Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Eve

As 2019 rolls away I think it is only fitting to look back on this year's accomplishments:
  • Six books of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series (The Great Hunt through The Crown of Swords).
  •  Winter Rose and its sequel Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip
  •  Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
  •  Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman
  • The Grey King and Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
  • The Revenge of Samuel Stokes by Penelope Lively
  • Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
  • Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip
(I guess I was wrong last year about my reading The Wheel of Time shortening the New Year's Eve list. Still, the real question is next year as Dad and I are basically out of McKillip books.)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

I have just started The Path of Daggers

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started The Path of Daggers, Volume #8 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
At last the Borderlands stir, those who know Trollocs as more than myth and fight the Shadow at every turn. Yet suspicion is rife on the winds and the Dragon Reborn must prove himself to those bound together by ties of blood and battle and oaths stronger than Power-made steel. Furthermore, Verin Mathwin continues to very quietly prove herself to be what I always thought, one of the most dangerous Aes Sedai alive. Yet as the returned Seachan say, "on the heights, all paths are paved with daggers." As the Prophecies of the Dragon say, "Master of the lightnings, rider on the storm, wearer of a crown of swords, spinner out of fate. Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time, may learn the truth too late."

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

I have just finished A Crown of Swords,

Tai'shar Mandragoran and al'Meara
The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished A Crown of Swords, Volume #7 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I am now halfway through the series.
So it is that the Golden Bees have fallen to and as the Dragon Reborn freed them from the Destroyer of Hope, and in gratitude for a kindness forgotten adored his head with laurels. So it is that, per the Jendai Prophecies, he is acknowledged Coramoor by a Atha'an Miere Wavemistress as the Servants of All serve him well. Meanwhile, the One Man rescues and is bound to his dear one, the true Flame of Tar Valon makes progress within her own ranks, and the Bowl of the Winds is found amid dust, blood, and rising friendships. Just in time for the others from beyond the Aryth Ocean to return with chains as new figures emerge from the Shadow.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sometimes we just need good music

The title says it all. While nothing can take one to another world and fire the imagination like a book can, music stirs the cauldron of our soul no less (which why it is such an integral element of the Fantasy genre), and this musical/magical journey is one I never tire of tacking.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

My father and I just finished Wonders of the Invisible World

My father and I just finished Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip, the second of her three books of short stories.
At this point there is little more I can say about just how good McKillip is, but this book taught us that she is far more flexible regarding her writing style than we have long thought.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Boy Who Drew Cats

Magic: the Gathering's Throne of Eldraine set has reawaked in me an interest in fairy tales; and no, I am not ashamed about in the slightest because, to quote C.S. Lewis, "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." Not that I am fifty nor was ever really embarrassed at ten, but one gets the idea. Anyway, I am going to start posting about the odd, lesser-known fairy tales as well as all else, with a particular focus on those whose themes and/or titles remind one of commonly known ones. 

To begin, we all grow up hearing about the The Boy Who Cried Wolf. But what about The Boy Who Drew Cats? A Japanese fairy tale, the story is as such:

A farmer has many children, who are all hard-working, except for his youngest, who is small and weak and only interested in drawing pictures of cats. He decides his son is not cut out to be a farmer, and sends him to a temple to study with a priest. The boy spends all his time drawing cats instead of studying. The priest tells him he's better suited to being an artist and should return home. As he sends him on his way, the priest warns the boy: "Avoid large places at night. Keep to the small."  

Ashamed of being dismissed, the boy decides not to return to his father's farm. Instead, he travels to another temple in the hopes he can ask for a night's shelter, not realizing all the priests living there have long-ago been driven away by a giant goblin-rat. When the boy arrives, he finds the place deserted and decides to draw cats on the walls. As he begins to feel tired, he remembers the old priest's words and climbs inside a little cabinet to go to sleep.  During the night he hears horrible sounds of screaming and fighting. 

When morning comes and he finally climbs out, he discovers the corpse of the goblin-rat. As he wonders what could have killed it, he notices that all his cats now have blood on their mouths. He is hailed as a hero for defeating the monster, and grows up to be a famous artist - one who only draws cats.

This is just a summary of course, yet one of what I deem to be a charming story. A fairy tale whose lesson is no less clear than that of the justly famed The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A lesson which, I think, is captured by a quote from Sir Philip Pullman: "You have to go with the grain of your talent, not against it. If your talent is inert and sullen in the face of business or politics...but takes fire at the thought of ghosts and vampires and witches and demons then feed the flames, feed the flames." In this case the boy's talent took flame at cats and the priest in the story was right; the boy was meant to be an artist and that skill served him well (albeit in an initially atypical manner). As mythologist Joseph Campbell says, "follow your bliss," which is a lesson everyone should take to heart.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

My father and I just started Wonders of the Invisible World

My father and I just started Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip, the second of her three books of short stories.
Thus do we dive into the worlds of the Fae, ancient yet ever-present as the oldest trees and tales told under them since the birth of language. Old as the things that wandered the enchanted forests when history was one with legend and magic with mundane.

Monday, November 11, 2019

BBC's His Dark Materials is here

BBC's TV adaption of Sir Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is here, with Episode 1 already shown and number two en route. Sadly I have not seen it as I have little free time of late and must reserve what I have for more essential activities such as reading and breathing. That been said, Pullman is fond of it and that is endorsement enough for me. (Yes, I have been rather critical of him of late, but His Dark Materials remains one of my favorite books, and if an author is satisfied with the TV/movie version of their book then it is usually faithful enough top pass muster with lifelong fans.)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip, the first of her three books of short stories.
Ah, what glorious adventures in uncharted realms we have seen! The ancient glittering wonder of the Ice Dragon that is the heart of Hoarsbreath Island, the music that is the legend and power of the Bards of Onon, the Lady of Skulls whose plants grow from the skulls of those who failed see the treasure in her tower, the trials of the Fellowship of the Dragon, and the layers of enchantments that break before the love of the Lion and Lark! McKillip has not lost her skill, as words and time bow before her as does the grass before the mighty wind of the storm.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Force vs. the Federation

Ever do people make comparisons between the ships and technologies of Star Trek and Star Wars, yet I now make a different comparison – one which explains why I prefer the former over the latter. I can hear you saying: "What? But Star Trek is pure sci-fi, which you avoid almost as rule, while Star Wars is almost a Fantasy in space given the never ending battle between the Jedi and the dark side of the Force." 
A very good point, and I do like Star Wars very much as it is an exemplary tale, a true coming of age story and hero's journey complete with brilliantly complex characters both good and evil. Even mythologist Joseph Campbell acknowledged it as such; indeed, George Lucas credited Campbell's work as influencing his own. Who could forget the revelations and inner conflicts regarding and within Anakin and Luke Skywalker? The wisdom of their mutual mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (who are cultural icons on and above the level of most characters in literature, on par with Gandalf and Dumbledore)? Han Solo wrestling with self-identification, caught between his roguish past and his relationship with Luke and Princess Leia? As said, a stellar tale by all definitions and, better yet, the Force brings a spiritual element seldom seen in Sci-Fi and on a level rare even in many Fantasies. It is no secret that Masters Kenobi and Yoda (and the Jedi in general) are based off the ancient Samurai and their Zen spiritualism.
Which again begs the question, why do I prefer Trek to Wars. The answer is in their names, added by a famous quote from one Ben Kenobi: "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire." In short, and as of the pitiful Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars amounts to a near-pessimistic tale as the Jedi are always on the verge of being wiped out by the dark side. All the wisdom and power of people like Yoda and Luke amounting to just barely enough to keep hope for better future alive while the Sith terrorize the Galaxy. Not exactly a cheerful, nor hopeful, story.

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, however, is a different kettle of fish. Purely Sci-Fi and set in our own future and Galaxy rather than a long time ago in one far far away, it is not about war but rather exploration. About searching out the wonders of the universe even while trying to prevent interstellar wars and other similar catastrophes. About showing what humanity might develop into if it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence; an ideal epitomized in the United Federation of Planets that, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk, is "a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars." A reality that, unlike the Jedi Order, is not constantly on the verge of total collapse. 
This may sound simple, and it is, yet this is the key as to why I prefer Trek over Wars. Not only does Trek offer greater variety, as is natural being a TV series as opposed to movies, it explores themes Wars never touches. Lieutenant Commander Data is not beloved for his superhuman abilities that come with being an android so much as because he is Pinocchio: totally benign and desiring nothing so much as understand humanity, to be human. As Captain Picard once said of him, "In his quest to be more like us, he helped us to see what it means to be Human... his wonder, his curiosity about every facet of Human nature, allowed all of us to see the best parts of ourselves. He evolved, he embraced change because he always wanted to be better than he was." Frankly I could keep going, not just about Data but about basically everyone, and not just Next Generation but Deep Space Nine and Voyager too. So I will be brief and just add that wise sages are not lacking even if Jedi-style spiritualism is, as wisdom is often just a solid and true moral compass built of deep compassion and practical experience. As to mysticism, characters like Guinan fill that need quite nicely.

In final ending, while Star Wars may have more Tolkienesque elements, Star Trek truly follows the Spirit of Tolkien because it not only embraces, but empowers and delivers on hopes for betterment on an interpersonal as well as intergalactic scale. In Star Trek, the most powerful, most thought-provoking, most memorable moments often have nothing to do with war and, when it does, it is trying to prevent one from starting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I have just started A Crown of Swords

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started A Crown of Swords, Volume #7 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
As stated in the Karaethon Cycle: "There can be no health in us, nor any good thing grow, for the land is one with the Dragon Reborn, and he is one with the land. Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield. He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very skies to bow. Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love." Something I was already praying for, frankly and, in the meantime, a Red Foretelling (likely) misinterpreted promises an end to the fracturing of the Flame, but a divide between it and Rand. Hard to fear foes whose egos impede their wits, yet much blood will be shed before order supplants chaos. (In other note, rumor says that this series' glacial pace begins in this book. We shall soon see.)    

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

I have just finished Lord of Chaos

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished Lord of Chaos, Volume #6 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
As foretold by Min, the Wolf saved the Dragon Reborn from a black fate. As foretold by the Prophesies, "the unstained tower breaks and bends knee to the forgotten sign." Yet chaos truly rules as the world breaks further despite efforts to unite it as plans go awry and misunderstandings grow to entrenched hatreds. Yet amid ruin the Asha'man now stand, the One Man returns, and a new Flame of Tar Valon shines and rises to hopefully displace a Red. Yet amid victories the Forsaken stir, as do others from beyond the Aryth Ocean.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wisdom Quotes

Often have I said that wisdom is the bright core of the High Fantasy, a healthy mix of optimism regarding and faith in the human spirit coupled with a solid practicality which recognizes that all is never well with the world; that cruelty and downright evil do exist and do their worst more often then we may like. I call this the Spirit of Tolkien, who of course phrased this philosophy best: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
That being said, though, I thought it might be nice to share some quotes from other sources. Quotes which espouse this wisdom in their own way.

"One of the biggest ways people get caught up with listening is when they hear something they don't agree with. Our gut response is to think, "Well that's wrong" and stop listening. The key to listening is not agreeing with what the other person is saying, but rather understanding why they feel the way they do. Part of listening is going deeper into the understanding of what they're feeling." - Mark Rosewater

"Sing yourself to where the singing comes from." - Seamus Heaney

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love." - Washington Irving

"When you choose the fight you must take the consequences, win or lose."
- Bain of Black Rock sept of the Shaarad Aiel

"Duty is heavy as a mountain, death is light as a feather."- Robert Jordan

"You can waste a perfectly good life trying to meet the standards of someone who thinks you’re not good enough because they can’t understand who you are." - Barbara Sher

"The hope is always here, always alive, but only your fierce caring can fan it into a fire to warm the world." - Merriman Lyon

"The only way was forward, whatever lay at the end." - Robert Jordan

"If you're really listening, if you're awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly. In fact, your heart is made to break; its purpose is to burst open again and again so that it can hold evermore wonders." - Andrew Harvey

"Do you understand that you must always fail, as long as your goal is not truth, but guidance? That as long as you seek dragons around you, you will never become the dragon within you?" - Sarkhan Vol

Friday, October 4, 2019

My father and I just started Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just started Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip, the first of her three books of short stories.
Of course with McKillip "short" is a relative term as each sentence feels like it carries the weight of centuries, words spoken from myths echoing across the ocean of potential and Faerie into the subconscious part of us where dragons sleep. A word-jeweler who crafts worlds as natural as blooming flowers and more ancient than the first tree whose roots dug deeper than any plant before it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

My father and I just finished The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Two years ago, April 24 2017 to be exact, I wrote about how the Mystery genre was a cousin to the Fantastic, with with Sci-Fi being Fantasy's only closer relative; a sibling, presumably. Hence it seems appropriate to post that my father and I just finished The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A book with twists, turns, and a climax worthy of many a Fantasy book! A fact which was doubly entertaining seeing how this book, alone I believe among the Sherlock Holmes novels, features the consulting detective of 221B Baker Street and his friend Dr. Watson trying to prove that the supernatural is NOT the guilty party, but rather as evil and as cunning a mind as can be found. Truly we have seen less clever dark wizards.
Beyond that Holmes does not disappoint! Such a splendid character, wise yet proud and with a wry humor coupled with great heart! It does without saying that this will not be our last journey with him, though whether those journeys are noted here on Stars Uncounted is unlikely. The Hound of the Baskervilles has a connection to Fantasy, thus giving it a place here, but the rest I doubt.

The Secret Commonwealth (Re-post: Sir Philip Pullman vs. Lyra Silvertongue)

As the day has finally come, and as I have nothing more to say on the matter, I will simply re-post my words (with a few adjustments) from March 19th:

The Book of Dust was like a myth, like a fabled mist-shrouded castle one endlessly walks towards yet never reaches nor even sees clearly. For over a decade nearly all we heard was that Sir Philip Pullman was "working on it," this message updated/rephrased every few years or so. We heard that he hoped for it to come out in 2016, yet the year passed without a word. Then, in 2017 after over a decade of agonized waiting, we learned that The Book of Dust would be not one book but three that that the first volume, La Belle Sauvage, would be coming out that year.
We all exploded with joy. Both when we heard the news and doubly so when we finally got our hands on the book that had been the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. (And did we ever find rain.)

Now The Secret Commonwealth, volume two of The Book of Dust series has come.

Why all the solemnity as opposed to excitement? Because...
I NEVER thought I would EVER even THINK about saying this, but I am not sure that I will be able to read this. Not sure that I will be able to continue with The Book of Dust 馃槶

Frankly, I cannot picture Lyra as ANY kind of cynic. Remember, that we did NOT, actually, leave her at the end of The Amber Spyglass but rather in the mini-sequel Lyra's Oxford – which took place two years later. How could five years have changed her so much? Yes, I know and recall full well how His Dark Materials ended and have visited the wooden bench at the back of the Oxford Botanic Garden. But I also recall Lyra's Oxford and how it ended. How we saw that Lyra had grown into a mature young woman who was still the Lyra Silvertongue we love. Older yes, matured as I said, clearly grown-up from the wild girl we knew and tempered by the heartbreak she endured, yet she was nobody who Pan of all entities would call a pessimist. Hence my belief that it is Pullman, rather than Lyra, who changed 馃檨 That Pullman gradually lost touch with her because I do not see how five years could have so changed the young woman we left at the end of the appropriately named Lyra's Oxford.
Recall how when La Belle Sauvage came out Sir Philip Pullman said that the collective Book of Dust series could be called "His Darker Materials" and that, as an author, "I’ve got older and perhaps more cynical, closer to despair...It is a darker book, I don’t deny that, but that’s the story that came to me and wanted to be told.” Recall how I thought that La Belle Sauvage made little contextual sense seeing as the political/general situation was nowhere near that bad in The Golden Compass. If it was then Lyra would have been kidnapped or killed years ago while running wild around Oxford. 
Indeed, the impression was not that the world was falling apart, nor was Lord Asriel a wanted man to the same degree. Recall that he was able to walk into and out of Oxford in The Golden Compass without the same life-threatening hassle as in La Belle Sauvage.
Recall how I previously posted about an article which revealed that, tragically, the great Philip Pullman is descending into a very dark, cynical, place and I, for one, have always viewed cynicism as merely a more sophisticated form of surrender; for cynics still fight for what they believe in – but they no longer truly believe. And how that selfsame article noted that "Pullman is famously an atheist, although he explores myth, legend and magic in all his writing and will do so particularly in the next book [of Dust], which sees Lyra losing her sense of magic as an adult and will be called The Secret Commonwealth."

"I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone,"
says Philip Pullman. "I’m just trying to stop
myself going mad."
Hence I believe that, grievously, Sir Philip Pullman is dragging Lyra Silvertongue down with him 馃様 As a writer of an as-yet unpublished yet complete Fantasy series – while I am not fool enough to compare myself or work with Pullman – I do know what it means to truly create a living world with heartfelt characters. I learned during my writing that the mind of an author is linked with those of their characters and the world they live, but also that that link can be broken. Broken or warped if the mind of an author changes. As stated above, Pullman himself said "I’ve got older and perhaps more cynical, closer to despair...It is a darker book, I don’t deny that, but that’s the story that came to me and wanted to be told.” Now look that the link (here it is again) that I provided above and read the extract from The Secret Commonwealth. Add that with the also aforesaid plot-line inconsistencies of La Belle Sauvage with His Dark Materials, and I see an author whose mind is in a very different place from where it was when he wrote Lyra's Oxford. I see that, over the over ten years it has taken him to finally produce The Book of Dust, his mind has fundamentally changed from the man who wrote Lyra into existence. He, by his own words, is "perhaps more cynical, closer to despair" and hence The Book of Dust reflects that altered state of mind; reflects and projects it onto Lyra, thus resulting in a distorted reflection of her.

"Lyra just came to me entire and complete, I didn’t consciously make her up with a list of attributes. But I had been a teacher for about 12 years working with children of her age and there were lots of Lyras - in every classroom in the country there is a Lyra or two. Or three. She’s a very ordinary child and that’s the point about her. If she’s unusual it’s in her capacity to feel affection, which she does very readily and very warmly." – Philip Pullman  

THIS is the Philip Pullman who wrote His Dark Materials
and Lyra the Beloved. THIS is a man whom I think would look
upon his older self with concern.
I know all this may sound dramatic, but Lyra has a very special place my heart. She was the first and only book character whose sacrifice tormented my dreams for days literately. I could not even look at the books for years without feeling a deep stab of grief. And I say all this with confidence because, as any passionate reader knows, the bond, the link, between the minds of reader and book-character is no less great and heartfelt that that between character and author. Like the author, we laugh and cheer and cry with them, knowing then as friends so close that they may as well be extended family. (On that note, if by small chance that I am proved wrong by
The Secret Commonwealth then I will gladly and indeed with the greatest joy eat my words.)
Finally, for all those who read this and want to throw that tired retort "We all get more cynical as we get older" line at me, then permit me to quickly nip that dark and thorny rose in the bud:

"For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more--remembering my own sins and follies; and realize that men's hearts are not often as bad as their acts, and very seldom as bad as their words." - J.R.R. Tolkien

"Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us." - Stephen Colbert

"A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future." - Sydney J. Harris

"Cynicism isn't smarter, it's only safer. There's nothing fluffy about optimism." - Jewel Kitcher

"The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism." - J. R. R. Tolkien