In my ongoing quest to read all of the major fantasy series (leaving aside obvious crap like David Eddings and Terry Goodkind stuff), I recently bought Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, the first book of his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. (As an aside, I’ve recently being buying books from the UK-based The Book Depository, which is noteworthy mainly for offering free shipping anywhere in the world, not to mention prices that beat any Malaysian retailers. The downside of course is that you need to wait for about a month to get your book. If anyone knows of any online store that can offer better deals for someone residing in Malaysia, do let me know.)
The Malazan books have quite a fanbase and, with all ten books in Erikson’s series now out, plus another four books by the co-creator of their shared world, Ian Cameron Esslemont, seem to be decently successful. Review-wise, however, the verdicts are all over the chart. The most enthusiastic fans rate Erikson’s work more highly even than G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. Given that these include some very smart people from QT3, I’m not inclined to dismiss their opinions lightly. To the detractors however, his story is an incomprehensible mess, plagued by bland prose, cliched and boring characters and poor storytelling sense. After slogging through all 600+ pages of the first book, I’m sad to say that I have to include myself in the latter camp.
Continue reading Gardens of the Moon
Way back at the beginning of this year, I wrote a post on the first chapter of the Wheel of Time series that was handed off to Brandon Sanderson. Now as 2011 draws to a close, it’s time to do the same for the penultimate chapter of a saga that first started over twenty years ago. As usual for the series, this is a massive tome, with my paperback version clocking in at an incredible 1,200+ pages. I like to think that it’s so massive that even the printers have a hard time with these books, as a good portion of the pages from my copy have faded ink. Be warned that spoiler abound, in case you’re the type to get squeamish about such things.
As with The Gathering Storm, old plotlines are resolved at a furious pace. One of the main ones in particular dates all the way back to the very first book in the series, The Eye of the World, where Perrin Aybara killed two Children of the Light in a frenzy of bloodlust. Another deals with the nigh invulnerable gholam which has been hunting Mat Cauthon since book seven. For the fans, I believe this book also ends all of the will they or won’t they romantic threads left dangling. Just about every major character gets a romantic partner. This includes not just the long expected pairing of Egwene al’Vere and Gawyn Trakand, but also such characters as Morgase Trakand, Thom Merrilin and even Berelain of Mayene!
Continue reading Towers of Midnight
Most fantasy series take place in an imagined world filled with powerful magic and fantastic creatures. As a matter of course, the stories tend to focus on the lives and doings of the most powerful and influential beings of their age, the better for readers to a get a proper sense of the epic scale of events as they unfold as well as to be sure of having a front row seat to the most spectacular battles. Glen Cook’s The Black Company series is set in a unnamed world that is no less wondrous than that of his fellow fantasy writers. Here there are the usual ancient evils and prophecies; sleeping gods and sorcerors potent enough to create storms or turn large companies of soldiers to ash; monsters such as were-panthers, talking stones and flying mantas.
What sets this series apart is its focus not on the generals and nobility, the most puissant mages and most renowned generals, but on the lowly common foot soldiers that make up the bulk of every army. In this case, the spotlight is on the Black Company, a band of mercenaries who peddle their services to the highest bidder. Chronicles of the Black Company is an omnibus volume that brings together the first three novels of the series, The Black Company, Shadows Linger and The White Rose. The first of these books were published in 1984 but I only heard about this series several years ago from QT3.
Continue reading Chronicles of the Black Company
Far from it for me to call myself any sort of expert on Fall from Heaven 2, but I thought there might be some interest in some simple guides for playing each of the factions in the game. They’ll include both stuff from my individual playing experiences and advice that I’ve read elsewhere on the net, most notably from the Civfanatics forums. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually complete playthroughs for each of the factions, but I’ll keep it up for as long as it holds my interest.
Continue reading A Quick Guide to the Ljosalfar
One of the most important lessons any aspiring designer can learn is to heed Sid Meier’s dictum that a good game is a series of interesting decisions. This is precisely what the dark fantasy-themed Fall from Heaven 2 is all about. There is no point in the game where a particular path of action becomes so overbearingly obvious as to make the choice a non-decision. While the ultimate objective remains, as in any 4X game, to achieve complete dominance over the other factions, there are many different paths to this end and countless means within each path to advance along it.
Fall from Heaven 2 of course benefits from being a mod of Civilization 4 which provides it with a sound base to work on, but the new mechanics, factions, units, religions and events it adds makes it a worthy game more than capable of standing on its own. The cornucopia of choices begins with choosing one of a total of 21 available factions. Each faction generally has two different leaders available. Then there’s a total of 7 religions to pick from, each of which offers synergies different enough to drastically alter your playstyle. Next, you’ll want to think about which victory condition to shoot for. In addition to the ones already in Civilization 4, the Alpha Centauri victory is replaced by the Tower of Mastery victory inspired by the venerable Master of Magic game and there’s a religious Altar of Luonnatar victory condition.
Continue reading A Game: Fall from Heaven 2
Since I’m done with Empire for a while, I’ve been looking for something a bit more action-oriented. I’d already decided that it would either be Grand Theft Auto IV or Saint’s Row 2, and I’m slightly embarrassed that I ended up choosing GTA after having written this post. It seems that the PC ports of both of these games are awful, but Saint’s Row 2 is an order of magnitude worse, so GTA it is.
It’s going to take some time to get to me however because it’s backordered over at Pcgame.com.my so in the meantime, I thought I’d take advantage of the free trial of Lord of the Rings Online, one of the MMOs I’ve always been curious about. I’d always pictured LotRO as a sort of World of Warcraft 2.0 set in Middle Earth and I’ve heard good things about the Shire starting area for hobbits so I went ahead and downloaded the client and made myself a trial account.
No surprise that the game looks and feels a lot like WOW. Yes, instead of exclamation and question marks on top of the heads of quest givers, you have rings instead. Cute. What was surprising to me was that despite being able to copy so much from WOW, how unpolished it still is. Everything from the launcher, to the little icons for skills and abilities to how the UI doesn’t scale to your resolution, just reminds of how much better WOW does things. Of course, LotRO has a leg up on WOW in that its graphical engine is visibly superior, especially when looking at the landscape, but I found myself missing WOW‘s art direction.
As for world building, while I can agree that the Shire does indeed look superbly realized, I can’t help but roll my eyes at how the game breaks the lore in so many ways. Hobbits fighting men and even dwarves in the Shire? Traders in Michel Delving selling weapons to hobbits? I know that all this is pretty much necessary in an MMO, but it still induces severe nerd rage in me.
Anyway, I enjoyed my brief stay in Middle Earth and made it a point to visit some particular places of interest that I remember from the books, such as the Party Tree, but I don’t really see the long-term appeal in playing this. It actually made me WOW for a while. Still, it was free so I can’t complain too much and I got a good couple of days’ entertainment out of it.
“You shouldn’t say that about your father!”
“Well, it’s true. He was crap. A rotten husband and a rotten father.”
“Of course he was!” said Mrs.Higgler, fiercely, “But you can’t judge him like you would judge a man. You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god.”
“A god among men?”
“No. Just a god.” She said it without any kind of emphasis, as flatly and as normally as she might have said “he was diabetic” or simply “he was black.”
– Neil Gaiman in Anansi Boys
Anansi Boys may be the sequel to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods but where its predecessor was dour, tragic and epic in scope, this sequel is light-hearted, humorous and family-centered. In place of the hardened ex-convict Shadow of American Gods, the protagonist of Anansi Boys is a regular guy stuck with the unfortunate nickname of Fat Charlie. Not that Charlie is really fat, mind you, just somewhat rounded around the edges. Charlie’s father has a knack for naming things and having the names stick, you see, and as the reader soon learns, that’s just the least of his father’s talents.
Continue reading A Book: Anansi Boys