Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dust of Dreams, review

After almost two weeks, I managed to finish "Dust of Dreams". Before, I usually read books of this size in some three or four days, depending on my free time. But since I got employed, my free time has dramatically decreased. And of course, Erikson's books ask for some slower pace of reading.

(source: Macmillan) - If you are wondering who this is, it is: Toc the Younger (select row to see)

To recap, this is a ninth book in "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series. It is also first half of last book, while second half will be revealed in tenth book, "The Crippled Good", which will be published (at least I hope) somewhere at the beginning of next year. I don't have any reference for this, but last few books were published one per year, so... Anyway, this book ends in cliffhanger, where you don't know who survived, where are everybody, who's responsible for what, etc. But that it not much different than in Erikson's previous books, isn't it?

I sincerely don't have any clue how Erikson't will be able to put everything in only one book! Not only that this book didn't end many plot-lines, it actually brought some new ones. So, the new book will have to conclude characters from both main plot-lines (Malazan/Letherii and Darujhistan). What I know is that it will really be epic!

I'll not reveal any spoilers from this new book, but if haven't read all previous books, don't read this review.

First to say, this is a book for fans. If you don't like this series, this book will not change your opinion. It continues Erikson's style where some 10-20 % of book is philosophical musing about meaning of life, death, beauty and other of his usual topics. I used to have really eclectic taste, but had to concentrate on fantasy-only books because I don't have time (and money) to read everything I would like, so I don't mind these parts of book. And probably is, if you read rest of series, you don't mind it, too. But I understand that it can be turn-down for some. Also, Erikson tends to be much too descriptive and this book is no exception. I presume that, if someone else wrote it, it could be some 100-200 pages shorter. Sometimes it can be hard to read, especially for those whose first language is not English.

But, if you are a fan, you will forgive all this flaws and really, really like this book! First, let's just mention characters: some half a dozen of dragons (depending if Kilmandaros and Draconus(?!?!) have draconic forms), Elder gods, Toc the Younger, Icarus, Mappo, T'lann Imass, un-dead Jaghut, live K'Chain Che'Malle, a Stormrider(!!! or ???) ... And this are not just mentioned characters, this are characters with POV's! There are also revelations of fourth Tiste race and new Thelomen race (at least it was new to me) and involvement of Forkrul Assails and K'Chain Nah'ruks; there are deaths of whole peoples. If this is not enough to bring water to your mouths, then you are not a fan (jokingly)!

There are many funny scenes in book, most so far, I think. Not surprising, considering Tehol is in this book (he's much better than in "Reaper's Gale") and some fifty Malazan soldiers (Kindly and Pores are the new dynamic duo for me). Also, there are many emotional scenes, mostly before death of "main" characters. I was surprised to see who dies in this book. But then, I was surprised with many things in this book. I think that reason I liked Erikson books is because of his slice-of-life scenes. They really help to make better connection to characters and feel their pain and happiness.

Worst chapter for me was when Malazans are traveling down the river. It's not that is badly written or not interesting enough; it is because it left me depressed after reading it. Other that this, there were few chapters at the beginning, where new characters are introduced, that I didn't like much. Other than that, book was perfectly interesting and compelling me to read more.

Finally, this book left me with more answers then questions. I'm not saying that I know answers for why, who, when... But I understand background of story much more. This book filled many holes in tapestry, but left many others to be filled in last book. Which I will wait for impatiently.

To put it short, one of the best books in series, one that you lose sleep for. If you liked previous books, you are bound to like this one. One of reasons why Erikson is one of my three best fantasy writers.

I will take a few weak rest from books, at least my next order arrive, and watch an anime or two.

Yesterday I saw interesting news for fans of "Malazan Book of the Fallen". I looks like two of authors will be doing a complete reread of this series, starting from next month. I'm looking forward for it, especially because it will help me sort the things out. Encyclopedia Malazica is a good site if you are looking for specific stuff, but a reread will probably be done in systematic way and explain some things I'm uncertain of. I presume that few more rereads of complete series will be necessary for me to understand it well enough, but that's not a complaint but praise.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Joined Technorati

Today I joined and part of process of joining is creating a post with a claim code, so here it is: AMVWD7J48WJA.

In next few days I will be finished with "Dust of Dreams" so I plan to post a review soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Dust of Dreams" - interlude

"Dust of Dreams" if ninth book in "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series, by Steven Erikson. It is actually a first part of last book, because Erikson says, in introduction, that he thinks of this and tenth books as of one book - just separated in two because of restrictions of binding techniques. He also said some interesting things about his writing, like how he hates cliffhangers at end of books, so his books are always finished.

I've been reading it for more than a week now, but because of business commitments, I'm currently somewhere close to half. And I really like it for now. Chapters are separated as followed: one chapter from POVs of Malazans and Letherii in Letheras, then one about Barghast White Face clans, Perish Grey Helms, Khundyl Burned Tears and some other characters. For now, I like Malazan/Letherii chapters more, but other ones are not bad in sense. Just that these characters are much funnier.

On the other hand, Malazan/Letherii chapters don't bring any big advances in plot. For now, they mostly serve to make a better connection with old characters. E.g., there are many short slice-of-life scenes from POV of lesser important Malazan soldiers. But this is exactly what I like, since most of them are hilarious.

For now, there is no Karsa Orlong, Genoes Paran, Icarium, Shadowthrone... I think they will not make appearance even later and that they are reserved for next book. Although, I can't imagine how Erikson will manage to put them all in this last book, since for now, there weren't any ends for previous plots (like e.g. in "The Gathering Storm"). I don't mind absence of some characters, since present ones are good enough, but I would like to see more of Iskaral Pust!

Anyway, this is all from me, until I finish the whole book. Other than that, I've read one nice review of "The Gathering Storm".

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fantasy in SF or vice versa (some spoilers)

Due to some quirk ways mind works, I found myself thinking about "Utawarerumono" and "Scrapped Princess" in the morning. It was soon after I woke, while going to work. I didn't drive, so my mind had leisure of wandering.

Both this anime start with one of classic fantasy premises: in "Utawarerumono" we have a man with amnesia and extremely capable, while in "Scrapped Princess" we have a cursed princess traveling with magician and fighter. In next few or more episodes, the "feeling of fantasy" is even more established. And then, later in series, we found out that both are actually post-apocalyptic worlds, where most people forgot about science and lived as in medieval times. Then we are introduced to "bad side", people who still have access to advanced technology and use it to rule and maintain status quo. If I remember correctly (I think that "Utawarerumono" was my third anime, after "Dragon Ball" and "Naruto"), in both this anime, antagonists had in some way justified reasons for their actions and weren't actually bad as they looked. Basically, they are SF anime that first lead viewers that they are fantasy.

As of my impressions, I liked "Utawarerumono" better then "Scrapped Princess". It had better animation (except for that awful CGI in battles) and plot was a big surprise for me; while "Scrapped Princess" had generic characters and lousy colors.

The reason why I wrote this, was because of next. Almost every day when I come to work, if circumstances allow it (and usually do), I drink coffee and check some sites. Among them is and there I found this post by Jo Walton, where he addressed disguising SF as fantasy, only in books.

Today I will receive "Dust of Dreams" by Steven Erikson, which I will write about next.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Suzumiya Haruhi no Juuustu 2009 - anime review

"Suzumiya Haruhi no Juuutsu" or "Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" is anime that I watched this week. And I am currently very biased about it. Also, I plan to write about plot and characters a bit more detailed, so beware of spoilers. I don't plan to write any real spoilers, but I would recommend skipping this to last paragraph if you want to be surprised while watching this anime.

This is a 28 episodes version that aired last year. In year 2006, anime with same name (only difference is in "2009" addition in title of newer one) was aired, that consisted of first 14 episodes. I watched it sometime in 2007 and, like Claymore, it was one of my first anime. I remember that there was much flame and discussions about it, which I thought were irrational at the time. Now, some 150 anime later, I understand them much better. In short, people were arguing was this series uninspired and intended for masses, or was it actually a masterpiece of entertainment. At that time I was closer to second opinion, although I admitted that there were some flaws in it. Now I'm somewhere in the middle, maybe closing to first one.

Episodes were broadcasted in nonlinear fashion, which I didn't mind then, or now. Actually, I though it very clever then (one other series that used this trick was "Kara no Kyoukai"). But problem for me was that that I remembered first 14 episodes quite well, so there was no much suspense for me. And this is half of series! So jokes weren't funny as first time nor was I surprised with revelations in plot.

There are five main characters. Story is told from point of view of Kyon, a normal school boy (first year), although cynical and somewhat lethargic. Suzumiya Haruhi is his new classmate, an eccentric girl who is not satisfied with normal life and is only interested in aliens, time-travelers and espers. And, although she is not aware of that, she has an ability to alter reality (this is maybe not true, but watch anime if you want to understand it better). And to answer her wishes, there are Nagato Yuki (alien); Asahina Mikuru (time-traveler) and Koizumi Itsuki (esper). Haruhi is not aware of their real identities and think of them only as her schoolmates, but Kyon knows it.

Plot consist of several their adventures, connected to Haruhi's quirky wishes and changes to reality she purposelessly cause. Plot is nothing especially interesting or surprising, but it's not bad in any way. For me, most impressive part was eight episodes named "Endless eight". Our heroes are trapped in time-loop and this is represented with eight episodes that are different in only few words per episode and in different clothes (actually, there are few differences in first and last episode, but nevertheless...). Though, I found it unrealistic that all five of them have eight swimming suits!!

Characters are what should be the best point of this anime, but for me, they were also the reason why I am biased about it. Kyon is great character; his comments are always funny and sarcastic and he is very real character (like doubts he has about his feelings). Koizumi and Nagato are good characters, fitting to their roles. I liked Koizumi's speaches and explanations. Problems were Haruhi herself and Mikuru. Mikuru was too whinnying for my taste. I understand that she was intended to be like that, but it was too much for me. Her weak voice and constant whining were irritating for me. And Haruhi is terrible person, especially to Mikuru. Her lowest point (at least for me) was in episodes about making a movie. She is demanding, bossy and not at least concerned about feelings of other. And she gets no punishment for that, nor does she realize it. This was biggest objection for me. But, since there will be some sequels to it, maybe it will get corrected in future.

From technical side, only praises. Animation, design, colors and care for details are on high level. Sounds are good, voice-acting too. And there were few nice songs.

Now, about my recommendation. Anime itself is not great; I would judge it a slightly above average. If you are watching anime only occasionally, or like only one or two categories (and this is not one of them), I think you should skip this anime and found something you will like more (depending on your taste). But if you like anime in general and watching them systematically, this is one of must-see, at least to know what all the fuss about it. Or, at least watch earlier series with 14 episodes, then if you like it, watch other 14 episodes (just beware of order!). And then, if you liked it, watch Bakemonogatari, which I found much better!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Claymore manga

Last week I spent reading Claymore. It is manga that had an anime version which I watched quite early in my anime history (I think it was one of first 5 anime I watched; I should be able to tell it precisely, but AniDB is in maintenance while I'm writing this). I liked it very much and decided that once I will read it, since I found out that anime adapted only first eleven volumes (currently there are seventeen release volumes) and had an alternate ending. And story was really interesting (I especially liked Abyssal Ones).

Main characters are female warriors called Claymores, named for big swords they carry (technically, I think they are to wide for real claymores). They are actually half-monsters, created by inserting yoma flesh to young females. And yoma are monsters that attack humans and eat their flesh; they are capable of taking humans forms, so they can live between them and slowly feed from communities. Weaker yoma have mostly human shape, while stronger have more bestial characteristics and tend to be much bigger (sometimes, much, much bigger!!).

And Claymores have a duty to wander solitary from town to town and fight yoma for fee. That fee is collected by mysterious Organization, who is responsible for creating Claymores and their training. They are raised to be emotionless and mostly they are remnants of families attacked by yoma, so they usually have no ties to other people.

Claire is main character; she is weakest (47th of 47) Claymore. At the beginning of story, she saves a boy, Raki, from yoma and he ends following her (since his family is dead). Claire at first tries to get rid of him, but later gets attached to him. Then later, she is separated from him and that becomes one of her driving forces (second one being revenge for death of her own savior).

Most yoma are senseless, but stronger ones - "awakened beings" (who are actually ex-Claymores that were unable to suppress their yoma side) have "normal" personalities. I especially liked Riful and Isley, who are among the strongest yoma.

There are a great number of characters, and most of them are blond, young women, so sometimes it's get difficult to follow who is who and where. Thankfully, their faces are mostly unique, and names also. Creator of this anime, Yagi Norihiro, "suffers" from George R. R. Martin's syndrome, meaning that many characters die. Although I was a bit sad after some of them, this is not over-exaggerated.

I think that can be observed from my review that I mostly appreciated this manga for it complex story. Characters are imagined well, most have their personal traumas and problems, but I didn't feel any special connection or admiration for them. Nevertheless, I really liked this manga and would like to recommend it to everyone who like good shounen action and fighting stories, but done in high fantasy setting and consistent manner. So, if you liked Berserk, you will like this!

At least, you can watch anime. It has 26 episodes, that 24 of them follow manga and ending, although is different from manga, it feels natural.

Next, I will be watching "Haruhi Suzumiya no Juuutsu" (the 28 episodes version).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Black Jewels Trilogy; reread

Although I said I will write a post after first book in trilogy, I'm writing this after whole book. That is mostly because Sunday was a day for hangover (a friend celebrated his promotion) so I spent 11-12 hours on couch reading. During that time, I've read whole second book and first half of third, so I decided to finish it all before a new post.

Since I've already read the book, I generally remembered characters and plot, although I forgot most of the details (which I'm grateful for because there wouldn't be point in reading it again).

I'm somewhat at loss how to generalize this book. First, let me stress if that I like it. It's not one of my favorite series, but it's solid, with no big flaws or boring parts. I liked characters (Saetan was my favorite) and especially the world. There are no long, unhappy parts that I don't like, like in Farseer Trilogy. There is no skimping with violence or sex, but on the other hand, they are not too exaggerated.

First I would like to shortly describe the world (with no spoilers): dominant race are humans, who live in a realm of Terreille. They are divided on landens and Blood; Blood (a minority, but not uncommon) have natural magic abilities and are differentiated by strength (color of their Jewels); dominant gender is female. They all worship Darkness, but are not evil (e.g. not like Drows); they are just a bit more temperament and prone to violence, but there is love, families, etc. Then, there is a realm of Kaeleer, where live humans, races similar to them and Kindred, who are animal races with ability of Blood. Last there is Dark Realm or Hell; this is a realm where dead Blood, that are too strong to die or have unfinished business with living, go before they return to Darkness. They are not ghosts; they become demon-dead, keep their memories and strengths, but usually can't go to Sun and have to drink blood to retain their vitality.

When books start, Terreille is corrupted by influence of ambitious Queens (Queens are strong female Blood that rule; there are ranks between them...), Kaeleer still live by old Blood traditions, and Hell is rule by Saetan, a 50.000 years demon-dead Blood male. Book then follows events connected to Witch and her companions; Witch is a super-strong Queen that is superposed to rule over all Blood and is born every few thousand years (50.000 years passed between this and last one).

Book has many comic scenes, many of them based on motive of hard individual with a soft spot. They are done very well and I didn't feel stupid or childish laughing at them. As I said, characters are very good, and there is no evil-by-definition. We have a great number of "good" characters and then there are others, who are ambitious, cruel or emotionally cold, but they are not evil by standards that this world live by.

Language is nice, very easy to read. There are not many invented terms that can be confusing for reader. Also, swearing is practically nonexistent. That, and general niceness of character can sometimes lure reader that this is a children book, which I don't think is the case. There are many adult and serious themes in these books: child abuse, rape, torture...

Few weeks ago I've read this article, where author explains how romance in Robert Heinlein's "The Door Into Summer", between protagonist (an adult) and preteen girl (who later grows up) creeped him when he read it as an adult. This book contains the same theme. I must say that if I haven't read this article previously, I wouldn't even notice it here. Personally, I didn't find it repulsive, because it was logical and natural thing in course of this book (not that I would approve it in real life).

Also, I notice that landen, who after all, are majority, are completely ignored. I can't say I noticed any landen character, except when they are referred in general. And this book revolves mainly around wealthy people, who don't have to do anything to earn their living. Note that I'm not saying they are having it easy; they have their own problems. I just realized that while in real life I don't usually respect rich people who inherited their money and never had to work for it, I don't have a problem with them as characters in books or other art. Actually, most of the time I admire them. This got nothing with this book, it just something I realized while reading it.

In general, I recommend this book, especially this omnibus edition (it has around 1200 pages, which is not too much). This is actually a book that I would recommend for someone who is just starting to read high fantasy. It contains many classic fantasy elements (magic, demons, etc.), but it's not naive and character are not one-dimensional. And it's not too long, so it won't scare anybody like some 10-volume series.

Yesterday I started reading Claymore manga. After reading some more volumes, I will decide to make one or more posts about it. But since I think I will finish it to the end of the week, it will probably be one post.