Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Mazes & Monsters


Review: Blackdog

BlackdogBlackdog by K.V. Johansen

I first discovered Blackdog in Charlie Jane Anders' review on io9: "By all the Gods, this standalone epic fantasy novel is a fun ride". The first 50 pages of this book really pulled me in: it starts with a great action sequence and an interesting mythology. But after that, it just plodded. The book is called Blackdog, yet pages 100–200 focus on other characters entirely, none of them interesting. There are four different narrative threads through this book, but they don't begin to weave together until the last 100 pages. And despite everything happening slowly, the author's love of commas makes for some very long, dense sentences, as if everything that can be said must be said.

After seeing the book through to its lengthy end, I expected an exciting, dramatic climax. But the final battle is over in a heartbeat, and the repercussions seem trivial and vague, offering little payoff on my investment. I can't recommend this book.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

NPR's top 100 fantasy & sci-fi books

Nearly five years ago, I met perhaps the most well-versed geek I've ever known. His knowledge of not just popular culture but the storied foundations of the science fiction and fantasy genres put me to shame. It made me realize that, in my consumption of the latest Star Trek and Forgotten Realms novels, I'd never made time to expose myself to the classics.

I've slowly been trying to rectify that over the past few years, during which time I've read Dune, Foundation, Discworld, Ringworld, Ender's Game, I Am Legend, and Game of Thrones (before it was a television series). My current assignment is The Left Hand of Darkness, after which I know there are many more books yet to read. But rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel, I instead find myself with the opposite problem: with so many good books to read, which do I tackle next?

NPR has the answer. This summer, they invited readers and listeners to submit their favorite fantasy and science-fiction novels for consideration as the best of all time. Five-thousand submissions, 60,000 votes, and 237 semi-finalists later, they presented the final list of the top one-hundred books (and on a single, unpaginated page, at that!).

Of the top ten books, I've read six; I'm embarrassed to say it was only half that before adding the titles I earlier listed. Altogether, only 23% of the books have crossed my reading list. I still have much work to do. But how to choose from the remaining 77, other than haphazardly?

Unsurprisingly, geeks who like fantasy, sci-fi, and NPR also like flowcharts. has created a comprehensive visual guide to selecting your next novel. By asking yourself some simple questions, such as "Enjoy quests to prevent great evil from conquering the world?" or "Robots or martians?", you can quickly lead yourself to the genre, topic, series, or allegory of your liking.

Using this flowchart, I've determined that my next three sci-fi novels should be Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End; in the fantasy realm, I'll be looking at T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mrs. Norrell. At least one book in each genre is already in my personal library, sitting in my "to-read" pile for years now. That seems as good a place to start as any.

What sci-fi and fantasy novels are on your list?

(Hat tips to Michele and Barbara)

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

JK Rowling recently produced seven handwritten copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of fairy tales referenced in her last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Six were given to close personal friends of the author; the seventh was auctioned. The winning bid came from, which now has on its Web site images and reviews of the book.

The sale has unfortunately received a mixed reaction, as some fans are decrying the limited nature of the book will prevent them from ever reading the complete Harry Potter story. On his blog, Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward offers his an intelligent and well-mannered perspective response. I'll further point out that it's hard to criticize anyone who would invest so much time and energy into a unique product that so few will read; not only has Ms. Rowling forsaken that satisfaction and feedback, she also used the opportunity to raise $4 million for her favorite charity. There's no better gift, especially at this time of year; kudos to for being a significant player in this transaction.

The Golden Compass promotes atheism?

Though it's currently on, I first saw it some months ago on Fox News: the upcoming film adaptation of the novel The Golden Compass is causing a furor for promoting atheism. Fox's coverage included an interview with one of the hosts of Freethought Radio, the radio show and podcast of the atheistic Freedom From Religion Foundation, which proved to be rather one-sided.

To put this in context: First, Harry Potter was denounced for promoting the wrong religion (witchcraft); now, The Golden Compass is at fault for denouncing all religion. Both are award-winning series of youth literature that have turned millions of youngsters into readers and have sparked the imagination that many parents fear television and video games are suffocating. Yet books that encourage critical thinking are being blacklisted because they're teaching kids how to think, instead of what to think. Such a shame.

Besides, there are several flaws with the argument. The Golden Compass (called The Northern Lights upon its original British publication, and the first in a trilogy) is set in a universe parallel to our own. Although that fantasy world does have its own Bible and creation myth, it's still a work of fiction and cannot be considered analogous to damning our real world's Christianity. And even if the book's assault on its own fictional (and obviously corrupt) religion is to be construed as a promotion of atheism — what of it? Why is that particular philosophy being demonized? No one complained when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe promoted Christianity. If we are to decry religion in Hollywood, shouldn't we at least be consistent?

I don't care what religion you are, just as it doesn't matter what religion I am. Regardless of our creeds, there should be at least three positive acts we can all agree on: reading, thinking, and imagining. No less a mind than Albert Einstein once wrote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." So please, let us collectively embrace imagination, in whatever form it takes. The world needs more thinkers, and I lack the hubris to say Einstein would be wrong in this matter.

A casual fan's review of Harry Potter 7: The Deathly Hallows

Worst book of the series. By far. To a casual fan such as Hiphopguy23, the books in the series really got worse and worse. And by worse, Hiphopguy23 means more labyrinthine and self-referential. Reading Harry Potter 7, Hiphopguy23 felt like he needed a reference guide or a wiki page open at all times to fill in the gaps that J.K. Rowling was glossing over. Hiphopguy23 had many unanswered questions that only the Harry Potter zealots would be able to answer on the spot, such as:

  • Why did Dumbledore drink that goblet full of poison again?
  • Whatever happened to that evil teacher who caused Harry to write on his hand?
  • Who the heck is Mundungus Fletcher?
  • How many freaking Horcruxes are there, and how many has Harry identified?

Hiphopguy23 realizes the "true" fans loved this book because it answered all these unanswered questions and, "Oh look, J.K Rowling mentioned a purple-belly HackleSnork on Page 145 of Book 1 and now she talks in detail about it in this book!" Meanwhile, Hiphopguy23 is trying to figure out what in blazes a purple-belly HackleSnork is and why it is more dangerous than a yellow-tailed DingleBerry.

Nonetheless, like a trooper, Hiphopguy23 stayed all the way until the end…well, mostly the end. The last chapter / epilogue was pure sap and utter trash. Hiphopguy23 read three paragraphs of the epilogue and then found something more productive to do, like trying to see how long he could hold his breath. But the reason Hiphopguy23 (mostly) finished was because he wanted these questions answered:

  1. Will the special magic truant officer be after Harry for skipping school for a year?
  2. Does Harry Potter die at the end?
  3. Does Harry Potter die at the end and then come back to life completely unexplained?
  4. Why did Snape kill Dumbledore?
  5. Is Dumbledore really dead?
  6. No, seriously, is Dumbledore really dead?
  7. Will Harry continue getting out of impossible situations by his foolproof magic spell — Deus Ex Machina?
  8. Was this book really worth the $34.99 cover price and did anybody actually pay that much?

J.K Rowling answers some of these questions, but not all. Hiphopguy23 gives this book a generous thumbs down.

Dumbledore Is Gay

Various news wires are reporting that J. K. Rowling has outed the Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore as gay.

My response: So what? What's the purpose in her revelation at this point in the franchise's life? Dumbledore has been dead for more than two years, and his sexual preference never proved to be a factor in the role he played at Hogwart's, in Harry's life, or in the fight against Voldemort — all of which are now closed chapters. Is this just Ms. Rowling's attempt at generating more controversy and thus inciting sales now that the summer months of The Deathly Hallows ' release are past? Granted, she's already released other details that were not in the books, but those were substantive. Anything else is immaterial.

The Deathly Hallows

Review, ruminations, and plenty of spoilers after the jump.

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Demon of the Gibbet

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the film to be released on July 13th, will be followed eight days later with the literary franchise's seventh and final installment: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Naturally, I'm looking forward to the book more than the movie. As I previously commented, the fifth book was more voluminous than it needed to be, serving as a dull but perhaps necessary bridge in the series. Its successor, on the other hand, was my favorite of them all (with Goblet of Fire running a close second), with an ending that left me eager and excited for the next book — something none of the other five books had done.

I'm one of the rare few who has read each book only once, though, so I will likely see the movie anyway, just to refresh my memory as to some of the vital details of which Rowling is fond of not reminding her audience. Watching the film will certainly be a succincter reminder than rereading the book.

But it won't be the only such film vying for audience's attention this year. I remember in March 2000, when I first told someone about the Harry Potter books, she thickly asked, "Is it about a bunch of rabbits?" Apparently, Hollywood has finally realized the opportunity to cash in on that confusion.