there will be little Beornlings.

But this chapter is about the aftermath of war, and finally going home.

So picking this up in the film with Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Dwalin at the top of the cliff, because at the time it seemed like a good break.  I should have waited about 2 more minutes for the actual scene break for it to come back to Thranduil.

The short version of the rest of the battle is that most of it is gratuitous gilding the lily (to the point where I don't feel that statement is redundant).  It gives shiny spotlighted combat time to our various characters of note without really adding a whole lot of note.  We've got an hour of film left for the last seventeen pages of the book (at least in my edition).

Thranduil comes a cross as having some sort of PTSD trigger where he's realizing quite how horrible war is.  Yes, he's utterly an arrogant ass, and dear lord save me from that whole love speech when Tauriel attempts to block his withdrawal, but in his behavior and projecting I feel like there's more going on.  There's a level of emotional shut off that really resonates with trauma reaction, and in this case he's worried about protecting his own.  Actually, as much as I've bitched about the love story, I really like the closing scene between Thranduil and Tauriel.  For once the emotion doesn't seem forced, and that moment of recognition between the two is probably the single most vulnerable moment that Thranduil shows.  I'm considering that in many ways I have been selling Thranduil short, based on perhaps some unfortunate editing, poor dialog, and distracting plot points.  There's definitely layers to his character that are hinted at but largely glossed over.

Bilbo volunteering to warn the dwarves on the cliff is a really pivotal moment for him as a character (preceded by some poor dialog).  The tremendous growth he's gone through has been somewhat overshadowed in the film narrative, but at this point he's stepping away from Gandalf's guidance with with confidence and assurance.  People who disregard Gandalf's guidance generally meet poor ends, or are forced into his suggested plan of action, but Bilbo has managed to grow the point of following his own action free of Gandalf's guidance.

As for everything taking place on the cliff...

Admiral Ackbar - "It's a trap!"
Of course it is

Clearly it was felt necessary to highlight the company deaths beyond just falling in battle, as well as tie up various superfluous plot.  Oh yeah, spoiler alert, folks die.  The book has been out since 1937, deal with it.

Fili & Kili are supposed to perish fighting alongside Thorin, not stabbed and dropped from a cliff as a provocation or fighting to save an elf that would have been really awesome without the love story.  Even with this handful split off from the main action, the battle does still continue here, and I suppose it's worth mentioning that I adore Graham McTavish as Dwalin.  One small thing that makes me stupidly happy is Bilbo making a mark throwing stones.  His skill with throwing rocks is a noted detail from the books.

I actually do like most of the fight between Thorin and Azog.  While I think it's overly drawn out and Thorin really only has himself to blame for getting stabbed through the foot though, I do think the end of the fight and Thorin's death was well done.  The final soliloquy on the cliff works, giving Thorin both his chance to make amends with Bilbo and a good death.

Jackson did put in a number of moments on the horror of war.  We see them in Thranduil's irrationality, when Thorin looks over at the battle below, and the mourning of the dead.  They're small, but they are there.

As for the elf action, it just doesn't work for me.  Legolas is playing Exalted, everyone else is playing Dungeons & Dragons.  The rules sets are so different it just utterly breaks the scene.  Tauriel has some decent combat moments, but gets more knocked around than makes sense considering she's the person who trained Legolas.

The coming of the eagles and Beorn still stands as the true turning point in the battle.  Radagast riding in with the eagles is completely unnecessary, but does fit (and hey, more Sylvester McCoy).  I'm honestly disappointed in how little of Beorn we get here, the eagles may be Tolkien's big guns, but Beorn really is the wrecking crew in the battle.

I know a lot of people were annoyed at the set up for Lord of the Rings and mentioning Aragorn.  I'm coming out as being completely OK with it.  Lore-wise it's not unreasonable, same with age.

I can't really be upset that the journey home with Thranduil, then several months chilling with Beorn was cut.  At this point we're looking at small details that cover months that don't really need filling out, and with the changes made to the film, these inclusions would no longer make sense.

At this point we've got about 20 minutes left, covering Bilbo's return to Hobbiton to a rather mixed reception.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

[Book Review] The Empire Ascendant

The Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga #2) / Kameron Hurley

The dark star Oma is on the rise, bringing splintered realities back into alignment while tearing the outliers apart.  The worlds must be reunited into a single reality, but crossing over is only possible when your analog is dead.  Invading empires crash into and over the existing nations, and their hope for salvation lies in the hands of a scullery maid and illegitimate ruler.  But at what cost, and who do you trust when the enemy has the face of those you love?

This sequel to The Mirror Empire gives no mercy to its readers, diving in immediately on the heels of a cataclysmic ending.  The plots twine around each other as the end of the world approaches and last hopes die.

Recommended for fans of Game of Thrones and The Emperor's Blades.  Intricate, unforgiving, and fascinating.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 17

In which everything comes to a head.

Thorin... well he's matching a bit of what we've been seeing in the movie.  On revelation about the Arkenstone, Thorin expresses anger, disbelief, and violence.  "Why should I purchase my own?"  The gold has enough hold on Thorin's senses and his pride that Gandalf's reappearance and support of Bilbo's actions and words leads Thorin to believe they are all in a conspiracy against him.

It is probably worth remembering that Thorin has yet to show himself as any sort of strong leader.  He has the birth right, the dreams, the pride, and possibly the charisma, but he has yet to lead on his own.  Our "burglar" has a better concept of what it takes to lead than Thorin, and considerably more charity, sacrificing his entire share of the treasure in order to avert a war that he could simply slip away from.  Gandalf's chastisement of "You are not making a very splendid figure as King Under the Mountain," is perhaps more than a reprimand but meant as a reminder that there is more to ruling than wearing a crown and holding wealth.

Had not the dwarven kinfolk come in response to Thorin's call, then maybe Gandalf's words and the dire nature of their situation would have reached Thorin.  But as it is, "So strong was the bewilderment of the treasure upon him, he was pondering whether by the help of Dain he might not recapture the Arkenstone and withhold the share of the reward."

Now men and elves stand between the mountain and Dain's dwarfs, who have provisions for a long siege, and Thorin certainly hasn't provided the promised gold (as if he could on such short notice).  The Elfking clearly wishes to avoid war, but will finish it if he needs to.  Of course, had he wished to completely avoid war then he could have stayed home.

Since the beginning there's been a question of why would Gandalf champion this cause.  I think perhaps this is exactly why.  Smaug was a blight, yes, but a largely lazy and inactive one.  The growing darkness and the spread of orcs and goblins made for a far more pressing threat, as did the further splintering of relations between man, elf, and dwarf.  As functionally immortal, Gandalf has a world view literally beyond our comprehension, though perhaps elves could come close should they care to try.  A life span measured in ages allows for tracking the ebb and flow of events, and this quest for Erebor is something that has far reaching ripples among all the races of Middle Earth.  A battle between representatives of the major factions of Middle Earth could not have been the only outcome of this quest, but from someone with Gandalf's ability to analyze and extrapolate it must have been a clear possibility.  Had the dwarfs journeyed without tangling with the elves and dispatched Smaug on their own, a small triumph would have occurred.  But as their quest touched more and more groups, the interest and response grew, to the point where coming to a pitched battle between the favored races also meant an almost sure incursion by orcs and goblins, and the potential for a much greater strike against the growing darkness.

However, as this battle ramps up we fade to black with Bilbo's unconsciousness shortly after spotting the arriving eagles, leaving next chapter to fill in the gaps.

In the film we've got a really good return to key lines of dialog as they build up to the actual battle.  Obviously not word for word, but we get the lines that really resonate.  We also get lines that were otherwise internalized dialog, such as the dwarven intent to hold out for war on the arrival of Dain.  A big difference is Bilbo actively calling Thorin out on his madness, which for once is perhaps not overstated (here at least).  Thorin's whole "let's move the gold deeper so the enemy cannot get it," goes right back off the deep end, with full on hallucinations.  I think had they wanted to go this deep madness route, it would have worked better if the film had less bloat and less time had been spent on the overwhelming nature of his madness from the start.  Give a better build up to Thorin's full descent into madness, making the self-realization and horror all the greater.

Again, I feel that Gandalf has been relegated from a manipulator of events, a collector of information, and a expert reading man, elf, and dwarf.  Part of that is knowing when to share information and plead, and part of that is knowing when to hold your cards close to the chest.  Gandalf is rarely a confused old man, and most of the time it's because being so suits him exactly.

Oh, Thranduil.  This is where you hit full diva, and I kind of love you for it.  All I can think of as he rides around is "I'm on a moose, bitch."  Ok, it's really some sort of elk, so sue me.  Thranduil has really been distilled into a mirror of Thorin, with much of his compassion and aversion to war shifted to Bard and Gandalf.  We see it last chapter when Gandalf offers Bilbo sanctuary, and we see it in this chapter as the threat of armed conflict arises.  That smirk when Dain calls him out just kills me.

On a side note, while the elven army stands in rank and file they look too mechanical.  I have not spent the time verifying it, but it looks kind of like it's 99% CGI.  If it's all real people (or at least one rank of real people), I admire their stillness and coordination of movement, but it sort of loses me.  Personally, I also disagree that Thraundil would pull the whole "maybe me and my army won't help out with this fight."  He may be a total ponce and hate the dwarfs, but the hatred between elves and orcs goes down to the very roots of their existence.


Er, sorry.  Wrong movie.  But seriously, I'm pretty sure Middle Earth is not Arakis.  Though, if you've got giant stone delving worms, why wouldn't you burrow directly into the mountain?  And I'm not so sure someone proclaiming, "The hordes of hell are upon us!" really fits, as hell is not demonstrably part of Middle Earth, or Middle Earth belief systems.

The battle starts out with some cool promise, especially with the dwarven shield wall, but the line is so quickly demolished.  Overall I'm pretty let down by the sword work and military discipline.  No one can hold a guard or manage to fight in any sort of method besides standing on their own and flailing wildly.  There's a reason there tends to be two forms of pitched battles with melee armies - structured formations or overwhelming flood of maddened berserkers.  The way all of our significant characters fight is going to get a lot of people around them killed (let alone the fact that if I start thinking of your sword-fighting posture as "jazz hands with swords" we've probably got a problem).

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I think it would be amazing to see actual battle-craft being used.

As for the actual joining of Thorin & Co with the battle, twelve dwarfs is not enough to turn the tide of battle, but emotionally it is a huge turning point.  Before now an entire army that came to their aid is fighting while they stay safe behind their walls, separate from the danger that has united the besiegers.  Jackson used this moment well, pulling on emotional bolstering and distinct rallying efforts across the sprawling battle.

I'm calling the review at the point where people run up to the top of the cliff for that whole epic battle of destiny thing.  I wanted to wait until the eagles shows up, but in the interest of being able to keep the story line and the film chronology straight, that will have to wait for when Bilbo learns about everything that happened after he is knocked unconscious in the book.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spoilers, Sweetie

I'll be starting up as a contributor over at 5 Minute Librarian's Spoilers, Sweetie new review feature.  

By and large, these reviews won't be showing up on this blog - I try to avoid spoilers as a courtesy, and they'll be conveniently held on a blog specifically for spoilers.  This doesn't mean I won't link to my content over there, but at that point you will have been warned that I'm ruining the surprise.

Right now we (the various contributors) are picking from a list of book award winners.  I have my name down for Three Body Problem, Saga, and Lock-In.  Something will be up within the next two weeks for these (hey, deadlines!).

Interestingly enough, I did say at the beginning of the year one of my goals was to be published somewhere, and then as life tipped back into insanity I let that slide.  This kind of does meet that goal in an almost trollish way.

Monday, December 14, 2015

[Book Review] Rat Queens Deluxe Hardcover Volume 1

Rat Queens Deluxe Hardcover Volume 1 / Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchrurch (ill), and Stjepan Sejic (ill) (Powell's Books)

Have you read Rat Queens?  Why the hell not?  Seriously, stop reading this review and go find a copy to read right now.

Rat Queens Deluxe Hardcover collects the first two trade paperbacks of Rat Queens, Sass and Sorcery (Volume 1) and The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth (Volume 2) into a single set (I'm assuming the whole hardcover bit lacks any need for further explanation).

Now, I wasn't unaware of Rat Queens, but for the sake of my wallet I actually try to avoid the comic store beyond picking up my limited (and slowly growing) comic pulls.  So I skirted reading it.  Then I came across this blurb:
"This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that reads like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!"
Where can I sign up for this?

I don't even know where to start on this review. I'm kind of incoherent with unashamed fangirlish squeals of glee.

Have some Orc Dave with his magical happy beardbirds to represent how happy I am with this comic.  That's right, I'm beardbirds happy and I don't even like facial hair.
Rat Queens is one of the best rollicking adventures of mayhem I've read, and there are so many little details in there that I absolutely love.  If I was to share snippets of my "favorite" parts there'd be nearly one image for every page.  Absolutely amazing comic.  I WILL be avidly following this series.

My only issue with the description that sucked me in is they forgot to mention Lovecraft/tentacles.  I mean, one of the characters was raised by magical squid worshiping cultists (apparently this makes the holidays complicated), so tentacles and squid monsters are definitely a thing here.

The Rat Queens are something of fuck-ups and misfits, like the best of adventurers.  They're damn good at what they do, but resting on their laurels has led to too much leisure time, too much drink, and leaving swaths of destruction through the city they call home.  Bar crawls involving teams of adventurers seem to play hell on property values.

So it's pretty much business as usual that finds several teams of adventurers sobering up in the city jail before they are assigned punishment duty and sent out to their tasks (latrine duty, goblin clearing, etc).  Assassins lying in wait, however, is NOT business as usual.

Figuring out who's behind this may be the key to the Rat Queen's survival, and that of their friends.  It seems you can't get away from the past, and sometimes the past has tentacles.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 16

The siege continues, Thorin's obsession teeters into madness, and Bilbo plots treason.

Well, at least it's treason to the King Under the Mountain, but let's be honest, Bilbo's been the de facto leader for some time now even if everyone pretends he isn't.  Unfortunately pride and greed has gotten in the way of reason on both sides, with Laketown demanding a full twelfth of the treasure and nuking any chance of reasonable discussion.

In many ways Bilbo has reached the apex of his growth into a hero, facing down not only what amounts to an entire army but risking expulsion from the company of his friends.  In facing Smaug the worst aspect was the unknown, the moment in the dark where everything that could go wrong flashed through his mind.  He's faced down his own fears and real monsters, but this is the first time he takes an action that actively betrays a friend's trust and desire no matter if he's acting in the over all best interests.  His hero's journey isn't over, but his actions here, and taking responsibility for them next chapter, are huge acts of courage.
"Whatever it is, it's my own, my good elves.  But if you wish ever to get back to your own woods from this cold cheerless place," he answered shivering, " you will take me along quick to a fire, where I can dry - and then you will let me speak to your chiefs as quick as may be."
Besides that we have yet another example of something the complete change in Bilbo's behavior, speaking with complete authority and confidence to unfriendly armed guards, what's important here is how he sways them.  Not a promise of riches or a bloodless triumph, but a promise of home, a desire that's been haunting him this whole journey, even as he exalts in the adventure.  Loyalty to their king aside, battle at the foot of a mountain is not what stirs the hearts of these elven guards.

The Arkenstone is a thing of wonder, something that astounds man and elf alike.  There's no way that such a gem could ever truly be divided as spoils, and I believe that Thorin would sacrifice all the gold in the mountain to possess it if he believed that was the only way.  Bilbo is handing off a hostage for ransom and bargaining, not a piece of wealth.  Too bad that Thorin is closer to madness than reason, so loss of life matters little to him.

Biblo possesses an endearing optimism, for all that he regularly frets about lack of comforts and wanting to be home.  He knows what he did will hurt Thorin greatly, even if it means saving countless lives.  Yet when offered asylum, his choice is to return to the dwarfs, "I don't think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gone through together."  If anything, the dangers he's faced have allowed his optimism to grow as his courage grows.

And the return of Gandalf, who is rightly quite pleased with his meddlesome little burglar, and warns of more "surprises" to come.  Considering the wizard's sense of humor, Bilbo should probably take this as a signal to start worrying.

This chapter is handled pretty concisely in the film.  Imagine that.

Thorin's long fallen into complete madness, and perhaps it can be argued that Bilbo is not so much committing an act of betrayal, but one of desperate (and optimistic) preservation.

Some of the best dialog from the book was preserved in the film, but it has been moved around a bit so lines doesn't always appear where we expect it.  Bilbo's line about being an "honest burglar" we don't get until he's back with the dwarfs (next week's segment), and what was once expository text about the "evil of gold on which a dragon has long brooded" becomes a warning spoken by Gandalf.  Other lines change speakers, such as who offers the hobbit sanctuary from the inevitable dwarven wrath.

Overall, we lose some of Bilbo's sass, but it's replaced with some truly earnest exchanges here.  I think one of the ways all of the additions hurt the film, is we're left having to sift through for the gems, and Bilbo has so many weighty lines throughout.  Overall the high points stick in my mind, then I'm faced with reality as I sit down and re-watch and go "oh god, I forgot about all of this..." in between the snippets of fantastic.

I'm not sure what they're doing with Gandalf here, besides making him uncharacteristically bad at understanding and manipulating people.  I guess that assigning Alfred to keep an eye on Bilbo is purely a set-up for comedic failure, but Gandalf has a demonstrated skill at seeing into the hearts of men (and man-like analogs), which makes it highly unlikely he'd assign any duty to Alfred that involves anyone's well-being.  In the books Gandalf indicates foreknowledge of the multiple approaching armies, but holds that knowledge close, knowing that orcish hordes will force an alliance between men, elves, and dwarfs.  Instead in the film they show him pleading with Thranduil to take this threat seriously, which of course, he doesn't.  Gandalf's wizardry is often more about knowledge and cunning than brute force magic, and we see none of that at all here.

I mentioned last week that this is where I start liking Thranduil.  Even when I'm confused as to why certain bits were put in the film, or that other character's actions don't make sense (see previous paragraph with my bit about Gandalf begging to be taken seriously), I'm sold on Thranduil's actions.  High elves are known for their airs of importance, but Thranduil is portrayed as a paragon of vainglory.  In the book the elf king is left largely undeveloped, a character more of reactions and desires than a fleshed out character.  We know that he is suspicious, possesses a great desire for wealth, and can be assumed to view himself and elvenkind as a higher race.  The characterization built out for him in the film makes sense and is consistently presented to us, even at the expense of Thranduil's capacity for empathy, as the battle of five armies looms.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

[Book Review] Fair Weather

Bookburners: Fair Weather (Season 1, Episode 3) / Margaret Dunlap, Brian Francis Slattery, Max Gladstone, and Mur Lafferty

Even the best magical tools in the world cannot always predicted impending disaster, but at least this one's close to home.  Still, a smoking pile or rubble where a bookstore should be in this case is a good sign that the team is too late (in other cases it could indicate that Bookburners were already there...).

The Bookburners have a collector to deal with, entangled civilians, and a leaking demonic book.

Just another day at the office?

Excellent continuation of the series, it just keeps getting better.

Episode 1 review here
Episode 2 review here

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Serial Box via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Well, at least the kobolds are gone

In our first adventure, no one died to kobold falling rock traps.  The players had their training wheels dungeon crawl, so now I get to start messing around with things.  Our monk couldn't make it, but we had the addition of a bard by the friend who was the peanut gallery last time.

The towns folk are happy, the baby-stealing kobolds have been eradicated, and our neophite heroes can spend a few days resting on their laurels.

Until another baby goes missing.

Now, clearly I'm used to a specific type of gamer.  The ones that decide to poke at everything.  Instead I get the ones that go "Oh, there was a crime?  Let's find the sheriff!"  Come on guys, stop making me come up with characters on the fly

As indicated above, the players wanted to find the sheriff's deputy (the sheriff did show up, but they still wouldn't take the bait).  So en-route they encountered a hysterical and panicked woman, babbling something about her brother, her sister-in-law, and her niece.  Something's wrong with her brother, his wife is nowhere to be scene, he won't let her see his daughter, and there's something in the basement.

Our heroes are on a mission, to find the deputy.  So they split the party, escorting Ravel to her brother's and retrieving the deputy.

I'm totally remembering that they're willing to split the party when then GM is clearly railroading them towards plot.

Arriving at the home of Randal and Verin Mostana, they find a home in disarray and something clearly wrong with Randal.  Under the attention he breaks down sobbing, "I did what I had to.  She's still in there.  I can hear her.  She's asking for Topha.  I can't give her Topha."

Then they start hearing noises from the basement.  Shrieks, gurgles, moans, pleading.  And in the middle of it all, a woman's sing-song voice calling out.  "Where's Topha?  It's not right to keep a girl from her mother.  And I'm so hungry."

While the party searches for the trap door to the basement, Ravel has clearly had enough of the situation, blows by everyone to go upstairs, to grab her niece, and leave.  The rest of the party arrive with the deputy in tow.

The monster du jour was what D&D calls a "gibbering mouther," but may more recognizable under the name "shoggoth."  As soon as I saw the creature in the Monster Manual I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it before even the first game was outlined.  In this case, send the party off hunting "baby eating kobolds" only to have it all end up being children kidnapped by a man who's wife was consumed by a shoggoth that was calling out in her voice to be fed their child.  Add into this the monster has terror effects, this was going to be lots of fun.

I can say I succeeded in creeping out my players.

Now, I did modify the gibbering mouther.  The MM lists it as a Challenge Rating 2, but considering it could pretty easily one-shot the player with the highest health, I whittled down the damage and increased it's health.  For players with slightly less benevolent DMs, if you encounter one of these things do not get within melee range unless you're not phased by 5d6 damage.  I didn't want to actually kill them all off yet.

Also, that terror effect I mentioned?  My players had a lot of trouble making the DC10 wisdom check (the deputy botched his first check which allowed me to neatly remove him entirely).  Where I started to get creative is when players failed the wisdom check multiple times in a row, and came up with customized hallucinations.

In the end, the monster was vanquished and the players explored the basement, finding the workshop.  Clues indicated that Verin was something of an arcanist, crafting potions and scrolls, who summoned (and failed to properly contain) the shoggoth that ultimately consumed her.  I figured this was a good excuse to supply the party with a number of potions in lieu having a healer with a few extra bennies since I'm planning on several games at least before any more potions or scrolls drop as loot.

Next up is journeying, messing with a certain dragonborn who's gotten on a god's shit list, advancing plot, and building up towards the big jump that most classes hit at level three.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Talking Comics for Teens - YALSA 2015 Top Ten

So, a series of events today led me to unexpectedly book talking comic books to a handful of teens at my library.

The basis was YALSA's 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten list.  Great start, but not enough about each title to really talk about it.  So time for research (and some quick reading).  I also wanted to see which titles we had available as ebooks.

Let's expand a little on that list and add in some additional recommendations.  Disclaimer, I have not read everything listed, this is based on a mix of what I have read combined with research.  In my defense, I had a few hours, not a few days, to prepare for this.

1. Afterlife with Archie / Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla

Jughead convinces Sabrina to resurrect Hotdog, after the beloved pet is run over by a car.  Unfortunately, meddling with dark forces has consequences, with Hotdog as a vector for a zombie outbreak, and the ever-hungry Jughead as patient zero.

Noteworthy is that this is the first post Comic Code Authority Archie title, and their first foray specifically into Teen+ comics.  The familiar cast is all grown up, with both some cross over (Sabrina) and adult themes.

Recommended reads:
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  • The Walking Dead
  • Nailbiter
  • Locke & Key

2. Bad Machinery / John Allison

This one started out life as a webcomic, and is a follow up to the author's previous series Scary Go Round.  The on-going adventures can be found here:

Bad Machinery follows the lives, shenanigans, and investigations of two groups of schoolchildren attending school in a fictional West Yorkshire town.  The comic delivers comedy, mystery, and a slapdash of surreal.

Recommended reads:
  • Giant Days (by the same author)
  • Lumberjanes
  • Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

3. 47 Ronin / Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai
A graphic novel of one of Japan's most enduring legends.  47 ronin pursue justice and vengeance against those who fabricated their master's disgrace.

Recommended reads:
  • Usagi Yojimbo
  • Musashi
  • Lone Wolf and Cub
  • Cimarronin

4. In Real Life / Cory Doctorow
Two girls befriend each other through a MMO video game, one embracing the opportunity to take on the role of leader, warrior, and hero, the other a poor kid on the other side of the world making a living exploiting the in-game economy.  The rules start seeming a lot less black and white when someone's well-being is at stake.

Recommended reads:
  • Nimona
  • Rat Queens
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things

5. Ms. Marvel / G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Being a teenager is difficult enough, and like most teens Kamala Khan is trying sort out her own identity while working through religion and parental expectations.  Developing shape shifting abilities falls a little outside the norm.

Recommended reads:
  • Cairo
  • Spider-Gwen
  • Princeless
  • Hawkeye vs. Deadpool
  • Jessica Jones

6. Seconds : a Graphic Novel / Bryan Lee O'Malley
A successful chef gets weighted down by a series of unfortunate events and is given the option to change the past with the aid of some magic mushrooms.  But as things go she is drawn by the promise of making life perfect, even if it breaks the rules, and learns about the costs of best intentions.

Recommended reads:
  • Scott Pilgrim
  • Lost at Sea
  • This One Summer

7. The Shadow Hero / Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
A young man is happy to continue working in his family's Chinatown grocery store, but his mother has bigger ambitions for her son.  So starts Yang's origin story for the Green Turtle, a 1940's comic about the first Chinese-American superhero.

Recommended reads:
  • Gaijin: American Prisoner of War
  • American Born Chinese
  • Green Turtle

8. Through The Woods / Emily Carroll
A collection of five sinister, spooky tales of things that live in the woods.  Gorgeously and darkly illustrated.

Recommended reads:
  • Anya's Ghost
  • Baba Yaga's Assistant
  • Beautiful Darkness

9. Trillium / Jeff Lemire
Twentieth and thirty-eighth centuries meet in a story of inter-dimensional time travel, romance, and the unraveling of the universe.

Recommended reads:
  • Saga
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Planetary

10. Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki / Mamoru Hosada and Yu
Hana found love after meeting a stranger attending class, accepting him no matter his secret.  However an accident leaves her to raise their two werewolf children on her own.

Recommended Reads:
  • Spice and Wolf
  • Usagi Drop

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 15

We're nearing the end now, with only a few chapters to go.

The dwarfs learn of the fall of Smaug and of the forming armies.  Wisdom also comes from an ancient raven (not crow, which are "nasty suspicious looking creatures"), advising the party to not trust the Master of Laketown, but that Bard will meet them true, and that peace may cost dear in gold.  As we might expect, Thorin gets angry at the messenger.  Dragons and dwarfs are not so different when it comes to guarding gold, and the last chapter shared how dwarven courage and pride is inflated by riches.

Again we get dwarven music, "much like the song they had sung long before in Bilbo's little hobbit-hole," but about might and power not seeking to reclaim a home long lost.  Point of note - this can be sung to the same tune(s) as the Misty Mountain song.  Bilbo, is right to note the change in sound, singing of "foes shall fall," is a departure from their starting goals and intent.

I've complained a lot about the over-blown nature of Thorin's dragon-madness in the films by now, but this is the first time we really see the "the power that gold has upon which a dragon a dragon has long brooded."  Greed and pride (from the dragon gold specifically, not his bloodline) overwhelms Thorin, deafening him to any legitimacy of claims against the hoard and to the true need of the men of Laketown.  Instead all Thorin sees is armed invaders coming to steal his wealth.

There is a chance that reason may have gotten through to Thorin eventually, but then someone had to go mess things up by demanding a full 1/12 of the treasure.  The men of Laketown came with a very legitimate claim, that Smaug looted their ancestral wealth in addition to the dwarfs'.  But demanding that much of the treasure is pretty much a joke.  Even were the dwarfs willing to part with such a portion, sorting it out and handing it over the next morning isn't even close to possible. 

And so starts the seige.

The movie has a scene titled sharing this chapter's title, where Bard attempts to treat with the dwarfs.  At this point, I've literally skipped multiple scenes since I'm watching the movie piecemeal in trying to follow the plot of the book, some reasonably out of order since there's a whole lot of backfilling in the book, and others which are more gratuitous.  Touching on that briefly, this is where I start liking Thrandil, though he doesn't hit "sassy queen" until later.  He brings aid to the men of Laketown, but also for his own desires, which matches behavior from the novel.

The exchange between Bard and Thorin is well scripted, built out in a way that adds to the story.  The exclusion of the music is tragic, especially as I am dying to know if it would have been set to the same tune as the Misty Mountain song (it matches perfectly), but the scene was focused in on Bard and Thorin, rather than two hosts facing off.  For once Thorin isn't acting in a pure fog of dragon-lust, but we see the internal conflict, and reasons beyond greed for the dwarfs to grudge aid to Laketown.
"What choice did we have?  To barter our birthright for blankets and food?  To ransom our future in exchange for our freedom?
There is anger here, the anger of the displaced and the exploited, we know from earlier chapters that their lives were not necessarily easy in the years since the dragon came.  The resentment comes not from just a long over-worn grudge against anything associated with elves nor from an all-consuming lust for gold.

Also of note, while we don't get the actual conversation with the thrush or the crows, we see the messenger bird fly off to the army of Dain.

Now finally we see the mirthril chainmail, perhaps well fitted within an arming montage of both dwarfs and men, though nearly ruined by a resurgence of Thorin's overly dramatic dragon-madness inspired paranoia.  I think at this point Jackson is going for more than just all-consuming lust for gold.  The change of voice and demeanor isn't just reminiscent of Smaug, but that of Smeagol and others effected by the presence of the ring.

After all this: elves off doing elf things that poke at Tolkien lore that doesn't really belong in this movie, and to spend lots of time letting us know that the armies are coming.  You know, like "The Battle of the Five Armies" implies....

And spoiler: Gandalf returns while the armies of men and elves prepare for war.  Alfred is an jackass (no surprise there), elves are arrogant, and nothing is achieved.  I really wish that the decision had been made to hold off on the reveal of Gandalf's return until the events in next chapter.  It takes away some of the delight of the moment.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Running behind

Running behind on the Hobbit post for today... will try to get it up by Tuesday night, but I am aiming for sooner.

Friday, December 4, 2015

[Book Review] Dreams of Maryam Tair

Dreams of Maryam Tair : Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms / Mhani Alaoui (Powell's Books)

Dreams of Maryam Tair is nested and parallel tales, knotted together by lives and stories.  It is a book of culture, belief, myth, legend, and magic.  Revolt in Casablanca, intertwined beliefs, and lives written out of history.  Sheherazade and Lilith, God and Adam, a story that has happened and is yet to happen, and a girl who carries the scent of orange blossoms.  The power of words and knowledge.
"Her mother taught her how to create talismans from discarded words and objects. And Zohra knew, instinctively, that the small pieces of paper or raw leather that were given to barren women and impotent men were covered with the very signs and symbols that she had glimpsed in the Green Book and that were forever inscribed in her memory. She poached in the green pastures of endless phrases and wisdoms with her own chants and incantations. She transformed old men's fortresses into wild pastures where jealousy, love, and revenge acted out their own tragedies. She conjured magic by dismantling the text, cutting words and sentences out, creating fury out of order" p.36-7
Alaoui has beautifully woven together elements across myth and legend.  Most notably of Sheherazade and her stories, and of Lilith and Adam.  There is magic in her words, and challenge.  Eve's crime was curiosity, Lilith's crime was independence and resistance, while Adam submitted to God.

The story of Maryam Tair is filled with the horrific and fantastic, enshrouded within fantasy while returning again and again to touchstones of our harsh reality.  Born into a culture where demons are people and self-determination is arrested by constraints of law and religion, Maryam is a child too magical for the world at large.  She journeys far to attain her gifts, and everywhere she goes follows the scent of orange blossoms.  Maryam is the power of independent thought, the power of story.

Strongly recommended for readers of Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, and G. Willow Wilson.

Review copy provided courtesy of Interlink Publishing.