The Fell Gard Codices

Seasonal Thoughts

April 18th, 2013

It’s been feeling like spring around these parts, and after snow only a few days ago, it looks like warmer weather will be settling in for the near future (and hopefully longer). When I say ‘feeling like spring’ I mean that — you can smell it, you can sense it in the air. No more overnight frosts. Everything’s thawed. The trees are budding.

For whatever reason, I have always felt a weirdly strong association between the coming of spring and reading fantasy fiction. It’s a lot like Northrop Frye’s theories about the correlation between seasons and genres; except he assigned ‘romance,’ which category would cover the type of fantasy I have in mind, to summer. I can understand the logic, and I can feel that, too. But fantasy still seems to me a function of spring; the budding of new life. The magical revival of the earth. It’s maybe more to do with John Clute’s idea of fantasy as a myth of the thinning of magic, the transformations and night journeys of a protagonist, and finally a eucastrophe — an unexpected healing of the land. Spring after winter.

Or, maybe it’s just because when I was a kid I bought my first fantasy novels in spring (Elfstones of Shannara and Alison Rush’s The Last of Danu’s Children, if you’re wondering). But then the two things are not mutually exclusive. Season and story can be seen as mutually reinforcing. It’s a pleasing image to me, somehow, and feels right.

Arrow Therapy

April 16th, 2013

Maybe worth noting here that over the past couple of months, as I try to return to full health, I’ve taken up archery. This was Grace’s idea; she found that our local branch of the SCA had a weekly archery practice near us, and we’ve been going since mid-February. It’s been incredible fun.

As I type this, I’ve returned from our weekly shoot. I can feel muscles in my back and shoulder relaxing after heavy use; it’s a good feeling. I’m not normally a very physically active person, in part due to my ongoing illness, and it’s good to have some reason for exertion. But more than that, I’ve found archery’s a great way to focus. The act of drawing of an arrow, aiming, releasing — you concentrate, in the fullest sense of the word. You are brought to the centre. The first time I tried archery I immediately realised why some people use it as a meditative technique.

Archery brings together muscular effort, precision of motor control, and a certain kind of mental stillness. So although it’s draining in terms of pure physical energy, I find it psychically energising. And it helps that I’m new enough to the skill that I’m still improving. I figure it’ll probably bleed over into the story, too; we’ll see how it goes.

Man of 1000 SF Faces

April 15th, 2013

Grace and I just watched last week’s Doctor Who. We enjoyed it quite a bit; I thought it felt a lot like an episode of the classic show — humans trapped in a confined metallic labyrinth, chased by an alien, and only the Doctor can save them. And David Warner guest-starred as an elderly scientist. Which raises the question: is there any sf franchise of the last 30 or so years he hasn’t been in?

From IMDB, he’s been in Time After Time, Time Bandits, Tron, Star Trek (V and VI, and The Next Generation), Twin Peaks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the second live-action movie), Tales From the Crypt, Lois & Clark, Babylon 5, Scream 2, Wing Commander (for which he has my sympathies), the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, Avatar, a Total Recall TV show, and an Outer Limits episode. Plus a whole bunch of minor roles in things like a remake of Frankenstein and The Secret Life of Ian Fleming and (perhaps most notably) Cast a Deadly Spell. And animated shows including Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Men in Black, and Gargoyles (though I guess I implied that last one already by saying he was on Next Generation). He was even in a flipping Beastmaster sequel. Think he wasn’t in Star Wars? Well, he did a voice in the Star Wars: Force Commander video game. Also a Forgotten Realms video game, just to cover D&D.

I wonder if he has the greatest genre filmography of any actor, just through sheer volume.

Austen v Scott

April 14th, 2013

Semi-ironic (if possibly-obvious) thought of the day: contemporary novels evoking Jane Austen and set in the Regency era dating scene are much less like the hard-edged contemporary satire Austen wrote than like the pseudo-historical yarns of Walter Scott. Who is usually held up as the exact opposite of Austen.

This is probably especially true in books where Jane Austen solves a murder case.

More Books

April 13th, 2013

Another day, another book sale in a community centre. This one was at Westmount’s Victoria Hall, to benefit the Friends of the Westmount Library. I got:

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Greene Centre Book Sale

April 12th, 2013

There was a book sale at my local community centre, and I had some good luck.

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An Odd Thought

April 11th, 2013

I don’t watch much TV these days, but I do watch A Game of Thrones. Which I find interesting as a show and as an adaptation. There’s a level of technical interest involved in seeing how the show creators deal with the various difficulties of translating Martin’s novels to the screen. I don’t just mean visually, or in terms of balancing budgets and battle scenes and so forth. I’m thinking structurally, in terms of how the matter of the books is shaped into the form of a TV show.

How do you fit a long novel into two seasons of TV? How will two overlapping novels fit into an episodic format — how many seasons will that take? Interesting things to ponder as I watch the show.

In particular, there’s one character (no spoilers here) whose point-of-view has been given since the start of the show, and who will continue to get screen time for the next little while, whereas in the book it dropped out after the second book to be picked up later (in book five). He didn’t move much over that time in the books. What do you do with that character over the next years for the TV show? Make up new plot? An intriguing challenge, that, and interesting to see how it plays out.

A Fantasy Hero of the Past

April 10th, 2013

I’ve been reading Fantasy Hero, a campaign supplement for the Hero game system. It’s about twenty years old, and in a lot of ways seems a decent look at where fantasy role-playing games were at back in the early 90s. There were things I didn’t like (the medieval-Arabic area is repeatedly said to tightly limit the freedoms of women, whereas apparently the medieval-Europe countries are basically egalitarian), a fair amount of generic fantasy stuff, and a couple interesting points. For one thing, there’s an evil wizard named Malekith, which opens the possibility that somebody was reading Walt Simonson’s run on Thor.

The most interesting part of the book, though, was a section called “Conventions of ‘Genre’ Fantasy,” written by Allen Varney. It’s a look at different kinds of fantasy fictions — epic fantasy, comic fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, and so on — and how they might work as games. I don’t necessarily agree with all Varney’s conclusions. In particular, he suggests that high fantasy tends to be conservative, which sounds like something cribbed from Michael Moorcock; I’m unconvinced. But taken all in all, it’s interesting to see an attempt to round up the kinds of fantasy then on bookstore shelves, and neat to see John Crowley mentioned in a gaming supplement. Overall, then, an interesting curiosity.

Another Thought on Gibbon

April 9th, 2013

I mentioned I’d been reading Gibbon lately. Here’s a great aside he had, after describing the convoluted attempts by the Byzantine Empire to smuggle silk worms out of China and develop a silk industry of their own:

I am not insensible of the benefits of elegant luxury; yet I reflect with some pain that, if the importers of silk had introduced the art of printing, already practiced by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the entire decads of Livy would have been perpetuated in the editions of the sixth century. A larger view of the globe might at least have promoted the improvement of speculative science, but the Christian geography was forcibly extracted from texts of scripture, and the study of nature was the surest symptom of an unbelieving mind.

An interesting early hint of counterfactual history — and a damned good point.

Black Gate Update

April 8th, 2013

I’ve been sluggish about updating my posts at Black Gate, but then, due in part to illness and in part to other work, I’ve been slow in putting them up, too. At any rate, here are three: about Minister Faust’s The Alchemists of Kush, about Marie Corelli and her Heliobas quasi-trilogy, and about Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s comic The Enigma.

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