Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 3

And like that, we've reached Mordor.

Of course, Mordor isn't just Mount Doom or a fortress, it's a country boxed in by three mountain ranges.  Not only that, but the only feasible fronts from which to attack for our various friends and allies all benefit from nearly impassible mountains and well fortified passes.

While it is true that Sam and Frodo never asked about other ways into Mordor, I can't help but wonder at cunning deliberation on the part of Gollum or if it truly was a later thought as he began to plot how to separate Frodo from the Ring.  They believe his urgent warnings of threat and danger, but I don't know if they would have trusted his offering of a secret way into Mordor.  In the face of the impossibility of the gates, his other way in sounds at least necessary, if still fraught with peril.

This occurs as Gandalf and Sauron are facing off in Isengard and the Palantir is thrown out of the tower... except we get it in the film probably about an two hours of watching time earlier (Scene 15 out of 53... vs several scenes into the next movie) and before the Battle of Helms Deep.

The grandeur of Mordor (or at least it's fortifications) is well displayed.  The scale of the gate, even in our modern era, is staggering.  Sam & Frodo's near miss is a bit of suspenseful comic relief that doesn't add anything but doesn't really take away from anything either.

Andy Serkis and Sean Astin nail this scene, though credit where credit is due, we get more out of Frodo than we have in awhile.  Dialog is minimal, snippets pulled from the text and bits to build the tensions surrounding Gollum's role in this adventure.  Repeatedly, the conflicts between Sam and Gollum make for incredibly strong and engaging scenes, like when they disagree over the way to prepare meat.  A bit of sass, snark, dislike, and great on-screen (antagonistic) chemistry build some great scenes throughout.

Interestingly we haven't gotten to overhear Gollum/Smeagol arguing over their course of action at this point.  Instead of Samwise overhearing the argument and references to "her" before they get to the Gates and learn of a second way, we get it after.  The argument he has with himself is really fantastic and ultimately tragic for all it's comedic flavoring.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 2

The Dead Marshes and the chapter as a whole are a reminder of what came before.  Little things like Gollum singing to himself, referencing his riddle game with Bilbo, to big things like the phantom bodies in the marshes themselves.  We learn the name before we know the reasons, something that I believe is part of the growing threat that the journey faces.

Samwise is quite pragmatic in considering the threat Gollum poses, but Frodo also knows that the promise made will hold for some time  (or at least some time before Gollum acts to gain his Precious for himself).  Sam's position is generally less than pleasant.  He knows enough to trust Gollum's ernest warnings, but he also knows that Gollum poses a growing and unstable threat.  He also has to deal with his best friend and ward slipping away under the weight of the Ring.  In most ways, the success of their journey rests on him.

There's also a certain fatalism to the chapter.  The fact that they are unlikely to survive destroying the ring is the elephant in the room.  "Are we ever likely to need bread again," is the closest acknowledgement, but the knowledge is there.   They need to survive to see the Ring destroyed, no plans were ever even considered beyond that goal even when the Fellowship was whole.

The Dead Marshes are altogether less subtle in the film than in the book.  The dead are seen almost from the start, and these dead pose an actual threat to our hobbits.  The dead visuals are quite striking but the marsh isn't particularly overwhelming (the fires just puzzle me).  There's growth of dread in the setting, just "this is dangerous," Frodo falling into a dead man, and the surprising rescue by Gollum.

Frodo... is generally useless this chapter, and Gollum is more useful than one would expect.  It's a general exaggeration of what we see in the text, with truly very little time dedicated to their perils compared to the conflicts encountered by Aragorn & Co.  Frodo's weakening is displayed in a slowing, a vulnerability to dark things, and a form of paralysis in the presence of the Riders.  Meanwhile Gollum is, in part at least, rediscovering his humanity with Frodo's aid.  I actually find Gollum's self-assured sharing of knowledge perhaps the creepiest thing of all here.  He knows and has experienced things, and in moments of clarity has the intelligence to be a very dangerous and unexpected threat.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 1

After the adventures of Book 3, we go back in time a bit to see what Samwise and Frodo have been up to as they head east.

Three days since they took their leave to a mixed level of success.  They're not altogether helpless in the wild, but they don't have the knowledge of the land and navigation that the older and more experienced members of the fellowship hold.  The bleak is interspersed with snippets of humor, such as Sam and his rope.

The elven rope turns out to have some special properties - a slight glow in the dark and releasing itself from it's secure tie at the top of the cliff.  Also that whole burning Gollum's skin thing.

Whatever Gollum once was, he's a far cry from the being once known as Smeagol, both in mind and body.  I wonder how Frodo would have acted, had Gandalf not played such a strong mentor role in his life and this journey?  What if Gandalf had not spoken of the importance of pity and mercy and Frodo instead just had Sam's (perfectly reasonable) suspicion and the call of the Ring?

Going to the movie, we're not going back to the beginning of The Two Towers, as Books 3 & 4 were interspersed together.  Overall the opening matches up pretty well in tone and setting, but with a heavier emphasis on the Ring's (and Saron's) pull, but things diverge pretty quickly once Gollum enters the picture.  Much of the dialog matches, but the action, setting, and timing doesn't.  There's none of that trouble falling down the cliff, none of Sam jumping Gollum unaware, and no quick resolution in securing Gollum's obedience.  Rather Gollum creeps up while he believes the hobbits are sleeping and makes a concerted effort to take back the ring, then the whole bother with the rope and Gollum agreeing to guide them happens the next day in full daylight.

This is really the first time we get to witness the genius of Andy Sirkus as Gollum, something that I eagerly look forward to more of.  Looking at the vague memories I have of the film, I'm pretty sure that my strongest ones are of Gollum.  I'm impressed how well the CGI has held up as well.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 3, Chapter 11

Triumphant (for now) our heroes ride off into the sunset as we come to the end of Book 3.

Gandalf is rather testy with Merry at the onset of the chapter.  I can only guess he's preoccupied since he rarely talks to the hobbits as if they are irritating children.  On the other hand, he knows this is only one of many battles to be fought, even if he's oddly stumped on the method of communication between Mordor and Isengard.  What does seemodd, to me, that with Palantir in hand, Gandalf is left wondering how in the world Saruman and Sauron managed to chat.  Actually, I'm going to step back even further and boggle that Aragorn identifies the "Orthanc-stone," bringing it's identity to Gandalf's attention.

This chapter serves as an ending and a reminder of continuation.  The story of Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn does not end here, but instead the time has come to look at the activities of Frodo and Samwise during all of this.

When watching the films we made the transition to The Return of the King several chapters back, with a transition made at a different moment of suspense.  Or, as Gandalf speaks,"The battle for Middle Earth is about to begin."  Our heroes even all return to Edoras to mourn the dead before a sleepless Pippin gets his hands on the palantir.

The details are well done, with Pippin suffering clearly from an obsession if not full on compulsion to see the palantir again and Gandalf sleeping with his eyes open.  Then there's all the extra theater, with Legolas' elven senses tingling and the fiery special effects as the orbs send first Pippin into seizure and Aragorn into a faint.  I guess it makes for a more striking visual than the descriptions from the text.  Similarly, the changes in what Pippin sees make for more push to action and various conflicts of politics and interests.

Perhaps the most interesting (and effective) changes is that of Merry lashing out at Pippin, revealing details that would otherwise be shared by Gandalf on their ride together.  Add in the incredible dynamics between Billy and Dominic, it makes for a very compelling and sharply emotional scene.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

[Book Review] Monstress Volume 1: Awakening

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening / Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

By it's actual description, Monstress takes place in an alternate 1900s.  For whatever reason it read to me as a high fantasy, post-apocalyptic fairy tale pulling on Asian folklore.  I'll blame the alt-past vs far future on the gorgeously evolved alt-history and fantastical technology.  It could easily be a far future after various rising and falling of civilizations, leading to the shambles of once great nations still fighting for survival and power.

Central to the story is a young woman with an unexplained bond to a monster, both of whom are simply seeking to survive in a world antagonistic to both.

Highly recommend.

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

ONCE BROKEN FAITH - Q&A with Seanan McGuire + Giveaway!

Seanan McGuire has become a go-to author for me, writing smart, fun, and compulsively readable books.
Once Broken Faith is the latest October Daye novel. Part of me just wishes that Toby could have a nice, relaxing vacation... but let's be honest, its when things go wrong that they get all sorts of interesting. Toby is due for that break, and she almost gets it, the story opening to an amazing scene of domestic "normalcy" (or as normal as one can get with fae teenagers running around) that rarely shows up in her life.

But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and returning with a cure for elf-shot certainly counts.

Now her brief interlude of peace at home with her built family is interrupted as she's pulled into the dangerous world of pure-blood faerie politics as the only changeling at the conclave... and then the first dead body shows up.

As part of the release of Once Broken Faith, and with the help of Penguin RandomHouse, I was able to snag some of Seanan McGuire's time and I'm offering a giveaway of Rosemary and Rue for readers new to October Daye! Read on!

Hello! First off, thank you so much for your time. I'm a huge fan of your series, particularly October Daye and InCryptid.

With so much lore built up over 10 books and various short stories, do you ever find yourself trapped what you've written before? How do you work through it?

I’m not trapped, so much as I’m given a better framework to play with. When you take your first gymnastics class, you’ll have one piece of equipment—the balance beam—and you’ll usually have a spotter, and you won’t be very far from the ground, because you’ll be so new. But as you get better, you’ll get more equipment, and more complicated techniques, and yeah sometimes it may feel like you’re not as effortless as you were when you were just striking poses on the beam and dreaming about going to the Olympics, but you can fly. I have so much equipment now. I have a flying trapeze. I can fly.

Is there's anyone's story you've been looking forward to tell that you haven't yet?

Alice. Alice Price-Healy is the point where the new generation of stories in InCryptid really gets underway—she’s our entry—and she’s had to wait a very long time for me to get around to her, because there’s been so much in front of her in the queue. It’s going to be so worth it, though. So worth it.

How plotted out are your major plot lines? Are things that happen in Once Broken Faith part of a plan from the start or something built up to in a shorter time period?

I plot a series like I’m planning a road trip with people I really enjoy spending time in a car with. Yeah, we could floor it and head straight for our destination, but where’s the fun in that? We know where we have to stop. We know where our hotels are, and what commitments we have. But on the way, we’re going to meander. My plots are like that. I know the big stops, and in the middle, I try to have fun. The events of Once Broken Faith are a natural consequence of A Red-Rose Chain, which was a natural consequence of Chimes at Midnight, and so we march on, following the plot, hoping we can get to our hotel before they cancel the reservation.

Do Toby's increasing power levels cause difficulty in creating appropriate challenges? What's the biggest challenge in keeping the conflicts creative?

Toby actually hasn’t had that much increase in power: what she’s had is an increase in understanding. She’s my indestructible girl, which means I have to come up with new ways to make her miserable, but it turns out I have a knack for that. Otherwise, what look like increases often come with decreases. She can’t carry iron anymore. She’s had to acknowledge that her humanity is not only waning, it’s fading entirely. She has poor illusions, she’s susceptible to transformation magic…really, the trick is balance. As long as she never gets anything completely clean and clear and without cost, we’re good.

Fill out the form to enter the giveaway!  Contest open to US residents through 9/10!
Information provided will only be used for notification of winner and shipping of prize.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Halloween Book Bingo!

Again, over at Booklikes there's a pretty awesome book bingo starting today!

This will be fun, even if I read some amazing contenders for these squares a few weeks ago.  /sigh.

20 Books of Summer - wrap-up

I mentioned taking part in online Summer Reading back in June (link), and then never followed up.

The short version is I read far more than 20 books this summer, but I managed to work a title in for every square on the bingo board.  Some of the books I earnestly recommend... others, not so much.

Beach, sand, or sun on the cover: The Rumor / Elin Hilderbrand

New to you author: American Housewife: Stories / Helen Ellis

First book of a new series: Rock Me Two Times / Dawn Ryder

Adapted for the big screen: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History / Robert M. Edsel

A blast from the past: Historical Fiction: How the Duke Was Won / Lenora Bell

Graphic novel or comic book: The Sculptor / Scott McCloud

Published June, July, or August 2016: The Nightmare Stacks (A Laundry Files Novel) / Charles Stross

Comfort Read: Wrong Place, Right Time / Elle Casey

Read in a boat, tent, or cabin: A Head Full of Ghosts / Paul Tremblay
Partially, at least.

A book that's been on your shelf for more than a year: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore / Robin Sloan

Romance: Test Drive / Marie Harte

A book by a dead author: The Fellowship of the Ring / J.R.R. Tolkien
OK, been reading this one for awhile, but with the format of the project, I think it counts.

Free space: Lexicon / Max Barry

Summer word in the title: This One Summer / Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

A hard book: Wild / Cheryl Strayed
Emotionally this was a very challenging book for me.  Reading a book about the loss and mourning of one's mother is not something I should do in the summer.

Travel: planes, trains, or road trips: No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead / Peter Richardson

Mystery or Suspense: Hex / Thomas Olde Heuvelt

A book bust or bummer: Star Wars: Aftermath / Chuck Wendig

More than 400 pages long: The Aeronaut's Windlass / Jim Butcher

Favorite re-read: The Princess Bride / William Goldman

YA or Children: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong / Faith Erin Hicks & Prudence Shen

Space opera or other sci fi: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever / James Tiptree Jr
Also a contender for "book by dead author."

Read on vacation: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child / J. K. Rowling
I don't really get vacations, but I read this on my day off.

Book with a terrible cover: Rhapsody / Elizabeth Haydon
It's not horribly terrible, but a bunch of things bother me - including the scale of the characters, and they add up to being dissatisfied with the cover. Possible alternative for cover is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, on which the woman just doesn't work for me, and then they cut off her head... the reason this book is an alternative instead of Wrong Place, Right Time is I got far more enjoyment out of the other one.

Fantasy: From a High Tower (Elemental Masters) / Mercedes Lackey