Monday, 23 September 2013

Curled Up Next to the Fire: The Painted Man

It's been a little while since I've done my "literary" segment and I've managed to read a couple of books since tackling the epic tome that was Great North Road. Of course, true to personal style, my scatty writing habits mean I skipped over the last two books I read but not for this one. You see, this is one is by a man I regard as an absolute dude, Mr Peter V. Brett.

Fantasy is a genre that I'm still...getting into, in the context of books anyway. I've always enjoyed it, but the collection of fantasy in my library has always been a bit lacking. The acquisition of The Painted Man was mostly due to going to see Peter V. Brett in person and naturally wanting a book that could be signed by the man himself, but  also a further effort in expanding my fantasy collection.

So, to the metaphorical meat of this particular meal, The Painted Man.

We are introduced to a world where demons of various kinds come out at night to terrorise the poor unfortunate humans. The only protection for these humans are magical wards that, if arranged in the proper way, keep the demons from breaching protective barriers. Legend tells of a time where humans also had not only defensive wards, but offensive wards that allowed them to wage war on demons. But three hundred years have passed and the wards have fallen into antiquity. Humans are now clustered in a handful of settlements - a few small hamlets dotted on the roads between the five major cities: Fort Miln, Fort Angiers, Fort Rizon, Fort Lakton and Fort Krasia.

There are three major characters in The Painted Man. The first is Arlen Bales, a young boy from a hamlet called Tibbet's Brook. He has a talent for painting wards (even though not formally trained as a Warder) and a curiosity for how to fight demons - a thing that no one but the fanatical inhabitants of Fort Krasia ever attempt. During his formative years in Tibbet's Brook, Arlen becomes fascinated by the lifestyle of the Messengers, men who travel from city to city (via the hamlets) trading valuable goods and bringing letters to the people. This fascination with the Messenger lifestyle, coupled with an incident that we shan't go into here, leads Arlen to leave Tibbet's Brook and seek out the life of a Messenger in Fort Miln.

Next up in our selection of major characters is Leesha, from the small hamlet of Cutter's Hollow, near Fort Angiers. Her arc sees her finding a talent for being an Herb Gatherer, a profession seemingly only occupied by women and can be described as essentially being a doctor. Previously, Leesha had been "promised" (i.e. engaged) to a boy in Cutter's Hollow, but when he spreads lies about her virtue she shuns the life her overbearing mother wants for her and takes up the life of Herb Gathering, eventually finding her way to the (metaphorical) bright lights of Fort Angiers.

Finally, there's Rojer. Hailing from Riverbridge, this settlement is destroyed in a demon attack when we met Rojer, who at the time is merely a toddler. He his rescued by Arrick Sweetsong, a Jongleur (a profession that appears to be similar to a court jester) working directly for the Duke of Angiers. However, after the destruction of Riverbridge, Arrick loses his commission with the Duke and finds himself with the burden of raising a child. As befits the situation, he trains Rojer in his own profession, though the demon attack did leave Rojer without two of his fingers which means the juggling part of being a Jongleur is a little tricky for him. He does, however, have a significant talent for playing the fiddle.

Through the various arcs of these characters, we are shown the majority of the length and breadth of the world they inhabit, known (very infrequently in the text) as Thesa. We are introduced to the various forms of demon (fire, wind, rock and wood to name the most frequently seen) and the scattered legends and stories of the "Age of Science" that led to the return of the demons from "the Core". Peter Brett uses a narrative style I'm rather fond of and have used myself - multiple major characters, each with their own piece of the puzzle, wandering through the world until a major event brings them together. And what I love about this style is watching these seemingly unrelated people, knowing that they'll be drawn together and watching how far away they get from each other before the inexplicable fates drag them all to the same place.

Okay, so this is the awkward phase of things. The honest opinion moment. I cannot deny that I enjoyed this book. I really did. Just not...overwhelmingly. Which confuses me, because as I mentioned on several occasions in my post about meeting Peter Brett, the man is a frakkin' dude. I guess, if I had to give it a rating out of ten (this will not become a tradition!) I'd mark it as a seven. This book is definitely worth reading. It's a good book. I just feel bad that I wasn't as wowed by it as I was by the man. BUT. And this is in capital letters because it's real important. The Painted Man is but the first in a series. And the finale definitely picked up the pace and opens some very interesting doors. I look forward to going through the doors when I reach The Desert Spear, book two, as I trudge through my ever growing list of books to read. Honestly. Went out and bought seven more books the other day. It's something of an addiction I suspect.

Until then...I hope you do read this book, in spite of my apparent underwhelmed reaction. It is really rather good and the man who writes these books is really rather awesome and I would like for people to keep him in business.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

As they say in the Temporal Mechanics Department, there's no time like the present

The title of this long overdue entry in my sadly neglected blog is a cheeky little reference to my neglect. I have been procrastinating in the last few months, so I feel that the words of Kathryn Janeway are quite appropriate. I'd promise to better in the coming days, but let's face it - Life, that absolute cheeky little frakker, has a habit of finding ways to interfere. In the meantime, I've racked up a few topics I feel worthy of babbling about. Not going to cover all of them today...going to attempt to say a couple for another blog post. In fact, in the course of making a quick scribble on a piece of paper at this very moment I discovered a theme. These topics can be grouped into categories of movies, TV and videogames. Given that I snagged today's title from a television show, today's category of rambling will be TV shows.

I'll start with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. I had to do a quick trawl through my posts to check that the one and only time I mentioned it was in reference to Topher Brink being one of my top ten favourite tech people, so I now have free license to go for the full ramble.

Let's start with a mild pre-amble. I think it would be pretty difficult not to notice that I'm something of a Whedonite (if this isn't a term it probably should be). I hold Joss Whedon's works in very high regard and have a lot of time for pretty much anything he does, TV or movie. Especially after the awesomenesses that were Avengers and Much Ado About Nothing. Now, by and large Dollhouse is not held in the highest regard by a lot of people, Whedonites included I'm pretty sure. And I have to admit, I'm one of them. Dollhouse is the weakest of Joss Whedon's TV offerings, disappointing after the great offerings of Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

I have to follow this paragraph up with a huge, gigantic YES IT FRAKKIN' DOES LOOK BIG IN THIS...


...I did, actually, quite thoroughly enjoy Dollhouse. I won't put it on a pedestal and say that it's the best thing Whedon has ever done. Joss may be Boss, but alas I can't sing too many praises. Dollhouse has great moments, some fantastic episodes, utterly astoundingly brilliant characters and some incredible acting talent...but alas, it's not enough to detract from the fact that, well, you do have to wade through a tiny bit of crap to get through to the really, really good stuff.

Now, thrashing the poor bugger while it's down and out for the count aside, let's talk about the good bits.

As with any Joss Whedon show, I absolutely love the witty banter that is fired off between the characters. In fact, I'd wager half of what I love about Whedon shows are the character dynamics, punctuated by the witty banter. For an example and some context for said example, the "Dolls" (or "Actives") of the eponymous Dollhouse are not supposed to exhibit the usual human reactions in their "Doll" state. In one episode, the B-Story Arc revolves around LA Dollhouse head tech Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) discovering that one of the Actives, "Victor" (Enver Gjokaj) is having a "man reaction" (Topher's exact description) and investigating this occurrence with Doctor Claire Saunders (Amy Acker), the head physician. In the course of their investigation, the phrase "I believe I spotted a tumescence" occurs. Giggles all round.

To go a bit sideways for a second, I want to touch upon my comment of "incredible acting talent" and single out the aforementioned Enver Gjokaj. During the course of the show, as one of the "Actives", he plays many different characters, essentially. And he does them all superbly. is a massive SPOILER ALERT. If you have not watched Dollhouse and intend to, do not continue much further. Well, skip the next paragraph at least.

For at one point, Victor is "imprinted" (the in-universe term for having a personality put into the blank-slate head of an Active) with...Topher 2.0. That's right, the brilliant techie that is Topher Brink has his mind copied and downloaded into Victor in season two in order for them to hack into a secured computer system. Utterly brilliant and genius. Enver Gjokaj, proving how awesome he is.

Anyway, moving on now.

Now, I will briefly discuss how I have been sucked into watching and enjoying Breaking Bad.

So this has been one of those shows that almost everyone I know has been raving on about. I'd heard about it, been intrigued by it. Finally managed to get to sitting down and watching some of it. And I must say, what I have seen has been very enjoyable. A particular highlight is the season two episode "Negro y Azul". Much laughter and enjoyment was had, though there is one part that I still wonder if I shouldn't have found it that funny. But oh well.

I said this would be brief, right? So there it is. Started watching it, think it's pretty good.

Moving on to something I'm going to absolutely rave about, my new addiction - The Almighty Johnsons.

My provider of sage advice and wisdom, Oracle, was the first to discover this. She recommended it on numerous occasions before me and my housemate finally sat down to watch it. And lo, it very quickly became...pretty much like crack for me (funny that I just mentioned Breaking Bad, a show about drug dealing...). Honestly. Couldn't stop watching it. Within in a few days, I had devoured both seasons. Twenty-three episodes total, but still.

Now, for some context. The Almighty Johnsons is a New Zealand TV show about four brothers, the Johnsons, who just so happen to be the mortal reincarnations of Norse gods. Yep. That's right. Norse gods in New Zealand. The eldest brother, Mike (full name Mikkel), is Ull, the god of the hunt and of games. Next up is Anders, played by The Hobbit's Fili, Dean O'Gorman. He is Bragi, god of poetry. And is a womanising jackass, but somehow, because it's Fili, I don't detest him as much as I should. Or maybe it's his godliness...anyway, next on the agenda is Ty, who is Hod, the god of all things dark and cold. He's not so happy about that. And last of all there's the youngest brother, Axl. In the first episode, it's his 21st birthday, the time when his god-hood manifests. And lo and behold, he discovers that he's none other than Odin, the Allfather. And in order to restore all the gods to their true powers, he has to find Odin's beloved, the goddess Frigg to restore the House of Asgard. Seems simple enough? Only there's a quartet of goddesses out to stop him.

The Almighty Johnsons is a comedy drama that I find absolutely, utterly 100% brilliant. Like I said, like crack for me. I've always had passing interest in mythology, knowing little to nothing about it, but by the gods and goddess of Asgard, this show makes me want to learn more.

I would rave so much more, but I feel that A) I've been babbling too long and B) The Almighty Johnsons can more than speak for itself. I now join my dear Oracle in her nail-biting irritation at the lack of season three on DVD. Come on, New Zealand. I can now more or less tell the difference between your accent and the Australian accent...release season three of The Almighty Johnsons on DVD? Pretty please...?

(Song of the Mind: Battlestar Sonatica - Bear McCreary)