Saturday, January 13, 2018

Deuterocanonical Dresden

One of my blogging goals for 2018 is to revisit and hopefully cap off some of the series of posts that have been left hanging in previous years. Of these, the most egregious is my planned re-read of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, which spluttered out before I even got to the first novel. There are now fifteen novels in the series, along with the various short prose and comic-book stories, and while the release date for the sixteenth has not yet been announced, this summer will see the release of the second short story collection, Brief Cases. Whatever the real-life circumstances that have delayed Harry's adventures, at least we know Jim hasn't lost his touch in coming up with snappy titles.

But all of that is in the future - today, I'd like to highlight a neat resource for Dresden fans that has recently come online. This website is called Word of Jim, and is a compilation of forum postings, live interview responses, comments left on Amazon reviews, and other such ephemera made by Jim Butcher himself that drop hints at future books and explain or undercut various explanations for ongoing mysteries, or just wacky fan ideas. It's great fun to browse through, although I have yet to locate the place where he says that Ronald Reuel, the titular Summer Knight of Summer Knight, is not the same guy as J. R. R. Tolkien. However, another tidbit seems to support my theory that he is:

I’m sure it’s just one of those freaky coincidences. Tweed-clad old smiling ‘creator of worlds of imagination’ Ronald Reuel, Summer Knight of the Seelie Court does not look a thing like Tolkein.

Or, uh. Well he does, yeah.

On advice of legal council, I claim the right of the fifth amendment not to testify against myself…
On the other hand his statements that Justin DuMorne, Harry's guardian, was absolutely, no-questions, "D-E-D dead" (which I take as evidence that Harry's mentor is still alive*) are available, although I had a bit of trouble finding them since I was initially using "DuMorne" as my search term. Truth be told, some of the pages could use a bit of subdivision.

As we mostly-patiently wait for Brief Cases, as well as the next two novels, Peace Talks and Mirror, Mirror (which will be about exactly what you're thinking), I anticipate that Word of Jim will become a well-used resource by the Dresden fan community, and I thank the compiler "Serack the WoJ Guru" for his efforts.

*OK, here goes. Some years before gaining guardianship of the young Harry Dresden, Justin DuMorne was, by all accounts, an exemplary Warden (The Dresden Files' version of a wizardly police officer), who was involved in the takedown of a dangerous necromancer named Kemmler. Immediately after Kemmler's seemingly final demise, however, he absconded with a dangerous artifact (the yet-unnamed Bob the Skull) and, later, trained Harry as a wizard without any of the usual ethical instruction. Later Harry encounters a bunch of Kemmler's old hangers-on, including one with the charming nickname "Corpsetaker", who specializes in tactical body-swapping.

My theory, then, is that during that last battle Justin DuMorne was the victim of a similar body-swap initiated by Kemmler, and thus was killed in the necromancer's body while his own identity was stolen by Kemmler. Thus, DuMorne is, as Jim points out, as dead as Kemmler, in that they both half are and half aren't. Of course, if Jim never brings Kemmler back to face Harry again they might just as well be all dead, but at this point in Harry's career a legendary necromancer with the face of his hated guardian is just the sort of enemy he might encounter. And I have my suspicions about the mysterious figure called Cowl . . .

Friday, January 05, 2018

Kickstart Your New Year With Card Games and Adventure Fiction!

Happy 2018 to all my readers! As I do from time to time, I'd like to start this year of blogging off by highlighting a couple of crowd-funded projects I'm following.

The first is a card game called "The College Experience", put together by some folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now, I have to admit a little bias, here - the artwork for this game is done by a very dear friend of mine, through whom I was able to get access to a play-testing copy. While not particularly complex, as a pickup game for a spare half-hour or so it does it's job well, especially in the endgame when the players are getting a little more desperate to fill one of the two victory conditions (either holding the "Diploma" card when the draw pile runs out or, in one of the games more elaborate jokes, getting all three of the other highest value cards at any one time. These three cards, of course, represent Good Grades, Enough Sleep, and your Social Life). With just a single day left in the campaign, the game has raised nearly 30% more than its original goal, which is a victory condition in itself.

Also crowd-funding this month - although it's really more of a subscription drive, the goal-meeting aspect is something of a formality, given the circumstances -  are the next two issues of the excellent pulp fantasy and science fiction adventure magazine Cirsova. The magazine has apparently been doing quite well for itself, since the two-issue digital subscription is a whopping $1. With the back issues going on Amazon for about $3 each (for Kindle Readers, of course, the physical copies are more costly no matter which way you buy them), the magazine is practically being given away - and, if you still need convincing, most of the first three issues are literal giveaways at the magazine's website. But don't delay too long, the subscription is only open until the end of the month!

No matter if you're a reader, a gamer, or both, there's nothing quite like helping someone else fulfill a creative dream. Although the technology is only a few years old, it's amazing the kind of things that can be produced by crowd-funding. Both of the projects I've mentioned here have met and exceeded their initial goals, and I hope the successes of these projects inspire their creators for a long time to come.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Cheer!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers - may they be filled with the love of Christ and the joy of family (and of mashup art)!

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Bright Sunshiny Days

Once upon a time, there was a BBC car show called Top Gear. It was a fun little show that eventually became popular even outside England, due in large part to the three hosts - Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond - whose camaraderie, automotive knowledge, and general attitude of amateurish enthusiasm made what could have been a boring news show into an award-winning phenomenon.

Unfortunately, even the most popular TV programs have the detractors, and over the years Top Gear received many complaints, not an insignificant number of which involved Jeremy's humor not being appreciated by humorless scolds. Even more unfortunately, some of these scolds were executives at the BBC, and eventually an excuse was found (a fistfight with a producer, or something) to kick Jeremy off the show. James and Richard resigned in protest, the BBC hired a carefully diverse array of forgettable replacements (the only one who sticks in the memory being Joey from Friends), and it looked like the spirit of Top Gear would be gone forever.

But then, Clarkson, May, and Hammond got together with one of the producers whom Jeremy didn't punch, got in contact with Amazon, and we all got to go on the Internet and find this:

The Grand Tour [opening sequence] from Daniel Siegling on Vimeo.

I really like this whole opening sequence, not just because it marks the beginning of a terrific show (The Grand Tour is basically Top Gear with everything the BBC could legally block removed or altered), but as a piece of art in its own right. The choice of the Hothouse Flowers' cover of "I Can See Clearly Now" works really well as the mood swings from dour to triumphant, and is perfectly timed to little moments like Jeremy's face lighting up when James and Richard's muscle cars catch up with his. Best of all is the moment when the saxophone solo revs up, and the hosts are joined by a magnificent escort of cars from across automotive history. From modern supercars to pulp-era touring models, standard-issue daily drivers to outrageous art cars . . . now there's a diversity worth celebrating!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Answer Should be Obvious

While I don't particularly consider myself a "Gamer" in the way the term is normally used these days, I have over the years enjoyed many video games, especially ones from the Super Mario Brothers series. It was therefore with great interest that I read this article last week on, "Super Mario Brothers: Fantasy or Science Fiction?".

Now, while (much like its paper-book-publishing big brother) is often (usually) ground zero for much that is wrong-headed or actively malicious about today's speculative fiction culture, this particular article is fairly decent, with some interesting thoughts about the interconnectedness of the Super Mario franchise. However, I couldn't help but notice that, aside from a brief invocation of "science fantasy" towards the end, the article is pretty set on its binary SF-or-Fantasy question, when a different way of looking at the genre question comes up with a completely different, but much better-fitting answer.

Super Mario Brothers is a Planetary Romance.

Friday, August 18, 2017

World History According to Back to the Future

The other day I was browsing YouTube and happened across this highly amusing (if slightly-mis-titled) video:

What it lacks in not having the whole six-hour movie saga, of course, it makes up for by including snippets from the Animated Series, the Telltale video game, and even screen-shots from the tie-in comics, both the current IDW series and the old Harvey Comics stories. The inclusion of the former, by the way (not to mention the 30th anniversary short from a couple years back), makes this technically more up-to-date, if far less comprehensive, than the excellent Back in Time by Greg Mitchell.

In a way, it illustrates both the positives and negatives of opening up such a well-crafted story into an Expanded Universe. Some consistency of tone and quality is lost, a well as opening up many more opportunities for continuity errors to creep in (already a particular peril for time-travel stories). At the same time, however, the scope is greatly increased - as we see in the video, Back to the Future: The Animated Series hit many of the most popular eras of historical fiction, with pirates and dinosaurs and knights and Romans, among others. The ongoing IDW comics do the same thing for the characters, giving us such gems as Griff Tannen's 2035 employment as a police officer (!) and Doc's mid-1960s attempt to get government funding for his experiments (which somehow resulted in Marty coming back from the future only speaking Russian).

If nothing else, an active EU shows that a story like Back to the Future still resonates with the listeners, even after over 30 years. Fan projects, like this video, are another encouraging sign, and I'm glad to be able to share it.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Age of the Orc

. . . is often coming, but never quite seems to get here. Scott Oden's new historical fantasy novel A Gathering of Ravens, however, brings it as close as it's ever been.

While this is not the first time that Oden has tackled writing from the orcish point of view - the short story "Amarante" in Skelos II is another example - it's certainly the most ambitious. The story follows Grimnir, who is definitely an orc even if the word is never used (the neologism kaunr is used for Grimnir to describe himself, while other cultures use skraelingr, orcneas, or fomoraig) - murderous, crude, and bloodthirsty. After kidnapping an incredulous Christian traveler as a guide, he sets off from his lair in 10th-Century Denmark in search of the Dane that killed his brother, Grendel.

Well, almost. The brother's name is actually Hrungnir and his killer's Bjarki (a name that, like Beowulf, means bear), but the parallels are undeniable - Hrungnir's arm being displayed along with his head is just one of the more obvious. I was delighted to note there were even shout-outs to more modern versions of the story - at one a Dane begins reciting the famous poem from the film The Thirteenth Warrior ("Lo, there do I see my father . . . "), and certain spoilery facts of Bjarki Half-Dane's backstory are somewhat reminiscent of the 2007 Beowulf film.

Another appearance of the White Tree.
But Beowulf isn't the only piece of meat in this literary stew. There's some Tolkien, of course - a tale about an orc could hardly avoid him - but it's surprisingly superficial. There's a scene with some dwarves (taller than Grimnir!), one of whom is named Nori; and there's a section with a willow-spirit who, in addition to acting like close kin of Old Man Willow, uses heraldry described similar to Gondor's.

In terms of overall style and theme, though, A Gathering of Ravens owes much more to Robert E. Howard than to J. R. R. Tolkien - not just little things like the dog named Conan and the Viking that swears by Crom, but the way the cosmic conflict between paganism and Christianity (not for nothing, I think, is the Battle of Clontarf the climax of the book) forms the background of a personal revenge story, in which the actors shake out in some surprising directions. Not to mention the action and combat scenes, which richly evokes the hard-scrabble life-or-death struggles such events would have been.

Overall, as someone with both an interest in fantasy fiction and medieval history this book was a joy to read - it's obvious the author is well-read on both the historical and mythical background of Viking-age Europe. I have heard that Scott Oden intends to pen more adventures of Grimnir the Last Orc, and can only say the sooner the better.

Favorite line: "This was no game of thrones where generals sacrificed and maneuvered on the backs of their soldiers; this was the most primal sort of conflict - Odin's weather, the red chaos of slaughter - where men stood breast-to-breast and shield-to-shield, and dealt the same blows they took in kind."

I see what you did there!