Friday, June 28, 2013

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

 So, we get to see Ged right away in this book, but the tale is not narrated from his point of view, but from the perspective of a young nobleman, Arren, who has come to the Isle of Roke to beg the mages for help with a problem afflicting his land. It seems that the wizards and the singers who sing the traditional songs have lost their ability to remember the words of their spells and songs, and things are going awry. The mages have heard rumors of such things in other lands, as well, but dismissed them as merely gossip until now. After meeting with the rest of the Masters to discuss the problem, Ged determines that he needs to set off to investigate this on his own, taking along with him only the young man, Arren, in whom he sees perhaps more potential than others do.

So, they travel together to some of the Reaches and discover that wizards everywhere seem to be giving up their magic in order to chase after the willow-the-wisp of eternal life, drawn by the dream voice of a shadowy figure. Even the luck of the Archmage himself seems to run dry, as Arren is kidnapped by slavers, they take on a madman for a guide, and they nearly die of thirst and exposure on the endless seas, trying to find the place where a mysterious wizard has opened the doors between life and death.

This books really has a dark, depressing, and Tolkien-like feel, reminiscent of the seemingly endless pages of The Return of the King, where Frodo and Sam plod their way slowly through the land of Mordor, trying to get to Mount Doom to cast the ring in the fire. It's difficult to keep hope alive and to press on with your quest when all is dark and seems lost. It doesn't exactly have a "happy" ending, but at least there's a few pages when one can breath a sigh of relief, and think that maybe brighter days are yet ahead.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Around the Web

Massad Ayoob talks a bit about Glenn Beck's new paperback, Control.

No Way!!

Unbelievable! Ringo does Zombies! eARC available on for Under a Graveyard Sky. I'll probably wait for the official Nook version, but I just had to share it with y'all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

 Long ago, when I first read this book, I was horribly disappointed. I bought it to enjoy the further adventures of Sparrowhawk, and what I got for a hundred pages or so was absolutely no mention of Sparrowhawk, nor any other characters who appeared in A Wizard of Earthsea. Eventually, he did enter the story, and I finished it mildly mollified. This time, however, I knew what to expect upon my re-reading, and was more capable of simply enjoying the tale's beginning as seen from the POV of Tenar, aka Arha, the Eaten One, High Priestess of the nameless ones at the Tombs of Atuan.

It is believed, in the Kargish lands (though it may be more fair to say that orthodox theology states that, since I have a suspicion that the high priestess of the God King may have a more cynical view of the situation), that Arha is the perpetually reincarnated spirit of the eternal priestess of the Old Ones, born at the same hour that the previous holder of the office died, and she has merely to be reminded of the things she once knew. She was taken from her birth mother at age five, to be raised in the temple, taught her duties, and locked into a life only mildly better than that of her eunuch slave, Manan. She has even forgotten her true name since becoming Arha.

Like many teen aged girls, even those in religious institutions, she takes her pleasures where she can sneak them, indulging in minor curfew violations and wandering past the borders set her. She is taught the ways of the Undertomb, a vast catacomb of natural caverns and man-made passages where, in the portion called the Labyrinth, where only she can pass, many ancient treasures are stored. One of the legendary treasures kept there is one half of the broken Ring of Erreth-Akbe, a powerful magical relic, and probably the only reason any mage worth his salt would bother to make the journey to Atuan, hoping to regain the ring and once again unite the lands of the Archipelago in peace and harmony under a King.

And there, at last, we find Sparrowhawk, sneaking about in the dark, trying to find Erreth-Akbe's legacy, since he was given the other half of the ring on a desert island by an old woman (who turns out to have been Kargish royalty) while he was questing after his shadow. A little older, a little wiser, and yet curiously subdued and not nearly as powerful as we imagine he should be after his earlier successes - but there's a good reason for this, we learn eventually. Arha discovers Sparrowhawk and traps him in the maze, waiting until he has nearly died of thirst and starvation before spelunking on down and having Manan cart him off to a stony prison, where she does a reverse-Scheherazade, forcing him to tell her tales of lands far away, and prove that his magic exists.

If you've already read all the books in the series, you know that Tenar is crucial to the whole story, and marries Ged in the end, but for the rest of you, I'll just let you enjoy it as she finds her way to destiny. Like love is rumored to be, The Tombs of Atuan is much better the 2nd (or 22nd) time around.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modesitt

 As soon as Quaeryt has recovered from his latest escapades - eliminating the entire leadership of Bovaria in one mighty ice storm - his job well done is rewarded with another job. He and Vaelora are sent as her brother's personal representatives to Khel, to attempt to convince the High Council there to join the rapidly unifying kingdom. Someone had a joke once about reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy that went, "...walking, walking, walking..." and I felt a bit like that with this book, wherein far too much time was spent on the journey through the countryside on the way to Khel, meeting with factors, meeting with townsfolk, rescuing fair maidens, bringing high holders to their knees, and fighting a series of minor skirmishes.

When they finally do get to Khel, the High Council there won't meet with them unless they pass a trial by combat sort of ritual, which seems to me to go far too quickly and smoothly; Quaeryt doesn't even break a sweat. Despite his success, the council decides to delay joining Bhayar's allies at this point, as they are not convinced that they cannot get a better deal later on, despite it being pointed out to them that it is highly likely that their position will be far more precarious later.

Returning from Khel to the borders of Bovaria, Quaeryt and his favorite commander, Skarpa, decide to run an end around play and go ahead and launch a surprise attack into Antiago, which will, if it succeeds, bring down another of Bhayar's enemies and bring Khel to the point of being the last holdout much more rapidly. This campaign takes place in the last fifty or so pages of the book, and it seemed to me that Modesitt really rushed through things here. The book is, after all, called Antiagon Fire, and it seemed like the majority of it should have dealt with that part of the campaign to me. Maybe that's why they don't let me write these things, eh?

Again, Quaeryt nearly single-handedly destroys the entire capital city, its ruler and all of the nobles by creating a massive earthquake. One problem with this whole subset of the series is that the imagers of Quaeryt's band, including himself, are far too powerful, destroying and creating massive structures near effortlessly. In the first batch of the Imager Portfolio stories, which take place at a future time, imagers are far more limited in their powers, so it makes one wonder how things got from here to there, so to speak. Also, it brings up the problem that I often see in paranormal novels with characters who come into great power too quickly, it just leaves so little room for growth and discovering new, interesting powers. With the amount of power Quaeryt has, there doesn't seem to be any reason why Bhayar doesn't just detail a large enough squad of men to protect him, then send him to any capital city that refuses his entreaties and ...Boom!

I think Modesitt may be growing as bored with this series as I. Unfortunate, as I really loved where it seemed to be headed in the first couple of books. Thanks be that I'm not buying any of them, they show up rapidly at the public library.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

 So, you had to know it was going to happen. Once I read the latest Earthsea book, I simply couldn't resist going back to the beginning and reading them through all over again. A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book, most commonly thought of as a young adult fantasy novel, and in relation to most fantasy today, it is definitely G-rated - no sex and minimal violence.

Wizard begins with the tale of a young boy named Cluny who lives in a village on the isle of Gont, working in his father's smithy. Cluny really doesn't care about the smith trade all that much, and he's always off and about playing in the meadows and forests when he can get away with it. Cluny's aunt, a hedge-witch of sorts, discovers that Cluny has some hidden mage talents, and begins to teach him some of the sorcerous arts. When his village is invaded by barbarians of Karego-At one day, Cluny manages to weave together the natural fog of the island with some illusions and lure the invaders away from his village, for the most part, coincidentally nearly killing himself in the process, for the enormous energy the spell required came from the boy, himself.

A master mage, Ogion, hears about the boy and comes to awaken him from his coma, then, when he is old enough, returns to name the boy Ged and take him on as apprentice. But Ged is impatient with Ogion's slow, cautious magery, and longs to soar free, learning all there is to learn about magic - right away. So Ogion sends him off to the isle of Roke, where the Archmage and eight other Masters have an academy for training young wizards.

Before too very long, Ged's foolish pride gets him in trouble, and attempting a spell far too advanced (and a little on the dark side of the Force) ends with him horribly disfigured by some sort of dark spirit he has unwittingly loosed upon the world. He is allowed to return to his studies and complete his apprenticeship on Roke. When he finally ventures back out into the world, he finds that he cannot run from his nemesis, but that it hunts him down and finds him wherever he flees.

Le Guin weaves a wonderful beginning to a saga in this one, written 45 years ago, which stands the test of time, remaining a classic in the genre.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Jhegaala by Steven Brust

 I'm afraid that Jhegaala is probably the least inspired of the Vlad Taltos series, and the only one I've never reviewed here. It takes place shortly after Cawti has left Vlad, and when he has gone into self-exile from Adrilankha, trying to avoid the Jhereg assassins who'd like to collect the bounty on his head. He visits his country estates briefly, spending some time with his grandfather, Noish-Pa, then heads off to the country of the humans, Fenario, where he hopes to connect with his roots, I suppose.

It doesn't take long for Vlad to find trouble, or trouble to find Vlad. When he arrives in a small town near where some of his mother's relatives are supposed to live, he attracts the attention of the three factions in the town; the Coven, the Guild and the Count. Perhaps eighty years before this, the Count's predecessor discovered a process to make high quality paper in bulk, and began to displace the peasants from their traditional lands and practices, to come work in his factory.

In some of the earlier books, Cawti is involved with the Teckla and other workers in the Empire, as they began to chafe against their chains, a retelling of the French or Russian revolutions' allegories, and it feels that Brust, in the midst of trying to tell an interesting Vlad-style mystery, is presenting a microcosm of the stresses of the industrial revolution on feudal society.

None of the factions in town believe that Vlad is simply here to visit his relatives, and they all assume that he has a hidden agenda which would destroy the delicate balance the powers have attained in the town. When Vlad's poking around results in the killing of that family, things begin to get serious for him, and his desire for justice pushes him to stay far longer than he ought to.

The usually witty dialog is mostly missing, and Vlad's depression a bit contagious in this one. You can throw it out of the series and not miss much.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb really seems to love writing tragedies. I'm normally not into reading something that's going to leave me more depressed than when I started, and I've had to stop reading a couple of Hobb's series over the years, when I just couldn't take it any more. However, she is a fantastic writer, and I've been able to finish several of the series, so I don't dis-recommend her.

This tale is far shorter than most of her books, so it was an easy read, but in true Hobb fashion, grew tragic in a hurry. The Willful Princess is the tale of Queen-in-Waiting for the throne of Buckland, Caution, who definitely does not live up the her name. She grows up horribly spoiled by her otherwise quite wise parents, and is aided and abetted by the character telling the story, her companion from cradle to grave, the low born Felicity (daughter of her wet nurse), who has seen to it that Caution's every whim has been granted, hoping to secure a better future for herself when Caution comes to her throne.

There's no way this can end well, of course, and when Caution buys a piebald stallion and its Witted (able to communicate with animals) handler, Lostler, from a Chalcedean trader one year, it begins to go predictably wrong. Caution begins by obsessing on riding the stallion, whom no one else can tame, and ends by riding the handler - ditto. She becomes pregnant by this commoner, and gives birth to his bastard son. When Felicity deceives her into believing her lover Lostler has been unfaithful to her, he and the stallion are killed in the ensuing struggle to banish them, and Caution pines her way to death, as well.

The Piebald Prince tells the story of how her son goes from being the bastard no one loves, to designated heir to the throne, and on to his own horrible tragedy, as well. Our tale-teller, Felicity, suffers horrible consequences, in the end, for her sad role in this tale.

Compelling writing, as always with Hobb. I can take depression in small doses.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Leguin

How in the world did I miss this book? It came out in 2001, and of course I was busy raising a family, holding down a job, and all that, but still! I have been a huge LeGuin and Earthsea fan ever since the books first came out, and have eagerly read and re-read them all...except this one. Just wow!

It's just like visiting the old neighborhood when a man debarks from a ship in the harbor of Gont and asks the way to Re Albi, where the Archmage Sparrowhawk has gone to retire, and the entire book simply has that feel of visiting with old friends and family for me.

A minor wizard, Alder, who specializes in mending, has recently begun to dream of his deceased wife calling to him across the wall between the land of the living and that of the dead, the Dry Land, and she has been joined by other spirits entreating him to set them free. He fears to sleep, and has traveled far to take counsel with the former mage, who is one of the only men living to have crossed the Dry Land, emerging on the other side. Sparrowhawk's time of doing has passed, but he sends Alder onwards to visit the young king, Lebannen, in Havnor, where his wife, Tenar, and adopted daughter, Tehanu, are visiting.

Lebannen has been trying to make peace with the warlike Kargs, and has been trapped by their proposed solution, marry their high princess to unite the kingdoms. It wouldn't be as interesting a story if he didn't fight the proposal tooth and nail, so you can bet on the outcome, if you like. And recently, the Archipelago has been undergoing a plague of dragon attacks on property, for which he is trying to determine a cause.

All of these plot threads are woven nicely together into a gripping story which kept me up far later than I should have been. The origins of the conflict between the two races of men and the race of dragons is finally brought to light, as well as the source of the wizards' power. Truly worth the wait, though I wish I'd read it sooner.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Around the Web

Just to kinda, sorta, halfway make up for lack of posting in a week, here's a link to a great rant by John Scalzi.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Around the Web

Just for fun, here's a link to an indie publisher in New Zealand you might like to check out - Splashdown Books.

Always bet on the Old Guy

Yesterday, I went to NAPA to get grease seals for my little camp trailer. Now, I know that with non-automotive applications, the guys at the counter are going to have to do some research. Usually there's a cross reference book they can look up the part number etched on the edge of the seal rubber and find an NAPA replacement. The young fellow there was trying quite hard to figure it out, but after inputting several numbers into the computer, he's "if it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist."

He hunted up the old paper version of the books, tried measuring it with a digital micrometer, and still couldn't figure it out, kept mumbling "if it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist."

Finally the old parts geezer who had been on the phone this whole time hung up, walked over and glanced at the seals, asked me "Trailer?" and walked back into the shelves, from where he hollered, "How many?" and emerged with four identical seals, as required.

Always put your money on the old guy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Human Division by John Scalzi

 I kept trying to remember what this book reminded me of, and finally it came to me - the Retief books, by Keith Laumer, where Retief of the CDT (Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne) falls into one odd adventure after another, and constantly solves problems in ways his bosses never expected nor condoned. The novel was originally "serialized" as 99 cent Kindle shorts, then linked together into a broader story, which made it nice to read in small doses when I had ten or fifteen minutes to spare.

It's been so long since I read the Old Man's War series that I'd forgotten where things left off, but if this book takes up from that point, not in a good place for humans. The Colonial Union is estranged from Earth these days, and opposed by the Conclave, an alliance of about four hundred intelligent races from around the galaxy, as well as under attack by some shadowy conspiracy which keeps putting the protagonists of the stories into deep trouble.

Ambassador Abumwe and her aides are definitely not the A-Team, perhaps not even the C-Team, so they draw the assignments that either no one else wants or which are doomed to failure from the start. Her technical geek, Harry Wilson, is on detached assignment from the Colonial Defense Force, and has a tendency to take a skewed perspective on problems. Her assistant undersecretary gopher flunky, Hart Schmidt, comes from a very powerful family on the colonial world of Phoenix, but prefers to toil in obscurity, where at least he feels like he's making a difference. The captain of the Clarke, the starship they all get around the galaxy in, when they're not getting it destroyed, Sophia Coloma, takes it all in stride.

Fun little vignettes, good dialog, mysterious plots afoot - no happy endings, but it made me smile.