Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Game of Thrones season two

Warning: spoilers ahead. If you haven't seen season two and intend to, read no further!


 
I enjoyed the first season of Game of Thrones. It was reasonably intelligent fantasy, with a few very good characters and a developing plot.


I struggled with season two. It was (in my view) unnecessarily grim, harsh and bloody. There were very few characters I liked (Tyrion and Arya) and the other “good” characters were either utterly thick (Catelyn Stark, I'm looking at you) or just dull (Jon Snow and Robb Stark would come to mind if they weren't instantly forgettable).
  
It also didn't help that each episode gave about five minutes of each plot thread before jumping elsewhere, making it difficult to get absorbed into any single story.

We haven't got Sky, so I'd bought the boxed set. By the time I got to the last episode of season two, I was finding watching the show hard work, and I was seriously asking myself if I was going to bother buying season three.
 
 
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The last episode changed all that. Suddenly we began to see that there really is magic in Westeros. There had been hints before, but nothing of any substance. Now the magic is becoming real. Magic is returning. Is it because the dragons are back? And the plot threads suddenly seemed to be going somewhere. Sansa had finally escaped the clutches of Joffrey; Jon Snow had reached the Wildling settlement; the White Walkers, so long just names, finally emerge from the snow. And Daenerys is realising that her dragons are more than just tiny lizards.
  
I think season two was poor, particularly after seeing how good the first season was. But the promise of the final episode is enough to persuade me not to give up on Game of Thrones.


Friday, 18 July 2014

SFFSat 19/7/2014 - Sorrel in Silver

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 


This week I'm posting another extract from Sorrel in Silver. Two thousand years ago, the elves almost destroyed Sorrel's world in a genocidal war with the serpent-folk. Now Sorrel and Wrack have met with a small group of surviving elves...


 'Most people think of us as monsters, evil horrors from the distant past. When we've revealed our existence in the past we've been met with vilification and violence.'
'Not surprising' Wrack growled. 'You virtually destroyed the world.'
Daziel bridled at his words, but Malena raised a hand warningly. 'Wrack's right, Daziel' she said softly. 'We did. It was a last-ditch attempt to strike back at the lloruk – a final act of vengeance from a race about to vanish into extinction.' She looked at each of us in turn. 'If you knew that every last one of you was about to die, murdered by an evil foe, would you not do whatever you could to bring that foe down?'
I shivered as her words painted pictures in my thoughts. Men, women and children dying in agony, the marks of disease across their bodies. What would I have done had I known that fate was upon me? If I had had a doomsday weapon, would I have used it to hammer the genocidal monsters responsible for this crime?


Moral questions - not something Sorrel finds easy...
As always, comments appreciated!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

D&D 5

I've been a D&D player for over thirty years. My first rules were the Games Workshop printing of D&D, before any of the Advanced D&D rulebooks were published.

I've got copies of AD&D, D&D Second Edition, D&D 3, and I even have Pathfinder - sometimes called D&D in exile.

I don't own D&D 4. Why not? Because I've always wanted a roleplaying game that was good for telling stories. D&D 4 was a miniatures skirmish wargame with rolegaming tacked onto it. I wasn't impressed. By all accounts, nor were most players.

Now Wizards of the Coast are releasing D&D 5. The new rulebooks are coming out over the next three months, but the basic rules have been released in pdf form for anyone to download. So far, I like what I have seen. This is a game where the emphasis is on stories, not on rules or miniatures. Characters are based on their histories and their personalities, with the statistics being a secondary aspect. This is how, as far as I am concerned, it ought to be. What matters is being able to write a collaborative story.

Pathfinder had become far too baroque, with new rules for every detail rather than a simple system that allowed the GM and players to concentrate on the plot. And D&D4 was only interested in combat.

D&D Next seems to have swung the pendulum back towards what in my view should be the core to any game - being able to concentrate on the plot and the characters, rather than stats and rules.

I'll reserve full judgment until I see the rules - but they are firmly on my Christmas list.

And one detail that convinced me that WotC are on my wavelength was the disclaimer at the beginning of the basic rules. If you haven't yet read it and fallen about laughing, I reproduce it here.

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting up the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant steading, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, “Are you really sure?”


 Someone at Wizards of the Coast understands rolegaming.



Friday, 11 July 2014

SFFSat 12/7/2014 - Sorrel in Silver

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 


This week I'm posting another extract from Sorrel in Silver. Two thousand years ago, the elves almost destroyed Sorrel's world in a genocidal war with the serpent-folk. Now Sorrel and Wrack have agreed to meet with a small group of surviving elves.



'I've had confirmation that the elves are ready for you to meet with them' Griffyn said importantly as soon as he had settled into the chair. I could feel the atmosphere around us chilling at his words. Elves were monsters. Everyone knew that they were the most evil creatures the world had ever known. And Griffyn wanted us to talk to them.
Wrack's fingers had tightened on my shoulder. I was going to have a bruise there in the morning. I flicked a glance up at my dragon, and saw his face tight and drawn. I knew that Wrack did not like the idea of meeting the elves. Seeing his expression, unguarded for a moment, I realised just how terrified he was at the idea. The thought that this scared Wrack that much filled my stomach with frozen lead. I had thought nothing truly frightened Wrack.
But this did.

I'm not going to say if Wrack is right to be worried...
As always, comments appreciated!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Underrated dragons 4 - Falkor, the Luck Dragon

I first read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story soon after its first English publication - and it bowled me over. A fantasy about fantasy, a book within a book, looking at the meaning and uses of imagination, both good and ill. The central conceit is that a boy (an unlikeable young man, at that) steals a book and sits and reads it. In the edition we have. the text printed in red describes what happens to the young man, and the book he reads is printed in green.

Except that after a time the two texts begin to cross over, and Bastian tumbles into the story. The fantasy realm is the realm of stories, and it is fading because people - especially children - are not reading and feeling a sense of wonder. Bastian ends up taking on the task of preventing the decay of Fantastica.

But imagination and story can also be put to less good ends - the commercialisation of imagination is a darker threat that draws Bastian into much grimmer, darker bywaters in the second half of the book, and the boy almost loses himself.

So why am I referring to the book in this blog? Mostly because I think it is an extraordinary work of fantasy that deserves to be more widely read. My excuse is that the book contains a dragon, Falkor, a luck dragon who is far more akin to the Chinese dragons than to European wyrms. Falkor is a very well-drawn character, sympathetic and interesting. Unfortunately, most people's vision of Falkor comes from the film, which turns him into a dog-like sock puppet with very little character and not much interest. I will say in passing that the film deeply disappointed me - it turned Bastian, at the beginning, into a nice little boy, rather than the unpleasant boy from the book, which makes his transformation during the plot far less interesting, and it cuts the second half of the book completely, losing much of the point of it. Avoid the film. Read the book, as it is immeasurably better, and has a very interesting dragon in it.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

New reviews!

And to my delight I have a pair of
five-star reviews on Amazon.com!

Loren Weaver reviewed Scarlet,
clearly liked it, bought Snowbound
and reviewed that, as well. Five stars
for each book, and lots of nice
comments. I feel very flattered...

"Full of war, bravery, and reconciliation, Sorrel in Scarlet is the kind of tale you don't soon forget. I enjoyed the fast paced writing style and unique characters. They're not all perfect heroes, even when they try to do the right thing. And some of them are doing good for bad reasons. They make for very real characters that grow and change as the book progresses."

And about Snowbound -

 "I loved the characters in this book, and how Sorrel's complete and utter conviction is tested to its limits. She's a strong character, but even those have their breaking points. Written from Sorrel's point of view, the book is also well written and fast paced."


... I'm going to need a new size in hats.

Friday, 27 June 2014

SFFSat 28/6/14 - Sorrel in Silver

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

I'm delighted to report that I've completed the draft manuscript for Sorrel in Silver, the third volume of Sorrel's saga. It needs editing and tidying up, but the plot is complete. To celebrate, I'm going to post half a dozen snippets from the new book over the next few weeks, with luck to build up everyone's interest before it is published.

This time Sorrel realises that the world around her is not as solid and stable as she thought...



The ground began to shudder under us. At first it was just a slight shiver, making the water ripple wildly. Then there was a deep rumbling roar, like heavy balls rolling on a wooden bowling ground, and I saw the trees begin to shake. The water was splashing, the Cygnet tilting from side to side. I had my legs well apart, trying to keep from tumbling over. Griffyn had stumbled to the ground already, and Wrack was struggling to stay upright. In the distance I saw the west tower of Tolgrail shiver, and then slowly, agonisingly, slump out of sight as it crumbled. With an ear-splitting screech, one of the trees on the bank of the river toppled sideways and slammed into the water.
The ground was still shuddering, if anything moving more. Griffyn's face was white, and he was shouting something, but over the roar of the tortured earth I couldn't make out his words. The light changed around us, shadows suddenly moving – I looked south, and realised in disbelief that one of the gigantic lantern trees, over a mile from us, was toppling. I couldn't hear the sound of its plunge into the jungle, but the world was suddenly darker around us as its illumination was extinguished.


As always, comments appreciated!