Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

7 January, 2013

Sticky Stories: The Tolkien Legendarium

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There are some stories that just seem to stick. Some stories that latch on, and stay with me, never leaving my brain, and resurfacing every now and then to make me ponder the intricacies and details and themes they explore. Stories that I periodically just have to read or see or experience again.

The Myst franchise contains such a story. As does The Dark is Rising Sequence. And the one that’s currently bubbling around near the surface is the vast story found in the works of Tolkien.

Obviously, what has brought this fit of bubbling thought on right now, is the first Hobbit film. I’ve seen it twice now, and enjoyed it greatly both times. It has its flaws – I’m basically of Dave Kellett’s mind here. While it is a very entertaining film, I am far from convinced that it needed to be split in three. And when it is split in three, it does not need to be three hours long.

But while the film is greatly entertaining, it isn’t the book, isn’t the depth and mad brilliance of Tolkien’s writings. Much like the Lord of the Rings films, it is a good, nay great, effort to tell that story in film form, but it mostly just whets my appetite for rereading the books. I want to see again how it all fit together in the text.

The Encyclopedia of Arda did a series of articles back when the Lord of the Rings films came out, the Movie-goer’s Guides, which listed some of the most important changes from book to film. I wish they’d do more of those for the Hobbit, I’m always game for a good explanation of Tolkien’s work.

I did find another list of changes, but it seemed less thought through and coherent in its presentation, listing even the most minor of quibbles as its own huge point, and I was so annoyed by its Cons section I eventually couldn’t read on. Oh, no, this change means using a word of dialogue that Tolkien didn’t write! Horreur!

The point is, I’m now in a mood to revisit this story. The best way would be a reread – Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion all – but considering how little reading I get done these days, I doubt it’s be the best idea. Maybe I can just do the Hobbit, and contend myself with that.

Or maybe I’ll just watch the Lord of the Rings films again. Yeah, that sounds nice and lazy.

19 November, 2012


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I greatly enjoyed Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.

I am by no means an Oz aficionado. I have vague memories of checking the Norwegian translation of the original Oz book out of the library as a child, but I have no memories of actually reading it, so it cannot have made a big impact. I actually just bought a copy of the book in English the other day, on account of finding it at a bargain, but I haven’t read it yet.

I do recall the film, of course. You know the one I’m talking about, I doubt I need to specify further.  I don’t recall when I first saw it, but I’m fairly sure it was somewhere in childhood. It was never a big favourite, but I appreciate it for what it is now. Still doesn’t add up to a big Oz interest though.

That came with Wicked. Which is a bit sad, I suppose, that it takes a drastic reimagining to make me take notice. Really, though, it is a testament to the quality storytelling Maguire pulled off in that book. It really was an excellent novel.

I didn’t care to much for its first couple of sequels, Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. They were all right, I suppose, but nowhere near as engaging as Wicked. I’ve never felt moved to reread those two, but I was still interested enough in the world to read the final book in the series which came out last year, Out of Oz.

While I still wouldn’t rank that as good as Wicked, I felt this was much more of a return to form. I might actually reread this at some point! It somehow made Maguire’s vision of Oz much more interesting that the previous two. I do enjoy his ordered take on the world of Oz. Baum’s books seem to be the sort that rewrite the past whenever convenient, which isn’t the sort of approach I care for. Maguire’s Oz, on the other hand, takes all these confused elements and order them into a coherent whole. It’s like how Don Rosa organised Barks’s myriad references into a coherent whole in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Come to think of it, Wicked‘s full title is even Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Like I said, I’m no Oz aficionado, but having finished this series now, I’m almost tempted to become one. I do have Baum’s first book already, and I’m sure plenty of others are on Project Gutenberg or something.

Of course, first I have to find the time.

8 October, 2012

Managing Time

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Predictably, writing about my D&D withdrawal didn’t alleviate the problem so much as exacerbate it. I have passed the week with the possibility of a game swirling around my head, a maelstrom of ideas and notions and desires. Of course, it always comes back to the same stumbling block: I don’t have the time.

Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself? When am I ever going to get more time? Could I do it if I just managed my time better? There’s probably no question that I could squeeze out some extra hours if I accomplished that, I am terrible at time management. Or, viewed from a different perspective, I am great at it, and really do need quite a bit of time to just digest.

I have, fearfully, toyed with a thought of jumping in with both legs and just see how much of a train wreck would result if I did try to do everything I wanted. This is a busy and important year in my education, my final year at University, and there are quite a few things I need to do and write over the course of this fall. I have, for many years, bemoaned the fact that NaNoWriMo takes place in November – the only moth that could possibly be worse for it is May – but in this dread fantasy of late I actually try to do it again this year. After all, it is lots of fun.

And maybe I could try running a net based game on top of that? It couldn’t hurt, my fevered brain whispers, what’s the harm in trying. That’s an argument that’s hard to counter with just a general feeling of impending doom, but you have to work with what you have.

Of course, maybe I’m overestimating the amount of work such a game would be; it’s not like I have any experience running one. Maybe it could be a slow runner, where I’d only have to post up a thing once or twice a week. Maybe I should just post an ad and see where it goes?

Of course, I have no real plan yet. My explorers idea is just that, an idea, not fleshed out at all. If I send players out to explore the world, I ought to have some world for them to explore as well, it seems to me. I could go against my every instinct and try to wing it, but I don’t know if that would end up fun or just messy.

I realise, by the way, how self-indulgent and spoiled I am – oh, no, not sure if I have the time to play a purely entertaining game on my magical electronic box – but I am blessed with a fairly drama free life, so this is what I angst about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have wallowing to do. See you next week, when I’ve probably already posted an ad at this rate.

2 August, 2012

Welcome to My World: Space

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In my last post in this series, I talked about time keeping in my D&D world. Now, I’ll say a word or two about space, the kind that’s outside the atmosphere, and it’s application.

If you recall way back when, the post that started this madness had a map that included a model of the world’s solar system. I’m not going to embed it here, but have a look at it if you want. I set up a geocentric model, ’cause, hey, magic!, and am going to ignore any potential problems this creates, because, again, magic! There’s three planets circling the world, and one rather unpredictable one that has its own entry in one of the Monster Manuals and won’t feature further here. The Eye of Aurom is the closest planet, named for a god of death that died long ago. Athas is another planet that has plenty of books devoted to it; the only semi-novelty here is that I put it in orbit around my main world. The final one is Cé, named for the legendary first elf, father of all the elven races, because that’s the sort of title that gets you elevated into the heavens upon your death.

I don’t really plan on space travel in this world, and if you’re adventuring on Athas, part of the shtick is that you’re stuck there anyway, so I haven’t developed these beyond names and orbits. What I’m more interested in is how astronomy can be used for astrology back down on the ground. Prophecies, even randomly generated ones, can be interesting fodder for games, I think. So I figured out a calculation for finding their position on the ecliptic on any given date.

There are nineteen constellations along the ecliptic, each but the last of them explicitly claimed by a specific god. You can see them indicated on the top left of the previously mentioned map. They are, in order: the Swan, the Claw, the Spear, the Hammer, the Sickle, the Spider, the Horse, the Tyrant, the Wheel, the Ear (of grain), the Dragon, the Serpent, the Maiden, the Mother, the Rat, the Sword, the Icicle, the Conqueror and the Arrow. That last one is the wild card of the heavens, no god is associated with it.

So let’s take the only character in this world of mine that ever established a birth date; an unfortunate gnome known as Jed. Jed was born on the 12th of Peloma, in the year 460 of his local calendar, under the following astrological conditions: The sun rose in the Ear, making that the dominant constellation – his sign. The moon rose in the Spider and set in the Horse. The Eye of Aurom was in the Horse, Athas was in the Serpent and Cé was in the Rat.

And from there, it’s just a matter of making stuff up, really, until enough stuff is made up to reuse. I’m stealing stuff from real world astrology, ’cause why make up new stuff when someone’s already done the work, and stitching together something halfway coherent.

The Ear is a mutable fire sign, speaking of change, enthusiasm and self-expression. It is associated with wealth, generosity, purity and success. It’s associated god is the god of the Sun, of time and brotherly love and summer and agriculture. Considering Jed, this world’s astrology seems to be about as accurate as out own, so far.

The Eye of Aurom is associated with death, and the sign it was in, the Horse, is the sign of the goddess of luck, change and trade. The Serpent’s god is the god of darkness and poison and indeed serpents. Cé could be especially significant here, as Jed is a Fey creature. The Rat’s god is the god of prisons and torture, it is a fixed wood sign.

Now, like I said, this doesn’t really describe Jed very well, but that wouldn’t be much use anyway. What’s the point in predicting personality? The player decides the character’s personality! What this might do is generate ideas for what could happen to the character, help plan the story of his life. Jed is pretty greedy, and quite keen on economics, so a death planet in the sign of trade could mean I make his trade activity highly dangerous to his health. Since his main sign is all about success and wealth, that gives a story where he gains plenty, and then drowns in it – unless the dice are on his side, of course. Someone will try to poison him at some point, or maybe the poison is metaphorical, a poisoned gift. It’s all vague, as a horoscope should be, but I like it as a starting point for idea generation nevertheless. It’s like using Tarot cards to make story outlines. Or the Deck of Many things. Yeah.

Jed is currently in the stasis of an inactive character, and somewhat unlikely to be revived, so I might as well make it semi-canon: He got hugely wealthy and then chocked on a gold coin after a biting it a bit too enthusiastically. Boom.

30 July, 2012

Anno Dracula

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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


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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.

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