Friday, February 26, 2010

Time Passes And Life Manouevres

You could just about write a book with the chapter titles in this part of Church & State.

We get an idea of just how big Powers is when we see him and Lord Julius standing side by side. Because Cerebus is so short it's often hard to get a good handle on how big normal people are, next to Cerebus they're all large.

Julius is using the old Br'er Rabbit bramble patch trick to try and get Powers to appoint him President. The more he tells Powers how much he doesn't want to be President and he wouldn't give that job to his worst enemy the more likely Powers is to do it. As expected Powers does exactly that and once again Julius gets what he wants.

Bran manages to convince Cerebus that getting his adoring believers to invade the Red Marches would be a good idea, although if Boobah had not dropped a large chunk of blackberry pie on Cerebus' head it probably would not have happened. I started to wonder exactly what Bran's agenda is. He's the one who wants the Red Marches taken over, not Cerebus.

Cerebus address to the crowd is another one of those great speeches that Dave wrote for him. Talk about no more Mister Nice Pope and telling the starving crowds that being Pope is not easy. Most Holy is still trying to get pie crust and blackberries out of his left ear! Cerebus doesn't tell the people this, but I would imagine cleaning ears the size of Cerebus' would be no easy task.

Having sent his 'army' off to the Red Marches Cerebus wanders into the hotel gardens where he finds Sophia seated on a bench sewing. Yes, you read that right. Red Sophia is sewing. She's become remarkably domesticated since her marriage. Cerebus asks her what she's doing and she says that she's mending his robe, Cerebus remarkably gracious response to that is couldn't she hire someone to do it? At times I really want to reach into the book and slap the aardvark silly, this was one of those times. The former warrior woman then shows remarkable insight by asking if what is happening is really Cerebus' dream or Brans? Cerebus responds that people have been waiting for centuries for the Great Cerebus (can you say delusions of grandeur?), Sophia comes up with the great counter that it will be a great disappointment that Cerebus is so short and obnoxious. Predictably Cerebus screams that he could condemn her to an eternity of torture. This won't wash with Sophia, who knows that Cerebus isn't a God. She stands up and tosses his robe at him, he falls into a bush and lays there with his freshly mended robe over his head, rather resembling a small child pretending to be a ghost.

An angry Cerebus goes to his treasure room. Presumably being in the presence of so much money calms the avaricious aardvark. Sweat beading his furry brow, Cerebus picks up the Tarim coin. It immediately starts to shine brightly and other coins begin ripping out of the sacks and joining with the one in Cerebus' hand. In 5 wonderful intercut panels Cerebus drops the coin and climbs high onto the pile of coin filled bags where he lays cowering and staring with horror and fear at the large glowing coin on the floor.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hovering Below The Fray

Cerebus returns to his hotel to find Bran waiting for him and he was very aware that it was a fake Elf, in fact you could almost see the wires. As always Bran tells Cerebus that he is a God.

Powers is still trying to find a way around the Cerebus question, with Weisshaupt indisposed and near death Cerebus is the most powerful person in Iest and they need to find another President. Powers is the only person in Iest who can appoint a successor to Weisshaupt, but who exactly should he choose?

As Bran and Cerebus discuss the culmination of his plan to gain all the gold in Iest and Powers and his flunkey talk about the new President and how to bring Cerebus to heel Gerhard's marvelously drawn gargoyles appear at the bottom of many of the pages as a sort of harbinger of doom.

Bran takes Cerebus to the room where he has all the gold he's collected stored. Bran seems to be able to divine the history of every coin by simply looking at it. All is well until Bran tells Cerebus that one coin was struck by Tarim himself. Cerebus flings it down like it was on fire and tells Bran to leave it alone immediately.

Back in Powers quarters the first applicant for President walks in. It's Julius. Powers doesn't like him anymore than anyone else does and has no intention of giving him the job. Lord Julius probably wants the job, but acts like he doesn't and takes the opportunity to insult Powers roundly. There's a particular line where Julius credits all the insults to Powers' superior; the Lion of Serrea and finishes it off with: "You should have heard what he said about your dog." Powers' reaction is priceless. This big seemingly emotionless hard man of the church suddenly gets a stricken expression on his face and says in a small voice "Spike? Spike's a good dog." It was such a funny scene and so well done that for years a friend of mine and I only had to mention it to provoke fits of laughter.

Back in the hotel Cerebus is seriously spooked by the coin that was struck by Tarim and cannot even bring himself to pick it up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lessek's Key: The Eldarn Sequence Book 2

SPOILER ALERT! If you have read The 1st book in the Eldarn Sequence: The Hickory Staff, and wish to read on be warned this review contains spoilers. I’ll try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but do not wish to ruin anyone’s future enjoyment of the books.

My first shock in Lessek’s Key actually came before I even started the story. Readers are informed in the introduction that one of the two authors; Jay Gordon, had contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and unfortunately lost his battle with the illness late in 2005 and passed away before the publication of Lessek’s Key. Gordon’s co author and son-in-law; Robert Scott, completed the trilogy with the assistance of Gordon’s notes.

I wondered if the loss of one of the authors would significantly affect the trilogy. On reflection, not greatly. It appears that Jay Gordon’s part was largely written before his untimely passing, and he left extensive notes which obviously helped Robert Scott a great deal.

Lessek’s Key opens promisingly. As revealed at the end of The Hickory Staff, Steven Taylor has made it back to our world and brought Nerak with him. The search for the key and Steven’s battle with the massively powerful, body stealing Nerak is well written and gripping. As with the first book these sequences occasionally veer into horror territory, but are still compulsively readable.

The action, or rather lack of it, back on Eldarn is not so well handled. There are 3 separate groups in this world, all fighting against Nerak and frustratingly not aware of each others existence or movements for most of the book. One group comprises the brilliant young archer Garec, who now he has decided not to use his talent with a bow has become largely deadweight, and spends most of his time in a state of deep depression about everyone he has ever killed or may kill in the future, it becomes very tiresome to read. Meanwhile Mark Jenkins has turned into a vengeful, intolerant, rage filled killing machine. Former Larion Senator Gilmour/Fantus alternately performs feats of incredible magic or makes the most elemental mistakes. They added a smuggler called Rodler for reasons I never understood, the character added almost nothing to the story before predictably dying.

Across the Ravenian Sea we have the other two groups, along the coast are former Malakasian soldier Brexan and former partisan; Sallax. At times I wasn’t even sure why the duo were included. Their actions had very little bearing on the major story, they were not connected to either of the other two groups and they spent most of their time farcically allowing their major quarry; merchant cum spy Carpello, to escape their clutches before realising that he had very little information of worth and killed him.

I found the 3rd group the most interesting. Of the three American refugees Hannah Sorenson has always been the best written and the most engaging. This continued to be the case in Lessek’s Key. Her companions; another former Larion Senator Alen/Kantu was very similar in talent and thought to Gilmour, although his lapses in talent can at least be blamed on him being a recovering alcoholic. The giant mute Churn was a solid presence and rather useful when a feat of superhuman strength was called for and I found former thief and aspiring healer Hoyt amusing and surprisingly resourceful.

I couldn’t help wanting the three groups to meet and pool their resources, but it didn’t happen, not in this book anyway. The first part of the book and the last part are tight and contain action and plot advancement, unfortunately the main middle section contains a lot of introspection and amateur psychology mixed with a plenty of that aimless wandering about the countryside that many fantasy authors seem to think readers find fascinating.

Too much of Lessek’s Key is filler. This could have been a tight, action packed duology, instead they’ve attempted to turn it into a lengthy trilogy which has resulted in one unnecessary volume. If you’re going to read this trilogy I’d love to tell you to skip Lessek’s Key and go straight to the concluding book; The Larion Senators, however if you do that you would wind up missing some key elements to the story which would make the final volume incomprehensible.

Having said all that I do intend to read The Larion Senators and hope that it can bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. The trilogy does definitely have promise, but it gets buried under the unnecessary padding sometimes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sane As it Ever Was

Stunning title, quite appropriate and from one of my favourite Talking Heads songs. I'm not sure if Dave liked Talking Heads, the only musician I know he truly loved was Keith 'Keef' Richards from the Rolling Stones.

This chapter opens almost like a movie. The first three panels show a rain covered Iest, they read panel by panel: AARDVARK-VANAHEIM PRESENTS CEREBUS in and then the 3 panels on the next page have the title and the credits. This may not have been Gerhard's first issue, but it was the first one he was credited in. The first 3 pages showcase Gerhard's talents, they're all background. Cerebus has entered a seemingly endless underground passage that has tortured demonic faces decorating it's length.

Cerebus is toiling up the steps, puffing and panting and continually reminding himself not to get mad at an elf. We all remember how well that worked out last time.

The Elf's directions to get Cerebus into The Regency are actually very amusing, she keeps leaving out little details about various boobytraps until it's too late. By the time Cerebus finally gets into the hotel he has tripped over an uneven stone, fallen through a trap door onto the stone floor, smacked himself in the snout with a loose floorboard and fallen down the stairs due to hinged steps.

Cerebus is overheard by an obese chambermaid before he can get into the room where The Elf is waiting for him. The conversation with The Elf is the usual hilarious nonsense. The Elf urges Cerebus to stop doing whatever he's doing, he can do whatever he wants as long as he stops doing what he's doing at the moment. It probably doesn't make sense to anyone other than The Elf.

The maid peeks through a keyhole and this is the first indication the reader gets that things are not as they seem. She can see Cerebus, but not The Elf. Although The Elf can be invisible when she wants (she was seen by Blakely) there is no reason for her to be so at this point. The maid freaks out at the fact that Most Holy is on the premises.

The Elf tells Cerebus that because he is Most Holy and what he says is true then if he keeps insisting that Tarim will bring about the end of the world in 5 days unless he Most Holy is given all the gold in Iest then the world will end in 5 days, because there is a small amount of gold buried under rocks where no one can get at it. Cerebus tells the concerned Elf that he'll say it was all a joke and leaves with her asking him to come back and play wickets with her when the weather is warmer.

I was both right and wrong when I thought the light meant the return of The Elf. The Elf that Cerebus has just spoken to would appear to be a false Elf who was trying to trick Cerebus for reasons we do not yet know.

An encounter with the maid at the end of the chapter indicates that Cerebus did not believe the false Elf and is still going after the gold.

Ignore It It's Just Another Reality

So Most Holy has a row of cannons pointed at his head and a crazy man has control of them. he also has a really bad cold. It's going to take more than cunning to get out of this one. Cerebus is going to need a large slice of luck.

The second page is one of those gross, but brilliant sight gags that Dave did so well. Cerebus puts on his papal robes, and while they're over his head he sneezes thunderously, soaking himself and his robes with aardvark snot.

Weisshaupt's first mistake is to send underlings to demand the gold. Boobah delivers them a message from Most Holy that promises them eternal torment in the afterlife if they go ahead with their orders. This causes them both to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the hotel, because Cerebus has promised them an easier time of it after they die if they do the
'honourable' thing. The crowd love it. This is right up there with baby throwing and kicking old men off the roof.

This causes Weisshaupt to scream at his sergeant to light the fuses and raze Cerebus' hotel to the ground. Terrified, the sergeant makes no move, and Weisshaupt has a coronary and collapses. The crowd love that even more. While Weisshaupt may have been a benevolent dictator, he was still a dictator. Cerebus on the other hand is Most Holy, he has a direct line to Tarim.

Cerebus decides to go back up to the roof to address the crowd. Partway up the stairway is plunged into darkness relieved only by that strange glowing light. In an effort to get rid of it, Cerebus hits the light. He immediately lights up as if he was given an electric shock. He sneezes and a stream of fire shoots out of his nostrils. The first thought is that he can now wreak horrible revenge on his mother in law. Unfortunately all that happens is Cerebus sneezes on Henrot and she batters his head with her ever present walking stick.

Then Cerebus hears a voice in his head. It's The Elf! Woohoo! I was right! She finds it hard to talk to him all the way from The Regency and directs him how to find The Regency from his hotel.

She's baaaack!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Thing Coming

Dave played one of his many artistic tricks with the title, it spans three pages. The drawings and the text on those pages show Cerebus addressing the ever growing throng that congregate outside the hotel to hear him speak and see him maybe throw another baby. No babies this time, but he does kick an old man off the top of the hotel with the message that one less mouth to feed is one less mouth to feed, and this presumably allows you to get more gold to give to Most Holy.

Powers and Weisshaupt watch these displays and the growing devotion to Cerebus with ever increasing urgency. Powers is largely helpless, being hamstrung by his own churches leadership based in distant Serrea. Weisshaupt is less so. Cerebus is now wealthier than him, far wealthier. He's damn mad and not going to take it anymore!

Cerebus has contracted a dreadful head cold and can barely move. He also talks amusingly with a blocked nose. Playing the concerned wife Sophia has him put to bed, she unwisely leaves him alone with her mother while she goes to make him some tea. Henrot takes her frustration out on Cerebus, who is helpless in his weakened state.

While Cerebus endures a feverish, restless night, the crowd wait outside. Having tried to sleep through my fair share of head colds I could entirely sympathise with the aardvark.

Posey comes to see Cerebus while Sophia is ministering to him, and when the stauesque warrior woman remarks that she thought Posey was a mouse, it makes perfect sense. Sophia is larger than most men, but with Posey it's strangely exaggerated. Weisshaupt wants to speak to Cerebus, he's on the roof directly across from the hotel's window. Cerebus hauls himself out of bed and goes to the window. Weisshaupt demands Cerebus' gold, Cerebus tells him that he's 'duts' until Weisshaupt reveals the line of cannons he has arrayed across the rooftop.

The title of the next issue, promoted as: DEXT: na shid hids da fad *SNIFF* really makes you want to continue. The pace since the new book started has been breakneck.

Friday, February 19, 2010

100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels

I picked up this little tome as a bit of an afterthought a few weeks ago. I don't generally give those 100 Must Read/See/Do/Eat books a second look, but this one intrigued me, being about something that is near to my heart and been a big part of my life for more years than I care to admit to. It also contained the answer to a question that has been going around in my head for a while now: What exactly is Fantasy?
According to one of the co-authors; Stephen E. Andrews in his introduction the answer is: Fantasy is the literature of imaginary and inexplicable places, times, events and beings. Fantasy stories take place either in our world or others, in our time or other times, their authors describing imaginary things that they do not attempt to explain rationally or scientifically, sometimes evoking magic and the supernatural to provide an excuse for the presence of these imaginary elements.

Unlike a number of similar books this one doesn't insist you read the books it recommends it just gives you a brief review and it's up to you whether or not you follow it up. It also contains other works by the same author, things to read on (books by the same author or others with similar themes) and in some cases a list of Reading On A Theme. For instance L Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz may lead you to read a list of classic children's literature including, but not limited to: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels had an interesting and thought provoking introduction, the 100 recommended works and their authors in alphabetical order, a list of World Fantasy Award for Best Novel winners from it's inception in 1975 up until 2008 and a glossary of fantasy terms. Each listed author had a brief biography and a succinct review of the work being covered. It was written in an easy to understand an accessible manner. I found that I learned not only about a number or works of which I was previously unaware, but also found some interesting snippets about authors I thought I knew.

Reading through the 100 works I was struck by how many I hadn't read. I decided to embark on an undertaking which concerns this blog. I'm going to read and review every single work in this book. It should be an interesting journey for me and you.
I need to finish The Eldarn Sequence and The Flashman Papers, but once that's happened the Great 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels Review will begin.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I'm not really a Winter Olympics fan, to tell the truth I don't know that many Australians are really. Overall the country isn't set up for it. There's only about 3 states you can ski in effectively, the season is quite short and it's expensive for most people.

However I was home today with some time to kill and apparently a girl called Torah Bright was a good chance of winning the Halfpipe on a snowboard. I got sucked into watching it.

The Aussie crashed out badly in her first run, but fortunately so did most of her competition. With everything hinging on one run and having to go first because of her disappointing first run, Torah put everything into her final run and executed it flawlessly. The judges agreed (let's face it I'm going to be somewhat biased) and scored her high. After watching everyone else compete and biting my nails as the other girls either fell or completed their runs, Torah came out smiling and was crowned Australia's newest Winter Olympics gold medallist.

Well done Torah!

Day Of Greatness Age Of Consent

Either Henrot couldn't find Boobah or he managed to outrun her, because he's right there on the first page of this chapter. He is now acting as Cerebus' scribe. Cerebus, or as he now prefers to be known; Most Holy, seems to be believing that he is some sort of God and has Boobah writing down all his conversations in case he says something profound. Another character from the past also returns; Bran Mak Mufin, or as he is commonly referred to in Boobah's scribblings: Muffins.

Cerebus asks why he shouldn't condemn Bran to a horrible death for failing to bring an army to Cerebus aid and causing him to lose the Prime Ministership. Bran explains that another of the tribesmen; Fret Mac Murry (I had to laugh out loud at that, wonder if Dave had been watching 'My Three Sons' reruns) convinced them in Bran's absence that the aardvark was in fact a false Cerebus (another laugh out loud moment). It's rather hard to satisfyingly condemn Bran to death, because he so happily accepts anything that Cerebus says.

It seems Sophia, now often referred to as Mrs Most Holy (he just kept making me laugh in this one, that's right up there with Mrs Ari from Entourage), has gone back to her usual wardrobe of chainmail bikini and she and Cerebus are having marital difficulties. I'm actually glad she stopped being a doormat.

Believing that for Most Holy's thoughts to flow properly requires aloneness, Cerebus and Boobah (Boobah doesn't count as a person) climb to the roof of the hotel, but it rains and this disturbs Most Holy, and also makes him realise that whatever he thinks, and whatever the people who congregate outside the hotel daily think, he is NOT a God.

Another face from the past reappears: Astoria. The former powerbroker is discussing Cerebus' increasing power with the Cirinist mother superior of Good Abbey. I presume that this settles once and for all the matter of Astoria's religious affiliation. No matter what Theresa may think Astoria is most definitely allied to the Cirinists, not the Kevillists. The two ladies are forced to come to an agreement that Cerebus is out of control and there's nothing either of them can do about it.

Weisshaupt brings the Vice President of the Bank of Iest to heel by going over his head to the President, and then having the President thrown out the window as a demonstration of power and conflict resolution Weisshaupt style. I wonder if he learned a few things from his former Prime Minister, because that has often been Cerebus' approach to a problem.

Cerebus...sorry Most Holy takes to the rooftops, or rather a chimney pot, to squeeze more gold out of the Iestans before Tarim brings the world to an end in 10 days time. The series of panels with Cerebus standing on the chimney, haranguing the crowd, gesticulating and shouting, with the wind whipping his papal robes and stole every which way are true works of art. We get the words of the speech below from Boobah, but you almost don't need them, the drawings tell the full story.

Someone, somewhere is forging Cerebus' letters. Bran finds 4 different transcripts from 4 different locations in Iest, but all 4 are in Most Holy's handwriting. This convinces Cerebus that Bran is rather useful to have around.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Thrill Of Agony And The Victory Of Defeat

This is it! The controversial baby throwing chapter!

Weisshaupt has a similar reaction to Powers when he is informed of Cerebus' attitude and actions. Of course being angry at Cerebus and actually doing something about it are two very different things.

Cerebus is out the front of the hotel haranguing the crowd about their lack of generosity. A lady is continually holding her squalling infant out, begging Cerebus to bless the child. Eventually Cerebus interrupts his speech and takes the baby. He says that he will bless the child and teach a valuable life lesson at the same time. He blesses the baby, and then holds it out in one arm before flinging it savagely away. The lesson is that you can get what you want and still not be very happy. It's a masterfully drawn sequence. The baby is wailing in every single drawing of it, except where Cerebus draws his arm back to throw, then a wide eyed look of horror crosses the child's face. This softens and makes amusing what is a shocking scene.

Across town a wealthy businessman is liquidating all his assets into gold to avoid a hellish fate in the afterlife. Being a pragmatic, humourless man, without a shred of imagination the Vice President of the bank doesn't believe that Cerebus can guarantee anyone's afterlife fate and takes action.

Weisshaupt is walking in his gardens (beautifully drawn by night they are too) with Theresa discussing the baby throwing incident. Theresa really seems to have it in for her old mentor. She believes that the throwing of the baby is an essentially Kevillist action and this means that Astoria must be pulling Cerebus' strings. Weisshaupt has calmed down and believes everything will work out as long as no one panics. That's when a messenger tells the statesman that the Vice President of the Bank of Iest is threatening to suspend trading on United Feldwar States Bond Issues.

Meanwhile Cerebus is bouncing ideas for future speeches off Posey, he guages the effectiveness of his threats by how sickened Posey becomes. A mysterious glowing light appears, hovers for a while and then disappears, scaring Posey and angering Cerebus. The Elf?

In the hotel Boobah finds an unattended meal in the hall, so sits down and eats it. Unfortunately for the food oriented mercenary, it was Henrot's meal he ate. I wonder if we'll ever see Boobah again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anything Done For The First Time Unleashes A Demon

Catchy title, eh? It doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, but it sure is cool.

Upon being informed that Cerebus has no interest in meeting with him, Powers flys into a predictable rage. Things do not improve when he is informed that Cerebus has moved his family to a hotel on Iest's East Wall and has a number of mercenaries serving as his personal guard. The terrified Posey is sent back to Cerebus to bring him to a meeting with Powers.

Posey reminds me of a rabbit given human form, except without the procreation fixation.

Henrot is not happy about living in, what she believes is, substandard accomodation. Sophia seems to take it in her stride. Given the number of heavily armed mercenaries stationed outside their door there is not a lot either of them can do about the situation, although I would have given decent odds on the original Red Sophia character on getting out alive.

I believe this is the first time we meet Bear. Bear is a big, heavily bearded, none too bright mercenary fond of saying: 'whatyacallit'. Posey has to rely on Bear admitting him to see Cerebus. The aardvark himself is gambling with another old time mercenary pal; Boobah. Boobah is a tall, blonde character with a paunch. Boobah always reminded me of Dave, yet Dave said the character was based on someone whose stag party he attended. Because Cerebus is Most Holy he is infallible and therefore cannot be beaten at cards even if Boobah has the winning hand. This is something Boobah tends to forget. He's extremely dim witted and only thinks of food and drink.

Cerebus composes an insulting letter to Powers and then has Posey sign it. It was either that or be killed. Posey doesn't actually work for anyone. He just does his best to keep himself alive and that usually means pleasing someone regardless of personal feelings.

Under duress from Cerebus it is Posey who initially comes up with the idea for Cerebus to address the crowd outside and convince them that they will be tortured for all eternity if they don't give him all their money. Posey doesn't say it in those words, but that's what Cerebus comes up with from Posey's words.

This is the scene of one of Cerebus' famous Papal addresses. According to Cerebus Tarim loves the rich and the strong and the poor and weak will go into the afterlife that way unless they give all their money (gold, no jewellry or paper stuff) to Cerebus for a good word with Tarim. He sends them back to their empty, worthless lives and you just know that now he's not only upset Powers, but Weisshaupt as well.

Cerebus is never so good as when he's being really bad.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Never Pray For Change

What a prophetic title, for about half of the last book I'd been praying for just that.

At last it was a joy to go back to Iest. A full chapter and it's packed full of interesting plot points and advances the story masterfully. This is how a new book should begin.

I'm still not sure if Gerhard was on board yet, but the backgrounds were far more detailed, in fact they were often more detailed than the characters. It begins with Weisshaupt and Powers discussing Powers unusual choice of Cerebus as the Pontiff. Not sure if it's coincidental, but the black bird with the white wingtips reappears overhead. Weisshaupt keeps pointing out reasons why Cerebus is unsuitable as the Pontiff with Powers using the same reasons to rebuff Weisshaupt and pointing out that they also make him unsuited as Prime Minister. The interesting thing is that both men seem to believe they can control the aardvark.

They are interrupted by the appearance of an enraged Henrot Gutch armed with a spike studded club, she believes her affections have been spurned by Blakely (who could blame him?) and she's out for blood. Blakely falls from a tree and races off with Cerebus' mother in law swiping at him with her club.

Powers remarks that she must be a Kevillist, Weisshaupt disagrees, Kevillists are far more devious, Cirinists are the ones who go in for blunt force trauma. Weisshaupt detests all forms of organised religion, but this makes it obvious that he feels he can deal better with the Tarimists than either of the matriarchal doctrines. Weisshaupt gives in and the two men make arrangements to inform Cerebus of his new position.

Sophia thinks it's marevlous news, Cerebus is still uncertain. Henrot reappears and she and Cerebus are immediately at one anothers throats, with Sophia trying to referee the whole mess, until Weisshaupt's arrival breaks it up. Now that Cerebus knows Weisshaupt no longer has any hold on him he dismisses the man summarily, angering him intensely.

We are then introduced to the remarkably cowardly Archbishop Posey. Cerebus sets the tone very early by terrifying Posey and telling him that he is no longer meeting with anyone and if Powers wants to use Posey to push the point Cerebus will send him back in pieces.

Cerebus then takes control at home telling Sophia and his detestable mother in law to order a carriage, pack their things and SHUT UP! Even Henrot gets spooked and does as told.

In the hall of the Regency, dressed in his robes Cerebus orders the rain to stop. Predictably it doesn't, but I doubt that will prevent Cerebus from trying to convince everyone from Powers down that he can do just this. After all he was appointed because of a miracle.

This is where the Church part of Church & State began.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


No, not the things you get in the backs of books, that useless organ that used to enable humans to digest grass. I haven't posted for a bit, mainly because I had my appendix removed the other day. It hurt when it was in there, but I can tell you it hurts just as much recovering from the surgery. It's a little hard to concentrate for any length of time just at present.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Hickory Staff: The Eldarn Sequence Book 1

I remember I picked The Hickory Staff up when it was first published in 2005. The cover with it's aged look and simple drawing attracted me at first. I read a few pages, was uncertain, and sought out some reviews, as they were mostly negative I decided against adding the book to my ever growing to be read pile. I recently saw it again on a 50% off table and thought I'd give it a chance. Admittedly I know that saying I only bought the book because it was cheap isn't the best recommendation.

For someone who says they don't really like portal fantasy I seem to read a lot of it. Make no mistake The Hickory Staff is most definitely portal fantasy. It takes a while to really begin the story, readers get 5 prologue chapters and are 50 pages in before they meet the main character; small town assistant bank manager Steven Taylor. The story is well set up by this time and up until this point it seems more of a horror novel than a fantasy one.

Steven is conducting an audit of the bank's open account files, this leads him to an account that hasn't been accessed since it was first opened in 1870, and a safety deposit box. Something about the account and the box intrigues Steven, and going against bank policy and his bosses advice Steven attempts to open the box, he is encouraged in this endeavour by his best friend and room mate; highschool history teacher Mark Jenkins. The key that belongs to the box doesn't open it. While searching for a key to an antique cabinet that he has bought for his sister, Steven improbably finds the key to the safety deposit box and he also meets Hannah Sorenson, with whom he falls in love.

Both Steven and Mark and disappointed when they open the box and it's contents are a rosewood box that contains a rock, and a cylinder with a large tapestry in it. Sensing that there is something odd about both objects, they spread the tapestry out on the floor. By accident the two men find out that stepping on the tapestry pulls them into another world. A pre industrial world called; Eldarn.

Unfortunately once in Eldarn they cannot simply step back into their own world. They're stuck in Eldarn. All of Eldarn, including it's two large islands and the two smaller ones has been ruled by the evil overlord Nerak for over a century. Unsurprisingly a resistance to their dark and brutal ruler has sprung up in Eldarn. Equally unsurprising is that Steven and Mark become involved with one of the partisan bands.

The characters are those that people most high fantasy stories: the brilliantly talented young archer, feisty, but attractive young lady, her protective and angry older brother, the crafty old man who has been hiding a mysterious past and has magical ability. Mark falls in love with Brynne; the feisty, but attractive young lady and Steven finds that he is the wielder of great and destructive power contained in a hickory staff. The rock that they found in the rosewood box is the key to breaking the evil presence that controls Eldarn.

There are three separate stories that play out in the book. Mark and Steven and their band of partisans, the journey of Versen; formerly one of the partisans and Brexan, a disillusioned young soldier who was working for the king, but has been turned against him and what he stands for. The third story is that of Hannah, who has also found her way to Eldarn through the tapestry while looking for her mysteriously missing boyfriend. She has hooked up with 3 other resistance fighters in a different part of Eldarn. The three groups are on a collision course as they make their way through the pitfalls of Eldarn while avoiding doom from the forces of Nerak.

Despite the cliched characters and the shallow world building the action was well written and story caught me up. I did wonder about the choice of Steven as the hero, the character was awfully bland and annoyingly self flagellatory. The authors paid lip service to the concept that violence does not solve everything by having Steven and Garec (the archer), in particular, torture themselves mentally every time they used their talents to kill. There are a lot of things wrong with The Hickory Staff, but it's interested me enough to make me want to read; Lessek's Key, the 2nd of the trilogy.

It's an easy read and entertaining as long as you can get past the faults in it. If you're looking for George Martin or Joe Abercrombie then look elsewhere. If you want Brent Weeks or David Eddings then this may be worth picking up.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

George Martin & A Dance With Dragons

Despite being a huge fan of George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and being none too happy about the delay with getting the 5th book of this fantastic series out I've refrained from making comment on it here. This is mainly due to the fact that just mentioning George Martin's name on the internet seems to provoke a storm of controversy.

Last year Suvudu blogger Shawn Speakman wrote an article In Defense of George R R Martin. I wanted to give him my take on it at the time, but for one reason or another never got around to it. The other day he posted a series of questions along the same lines and asked for comment. I've decided to take him up on it. So here's how I view the situation and have answered Shawn's questions. I've included both Shawn's questions and his answers along with mine:

1. Don't George's other pursuits--watching football, editing anthologies, traveling to other countries and conventions, blogging about his merchandise--hamper his completion of the new book?
I happen to think that vast majority of those who are angry that George has not completed A Dance of Dragons pin it on the other pursuits that the man has in his life.

While his hobbies do take up a certain amount of time in his life, they cannot be used against the man for not finishing his book. An example: I write five or six hours a day when I am working on a book. Anything I write after those hours is trash and not worth the time spent writing it. My day lasts about sixteen hours. What do I do with the other ten hours? The hobbies I pursue, of course. Watching sports. Going to the gym. Writing emails. Maintaining the websites I must. Shipping out signed books. These other pursuits help reinvigorate my writing batteries for the next day.
Every writer has those batteries. Every writer has the need to recharge them in order to get the best out of their craft. If those hobbies are taken away, the craft suffers dramatically.
The question is: Do his angry fans just want a book, even if the quality is low due to writing 15 hours a day and foregoing watching his Jets, or do those fans actually want George's best effort?
Sadly, that question will come up later in the interview too.
It simply speaks to the idea that most readers have no comprehension what it means to write, or write a book, or write a book at the quality that George gives us.

I’m partially in agreeance with Shawn, here. I think it’s great that George has interests outside of his writing. He would be a rather scary individual if he didn’t. His football is obviously some sort of outlet and contributing and editing other work I believe assists his creative process. Even blogging about the merchandise probably doesn’t take that long, although I’ll comment on that further in another point. Where I disagree is on the issue of travelling and convention going. I believe those two activities do impact the book. George has repeatedly said that he does not write away from home. Some writers do, some writers don’t, they all work differently. Largely George’s reason for not writing ASoIaF away from home is due to the fact that he uses an old word processing program (I believe it’s DOS based) on an equally ancient machine, it’s not like a laptop he can carry around with him wherever he goes (I have occasionally wondered what happens if he gets hit with a great idea and he’s not at home). The conclusion to that is that any time spent away from his house in Santa Fe means that none of Dance gets done. It’d be interesting to see how long he did spend away from home last year. It may not actually hamper the production of the book that much, but it does impact it to some degree.

2. Are readers of A Song of Ice & Fire entitled to be angry that George has missed his own created deadlines?
Most definitely yes! They can most certainly be angry with George. I believe he has missed his own deadlines several times over the last ten years and every time one of the deadlines comes and goes people get angry about it—to the point of obscene name calling.

Three things about this point though that people need to remember:
1. 1) No one is angrier about missing deadlines than George.
2. 2) Some of those missed deadlines have legitimate reasons behind them.
3. 3) After George missed the first two deadlines, why did the fans keep trusting him?
Point #1 is self-explanatory. George share your grief. He mentions it all of the time on his blog. For Point #2, I'm not going to go into the details of it but you are more than welcome to read my article, In Defense of George R. R. Martin. As an example: So many fans believe that George took five years to write A Feast For Crows. He didn't. It only took him 3 1/2 years to write the book they read. Point #3 is also self-explanatory. I feel one of the worst things about all of this is the lack of responsibility most fans are taking on.
That too, will come up later in the interview, I believe.

Short answer is no. They’re not set in stone deadlines, at best they’re guesstimates.

I do believe Shawn's points need addressing, though.
1) This is an opinion. Shawn's is that George is upset and angry about missing those ‘deadlines’. That’s how he reads the posts. My opinion is different. Those posts often come across as insincere and empty words with very little meaning or feeling behind them. The only person who can really address that definitively is George himself and he’s shown in the past that he doesn’t respond well to being questioned in relation to the writing time on Dance.
2) Define legitimate.
3) That’s really up to the fans. A number of people I’ve seen commenting about this have ceased to believe that the ‘deadlines’ are going to be met and shrug their shoulders at each new one. I doubt George will give another one before the book is finished, of course that does depend on exactly when the book is finished.

The only responsibility a fan has is paying for the book when they buy it or returning it to the library on time if they borrowed it from one when they finish reading it. That doesn’t just go for ASoIaF, that’s the same for any book.

3. Is it unethical for George to write on his blog about his other merchandise opportunities when the majority of people visiting his website are only interested in A Dance With Dragons?
Not. At. All.

This is one of those hot points for me. I have read so many fans write that they are only interested in updates to A Song of Ice & Fire and, in their opinion, there is no reason for George to waste time writing about anything else on his blog. That sounds all fine and dandy, except these people forget two points:
1. Many of George's fans actually do love his other work and want to keep informed about it just as they want to be informed about Ice & Fire.
2. George has a duty to notify his fans of his merchandising and other endeavors. Those companies go into business with him knowing that he draws a large group of readers to his blog every day. It is part of their marketing strategies.
As for the people who are only interested in A Dance With Dragons news, I often wonder if these people read other fantasy writers out there too?

Yes. It. Is.

No problem with George informing fans that there’s some new non Ice & Fire work out there. I do have an issue with selling water damaged stock, stock which you previously advised fans not to buy due to the level of damage, just because you want to clear space.

I read a number of author blogs. George’s is the only one that puts the hard sell on the readers. If Shawn can direct me to others who do this I’ll concede the point. If he really wants to George can keep up his end of the bargain with his business associates and satisfy the disinterested fans at the same time. There are sections on his website where he can advertise these things and put links to the relevant companies. I may be mistaken, but I can remember a time when he used to direct interested parties to those sections. They haven’t been updated for a long time. I’m no website expert, but I don’t think in this day and age it would be difficult to combine and update these areas or create a new section for the selling of merchandise. All George needs to do is put a link in his blog to that section, he can talk in glowing terms about the merchandise to his heart’s content and preach to those that are interested. No it’s Not a Blog, it’s become an online clearing house.

I’m only interested in news about A Song of Ice and Fire from George, but yes I do read other fantasy authors. I can’t speak for every person who is only interested in George's ASoIaF work, but I personally find that comment somewhat offensive. We’re not troglodytes who camp out in our parents basements lovingly caressing the first for ASoIaF books muttering ‘My precioussss.’ (apologies to JRR Tolkien).

4. Is it legitimate for a fan who has bought his previous books to criticize George since their money has helped his success?
A resounding NO!

And here's why.
The purchase of a book gives the buyer one thing—access to the book and the story inside of it. It does not give them entitlement to anything other than that book. It does not give them entitlement over the author. It does not mean the author suddenly becomes the slave of the reader. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently put it, "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch."
The purchase of the book merely means you get to read the contents between the two covers. That's it. Nothing else.
I can hear people thinking out there. "But Shawn, I bought this book with the understanding I will get to read the conclusion to the series!"
Yeah, and you still might. George is still writing, at least as of two or three days ago. Here is where my comment about personal responsibility comes in. Most people who argue since they bought a book they are owed something seem to forget that they knew when they purchased the book that the series wasn't done yet. Every person out there from the very beginning has known this. At the beginning, the series was to be a trilogy, so no one can say it was originally a stand alone that grew and those people who bought the first book back then got screwed. No, no, and no.
Instead, none of those people take responsibility for reading George early. I stopped at A Clash of Kings because I knew at that point it was going to take George three years to complete a book and there was no reason for me to become wrapped up in it. I made that choice. It is a choice I make with many of today's authors.
I suggest to those readers who feel they are owed something for buying a book to look at themselves and take some responsibility for their own actions. They are at fault just as much as George is for not publishing books quicker.

Have to agree with Shawn there. You see the book, you pick up the book, you pay for the book, end of story. Can we please find another comment to back all this up other than Neil Gaiman’s somewhat vulgarly expressed opinion?

I do have questions for Shawn, though, . He has not read A Storm of Swords or A Feast For Crows. Does that mean he's going to wait until George completes the entire series before reading the rest of the books in it? If George never finishes it will Shawn offload the books he's already read and not bother with reading the rest of it, because hey it's never going to be completed? Shawn intimates that he also does this with other authors and yet in another part of this article advises to explore and read other work, would these also be unfinished series? Fans of ASoIaF tend to like multi volume epics and most of those are works in progress. Does Shawn buy the first books of new series and then leave them unread on his shelf until the author completes the series? If he does that I have to congratulate him for having great will power.

5. Does a reader have the right to critique an author's professional conduct simply because they have purchased a book by them?
Eh, this is a grey area one for me.

That George has been unprofessional, I agree. But not for what you think. Most people feel they are owed something by him. The fact of the matter is this: George has only been unprofessional to his publisher. The publisher assuredly had him under contract for finishing A Dance With Dragons earlier than February 1, 2010. George has broken that contract with the publisher.
Therefore, in my opinion, the only people who can bust George's chops about professionalism are his editor, Anne Groell, and the president of Random House.
Everyone else? Nope.

A reader has every right to critique an author’s professional conduct and they don’t have to have bought the book to do so. It’s just like film goers can criticise an actor’s professional conduct or sports fans can criticise a sports star's professional conduct. George has made himself a public figure and if he doesn’t like what people say about his professional conduct then that’s his problem. His best option there is to become a hermit and never publish another written word. In terms of George’s lack of professionalism I refer people to the now infamous February update in his blog. I’m sure you remember it, it was the one where he used Rick Nelson to tell a section of his readership off. His recent temper tantrum about his post being misinterpreted is another example. He should really expect it by now, after all these are the same people who have fallen for his April Fool gags and believed that he really was including 38 POV’s in Dance when he made an off the cuff comment and pulled a number out of thin air.

6. Doesn't George have an obligation to finish books in a timely manner so his fans don't have to keep re-reading his previous books over and over again?
See the last part of my answer for question #4. It gets at personal responsibility for reading a series that is not yet finished.

No, the only obligation George has is to himself to finish what he started and give himself a sense of accomplishment….oh and to his publisher for the faith and patience shown. Why would he care how often the fans read the books? That’s a fans choice. Nothing to do with the author.

7. Does George have writer's block?
The comment about George having writer's block comes up all of the time on the internet(s).

It is usually brought up by people who have no understanding of what writer's block truly is.
I think Terry Brooks best described it. He says writer's block is the inability of a writer to have thought their story through far enough to not get caught writing into a corner.
I go in depth about this in In Defense of George R. R. Martin. In short, George is a freewriter. When he sits down at his keyboard, he never knows where the story is going to take him. He doesn't outline every character's path to the conclusion. When a character goes down the wrong path, he usually doesn't know it until weeks or even months of work have been put it. By that time it is too late. He has lost that time and he must start over. Starting over takes time too. This is why it takes George on average 3 1/2 years per book.
With A Dance With Dragons, he has written himself into a knot that he is trying to unravel in a way that works for what will come next. He has spoken of this knot several times on his blog. Last week he even shared that one of the chapters he had "finished" four or five times before is perhaps correctly written now.
The point I wish to make is this: George writes the same way he did 19 years ago when he began writing A Game of Thrones. He had a type of writer's black back then. It isn't going to change now. It is the same craft of writing that has given fans such enjoyment during the first four books. To decry that which has given such pleasure is hypocrisy.

I don’t believe George has writer’s block. It depends on how you define writer’s block. I see it is a complete and total inability to create. George does not have that, he’s finished a number of written projects this year and he is working on Dance, a few recent updates have said as much. Is he struggling? Yes, but that’s not block.

8. Isn't the best way to show our displeasure with George is to not buy A Dance With Dragons when it is published?
Yup. Exactly. That is your power as the consumer. If you are truly upset with him at taking five years to write Dragons—which is longer than it normally takes him—then your only recourse is to boycott his books.

Of course, I doubt those fans who are angriest at George will be able to stay away from buying the forthcoming book on the day it is published. Still, it comes down to personal responsibility again. Ironically, the people who are angriest are also their own worst enemies.

Yes, it is. That again is a fan choice. You could get the book from your local library and that way you can have your cake and eat it too.

9. If it has taken George ten years to write the last two books, how long will it take him to write The Winds of Winter?
As I said in my previous article, it really only took George 3 1/2 years to write the book you all know as A Feast For Crows. It has taken him 5 years to write Dance.

That said, pegging how long it will take him to write Winds is difficult. Here is what I know. George is in the middle of his story, arguably the most difficult part of the tale to write. He has created the characters, set them in motion, and now they are being set up in a correct way to march toward the series conclusion. Like a chess match, it takes many of the right moves in the middle of the game to get the checkmate at its end. In Dragons, George is having to set up every character just the right way. The pivotal point of the series is now. It is why it is taking George longer than usual.
Once set into motion, those characters march to their destinies. I think George will have an easier time of writing The Winds of Winter than the last two books. I will say 3-4 years after Dragons is delivered, published, and its resultant tour finished.
I base this simply on the math of how long it took him to write the previous four books, which I talk about in the In Defense article.

As Shawn has argued in the past, writing is an inexact science, it cannot be based on how long George took to write the previous four books. It’s also a shifting measure, at least until Dance is completed. No one, including George, can answer that question. If you asked George 4 ½ years ago how long it would take to write Dance, he wouldn’t have answered: I’ll still be working on it in 2010. If Shawn has not read the 3rd & 4th books how does he know that the pivotal point in the series is now?

10. Isn't it insulting that George thinks he doesn't owe his readers anything? Doesn't he owe us, at the very least, the conclusion of the series since he is living off of the money that we paid him?
I spoke about this earlier. Two things: A book purchased gives the fan a right to said book, and said book only. Personal responsibility.

This question has already been asked at least twice in the article and the answer is still no. I will repeat myself: beyond paying for the book or returning it in a timely manner the fan has no responsibility. That’s how it works. The author writes the book, the publisher publishes it, the consumer buys it. It’s that simple.

11. Has George ever apologized for the lateness of his last two books?
Repeatedly. If people think he hasn't, they should probably go back and read his blog. No one is more upset about him and he says as much often.

Last two books? Was A Storm of Swords late? I thought that one was written in record time. I don’t remember there being an apology for A Feast for Crows as such, he did admit that it was hard to write at the back of the book, though and acknowledged his fans in general for their patience and support, he then said he hoped that Dance would be completed in about a year. That was dated June 2005.

12. Don't readers have an obligation to be patient with a man who is arguably writing one of the best fantasy series of all time and wants it done right, one that will be read long after his grandchildren are gone?
George has been called the American Tolkien. The label is more fitting than most people even know. The Lord of the Rings is considered the masterwork of the fantasy genre. Look up how long it took Tolkien to write it, to get it right. Look up how many drafts it went through. This should give some kind of scale about why it is taking George so long to write Ice & Fire—and why its completion in the right way is so important to him and should be to the fans.

No! The fan has no obligation other than paying for the book. The Tolkien comparison is irrelevant in a number of ways and has been addressed by other people so I won’t even bother to comment on it. Until the series is completed and been assessed and stood the test of time then no one can argue that it is one of the best fantasy series of all time. In fact given that Shawn has not read anything past A Clash of Kings I find it staggering that he can even write that with a straight face.

13. Do his other activities and hobbies like conventions, traveling, editing anthologies, and watching football actually help his writing?

Right back to the beginning of the interview. Read question #1 and its answer for the answer to this one.

As I said in my first answer, mostly yes. With the exception of the cons, which from an outsider's point of view (that's me) appear to be backslapping sessions and an opportunity for George to catch up with some old friends and have adoring fans boost his ego, I think the other things are excellent outlets and do ultimately assist in the creation of quality work.

Now I've done and said all that I'm nervous. I fully expect my points to be torn apart and I guess I asked for that by doing this. It's just how I feel and how I see things. I think in all of this people from both camps should remember that when all is said and done it is just a book. It will come out when it comes out and that is all there is to it.