Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Tag: fantasy

Class Warfare

Previously…

The Tower of Latria is the next level in my clockwise run through the game. The first section is the “Prison of Hope”, a clammy dungeon full of wailing undead prisoners. In the outdoor areas, you can see shadowy outlines against the night sky, hinting at something unspeakable above. Inside, there is not much floor space. Each cell block has narrow walkways against three walls and a bottomless pit in the middle. Anyone attempting to escape will have trouble eluding the Cthulhuvian sorcerer-guards.

These creatures are nasty, especially early in the game. Their magical attacks, which they can deploy quickly, will drain most of your health in one hit (except for the one that paralyzes you, opening you up to the other attacks), and at this stage in the game they take quite a few whacks with a sword before succumbing and descending into some slippery nautiloid hell. Getting off the first attack is crucial, and not letting the monster get a word in edgewise even more so. Not being seen is therefore paramount. The Tower of Latria demands stealth. This fact is a little problematic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: Lord Foul’s Bane

But look at this seventies cover:

This should have been one of the greatest works of fantasy fiction ever written. It has an original thought-provoking premise that should be hard to screw up, and it came out in 1977, when fantasy was in a bad place. In the aftermath of the success of The Lord of the Rings, “fantasy” had come to mean reselling Tolkien in watered-down form. The Sword of Shannara would come out the same year. Lord Foul’s Bane was in the perfect position to be a meaningful and important contribution to the genre. Unfortunately, Stephen R. Donaldson screwed it up, and we wouldn’t get the book he should have written until six years later, with The Colour of Magic.

The premise is simple: Thomas Covenant, a novelist and incidentally a leper (yes, there are still lepers), gets hit by a car and finds himself transported to a fantasy land called, conveniently enough, the Land. He questions the Land’s existence, and we are given good reasons to do the same: its history parallels his own, its conflicts mirror his psychic turmoil, and some things in the land—names, snatches of tunes, etc.—are obviously drawn from our world. Covenant appears to the people in the Land as a hero spoken of in prophecy, and quickly finds himself with a quest to carry out. Whether or not it is a dream, the Land obstinately refuses to go away, and he is forced into a kind of provisional acceptance of it so he can keep his sanity and complete the quest.

It plays with some interesting ideas and must have been novel at the time, when we had yet to see the worst that high fantasy had to offer. Donaldson’s fault wasn’t in the conception. It was in the execution, which is so flawed that the book is hardly worth talking about except as a cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry »

Playing Smartass

It’s been a while since a long, abstract, generalized polemic has been seen around here, so here you go. Merry Christmas and/or happy holidays, all.

Canadians have a bad habit of relentlessly promoting any artists, writers, or musicians associated with us, regardless of artistic merit or tenuity of connection. Neil Young and Nickelback are testament to this, the former having not made it big till he left the country and started writing songs about American things, and the latter being an act of unprecedented blandness that receives unprecedented radio play, mostly to fill content quotas. Our national inferiority complex leads us to whore ourselves out to people who don’t really deserve it simply to prove that we’re a real country too, guys.

Which segues nicely to the topic of Kelley Armstrong. Armstrong is a Canadian paranormal romance/urban fantasy writer, essentially a poor man’s Laurell K. Hamilton. While Hamilton’s fiction is not by any means good, it’s certainly, ahem, memorable. Armstrong gets no such praise. Her Otherworld series of lurid stories about witches, vampires, and werewolves getting it on in various permutations are in the wretched position of being almost totally banal and insipid without even the small consolation of failing in an interesting way (like Hamilton). And she has a whole shelf to herself in the horror section of the Chapters at Polo Park.

I could go on at length about the state of the arts in this country, but it strikes me that the most jarring thing about this is not the “whole shelf” part, which is not all that uncommon—Pratchett has a shelf, sometimes more, and James Patterson, bless his heart, at one time had a whole section—but with the “horror” part. Because while it stands to reason that somebody likes Armstrong’s writing, and presumably would come to her defence in a discussion of its merit, it seems inarguable to me that her work cannot be rightly classified as horror, and moreover I doubt that even her fans would argue the point.

That’s right, this is a genre categorization rehash. By all means, click away if you feel you must. If you prefer, I’ve written a play-by-play analysis of Half-Life that’s quite nice.

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Review: Changes

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series has grown into something almost unrecognizably different from its original instalments. The first three dealt with small-scale local supernatural problems, and was often compared to hardboiled detective novels and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like Buffy, Butcher apparently found this style unsustainable past a certain point, and by the fifth book we have minor international intrigue which gets bigger and bigger as the series goes on. This culminated in Changes, released last year, where Harry Dresden is framed for blowing up a building, and eventually finds himself at the centre of large-scale manoeuvring by a supernatural empire.

The first line of the book has been out for quite some time now, having been released by Butcher long before the book came out:

I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, “They’ve taken our daughter.”

Dresden, of course, didn’t know he had a daughter. The girl was taken by the Red Court, Butcher’s take on traditional vampires, as part of a revenge plot. As he fights to get her back, we’re pushed through the requisite plot twists and big fights, but they all come off as a bit forced. The return of Susan is not nearly as interesting as it’s meant to be—she’d been gone so long that I’d pretty well stopped caring what happened to her long ago. While this is by far the biggest Dresden story so far, the bigness is just what works against it. Read the rest of this entry »