Monday, November 28, 2022

My father and I have finished Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

My father and I have finished Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.

"Nine on the island, orphans all. Any more, the sky might fall." Somewhere between Faerie and fable, reality and mystery, lies a mist-wrapped island paradise where nine orphan children – and only children – dwell, the number maintained as every year a driver-less green boat brings a toddler and takes the Elder. But the island is wreathed with questions no less than mist, namely where do the toddlers, the Cares, come from and, just as importantly, where do the Elders go? Questions Jinny must wrestle with as her duty as the new Elder and the rules of the islands come into conflict with her innate curiosity and love of home. How would I describe this book? As a deeper, wiser successor to Lord of the Flies. A book which wraps justified curiosity around and yet against unexplained rules and magic, where love of home wars with fear of the unknown on a battlefield of mystery and responsibility.

Farewell Jinny, Ben, Joon, Oz, Eevie, Jak, Nat, Sam, and Ess.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Fire Emblem Heroes: Book VI Ending

A true Fire Emblem ending. There are no bridges that cannot be built between enemies, no war that cannot end in peace and friendship. Better yet, these friendships overpowered the gods themselves. Tis a joy seeing the Askr vs. Embla storyline end this way!


I have finished A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff

I have finished A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff, volume three of her Nine Realms series.

The Ninth enters the fray with Her Agent Spinner just as the Free States are on the verge of being just that again, though not without cost. Meanwhile, poetic irony stack up in Weirandale as friends and enemies attend a wedding. But, most importantly, the catamounts are purring.

"Though dusty sits the Nargis Throne
While tyrants befoul and bluster;
Though citizens do their yoke bemoan,
And the Fountain’s lost its luster:
Someday the drought shall be broken,
And the wondrous Waters course clean,
One dawn the words shall be spoken,
As the long-lost heir becomes queen."

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A quote or not a quote, that is the question

Any true fan of Fantasy is well aware of the quote "Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" Indeed, I have used it here on this mostly humble blog any number of times. Yet today I learned a frankly startling fact. That despite all one reads across the internet, even in such places as Goodreads, this quote was not said by J.R.R. Tolkien. Almost.

Almost? How can a person almost not say something? Did Tolkien say it nor not? Well, the answer is he both did and did not. Technically speaking, he did not. Here is the whole quote:

"The oldest argument against SF [Sci-Fi] is both the shallowest and the profoundest: the assertion that SF, like all fantasy, is escapist. This statement is shallow when made by the shallow. When an insurance broker tells you that SF doesn’t deal with the Real World, when a chemistry freshman informs you that Science has disproved Myth, when a censor suppresses a book because it doesn’t fit the canons of Socialist Realism, and so forth, that’s not criticism; it’s bigotry.  If it’s worth answering, the best answer is given by Tolkien, author, critic, and scholar. Yes, he said, fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the know-nothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can."

The writer is none than the late Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Earthsea Cycle and The Annals of the Western Shore (& the woman to whom I owe my own Cynnahu Saga), as part of her collection of essays published in 1979 entitled The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. So why is the quote credited to Tolkien, particularly since Le Guin is among the most respected Fantasy authors who ever lived? Well, as one can see, in the quote she is paraphrasing Tolkien, specifically his comments on escapism in his On Fairy-Stories essay (which I highly recommend):

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

In sum, despite Le Guin making it clear that she is paraphrasing Tolkien, the lion's share of the original quote is 99% of the time credited as a direct quotation from J.R.R.Tolkien – and with an exclamation point tacked onto the final sentence. So, is it a Tolkien quote? Almost. Technically he did not say it, but it is someone else directly paraphrasing something he did say (the quote of a paraphrasing of another quote, as it were) making it arguably more of a Tolkien quote than a Le Guin one insofar as the content goes. I am not going to split hairs here, but I think we can all agree that Le Guin clearly paraphrased Tolkien brilliantly seeing as 99% of the world believes it to be a literal, verbatim quote of his. Also, it is easier crediting it to Tolkien than writing the following:

"Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" – Ursula K. Le Guin paraphrasing J.R.R.Tolkien

(Side note: This is my 500th post on Stars Uncounted!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Quote of the month

"Honor is a wonderful thing, but it is a means, not an end. A man who starves with honor does not help his family, a king who falls on his sword with honor does not save his kingdom." - Prester John of Erkynland

Friday, November 11, 2022

My father and I just finished The Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty

My father and I just finished The Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty, book two of her Kingdoms and Empires Series.

Well, this was certainly a book. A sequel and prequel to book one, and yes I am quite aware that is SUPPOSED to be an oxymoron but, as with so many things, Jaclyn Moriarty bends the lines - and very nearly literally the Kingdoms and Empires themselves - in absolutely fascinating ways. Do not let the whimsical, sometimes downright childish tone of this book fool you, for not only it is complex in matters both magical and mundane, it also portrays quite compellingly the horrors of war from a point of view other than that of soldiers. That plus the class differences between the entitled wealthy and the orphaned poor, and how these barriers were overcome by a group highly...eh... eclectic children. A goodhearted idiot, twins always readings newspapers, an mean-spirited prig, a girl who wants to fly, a boy who rides laundry shoots on his birthday, and a girl who cannot abide violins. Oh, and a pair of future children who have hopefully learned to respect linear causality.

I would say goodbye save for the fact that I am quite certain I will see ye Children of Spindrift in the next books.

(By the way, Jaclyn Moriarty obviously had WAY TO MUCH FUN writing this book. A book and series that continues to channel the spirit of the great Diana Wynne Jones.)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

I once again finished playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Crimson Flower & Cindered Shadows)

Garreg Mach Monastery
I once again finished playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

As before, I played Edelgard's Crimson Flower route, for, as I explained upon first finishing the game (see the above link), I deem Crimson Flower as the canon Three Houses ending. Making it an honor to once again fight for and attain the world envision by Edelgard von Hresvelg alongside the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force. Indeed, I know all players of Three Houses will agree that the game is special because of its amazing cast of characters, our students at the Officers Academy, who become cherished friends. This could be said of most any Fire Emblem game of course, but replaying Three Houses made me realize that Garreg Mach Monastery almost feels like a second home. Its grand vistas, the library, the side-by-side lake and greenhouse where one can garden and fish, the student dormitories where social classes mean less, the Training Grounds where knights and students alike come to hone their combat skills and hold a monthly tournament. The marketplace by the front gates where merchants (like Anna) gather which leads to the Entrance Hall, the Reception Hall on the first floor of the main building where social events such as the Ball during the Ethereal Moon are held, and of course the Dining Hall where I enjoyed many a meal with my students.

Like I said, one comes to know and care for Garreg Mach and all who dwell therein; a gaming Hogwarts, as it were. Yet, like Hogwarts, Garreg Mach has many deep places, secret passages, and hidden lore. Which brings me to the question of why I chose to replay Three Houses, the first video game I have ever done so. The answer? To discover one of its deepest secrets. Abyss.

“We're the secret fourth house in Abyss. The surface world turned its back on us, and we did the same in return.” – Balthus

Yes, I replayed Three Houses in order to play its Cindered Shadows route for the first time and see how the incorporation of the Ashen Wolves House into the Black Eagles would change the story and battles. That, and makes new friends in Yuri, Constance, Hapi, and Balthus of the Ashen Wolves along with the rest of the Abyssians who dwell beneath Garreg Mach. And in meeting them, in exploring this safe haven for those who have been shunned by the people on the surface of Fódlan, I saw further evidence of the crimes of the Church of Seiros.

Hence it was a joy not only to get to know the Ashen Wolves, but also felt right to have them join Edelgard in her quest to destroy that which which had confined them. The Black Eagles and Ashen Wolves together building a world where none need ever again hide from the sun because they know too much, were a failed pawn, or have abilities that "threaten stability". A place where a Shadow Library of banned books need not exist underground.

In short, I loved the Cindered Shadows route... yet not only for the aforesaid reasons. I said on first finishing Three Houses that battles themselves were "a tad lacking due to the ability to turn back the hands of time and seeing where each individual foe will strike next; meaning it was less challenging, despite the fact that it was the first FE game I played on Hard Mode." This still holds true for game as a whole since, on replaying it, I found even the few battles I judged truly hard the first time to be far easier – though this might, I admit, be more than partly owed to having the Ashen Wolves in the army. Constance and Hapi are mages of devastating power and mobility, while Yuri is a sword artist equal to Felix and a healer (and thief) besides. However, Cindered Shadows was a true tactical challenge on the level I expect of and love about Fire Emblem, with a storyline that kept me on the edge of the couch.

But all things come to and end, even replayed games with a new side-story added. Fódlan is united and free from an antiquated class system under Edelgard's meritocracy, those who slither in the dark are dead, and I am feeling both happy and wistful as I shall miss my friends both old and new, Garreg Mach and Abyss. (I also think Abyss and the Ashen Wolves had greater story potential than they were used for, but I can say nothing on that without revealing spoilers.)

Peace and prosperity to you, Edelgard & Byleth, Hubert & Bernadetta, Ingrid & Felix, Petra & Linhardt, Ferdinand & Dorothea, Yuri & Constance, Caspar, Hapi, Leonie, Jeralt, Ashe, Hanneman, Alois, Manuela, Ignatz, Lysithea, Shamir, Gilbert, Annette, and Claude. To those who died, good people and former students blinded by the enemy's deception, may Sothis guide your souls. (I regret to say that I did not save as many lives this round as I had hoped, but I did save a couple who perished before.)