Monday, October 24, 2011

The Three Musketeers

One of my favorite movies of all time is David Lester's The Three Musketeers from 1973.  You know the one; stars Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Raquel Welch, Faye Dunnaway, Christopher Lee and Charleton Heston.  Among others.  Great movie.  One of the best adaptations of probably the most adapted movie of all time.  Since that time, we've seen mostly forgettable adaptaions from 1993, with Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan, a semi-wire-fu very loose adaptation called The Musketeer from 2001, which I barely remembered even now, a 2004 animated version starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy as the three musketeers, which features very little of the original plot, and most recently, a Paul W. S. Anderson Matrix-like adaptation that just came out this last weekend.  It had a disappointing weekend (I think, anyway) opening at #4 for just under $9 domestically, although it's already made over $73 M worldwide, and will no doubt prove to have been a profitable venture.

Although my expectations for the movie were never too high, they actually plummeted significantly when I realized Paul W. S. Anderson was the director.  While I've never seen the Resident Evil movies, they never really looked all that great.  And Mortal Kombat and Alien vs. Predator and his other movies had some good moments, but were largely kinda forgettable and dull.  I actually think the new adaptation, The Three Musketeers that just came out, may be his best movie yet.  That doesn't mean that it's a great adaptation, but it's a reasonably fun one, and it actually does a decent job of following the plot of the novel, all things considered.

The king, while still useless, is made surprisingly likeable.  Buckingham is more of a villain that the Cardinal in many ways.  D'Artagnan is surprisingly less likeable in many ways than anyone else in the cast, as kind of a jerky mouth-off.  Constance is vacuous, but very pretty.  Rochefort is not played by a young Christopher Lee, and partly because of that, he ends up being too over-the-top and hammish.  My wife and I both rolled our eyes when Countess de Winter was fished out of the English Channel after plummeting to what should have been her certain death from a good thousand feet up.  And the notion of these balloon warships is really just pretty silly; all it takes is a good shot or two to the balloon itself and the whole thing comes plummeting to the ground, killing all on board.

That said, the movie was pretty much everything I hoped it would be.  Based on the preview, I didn't hope that it would stand alongside David Lester's adaptation as a fairly serious version of the story.  I expected it to be silly, over-the-top, shallow, and most of all, I expected it to be fun.  It was all of those.  It exceeded my expectations.  In fact, I'm already plotting to go see it again, this time with the kids.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Eisenhorn

I finished Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn omnibus, which includes the three Eisenhorn novels (Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus) as well as bridging short stories that connect them.  It was a fairly lengthy doorstop of a book; in large trade paperback format and nearly 800 pages long.  Granted, that still makes it smaller (as an omnibus) than some other single books in series like The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth or The Song of Fire and Ice.  Among others.  For those of you (ha! As if any of you would care enough to do this) who follow my "What I'm Reading" sidebar over there (on the left side) may have noticed, I've had this one on my list for quite a long time.  Months, actually.  Since sometime in the early summer.  It's now late October.  Most of that time can be explained by the fact that, well, yeah, it is a pretty big book, and it's been an absolutely crazy time in real life for me.  I've had very little free time to read, and I've also been interrupted, sometimes for relatively long periods of time, where I had to put Eisenhorn down and read something else due to constraints that had nothing to do with my desire to finish Eisenhorn.  But, I also have to admit that not all of that delay was caused by external constraints.  I'll get to that in a moment.

Eisenhorn is a Black Library imprint.  Black Library is the fiction publishing arm of Games Workshop, the company that makes, among other things, the Warhammer miniatures game, Warhammer 40,000, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, Inquisitor, Mordheim and more besides.  They've also in recent years had some pretty good success marketing those intellectual properties into computer games.  And, as any stop by pretty much any bookstore in America (Barnes & Noble, I guess?  Now that Borders is gone, are there any other chains I'm missing out on that are significant?) will show you, the Black Library section has grown just in the last few years to take up a surprisingly large amount of shelf space, at least equal to the Wizards of the Coast D&D novels lines, or the Star Wars and Star Trek novels lines.  Maybe larger.  Black Library is becoming a major force in fantasy and science fiction publishing.  And, as you can guess, their novels are set in the same fictional universes as their games--so they've basically got Warhammer--a darker, grimmer, Germanic take on standard Tolkienian fantasy with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian horror--and Warhammer 40k, a darker, grimmer take on a heavily Dune-inspired space opera that also has a heavy dose of Lovecraftian horror.  And curiously, a lot of fantasy, including space elves, space orcs, space hobbits and space dwarves.  There's also space demons and space wizards of sorts.  It's not hard sci-fi, by any means, but then again, not much of what seems to be really popular these days is, so I certainly don't hold that against it.  And, in fact, as a bigger fan of fantasy than of science fiction (in general) I wouldn't find that a problem in any case.

I went into Eisenhorn with extremely high expectations, which is usually not a good thing, based on the fact that I'd heard it described so often as "the best shared-world, licensed fiction that money can buy."  I could have possibly tempered that expectation by pointing out (to myself, at least) that that isn't necessarily saying much, as there's so much really bad shared world fiction out there, and only very limited shining stars in that field.  After having read the omnibus, I'm not sure if I agree or not.  It's good--don't get me wrong--in fact, Eisenhorn is very good.  But the best?  I dunno that I'd go that far.

The novels are told in a kind of retrospective, past-tense first person viewpoint.  Normally, a first person viewpoint helps to bring a sense of immediacy to a novel, but in this case, I think it did not.  Part of it was the past tense retrospective approach, where Abnett often would throw out asides that made it sound like it was all written long after the fact ('Gideon went on to be famous for his scholarly writings on this or that topic', for example, is an interesting bit of color about a fairly minor character.  It doesn't really bring a sense of immediacy to the writing, though, nor make us feel that Gideon is facing any significant risk in the narrative we're reading now.)  Part of this also may have been Eisenhorn's somewhat clinical, cold "voice" which was an important part of his character, but which made us feel oddly alienated from him, even as we got the story in his own words and from his own perspective.  Or maybe it's just the innate Britishness of Abnett that makes the book seem somewhat detached from this American's perspective.  Most likely it's a combination of all three factors.

An odd side effect of this curious detachment is that when I hit stopping places, I didn't really mind putting it down and letting myself be distracted, and I also didn't always feel compelled to pick it up again as soon as I was available.  There were times--even when I wasn't distracted by books that I had to read immediately because I needed to give them back, or movies or TV shows that I needed to watch and send back to Netflix, or whatever--where I just didn't make much progress in the novel because I just didn't feel like I had to dive into it an devour it--I was more than happy to take my time sipping from the novel, sometimes no more than a page or two a day for a week or more at a stretch.  Other times, though, the well-paced and well-structured plots of each individual novel had me reading a hundred or more pages at a stretch, unwilling to put the book down except when I had no choice.  But the odd, detached voice made me feel less connected to characters who should otherwise have been really quite intriguing; I found I didn't necessarily care all that much what happened to them.  Part of this was also the structure of the trilogy (as opposed to the structures of the individual novels within the series) where the plot did not flow as easily, and there were huge gaps, off-screen deaths and departures (or arrivals) and other significant changes to characters that we didn't actually get to witness.  I wonder if Abnett really initially envisioned this as a trilogy, or if that's an artifact of how they were later put together.  I'd be willing to believe that each novel was written as a stand-alone follow-up to the predecessor, without any eye towards what may follow later--it just doesn't feel tightly bound together as a trilogy to me.

Possibly, the next subsequent trilogy, the Ravenor omnibus, benefits from having been structured as a planned trilogy, although I've not heard that report from folks who have read it.  And Abnett is now claiming that he will top off the two trilogies with a third--a trilogy of trilogies, if you will--called the Bequin trilogy, and again, involving many of the same characters, although presumably significantly advanced in time from the point of departure where Eisenhorn ends.  Curiously, Eisenhorn also stops more than it ends, I thought.  The novel is clearly done, and then we get brief notes on what many of the characters did afterwards with their life, but at the same time, the final denoument is oddly lacking and unsatisfying, and it seems to preclude leaving a lot of open loose ends for the Ravenor or Bequin trilogies to follow up on.

In fact, all in all, I'd say that the Eisenhorn novels were strongly driven by plot, and not by character.  Not that the characters weren't interesting, because many of them were, but we got too little insight into most of them, and too little chance to see them as characters--with the exception of Gregor Eisenhorn himself.  In that case, what kind of plot do the novels have?  The main character, Gregor Eisenhorn, is an Inquisitor, a kind of intragalactic Special Agent in a setting where the lives of individuals are not highly valued.  It's also a setting where the danger from Lovecraftian entities from "The Warp", a kind of extradimensional space that is both the setting's equivalent to hyperspace and therefore a way to travel the stars as well as a source of psychic powers (i.e., space magic), daemons (I do love the British spelling of that word, by the way), and a dimension that is also strongly driven by human emotions, many of which, personified, have become humanities worst enemies--the Greater Daemons of Chaos--godlike powers who seek the ruination of the physical world.  Eisenhorn starts off as a fairly puritanical witch-hunter type, and the one character arc that we get to really see develop over the course of the novel is his "fall" if you will into radicalism; colluding with the forces of the alien and the daemon if necessary for the greater good.

There's some pretty nifty scenes that have a slight horror overlay, although Eisenhorn is way too much of an action novel to ever really stir any emotional response to the horror, but in many ways Abnett took some Lovecraftian concepts and made them his own.  Lovecraft never made non-Euclidean geometry sound like anything other than a dry and somewhat esoteric obsession; Abnett makes it seem genuinely disturbing at times.  He also does a good job of taking the concept of the "forbidden tome" and making it pretty creepy, including the Necroteuch (a science fictional homage to the Necronomicon, no doubt) and the Malus Codicium.  In addition, perhaps as an Easter egg to readers, Abnett specifically mentions The Book of Eibon as well, which is perhaps just enough Yog-Sothothery to tie the Warhammer Chaos mythos to the Cthulhu Mythos.  It was clearly heavily influenced by Lovecraft anyway.

One side effect of reading an omnibus is that I'm now strongly in the mood to read some unconnected and shorter stuff.  I'm going to finish the Conan collections by Del Rey by reading the third (of three) compilations, and I'm actually already fairly well on my way there.  After that, we'll see.  In general, after reading some short fiction, I crave the longer structure and detail of a novel, but I don't think I'm necessarily craving the often rambling and long-winded approach of a series.  I'll play it by ear and see what I'm in the mood to read after Conan is done--in spite of what my On Deck sidebar says.

For Eisenhorn, I definitely recommend the omnibus.  It's fun stuff for any fan of darker, action and mystery oriented space opera.  It's fun stuff for any fan of Lovecraftiana.  It's got a good pace and plot within each novel, although they feel like they were not originally intended to be a trilogy; just organic sequels that grew after the first one after it proved popular enough to spawn them.  I also don't know that I'd say this is the best shared world fiction I've read, or even if it is, if that makes it amongst the best that the genre overall can offer.  My impression of Eisenhorn is that it's pretty good---but it's not great.  I may eventually pick up the Ravenor omnibus too, but not anytime soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sonic Legends

I've said before that I prefer actual movie music soundtracks to be the background music for my games, and I've even posted a preferred playlist of sorts for my DARK•HERITAGE setting.

That said, I've spent much more time and money than I really should picking up some other background stuff.  Stuff that, musically, may not be as deft, but as background music, it may be even better in some ways; it fades a bit more into the background, while still conjuring up a mood.  I've blogged briefly about guys like Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana in the past (and given the season, they are both appropriate right now.  Both also have new(ish) CDs available; The Dark Tower by NA and Carnival Arcane by MS).

One that I had not blogged about before, but which is kinda cool, is Sonic Legends.  This isn't really a band per se; it's more a collection of loosely associated artists who release stuff.  Here's their website.  You can listen to much of their stuff there, and you can also listen to samples (and buy tracks) at places like the Paizo store, RPGNow or DriveThruRPG.  I've bought them at Paizo in the past, but the price and process is pretty much the same everywhere else.

These tracks are interesting and loopable; on the main website for Sonic Legends, they apparently have provided them for indie computer game use as their primary target, although Paizo sells them as if they were RPG themed.  Really, there's not a lot of difference.  I've got quite a few tracks now:

"Ancient Archives"
"Arabian Bazaar"
"City of the Dark Elves"
"Country Village"
"Forest Journey"
"Magical Spell"
"On the Open Sea"
"The Summoning"

They tend to be a mix of darker and lighter sounds, and many of them have sound effects mingled with the music.  If you're going to use them in a game, you need to be ready to play it on cue, and let it roll fairly quietly in the background, probably from a laptop or tablet PC that you're using as a DM tool.  I haven't quite gotten that fancy, but I'd like to some day.  In the meantime, it works as background music for me while I work, just like the Nox Arcana, Midnight Syndicate and the actual movie music soundtracks do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some fun Yog-Sothothery

http://www.jasoncolavito.com/1/post/2011/10/forbidden-history-images-of-great-cthulhu.html
Couldn't resist reposting this link of some historical images of Cthulhu, from Mayan carvings, and Medieval books and charts.

Needs to add some Chinese and Egyptian, and we'd really be set.

Real history into game events

Looking through the actual history of the world we live in is more likely to pay dividends for ideas to incorporate into your fantasy world than any amount of reading of other fantasy novels.  As an example for today, I give you the history of Nice with regards to the Italian Risorgimiento.

Giusseppe Garibaldi
Giusseppe Garibaldi, the hero of the Italian Unification, was actually a Nizzardo Italian.  He very strongly pushed for inclusion of Nice in the United Italy, but the Italians ceded Nice to France (from the Kingdom of Piedmont/Sardinia) in exchange for their support.  The Niçard language is a bit difficult to classify; it's not clear if it's a "northern Italian" language, similar to Monagesque, Ligurian or Piedmontese, or an Occitan dialect.  Clearly it's got major input from both.  There's a school of thought that the Occitan (and subsequent French) influence has grown considerably since the ceding of the city to France.

In fact, Giulio Vignoli wrote that nearly a third of the population of Nice either fled or was forced to move from Nice across the border into Italy, and that France subsequently encouraged neighboring Provençal settlers to move into the area, thus changing the language dynamic almost overnight.  Today, the Niçard dialect (whether it be a Ligurian or Occitan language, it's a dialect influenced heavily by the other, either way) is clearly "wandering" closer to French.  Occitan itself is a fading language, as are most of the north Italian languages, who enjoy no official capacity from the Italian government.  Piedmontese wasn't even successful in being declared one of the official languages of the Olympic Games in Torino--even though Torino is the center of the Piedmontese language!

A number of Italians were very unhappy about the disposition of Nice, in particularly Nizzardo Italians (as you can imagine, since they were either handed off to a foreign country or displaced).  For a time, irredentism revanchism was a popular conceit amongst them, as well as Italian nationalists in general.  Today, I don't believe that to be a major force, but there is an effort to preseve the Niçard language, and to use the "classical orthography" which is much less "frenchified" than the alternative.

In actuality, this irredentism is a bit curious; Nice has frequently been on both sides of the "italian" and French borders--I put Italian in lower case and quotes because much of that time predates the foundation of the nation of Italy, of course.  From the fall of the Roman Empire until 1388--with the exception of about half a century of independence as a maritime city-state, Nice was part of of the County of Provence, which was, of course, part of the kingdom of the Merovingian and later Carolingian Frankish kings.  Thus, it's history after being a Roman holding was primarily always French, up into the late-middle Middle Ages.

From 1388 until 1860--with the exception of the time from 1792-1814 when it was again ruled by the French following the successes of Napolean (himself an "Italian" from Corsica, which was also a French possession) the Savoy's ruled Nice as part of their Kingdom of Sardinia, which was the core around which the Italian Unification was achieved.  Like I said, it was famously traded to France for their support against the meddling of Austria, and the ceding of the Lombardy to the newly uniting Italy.  Of course, this didn't change the nature of the people, language or culture of the area.  Up until the French and Italian (and Spanish--this happened there too) attempts to stamp out the various regional languages within their borders, much of the countryside around Nice would have been part of a much larger Liguirian community of speakers, who's dialects gradually converged into Provençal to the west and northwest, and into Piedmontese to the north, and Emiliagno to the east.  Nice would have been merely an important population blip, with a regional dialect that may have contested with Genoese as the most important Ligurian dialectal center.

How to use this in fantasy?  Well, I'm a bit of a nut for linguistic topics, but linguistics often underlies a population's sense of identity.  The notion of people being forced to leave, or voluntarily leaving their homes due to a sense of nationalism, patriotism, and identity with one rather than another state, the notion of seething irredentism or revanchism leading to riots, exodus, or other political games--this would be something that any fantasy RPG should be glad to incorporate.  The notion that all inhabitants of all places just sit quietly, happy with their situation all the time, is not one that history itself suggests is likely.  Plus, that kind of intrigue is much more exciting (to me, at least) then finding a hole in the ground with monsters in it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Among Thieves

US Cover
Yesterday late afternoon, despite a very busy schedule, I was able to polish off Douglas Hulick's debut novel, Among Thieves.  This is a fantastic novel, and it manages to do a lot of what I would want fantasy to do.  The main character, Drothe, is a charming scoundrel, not a hero.  In fact, we're introduced to him as he's supervising the torture of a smuggler who failed to deliver the product that he promised.  Drothe himself is a somewhat locally prominent member of "the Kin" which is local slang for the fantasy Mafia. 

This torture scene is perhaps for a bit of schock value, though.  Among Thieves does not wallow in sordidness or violence, it also makes it clear that such is part of life in the setting as presented.  It used violence to make a point, but in general, the main character and his friends are sympathetic and likeable.  This torture scene starts a chain of events that entangles Drothe in a much bigger game than he is aware, putting him and those he cares about in harm's way repeatedly.  From this point on, the pacing and structure of the novel greatly resembles that of a mainstream bestseller thriller in many regards--something that I've actually specifically advocated.  Unlike Polansky's Low Town, which I also recently reviewed, magic and the fantastic in general are a bit more suffused in the story, though.  Not so much that it isn't at heart a swashbuckling thriller of down-to-earth scoundrels--because that's certainly exactly what it is--but enough that it doesn't feel like the story could simply have been set in an actual historical setting and been told pretty much as is without any problem either.

All in all, this is a very strong debut novel.  To make matters even better, Hulick was contracted to write at least three novels, and the second has a cover already unveiled--even though pre-orders from Amazon indicate that it's a good nine months away from being released.  The third should be out in 2013, so they're due to come out at a decent clip.  I enjoyed it enough that I'm excited to see the follow-ups, and I hope it sells well enough that the three aren't the only novels we get in the series.  I think there's a lot more that can be done with the book than we got here.

Jann in Dark•Heritage
On a minor note, there were a lot of correspondences to my own DARK•HERITAGE setting too, although many of them were minor.  All of the action takes place in Ildrecca (which sounds a bit like my own city of Iclezza, I thought) which Hulick says is vaguely a fantasy analog of Byzantium or Constantinople (and later, of course, Istanbul.  They Might Be Giants actually left off the original name there.)  This gives the whole setting--what we see of it, anyway--a vaguely early Middle Ages or Late Antiquity Mediterranean feel, and names in the story are often somewhat Italian or Greek sounding (I don't have any Greek in DARK•HERITAGE, of course, but I've got lots of Italian and Catalan and pseudo-Spanish.)  And Hulick makes a few references to (and has a semi-major character who's a member of) a middle-eastern pseudo Persian/Arabian/Turkish ethnicity called the Djan or Djanese, which is seems like a slightly novel take on the transliterations jann and djinn; combining the first part of the latter with the vowel of the former.  My setting, of course, has the jann--not exactly genies, but rather a culture with a fantasy vaguely Arabian Nights-like feel--which seems to be exactly what Hulick did, again.

UK Cover
So, if the novel did exactly what I think a fantasy novel should in terms of structure and format, managed to do it well, and even has a few obvious similarities to my own setting, I should have loved this novel.  It should shoot to near the top of my list of favorite fantasy novels of all time in fact.  Well... it didn't quite do that.  I do like it a lot, but I didn't completely love it all the way, and while I'm excited to read the follow ups, I'm not going to turn in my library copy and run out and buy my own because, heck, I know I'll re-read it over and over again still.  So, while it seems a bit gauche to complain about a novel that I liked quite a bit, and possibly change the tenor of an overwhelmingly positive review to one that sounds a bit mixed (although that's not my intention) I'm going to do it anyway, because reading this novel, and seeing where Hulick wasn't quite able to make it work for me, was--if nothing else--very educational.  It gave me some important flags to watch out for myself.

 First; the novel didn't do a lot of setting development.  While this isn't necessarily a problem--and I don't mean to imply that none was done of course; there were a few interesting takes on the organizations of Ildrecca, the history and theology of the Empire, the nature of magic, and a few other things--there wasn't quite enough.  There's a specific reason for this, which I'll get to in a moment.  Without this specific reason, it probably would have been sufficient, and in fact, you've gotta be careful as a fantasy writer to not dally too long in the travelogue aspect of your setting.  While I think that it's actually one of the things that fantasy readers in general want from their books, I've read plenty of fantasy books where momentum, plot, and other essential features of a well-written novel are completely thrown out the door while the author meanders through a lecture on the history, geography or anthropology of his setting.  Bad form.  You've got to be careful to give the readers enough to scratch their itch to explore through the book while not derailing the other aspects of what makes a well-written novel actually be well-written.  So, being very careful, and in fact possibly quite spare, in setting description isn't a bad thing.

However Hulick's plot revolves around a "secret history" theme.  That what the characters know and take for granted actually is not true.  I love secret histories (thanks X-files!) but it's a little difficult to pull them off in fantasy.  In the real world, what the characters take for granted is the same as what the readers take for granted, which makes it easy.  If I posit a secret history in which John Kennedy was actually an alien doppelganger of some kind, making Lee Harvey Oswald a self-sacrificing hero who saved the human race from alien invasion, the "shock value" of that secret history is easy to maintain, because, well, we all know about the Kennedy assassination, and we all know that John F. Kennedy was, of course, a guy from the East Coast, not an alien lookalike.  In a fantasy setting, though, if you want to throw a secret history out there, you first have to strongly and firmly ground the "establishment" story.  Otherwise, when you hint that there's a secret history behind the establishment story... well, yeah, OK.  Whatever.  Hulick either 1) didn't ground his establishment story well enough, or 2) threw the secret history monkey wrench out there too early (in a subsequent book might have worked better, maybe?) or 3) both.

Also; in a similar theme, stuff that I gather we (as readers) were meant to find shocking or emotional, I often did not.  When friends, neighbors, or people that Drothe cares for are beaten or otherwise threatened, it lacks the emotional punch that I think it's meant to have; again, because we haven't yet come to care about them enough.  In his effort to keep the plot moving, Hulick failed to sufficiently develop the characters as well as the setting, so that when things happen to them later in the novel, we're left wondering why we should care too much, except from an academic perspective.  For that matter, Drothe himself, while charming, doesn't necessarily inspire a lot of tension from his first persion narrative.  I think the tone of the book is a little too easy-going and--dare I say it--swashbuckling to really convey the darkness that the plot and descriptions are trying to make us sense.

And I almost hesitate to call either of them problems, because in general, I think fantasy is notorious for being over-blown, over-written and glacially slow in its pace.  The brisk pace of novels like Low Town and Among Thieves are godsends--but they also both go a little too far.  We need to see enough of the setting and the characters if we're going to care about them later in the book.  And in the wake of the success of lots of darker, grim n gritty fantasy authors, wallowing in darkness is becoming a bit of a strong theme too; one that I don't care to see expanded too much.  I like some darkness to my stories--and I like it quite a lot, actually--and I'm feeling a bit done with the "bright and polite" style of much of the fantasy genre of the past.  But, again, that's a trend that's easy to overdo--guys like Joe Abercrombie or Mark Lawrence (reportedly; I haven't read him yet and may not based on a number of reviews I've read) or any number of others can frequently go too far, making the darkness gratuitous and sordid rather than a compelling feature.  But again; Hulick probably could have done a little bit more than he did there.  Not because the events described in the book weren't frequently fairly dark, but because the tone didn't quite match them.  The tone made the book feel like it was The Three Musketeers trying to pretend like it was The Godfather but not quite managing to pull it off convincingly all the time.

Now that I've finished it, I really need to refrain from picking up anything else at the library for a little while, finish Eisenhorn, and knock back a few more of the books I've bought before I get distracted away from them again.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Mezzovian Sea

The world of DARK•HERITAGE is one that, like our world, is subject to continental drift, which is a major force in describing how the land came to be as it is now.  That said, some cataclysmic events that plate tectonics cannot explain seem to have had huge impacts on the world as well--dramatic shifting of continents on occasion, pole shifts, crustal displacement, and just plain old continents sinking under the sea (or rising from the sea) in a way that plate tectonics tells us is impossible--well it could happen here.  It has in the past, at least.

Like our earth, the continent on which the Mezzovian Sea action takes place--the Mezzovian continent, for lack of any other label (its inhabitants don't really understand the concept of continent like we do, lacking a strong knowledge or feel for global geography) is an ancient landmass, but it's really made up of smaller terranes, cratons, islands and other pieces of crust that accreted and became sutured together.  Evidence of this can be seen in the form of the old, hoary and worn-down mountain chains that cross north to south across the face of the continent (the Romeu and Garriga Mountains) that are not unlike the Urals, Caledonian mountains, Appalachians, or other older mountains that were formed when ancient continents collided and then remained fused together in new formations altogether.  This ancient chain of mountains basically straddles the north and south shores of the Mezzovian Sea, and even extends underneath it; the Tolosa Islands are essentially parts of these mountain ranges that have their feet submerged in the water.

The Mezzovian basin itself is an aulacogen, or "failed rift" that sunk below the general level of the continental  and became the floor of a shallow epicontinental sea.  Because of this, it's not very deep, but there are pockets where the crust has collapsed to a surprising depth here and there in the distant past (millions of years ago, if not tens of millions).  The shallow water and tropical/subtropical lattitudes combine to make the sea warm and pleasant.

Although subject to sometimes swiftly growing fierce storms, in general, the Mezzovian is known for being rather calm. Because of this, it has become a major highway for trade and conquest. The earliest group to develop a nearly circum-Mezzovian state was the Balshatoi, who were centered on the Razine peninsula. Their kingdoms and fiefdoms collapsed under economic and military pressure as the Terrasans surged northwards from their homelands in and immediately south of the Tolosa Isles.

Today, the Terrassan Empire maintains a nearly circum-Mezzovian hegemony as well, and this has kept the Mezzovian sea-lanes safe and secure. Due to the waning military presence of the Terrasans, piracy is becoming more of a problem, however. And in the east, rivals to Terrasa are surging forwards, eager for the old Empire to finally die and move on; vampiric Tarush Noptii with its shadow-shrouded shores, and the new conquests of Qizmir as well.
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While the Mezzovian Sea is a single large body of water, islands, peninsulas and bends in its own shoreline have created a number of "subseas" and other subsets that are important enough to have been named. The Novilda Sea is the westernmost; a great bight or bay that extends westward from the northernmost Tolosa Islands to reach the Erau, Urt and Volo river deltas. The most important regional power in the Novilda Sea is Segrià, one of the Terrasan cities.
East of the Novilda Sea is the Benàz Sea, bounded on the south and west by Tolosa islands, on the east by the Razine peninsula, and in the north by the Tec river delta and Iclezza. The southernmost reaches of this subsea border on Porto Liure as well. To the south, on the other hand, after passing through the waters of the Tolosa Islands, you come to Tolosa Bay. This is a relatively wild and untamed stretch of wilderness, and no land-based roads have been maintained that cross from Segrià and Alcàsser to Terrasa itself on the easternmost edge of the bay.
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East of the Tolosa Islands, the Razine peninsula hangs down, and the southern Mezzovian shoreline curves northward to "pinch" the Mezzovian a bit. This semi-enclosed waterway is known as the Chistau Sea, and is famous for its calm waters and network of trade routes taking goods and passengers to ports all throughout the entire inner sea region. The Terrasan hegemony only extends a bit further to the east from here; a series of long islands divides the waters east of the Chistau into the Nosferatu Sea on the north and the Farriq Sea in the south. Razine ships sail the westernmost waters of the Nosferatu Sea and the attached northerly Razine Bay, but cede its more easterly waters to the control of Tarush Noptii and its benighted ports of Mnar and Mzagin. To the south, the easternmost Terrasan city, Sènt-Haspar, holds the shoreline at the western end of the Farriq Sea, but beyond that you find the relatively recently founded ports of Qizmir.

To the very east of the Mezzovian, the sea pinches again to the rough and dangerous waters of the Sea of Storms, which in turns pinches even tighter to Shipwreck Strait, which leaves the Mezzovian and goes into the open ocean. Because the Sea of Storms, and even more Shipwreck Strait are difficult and dangerous to navigate, Qizmiran ships rarely pass through them, and Qizmiran sailors are divided between "ocean" and "sea" sailors; those that stay beyond the strait, and those who sail within the waters of the Mezzovian itself. This has also forced the Qizmirans to establish caravan routes that cross the Golden Peninsula and ensure that the inner sea colonies get the support that they need from the capital.

Daydreaming about travel

Access to Google Maps can occasionally be dangerous.

I was wondering how much out of the way it would be, if I get back to Glacier National Park sometimes in the nearish future, to pop up over the border and check out the Banff/Jasper/Yoho/Kootenay park complex up in Canada.  Turns out it's less than 300 miles from Glacier to Banff.

Then I thought, it'd be fun to take my youngest two on a trip out there.  A big road trip with lots of hiking and driving and taking pictures and wading in ice cold mountain lakes, and all that jazz.  The boys are really excited about the prospect of the Rocky Mountains, and seeing them, and you can't do much better than Glacier and Waterton Lakes up on the Montana/Alberta border and then pop up north for the big Canadian Rockies super-park.

So I added more destinations, bracketed it with our address on either said, and whipped out a route in Google maps.  Except... well, my one son really wanted to see Rocky Mountian National Park specifically.  I think it's the name.  So, I added that.  It wasn't too far out of the way, really.  Well, it kinda is, but if I'm going to go to all this trouble anyway, why not?  My other son really wanted to see Yellowstone, and it turns out that between Rocky Mountains National Park and Glacier Naitonal Park, you have to go pretty darn close to Yellowstone anyway.  And if I'm going to go to Yellowstone for his sake, then I also want to see next-door Grand Teton National Park for mine.

Now we had a lot of destinations and a lot of miles.  But it occurred to me that I could make the drive from the Great Lakes to the Rockies a little more palatable if I looked for a stop or two along the way.  It wouldn't add too much distance to put Mt. Rushmore on the trip.  And then Devil's Tower which is nearby.  And then, hey, it looks like from Mt. Rushmore and Devil's Tower National Monuments to Rocky Mountain National Park, well, you have to drive within a few miles of Scott's Bluff National Monument.

All of this took me about ten to fifteen minutes to plan out with Google Maps.  I need to save this ambitious route and plan for taking the entire month of July... sometime... to do this.  After this, my boys (and maybe even me) should be completely Rocky Mountained out.

And just to punctuate how awesome all these Rocky Mountains are, here's a shot of the "Twenty Dollar View" across Lake Moraine in the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Addiction

Today I demonstrated yet again today that I find it easier to buy books than to read them, apparently.

A number of months ago--last January or February, I think, I picked up Karen Fonstaad's novel Empress, the first in a trilogy of big fat fantasy books.  Although I still haven't read it, I thought the concept was good; books that long I sometimes struggle to finish if I get them from the library, especially if I'm busy, before they're due.  And I can pick up just the first book to see how it goes before I commit myself to the whole series.

So today, I picked up three new novels; each the first in a trilogy.  Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson and The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks I've actually had my eye on for months, but Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley just caught my eye at the local Barnes & Noble; I hadn't otherwise ever heard of it.

Of course, what I'm reading now is a few library books, so I'm not even making any progress on my own books--which now number almost 70 in the "bought but not yet read" category.

I did, however, finish the audiobook by Susan Hill: The Woman in Black.  It's a pretty classic ghost story, with an almost Victorian feel.  On the back of the case, it even says that it's as close as we'll get to a ghost story written by Jane Austen!  I don't know that I'd necessarily call it that, but for my two oldest kids, who wanted to borrow it as soon as I was done done, I'm going to actually recommend that they not listen to it.  It isn't particularly horrifying, I didn't think.  It wasn't even particularly tense.  I think the combination of the unfamiliar (to them) accent it's read in, the stylized, antique writing style, the reference to things that are quite beyond their frame of reference, and the slow pacing will actually quite put them off and possibly even actively confuse them.

Also, apparently the upcoming movie changed the plot quite a bit anyway... hopefully for the better.  While I found the book well-written and interesting as a period piece, I found it a bit dull and cliched as a ghost story.



Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Most dangerous city in America

http://realestate.yahoo.com/promo/americas-most-dangerous-cities-2011.html

Woo-hoo!  Detroit wins again!  Aren't we awesome?  Suck it, Memphis.

 (I live in the Detroit Metro.  My brother lives in Memphis Metro.  But we're in fairly safe neighborhoods.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

LEGO Police Station

I've noticed from looking at my stats, that curiously most of the hits to my blog are probably not for the content on my blog, per se.  In fact, I think most of them come from Google image searches.  One of the most popular posts on my blog to date has been this retrospective of LEGO police stations, which I picked because it was one of the most consistent themes since before the debut of the minifigure even--since the mid-70s at least, there was pretty much always been a LEGO police station set of some kind or another available for sale.

In fact, there is now a newer version of the police station than the one I posted in that post--the newest then had a 2008 vintage.  The 2011 police station, in fact, is one that we just got.  My youngest son just turned 8, and that was what he wanted more than anything.

So, although big LEGO sets are pricier than we normally would like to pick up, especially considering that there were some other things we needed to get for him this year, we got the brand-new LEGO police station for him.  Grandma also got him the LEGO police truck; a kind of mobile command base (which is what I think its predecessor was literally called, if I remember correctly.)  I supervised him building the truck last night--the station sits still unopened in the box; a bit intimidating of a project for a kid that young, yet also one that he can't wait to have built.

Anyway, I'm adding the images as a kind of "add-on" to my other post.  This new set isn't quite as "homey" as the last one.  There aren't flowers and trees.  It's a bit more of a business-like operation.  It's got two garage doors, two cars/trucks, a bicycle, and a three story office building of sorts.  Above the garage is the holding cell.  Curiously, there's a helipad on top of the tower... but no copter.  Several of the past sets, if you look at the retrospective, have copters, but this does not.  Of course, there is a police helicopter set... sold separately.  The boys have been saving up some money for a little while now, unsure exactly what to buy with it; I imagine once this is built, my younger son will definately clamor for the police helicopter to move t othe top of the list.

Reading

It looks like I'm reading more than I can handle, but in reality, things aren't so bad.  I just added Susan Hill's The Woman in Black to my What I'm Reading list there to the side, but in reality, I'm listening to it as an audiobook as I commute.  I'm also reading Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, and I'm in the midst of the Eisenhorn omnibus by Dan Abnett--although I just finished the second novel within the omnibus, so it's a good "rest stop" while I consume some other stuff that I got from the library.

Sadly, I was prevailed upon by my stupid curiosity to pick up the first book of the Prince of Nothing series, which is in itself, a subseries of the greater Second Apocalypse series.  Again; since I picked it up from the library, I'll have to proceed with it fairly quickly, and give it priority over books that I already own.  That means poor Gregor Eisenhorn will have to wait yet again to get finished, and I won't be reading Nagash, Conan, Solomon Kane, or whatever else it is that I decide is next for at least a few weeks, I wager.

In fact, after reading several weighty novels and sections of series, and whatnot, I actually think that a short story collection is exactly what I'm in the mood for.  As it turns out, I own several short story collections that need reading, including the third (and final) of the Conan collections, the Solomon Kane collection, the Kull collection, the first White Wolf printing of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, the complete Lovecraft collection (in four volumes) and a few other sundry collections that I've stumbled across over the recent years as well.  I have an older Years Best Sci-Fi and a modern Cthulhu collection too, at least, that I'm aware of off the top of my head.

While many people really enjoy short story collections, I find that I take them best in smallish doses.  One collection at a time, and then I'm craving the structure and depth of a novel all over again.  We'll see how it goes, though.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Battle of Naboo

An oldie but a goodie.  How the Battle of Naboo should have been edited and orchestrated.