Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's Eve

There is no point in pretending that 2020 was in any respect a normal year, but if Pandemic quarantines have a silver lining it is that they provide lots of time to read so, as the Wheel turns and 2020 rolls away, I think it is only fitting to look back on this year's accomplishments:

  • First and foremost I read the final eight books (The Path of Daggers through A Memory of Light) of and thus finished the great journey that was The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
  • West by Edith Pattou, sequel to East.
  • Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt McKenzie.
  • Moon-Flash by Patricia A. McKillip.
  • Moonheart by Charles de Lint
  • Reread (for possibly the dozenth time) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm by Christopher Paolini, sequel to his The Inheritance Cycle.
  • Firebrand, book 6 in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.
  • Books 2-4 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series by John Flanagan.
  • King of Shadows by Susan Cooper.

"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!" – J.R.R. Tolkien

"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

Thursday, December 24, 2020

My father and I just finished King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

My father and I just finished King of Shadows by Susan Cooper.

As they say in the theater, "the show must go on" and that philosophy does not change even as Fate and Time intervene to save Will Shakespeare and Nathan Field, Oberon and Puck, as a hurt boy actor from our time finds himself playing A Midsummer's Night's Dream in Elizabethan England under the Bard's person direction. A blend of the historical fiction and fantasy with the Cooper's trademark mastery of time travel that begins as simple and ends with a profound depth reminiscent of her The Dark is Rising masterwork. Truly the human spirit, a key component in acting, and the healing simple kindness and understanding gives transcends all Time.



Monday, December 14, 2020

I just started Hunter’s Oath, the first book of The Sacred Hunt Duology by Michelle West

Sound the silver horn, call the hunt.
I just started Hunter’s Oath, the first book of The Sacred Hunt Duology by Michelle West.
The first entirely new series since I picked up The Wheel of Time over two years ago, this one is already quite unique as the relationship and difference between Hunter and prey, Lord and commoner, bends before the will of the Hunter God in the land of Breodanir...while, far away, a mysterious seer-born watches and finds a shadow-snare, knowing when she is even if I do not.
Are you the hunter, or the prey?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the Mystery Genre's Tolkien

My father and I just finished His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and, in doing so, finished our final journey with the consulting detective of 221B Baker Street and his faithful friend Dr. John Watson.
It was an absolute joy, an utter thrill-ride, and His Last Bow had some of the best. The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans contained all the finest elements of every Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Dying Detective had us on the edge of our seats the whole time for the sheer uniqueness of it, while The Adventure of the Devil's Foot had us speculating as much as we were reading. And His Last Bow - The War Service of Sherlock Holmes had us howling with laughter, for the detective who came out of bee-keeping retirement showed once more that he is the unchallenged master of in the field of Higher Insults as much as in mystery.
Thus it is with sadness that, at last, we take our leave of 221B Baker Street. We salute you Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, Inspector Lestrade and our other friends of Scotland Yard, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and of course the Baker Street Irregulars.
Thus do I state that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is beyond question the counterpart of J.R.R. Tolkien in the mystery genre, doing for it what, decades later, Tolkien later did for Fantasy. Indeed, avid readers of the Holmes stories helped create the modern practice of a fandom in that they were and are the world's oldest. When Conan Doyle killed off Mr. Holmes in The Final Problem, the public reaction to the death was unlike anything previously seen for fictional events. More than 20,000 Strand (the magazine in which Holmes stories were published) readers cancelled their subscriptions, furious at what they judged to be Holmes’ premature end. The magazine nearly went out of business and its staff referred to Holmes’ death as “the dreadful event” while those selfsame livid readers wrote to the magazine in wrath. Not that we, today, would expect much less from a truly diehard fandom but, at the time, Conan Doyle was the epitome of stunned for the simple reason that, again, fans had never before acted in this manner (indeed, this was before the word "fan" was even in widespread use). So while Fantasy owes it's roots to the great J.R.R. Tolkien, due credit must be given to its literary kindred Mystery that owes its bones to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose genius provoked the world's first literary fandom. Frankly and in ending, I am quite certain that Tolkien was inspired at least partly by Conan Doyle as the writing style of the two Englishmen are, at least to my eye, somewhat similar.
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." - Sherlock Holmes
"To a great mind, nothing is little." - Sherlock Holmes
"So silent and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defense." - John Watson
"The game is afoot.” - Sherlock Holmes

Friday, December 11, 2020

I have just finished The Missing Prince, book #4 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series by John Flanagan

I have just finished The Missing Prince, book #4 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series by John Flanagan. 
I love rescue missions as a rule, and goodness knows that Will is an old hand at it with Maddie being a fast learner...but having unexpected backup will prove useful if getting back home again is in the plans. This certainly comes as close to a literal cliff-hanger ending as Flanagan has ever done.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Stones and Go

Any reader of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is familiar with the game stones. Popular in all countries in the Westlands as well as overseas in Seanchan, stones is valued by generals, rulers, and civilians, for it was said that all of the intrigues and all of life's pleasures could be found within this game. Skilled players of stones are known possess skill at both the Game of Houses and/or battlefield tactics, and vice versa. Thom is exemplary at Daes Dae'mar yet is hardly a military commander, while good ol' Mat is the opposite. Sounds like a fun game, right? I agree utterly, yet sadly Jordan never specified the any save the most basic of the basic rules, those being that each player is assigned one of two colors of army, each player alternating placing a stone on the board with the overall intention being to capture the stones of the opponent's army.

A Go board
Interesting, but hardly detailed. I did some digging, however, and learned that stones has a real-world counterpart: Go. An abstract strategy board game hailing from ancient China – indeed, is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played to the present day it is a two player game in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent; and the playing pieces are called stones. Now I can you saying, "sure, but what is wrong with chess? Why bother learning Go given chess' global reputation for as the quintessential strategy board game?" Curiosity and variety to start, but half-jokes aside, it is because the depths and breadth of Go's strategy makes chess look a sparrow before a griffin. A bold claim? Not at all and despite the fact that, compared to chess, the rules of Go are relatively simple. So where is the breadth and depth? A Go board is both a larger than a chess board with both more scope for play (on average there are many more alternatives to consider per move) and longer games. How much more scope? Enough that, unlike chess, a computer cannot automatically defeat a human. Indeed, the number of legal board positions in Go has been calculated to be vastly greater than the number of atoms in the known, observable universe.

So for those The Wheel of Time fans who want to try their hands at stones, as well as all others who, like me, finds chess tactics rather limited, here is the nearest thing. See this link for the rules. (Why do I find chess limited? I am accustomed to playing Fire Emblem and other turn-based strategy games which, as a general rule, I find far more challenging and emotionally engaging. I am no chess master, far from it by any and all definitions, but the impersonal and unchanging nature of chess makes it feel quite limited compared to Fire Emblem. Let's face it, one never begins a chess match outnumbered and on uncertain terrain that favors the enemy more than yourself with the possibility of enemy reinforcements looming in the background, much less wondering how a simple pawn could realistically defeat a mounted knight even if it was in the position to make an attempt, or taking the wounds sustained by your loyal troops into consideration. Fire Emblem, however, does all this and more as a matter of course and, in addition, has a basic troop component every medieval-style army worth the name had yet which chess lacks an equivalent of: archers.)