Monday, January 23, 2023

Hogwarts After Dark

 I'm evidently behind the curve on reading Olivie Blake's The Atlas Six, but I'm happy I caught up. 

We're in a world on a similar trajectory of history as the world we live in, but magic is a real thing here, with roughly 15% of the population having some kind of magical powers. (My math may be off here. Point being, it's not so rare as to be unheard of, but rare enough a vast majority of the population has no magic.) As we open, six major practitioners are invited to join the Alexandrian Society, which is presented as the original Library of Alexandria, now protected by the best of the best. Once a decade, the library will select 6 to join for a year, 5 will be initiated for a second year, after which they're allowed to return to their life or join fully. 

In this, we get Libby and Nico, two physical mages who just graduated from NYUMA as co valedictorians; Raina, who is both a battery and a plant master; Parisa, a telepath; Callum, an empath; and Tristan, an illusionist who can see through illusions. 

Each has several layers of outside baggage we get occasional in depth peeks at. In particular, Nico has a friend/lover who is the son of a mermaid and a fawn. Tristan's father is a criminal witch, Libby has a mundane boyfriend. Which all seem to matter less as they bond, even after finding out that the reason 5 get initiated is they're expected to sacrifice one of their own. 

In many ways, it's a grown up Hogwarts (most of the characters could be considered Pansexual; while none of it is presented in steamy terms, gender doesn't seem to matter to most of them as they begin to hook up), but rather than having a specific outside villain, we never are quite sure who could be considered the embodiment of the antagonist. While we end with a much clearer picture of whom is probably a bad guy, we really don't end knowing exactly who is moving which pieces and why. By the time I reached the last page, I had multiple possibilities swirling through my head as to how I think the story should progress, which I won't go into here, since there would be spoilers....)

Really well written and fun, since you spend most of the book both loving and hating the central six. I am looking forward to the next book, just to see what happens next.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Crecesnt Lake memories

 So, Mercedes Lackey finally finished book two of her Founding of Valdemar series, which was really a lot of fun.

Into the West picks up not long after the last book ended, with all of the Duchy of Valdemar that wanted to escape the Empire living on a lake far west of the Empire. We're again focused on Kordas and Delia, as they work to make their way west for the lake, looking for the perfect place to establish a kingdom. 

On one hand, we see Delia becoming more independent of Kordas, whom she spent the first book mooning over, just as we see Kordas doing his best to do right in the situation he has brought his people in to. On the other hand, given how many of these books end with a lifebond or a romance, I remain worried Kordas's wife will die/leave him and he'll wind up with Delia by the end of it. 

Any rate, the story is well presented, resolving several problems from the first volume, while introducing the problems of people from a highly advanced society giving up things and starting over. We encounter a really fun carnivorous forest, and encounter the Talydras.

Really enjoying this one. Kind of hoping a continuation comes sooner than later.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Figaro

 I'll admit, I was predisposed to dislike Darcy Coates' Gallows Hill early on, as the narrator referred to her parents television from 1997 as an antique. While it did improve, it's not particularly among the best horror fiction I've ever read. (Once again, Goodreads lied.)

We spend the book following around the recently orphaned Margot Hall as she returns to her ancestral home on Gallows Hill following the death of her parents. What we know at the outset is that her parents sent her to live with her Grandmother at the tender age of eight, and she has no memories of her parents. Her parents died the same night or heart attacks in bed, their faces frozen in a rictus of fear. As the sole child, she now owns the cursed Winery of Gallows Hill,. built on a hill that stood in for the local gallows until the town incorporated. 

Most of the non seasonal workers live on site. 

Her first night, Margot gets awakened by what she assumes are service bells, and is convinced someone is in the house with her. She finds a tape with her name on it that has a puppet show her parents made talking about the family outside who don't like her. 

From there, we find out that indeed, the dead of Gallows Hill roam the grounds at night, and are prone to attacking people outside, or even breaking in to houses to get at the living. 

Fairly standard, right down to the curse. 

While the writing is actually pretty good, my problem came in with the fact I figured out the cause of the curse fairly early on, the logical issues with everyone just accepting zombies are something you get used to, and the absolute silliness of the finale. 

I mean, it's fun for spooky reading, but ultimately as forgettable as the long dead hanged men's names.

Monday, January 9, 2023

You enter a tavern and cast magic missle at the darkness

 In another Goodreads selection, I finished Slaying the Dragon by Ben Riggs today on lunch. 

As compared to last week's, this one was a lot better.

Mr. Riggs, who does geeky journalism, has basically gone and written a story to TSR from its inception to the buyout by Wizards of the Coast; which is very interesting, with a few drawbacks, which we'll come to. 

Now, much of what he reports is known, like Gary Gygax founding TSR in his Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, basement, and the general growth and domination of the RPG marketplace. We hear about the hiring of various talents, and how people were paid. I finally found out what the heck the entire D&D vs AD&D was. (I think my first D&D campaign was in 1980. Much of this would have gone over my head at the time.) We hear about Gary Gygax losing control of the company to Lorraine Williams. We hear of the highs of sales, and the novel department. And we watch as two California expansions crash and burn, and finally find out how the financials were crashing and why no one really knew. We learn of talent developed and alienated.

Frankly, accounting isn't my strong point, so much of the later discussions on why TSR nearly went bankrupt went over my head, but he does an OK job of explaining what was going on, particularly in the 90's when many of the geek industry (comics, RPGs) went into a major slump. (Something about the contract with Random House meaning they would get loans on royalties for everything shipped to them. Having financial issues? Over print and ship more than you'll ever sell, then collect the money. Which works well, until the sales slump, everything gets returned, and suddenly you owe the distributor more than you ever going to be able to pay. And it worked ok, particularly during the Reagan era.) We hear about Williams, who own the rights to Buck Rogers, trying as hard as she could to get any sort of game/novel/comic done with a character she owned. We hear of TSR managing to screw themselves by deciding to compete against DC comics, who had happily been publishing D&D comics prior to TSR deciding to make comic modules. 

So, there are a few problems, which he does his best to work around. The biggest one is that Williams declined to be interviewed, and Gygax died before he got started on the book. This means we're missing input from two very major people around whom this all revolves. The other problem is that the prose goes beyond purple into magenta at a few points. However, Riggs obviously loves the game as much as the rest of the player base, and that love shines through the entire book. There are conclusions he reports from WotC that while I see what they're saying based on the numbers (basically, the conclusion they came to from the sales numbers was that multiple settings are competing against each other, and a generic rule book sells better than a specific setting book, and therefore games are turning their noses up at an setting which isn't their very specific favorite...), in my experience, while I may not like certain settings, there are a few I love, but like every other gamer, finding a group to play with and choosing a setting tends to influence what I'm inclined to buy. 

By far the best parts of the books are when his love of the game is front and center, discussing different settings, authors, artists, and designer, and making me want to go look up the evidently really bad video on how to play DragonQuest. Or Riggs waxing poetic about the really underrated Planescape setting. I was sad to read that most people used SpellJammer as a was to switch settings in a hurry, since the whole setting was so much MORE than that. 

I'm also happy he cut off with the production of 3rd Edition, and the less said about DragonLance 5th Age and the SAGA rules, the better. 

IF you're a gamer, it's worth a read. You won't find the whole story here, but you'll at least get a fairly good rendition of one.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Not so much Bad Gays as Bad History

 So, while the end of November and all of December was rereads, I started off the New Year with a bit of non fiction courtesy of Goodreads.com's best of 2022 lists.

Unfortunately, the book that starts off 2022 is Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller. Which is not to say the book itself is bad, but it has some fairly major issues.More on that in a minute. 

The format is little mini-biographies of famous gay people who are considered bad using the authors' politics. 13 chapters, one lesbian, and a few chapters discussing 2 or more figures from the same period. 

Things get off to a bad start with the first biography, discussing Emperor Hadrian and his lover Antonius. Now, I can point to three different sources that give three different stories of how Antonius ended up taking a permanent bath in the Nile. To label Hadrian as a Bad Gay, they state as gospel that Antonius was sacrificed by Hadrian to preserve his youth. (Honestly, and this is my personal opinion, I'd guess the two had been drinking heavily and someone stumbled. I can't prove it, but no one else can disprove it either. Although the original version I heard was that Antonius drowned himself to keep from losing his looks.) 

At any rate, this is a springboard for their entire premise that Bad Gays are ones who are Imperialists, Colonizers, or support right wing ideology. Which, ok, I can sort of agree with that, but in a few chapters, the person they're supposedly discussing only shows up in a few sentences, while we get diatribes on how higher class gays could get away with buggery, while the proles would be imprisoned or executed. Which....sort of? Depends on who's running the moral panic in each age. And frankly, listing James VI and I, but not his descendants kind of misses some really bad gays. Not that Cromwell really won any awards....

Then there's the whole chapter on Weimar Republic gays, where they assert that the left wing had absolutely nothing to do with the problems in the republic. Um, yeah. 

While I understand that the authors are both European and likely Democratic Socialists, there's a hell of a lot of what reminded me of Adam's reaction to Fortean Magazine in Good Omens. Just assume the reader will swallow it whole without argument. 

I mean, I do agree with their more modern chapters discussing gays of privilege getting what they want then saying screw you to the lesser gays (this book is a great example of this ) however, idealism doesn't put food on the table. And you may bitch about capitalism (I think we all do), but short of going completely ascetic, there's no real way to survive without finding a way to exist in the system. (Seriously. The last chapter, dealing with Pim Fortuyn, spends a lot of time talking about how by letting the movement focus on things like marriage and joining the military really cut a lot of people out who were suffering from AIDS. While I can't speak to European laws, legal marriage here in the states is basically shorthand for bypassing a bunch of legal paperwork.) 

Oh and the whole Philip Johnson chapter. Yeah, based on what he did, he is a BAD GAY, but while they claim some of his badness is taking Modern Architecture from Utilitarian and Proletarian to something just for the elites, they don't blame him nearly enough for unleashing the abortion that is Modern architecture on an unsuspecting world.   

So, while they book did have some high points, (like T. E. Lawrence, who evidently spent much of his later years being a land bound Billy Budd), the cardinal sins of not exactly being profiles of the people they're discussing, never really proving their points, and inserting opinion as fact really makes me not want to recommend this book. Or if I did, suggest people dig through their bibliography and get a fuller story.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Gomagog

 So, after a long absence from reading Stephen King's post Dark Tower novels, I picked up Fairy Tale with a gift card I received for my upcoming birthday.

While not particularly a horror tale (it really falls under the "Dark Fantasy" umbrella more than any other genre), it did not disappoint. (On the other hand, his endings still need a bit of help.)

Anyway, our focus character is Charlie, who's narrating the events from a future time of what happened when he was 17 and living in a Chicago suburb. A reclusive old man falls off a ladder, and Charlie saves him. Which introduces us to Radar, the dog, with whom we spend probably a quarter of the book learning about the care and feeding of said animal. 

Eventually, the old man dies, leaving Charlie with everything, including a pot of gold in his safe and a shed with a well to another world in it. 

Charlie ends up going in with the intention of saving Radar, who is very old and dying, since there's a sundial that works like Bradbury's carousel in Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Except...well...he does eventually subtract several years from Radar, but in the process, he winds up trapped in the Fairy Tale world he's part of, becoming a tale in and of himself. 

There are quite a few things I liked in here. King tends to reuse phrases from previous works, and in this particular book, he tells us the roots of some of those phrases. I like the idea presented in here about worlds stacked on worlds, since it echoes The Dark Tower without getting bogged down in the mythology that eventually overtook the narrative. I really was reminded of Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi at a few points as Charlie must confront being dragged out of an ideal into hard reality. 

I enjoyed this quite a bit. It reminded me quite a bit of Eyes of the Dragon, but with less sibling rivalry and much more just enjoying the ride.

Monday, October 31, 2022

I see why this got so much hate

 So, despite my best attempts to avoid it, I did read Greg Weisman's deeply unpopular War of the Spark: Forsaken this week. 

Picking up right after the last volume, we get into the chase after 3 planeswalkers who had sided with Nicol Bolas. Including the perpetual Liliana Vess, who's popularity has remained constant over the years since her introduction. The others are Tezzeret and Dovan Baan. 

Ugh. Anyway, of the 3, only Dovan actually dies, mainly because someone else kills him and plans to blackmail the person who was supposed to. (This was an older storyline, so the plot should be pretty familiar to anyone who reads the book.) 

There were a couple of odd reveals, such as finding out that Rat, the invisible girl, also has a male personality that assassinates people, and exactly who all the shapeshifter Laslov is actually impersonating. (One of his old printings is actually a lot of fun to play.) 

And then there's the controversial part. See, it was heavily implied that Chandra and Nissa were having an affair. And in this book, we find out it was never consummated, and most folks read it as bi-erasure. Which, yeah I get that. On the other hand, letting Chandra and Nissa have a happy ending given that everyone else gets a bad ending (Jase and Vraska are back to Human/gorgon coupling, but lacking trust in each other; Ral and Tomik losing together time; Gideon dead, etc etc....) it kind of makes sense that the world is bereft of elf on pyromancer fanfic for a while.  I'm sure they'll retcon the retcon eventually. 

Readable, but silly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Let's break out the D&D and Ozzy!

 So, as part of my attempt to read something scary for Halloween, I wound up grabbing Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman. (It popped up on goodreads, it looked interesting.) 

So, we're switching between two narratives; one, Sean, starts in 1983ish, and one, Richard, is self narrated in 2012. Both are the same person, we just wait most of the book to get the full story on what exactly happened to turn Sean into Richard. The long story short here is that Sean got lead down the garden path by a pushy child psychologist and, along with his classmates, winds up implicating his teachers in a Satanic Ritual Abuse scandal. 

In 2012, Richard is teaching art at an Elementary school, and lo and behold, we start with him finding a mutilated rabbit with a birthday card for Sean stuck in its chest cavity. Things in the past keep happening in the present. It does seem Richard is being set up to be accused of doing what he accused his teachers of doing. 

Having lived through the 80's moral panic, Chapman does a really good job of recreating the mindset of the era during the Sean bits. Deeper digging into the era shows that what Sean endures pretty well reflects what was happening with the children coming forward with wild tales of zombies feeding them flesh after being summoned by teachers. 

That being said, the parts in the present of 2012 fall flat. Really flat. It felt a lot like reading an outline of a much better story than actually was presented. Even the big reveal isn't that exciting, as pretty much anyone paying attention will figure it out about halfway through.

Which is sad, since Sean's story is both sad and compelling. One just wishes Richard's story was more fleshed out, and less thin than his created identity.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Meet/Cute with a bunch of silly

 So, one of the books I found myself browsing at work was Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall.Which once I realized was male male romance with a male author, I figured, Why not?

So, we're (self) centered around Lucien O'Donnel, the son of an Irish-French Folk Singer and a Prog Rock start who mostly seems to be a cypher of Ian Anderson. Luc is about to get fired from his job as a donation coordinator for a Dung Beetle charity after donors get wind of him passed out in a gutter after a party, particularly after the paparazzi takes pictures of said event. Needing reputational rehab, he gets his best friend Bridget to set him up with Oliver Blackwood, a straight laced criminal defense solicitor. As it turns out, Oliver needs a fake boyfriend to get through his parents' anniversary party. 

Which leads to a fake relationship that becomes much more real about halfway through. 

Well, ya know, except for the whole complications that crop up towards the end, leading to Richard Gere picking him up from his hovel....er...well....

I mean, we get solid portrayals of both men's emotional damages as the plot meanders on; Luc's dad left him for fame, and tries to reconcile now that he's dying of cancer and on a The Voice style competition, Oliver's parents are some of the most unintentionally cruel people this side of Harry Potter's Aunt and Uncle. It's appropriately sad at all the right points, and absurd bits of humor crop up at unexpected intervals. 

Yeah, it's a bit too frothy to be serious, and a bit too dark to be comedy. But it works and entertains. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Nicol Bolas needs ketchup

 So, one of my older HPB purchases was Greg Weisman's novelization of Magic: the Gathering's War of the Spark. 

Now as someone who plays the game occasionally, I knew the plot here, but reading the novel was kind of a novel concept to me.

Problem being that, like many novels written about gaming material, it's really uneven. 

So, plotwise, we open on Elder Dragon Nicol Bolas landing on the city plane of Ravnica, and setting his trap. The Planar Beacon to draw every planeswalker in the multiverse to Ravnica, the Immortal Sun, to trap everyone there, and the Planar Bridge opened in the Guildhall to disrupt the leylines and let the mummified Eternals to march on Ravnica, taking everyone's Spark to feed Bolas.  

As such, what remains of the Gatewatch gathers to try to put down Bolas once and for all. 

Anyone who plays the game has a good understanding of this. People who don't aren't likely to read this. 

Anyway, there are a few surprises in here, like finding out Static Shock er Ral Zarek has a male lover. Or the about as subtle as the Village People lesbian undertiones between Chandra and Nissa. (Supposedly, in the sequel volume, they retcon the hell out of that.) We get the silliness of Jace's love for the Gorgon Vraska (it's sweet, but I'm trying to figure out what the children would look like), and Rat, who almost no one can see. 

Honestly, the weak parts here are trying to humanize the characters. They have no real depth.

On the other hand, as befits the authors work with comic books, the action sequences match if not surpass the grand fight scenes in your average MCU movie, where everyone gets some screentime to show off. I mean, when the Invulnerable Gideon Jura, paragon of White Magic attacks Bolas after jumping off the Black and red Demon Radkos, I felt the urge to yell loudly and throw popcorn. 

Honestly, I enjoyed it enough to feel I didn't waste money by buying the volume, but...