Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day One: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

It's difficult to put a reaction to this novel into words, so I suppose I will start at the beginning.

Patrick Rothfuss, according to wikipedia, was born in Madison, Wisconsin and received an MA at Washington State University in 1999. He took his sweet time with Name of the Wind, his debut novel, and won the Writers of the Future short story contest in 2002 with an excerpt from it. It was published in April of 2007 and the sequel, Day Two: The Wise Man's Fear, was published March of last year.

I first heard about this book from my Dad. As one half of my only beta readers (the other being, of course, my mom) he picked it up and immediately told me how much I needed to read it. My avid love of fantasy is something I largely attribute to my parents: when Harry Potter appeared on the scene my mom took it upon herself to read me the first book as a bedtime story and my dad, not one to hesitate, started reading The Hobbit with me at the same time. From there we moved on to The Lord of the Rings and it was all over. That said, I cannot stress how much he knew I needed to read The Name of the Wind. I groused and put it off and did a year of college, insisting that something that good would have to wait until I could read it nonstop. That much was true, but I'm still kicking myself under the table for waiting.

The Name of the Wind is the best book I've read in a year. More. I was ensnared by The Graveyard Book and Child Thief, but this one took hold and didn't let go. It took me probably a full week to burn through its seven-hundred plus pages and now:

Excepting, of course, that this one has a sequel.

The Name of the Wind features a complete world with well-thought out concepts and is populated by theologies, philosophies, and several languages. It has two differing and conflicting versions of a creation myth. It has established rules. It makes statements about social class and stigma. It is populated by rich, captivating characters who are nothing if not convincing.

But I think the thing that kept me reading the most is that Rothfuss carefully cultivates a sense of urgency in every aspect of this story. In the "present" strain which bookends (and interrupts!) the novel, there is an urgency in the mystery of how legendary Kvothe came to be reduced to unassuming (and potentially depressed) Kote, and an urgency in why his apprentice is so desperately attached to his old self. In the "past" strain of the story every single plot is motivated by a sense of fleeting urgency: Kvothe spends most of the novel hideously destitute, which makes everything more valuable and he willing to go to greater lengths to get the money necessary to continue his education; The Woman (as he calls her) is often described as wild and he is never certain of when he will see her again; the one thing he desperately wants to know the most about is largely considered a faerie-story by others and thus will get him branded as insane or childish if he pursues it.

A device which helps along this sense of urgency is that Kvothe is telling the story himself, so he often drops hints about the future and how the story will unfold and then takes his dear sweet time in getting to them or simply leaves it at "but that, as they say, is a story for another time." These sleeper-cliffhangers are sudden and can happen at pretty much any time; as a reader I personally was spurred onward, looking for the loose ends. The end of the book is one of these sleeper-cliffhangers, and it's possibly the most powerful line in the whole novel because it happens twice, once in the prologue, and once in the last chapter. When it appears in the prologue, there's no context with which to put it in place, it's just an intriguing hook. When it appears at the end, it turns into one of those lines that make you either want to huck the book across the room or try and find a bookstore open at midnight.

Another thing which deserves mentioning is Rothfuss' attention to female characters. He makes a point of the fact that women students are rare in the environment in which Kvothe is studying, but he goes to great effort to put several of them in very significant positions in the story. Each of them are unique, memorable, and each of them has a different kind of strength. For example, Mola is a distant upperclasswoman studying in the Medica who is analytical and efficient. Fela is a student who works in the Fishery (read: campus workshop) and is able to sell her products for profit. Devi is a former student and moneylender who doesn't take no for an answer. Denna is fiercely independent and more than once insists on not being "beholden" to anyone: in a word, she does what she wants. I think fantasy and sci-fi novels, especially epics, have a general tendency to lack strong female characters and The Name of the Wind breaks that stereotype wonderfully.

Coming up next is The Wise Man's Fear. I'm sure it'll be just as good as book one.
Cheers, and good-night.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

English 311: Afrofuturisms Reading List

For those of you who don't know what Afrofuturisms means, the simple version is African American science fiction. The more complete version includes such factors as reflections of slave narratives and discrimination, in either a bleak dystopian format or, conversely, through imagining a better future to make up for the loss of cultural history and identity through eutopia.

In other words: awesome wrapped up in intensity.

Here's our reading list:

Imperium in Imperio by Sutton E. Griggs, 1899

There were a lot of people in my class who contested the Sci-fi (SF) classification of this novel, but it's about what the title says it's about: an empire within an empire, a government within a government, and it's an imagined eutopia, as my teacher defended it. (My own opinions on SF and genre boundaries in general make me inclined to agree, but more on that later or never.) One of the drier texts, it's about two boys who both go on to become great orators, each championing the same cause, racial equality in the United States, in very different ways. The society itself doesn't feature much in the story until towards the end. Not highly recommended, but interesting. 

Of One Blood, by Pauline Hopkins, 1902-1905

Published serially in the Colored American's Magazine, one of the first publications written by and for the emergent black bourgeoisie in America, Of One Blood is a story which relies on the familiar, but appropriated, constructions of Romantic mysticism blended with the sciences and the explorer/colonization trope. Interesting, sometimes confusing, but first and foremost to put forward an important agenda for the time in which it was written: that the human race is, quite literally, all of one blood. More recommended than Imperium, but still not a must-read.

Black Empire, by George S. Schuyler, 1936-1938

Also published serially and actually consisting of two novels, The Black Internationale and Black Empire, Schuyler satirizes the ideas of how to achieve racial equality contemporary with his time, mostly through the use of a evil genius and lots and lots of money. A reimagined future, though I'm still not clear on whether it's supposed to be a dystopia or a eutopia. Pretty darn good, if taken with a touch of dark humor.

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany, 1968

Nova was, by far, my favorite thing we read. A space-opera set in the thirty-second century, it's a race to the edges of the then-known universe to find a dying star in order to plunge into it, with plenty of economic and societal commentary and intrigue on the side. An absolutely enjoyable trip.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, 1993

Parable was my second-favorite read of the quarter, despite its being bleak, dark, and triggering. At first it felt a little like the only thing between life currently and the universe of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with a dash of P.D. James' Children of Men thrown in. Luckily it turns out slightly less bleak than the former, though not by much. Good, interesting read with a strong female lead.

Cheers, everybody.

Three-Movie Weekend

From the archive of unfinished posts:

The Wrath of the Titans, directed by Jonathon Liebesman and starring Sam Worthington, was, I think, actually better than its predecessor. Clash of the Titans was decent, in a b-movie kind of way, but it had one problem: it tried to tell the story of a classic myth and failed to do so. Wrath broke with every mythic convention I can name, and was better for it. Because it hardly acknowledged myth, it didn't really have expectations to fill. I'd watch it again.

The Raven was shockingly well done. When I first saw the trailer, all I could think about was how badly this movie wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, but it turned out to be more than that. Cusack played a shockingly convincing Poe, the circumstances/traps were appropriately squirm-worthy and awful, and the mystery was downright decent. I would be willing to own this movie.

The thing you've got to understand is that The Three Musketeers is ridiculous, hands down. The Musketeers are primarily in tight leather, one of them is practically a ninja, they uncover DaVinci plans for steampunk airships and build them, and Orlando Bloom has a pompadour. In summation? It's awesome. One for all and all for one!



Ridley Scott's latest Sci-fi/Horror/Survival flick, starring Noomi Rapace as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, an...interesting...prequel to the Aliens series.

I am beginning to hatch a theory that the more special effects Ridley Scott - who brought us such titles as Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and the Alien franchise (1979-present) - has access to, the grosser his films are bound to get. Primarily, I regret to say, Prometheus was gross.

Yes, the effects were praiseworthy. Yes, I enjoyed all of the design. Yes, I appreciated the multiracial cast of characters. Yes, the script had great Alien-esque moments. Yes, the performances of the actors were stunning. However, my first and foremost gut reaction is that this film was disgusting. It was like Scott sat down with the design and animation team and said "I want this to be as gritty, organic, nasty, and invasive as you can possibly make it without our audiences physically barfing, okay?" Because that's about how I would describe the pale, writhing-in-black-goo penile snakey Elder God facesuckers that the film's progenitors of the human race created.

Not to say that it wasn't realistic in the sense that if one was actually on an alien planet going up against bio-engineered creatures of mass destruction, that's probably what it would be like, so props in that direction, but seeing it in movie-theater high-definition, that's something else entirely.

That being said, the stars of the show were Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron, for their performances. Fassbender played a spookily accurate android, Theron was appropriately blunt, no-nonsense and corporate, and, most importantly, Rapace more than carried the strong main female role. I don't know if anyone could quite pass Sigourney Weaver's Ripley (flamethrower, anyone?), but Rapace did a heck of a job.

In short? I'd recommend seeing it at least once. It's a good concept and well-executed to boot, but bring your brown paper bags. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Samuel R. Delany's Nova and The Civil Wars

I've been listening to The Civil Wars' single, Barton Hollow, a lot lately. It's got great rhythms, an intruiging story, and let's face it, the vocals are superb:

Now, I've been reading Nova by Samuel R. Delany for my Afrofuturisms class (it's AWESOME). In it, there's this character, the Mouse. He's a Romani, a wanderer, and a musician. He plays something called a sensory-syrynx, an instrument which, when played by a skilled musician, can create visual images and smells as well as sounds. Mouse is intriguing over all, and something about his, and the whole, story linked up to this song for me. Maybe it's because I have a fondness for space westerns (Firefly, anyone?) or maybe it's just the thematic link of being unable to return to a place, of being a drifter (and maybe a little outside of the law). Anyway, here's the Mouse and the syrynx. He wouldn't leave me alone, so I drew him.

Sorry about the looks like the Pleiades Federation is out looking for him. Also, shading is hard :P

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

thoughts on the film, Catching FireMockingjay, and the phenomenon in general.

For those of you who read my last post about The Hunger Games, if you were enraged by my flippancy, now you will receive justice. However, let's take things one at a time.

Item One: The Film

I had the uncanny good fortune of being able to see The Hunger Games movie at Cinetopia. Sadly the livingroom theatre was sold out for that day, but any of the auditoriums are preferable to the cramped and scummy stadium seats of your typical moviehouse. I could therefore cite the quality of the picture, the hugeness of the sound, but when it came down to it, The Hunger Games is, quite simply, a good movie.

First of all, the cast was excellent. All of the principles were aptly chosen. Jennifer Lawrence, by now a veteran huntress with Winter's Bone behind her, was Katniss Everdeen through and through. She was serious, intense, and internal - just like her counterpart Katniss from the book. Josh Hutcherson  as Peeta Mellark was likewise perfect. His expertise was in his delivery, expressions...pretty much in everything. We didn't see much of Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, other than him brooding, so he's had yet to impress me. I guess that he's Thor's little brother has to count for something, though. Lenny Kravitz was the perfect Cinna, and, fun fact, it helped that he and Jennifer Lawrence were already friends, seeing as she worked with his daughter on X-Men: First Class. Wes Bentley cut an excellent Seneca Crane, Elizabeth Banks was the spitting image of Effie Trinket, and Donald Sutherland was an aptly venomous President Snow.

But the brilliance wasn't just in the cast. The cinematography of this film also exceeded my expectations. The scene which comes to mind is when Katniss and Peeta, having been chosen as tributes, stumble onto the train headed for the capitol. Something about the looks on their faces combined with the way the camera moved to show the opulence of the train car highlighted the pointlessness of that opulence, of how very wrong it was to plunge these two children into so many changes and in such a succession.

Likewise, the score is brilliant. Written by James Newton Howard, the orchestrated moments in the movie are potentially the most powerful. Then again, with most of M. Night Shamalan's films under his belt, I'm not surprised. (Whatever you think of Mr. M. Night Shamalamadingdong, as he is sometimes called around here, you have to admit that his movies are beautifully scored.)

In all, I went to this film with a bit of an attitude. Was I ever wrong. Hindsight 20/20 all around with this series.

For more information on the film, visit the official movie page and IMDb.

Item Two: Catching Fire

The strange thing about this series for me is that I stopped dead in the middle. After finishing The Hunger Games I downloaded book two, Catching Fire, for the kindle and began reading immediately. Sadly, I couldn't quite finish two books in a day, and I had to depart for my dearly beloved college town the next. I stopped directly in the middle. After that I couldn't quite find the will to keep reading.

And then I watched the movie.

Seeing it on the screen brought the story back to life for me, which is saying something. (I don't want to give the plot of the second book away entirely, but the first half seems a little innocuous in comparison to the end of the first book: it has its own merits, of course, but it's hard to keep up something as engaging as the conclusion to the 74th annual Hunger Games.) After watching Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss live through that arena, I had to know more. I had to know what happened, and I stayed up way too late finishing book two and most of book three.

The plot twist in book two also impressed me. At first glance I thought it was something that even Suzanne Collins could pull off with little success, but she made it work for her. The Quarter Quell was very different than the year which preceded it, and I salute her for making it work.

Item Three: Mockingjay

The thing about Mockingjay is that I have heard more complaints about it than with the other two books combined. I'm not sure what it is that makes some Hunger Games fans unhappy about this third and final volume, because I honestly thought it was brilliant. The discontent could stem from the fact that it comes off as much more real, and therefore much more hopeless, than the other two books, but something in that appealed to me as a reader.

***Not even going to try to be non-spoilery in the next part, fair warning***

Mockingjay has a lot to say about the dynamics of revolution. That the story depends so wholly on Katniss as a figurehead, and a televised one at that, speaks a lot to the concept of the funded cause. The only way that the revolution in Panem could have kept going was by the aid of Capitol money and therefore Capitol sedition: it is only the causes picked by members of the dominant regime which get the backing and the momentum to continue and, ultimately, succeed. That, I think, is some serious food for thought.

In Other News...

The Hunger Games as a phenomenon has exploded. Hot Topic is carrying Hunger Games memorabilia, including the Mockingjay pin, there's a game for the iPhone called Hunger Games: Girl on Fire, there is a facebook page devoted to becoming a Capitol citizen where you can get a free physical Panem ID card, and there's a Hunger Games adventure game, also on facebook. There are t-shirts, journals, several spoofs, even a book of philosophy. The Hunger Games is the next big thing, just like I thought it would be when I initially felt resistance to the growing fad. Only this time, I think I'm okay with a little bit of fanaticism.

Later today I will be attending a lecture on the fashion of the capitol and what it has to say, socially and politically, and how these choices control the people of the capitol. For a blog on that, please see Hyperbole's sister blog: tangential!

If you're interested in how Philosophy relates to all this, please consider Amazon. After all, the lecturer I'm hearing is published in this book. Cheers!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The AFK Tavern

I recently had the great fortune to visit the AFK Tavern in Everett, WA.

The menu, like everything else, was delightfully geeky. For victuals I ordered something called the Mt. Doom burger - a beef patty topped with the one onion ring to rule them all followed by the hottest hot sauce I think I have ever consumed. Though my mouth was burning with the fires of a thousand ages, the upside is that I can say I've eaten a volcano in my lifetime.

The drinks menu was, likewise, full of mishaps. While my friend threw back her Gryffindor shot and sipped on a Previously, on Battlestar Galactica... I ordered nothing but Zelda drinks.

#1 - Lon-Lon Milk
If you aren't singing Epona's song in your head right now, there's something wrong.

Rich, creamy and with a hint of nuttiness, Lon-Lon Milk goes all out with a float of whipped cream to t
op it off!

Hearts: full. Sword: charged. It's game time.

Made with Frangelico, American Honey, and Half and Half.

#2 - The Triforce
Make a wish, you're in the Sacred Realm.

Intense but with a light hint of smoky haziness when going down. Pure gold.

Goldschlager, Vanilla Vodka, and Dark Rum.

#3 - Gerudo Valley Tea

For which there is no photo :(

Smokey with a hint of sour and rimmed with sugar, evokes long treks across the wastes and getting thrown in jail by sexy thieves.

Made with Firefly tea and Bulliet Bourbon.

In short: totally awesome. I'll be going back.