Don’t underestimate science fiction…

I came across a great article by Neil Gaiman on what science fiction, reading and exercising our imaginations via daydreaming can do for us. Here is a very striking quote:

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed? It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls. Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

This certainly rings true for how science fiction and fantasy helped to make me the person I am. Though being the person I am, I also have to wonder how far the causality goes the other way…. are the kind of people who would anyway have been drawn to creativity and innovation, esp of a technological sort, also just the kind of people that will get into reading SF&F if it’s around? My guess is it’s probably a bit of both. One issue I’d take with the article is the wording “an obligation for all citizens”. Obligation is a killer of playfulness, and it’s playfulness that is the most fertile ground for creativity. In fact too much emphasis on the value that can be gotten from things like reading, daydreaming and playing is going to undermine that very value! (see also)

Do it, encourage it, but don’t get overly serious and worthy about it I say!

Tolkien Themed Questionnaire, Part 2

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Part 1 is here. If you want the questions to do them yourself, they’re here. If you do them, please let me know too!

16. Rivendell or Lothlorien?

“For what?” is the question! I’d feel more at home in Rivendell, so if it’s a question of settling down somewhere, Rivendell it will be. As I said in Part 1 of this questionnaire, I’d love the mountains, the valley and the company.

If it’s for a visit, perhaps even quite a long one, I’d pick Lothlorien. It’s more unique and unearthly, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in real life. But for the very same reasons, I wouldn’t quite belong. Plus while I do love spending time in woods, I’d prefer more open countryside to gaze upon every day.

17. Least favorite character?

Grima is meant to be unappealing, and he is.

18. Have you ever cosplayed as one of the characters? If not, who would you choose?

I never have. It might be fun to try any number of characters, perhaps especially Gimli. Not sure I could pull it off though, not particularly dwarf-shaped.

19. What scene makes you laugh the most?

Not so much the scene as one great line.

“Your bodyguard?”

“His gardener.”

20. If you could meet 3 of the actors, who would you choose?

  • Sam Astin, he’s up to interesting stuff these days.

  • Ian Holm, seems like a nice guy, with a long career to talk about, including the radio version of LOTR,

  • Andy Serkis, because I think it’d be fun. Also – Gollum!

21. What are your top five favorite lines from the films?

Usually I like a passage rather than a line. Mostly a line only makes complete sense or gets its full impact from the context, and that’s what makes it a favortire. So I’ll quote passages and highlight the lines I mean.

1)

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

2)

Frodo: [of Gollum] It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.

Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

3)

Frodo: I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.

Sam: We may yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.

4)

Aragorn: Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!*

5)

Gimli: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.

Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?

Gimli: Aye. I could do that.

22. What are your top five favorite lines from the book?

Some of my favorite lines are shared between the books and movies, but I’ll try to come up with five different one this time. (Also both times I decided not to include other lines like “His gardener” that I’ve included in other parts of this questionnaire.)

1)

Bilbo: “I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

2)

A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!

3)

Theoden: Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.

4)

Elrond: The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

5)

Bilbo: I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

There are so many great lines and passages, these selections are a little bit artbitrary. Another day, another mood, I’d pick some different ones.

23. Who do you think is the most underrated character?

I think all the major characters are well-loved, so it’ll have to be a non-obvious choice. How about Sauron? He never appears in person, but he permeates the book, and if Tolkien hadn’t done such a great job of portraying him, the whole story would have lost its power. Maybe that’s why the book is named after him.

24. Have you watched any of the animated films? If so, what are your opinions?

Not yet seen them.

25. How has LOTR affected your life?

A proper answer to that would take up its own blog post if not a whole series. But here’s a short version…

When I first read it, about 14 years old I think, I was moved, delighted and enthralled. When I re-read it at various times, I was transported back to Middle Earth, and also to that especially happy period of my life when I’d first read it. In some particularly bad patches of my life, that could be a big comfort.

Also the book’s influenced my outlook in various ways, especially when it comes to dealing with situations that seem frightening, daunting or hopeless. I’ll quote things from the books and movies to myself – like “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”, or “The day may come when the strength of Pasduil fails… but it is not this day” – and it will help me approach the situation with the right attitude.

Lastly since th movies came out, I’ve got to connect with lots of like-minded people via our shared love of Tolkien, either adding an extra dimension to relationships with people I knew already, or making new friends.

26. Which characters would you want in your Fellowship?

How big would my fellowship be, and what would be its mission? The actual fellowship seems nearly ideal. Though I always found it hard to understand why Glorfindel wasn’t included.

27. Weapon of choice?

I’ve always had a liking for bow-wielding heroes, even before reading LOTR, so I’ll have a bow.

Alternately, if it should be a specific named weapon from LOTR, I’ll go for Sting.

28. Would you have volunteered to destroy the Ring?

Yes, I would. That is if no one more likely to succeed at the task was willing to try. I’m not sure how good of a candidate I’d be as ring-bearer. Possibly I’m hobbitish enough to resist it, but I might be susceptible to being lured into thinking it could be used to do good. But as humans go, I’d probably be a better candidate than most.

29. Who do you think is the most attractive character?

Physically attractive? I’ll say Eowyn, though I could easily have said Arwen instead.

30. Do you own any LOTR merchandise? If so, what is your favorite item?

I own books, DVDs, audiobooks etc, but nothing you’d call merchandise.

31. Have you read the book?

Yes, lots of times. By now you probably guessed that right?

32. Have you ever had a LOTR marathon? Describe your perfect marathon.

Not as such. I’ve had long sessions of watching a movie and then rewatching selected scenes, but never all three movies in one go.

If I was going to have a marathon I think ideally I’d want it over a long weekend, with one of the extended edition blu-rays per day, and having a bunch of Tolkien fans over to watch them with. Allow plenty of time for rewatching of favorite scenes, and talking them over together.

There should be time for pies and walks too.

33. When did you first watch the films and/or read the book?

I was about 14 or so when I first read Lord of the Rings. I saw the films as they came out, a good many years later.

34. What is your favorite film/book?

I tend to think of LOTR as one book. I first read it as a single volume paperback, so that’s how I always thought of it. But of the three volumes, I think Fellowship of the Ring might be my favorite. They all have many great scenes, but maybe FOTR has the most such. and the greatest variety of them too.

I’d chose the FOTR movie for the same reason, and also because seeing Middle Earth done so well for the first time had the biggest impact.

35. Get drink with/marry/fight to the death. (Pick three characters)

Drink – Gimli. He’d be fun to talk and banter with over a beer. Any of the hobbits would be great too though.

Marry – Eowyn. She’d be more fun to live with than Arwen, I’m thinking.

Fight to the death – Tricky. I don’t want to fight any of the goodies, and would I be able to defeat any of the baddies? If I can borrow a suitable Second Age weapon, I’ll fight Shelob.

36. Which scene scares you the most?

The Shelob scene scared me the most when I first read it in the book. I’m not sure anything in the movies really scares me, but perhaps Shelob again. Being in complete darkness with a monstrous spider is hard to beat for creepiness!

37. Gondor or Rohan?

Rohan, not least for their wonderful theme tunes.

38. Which character(s) would you want as your parent(s)?

I think Sam and Rosie would be great parents.

39. Which characters would you want as your best friends?

Sam is the bestest of best friends. Can there be any debate?

All of the fellowship would make great friends, and so would Bilbo.

40. When was the last time you watched the films/read the book?

I’m not sure. It’s been a few years since I watched or read them in their entirety, though I do read and watch chunks from time to time.

41. Favorite horse?

Bill the Pony.

42. If you could spend a day in Middle-earth, what would you want to do?

There’s lots I’d love to do, but I’ll say a day in The Shire, walking, talking and eating with some agreeable hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam would be excellent company if they’d show me around.

43. Is there anything you would change about the books?

Dare I meddle?

A way to extract the interesting stories from the Appendices and put them someplace they’re more likely to be read and enjoyed maybe?

Have an extended edition that’s a lot longer and shows us a lot more about the world and its cultures?

44. What do you think is the greatest lesson LOTR has to offer?

Victory, success or even survival might not be in your hands, but how you live your life and how you face up to whatever life brings you always is.

45. What would your dream home in Middle-earth be like?

Make Bag End big enough for me, and I’ll be very happy. Put it near a small river and some woodland too, and I’ll be even more delighted.

46. How would you describe what LOTR means to you in one word?

Po-ta-toes.

Ok, that’s one word that needs a lot of explaining. I’ll give you a less surreal answer.

Resonant.

47. Which death makes you the most sad?

Theoden. He’s like a beloved grandfather by the time he falls.

It might have been Gandalf on the first read through, when I didn’t know what happened afterwards.

48. Favorite behind-the-scenes moments from the films?

I don’t really remember too much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that I’ve seen. I haven’t rewatched it since the movies came out on DVD, so a long time ago now.

49. If you could own any item from the films, what would it be?

Gandalf’s staff. I might go walking with it.

50. If you had the opportunity to meet the Professor, what do you think you would say?

I’d tell him how much I’ve loved his work of course. And then there would be plenty of other things we could discuss. For example: Do Balrogs have wings? What did he mean when he said LOTR was a fundamentally Catholic work? What does he think about his work being beloved by technologists?

Credits: Hobbiton photo courtesy of Rob Chandler (flickr)

Tolkien Themed Questionnaire, Part 1

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I discovered a fascinating Tolkien questionnaire thanks to Alice Greenleaf. (You can read her answers here: Part 1, Part 2. The questionnaire is by Myla, and her own answers are here. And here’s another response, by Britta Siemen.)

Let’s get on with the questions…

1. Books or movies?

Books! The movies are great, but there’s so much more to the books. I think Christopher Tolkien who isn’t pleased with the movies has said something about them lacking the “seriousness and beauty” of his father’s work. I think that comment is harsh, but it is hard to do the books justice in movie form. The books have considerably greater depth, substance and resonance for me.

2. Which character do you connect with the most?

That’s a hard question because I can connect with a lot of them in different ways at different times. Which is the “most” probably changes depending on my mood and such. But you wanted me to pick one, so here goes…

When I first read the books (prob about age 14) I think it was Aragorn, especially in his Strider phase. Being a weather-worn, solitary hero who knows his stuff, keeps his head and does what’s necessary was appealing.

As I’ve gotten older my perspective on some things has changed, and maybe now it’s more Elrond:

The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful

“I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories.”

“The might of Elrond is in wisdom not in weapons, it is said. I come to ask for counsel and the unravelling of hard words.”

3. What are your top 5 favorite tracks from the soundtracks?

I think I’ve going to have to listen to them all again, if only to remind myself of the names of the tracks…

Tricky to whittle down to just five, but I don’t want to leave any of these out!

  • Concerning Hobbits
  • The Ring Goes South
  • May it Be
  • Foundations of Stone
  • Into the West

4. Which scene always makes you cry?

Being a manly sort, I don’t actually cry, though I may get a little teary eyed. And it’s more often through being moved than being sad. One scene that has that effect on me is the “You bow to no-one” from ROTK:

5. Where would you live in Middle-earth?

Another tough one, there are so many wonderful places! I’ll say Rivendell. I’d love the mountain setting, the beauty of the valley, having the run of Elrond’s library, and all those elves to talk to!

6. Which race would you be?

It’d be a toss up between Elf and Hobbit. Perhaps an Elf-influenced Hobbit like Bilbo and Frodo?

7. Orcs or Uruk-hai?

Uruk-hai are more fearsome in every way, surely!

8. Favorite character?

How can you even choose? But just for the sake of variety in my answers, I’ll pick Gollum! One of the most unique characters in fiction.

9. Which character do you look the most like?

I’m not sure I look that much like any of them, but the closest might be Boromir. I’m not nearly as large though.

10. Who is your favorite paring? (canon or non-canon)

Beren and Luthien. Or if you want to restrict it to LOTR only, Aragorn and Arwen.

11. Who is your least favorite paring? (canon or non-canon)

I don’t really read Tolkien fanfic, esp with non-canon pairings. I find changing people’s sexuality and personalities a bit distasteful generally. So I’ll say Frodo/Sam as representative of that.

12. What unpopular opinion do you have for the movies?

I don’t know what opinions are popular or unpopular! How about that I’m glad that Bombadil was left out?

13. If you could change anything about the movies, what would it be?

There’s plenty I’d change, though those things might well have made the movies less commercially successful. Top of my list is that I’d restore Denethor to the character he is in the books, being vastly more wise, capable, tortured and tragic than he is in the movies.

14. How do you think Tolkien would have felt about Peter Jackson’s adaptations?

My guess is he’d have pretty mixed feelings, but overall feel fairly pleased. Some things he’d love, some he’d hate.

15. Whose wardrobe would you like to have?

I think Legolas’ outfits would suit me the best. I can go for an outdoorsy huntsman look. Plus I’d fancy the bow as well.

Credits: Uruk Hai photo from flickr

A Year in Games and Books

As 2014 comes to an end, it seems like a good time to say a few words about what I’ve played and read this year that seems notable. If nothing else, maybe it will give people ideas of what they might want to grab in the sales before they close!

Games I Played in 2014

LOTRO

As ever LOTRO is my most played video game of the year, though I played rather less this year than last. Early in the year many of us were worried about the game’s future after a round of Turbine layoffs followed not long after the news that there would be no expansion this year. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that Turbine did deliver new content as they’d announced though.

If I played less, probably that has less to do with the game itself and more to do with me. For one thing the first couple of years of any great new thing are more exciting to me, and after that I get somewhat used to it, less absorbed and generally ready to do other things.

Chess

Another reason my LOTRO time dropped is that my interest in chess got revived. That was mostly down to happening to read a book called King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. Ironically for a book that focuses on the darker sides of chess and chess players, it brought back a lot of fond memories for me.

While I’ve never stopped playing completely, it’s probably getting on for twenty years since I played at all seriously or was a member of a club. But with my revived enthusiasm and starting to sharpen up my rusty skills, I might well do that in 2015 sometime. Meantime I’m having fun playing online, and reading bits and pieces about the game again.

Hero Academy

This is a rather nice turn-based strategy game that I play on iPad. It’s entirely PVP, and has some of the flavor of MMOs (tanks, healers, debuffs, AoE effects etc) and some of the flavor of chess as well, in calculating possible moves and counter-moves.

It’s very enjoyable, and if I don’t play as much as some other games, that’s only a matter of what I have time for.

King of Dragon Pass

Another iPad game, and a unique one, so it’s rather hard to describe. Something of a cross between a full-blown fantasy novel and a turn-based resource-management strategy game. It has one of the best worlds and most interesting cultures that I’ve come across not only in a game but in any form of fiction.

Like Hero Academy I only wish I had more time to play it and explore its depths.

Others

Other games I played and enjoyed but spent even less time on include..

  • The Secret World, lots to love about this, but I haven’t got very far into it yet.

  • Guild Wars 2 (for a trial week, see also), maybe I’ll get into this in the future

  • Skyrim, Enjoyable in lots of ways, though I think I prefer games with more of a social aspect for my RPGs

SF & Fantasy I Read in 2014

I’ve read quite a few books this year. Some of the SF and Fantasy ones that stand out are:

  • The Last Policeman Trilogy – A fascinating an entertaining series set in a world that knows it’s going to be devastated by an asteroid impact in a few months time. (The three books are set IIRC six months from impact, three months from impact, and last week or two before impact.) It’s hard SF in that the asteroid and its effects are well researched and accurately portrayed, it’s also a series of mysteries and criminal investigations. Most of all it explores how people and society cope with knowledge of impending doom. For example, why is it even important to catch murderers now when everyone will be dead soon anyway?

  • The Farseer Trilogy – I wrote a review of this, in short a very fantasy good series, though it could do with some trimming!

  • The Liveship Traders Trilogy – This is a follow up to the Farseer Trilogy, though there is only one character in common, and it deals with events in another part of the world some time after the first series. If you know the Game of Thrones (GoT) series, you will find this rather like that – told from many points of views, lots of characters and story arcs, lots of themes, a good deal of politics etc. Like GoT the author probably bit off more than they could chew, but unlike GoT at least it’s finished and has a proper climax! (Though there are even more trilogies after these, but I’ve not read them, as I was sated with Robin Hobb at this point.)

  • The Game of Thrones Series – Technically the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. After five huge books we still don’t know much about the Ice and Fire aspects of the world and probably never will! The world and the stories are fascinating, though I’m by no means convinced the series will ever be concluded successfully. Which makes it like a mystery story in which you never do get to find out whodunnit, or an epic quest story in which in which our heroes only got half way to the destination.

  • The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke – I haven’t read all the stories yet, because there are a lot of them! It’s a great book to dip into, and I read it especially in between longer novels. Reading a collection like this you do start to see various themes and patterns that repeatedly show up with the author, more than I did as a kid reading the odd Clarke book as and when I saw one in the library. There’s a nice range with comic stories, tragic stories, thought-provoking stories, very short and snappy stories, novellas etc. A good read if you’re new to Clarke or have not read him for a while.

As ever I could write a lot more, but then it would be 2015 before I got finished. Since an end of year blog post should arrive precisely when it means to, I’ll leave it there.

A Happy New Year to all!

The Age of Backlogs

Plex Deck Snap 2

Are we living in the Age of Backlogs? Or is it just me?

The thought is prompted by the latest round of tempting Steam sales. It’s hard to resist buying more stuff, yet most of the stuff I found so irresistible in previous sales has remained unplayed, either entirely or in large part. And not because it’s not good or I wouldn’t like to get into it, but because of the vast mismatch between the amount of media readily available to us these days and the amount of time available to partake of it.

I’m not talking only about games here, because one of the chief reasons that games have gone unplayed is that I’ve been spending a good deal of my R&R time on catching up with TV boxsets and reading books. And I have large backlogs of those too.

Captain’s Backlog, Stardate 2014.0627

Games Backlog

Games that I’ve played a fair amount, but not as much as I would have liked lately:

  • LOTRO
  • Chess

Games that I’ve played some, and would like to play a lot more if time permitted include:

  • The Secret World
  • Skyrim
  • Civilization V
  • Hero Academy
  • Star Trek Online

Games that I haven’t tried yet which sound tempting if time allowed include:

  • Neverwinter
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Hearthstone

I can’t bring myself to go look at the games that I’ve actually bought via sales and Humble Bundles and have not played at all or possibly even downloaded yet. There are a fair few of those too.

And nor will I mention the umpteen games I’ve dabbled in that are lower down the priority list than the ones above. SWTOR, Rift and such would be on there.

Shows Backlog

Is it part of the backlog if you’ve started watching it? Or if it’s a rewatch in the first place? Or if it is airing now and you are more or less up to date with it? I’ll leave such question to the lawyers and philosophers, and just look at what is stacked up waiting to be watched…

  • Star Trek – The Next Generation – I started a rewatch of the series, but am not actively watching it at the moment, because if I did. where would I fit everything else in?

  • Star Trek – Deep Space Nine – I’m currently watching it. This was partly a rewatch as I’ve seen some of it before, but it looks like while I saw most of Season 1 before, I may not have ever seen much of Season 2 or later seasons. DS9 is something I’ve been wanting to catch up with for a long time, so it’s at the top of the backlog queue right now.

  • Elementary – I am still half way or so through Season 1. Liking it a lot, and would want to see all of it, time allowing.

  • Game of Thrones – I’ve watched a few episodes of Season 1, but I’m reading the books now. Probably won’t watch any more til I’m caught up with all the books, and then I’ll come back.

  • True Detective – Not started watching it yet.

  • The Wire – There’s a rewatch going on in a community I’m part of, and I’d like join in, but I don’t think I can fit it in. (Have seen it all before).

  • Fargo – I think I’m only one episode behind! Yay!

  • The Good Wife – I am somewhere in the current season. I may even be up to date now? Confused, but not too far behind!

  • The Bridge – Seen one episode, plan to watch it all at some point.

Books Backlog

The very concept of a books backlog may be verging on the ridiculous in my case. If I were to count the amount of unread books that I have at hand, both physical and in ebook form, and consider the rate at which I have actually been getting through them, it’s quite possible I already have enough to keep me going for the rest of my lifetime.

So whatever I mention here is the tip of the icebeg really. Mainly books that I have acquired fairly recently, or titles or series that I have started in the not too distant past and not yet finished. Or in other words, mainly things that are actually loaded on my Kindle and Kindle apps.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones. I’m in the third book, A Storm of Swords. Unless the standard drops off I will likely read all of them over the summer.
  • King’s Gambit – Hard to describe… it’s part autobiography, part an investigation into the culture and psychology of chess. Asks questions pertinent to all games and sports about whether the thing brings out the worst in people that play it.

  • The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 – a selection of short stories by various authors. Frankly it is a stretch to categorize most of them as mysteries per se, but good short crime fiction, often by well known authors. I read the odd story now and then.

  • Samurai – A History – A history of Japan, esp the Samurai, most of all their encounter with the modern world and ultimate demise. The era portrayed (not with too much of an eye to accuracy) in the movie The Last Samurai. Fascinating for fantasy readers because of its exploration of feudal societies, warrior codes and the like. I am slowly working through this. It is readable and enjoyable, but “put-down-able”, so gets displaced in the queue by the likes of Game of Thrones.

  • The Last Ringbearer – This is a highly-rated fanfic novel that tells the story of The Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Mordor. The idea being LOTR was one-sided propaganda or the victor’s mythology, and this is the other side’s story. Yet to start it.

  • Aid on the Edge of Chaos – Should be fascinating as it’s about the intersection of some things that I’m very interested in. Not started it yet. It’s the kind of book I feel needs attention and thought, so I wanted to read it when I have the energy to really concentrate, but that feeling has delayed me even starting.

  • Quantum – Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality – Maybe this should be demoted from “the backlog” to the category of “books I probably won’t get around to really”. It is a topic of interest to me, and was a very cheap offer on Amazon one day. But I’ve read somewhat similar books before, watched TV shows on such matters etc, so what I’ve read so far in this one has seemed like going over stuff I already heard about.

That will do for now, there are plenty more I could mention.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In the last few years as we’ve entered the era of iPads, Kindles, Netflix, Chromecast, Steam sales, Humble Bundles etc, we have gotten easy access to vast libraries of games and media. On the one hand it’s wonderful to have it all, on the other it puts quite a strain on our time, our wallets and our self-discipline.

Maybe other people are further down the line in learning how to live in this new world. Personally I’m just now recognizing that there is something here that might need to be figured out.

I might need different habits and different ways of thinking about things than I had just a few years ago, when the amount of great and tempting stuff that crossed my path could easily be fitted into my life, with plenty of room to spare.

Of Beren and Luthien

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Tolkien is buried together with his wife Edith, and their graves are marked with the names “Beren” and “Luthien”. The tale of Beren and Luthien was inspired by the Tolkiens’ own story.

A Brief History of Tolkien

The following documentary is an excellent short history of Tolkien’s life and the development of his work. The segment on Beren and Luthien starts around 12:45 into the video.

Book Review: The Farseer Trilogy

My MMO Hiatus

I haven’t been spending much time in MMOs lately, probably not since mid-December. I did spend a fair bit of time with The Secret World after I got it around Black Friday, and enjoyed that. I also picked up Helm’s Deep when it was 50% off in December, and I have checked in with that from time to time as well, but I haven’t really got stuck into leveling up there.

It’s not that I’m disenchanted with my MMOs, more that there are always other things happening at that time of year. And also that sometime in November I started on a book series, and reading has taken up a lot of my free R&R time since then.

I’ve read eight books in my reading spree now. Here’s a review of the the first trilogy…

The Farseer Trilogy

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Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest make up what is usually referred to as the Farseer Trilogy. The Farseers are the royal family of the Six Duchies, and the novels are centered on an illegitimate son of that family, Fitz, and written in the first person from his point of view.

Fitz is of course the assassin of the titles, but don’t let the word “assassin” color your impressions too much. He gets trained as an assassin, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of assassinating in the novels. I won’t tell you too much more about assassinations or lack thereof so as avoid spoilers, but if you get excited by the idea of novels about an assassin you’ll probably end up disappointed. On the other hand if that idea puts you off, don’t be put off! There’s a whole lot more in these novels about political intrigues and family loyalties than there is about assassination.

These are fantasy novels, but of a gritty semi-realistic type. For long stretches the fantasy and magic element is very low key, and they could almost be historical novels during those stretches. If dragons are mentioned in the books, you can’t be sure if there really are any actual dragons in this world, if there were once but not any more, or if they’re just completely folklore and myth, like they are in our real world.

The series works well as fantasy with interesting world-building, strong characters and gripping plots that keep you wanting to know what happens next. But their greatest strength might be the powerful human and philosophical themes that run through them and make them a bit more than just lightweight entertainment.

One theme is Fitz’s loneliness and lack of belonging. He’s not really a royal or even an aristocrat, but he can never really be a commoner either. On top of that he has many secrets, of which his covert role as an assassin is only one. And keeping secrets comes between him and other people, including the woman he loves.

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A second theme is responsibilities and sacrifices. People have to choose between the life they’d like to live for themselves, and the duties that come with their birth and position. Royal marriages are about alliances and politics and what is good for the kingdom more than what you might feel for your potential spouse. Fitz himself would probably have been happiest leaving the court behind, setting up home with his love somewhere, and living a simple life as farmer or craftsman. But he’s taken oaths to the king, and the kingdom faces dangerous times.

A third theme which eventually emerges is fate and destiny. There are prophecies, but in this world you can’t really be sure if prophecies are true any more than if dragons are real. And even if they are, they don’t come true without people making them come true.

One of the marks of serious novels, particularly compared to typical genre novels, is that they connect back to your own life. They give you food for thought about how you’ve lived your life, your own relationships, the dilemmas and choices that are facing you, and so on. At times the Farseer Trilogy does do that for me.

I’ll warn you that there are some weaknesses to these books too. For one they are rather long, and get longer as the series goes on. They could have been trimmed a fair bit, leaving out various plot twists and subplots, and been all the better for it. Sometimes there are just too many chains of twists and sidetracks, and you wish you could just get on with the main story already.

I said earlier that the novels were “semi-realistic”. Part of what I meant by that is that there are many rich, deep, believable characters… but from time to time they also do unbelievable things that seem preposterous and entirely out of character. For instance sometimes major characters who’ve narrowly survived an attempt on their life and know exactly who plotted against them don’t do a darn thing about it. Not to protect themselves in future, not to strike back against the people that tried to kill them, nothing – in fact carrying on pretty much as if nothing had happened. In a less realistic novel that might jar less, but here you’re spending chunks of the novel thinking: “Gah! – no-one would be this stupid – especially not X.”

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Also the main villain is not very well rounded at all. He doesn’t go about cackling evilly and going “Mwahahahaha!” but he’s almost that unsubtle and caricatured.

Overall the novels are enjoyable and worth persevering with through the rough parts. The themes and plot strands do all come together at the end, and much of the latter part of Assassin’s Quest is powerful, moving, even haunting. There are things about these books that I will remember for a very long time, flawed though they are.

If you want a star rating, I’ll say 4 stars.