Category Archives: A to Z Challenge Part II

Posts in or about the 2014 A to Z Challenge (Part II)

Stephenie Meyer – A to Z: S

S is for Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series that has sold over 100 million copies of the four books, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. The series has also been turned into a successful movie franchise.

I first read Twilight when my then-pre-teen daughter talked about it and I found out it had been “banned” at her primary school. I asked her to wait until I’d read it, and, instead of finding anything that made it worth banning, I have to say I quite enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure I would’ve continued reading the series even if my daughter hadn’t been pushing me to “read so she could read”.

Now it could well be that this is just my mistaken impression, but it seems to me that, at some stage after her series was published and everbody had devoured her books and the movies, it suddenly became fashionable to jump on the “bash Twilight” bandwagon. I don’t know whether Stephen King’s criticism of her writing had anything to do with it or not, or maybe someone sent out a memo that I missed, but, personally, I thought it was quite a shame that everyone suddenly drank the Kool-Aid and the tone when talking about the series turned from admiring to derisive. Many of Stephen King’s stories are without doubt very entertaining, but his writing style isn’t my favourite and I disagree with much he’s said about writing, so I was very disappointed to read that particular disparaging comment about a fellow writer.

Meyer’s books were written for a young adult audience and, in my opinion, have done wonders for that genre and have helped bring that generation back to reading books. Yes, they can be a little cheesy at times, but hey, they’re written mainly for teenage kids. I enjoy reading about a character’s detailed thought processes, which Meyer writes very well. Like her, I think, I’m still young at heart enough and still remember what all those “teenagey” feelings were like. I particularly liked the switch in perspective to Jacob’s character, whose voice is quite different with a great dose of humour thrown in. It’s too bad Meyer didn’t continue with her idea of releasing books written from Edward’s perspective; I for one would have enjoyed reading more than the sample chapter(s) she made available, and for those who’ve had enough… nobody would’ve forced them to read it.

I also enjoyed reading The Host, though I thought the film version left out several important parts and seemed a bit undercooked for my taste. But that has nothing to do with Meyer’s writing, which again handles many of the more intricate plot points within the first-person storyteller’s thought processes; something that is hard to pull off as well as Meyer does and makes a film adaptation rather difficult. If you haven’t read her work, I do recommend it, but I’d also advise approaching it with an open mind.

Robin Hobb – A to Z: R

R is for Robin Hobb, my favourite author and probably the author whose writing has most inspired me to attempt to write myself. Two of my previous A to Z challenge posts, the very first one on Assassin’s Apprentice and the “F” post on Fitz and the Fool, have featured content related to Robin Hobb’s work, so today, I’ll try to minimise the swooning and just write a little about the person behind the pseudonyms.

Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb in 2011; image embedded from Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia will tell you that Robin Hobb’s real name is Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, and that she published a number of books under her first pen name, Megan Lindholm, before taking on more epic fantasy as Robin Hobb, starting with the Farseer Trilogy. She still writes using both names and uses different styles for both; Megan Lindholm books seem to be a fair bit shorter while Robin Hobb’s are more epic in scope. Well, unless you count short stories, which are also kind of… er, short.

Margaret/Megan/Robin will be making appearances in Sydney and in Perth (where I live) in June, and I’m looking forward to being able to see her in person (without gushing or screaming like a teenager seeing The Beatles, hopefully) and getting her to sign one of my books (oh, but which one?).

If you’re a writer looking for some great advice, and the secret of how you can become a writer, check out Robin’s excellent post on I Want To Be A Writer, But…. Ok, I’d better hit the “Publish” button now because it’s nearly midnight and this post needs to be for today.

Any favourite writers or other idols you’re looking forward to seeing in person? Let me know in the comments.

Quests – A to Z: Q

Q is for Quests. And for not having all that many Q-ey topics queued (whoa!) up to choose from. Just like the quite clichéd actor asks his director, “What’s my motivation?”, so the typically quirky fantasy hero quizzes his author, “What’s my quest?” If your hero doesn’t ask that question, why not?

(Incidentally, and completely off-topic for this post, I failed to publish anything yesterday, so this is my second post today after the one on Patrick Rothfuss. In my defense, it was a Good Friday family day and I just didn’t get around to it. Sue me. 😛 )

Quasi-quest-related image

Uhm, that’s the best quasi-quest-related image I could come up with. Plus, I love xkcd, and most people don’t even know what a quokka is. (Creative commons licensed image is embedded from xkcd.com.)

All quips aside, it’s not exactly a quantum leap forward to state that you, as the one in quontrol of your hero’s actions and quotes, should always be aware of what his inner quest is and how it drives him.

I sincerely hope the quantity of Qs in this high-quality post haven’t made you queasy or quiver while you quail in fear. They certainly haven’t quenched my quota of one quarter of a quadrillion quid that I’m aiming for. Sometimes, quantity beats quality (quod erat demonstrandum).

(For the attentive reader: Which above q was used inquorrectly?)

Patrick Rothfuss – A to Z: P

P is for Patrick Rothfuss, a fantasy author who has written two of my favourite books and is currently working on the third of the series (The Kingkiller Chronicle).

Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss (image from Wikimedia Commons)

He looks a little like a cross between a yeti and a hobbit, or maybe between Hagrid and a garden gnome, but I mean that in the nicest way. According to his about page, his breakthrough in his attempts to sell his manuscript came when he won a writing competition by submitting a chapter of his book. (See, even those seemingly dull short story competitions can be useful!)

Book 1 of The Kingkiller Chronicle was published in 2007 and is called The Name of the Wind. Book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear, followed in 2011. Although I only came across them relatively late (reading them in 2012/2013, both are excellent reads and I can highly recommend them.

One of the little things that nag me in his books is that Rothfuss is one of those people who believes that “a couple” should no longer be followed by “of”, as you sometimes hear in spoken (mainly American) English. To me, written English shouldn’t drop the “of” and every time I read something like “a couple minutes later…” or “… gave me a couple apples” the (to me) sloppy grammar rips me out of the story enough to “break my immersion”. There are a couple of other quirks and several errors (which I can never help but notice, whether I want to or not), but mainly Rothfuss writes very well, interspersing the narrative with the occasional use of great poetry, and creating some wonderfully memorable characters (how great is Auri? Or Elodin?) along the way. The great dialogue between the characters makes the story very believable within the context of the carefully crafted fantasy world, rich with its own history and legends. The magic in his books is one of the most well-thought-out I’ve ever come across, to the point that each of the “laws” governing it make immediate sense to the reader.

What I also really like (possibly because I’m attempting to do something similar in the manuscript I’m working on, maybe I’m biased there) is the use of a “story around the story”. In it, the main character, Kvothe, is recounting tales of his life to “The Chronicler”, who writes them down over the course of three days while staying in Kvothe’s inn. Kvothe, once famous (and indeed notorious), has settled in an out-of-the-way village and is only known there as “Kote”, not wishing to reveal his true identity. Each of the books covers one day of storytelling, and the reader is left to wonder at the discrepancy between the lively younger Kvothe and the older version who seemingly wants nothing to do with his own history.

In the “story within the story”, the characters tell more stories, making it a case of “stories within the story within the story”, if you’re still following me. (Reminds me a little of Inception, where you have a dream within a dream within a dream….) I think it’s a great way to give the reader a hint of things to come without spoiling it; that is, the reader still desperately wants to know what exactly happened to get Kvothe from his younger self to his older one. Fascinatingly, the switches between the “inner” and “outer” story (in “interlude” chapters) never broke my “sense of immersion” at all.

The blurb on the first book has to be one of the best I’ve ever seen – this is how to immediately give the reader picking up your book in a book store a sense that she is holding something epic, something special:

My name is Kvothe

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

With all the makings of one of the grand epic fantasy series of this century (I know it’s a bit early, but still), I am eagerly anticipating the release of the third and final book, The Doors of Stone.

Opera – A to Z: O

O is for Opera. No, not the music, I mean my favourite little web browser. (Yes, this is my one post in the A to Z Challenge that’s going to stray into the technical a teeny bit.) It’s usually included as one of the “top 5” browsers, but most don’t take it very seriously as it doesn’t have a very large market share in most countries (though it does have over 50% market share in Belarus, and quite high usage in many other eastern European countries).

Opera browser logo

Opera browser logo; image from Wikimedia Commons

I first tried it out back when it was “adware” (from version 5), that is, you had to put up with an ad banner across the top of the browser unless you paid to get rid of it. I am usually all for free software (I won’t buy an MS Office license if LibreOffice can do everything I need), but Opera impressed me so much that I actually paid the $30 and bought the ad-free version. I’d been using Netscape before that but got annoyed by its infamous resizing bug and didn’t want to switch to IE because of how it was tied to MS’s operating systems (I used both Windows and Linux at home, Opera was happy on either). From version 8.5 on, it was completely free, and adding amazingly useful features with every major and minor release.

Norwegian company Opera Software ASA pioneered many of the features we take for granted in most other browsers today. It worked great out-of-the-box for normal users, but the customisations and tweaks you could do as a power user were just incredible.

Sadly, in an effort to better compete with other browser makers, Opera in 2013 decided to discontinue development of its “Presto” rendering engine with all its wonderful customisation options at version 12.16, and instead switched to “Blink”, the fork of WebKit from the Chromium project to which Chrome also switched. To do this, all features had to be slowly added back to Opera with each new release, starting at 15 and at version 20 at the time of writing this post (yes, they switched to a pretty much meaningless numbering system like Chrome and Firefox).

I currently use both version 12.16 (Presto) and version 20 (Blink), along with some other browsers for testing (I’m a web developer by day).

Some of my favourite features that Opera (Presto) had:

  • Every piece of the layout, every button, every one of its many toolbars was customisable and skinnable. You could make Opera look and work just the way you preferred.
  • Opera innovated so much: tabbed browsing (still better in Opera Presto than any other browser), CSS support, standards support, mouse gestures (like finger gestures in your smartphone? Opera had them way earlier), mouse and keyboard customisations, pop-up blocking, deleting private data, smart download management, RSS support, torrent support, speed dial, page zoom, sessions, and many, many more features it would take too long to list.
  • Opera’s CIO, Håkon Wium Lie, was one of the inventors and pioneers of CSS, which has made the web so much better in ways not only web developers can understand.
  • Back when (download) size mattered (i.e. smaller was better, most people were on dialup speeds), Opera’s power was packed into a tiny package compared to other browsers.
  • Opera has always been lightning fast, driving the speed competition and ruling the world speed-wise by an enormous margin… until Chrome began to pull ahead in some areas.
  • Opera’s built-in email client had revolutionary features, like storing emails in a database and allowing you to search based on tags that you could apply to emails, rather than using a folder-based system like the other email clients. This feature has now been made common (one could argue standard) by gmail.
  • Incredible flexibility across operating systems, mobile platforms from the latest Android to the oldest Java-enabled phone, and other devices from TVs to game consoles (Wii and DS).
  • Dragonfly, a very versatile and feature-rich inspector and debugger that I prefer to similar tools like Chrome’s inspector or Firebug.
  • Back in the days when too many webmasters and web developers still thought they should sniff browsers instead of features (google that if it doesn’t make sense), Opera allowed you to hide or mask as another browser, changing the user agent string on the fly to prevent being treated like a third-class browser.
  • It worked amazingly well when you ran it from a USB stick (e.g. at work, where you weren’t always allowed to install programs of your choice).
  • … and many more reasons that would take too long to list.

Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention Opera’s Bork edition. Back when the browser wars were raging and Microsoft thought it could get away with anything because it had had over 95% market share and figured it didn’t need to do anything to upgrade or improve its aging browser that was the bane of every web developer’s existence, the MSN website had the gall to feed Opera (and only Opera) a stylesheet that made it look bad, as though it was unable to cleanly render the MSN site. Opera’s complaints went unheard, so Opera responded by creating a special edition of its version 7 browser called the Bork edition, from the Swedish chef in the Muppets who always said, “Bork bork bork bork.” It fixed the display issues on MSN.com, but, more importantly, also turned the text on that site into words that sounded like that Swedish chef were reading the articles. I wish I had a screenshot of that to share, it was absolutely hilarious and made tech news headlines around the world.

Oooh, one more, then I really have to stop. Chrome came out with a fancy film advertising how its incredible speed made Google’s browser faster than a bullet:

Opera’s tongue-in-cheek response? Their browser is faster than a… potato:

Slightly less technical, but way funnier! 😀

The Neverending Story – A to Z: N

N is for The Neverending Story, the timeless fantasy story by Michael Ende. It was first published in the original German in 1979 and later translated into over 30 languages. Part of the story (roughly the first half) was turned into a film; Ende actually sued the filmmakers for using the book’s name without adapting all of it, but lost the lawsuit. Two more films were made, but did not follow the book too closely, only using some of its characters and drastically changing story elements. I won’t go into the films here; as an aspiring writer, the book is of much more interest to me.

The Neverending Story - Cover

The Neverending Story – Cover of my German hardback copy (sorry, caught a bit too much flash)

One of the things that makes the book unique is the lengths Ende went to in order to have the book published the way he’d imagined it. I mentioned in my A to Z Challenge post on the topic of chapters the fancy artwork (by Roswitha Quadflieg) at the start of each of the 26 chapters, where an entire page is taken up by the drop cap for each letter in the alphabet from A to Z.

The Neverending Story - Chapter 1

The Neverending Story – Chapter 1 begins with the drop cap “A”

But wait, there’s more! This fantasy story is set in both our “real” world and “Fantastica” (the original German name “Phantásien” sounds much better to me, I don’t know why but can only guess that they couldn’t use “Phantasia” for copyright reasons), and, to emphasise when the story switches from one to the other, they are actually in different colours – red for the “normal” world, and blue-green for the world inside the book which the main character reads and into which he is drawn more and more as the story progresses.

The Neverending Story - Colours

The Neverending Story – Alternating colours help the reader differentiate the two worlds in which the story takes place

There is also fancy scrollwork at the top of each numbered page and there are fancy fonts for chapter titles, including within the chapter body.

The Neverending Story - Before Chapter 1

The Neverending Story – Fancy fonts just before the start of Chapter 1

At the very beginning of the prologue, there is a mirror image of the inscription of the glass door of the antiquity store in which the story begins.

The Neverending Story - Beginning

The Neverending Story – Beginning of the prologue with mirrored writing

In short, the book itself, even ignoring the content, is a minor work of art. The story was written with children in mind (although Ende complained that he was being pidgeon-holed as a “children’s book author” while many other books received less attention), but also contains many lessons for adults. Another one I’ve added to my growing “must re-read pile”.

Marvin the Paranoid Android – A to Z: M

M is for Marvin, the Paranoid Android. If you remember my post on Douglas Adams for the A to Z Challenge on “D”, I mentioned that Marvin was worth a separate blog entry. Marvin is one of the (if not the) best characters created by Douglas Adams. Whether he’s complaining of “this terrible pain” in the diodes down his left-hand side, explaining his view of the universe to a computer (which then goes off to commit suicide), or solving all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the universe (three times), he’s always ready with a cheerful comment.

Marvin the Paranoid Android

Marvin the Paranoid Android, from the 2005 film, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Based on a fellow comedy writer, Andrew Marshall, whom Adams met at Cambridge, as well as on himself, Marvin appears in various places throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. In the 2005 film, Alan Rickman voiced the character to perfection.

Here are just a few wonderful comments and snippets of Marvin’s joyful existence:

“It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”

“Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction?”

Marvin calculated to ten significant decimal places the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy.

[After being left in a parking lot for 500 million years due to time travel] “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million years, they were the worst, too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into sort of a decline.”

“You watch this door. It’s about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates.”

“Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I’m standing?”

“Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. Why stop now just when I’m hating it?”

“I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.” [Zem replies, “Er, five.”] “Wrong. You see?”

In a fit of boredom (after solving the universe’s problems several times over), he decides to compose a lullaby:

Now the world has gone to bed,
Darkness won’t engulf my head,
I can see in infrared,
How I hate the night.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
Try to count electric sheep,
Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
How I hate the night.

Another one of my favourites is from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Marvin is left behind (while the humans escape a tall building) to stop a “gigantic black tank”, heavily armoured and with weapons of enormous destructive power. When told that Marvin is there to stop it, the tank becomes suspicious and tries to figure out what mighty weapon Marvin is equipped with to make humans think he could stop the tank. After several wrong guesses, Marvin finally decides to tell the tank.

“You’re thinking along the wrong lines,” said Marvin. “You’re failing to take into account something fairly basic in the relationship between men and robots. […] Just think,” urged Marvin, “they left me, an ordinary, menial robot, to stop you, a gigantic heavy-duty battle machine, whilst they ran off to save themselves. What do you think they would leave me with? […] I’ll tell you what they gave me to protect myself with, shall I?”
“Yes, all right,” said the battle machine, bracing itself.
“Nothing,” said Marvin.
Nothing?” roared the battle machine.
“Nothing at all,” intoned Marvin dismally, “not an electronic sausage.”
The machine heaved about with fury.”
“Well, doesn’t that just take the biscuit!” it roared. “Nothing, eh? Just don’t think, do they?”
“And me,” said Marvin in a soft low voice, “with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.”
“Hell that makes me angry,” bellowed the machine, “think I’ll smash that wall down!”
The electron ram stabbed out another searing blaze of light and took out the wall next to the machine.
“How do you think I feel?” said Marvin bitterly.
“Just ran off and left you, did they?” the machine thundered.
“Yes,” said Marvin.
“I think I’ll shoot down their bloody ceiling as well!” raged the tank.
It took out the ceiling of the bridge.
“That’s very impressive,” murmured Marvin.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” promised the machine, “I can take out this floor too, no trouble!”
It took out the floor, too.
“Hell’s bells!” the machine roared as it plummeted fifteen storeys and smashed itself to bits on the ground below.
“What a depressingly stupid machine,” said Marvin and trudged away.

😀

Due to several cases of time travel, Marvin finally dies in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish at approximately 37 times the age of the universe. His last words are, “I think I feel good about it.”

R.I.P. (Rust In Pieces) Marvin.

In the original radio series, the character was meant to be a “minor joke”, but since they’d hired a voice actor for it, he “had to” write some occasional script for him. Another wonderful case of a writer’s characters taking on a life of their own.

Lord of the Rings – A to Z: L

L is for Lord of the Rings. Or for the Lighter Side of LotR. Since most readers would be well aware of what LotR is, and would have read the Tolkien books and/or watched the films (if not, why not?), you don’t need me to regurgitate that for you as part of the A to Z Challenge. Hence this post is more about fun stuff in and around LotR that you may or may not have come across somewhere on the web. If you’re such a die-hard fan that you can’t stand LotR being made fun of… don’t continue reading 😉

MTV Awards 2003

In case you didn’t catch the link in my earlier not-so-serious post on Hobbits (possibly due to Gollum interfering when I was trying to write the post… he’s good at that), here’s a hilarious video of Andy Serkis (Gollum’s voice) trying to accept the MTV Award for Best Virtual Performance in 2003, except… Gollum interferes and starts to mouth off at everyone, including Peter Jackson. This was one of the hidden easter eggs on the extended editions of the DVDs.

Council of Elrond, Jack Black style

Remember the scene where the Fellowship is first formed (“you have my bow”, “and my axe”, etc.)? Here’s a different version, another easter egg from the extended DVDs, also from the MTV awards. Contains, uhm, adult humour, and is also hilarious.

The Secret Diaries of LotR

These secret diaries must have been… uhm… cut out of the movies. Here’s a taste:

Day One:
Ringwraiths killed: 4. V. good.
Met up with Hobbits. Walked forty miles. Skinned a squirrel and ate it.
Still not King.

Day Four:
Stuck on mountain with Hobbits. Boromir really annoying.
Not King yet.

Day Six:
Orcs killed: none. Disappointing. Stubble update: I look rugged and manly. Yes!
Keep wanting to drop-kick Gimli. Holding myself back.
Still not King.

Day Ten:
Sorry no entries lately. V. dark in Mines of Moria. Big Balrog.
Not King today either.

Day Eleven:
Orcs killed: 7. V. good. Stubble update: Looking mangy.
Legolas may be hotter than me.
I wonder if he would like me if I was King?

Continue reading the full transcript, it gets more intricate as more characters are introduced and you realise how they’re all cleverly interlinked. (Actually, I just noticed that link doesn’t have the full transcript, but I forgot where the “original” was….)

LotR as a Badly-run D&D Bame

Now I have to admit I’ve never played pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons (a friend of mine used to play, apart from that most of what I know about it is from Big Bang Theory), but reading this fictitious script, I can imagine the scene perfectly. 😀

DM: Failed your climb check, huh? You slip and plummet.
PC1: Cool!
PC2: Cool? Dude, you’re falling to your death! Now we have to finish this stupid quest without your mage.
PC1 (ignoring PC2): Can I see my sword?
DM: Err… sure!
PC1: Okay, I want to fall down and grab my sword from mid-air.
PC2: What the hell? You dropped that like two rounds ago when you failed your balance check, then you wasted another round calling me a “fool” in character.
PC1: So?
PC2: You know how far something falls in three rounds?
PC1: Okay, I cast a Stilled Silent mage hand to bring it to me, and grab it.
PC2: A whated whated what? No frikkin’ wonder you didn’t have any damned knock spells prepared!
DM (ignoring PC2): Okay, you’ve got it! Glamdring slides into your hand. You see the balrog falling below you, twisting in mid-air, wings slowing his fall.
PC1: HAH! I knew he’d be coming back. Now I got ‘im right where I want him.
PC2: Dude, you’re crazy, you can’t fight a balrog all by yourself!
PC1: I got it covered. My dice are hot tonight, unlike Mr. Critically Fail Every Damned Stealth Roll over there.
PC3 (playing a certain hobbit): Hey!
PC1: Anyways, the balrog is toast. And the XP will be all mine! (rolls dice) Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Natural 20 to start the grapple!
PC3: Frik-dang-blasted high level wizards. “No, you start at 1st level.” What a crock . . .
PC1: A critical! I hang on to him and keep hitting him on the way down. Whack! (to PC2) This is going to be MY kill, baby. All those lovely, glorious XPs for a balrog, mine alone.
DM: (rolls a critical for the balrog that would kill PC1, panics, ignores dice) It missed you! Roll to hit again.
PC1: YEAH! You’re going down, servant of Melkor!
PC2: This is stupid. I’m going to go get some Mountain Dew.

(later)

PC2: Is this debacle over yet?
PC1: Almost, man. It’s really wounded, but I’m down to my last few hit points. We beat each other up swimming for a while, then climbed a bunch of stairs, and now we’re on the top of the mountain.
PC2: Oh, brother.
DM: It hit you again for… (roll dice, cheat on result) 5 points of damage.
PC2: 5 points! It’s supposed to be a balrog!
PC1: Shut up. I’m at negative 1. Can I take one last swing?
DM: Umm, sure.
PC1: Hit! And 8 points of damage! Hoody hoo!
DM: Wow – you killed it! It falls off the cliff – 7d6 points of falling damage.
PC2, sotto voce: winnnnggggsss…. it has wings!
DM: – and collapses on the mountain below you.
PC1: Yeah! In your face, balrog! I collapse back into the snow.
DM: Roll some stabilization checks.

(roll, roll)

DM: You failed them ALL?
PC2: Hah!
PC1 (miserable): Yeah.
DM: Hey, I know! You get all the balrog’s experience points, right? So that puts you up a level, giving you more hitpoints, and you don’t die!
PC1: YES! Hahaha.. I’m unstoppable. Mage with a sword, baby! Balrog-bane!
PC2: You guys suck. I’m going home.
PC1: I’m putting all my new skill points in animal empathy, ride, and disguise (evil wizard).

 

There’s more where that came from.

Know of any more spoofs or fun things about LotR or similar books/movies? Let me know in the comments, you can never laugh enough.

Karl May – A to Z: K

K is for Karl May (1842-1912), an author very well known in German-speaking countries, but probably rather unfamiliar to most in the English-speaking ones. He led a troubled life and was imprisoned for stealing several times. He worked as a teacher, a tutor, an editor in a publishing house, and a freelance writer before writing most of his works as a full-time author.

Karl May

Karl May (1842-1912) in 1907; image from Wikipedia Commons

Most of May’s famous books were adventures of his “alter egos”, set in faraway places (from the Orient to the Wild West of America to Mexico) which he’d never actually visited. His imagination was incredible, bringing these places to life in such a way that many of his readers believed that he was in fact writing about his own adventures. It is said that he himself had trouble distinguishing his writing from reality (though of course that could just have a “publicity stunt”, if such a thing existed in those days).

He wrote over 90 books (yes, ninety… although it’s hard to be certain, because he used many pseudonyms and some works were published from his notes only posthumously), several of which have been turned into films much later, and is amongst the most-read German authors in history. An estimated 200 million Karl May books have been printed, half in the original German and half as translations into various languages. His influence on German speakers, especially on their concept of American Indians, and his admirers range from Hitler to Einstein. The most popular books are probably his Winnetou series about the friendship between his alter ego, “Old Shatterhand”, and Winnetou, chief of the Apache tribe.

If anyone is to blame for turning me into a bookworm at an early age, it would have to be Karl May. I remember finding one of his books, Winnetou I, in the attic when I stayed with my German grandparents, and being hooked immediately. I still enjoy reading his old-fashioned flowery long sentences today (and they certainly help to keep my German from becoming too rusty).

Karl May's "Der Schut"

Cover of Karl May’s “Der Schut” (image slightly tweaked as it’s quite faded)

My particular favourite among the Karl May books I own is an old copy of Der Schut, Book 6 of the “Orient Cycle”, which was printed in an old German font. It always takes a while to get back into reading it (on of the types of “s” and the “f” are hard to distinguish at first), but after that, you hardly even notice it. There is no publication date, so I’m not even sure how old it is; it was first published in 1892 but I think my edition is from somewhere between WWI and WWII.

First page of Karl May's "Der Schut"

Beginning of Karl May’s “Der Schut” – as you can see it’s not in the best condition, but I love the old script.

His contribution to literature is celebrated even today, over 100 years after his death, in festivals and theme parks in and around his native Germany. If you ever feel up to some unusual reading, the English Kindle edition of Winnetou I is $0.95 on amazon. Probably quite “cheesy” for today’s market, but still a great read.

Do you have any old books (or newer editions of them) you’re very fond of? Let me know in the comments.

Jo Spurrier – A to Z: J

J is for Jo Spurrier. Jo has written an epic fantasy trilogy called Children of the Black Sun published by HarperVoyager, both as a paperback and on Kindle. Book 1 (published 2012) is called Winter Be My Shield, Book 2 (published 2013) is Black Sun Light My Way, and Book 3, North Star Guide Me Home, is due out later this month, on 22 April 2014 (at least the Kindle edition is, not sure about the paperback version – Amazon pages seem to be contradicting each other a bit there).

Winter Be My Shield cover

Cover of Jo Spurrier’s “Winter Be My Shield”, Book One of “Children of the Black Sun”

One of the main reasons I started to read it was that it was fantasy by an Australian author, and there aren’t that many well-known fantasy authors from down under. The endorsement from my favourite author, Robin Hobb, helped, of course. Jo had some unique ideas that I thought sounded very interesting. Here’s the blurb that sold it for me:

Original, dramatic and unputdownable,
Winter Be My Shield is the first in an epic fantasy
trilogy from brilliant new Australian talent Jo Spurrier.

Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift – she raises
power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the
king’s torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead
of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she
falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince
Cammarian and his crippled foster-brother, Isidro.

But Rasten is not the only enemy hunting them in
the frozen north and as Sierra’s new allies struggle
to identify friend from foe, Rasten approaches her
with a plan to kill the master they both abhor.
Sierra is forced to decide what price she is willing
to pay for her freedom and her life …

I found that the quality of the writing was excellent, the ideas as interesting as expected, the characters well-crafted with realistic flaws and ambitions, the dialogue felt natural, and the world in which the story takes place seems consistent, with its own set of laws making sense in the context of that world (although sometimes I found it a bit confusing to figure out where on the included map the action was taking place).

A few of the action scenes seemed a teeny bit stilted to me, but that didn’t detract from a good story. I’ve read the first two books and am looking forward to the third which should be out soon. If anyone is looking for a new fantasy series to sink their teeth into, I can definitely recommend this one.

With her debut novel, Winter Be My Shield, Jo Spurrier won the Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel in 2012. Visit her website, her page on amazon or her facebook page if you’re interested in more details.