Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

6 August, 2012

Unfair Quiz

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I was in a quiz-making mood, and decided to make a very unfair one. I pulled some books from my shelves, opened them at random and chose some vague quotes. Can you figure out which book they came from? If you can’t, the quiz will be snide at you, because it’s unfair. Have fun!

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30 July, 2012

Anno Dracula

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

My summer reading post didn’t list all the books I aimed for this summer. I have a long list of books that sit in my shelves waiting for me, and one of these sneaked into the pile for this year: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.

Anno Dracula is a pastiche which takes Bram Stoker’s Dracula as its starting point, and posits a world where Count Dracula’s plans in England succeeded. He has married Queen Victoria, placed his own people in all positions of power, has spread his vampiric bloodline far and wide in British society, and placed Van Helsing’s head on a spike outside Buckingham Palace.

In addition to Dracula, Newman draws on a wide variety of other works, as well as on history, placing it in the same sort of genre as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In addition to the Count we encounter characters like Lord Ruthven, Inspector Lestrade (now a vampire) and Dr. Jekyll. Sherlock Holmes does not make an appearance, he’s been imprisoned due to ideological differences with the new regime. Set in 1888, the novel focuses on the investigation into a series of grizzly murders, where poor vampire prostitutes are killed and mutilated by a figure known as Jack the Ripper. Several people, high and low, take an interest in the case, which speaks to the tensions between the vampires and the living in Dracula’s London, and could potentially spark open conflict.

There’s a lot to like in this book – almost all the ingredients seem tailor made to suit my tastes – so I am honestly a bit puzzled as to why I didn’t like it better than I did. Maybe the problem was that I never really connected with the central pair of original characters – the vampire Geneviève didn’t really feel as weighty as I think she was supposed to. Perhaps the parts I liked were carried more by the familiarity of the appropriated character rather than the strength of the narrative. Wow, that sounded harsh, I did after all like the book! Since the identity of the killer is known by the audience from the very first chapter, the murder investigation didn’t really grip me either. The conflict between vampire regime and general public kept being focused into the murders, however, and only at the very end did we get a few rushed pages of action on that front.

The world was very well crafted, stitching the various borrowed elements into a coherent and quite exciting whole. I do think it a bit unlikely that the title of Prince Consort would give Dracula enough authority to push through his sweeping changes so unopposed, leaving the resistance movement idle until the book gets going. Having Dracula in charge is pretty much a necessity for the story, but if there had been some mention of opposition beyond Van Helsing, I’d be better satisfied. I also wonder that vampirism should become so fashionable, especially since it seems to be common knowledge that Dracula’s bloodline is diseased. That’s minor quibbles, though, I was always turning the page wanting to know more about this world, and some of my dissatisfaction with the book stems from not getting to go as deeply into it as I desired.

I think perhaps my expectations were unrealistic going in – my edition had a really brilliant cover, and a ringing endorsement from Neil Gaiman printed on it twice. Combined with the fact that I loved the idea of the setting, I doubt any book could have lived up to what I imagined. I would still recommend it to anyone who found the cover blurb intriguing, though. It was a fine example of mash-up pastiche.

23 July, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As part of my summer reading, I recently finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Elantris was Sanderson’s first published novel. I have already read and enjoyed several of his later works, so I had pretty high expectations for this one.

Elantris circles around the eponymous city, a magical place where the inhabitants lived as gods, with vast amounts of power at hand. Any person in the land can become an Elantrian, the magical process that transforms a human into one of the gods strikes at random. Upon ascension, they would go live in the city so filled with power that the very stones it was built with glow, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, ten years before the story begins, the “happily” part was taken out – the city died, the Elantrians were struck by a disfiguring disease, and their powers abandoned them. The random transformation still happens, but instead of gods, the people become weak and fragile wretches, consumed by hunger, unable to heal even the tiniest of injuries, and doomed to live like that forever.

Like most of Sanderson’s books, it is set in his Cosmere universe, but it is still very much a stand-alone. If the Elantrians were to somehow develop space travel, they could theoretically go visit the world of Mistborn or Warbreaker, but since none of the Cosmere books feature such ships, there’s no direct crossover. The Cosmere books share themes, and the underlying structure of the universe, and a few other as-yet enigmatic features, but the stories in them are quite independent of each other.

I had some odd conceptions on what the book was about before I began reading, as a result of seeing snippets and comments on it elsewhere. I had a notion that it revolved around the sort of decadent society seen in Mistborn, with balls and opulence and possibly lots of political intrigue. I pretty much expected to read about the city as it was before its fall. Going into the book with this misconception actually helped, I think, because it made me feel more strongly about the tragedy of the fallen city. The characters were engaging, and I particularly liked the priest of the foreign religion. He could easily have been just another fanatic zealot of the Evil Empire Inc, but Sanderson made him very sympathetic. As a Norwegian, though, I must admit I have difficulty forgiving the name of the empire. “Fjorden”? Really?

Like the other Cosmere books, this book has at its heart a system of magic unique to this particular world. Much of Sanderson’s writing seems to spring out of a desire to explore these systems, and in this book it is certainly tied into the resolution in a very clever way. Despite that, however, this is my least favourite of Sanderson’s systems so far – the drawn symbols to channel power lack the originality of Mistborn‘s metal-based systems. Warbreaker, which is almost Sanderson’s second go at Elantris, returning to many of the same themes, also has a more interesting magic system in its use of colours as a power source. In general, I think it is fairly clear that this is one of Sanderson’s earlier efforts. It feels less polished than his later works. The ending seems a bit rushed, with the main villain suddenly and unprovoked revealing his motivation standing out as the worst patch. Sanderson in general tends towards avalanches of action for his endings, but in this one it didn’t work as well as in his later books.

Despite its flaws, though, it is a good book. There is a reason why it launched Sanderson’s career. While it wasn’t my favourite of his works, it was definitely worth the time and price of admission.

9 July, 2012

Summer Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Summer is upon us at last, and even in this neck of the woods there have been days that actually look like it. I’ve started my vacation, and am greatly looking forwards to days spent doing nothing but what I feel like. I’m even slowing down my post writing, as the notice on the front page should already have told you about. Unless you’re reading this at some point in the future, of course, in which case, it doesn’t really matter.

Over the past few years, summer has become the time when I get the most reading done. Over the course of the year, I mostly read stuff I need to, and every time I read something just for fun, I feel guilty for not reading something useful instead. No such problem in summer. The only problem then is picking from the smorgasbord of books I have yet to read.

That list keeps on growing, it seems to me. So much gets added to it, and then slips down the list as new and shiny titles catch my eye. On the top of this year’s summer reading list, for example, lies Elantris and Snuff, two very recent purchases. Snuff, of course, is the latest Discworld novel, and I have long been a fan of the works of Terry Pratchett, so I’ve basically been saving this one as a summer treat. Elantris, I have high hopes for. I have enjoyed every other book I’ve read by Brandon Sanderson, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy this one as well. This will be the first of his I actually read in print, though – all the others I listened to as audiobooks. I wanted to that with this one as well, but couldn’t find a copy for purchase, since I apparently live in the wrong part of the world. I’ll save my annoyance with region restricted audiobooks for a different post, though, and just enjoy Elantris the old fashioned way.

To offset the new and shiny factor, I also grabbed a book that has been waiting on the shelves for a while, when I vacated my Bergen room for the summer. I have a tiny ambition of being versed in pre-Tolkien fantasy, so The Worm Ouroboros seems a good place to start. I’ve actually read a few pages of this already, and wow, this is heavy on the “high” in “high fantasy”. Lofty language and archaic word forms mixed with fairy tale epic. Seems like fun.

Even though I couldn’t get Elantris, I still have a fair few audiobooks lines up as well. Related to my previously mentioned tiny ambition, I have  A Princess of Mars, and its first sequel stored in the iTunes library. In a recent sale, I also grabbed Lucifer’s Hammer and Gulliver’s Travels. I know very little of the first book, but the blurb seemed interesting enough to get it; the second I know through its many adaptations, but I have never read the original myself. Finally, in the audiobook category, there is Out of Oz, the conclusion of the series Gregory Maguire started with Wicked. I loved Wicked, but found myself less impressed by the first two sequels. I started a re-listen of the whole series to refresh my memory before starting on this one, but stranded half-way through Son of a Witch, lacking the interest to complete it. Even so, I want to see the end of the series, so I guess I’ll just skip straight to it and hope my memory catches up.

That’s all the books I have lines up for the summer so far, but there’s no shortage of titles on the big unread list, so maybe I’ll manage to fit in a few more. Maybe I’ll even manage to type up some thoughts as I finish them. What’s on your summer reading list? Happy summer, and happy reading.


31 May, 2012

Gateway Drugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A couple of days ago, I suddenly rediscovered one of LibraryThing’s beta features, which I had looked at when it first debuted and then not thought about again until now: lists. In particular, the one that caught my eye was a list of fantasy gateway books. The idea of the lists feature is that it aggregates the individual lists from the members that create one, and generate a common list from it, in this case of books that first sparked the reader’s interests in fantasy.

I like this, and it got me thinking about which books made me so interested in that particular genre. Now, this particular list asks members to list a single book, which I have completely failed to do – what’s the fun in just one? But I’m having some trouble thinking back – what were the books that formed my tastes in early years?

There’s one that’s not even a question, the one I’ve put on spot number one, and the books that without question has been the most formative reading experience I had as a child: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I don’t know how many times I read that book back when I was twelve, or how many times since then – every couple of years, at least. It remains my favourite book. The series it’s part of is great as well, but this one was my first and will always have pride of place.

But I don’t think I can attribute my love of fantasy just to one book – if all the other ones I read hadn’t been good as well, I don’t think it would have stuck. The truth is, though, I don’t really remember reading much fantasy as a child. I remember reading sci-fi. Jon Bing’s Starship Alexandria series and, a few years later, Animorphs. I did read Narnia at some point, but I think I was into my mid-teens by then, having previously contented myself with the excellent BBC TV adaptation.

I do have a very vivid memory of reading Mio, My Son at what must have been a young age, and being so utterly terrified at the first appearance of Kato that I actually screamed aloud and ran away from the book. I have vaguer memories of reading Micheal Ende’s Momo, and I’m not sure if that was before or after I saw the film adaptation. I was 13 when Harry Potter first came out in Norway, and read that not too long after, so I suppose that has been an influence as well. I don’t remember when i first read Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but I think those came later, when I was already in love. The Belgariad certainly came after that again, so I’m afraid Eddings doesn’t get much credit for my tastes at all.

I’m trying to think back to afternoons spent snooping through the public library, digging out treasures and duds from its shelves, and completely failing to put any titles to these experiences. What books were big before Potter? What was the first fantasy I read? I have no idea. But I’m interested in seeing the other lists, where other people got started in on this peculiar genre, so I think I’ll make a point of going back to this one periodically, and see what’s changed.

12 April, 2012

The Fighting Temeraire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in the Temeraire series, opens with a British ship capturing a French one in 1805, and finding a dragon egg in its hold. This is not extraordinary – in the alternate history of this series, dragons have been domesticated in Europe since the Romans – but it is a great good fortune, as England has a dearth of dragons compared to other European powers, and France especially. Unfortunately, the egg is ready to hatch. The ship, naturally, carries no trained aviators, so it falls to the crew of sailors to attempt to harness the dragon, lest it become feral and of no use. The problem is that a dragon bonds with a rider for life, and the man who succeeds with the harnessing will be forced to leave the relatively respectable Navy for a life in the much more maligned Aerial Corps.

I have greatly enjoyed the Temeraire books since I first discovered them about a year ago. They are a delightful mix of  Hornblower-esque military fiction and fantasy. All of the stories are enjoyable – the lifelong sailor adapting to life as an aviator, the ongoing war with Napoleon and the sacrifices needed to win it, the continual discovery of the full extent of the dragon Temeraire’s abilities, Temeraire’s slow, slow campaign for dragon rights, and best of all the friendship that develops between the dragon and the rider. It’s a thing of beauty, I tells ya!

I also really like the world the books are set in. The presence of dragons all over the world – except in Australia, obviously, ’cause Australia’s always got to be different, hasn’t it, with its freaking koalas and platypuses and poison everythings – has resulted in a pretty different history from our own, at least outside Europe. Luckily, the author seems eager to show it off, and several of the books involve long journeys to various corners of the globe, giving us a good view of it. I haven’t read the most recent book yet, but I understand it involves a visit to the Inca empire, which with dragons was able to withstand Spanish incursion, and I’m greatly looking forwards to it.

As with the Dresden files, I have primarily listened to these as audiobooks, which I can heartily recommend. Simon Vance has a great voice for this sort of period piece, and he manages to make all the characters sound different enough that there is no problem following along.

The books aren’t very long, nor too heavy reading, so I have found them perfect for quick and very enjoyable reads in between larger projects. And come on, it’s the Napoleonic wars with dragons! How can you not love that?

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