Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Dresden Files: Latest & First

About a month ago, news broke that the latest novel in the Dresden Files series, Cold Days, will be released on November 27th.  Also revealed were the cover design and descriptive blurb:


After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own . . .

His soul.
Well, that sounds cool1. Lots of questions are raised by this, such as who the immortal Harry's supposed to kill is, and whether they're someone, or even a type of someone, we've met before. And it's very interesting that the blurb is already talking about Harry getting out of being the Winter Knight - I would have expected that arc to stick around for another few books, or maybe even until the end of the series.

That cover art is pretty interesting, too - now, in the past the cover art has never tracked too closely to the plot of the novel (it's never been inaccurate, save for that hat, mind you, but trying to divine plot details from the art has usually2 proven futile), but for this one we have a fairly major shift in that Harry's carrying a rifle instead of his staff. So that could indicate that Harry's going to be switching up and/or expanding his tactical repertoire, especially if this immortal person is someone he can't get out of killing.

Anyway, I'm quite excited about this news - hopefully the preview chapters will be up sooner rather than later (rumor is the first to are in the paperback of Ghost Story - I'll have to see if I can scrounge one of those up).

In the meantime, I've been thinking for a while of giving the whole series a re-read, and this seems like the proverbial opportune moment. Hopefully it'll also make for some good blogging!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Coolest Term Paper Ever

"The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." - J. R. R. Tolkien, letter1 to Milton Waldman circa 1951.

Via Propnomicon comes news of an absolutely stunning Tolkien-related art project out of Germany. Benjamin Harff, as student at the Rhein-Sieg-Akademie for Realistic Visual Arts and Design, created for a class final one of the most beautiful copies of The Silmarillion I've ever seen:

In this interview, Harff gives some details about the creation process - it took him about a year to complete, first doing all the calligraphy by hand, then digitally combining it with the full Silmarillion text and creating the leather cover (which was professionally hand-bound) of what he calls the "Edel-Silmarallion". I hope Harff's professor was as impressed as I am!

1The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No. 131.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Secret of the Doctor's Grand-Daughter: An Exercise in Creative Mythography

About a year ago, I came across some references to a comic book hero called Atomic Robo. Although mostly appearing in print, several adventures are available for viewing online. One in particular, as soon as I began reading it, signaled to me that this was a story, and a character, I was really going to like.

No, they don't ever explain why Atomic Robo is driving B.A. Baracus' van, though I have a faint hope that the upcoming titled-but-unscheduled "Atomic Robo and the Soliders of Fortune" arc will address this.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Holmes for the Holidays

Something I've noticed over the past several months in my reading and film-watching habits recently has been a sharp increase in stories starring Sherlock Holmes. While I've long been a fan of the Greatest Detective, these things tend to come in waves, and right now the Holmes-wave is cresting.

Most obviously, the arrival of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in theaters last December was an occasion of some welcome. I see that the first Guy Ritchie-directed Holmes adaptation came out during my own hiatus, and thus went uncommented on. I'll just take this opportunity to say that I found it an excellent movie, one that hewed close to the spirit of Doyle's stories, if not being perfectly accurate in every detail.

And I swear the tagline is an amusing coincidence.

The sequel is the pretty much the same, only more so. I do have a few quibbles with it - the liberties taken with the storyline were somewhat more noticeable, given that the film was adapting an existing Holmes story rather than making one out of whole cloth. I was also rather irritated at the fate of Irene Adler in the film, though I take some comfort from the fact that we never saw the body. So to speak.

Holmes and Watson, though, were in top form. Especially gratifying was the expanded use of Holmes' "plot-out-the-fight-in-slow-motion-in-advance" brawling technique, even considering the time that Holmes' meticulous sequence was derailed by a third party throwing a knife. And of course, his final encounter with Moriarty took this form as well, with amazing results. And let's not forget Watson -  I especially appreciated his use of deductive reasoning concerning Mycroft's appearance at his "bachelor party", as well as his penultimate confrontation with Colonel Moran.

Finally, I thought Jared Harris' portrayal of Professor Moriarty to be pretty good, with just the right amount of civility papering over seething menace. His plot was refreshingly prosaic, though it reminded me quite a bit - OK, it was pretty much identical - to the Fantom's plot in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And we all know who he turned out to be:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 10

Post 10 - Favorite Classic Book

For this topic, while there was for obvious reasons a real temptation to discuss that famous Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, I ultimately decided to go with something a bit more well-known, namely the Odyssey of Homer.

Now, the Odyssey is a classic in every since of the word - many of most iconic images of Greek mythology, such as the Cyclops, the Sirens, Circe - even the Trojan Horse has its chronologically earliest mention here, rather than in the Iliad (in which it is not mentioned at all).

More tied to Odysseus himself, but no less fun to read about are instances such as the trip to the Underworld, and his stratagems against Penelope's suitors. Most of these episodes have been told, and retold, and are as familiar as they are fun to revisit.

But upon a deeper look, there's a bit more to The Odyssey than a fantastical Classical Grecian picaresque. The various episodes appear quite out of order, and when you sort through the digressions and flashbacks and shifts in viewpoint, a curious pattern emerges - all those famous incidents with incredible creatures appear in stories told by Odysseus (mostly to the Phaeacians), while the "real-time" sections deal with almost entirely mundane events, such as the intrigues aimed at dislodging The Suitors. There is an unspoken but definite possibility that Ulysses (renowned for his sneakyness) might not be an entirely reliable narrator about his adventures with giants and witches.

What's more, Odysseus' more fantastic adventures are neatly framed by the two huge storms, one at the beginning of his adventures (right before the Lotus Eaters) and the other at the end (as he makes his escape from Calypso's Island). This suggests that (assuming Odysseus is not just telling tall tales) the fantastic elements exist at a remove from the "real" world.

The potential for varied interpretations like these are no doubt just as important to the survival of The Odyssey as the ubiquity of the various incidents. However, even the deepest stories also need to be fun to tell and retell, and the genius of The Odyssey is that it manages to provide both.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Dwarven

So, just in case there's anyone left on the Internet who hasn't heard the news, we have now seen a teaser trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

I have to say, I'm pretty impressed, and my excitement for the movie has been upped by several levels.

Friday, April 27, 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 9

A couple of weeks ago it came to my attention that the Egotist's Club blog - from whom, readers may recall, I borrowed the 30 Days Book Challenge - have started a new round of structured literary posting. While I'm far too behind on that to even consider participating, interested parties should go read all their Book Meme 2012 posts.

And speaking of the Book Challenge, I should probably be getting back to that:

Post 9 - A Book You Thought You Wouldn't Like But Ended Up Loving

One of the things I appreciated about my college education was the encouragement to read things that were out of my comfort zone, making me and the other students more well-rounded, better educated individuals, at least in theory.

Which isn't to say that "loving" isn't too strong a word for my feelings about, say, Aristophanes' comedic play The Frogs, but I still found it much more enjoyable than one would expect of a work over twenty-four centuries old.

Ironically enough, one of the things that I enjoyed about it was how modern it seemed at times. The first half of the book, particularly, is absolutely rife with the sort of metafictional commentary that one would expect to find in a more modern piece - the first line, even, is one of the characters offering to present the audience (this was a play, remember) with "one of the old gags".

Not all of the play was this sort of modern-seeming meta-referencing, however - several amusing parts, such as a sequence where Dionysus and his slave Xanthias keeping switching around their single Heracles costume (depending on whether or not it was advantageous to be mistaken for Heracles), have the air of something that made slightly more sense, or at least had better resonance, in its original context*. On the other and, much of the second act devolves into a argument among Dionysus and various Greek literary figures, which I found to be highly technical and not interesting in the least.

But, if only for the first part where Dionysus and Xanthias are making their farcical journey to the Underworld, I am glad that I was compelled to read The Frogs. It's always a good idea to break away from "the usual" once in a while, and believe me - not much about The Frogs is "usual".

*On the other hand, I freely admit that "slapstick comedy" isn't my preferred genre, and it's quite possible that the quick-change clothes-swapping trope is alive and well in contemporary comedy and just escaped my notice.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Foggy Mountain Memorial

A few days ago, the news broke that Earl Scruggs had died. Now, as important a figure to Bluegrass music as he was, I can't say I was a huge fan - though what music of his I have listened to, I've enjoyed.

In fact, one of the first CDs I ever purchased was one of his, to be precise his 2001 album Earl Scruggs and Friends. Though it didn't inspire me to seek out more Scruggs specifically, I do think it helped shaped my taste for country music in general. One track notable in this regard is his cover of "Ring of Fire" with Billy Bob Thornton, which I actually prefer to Johnny Cash's version. Sorry, Johnny, but compared to Earl's your version sounds way too much like a Mariachi band.

But the most important, and certainly the most well-known, track from that album was a new version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". In my opinion Scruggs and company earned the Grammy this recording won them, and from the look of the video they had a blast laying it down:

Even though it's "just" the musicians in the studio, there's something about this video - like all good music videos - that makes it a joy to watch as well as listen to. Not just for the celebrity-spotting - yes, that's Steve Martin playing a banjo, and Wikipedia informs me that the gleeful maniac on the piano is Paul Shaffer - but the way each player gets some time as the primary focus, with said focus eventually returning to Scruggs himself is artfully done. And, as I said, the sheer joy evident in the various performances* is somewhat infectious - it's hard to keep from smiling while even listening to this piece.

And that, perhaps, is the best legacy any performer can have. Even though I have only a dim understanding of Earl Scruggs' legacy, I'm still grateful for the music he's left us with - and perhaps in the future I'll be inclined to listen to more of it.

*Well, except for the hirsute fellow on the keyboard - whenever the camera is on him he stays pretty Zen. 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 13

No, that's not a typo.

Post 13 - Your Favorite Writer

I am, in fact, posting this installment a bit out of order, for the purpose of acknowledging the just-passed hundred-and-twentieth (Twelvetieth?) birthday of said favorite writer - J. R. R. Tolkien.

There are many reasons that I consider Tolkien to be my favorite writer - I've been reading his books for almost my entire life, and it's easy to see how they've impacted my tastes over the years. More broadly, his influence on fiction has been incalculable - not only in the genre that he practically invented, but in pretty much any work that has an invented culture or people group, if there's any thought put into them  at all they probably owe something to Middle-Earth.

In addition to his being incredibly creative, I've also always admired the craftsmanship with which Tolkien did his writing. The vast amounts of unfinished and draft material published since his death - and how many authors are there whose notes and drafts are viable candidates for publication, hmm? - especially underscore this, since it gives a better sense of both the breadth and the depth of Tolkien's creation.

Indeed, it's the latter of those two qualities that I really admire, the way in which he applied his vast knowledge of philology, mythology, and pre-modern literature into building a fictional world that feels almost as real as the one outside the front door. And, as if that wasn't enough, Tolkien was something of a perfectionist, constantly revising his work to make everything fit better, to the point where it's a wonder we have anything of his to read at all.

Fortunately, we do have those works, and it's no exaggeration to say that without them the world would be a far grimmer place. So, happy (belated) birthday, Professor, and thank you for all those years of pleasure and inspiration.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 3 January 1892 - 2 September 1973