Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Ah, Silmarillion.

I feel like the The Silmarillion is an old friend. One I can talk about The Hobbit with; someone who knows what the cry Elbereth Gilthoniel means, and why this prayer is especially meaningful when one is alone, in the dark, and afraid. And why it is that Galadriel seems so sad, so powerful, and yet so worried and so driven. And why she feels that, in the end, she may have passed a test. And... if she is so powerful, who would it be who could presume to try her.

In The Silmarillion, we find out why it is that elves do what they do, and feel so strongly about men, Middle Earth, and Sauron. Why the story of Beren and Lúthien is still on their minds. Why the stars are so important to them, and what the sea really means when it calls to them.

The Silmarillion is a guidebook--a user's manual--for The Lords of the Rings and The Hobbit. Its where Tolkien started, and where he ended up. He began the stories that survive in The Silmarillion, back in the 30s, and worked on them all through his career. They were eventually edited for publishing by his son, Christopher Tolkien, with aid from Guy Gavriel Kay, who has written a number of fantasy books of his own, which I have enjoyed and recommended.*

I don't think a lot of folks make it through the first 30 pages of this book because of where it begins. When you're Tolkien, and you're creating a new universe (or sub-universe within our own universe, as he would probably put it) where do you begin, but at the beginning? The Silmarillion is both a history, and a character driven tale, told from before the very beginning of time, from the point of view of the elves. And these characters--and there are a lot of them--get their start here, so it makes sense to tell their stories. Skipping this part only makes it harder to understand what comes after, but if that's what it takes, skip it. Skip both the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta. Yeah, man! Go right ahead to the Quenta Silmarillion; there's even a little summary of whats been happening right there, at the beginning.


Then... if you like it... you can go back and read the first part. It will be like the back story to the back story, dude! its like 30 pages, don't be a puss

One last thing, if you have read either The Children of Hùrin or Unfinished Tales, or plan to, there is some repetition of materials. The Silmarillion contains a few abbreviated versions of stories contained in these other volumes.

If you've scrabbled around in the appendixes of The Lord of the Rings (and you know who you are) you owe it to yourself to read this book.

* You'll find the The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy by Kay listed in the 'good' box in the right hand column.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

travel marker series i

This is the first marker in the Travel Marker Series, showcasing bookmarks from places other than around my home, where I pick up most of the goods. In many cases, these markers are either found by me, or someone who has then given them to me, or that I have picked up in my own travels. The found ones have come from used books, mostly. Altho I occasionally will pick one up on my travels, left by someone else, in a hotel for example.

The first is a freebie from the S. Miguel Park Hotel, in Ponta Delgada, Portugal. Ponta Delgada is on Sao Miguel (Azores) about 1500 km west of Lisbon, in the Atlantic. Sao Miguel is the largest of the islands in the Azores Archipelago and Ponta Delgada is both the largest city, and the administrative capital.

The hotel sits in the heart of downtown, and appears to be about three quarters of a kilometer from the ocean. The address for the hotel is given on the reverse of the book mark as Rua Manuel Augusto Amaral, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel 9500-222, Portugal.

According to their website, the hotel has panoramic views, and is close to the Botanical Gardens, I assume from the map that they are taking about Jardim José do Canto, but there are others in town as well. The S. Miguel Park Hotel is Bensaude Turismo Hotel.

Sounds like fun, right? And who doesn't like a free bookmark?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

clash of kings

George R. R Martin is a wordy guy. I'm not complaining, mind you at least, I don't think I am. yet. That's just a fact I think we can all agree on, whether we like The Song of Fire and Ice saga or not, and so far I do. Its just--there's a lot of it, brother.

So I just pounded thru A Clash of Kings. Its been about 42 years since I started reading it, but it did keep my attention all the way through. Its just, so... soap opera-y. There's, like, a hundred and seven major characters, and another hundred and seven (thousand) minor characters, and they all have four names,  are related to just about everyone else, at least by marriage. At least half of them are missing fingers, and the other half has either lost an eye, or something else. Multiple POV writing does make for some interesting character development however, but I guess just about any character is bound to develop a little bit after a few thousand pages. how many more of these books are there?

I just re-read my review of the first book, and it looks like I thought it was great. Its been a little while, so I don't remember, but its pretty clear from the review. I enjoyed this book, no question, and I found myself reading more during the day and on the weekends, but all in all, I can't say that I loved it, only that it was good. And there is a bunch more to read. I often find that the first book in a series is good, and the follow up volumes not quite as exciting, and then the final volume really does the job. Leaving me feeling like the middle books are bridge between the two good parts of the story.* I hope this isn't the case here (there are a lot of middle books, I certainly hope not.) Martin has set himself up more like the Harry Potter books however, in that each of these first two at least have a story arc of there own, albeit not as distinct a separate storyline as the Harry Potter book.

The long drawn out story arc is where the soap opera feel comes from. We move from character to character, learning a bit more of the story as a whole as we move forward, but the overall storyline arc is so vast I can't see a way clear to the end yet.

Well, I guess I'll be there. But just like the first one, I'll let it sit for a while before jumping back into this fray. Onward, to another tome!

* I think this more often the case with trilogies.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

master of rain

The Master of Rain is the first novel by Tom Bradby. Unfortunately, it read like it. To be fair, it got better as it went on; I could almost see the writing improve as he went along. The story was good tho; I can imagine it as a movie plot. Screwing it down to screenplay size may even improve the story. It may be that its too similar to other stories/movies in this genre to actually get any traction, however.

Bradby is a news man from England, stationed in Asia, so he's using his experience there to add to the realism in his story, supplemented by research into the mid-1920s in Shanghai, when the story is set. It takes place at about the mid-point of the hundred years or so that the European lasted in Shanghai, just after the construction of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and Custom House, but before Chiang Kaishek came to town in 1927.

The story takes place in the British settlement, and a little in the French settlement, where big European business was flourishing in the post Treaty of Nanking era. The Master of Rain is a crime drama, with sub-plots of love, organized crime, and sex. As I said, the story was good, so it kept me reading. What I didn't like were the funny things that cropped up in the writing that drew my attention away from the story.

The first one I saw was on page 43: Our man is being asked where some files are by his supervisor, who blames this picky attention to detail on their boss (Biers), by saying: "Biers is so bloody anal about all that stuff." Anal? Really? In 1926? I took a look on the Google corpus for British English in the 1920s, just to be sure I wasn't crazy. I got just over 3000 hits--medical text books, insect text books, anatomy treatises. Not a whole lot of general use of Freud's lingo had penetrated sorry, couldn't help it into the day-to-day language of coppers in 1926.

Since then, Bradby has written a few more books, so he must be doing something right. One of them, Shadow Dancer, was made into a movie, so I guess the impression I had of movie-like storyline was close.