August 31, 2009

Tonight, a Little Piece of Me Died

I've been online in varying capacities since October 1998 when I first signed up for AOL and paid for a second line to be strung into my parents' house.

For the first year I just bounced around doing not much. I didn't know a lot of people online. I'd IM with a few classmates I knew from meat-space, but that was about it. I hit various boards dedicated to Xenogears (because I was a total fanatic at the time), and played around on mp3.com before it turned respectable.

Then my friend Josh introduced me to the Wheel of Time series around Thanksgiving of 2000. I devoured the first 8 books in about 2 weeks. I read at work. I read before bed. I read on the fucking toilet. Then I immediately read them again. I started coming up with wild-ass theories about where the story was headed. Who was really who in disguise? On and on it went.

Not long after New Years 2001, I stumbled across a fansite called wotmania.com. It was a fanatic's dream. Theory posts! Encyclopedias! Vibrant discussions of all things Wheel of Time! Then there was the community itself. People from all over the world were on this site. Aussies, Scandis, Brits, Canucks, you name the place and there was probably somebody from there.

I was home! But...

It wasn't until that summer that I finally stopped lurking and devouring theory posts. Somebody asked about my favorite subject: Xenogears. So I just had to chime in. Suddenly I was involved. I dove in to a religious discussion. We talked politics. I lived on that site for the next three month.

Then came September 11, 2001. The board was chaos. Nobody knew what was going on. Every whacked out theory you could imagine was being thrown about. In the following days, I was flying around any board I could think of. RPGFan, theGIA (you might be noticing a trend...) Somewhere I found a link to Bill Whittle's page, ejectejecteject.com. From there I found IMAO, USS Clueless and Instapundit. Overnight I became a blog junky. Wotmania was always where I started my day, but blogs began to quickly consume a large part of my online time.

Wotmania was always a hard place to be a Conservative. With the large numbers of international readers, the politics always tacked heavily to the Left. With the war in Afghanistan all ready in full swing, and the war in Iraq becoming more inevitable by the day, the boards became a very contentious place in 2002-2004. The craziness of the 2004 election is what finally drove me out of the Community board, and I stuck to the Games board where I didn't have to deal with politics anymore.

In the last five years, I've probably only ventured back into the Community board a handful of times, but the Games board has always been my homepage. Alas, the Games board has always been a little backwater that few people even knew existed. Eventually the regulars said just about everything there was to be said. We'd all gotten older and gaming time had become harder to find. In the last year, there were rarely more than a half-dozen threads visible (visibility was a combination of activity and posting date) at a time. On occasion a fresh face would pop in and start asking questions we'd covered so long ago we couldn't even remember where to link them.

In the mean time, the Community board, and particularly the Chat Room were giving Mike, the owner of the site, unending fits. So in late January of this year, he announced he was shutting down the whole site to focus on his research. There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but in the end there really wasn't anything to be done. No definitive date was given, but "August" was thrown about.

A couple people stepped up, and with some of the site source code that Mike allowed them to use, began trying to clone as much of the site functionality as possible in 7 months. (Wotmania has been an ongoing development project by Mike for 10 years. One single message board and simple chat room exploded into a half-dozen custom-coded forums, a custom chat room, an internal noteboard system, personal user journals, polls, theory libraries, encyclopedias, and even a miniature point system for no reason other than to have it, plus tons of other things I probably don't even know about because I haven't been out exploring the far corners of the site in years) They just managed to get the replacement site up in time for H-hour on D-day.

At midnight tonight, wotmania went off-line for good, and a huge part of my online life went with it. I managed to be there at the very end when the chat room finally winked out of existence. I got over most of the grief back in January when the announcement was made. I've had many forums I loved close on me, so I've had plenty of practice getting over this sort of thing, but wotmania was always there to come home to.

Sure, there's a bit of resentment, but then again I can understand where Mike is coming from. Robert Jordan died before finishing the series (a topic that was morbidly theorized and joked about constantly on the boards given his glacial pace of writing in the latter books.). Mike had lost interest in the series a couple book prior, so it's understandable that he was simply tired of supporting a site that no longer held any passion for him. Each new book would create a surge of excitement amongst the people still dedicated to the books, but for many, the site itself had become the reason to stick around. There was a community that evolved out of the mutual interest in the books, and the community has outlasted the books.

Whenever someone posed a question to Jordan that he intended to answer in latter books, he always responded, "Read and find out." As an homage to their roots in Wheel of Time, the new home is located at readandfindout.com. This new home has a WoT specific forum for those who still want to discuss and speculate on what Jordan's widow may be able to do with his notes for the last book, but it's really about serving as a new home for the Community.

If you find yourself bored, stop by the Games board in the Entertainment section. You'll find me going by Yaminohasha. Stop in and say hi.

Posted in Books by: Will at 10:48 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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March 26, 2009

Well isn't this just fan-f'n-tastic

I always had my suspicions. It was always subtle and just beneath the surface. I expected better craft than this.

I'm about three chapters in to book 7 of the Malazan series and Erikson has given up on playing it straight. He'd descended into full-on Canadian Twat Lefty Wet-Dream Political Allegory Theater. A group of Letherii calling themselves the "Patriotists" is running rough-shod over the local populous searching for political dissidents and torturing/disappearing academics and intellectuals.

This better improve quickly or I'll burn the fucking thing in effigy. Christ, how many people have I recommended this to by now? I'm going to have a lot of apologies to write.

Posted in Books by: Will at 09:18 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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February 15, 2009

Well look what I found...

The folks were rummaging through some old boxes this winter left over from when I moved out. They collected a bunch of books they thought were mine (but I know they aren't, technically, as most were published before I was born), and brought them over in a little sci-fi care-package.



more...

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August 08, 2008

Stephen Erikson's Malazan Series

Having dug into a few fantasy series at this point, it's become clear there are tiers involved in picking and/or recommending certain series to others.

Stuff like Harry Potter is ubiquitous because it's easily accessible to a wide range of people. The language used isn't particularly dense (when it does get weird, it's used for effect), and the tone starts out whimsical and only darkens with the need for greater perils to throw against the protagonists.

That's what I'd label elementary level material. That doesn't mean it's necessarily simple; just that there's always something shiny to catch your eye and at  least spme themes easily grasped by an inexperienced audience. There can still be other concepts churning beneath the surface for the older, patient, and more experienced readers. Pacing tends to be brisk to maintain interest; or lots of uncanny/unique set-pieces keep you reading when nothing spectacularly important is going on. The main cast usually doesn't extend beyond a dozen or so people.

 

Next come the intermediate series like Jordan's Wheel of Time or Feist's Rift War material. Geeks in junior high and high school eat this stuff up. It may start out light. It may start out dark. There will be blood, guts, and a little sex. You can usually expect over a dozen characters to keep track of, often split into groups scattered hither-and-yon. Pacing may take a hit in favor of political machination or other drudgery necessary for later plot points. None of this means a younger audience won't enjoy them, just that a much smaller percentage of young kids will be able to stay interested or have parents who think it's age-appropriate.

Wheel of Time is great for trivia geeks who want to decrypt all the cultural/historical references and extrapolate how those references may play into the plot. The gee-wiz fun of learning about the world of "Rand-land" drops off in books 4-6 as the plot descends into politics. This is where a lot of people will give up on the series. Jordan isn't inclined to linger on the gruesome like some authors. Characters have a nasty habit of not being dead when you think they should be or staying dead when you know they were. The plot finally started moving again in book 11, just in time for Jordan to die of a rare blood disease in the middle of writing #12, the finale.

Rift War is basically a D&D campaign in novel form. You will be dealing with entire generations of characters scattered across two different worlds (Midkemia: elves and dwarves and medieval humans oh my - Kelewan: interesting mix of ancient Japan, Incas, and Aztecs with lots of hexapedal animals thrown in to the mix). That means there will be a lot of characters dying in battles or of old age. While the series does devolve into political drama from time to time, it rarely does for more than half a book before something somewhere goes to hell. Gets gruesome from time to time, generally for effect, not just for gore's sake.

 

Finally we get to advanced/college level fantasy. Series end up here either because they're just incredible dense and/or they have one or more aspects (flaws maybe?) that would eventually drive off your "average" junior high or high school kid. Chance of annoyingly detailed descriptions of blood and gore? Very High. Odds you'll run across the author trying his hand at prophetic-sounding prose, poetry, and/or songs? Also very high. Number of character you'll run into that speak in gibberish (often 3rd-person) that may actually be very damned important? 2+. These series may ask you to keep track of several groups numbering a dozen or more. Names will look like the author got a bulk bargain on vowels and apostrophes and is damned-sure intent on using them. A couple names like this can be great for helping you remember a few unique characters. The converse can also be true.

Lord of the Rings gets placed here for only a couple reasons, otherwise I think it's readily accessible to a younger audience.

1) Yes mister Tolkien, we know the whole cosmic mish-mash of the world you wrote is one massive song building to a climax, but you are not a song writer. Please stop.

2) Tom Bombadil. If there was one spot in all the books that tried even my patience, (and I have a strong tendency to wait things out to see how they end) it was dealing with this fruit.

It's been a long time since I read the series, but I do remember the pace being a little more sedate than most. The language used is more advanced, and I'm not sure if that says more about the target audience at the time, or the general aptitude of the target audience today.

Goodkind's Sword of Truth is here, not because it's particularly advanced, but because it's so full of "mature" material. Several rape scenes and a metric ton of gore (not to mention the protagonist's raging temper) left me wondering what's going on in Goodkind's head. It gets very dull reading him rant and rail through his characters at communism and religion over and over again. Yes, we get it. You're an angry libertarian atheist. Odd that you would build an after-life into your world, but we'll just chalk that up to a conceit of the genre.

All of that blather leads me up to the series I wanted to talk about in the first place. Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

This series is the definition of what I would call dense. There are a ton of important characters crossing paths constantly. We're constantly jumping from one group to another in a way that keeps the pace up. Sticking around long enough to advance that portion of the plot, but always moving on at just the right moment to leave you itching to get back. It's dark and gruesome when it's appropriate, but it doesn't lingers in a way that makes you wonder what's wrong with the author. Now, much of this "dense" perception may have a lot to do with the fact that I haven't had much chance to re-read any of the novels. It also doesn't help that there have been great lengths of time between when I read each new novel. Even with all that potential for confusion, it's clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the underlying cultures, systems, and history of these novels. (Erikson is an anthropologist, which helps)

There's an interesting mix of names used. Common foot soldiers in the Malazan army operate almost exclusively on given nicknames like Sorry, Fiddler, Smiles, Whiskeyjack, and Bottle. It's very different and makes it easy to keep track of the 50 or so of them I've run across at this point. Some of the other races allow Erikson to experiment with names like Anomander Rake, Mappo, Scabandari, Trull, and Icarium.

Deities can have a couple different names depending on who's talking: Fener, Boar of Summer, Shadowthrone, Ammanas. The magic system and the Pantheon are deeply intertwined because magic is drawn from holds/warrens, which are both a realm, and an elemental power. Each warren my have anywhere from 1 to a dozen deities running things. The Pantheon is constantly churning with gods killing one another off, mortals ascending to god-hood, and existing gods fading from memory. There are at least two tiers of gods, Elder and modern.

I've never felt like I was being preached at through the text*. You get the usual "war sucks" theme from the ground level, but you also get a god's-eye view on occasion that lets you realize that the fight really does mean something in the grand scheme.

There isn't a whole lot of black and white "the last battle is coming" prophetic nonsense going on. You can tell you're looking into a snapshot of an ongoing battle that may or may not come to an end some day. Nobody's even trying to guess how it will all end.

*Some of the content in the most recent paperback release compels me to amend this statement slightly. There's been quite a lot of railing against recent Christianity-like strawmen Erikson has built up. There's also been significantly more "War! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" in this volume than the previous ones. Rather stupid considering how important the fight is he's been building up.

Posted in Books by: Will at 08:53 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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July 12, 2008

Who needs Ambien?

I've been dealing with bouts of insoma lately. I'm really not big on medicating this sort of problem, and none of the million sure-fire home remedies has worked.

But believe me when I say, the Silmarillion will knock you on your ass in ten minutes. At my current pace, I'll probably finish the book some time in 2046.

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November 25, 2007

Contradictions, False Assumptions, and The Sword of Truth Finale

I'm agnostic, so two groups that really tend to get on my nerves are religious firebrands and evangelical atheists.

Having finally finished reading the last book of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, something didn't fit.

The events of the last few years seem to have caused Goodkind to blend the early socialist/communist ideals of the Fellowship of Order (his corporeal bad guys) with the death-cult mentality of Militant Islam.

I've already written about Goodkind's distinct distaste for socialism/communism, but in his last book (and an epic case of target drift), <hyperbole>he's decided to lump in anyone who isn't a God-hating atheist in with the rest of the commie scum.</hyperbole> I don't think he was paying enough attention to potential contradictions and false assumptions when he was putting the end together.

more...

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September 16, 2007

Robert Jordan passed away today.

I first read about it here.

Dragonmount hosted a blog for Jordan, but the traffic spike appears to have knocked them offline.

I wasn't much of a recreational reader until a friend handed me The Eye of the World in college. Ever since then, I've probably read more books in the last six years than all the years previous.

It's sad to hear that he's passed. From what I understand, he'd had the ending of the Wheel of Time series planned out long before ever typing a word. He's supposedly been dictating much of the plot and outline to people, so it sounds like the last book in the series may yet happen. He also spoke of some potential short stories to be sprinkled throughout the chronology later, but those are not going to happen now.

I wonder if he felt regret at not finishing it himself? His books touched a great many people, more than any author could really hope to. I'm certain that that's what he'll be taking with him, not any regret over a few untyped words. Sometimes the best endings are those left to the imagination.

Posted in Books by: Will at 10:17 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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August 01, 2007

Terry Goodkind Hates Pinko Commie Leftist Bastards and He Thinks You Should Too.

And he's not above bludgeoning you over the head with that for an entire novel either.

Or words to that effect.

A friend loaned me the first 8 books of the Sword of Truth, and while I was having some serious Robert Jordan deja vu for the first two books, once he set his teeth into the conflict with the Order, I began to finally feel like I was in new territory.

Then he decides he's gonna turn modern-day George Orwell for a novel. And while I agree with the sentiment, it's the ham-fisted execution that had me groaning every couple pages.

Hopefully he got it out of his system. Pillars of Creation has started out pretty slow, but it's interesting to see that he brought back Chekov's Siblings.

Posted in Books by: Will at 06:29 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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