Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: fantasy (page 1 of 4)

Richard Awlinson – Waterdeep

Waterdeep (Forgotten Realms: Avatar #3)Waterdeep by Troy Denning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As good as the book before it in nearly every way. That’s to say we have x amount of pages of escapist popcorn-level fantasy that’s pretty much devoid of things like character building, literary flair and so on. Of course, you don’t read Forgotten Realms novels for these reasons – well, one hopes you don’t. Still, this is an enjoyable romp and wraps up a mostly serviceable trilogy about ordinary people becoming gods and goddesses in a magic-bedevilled world. So, this is the end for the “raven-haired mage”, the “hawk-nosed thief” and the “green-eyed warrior.” All wrapped up.

Well, it should wrap things up but there’s two additional books in this series. *Sigh* isn’t there always?

Whatever. It’s all good fun.

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Richard Awlinson – Tantras

Tantras (Forgotten Relalms: Avatar #2)Tantras by Scott Ciencin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superior effort in nearly every way to its predecessor. It isn’t boring, which of course is a huge plus, and it’s almost a criminal offence for a D&D book to be tedious to read. Regardless of their value as literature, they should be popcorn page-turners.

Well, Tantras thankfully is. It’s competently written though it has all the faults of this particular niche of fantasy fiction – that’s to say minimal characterisation, few grey moral areas. overly tight plotting and character motivations that occasionally border on the nonsensical. Bad guys are bad guys because the plot says so, not from any logical reason or story progression.

But, as I keep saying in these D&D reviews: it’s all good fun. This time around, it actually was good fun. Here’s hoping the next instalment is just as fluid,.

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Jack Williamson – Darker Than You Think

Darker Than You ThinkDarker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the nagging feeling while reading this that it should’ve been better than what it was. It started off so well, with its mysterious woman and promise of some great mystery – but that mystery largely evaporated a third of the way into the book. While it never turned into a stock monster/vampire tale, I felt it was lacking, and most of that lacking lay in the character of Will Barbee, who spent the entire book in denial.

There’s a certain misogyny about the whole thing too, even accounting for its 1948 vintage. Williamson refers to April Bell throughout as a “white bitch”, and while he means it as a matter-of-fact descriptor for her lycanthrope state, the term and its 21st century connotations can’t be easily put aside. He plays April as the great evil seducer, an amoral Whore of Babylon leering into the face of poor Will Barbee and teasing him.

But as I said, most of this novel’s problem is Barbee himself, drifting about in complete and abject denial of the reality that’s brutally in his face. His abnegation of reality becomes annoying quickly, and as a result the novel suffers.

Withal, I can see why this work is regarded as a classic of dark fantasy, but it’s difficult to read it without allowing 21st century sensibilities and mores to intrude.

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Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels – David Pringle

This is in regards to a well-favoured book that came out in 1988, that listed the best 100 novels in the fantasy genre since 1946. The author’s idea of what fantasy is mightn’t coincide with the popular view and for sure, some of the included works would raise a few eyebrows. Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Fowles’ The Magus wouldn’t ordinarily appear in your average list of great fantasy books. Neither of those two are what you’d classify as light, entertaining reading.

Sporadically over the years, I’ve tried to read all of these books and as of the writing of this post, I’m woefully short of even halfway. I’m at twenty-three, and of those, I couldn’t even finish a few of them – like The Third Policeman and Glory Road. I found them unreadable.

But a number of the author’s choices are among the best things I’ve ever read – Lord of the Rings, Lord Foul’s Bane, Titus Groan, Eyes of the Overworld, etc. The Lord of the Rings make most best-of lists, and Titus Groan and the other Gormenghast books occasionally do too. And, a little while ago, I was actually quite chuffed when Rupert Murdoch’s news.com.au included The Dying Earth as one of its 100 Must Read Books.
the dying earth

So, the point of this post? I suppose I’d better get to it. I will endeavour to read all of these in this list. I own a few of the unread ones, and most that I’ve seen can be had cheap off Ebay periodically. Failing that, there is the e-book route (Amazon, et al).

Stay tuned.

Kate Novak – The Wyvern’s Spur

The Wyvern's Spur (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #2)The Wyvern’s Spur by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.75 out of 4. Not quite on the same entertaining level the first novel was, and that’s primarily the fault of the character Giogioni Wyvernspur, who spends the first 75% of the book a well-meaning doddering fool. In the end, when he mans up as such, things get moderately better.

The character of Flattery, the villain of the piece, is intriguingly written too – he’s a nasty piece of work, even resorting to hitting women, not something I expected to see in a D&D novel. Congratulations to Kate Novak for making a genuinely unlikable character.

As with the first book, Olive Ruskettle is the most well-rounded character here, morally and ethically ambivalent, though he rings true in the end. I enjoyed her knowing and cynical take on things.

Congratulations also for making an entertaining D&D novel where there’s almost minimal adventuring. All of the books in the Forgotten Realms series have been picaresque adventures. Not this one. The action mainly takes place inside and a few miles around Giogi’s manor house, and it works. There’s no need for a-roving I will go here.

Overall, a slightly weaker effort than the book before it, but it’s among the better non-Salvatore Forgotten Realms novels I’ve read.

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Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis – Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight  (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #1)Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alrighty then, this was a fun and painless read. Of course, it was completely non-challenging as far as literature goes, but that’s not the point, and rarely is the point for this kind of work. This is entertainment, and entertain it did, which is why I’ve awarded it four stars rather than three. Naturally, it was extremely derivative of another fantasy story a few people may have heard of, and the characterisations were sourced from central casting.

Despite this, it was written with verve and an obvious love for the land, times and culture of the world the book is set in. In saying so, there was a certain amount of grey room syndrome here, as playing the Dragonlance modules beforehand may have been a given. From the narrative, it’s clear the reader was meant to have some familiarity with Raistlin, Sturm, et al, before delving into this book, despite being the first in the series.

All in all, I liked this story, for all its “me-tooism” and stock characters and situations. It flowed well, and it rarely sagged or got bogged down. Sure, I’ll read the rest of them.

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Critical review – exegesis

An essay I did for uni. This is an exegesis for the story posted here.


My story is a pastiche of two separate previously published works, the novella The Time Machine by the English author H. G. Wells (Wells 1895) and The Outsider, a short story by the American author H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft 1926). The text I used for The Time Machine is the British Heinemann edition which differs textually from the American Holt edition (Bergonzi 1960).

The story is a pastiche in the sense that it imitates the style and form of these two stories, as well as the themes inherent in them (Greene et al. 2012). As such, it is also a work of writing back, a form of intertextuality. The moods I wished to convey in the story were alienation from society at large, sundered romance, and the deep oppressive landscapes that were common in Gothic horror fiction. With the 4000 word draft, I explored differing viewpoints, first and third person, and with Wells’ character of Weena I used both techniques, where for the Outsider, I remained in first person for his entire narrative.

One experiment I used was to convey Weena’s first person narrative in italics, but with advice from the assessor, I deemed this approach to be unsuccessful. Likewise, shifting tenses from past to present with Weena’s different viewpoints also did not work effectively in the story. I struggle with tenses in the course of my writing in any case, and this extra piece of literary flair added a level of unneeded complexity. So, in the final draft, I shifted all the tenses to past and removed the italics.

In creating the pastiche, I needed to look at what the strengths were of both stories. The Time Machine can be read as a socio-political discourse on the differences between the working class and the privileged who live off the former’s labour. The Outsider is a story that posits the existence of a lonely being, what English author William Hope Hodgson termed the “abhuman”, used first in Hodgson’s novel The Night Land to describe those who live in complete separation from normal human society (Hodgson 1912). This is to say the Outsider ordinarily dwells beyond all human contact and companionship, and indeed in Lovecraft’s story, when he encounters other people, they react in fright and flee from him as if he is something grotesque.

My Outsider was written with similar intent. He is a nameless entity who exists as an abhuman, separated from any lasting or meaningful contact. I stress meaningful here as his meeting with Weena is more enigmatic for him than any other emotional aspect in the end. He questions what and who she is, but eventually accepts she is something transient traversing his world. One of the keystone characteristics of Lovecraft’s writing was that he purposefully left many things unexplained, frequently using words such as “unmentionable”, “inexplicable” or “indescribable” (Smith 2011). Therefore the Outsider, what he is and what he may represent is mostly up to reader interpretation through allusion and mood, something I believe I have achieved with my story.

The character of Weena is not so nebulous. Wells describes her and her core nature solidly in The Time Machine and speculates on the evolutionary history of her race, the Eloi (Wells 1895). He depicts her and the Eloi as simple-minded hedonists however Wells goes beyond this modest type analysis with Weena once the Time Traveller rescues her. He states earlier in the novella that the Eloi have a distinct lack of interest in him after initial curiosity (Wells 1895, pp. 41-42) yet Weena remains a faithful companion until the end, sleeping in the crook of his arm.

This possibly indicates that the latent humanity in the Eloi has been awakened, and the desire for on-going love and attention goes outside of any hedonistic need. In several places through the novella, the Time Traveller puts Weena before more urgent concerns. In fact, one scholar suggests that Weena almost derails the novella (Sayeau 2005) by distracting the Time Traveller from his quest to restore his machine and leave her time.

Perhaps then Wells was inhibited by mores and self-censorship to want to go beyond the child-like clinging nature he imbued her with. I have gone some way to redress this lack of adult feminine character by giving Weena a voice. She is in love with the Time Traveller, whom she names the “Tall Man”. It is a new and wondrous experience to her and when the Time Traveller apparently abandons her in the forest fire, she feels heartbreak and rage at his supposed betrayal. She further laments that she and the Time Traveller never connected at a romantic level due to them misinterpreting each other.

Her character at this point ties in with that of the Outsider as they are both people who are figuratively and emotionally lost. One of the key points the assessor made with the draft was the two stories needed to be tied in together more effectively and with my edits for the final draft, I emphasised the abject loneliness each of the two characters felt trapped in dark worlds they did not understand. I stressed this characteristic as it is one of the hallmarks of Gothic fiction (Gamer 2006). Where the Outsider’s loneliness was something he knew he was fated to have, there was a momentary need for companionship when he saw Weena.

Her loneliness derived from being outside of her comfort zone, away from the river and the huge decrepit building she called home. In the Outsider’s world she had an opportunity to go somewhere else, a choice not possible to the Outsider. He understands then, or at least theorises, that his world and hers are polar opposites. Unlike the Time Traveller, the Outsider perceives Weena to be an adult and thinks of her as a woman by the story’s end. Accordingly, he believes his own world to be an invention of his psyche and Weena’s presence to be symbolic of things denied to him.

In summary, this story was difficult to write and revise as my sympathies lay with the character of Weena. There was no emotional detachment in her nature like the Outsider possesses. She is deeply emotional and empathetic, and readily hurt and confused by the new feelings the Time Traveller placed upon her. In the end they were not that dissimilar, as there was nothing else like them either in her world or his. They were both outsiders.

References

Bergonzi, B 1960, The publication of The Time Machine 1894-5, The Review of English Studies, vol. 11(41), pp. 42-51

Gamer, M 2006, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation, Cambridge University Press, UK

Greene, R,  Cushman, S,  Cavanagh, C, Ramazani, J, Rouzer, P, Feinsod, H, Marno, D & Slessarev, A (eds) 2012, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

Hodgson, W 1912, The Night Land, Eveleigh Nash & Grayson, London

Lovecraft, H 1926, The Outsider, Weird Tales, April

Sayeau, M 2005, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the “odd consequence” of progress, Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 8(4), pp. 431-445

Smith, P 2011, Re-visioning Romantic-era Gothicism: An introduction to key works and themes in the study of H.P. Lovecraft, Literature Compass, vol. 8(11), pp. 830-839

Wells, H 1895, The Time Machine, William Heinemann, London

Kate Novak – Azure Bonds

I’ll preface this review by saying that Curse of the Azure bonds is the only Gold Box game in the Forgotten Realms series I haven’t played. I own it, so I should rectify that…

Azure Bonds (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #1)Azure Bonds by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun and it’s one of the better D&D books I’ve read. The ending was vaguely familiar to me and I was wondering if I’d read this book before, maybe when it was released. It’s hard to say, as I don’t generally forget books that I’ve read. Either way, it’s fast-moving and entertaining and doesn’t suffer the saccharine and soppy moments the Ed Greenwood books do. And despite characterisation not being the strong point of these D&D stories, there was something obliquely appealing about the characters of Alias and Olive Ruskettle.

Very good. Bring on the sequels.

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P N Elrod – I, Strahd

I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire (Ravenloft, #7)I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire by P.N. Elrod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A five star Dungeons and Dragons book? Yes, this is it. Everything clicked with this instalment – the narrative, the characterisations, the pacing, everything. Elrod’s erudite and understated style is a welcome change from the usual quasi-fanfic renditions some of these D&D novels are – hi Ed Greenwood!

Elrod makes Strahd incredibly three dimensional. He was a cipher in the previous books in this series where he featured – a bad Hollywood Dracula – but here? It’s incredible to watch his descent from determined and honourable soldier to self-serving and self-absorbed vampire. You almost sympathise with his plight – almost.

I, Strahd is a cautionary tale like no other, and if the rest of the Ravenloft franchise is half as good as this, then I’ll be happy to read them.

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Ed Greenwood – Hand of Fire

Hand Of Fire (Forgotten Realms: Shandril's Saga, #3)Hand Of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wow…I struggled to finish this. It’s just that bad. Which is a shame as you don’t want your Forgotten Realms books to be bad – you want them to kick ass (even if it’s all popcorn). But when the milieu’s creator writes an execrably bad book, then what can you say?

Basically the protagonist and her whiny husband nuke, obliterate, annihilate, incinerate, deep fry, fricassee, broil, roast, scorch, blast and excoriate every one of the legion of over-confident bad guys that contend with her. Just endless waves of them. It’s like the literary version of Serious Sam 3.

That’s it. That’s what happens in this concluding tome. There’s zero character development at all, no suspense, and the marvellous world the author created barely gets a mention. Every dangerous encounter is swept aside by Shandril’s super-powers or the timely arrival of her equally faceless Harper allies.

Oh, Shandril dies at the end but she’ll come back as a ghost to keep a watch on Narm, who gets sent off to find himself another wife. Narm…urgh, through the course of these three poorly written adventures, he’s the common denominator that weighs them down. What a nobody! His single purpose is to provide a pillow and a shoulder for Shandril to cry on after she’s finished vaporising the opposition for the day. He’s an ineffectual and annoying cipher.

Summary: a godawful book. On to fresh woods and pastures, etc.

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