Sep 30, 2010

The good, the bad and the hideous...

...or, well, to be honest, just the hideous really. Mark Charon Newton has posted two versions for the cover art of his The Book of Transformations on his blog, and readers get to help pick one of them. Problem is, both are basically the same monstrosity, and look like very, very cheap urban fantasy. I don't get it. First the ugly thing that graces City of Ruin, and now this? Seriously, are they trying to bury the guy? And what's with his unrestrained love for those abominations?

Well, anyway, to each his own. Here's the version that seems to be more popular among Newton's readers:

Sep 29, 2010

The Books Charles Stross will not write, part 3

In his third post, titled No plan survives contact with the editor, Stross describes the process of writing and pitching The Merchant Princes series, as well as the reason why it's not comprised of big fat volumes. Very entertaining, just like the previous two.

Sep 28, 2010

Cover art for Peter Orullian's The Unremembered

The cover for Peter Orullian's debut novel, The Unremembered, looks truly inspiring, even if the synopsis sounds generic at best. Still, it is artwork like this that sells new authors, shallow as it may seem. I know I'll pay attention to the reviews for this one.

Here's the synopsis:

The gods, makers of worlds, seek to create balance—between matter and energy; and between mortals who strive toward the transcendent, and the natural perils they must tame or overcome. But one of the gods fashions a world filled with hellish creatures far too powerful to allow balance; he is condemned to live for eternity with his most hateful creations in that world’s distant Bourne, restrained by a magical veil kept vital by the power of song.

Millennia pass, awareness of the hidden danger fades to legend, and both song and veil weaken. And the most remote cities are laid waste by fell, nightmarish troops escaped from the Bourne. Some people dismiss the attacks as mere rumor. Instead of standing against the real threat, they persecute those with the knowledge, magic and power to fight these abominations, denying the inevitability of war and annihilation. And the evil from the Bourne swells….

The troubles of the world seem far from the Hollows where Tahn Junell struggles to remember his lost childhood and to understand words he feels compelled to utter each time he draws his bow. Trouble arrives when two strangers—an enigmatic man wearing the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far—come, to take Tahn, his sister and his two best friends on a dangerous, secret journey. Tahn knows neither why nor where they will go. He knows only that terrible forces have been unleashed upon mankind and he has been called to stand up and face that which most daunts him—his own forgotten secrets and the darkness that would destroy him and his world.

Sample chapter from Paul Kearney's upcoming Corvus

Here's a sample chapter from Kearney's Corvus - the sequel to The Ten Thousand. The book will be coming out next month from Solaris.

Sep 27, 2010

Cover art for Paolo Bacigalupi's novella The Alchemist

Subterranean revealed the art for Paolo Bacigalupi's upcoming novella The Alchemist. It is done by J. K. Drummond, whose previous work for Daniel Abraham's Leviathan Wept and Other Stories was really amazing. Here's the blurb:

Magic has a price. But someone else will pay.

Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep. It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors’ roof beams, thrusts up from between street cobbles, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice. A bit of magic, and bramble follows. A little at first, and then more— until whole cities are dragged down under tangling vines and empires lie dead, ruins choked by bramble forest. Monuments to people who loved magic too much.

In paired novellas, award-winning authors Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi explore a shared world where magic is forbidden and its use is rewarded with the axe. A world of glittering memories and a desperate present, where everyone uses a little magic, and someone else always pays the price.

In the beleaguered city of Khaim, a lone alchemist seeks a solution to a deadly threat. The bramble, a plant that feeds upon magic, now presses upon Khaim, nourished by the furtive spellcasting of its inhabitants and threatening to strangle the city under poisonous vines. Driven by desperation and genius, the alchemist constructs a device that transcends magic, unlocking the mysteries of bramble’s essential nature. But the power of his newly-built balanthast is even greater than he dreamed. Where he sought to save a city and its people, the balanthast has the potential to save the world entire—if it doesn’t destroy him and his family first.

I'm pretty excited about this. Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl was among the best novels I've read this year, and it wasn't a surprise that it got both the Nebula and the Hugo. The Alchemist is coming out next January, and so does its companion - The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell.

Sep 26, 2010

5000 HITS!

Now, I have no idea if that's good or bad for a blog that's only been up for three months, but it's a neat number, and makes me feel good. Thank you all for coming back to the Codex, and I hope you keep finding stuff to like here!

Edit: And thanks to ChrisW for pointing out I'm legally retarded and had the post title wrong!

The Books Charles Stross will not write, part 2

Here's part 2 of Stross' blog series, this time dedicated to the talking cat in Iron Sunrise that never happened. There's also a long passage from that "what if" storyline. Enjoy!

Interview with Hal Duncan on Creative Writing Now

Following my post about Duncan's rules for new writers, here's a very interesting interview with him on a similar subject, from Creative Writing Now. I've always admired the quantities of not only coherent, but actually meaningful text Duncan is capable of producing in ridiculously short amounts of time, and this interview is no exception. Make sure to check it out!

New trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

This one actually looks promising enough. I was so hoping they would change the director for the last movies, but unfortunately it was not to be. Still, if the new trailer is any indication, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might still deliver.

Sep 24, 2010

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson

Mist is suffocating the Final Empire, killing plants by obscuring the sun, and killing people by unknown means. The ash is falling faster and faster, covering the land in blackness, and earthquakes are becoming more and more common. Ruin is touching the world, set free by Vin's mistake when she gave up the power at the Well of Ascension. Now the godlike being is controlling the Inquisitors and Koloss to do his bidding in bringing the final days of the planet he once helped Preservation create. But the Lord Ruler has left secret caches of supplies and messages for his followers, and Emperor Elend Venture is on his way to the city of Fadrex, hiding the last of those, where he hopes to find the atium stash. Meanwhile Spook has been sent to scout in the northern city of Urteau, where a skaa rebel called Quellion has turned the place into a nightmare of persecution and fear. Sazed has lost his faith with the death of his beloved Tyndwil, and he is desperately searching through the religions he has collected, hoping to find one that offers Truth. And the kandra TenSoon returns to his Homeland to bring word of the end of days, dreading that it may fall on deaf ears. But the kandra First Contract is the most important thing the Lord Ruler ever did, and it might hold the salvation of the world... if Vin learns about it in time.

The Hero of Ages is the conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy, and it is a truly apocalyptic novel. The world is ending so badly, that it is a miracle that anyone survives at all. Elend and Vin's battles seem more and more inconsequential when the sky itself is black with ash, and the mists leave only a few hours of unobscured light. It is a book of revelations and ancient secrets resurfacing through Ruin's lies and the Lord Ruler's misdirections. An interesting detail in that regard is that for a time the reader knows more than the characters about the forces of the world, due to the little snippets of information at the beginning of each chapter. In The Final Empire those were excerpts from the journal of Alendi - the original Hero of Ages whom Rashek killed to become the Lord Ruler. In The Well of Ascension they were parts of the final letter written by the Worldbringer Kwaan - the one to initially discover Alendi only to later realize that the prophecies have been manipulated. Here though the excerpts are omniscient. They are written from cosmic perspective and deal with the changes Rashek made with his godlike power, as well as the nature of Ruin, Preservation, Allomancy, Pheruchemy and the new third metal art - Ruin's own Hemalurgy which steals powers and transfers them to another host through the application of carefully places spikes.

The Hero of Ages suffers from the same flaw that The Well of Ascension had - it is too long, and not dense enough plot-wise. Just like the second part, it plays the stalling game, by dealing with two major story-lines and a few minor ones, and switching between those fast enough that not much progression can happen in any one chapter. Of course, the book's redeeming quality is that it is chock-full of revelations, and although those are often highly implausible leaps of logic, they are still very cool - the nature of the mists, the truth about Vin's ability to pierce copperclouds, Ruin's machinations, what Rashek did to the world, and more, and more besides. In truth, the ending of the series is epic in the purest sense of the word, and I was flying through the las fifty pages with the speed of true ecstasy.

In terms of style, Sanderson doesn't always deliver with even quality. There are moments of brilliance, but there are also places where the emotional impact just isn't happening, and unfortunately the final battle is one of those. It works, because it's cool and awesome, but the sacrifices and losses somehow don't connect the way they should. Still, characterization is vastly improved. Vin and Elend are no longer the insecure creatures of The Well of Ascension, while Spook is given a lot more personality than he ever possessed in the series. He effectively becomes an almost main character in The Hero of Ages, and the result is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, the insecurity and constant whining have not been removed, but only transfered, like hemalurgic spikes, and implanted into Sazed. The Terrisman has become annoyingly faithless and apathetic, but at the same time obsessed with telling us how faithless and apathetic he has become. And there is way too much of him in the book to be healthy.

In the end, I would still say that the Mistborn trilogy is a great series. True, it is flawed in some ways, and doesn't always deliver in terms of characterization, emotion or plot structure. But at the times that it does, it does it brilliantly, and in terms of worldbuilding, magic and plot-twists, it is among the very best in the genre. I still think that both the second and third book could have benefited from being tighter and shorter, and it is a bit sad that the trilogy never recaptured the quality of The Final Empire, but when looked in its entirety, it is a great success, and a proof of how promising an author Brandon Sanderson is. I can only hope he develops that promise to become the writer that he obviously has the potential to be.


Sep 23, 2010

Cover Art for K.W. Jetter's Infernal Devices and Morlock Night

Ok, so I have absolutely no idea who K.W. Jetter is, but those covers have been circulating in the last couple of days, and they look absolutely fantastic. The books are reprints (the original editions having been published back in 1979), done by the relatively new publisher Angry Robot.

The books Charles Stross will not write, part 1

There is a post up on Charlie Stross' blog that describes a story concept that he almost wrote back in 2002, instead of the first part in The Merchant Princes sequence. It's pretty interesting, so check it out! I find myself impatient to finish The Hero of Ages, so that I can delve into some of Stross' stuff.

Sep 22, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 6

WARNING: Hideous and unavoidable spoilers for the ending of Season 5! You have been warned!

Things are not going so well in Sunnydale. The Scoobies are doing their best to hide the truth of the Slayer's death by using the Buffybot, but it is only a matter of time before someone realizes that the real Buffy is gone. Willow, however, is preparing a spell to bring her friend back from whatever hell dimension claimed her when she sacrificed herself to close the gate, opened by Glory. So Buffy is back. But is she the same as before? And where was she when she was gone?

Season 6 is by far the darkest, most controversial and most realistic of the whole show. Gone are many of the comfortable allegories, many of the symbols, only to be replaced by cold, unwelcoming reality. Buffy's return from the grave leaves her emotionally scarred, not in the least because of the fact that it was heaven - and not hell, as her friends assumed - that Willow dragged her back from. Now, with her mother gone, she is forced to face real life with its simple and cruel problems - paying the bills, caring for a volatile younger sister... basically becoming an adult.

Being adult and facing your problems is the theme of the season, and it is the reason why many people hate it so much. Season 6 is the farthest Buffy has ever been from the roots of vampire-slaying smart comedy. There is a lot of drama here, and not all of it is of the epic saving the world kind. Actually, this is among the worse seasons in the show - many of the themes get overly repetitive, some of the concepts just miss the target, and at times the darkness seems inappropriately overwhelming. But Season 6 is bold television, of the type rarely seen these days. It goes into forbidden territories, tackling themes like rape, sexual frustration, coming out, admitting painful truths to yourself, the purely human lust for humiliation and domination, and the shallow desperation of minimum-wage life. And more often than not the journey is worth it.

Buffy's turning into an adult that can face her problems without outside help is central to the plot. She is at her lonest - not only denied Giles' help (he leaves her in the first third of the season for the very purpose of not becoming her emotional crutch), but also feeling distanced from her friends. It is no surprise that in the end a sick relationship between her and Spike emerges - one to define both of them for the whole year and beyond. The beautiful circular structure of the season sees Buffy rise from a grave again, in the final episode, but it is a true rebirth this time, triumphant and filled with hope.

Spike, in contrast, is unchanged and unchanging, as all the soulless are in the Buffyverse. His love for the Slayer is undeniable, yet he simply can't be something that she could love, no matter how much he wants to. The cliffhangery ending to his story-arc is one of the biggest surprises in the show, and had lasting repercussions not only in Season 7, but also in Season 5 of Angel.

The other Scoobies all play major parts in the theme of the season. And both Willow and Xander fail spectacularly. After a fashion, Season 6 sees the lowest points for both of them, but it also gives resolution to Xander's uncertainty of what his place in the group is, while leaving Willow's future unclear and turbulent, after the grief-fueled trauma of the finale. Even with Buffy's rising from the grave to return to the hell of everyday life, it is Willow who suffers the most. Her addiction to magic in this season doesn't even try to hide the obvious allusions to drug abuse, using words like "tripping", "dose" and "supplier" to sometimes overstate the simple truth that behind the facade of a reliable, honest and supportive person, Willow Rosenberg is by far the weakest in terms of personality. It ruins her life in more than one way, and then, when it seems that things are looking up, a stupid accident destroys her completely.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. The season's "villain" is actually a trio of geeks - Jonathan (Danny Strong), Warren (Adam Busch) (who we knew from before) and Andrew (Tom Lenk) who just decided one day (over a D&D session) to take over Sunnydale. Jonathan's magics, Warren's technology and Andrew's demons actually give Buffy quite a run for her money, because the intent was never for them to be just comic reliefs, but still The Trio is one of the funniest in television. Their constant bickering about James Bond actors, comic book plot points and bruised egos is hilarious, while their immaturity grows to form three very different people - one who desperately craves to be loved, one horrified with himself, and one very twisted murderer. Still, much of their interaction is made of funny, and besides, they add to the theme of real-life. It is not a vampire, a demon or a god that threatens the Slayer in Season 6, but three confused and bitter teenage outcasts she went to school with.

Very few episodes in this season deserve special mention, and not because it is generally bad, but because there are almost no stand-alones to speak of. The whole year is a seamless tour of tragedy and repetition, which could be taken as both an unclear season concept and a clever allegory of the confused loops that teenagers' lives sometimes are.

I've already posted a review of the most spectacular episode in the season - the musical Once More With Feeling - so that leaves me with just a few to list. Tabula Rasa is both funny - with the whole gang losing their memories due to Willow's addiction to magic - and sad, as it signifies the end of her relationship to Tara. Still, it is hilarious to see the absurd leaps of logic the Scoobies make when faced with each other. Willow decides she must be dating Xander, while Giles and Anya think they're engaged, and most brutal of all - that Spike is Giles' son!

Gone is a repetition of Season 1's Out of Mind, Out of Sight, but this isn't Buffy lacking originality. With Buffy suddenly turned invisible by - I kid you not - the Trio's invisibility ray (!!!), Gone uses the opportunity to show just how much she wishes she could escape herself and the life she's thrust into. Hell's Bells sees the conclusion to Xander and Anya's story-line in what is one of the most infuriating of Whedonisms. I have already mentioned the guy's distaste with happy endings, but it is hardly describable the extent to which this particular one was NOT necessary.

If we don't count Once More With Feeling, then the highlight of the season is definitely Normal Again. A demon, summoned by Andrew, poisons Buffy, and she starts having hallucinations about being in a mental institution where the doctor and her parents (both alive and together) tell her that the previous six years have all been a schizophrenic fantasy she has closed herself into. As you can easily guess, the opportunity to do a surgically cold dissection of the whole show is too good to pass up, and Buffy uses this episode to not just mock, but at times cruelly ridicule its own absurdly cheesy concepts. Normal Again could also be viewed as an angry retort to all the people who denounce the show without ever having seen enough of it. The existentialism-driven story is painful, and it is not easy to watch, but although somewhat ruined by a Jack Torrance-like psycho-killer plot-twist, it is still among the very best episodes in the show, particularly with its postmodernist ending. Plus, breaking the fourth wall - always awesome!

Season 6 is the hardest to endure, especially if you are the type of person who uses the show as an escapism vehicle. It forces you to face many uncomfortable truths about life and - in some cases - yourself, while at the same time you see beloved characters going dark paths that you would never wish for them. The season is very mature (to an 18+ level at times), and there are a few particular scenes that seem almost inappropriate for it with their cruel brutality and very human ugliness.

And that is why I love it so much. True, it is a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece none the less. It goes boldly where even "mature" and "dramatic" shows don't dare go, and still manages to mix comedy and social critique in the very painful and personal stories that it tells. And what's even more important - it is relateable. Uncomfortably so perhaps. The ride is rough and not always pleasant or easy. But it is so very much worth it!


Towers of Midnight prologue on Kindle

So, if you're feeling impatient, and can't wait until November, here's the prologue to Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's Towers of Midnight. Personally, I think that sort of teasing is just mean, but if you don't think you can handle the abstinence, do knock yourself out!

Sep 21, 2010

Movies: Resident Evil: Afterlife

I have often stated that the Resident Evil series is probably the best game-to-movie adaptation yet. Not because they are good cinema, but because they are so adept at catching the unique b-movie atmosphere of the games. They all share over the top posturing, bad acting and comically serious plots, but at the same time, it kinda works. I'd say that's one of the very few franchises that actually need to take themselves seriously in their mediocrity to actually entertain properly.

That said, the first 3D Resident Evil is not half bad. True, it suffers from all the shortcomings of its predecessors, but it also does what they did so good - it entertains. The story is completely retarded by this point. Following right after the event of Extinction, Alice (Mila Jovovitch) goes with her clones to punish Umbrella and kill chairman Wesker (Shawn Roberts). He manages to get away, killing all the clones in the process and rendering Alice powerless by injecting her with an antidote for the T-virus that gives her special abilities. After a plane crash she leaves him for dead (BUT HE ISN'T!!! Oops, spoiler alert!) and goes to search for Arcadia, where the survivors led by Claire (Ali Larter) went at the end of the last movie. Obviously things get complicated, and lot of zombie frolicking occurs.

The plot is all over the place. One more sentence, and I could've described the rest of the movie - it's that simple. Most of it doesn't make too much sense either, like the fact that somehow the T-virus zombies have inexplicably mutated into the Las Plagas victims from the Resident Evil 4 and 5 games, and nobody seems to notice. Lazy script-writing doesn't even bother to introduce the Las Plagas, instead opting to ascribe razor-sharp mouth-tentacles and eight-feet tall axeman (not at all reminiscent of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head of course) to mutations in the T-virus. The ending is cliff-hangery after the usual RE fashion, and so the wheel keeps turning.

Obviously nobody goes to watch a Resident Evil movie for the plot. It is the action and the Amazon chicks dealing harsh justice to the undead that make for the guilty pleasure that is the series. And where the action is concerned, the movie delivers. The 3D is used with surprising taste, with barely a pointlessly-flying-toward-the-audience object (but than again, RE used to do that when it wasn't 3D too), and the fighting scenes and special effects are awesome. There is a part in the middle where the plot drags into inaction for a while, but after that it's a non-stop zombie-fest until the very end. The axeman in the prison bathroom deserves special mention, as well as Claire's acrobatics in the same scene. I honestly think that Ali Larter should have been the protagonist of the series. She is just amazing in a Sarah Connor way that leaves Mila's inapt and emotionless acting eating dust.

In the end, there is not too much to be said about Resident Evil: Afterlife. If you've watched the first three, then you are bound to love this one, as it is arguably the best since the original. If you haven't, you might still like it if you go knowing what to expect. It's a zombie-action built on over the top, and dealing with awesome, and if that could be your thing, then by all means - give it a try. It's the most entertaining piece of sh*t I've watched in quite a long while.


Sep 20, 2010

The White-Luck Cover

And so here's the cover, now in its full .jpg glory:

Malazan: The recent books - Toll the Hounds

A few months have passed since the siege of Capustan, and the continent of Genabackis is enjoying a time of relative peace. However, something is happening in Darujhistan, and this time maybe even ever capable Kruppe can't deal with it by himself. The few retired Bridgeburners running K'rul's Bar suddenly find out that there is a contract on their heads, as the Assassin's Guild begins to threaten them. Lady Spite arrives by sea, only to find out that her hated sister Envy is also in the city - and both of them know what terrible consequences their meeting would have. High Alchemist Baruk - leader of the decimated T'orrud cabal - learns that something has escaped Finnest House, and realizes that he has not the power to stop a new Tyrant. Meanwhile others travel toward the City of Blue Fire - Karsa Orlong and his witch companion Samar Dev, the mysterious Traveler and the High King Kallor, running from Tiste Andii vengeance.

But while mortals and Ascendants alike focus their gaze on the inevitable convergence in Darujhistan, the city of Black Coral - run by Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii - has become the focus of another threat. Itkovian's sacrifice has liberated the T'lan Imass from the prison of their memories, but it has also created the new religion of the Redeemer. However, the emergent Ascendant's power is not in action, and so the Redeemer is helpless when a new god tries to corrupt the fledgling faith to his inhumane goals. And as Anomander Rake seems to be content with inaction, tension in the city rises. Meanwhile a group of young Andii travels through the continent, led by Nimander Golit and guided by the strange Clip, who wishes to confront the Son of Darkness. When they stumble upon the damage done by the Broken God, it seems that more than a quest for answers connects them to the events in Black Coral.

And while the two Genabackis cities struggle under the weight of impending apocalypse, a much bigger threat looms out of everybody's sight - Chaos has almost reached the wagon in Dragnipur. The Chained seem helpless to outrun it, because Anomander Rake has stopped killing with the sword, and so no new souls replenish their ranks.

Sounds awesome, right? It isn't. Actually, it is exactly this magnitude that completely rapes Toll the Hounds. In three paragraphs I've managed to list maybe a half of the story-lines in the book. And yes, ok, they are the more important ones, but there is still almost as much happening, and there are only so many pages to tell everything. The result is predictable - short five-page entries with one character/line switching to the next, and the next, and the next. Which means that no story-line moves more than an inch every time we visit it, and sometimes it's hundreds of pages before we get back to it.

The chapters themselves switch between Darujhistan and Black Coral, with characters outside of the cities put into the group they are associated with (Nimander Golit's band of rejects for example is obviously dealt with in the Black Coral chapters). Many old characters from both Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice make their reappearance, as well as some of the series ever-present continent-wandering ones like Karsa, Krokus/Cutter and others. In truth, the scope of Toll the Hounds could have been ok if a third of the minor lines (like Murillio's, the conclusion of which, incidentally, also made me insane with anger, but I'll get there in a second) were cut, and the rest were more focused, with less time spent on the usual Eriksonistic musings on how futile everything is, and how unsure everyone is about Stuff.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't even deliver in the final convergence. It is a sad thing to admit, but after seven Apocalyptic Showdowns With Gods, Fireballs And Assassins!!!! it seems that I've become inoculated against this particular brand of over-the-top. New powers randomly enter the game, revelations pop up like porn-site commercials, ALLPOWERFUL GODS die by the hundreds... You know, it just doesn't impress anymore.

But I have another - personal - problem with Toll the Hounds. It is strange to try and describe it, because I know that no matter what words I use, I will likely be misunderstood. So I'll just come out and say it: I don't like how the stories developed. I am not the type to cling to sympathies. I don't mind having a character I like killed, or anything of the sort, when it resonates with my perception of the book/series and its atmosphere and story dynamics. But I have already mentioned Erikson's desire to frak-up his characters "just 'cause", and it is getting obscenely palpable here. There are entire story-lines that seem put there with the sole purpose of having a loved character killed for no good reason. "Shit happens, so let's make some shit happen again and again and again" really doesn't work for me. What's worse - a lot of those story-lines are reminiscent of one of The Sword of Truth books by Goodkind (my self-preservation instinct has helpfully erased the name from my memory) where literally HALF the novel was dedicated to a random serving boy only to have the poor creature killed by an equally random soldier in some melee, without having done anything to advance the fraking plot! Ok, Goodkind is officially retarded. What's Erikson's excuse?

Ranting aside, Toll the Hounds is noticeably better than the previous two installments in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. True, the plot is slower than the continents' movement, and it is all over the place. Also true - the final convergence fails to impress; the spring has been wound up so tight it just snaps and the reader stops caring. BUT - and that's not a small but - the ending has changed much in the Malazan world. Many characters' stories finally end, even if I rarely liked the conclusions. But what is more important, a lot of the status is no longer quo, and the stage is set for the grand two-book finale of Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God. Whether that finale delivers is still up in the air. I am yet to read Dust, but reviews have left me uncertain what to expect. After books six through eight I have no choice but to doubt Steven Erikson's ability to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion, but at the same time, I can't but hope that he will. If a man can write the first five Malazan books once, he should be able to do it again, no?


Next: Malazan: The finale - Dust of Dreams

Sep 18, 2010

Finally! The White-Luck Warrior's REAL cover from Orbit

Scott Bakker posted on his blog the finalized cover for the Orbit edition of The White-Luck Warrior - second in his Aspect Emperor trilogy. Unfortunately, the file is a .pdf, so I can't post it here, but make sure to go see it, because - even though it follows pretty much the same style as all other covers in the series - this one looks absolutely gorgeous!

Another little hilarity from Adam Roberts

Adam posted a funny little proto-review of District 9 on his blog. It's nowhere nearly as grand and brilliant as his take on The Wheel of Time, but it's still quite awesome in a geeky sort of way. I myself felt a particular and very strong dislike for this movie, as it seemed ridiculously pretentious and smug with its pretentiousness, so I'm always happy to see someone making fun of it.

Sep 17, 2010

Fuck Me Ray Bradbury

And yet again, your friendly neighborhood Roland brings you all the hottest stuff, only a week after everybody else does! This music video made quite a splash in the last few days, and although it's insanely dumb, I have to say there's something really adorable in it. Also, the girl actually got to meet Bradbury! Good for her!

Sep 16, 2010

A preview of Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's Towers of Midnight

Brandon posted on his site a preview of a chapter from Towers of Midnight called The Seven-Striped Lass. Also, a better looking version could be found on Dragonmount.

Although I am yet to read Sanderson's first entry in The Wheel of Time, I am more than excited about this book, and I'll probably have finished The Gathering Storm by the time Towers of Midnight hits the shelves. Can't wait!

Sep 15, 2010

Some thoughts on bad taste

I just read Pat's post about how he debates whether to give up blogging. Now, I appreciate uncertainty as much as the next attention-whore, but what really struck me as strange, is how self-congratulatory the post seems to be. Instead of giving some specific reasons for wanting to retire, Pat goes on to list his many achievements. I know how sour-grapish this makes me sound, and I'd be the first to give the guy the credit he deserves. As a blogger, Pat has achieved a lot, and it would be petty to deny his accomplishments.

However, in recent years I gradually realized how fake his supposed modesty and down-to-earthishness are. So much attention is dedicated to his many successes that at some point one has to ask oneself how can someone be "just another guy", and at the same time insist on listing every little thing he's achieved? I mean, am I the only one seeing something contradictory in this sentence?

And although I've never taken myself very seriously, it's nevertheless heart-warming to realize that I have earned the respect of so many people, both in and outside the industry.

Especially followed by things like these:

Being on a first name basis with most editors-in-chief and big-name editors on both sides of the Atlantic means something, no question. But one of the most rewarding aspects of running this blog for so long is that I'm now on a first name basis with some of the SFF authors I've admired the most for years and years. People like Guy Gavriel Kay, Robin Hobb, L. E. Modesitt, jr., George R. R. Martin, and many others, have helped me enjoy this adventure on a more personal level.

In my own small way, I helped launch the careers of new SFF writers such as Scott Lynch, Naomi Novik, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Brian Ruckley, Patrick Rothfuss, Carrie Vaughn, Peter V. Brett, and many more. The beauty of running this blog remains that it allowed me to discover so many talented authors and bright new voices in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. No, I don't deserve much credit, but I'm glad of the exposure I was able to provide for each of them.

And particularly this:

Jon Sprunk left this very nice and probably underserved comment on my Facebook page: "I consider you a voice of reason in a wasteland of useless chatter." It appears that quite a lot of people echo the sentiment.

Even if we accept that the guy just got carried away (and that's something I completely understand, although I'd be up-front about it myself), the last is a total slap in the face of all us bloggers, and completely unnecessary in a post about his supposed retirement. And so, when I read his Swan Song??? post now, all I see is a "show me some love" demand that is anything but honest in its intentions. If you want to quit blogging, you focus on your gratitude to your audience (and not as an aside, put after all the others like publishers, writers etc.), not on how awesome you are, and how great yet humble you are.

I am sorry, as I realize that people might take this post the wrong way. I still respect Pat for what he's done and achieved, and I do give him credit for his contributions to the SFF field. But I don't for a second think that he has ever contemplated giving up blogging. This post is in a very bad taste, and I firmly believe that masturbation is something to do in private.

Sep 14, 2010

Hal Duncan's advices for new writers

I have a profound respect for Hal Duncan's abilities as a writer, and am more than a little jealous of the seeming ease with which he can produce mind-boggling quantities of brilliantly written text, even when it is just a blog post. So when I read those two posts, I just had to link to them, as they are absolutely fantastic. Four rules for budding writers, presented in a very entertaining form.

Three Rules for New Writers

Rule 4 for New Writers

My personal favorite is Rule No. 1: You are not a new writer. That is so painfully true...

Sep 13, 2010

New trailers and a promo for HBO's A Game of Thrones

Plus, check out the Daenerys hotness:

I have to say that the show looks more and more promising with every new promo or trailer I see. There are a few brief glimpses of the Lannister twins, as well as other characters. Make sure to check both videos out.

Sep 12, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

After reviewing The Body last week, it is now time for the other episode deserving of a review of its own - Season 6's brilliant musical Once More With Feeling. By far my favorite episode in the entire show, it was something Joss Whedon wanted to do since the very beginning of Buffy, but it was in Season 6 that it seemed the time has finally come. Again, WARNING! This review spoils both the ending of Season 5, and the beginning of the next one, so if you don't wanna be spoiled, steer clear!

Ok, let's jam.

A special kind of demon has been summoned in Sunnydale - one that makes everyone burst into song (and occasionally - in flames), revealing all their secrets in an unrestrained expression of emotion. This leads to some very dramatic revelations for all the Scoobies, as things they've kept hidden from the others come to surface all at once.

Once More With Feeling is a tremendous achievement, especially considering the fact that Joss Whedon has no formal musical training and had to teach himself to play the piano to be able to accompany the tunes. Although series veteran composer Chris Beck helped with the arrangement, all the songs are original Whedon creations (he worked an entire summer on this episode) which he initially recorded with him and his wife singing all the vocals. The episode is a tribute to the many different styles of musical theater of which Joss is a huge fan, and features great variety of songs. It has to be noted that at the time, only Anthony Head (Giles) and James Marsters (Spike) had prior singing careers, and from the rest only Amber Benson (Tara) is really gifted vocally. And yet, although obviously (at least to a professional musician like myself) lacking experience, the entire cast manages to do just fine with their numbers, particularly Sarah Michelle Gellar who has the biggest share of singing.

Once More With Feeling opens with a cheesy and twinkly old style re-imagining of the usual rock theme, as we see the full moon and the smiling faces of the cast projected on it, while their names are written with dramatic red letters next to them. Next, follows the typical musical opening scene, where the retro clock starts ringing, and characters begin their day with no audible dialogue. Then we get to the first number - Buffy's Going Through the Motions. Whedon explains that it is the purpose-defining song that a heroine simply has to have in a musical, present for example in every Disney classic with a girl protagonist. However, Buffy sings only of her desire to somehow find any purpose, if only to save her from faking life after being forced back into it.

Practically all the songs in the episode deserve to be mentioned, but that would be boring, so I'll just point out the highlights. Emma Caulfield's rock opera anti-bunny intrusion in the group number I've Got a Theory is absolutely fantastic, as is her duet with Nickolas Brandon - the retro-pastiche I'll Never Tell, where they both describe grudgingly all the little things that bother them in the other, and express their fears of a life spent together. James Marsters' moody rock song Let Me Rest in Peace, where Spike finally shows Buffy the depth of his feelings for her and his frustration at her ambiguity towards him is also brilliant - Marsters oozes sex appeal all over the place, and it is instantly obvious he has a lot of singing experience.

The surprise of Once More With Feeling is Amber Benson's I'm Under Your Spell, which, apart from being tragically ironic in the context of the previous episode finale, is also an eerily beautiful ballad where the actress shows tremendous musical talent. Meanwhile, this love song features the dirtiest lines Joss has ever written for Buffy, with gems like "lost in ecstasy, spread beneath my willow tree" thrown around the more innocent verses. Although not really my type of performer, Hinton Battle (playing the singing and dancing demon Sweet) cannot be ignored. Battle is a Broadway veteran, and his moves and voice are perfect for the show-tune villain he plays. The episode features cameos from executive producers Marti Noxon and David Fury (both of whom also appear in Whedon's other musical - the internet sensation Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), and Noxon is particularly delighting as the woman on the street desperately serenading a police officer not to give her a ticket for inappropriate parking.

Just like The Body before it, Once More With Feeling is shot in a drastically different way than the rest of the show. The camera angles and the sets are often reminiscent of music videos (Let Me Rest in Peace), or classical musicals (Overture, Going Through The Motions). A particularly bright example of this is Xander and Anya's I'll Never Tell, where they both wear very stylish and retro looking bed clothes (Xander's flapping silk pyjamas are a little masterpiece of kitsch, and Anya's crimson mini-skirt, bra and fluffy high-heels are the hotness), and the camera has that arc-shot going diagonally above the characters (you know the one, and Whedon knows it too; he mentions it specifically in the commentary of the episode).

It is ironic, but being so bright, colorful and hilariously awesome, Once More With Feeling is also perhaps the most serious episode in this already quite serious season. Season 6 deals with the traumatic experience that is real life - the stuff that you cannot slay, that you cannot escape - and so it is a stroke of true genius that the very hub of this depressing wheel is, in contrast, a cheery musical episode. Make no mistake. None of the songs, even the funniest and lighthearted ones, is just for fun. They all move the plot forward, develop the characters further, or bear some hidden subtext. Willow's unhealthy addiction to magic leads to the fracturing of her relationship with Tara, while I'll Never Tell sows the first seeds of the very whedonesque development of Xander and Anya's story-line (it is Whedon's one huge flaw, the one that not even the most devoted fan could deny - his raging intolerance for happy endings when it comes to relationships). But it is Buffy's final revelation that completely shatters the Scoobies' world - the fact that they did not save her from Hell, but instead dragged her away from Heaven.

Of course, the very final few seconds of the episode - just before the heavy curtain falls and a huge "THE END" fills the screen - are also pivotal for the entire show. It is the beginning of Buffy and Spike's dysfunctional relationship. One that would define Spike until the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as the entire final season of Angel.

So, obviously, Once More With Feeling is not only a brilliantly executed musical (and one that smugly gives an actual reason for people just randomly bursting into song, although perhaps this is the only show in the universe where that would make sense), but also one of the most important episodes in the entire show, setting up story-lines that would go to its very end in Season 7 and beyond, spilling into Angel and the comic book Season 8. But before it is all those things, the episode is an awesome triumph of music - of song and dance - and of the whole spectrum of emotional broadness that inevitably follows it. It captures the very essence of what makes Buffy The Vampire Slayer the unparalleled treasure that it is, and symbolizes the true scope of what Joss Whedon is actually capable of, when given the opportunity and resources.


P.S. Also, the Mutant Enemy monster at the end of the credits actually sings its "Grr-Argh" this time. Awesome!

Towers of Midnight trailer from Tor

This is the trailer for the forthcoming Towers of Midnight by "Robert Jordan" and Brandon Sanderson. One more to go, guys, and The Wheel of Time is done!

Sep 11, 2010

My Little Pony Awesomness

Yes, I know. I used "My Little Pony" and "Awesomness" in the same sentence. BUT! There are extenuating circumstances!

This is actually quite old, but I was reminded of it today, and thought I'd share its utter brilliance with you. Here are some examples to what it's about:

Sep 10, 2010

The White-Luck Warrior is in press!

Scott Bakker announced on his blog that The White-Luck Warrior is already in press, and he only has to finish the maps for the book. It is still some months until it is out (Amazon has it listed for March 31, 2011 for both the US, and Canada/UK), but at least now it's in the hands of the publishers. Bakker expects he would be able to finish The Unholy Consult - the final third part of The Aspect Emperor trilogy - within the next eight months. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I hope they do come up with a more decent cover, as this one still wakes me up in the middle of the night. Screaming and drowning in my own cold sweat...

The Dark Tower to be made into a movie trilogy and a TV show!

According to THIS, Universal Pictures and NBC Universal Television Entertainment have closed a deal to turn Stephen King's epic series The Dark Tower into three feature films with a TV show filling the gaps between them. On the helm is the creative duo of director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman (of, sadly, The DaVinci Code and A Beautiful Mind fame). I have to say that although I am not entirely certain of Howard's involvement, Goldsman seems strangely appropriate for the project, considering his work on the terribly underappreciated I, Robot and I Am Legend.

My relationship to The Dark Tower is a bit strange. My nickname Roland comes from it, and I was thoroughly in love with the series in my teen years. However, for some strange reason I never read the last two books, even though I loved Wolves of the Calla. I've never tried the comic book prequels either, although I have them all. Well, I guess this project is as good a reason as any to start a re-read and then delve into unexplored Dark Tower territory.

It is still too early to tell what is going to happen with this project. The matter of finding the right Roland, Jake and Flagg is not a trivial one, and neither is adapting King's massive series for three movies and a TV show. Nothing like this has been attempted before on such scale, and there is also the problem of having a full movie cast play for a year on TV. Still, having my fingers crossed. I'd be extremely happy if the project were to succeed. It's high time there was more than one great fantasy epic on the big screen...

P.S. On top of this post is the single greatest artwork for The Dark Tower - sadly, excluded from all newer editions of The Gunslinger.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 5

After the defeat of Adam and the disbanding of the Initiative, Buffy's life seems to be looking up. She is doing well in college, Riley is always by her side, and it's like Evil has decided to cut her some slack. But then a strange young woman named Glory (Clare Kramer) arrives in Sunnydale, looking for something, and Buffy barely survives her first encounter with her. And if an incredibly powerful creature of unknown origins and goals isn't enough, now the Slayer has to deal with her mother's health deteriorating... as well as with her bratty teen sister.

Starting with the ending of the very first episode, Season 5 introduces a twist in the finest traditions of Olympian shark-jumping - Buffy's younger sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). But Joss Whedon wouldn't be the genius that he is if he hadn't a couple of Aces hidden in his sleeve. The first five episodes of the season are well and truly into the realm of nail-biting frustration, as the whole cast acts like the Slayer has always had a kid sister. Everyone knows her, everyone is behaving completely normal around her, and Dawn herself seems to be as ordinary - and annoying - as is humanly possible. And yet, it all makes sense after a short while, turning this into the best introduction of a new relative in television. Opinions on Dawn vary, and as is the case with most teen-heroes in TV shows, there was a lot of hate directed her way. Being bratty, slightly hysterical and having identity issues, Dawn didn't really make it easy for viewers to like her, but Michelle Trachtenberg did a fantastic job of portraying a completely ordinary girl in a completely unnatural situation, and the season is filled with great moments in terms of her performance.

Season 5's main storyline is all about responsibility. Buffy's, obviously, is central to the arc, and by the end of it she is near the point of snapping, especially after the events of The Body episode (reviewed earlier this week). However, it is not only her. Giles is increasingly taking up the role of a father figure in her life, thus acquiring both a renewed sense of purpose, and an uncertainty as to how much help he should provide to someone who desperately need to learn to rely on herself. This is the season that sees Xander becoming more adult than all of his friends. Having to deal with the reality of being a "loser", he ends up as someone who learns to provide for himself and enters the role of the responsible one who sees truths that the others don't. Although not central to the plot in any way, Willow also features in the season's theme. It is here that her unhealthy obsession with magic begins. Particularly in Forever, where we see clearly the difference between a Wiccan and a witch. While Tara is aware of her place in the natural cycle of life, death, order and chaos, for Will magic is a game, a thrilling new frontier to be explored, conquered and experimented with. And while she is getting more and more powerful, it is uncertain where this power will take her.

Responsibility plays a part in Riley's storyline too, which - sadly - finishes in the middle of the season. Feeling Buffy becoming more and more distant, he can't accept the fact that she doesn't need him, and won't let him in. In the end, it proves too much for someone who is used to others depending on him. I was sad to see him leave, as I think Buffy's healthy and completely normal relationship provided a perfect counterpoint for the madness that rages all around her. However, the character who deserves true praise in Season 5 is Spike. His dark obsession with the Slayer finally reaches its obvious conclusion, much to Buffy's utter disgust, but in the end, it provides for a tremendous growth. James Marsters does the transition as smoothly as he handles everything else in Spike's role, and there are a couple of scenes with him toward the end of the season, that are truly heart-breaking.

The main storyline is perhaps the most ambitious one in the show so far. Glory is unlike anything the Slayer has ever faced before, and there is almost no episode - even among the completely stand-alone ones - that doesn't involve her in some way. Clare Kramer is gorgeous as the skanky, sexy and egomaniacally self-obsessed... no, I'm not saying, you'll find out what she is for yourself. Suffice to say she makes early Cordelia look like a caring soft-spoken altruist. Action is of the galore in Season 5, in a magnitude unseen in the show before. There are fights on moving cars, explosions, demolition and a crusade in this one, kids! And the beautifully shot, gorgeously soundtracked ending is the most powerful of any Buffy season, save perhaps the final one. At the time of its airing people were in so much shock (especially considering the fact that it was at that point that the show changed channels), that Joss Whedon had to issue a statement to calm things down.

As Buffy The Vampire Slayer matures, its focus toward responsibility and morale leads to some heavy treading into Gloomsville. It is difficult for me to compare Season 5's quality to that of previous seasons. It is obviously a lot stronger than Seasons 1, 2 and 4, but it is so drastically different from Season 3, that it's hard to say whether it's better or worse. The main storyline is strong, but at times feels dragging and aimless, while apart from the devastating masterpiece The Body, stand-alones don't offer jewels like previous season's Hush, Superstar or Restless. At the same time though, the cast is now absolutely comfortable in their roles, and most of them give their best performances to date. And the overall quality of both drama and comedy is, I think, higher than that of any of the prior seasons.

Writer Jane Espenson is one of the hidden stars of Season 5. She does an amazing job of tackling important issues and presenting them in light-hearted context with an amazing sense of comedy. Her episodes include the absolutely fantastic The Replacement, where Xander is accidentally split into two separate copies, each possessing half of his personality traits; I Was Made to Love You, dealing with male obsessions over the perfect woman - this time in the form of a... well, girlfriendbot - and last but not least, the gorgeous Intervention, which is both a hilarious comedy, a Spike-driven heart-wrenching drama, and a Glory action all at once. Kudos to one of the most important members of the Whedon crew.

A few other episodes deserve recognition. Fool for Love is among the best in the entire show, and tells us the story of how Spike was sired by Drusilla (try not to faint with laughter at the reason he was known as William the Bloody prior to becoming a vampire), and his subsequent triumphs over not one, but two Slayers. Crush has Drusilla return to Sunnydale in an attempt to get Spike back on his feet, while his brainless girlfriend Harmony gets fed up with being treated like garbage, and it is the episode where Buffy learns of his feelings for her. It's a great exploration of obsession and the intricately illogical female mind, as well as having a few priceless moments both in terms of comedy and drama. And even though I already reviewed The Body, I can't emphasize strongly enough how brilliant that episode is. It is a little sad that one can't appreciate it fully without seeing everything up to that point before that.

No matter where you put it in your personal chart, Buffy Season 5 is one of the best in the show. It is bold and aggressive, features amazing performances from everyone in its cast, is choke-full of action and comedy, and gives us arguably the best drama ever seen on television. Not bad for half a year's work, eh?


Sep 9, 2010

Artwork: Star Wars awesomness

I saw this on A Dribble of Ink, and it was just way too adorable not to post here. Artist James Hance has done an amazingly cute job of mixing the characters of Star Wars with the style of Wnnie the Pooh. Here are some examples, and you can see the rest (as well as some paintings with a Sesame Street theme) on the artist's website.

Also, while on the subject, do check out artist Greg Peltz' work on Victorian-style Star Wars portraits. You can find them in his blog, and here are some that I really loved.

Sep 8, 2010

Cover art for the e-book edition of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's The Gathering Storm

How do they do it? How is it, that even though every e-book cover of the series is by a different artist (this one being Tod Lockwood's), they are all infinitely better than the original cover art? Oh wait, I know how. The original cover art is just that bad...

Sep 7, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Body

I just watched Season 5's episode The Body, and it seems to me that it deserves a separate post, as it is too much to deal with in any other context.

WARNING! Obviously, this review has to contain a humongous spoiler, so if you are yet to see it, by all means do not read the rest of the entry, or even look at the picture below. You have been warned!

It is hard for me to figure out how I should go about such a profound work of art, perhaps because I have not experienced the situation described in the episode yet, thank God, or perhaps because it is so powerful, that in a way, talking about it feels a little inadequate. The death of Joyce Summers, Buffy and Dawn's mother, came out of nowhere, and the Whedon-directed The Body was as much a shock to viewers, as the situation was to the show's characters. A deep and tragic episode, filmed with integrity and painful realism, it has been described by both fans and critics as "one of the finest hours of drama in the history of television". The fact that the episode wasn't even nominated for an Emmy borders on the obscene, but the truth is that pop-culture isn't equipped to deal with this level of real.

Because Joss wanted to make this episode about the reality of losing a loved one. About the utter incomprehensibility of the first few hours. The Body is vastly different from any other episode in the show, not only in terms of story, but also in the way it was shot. For one, there is no music in it. Whedon thought - and rightly so - that a soundtrack to such an event would be cheating, it would "tell" people how to feel. He didn't want it to be that easy. After the opening sequence there is a cheery flashback Christmas scene with Joyce alive and all the Scoobies gathered around the table. It was put because Whedon wouldn't have the credits shown in the initial minutes of Buffy's reaction to finding her mother dead on the couch. The scene is painful to watch in this context, and cuts sharply back to reality.

Buffy's catatonic shock is perhaps the best performance in Sarah Michelle Gellar's career. The character literally ages a few decades in front of our eyes, and as the camera follows her around the house while she is waiting first for the paramedics, and then for Giles to arrive, you could physically feel reality crashing down on her, burying her under the weight of meaningless pain. In the opening sequence are established three key components of The Body. First, it centers on the mundane, the stupid little details - things that you would never notice in a normal day, but that suddenly become abstractly important, holding an almost timeless quality. Joss Whedon describes the feeling he wanted to capture as one of almost boredom. The tragedy drowning your sense of the real under a false blanket of the daily and the mundane.

Second, every scene in the episode is shot almost entirely in real time. There is no real plot structure to it, just four segments that show how the characters deal with Joyce's death. The prolonged scenes where nothing of seeming importance happens might be among the most meaningful comments on dealing with tragedy I have seen in my life.

And third, the camera. It deserves a special mention, as it - along with the absence of soundtrack - delivers most of the episode's unique atmosphere. A lot of strange angles are used to show Buffy's detachment from reality, while the scene where we couldn't see past the paramedic's mouth as he is telling her that her mother is dead, because she can't look at his face, is heartwrenching. There are a few dream-sequences in the episode - the first one being the Christmas flashback - and they all end in sudden cut-backs to reality. The second one - where Joyce suddenly responds to CPR and opens her eyes, followed by a few short cuts in the ambulance and the hospital - is particularly painful since there is no way to recognize it as fake until you are halfway through it.

Of course, such an ambitious work would fail miserably with a lesser cast, but everyone performs beyond their best. Emma Caulfield gives her greatest performance in the entire show, as Anya breaks down, confused and completely incapable to deal with the concept of mortality. Alyson Hannigan also acts beautifully as her Willow tries to anchor herself with mundane details like the choice of appropriate clothing, while the tears are threatening to burst out. Michelle Trachtenberg also deserves a mention, since she manages to give Dawn's reaction to her mother's death a very deep, very mature feel. The actress was fifteen at the time.

In an episode that was painful in every conceivable aspect, where even Joyce's eyes were intentionally left open because Joss didn't want the viewers to have a "she is just asleep" way of escape, it is just another stroke of genius that The Body is the place where we witness Willow and Tara's first kiss. Whedon felt that since they were living together, it could not be made to look special, and so he gave them a completely non-erotic moment of intimacy and comfort in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

A work of grace, power and tragic beauty, The Body is not only the single greatest episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but also among the most profound movie/television experiences I have had. It is hard to watch, and does not get easier with repeats. If anything, it gets harder. The brilliant acting, amazing shooting decisions and the painfully honest screenplay never go over the line, never oversell the tragedy. I do not think I need to trivialize this post with a score, as it is obvious what that would be. Despite Whedon's often-voiced protests, The Body is a cathartic experience, and one that has to be seen at any cost.

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson

I fell deeply in love with Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn when I read The Final Empire over a year ago. Its post-apocalyptic fantasy world, brilliantly thought-out magic systems, engaging story and likable characters made for such a dynamic and gripping read, that an 8-hour overseas flight was all I needed to finish the book. However, for some reason it took a really long time for me to return to the world of the Final Empire. I guess part of that was the fact that the first part of the trilogy was so self-contained, I was maybe a little afraid that I'd lose this feeling of completeness if I found out what happens next. Well, I needn't have worried... too much.

The Well of Ascension starts about a year after the death of the Lord Ruler by the hand of the Mistborn Vin, and the end of his millenial Final Empire - an event now referred to as the Collapse. The noble Elend Venture rules the Central Dominance as king, and with Vin by his side has created a surprisingly stable society based on democratic and idealistic principles of equality and freedom, going so far as to create an Assembly that has control even over himself. But all is not well in Elend's new kingdom. After solidifying their rule, warlords from the other Dominances decide to make a bid for the Lord Ruler's atium supply - a supply that Elend has never managed to find - and soon Luthadel is besieged by three separate armies - one of those led by Straff Venture - Elend's cruel father. And as his own people start to lose confidence in him, the young king is forced to face the truths of leadership and either grow into them or surrender to despair.

Meanwhile Vin has problems of her own. She has difficulty accepting the new skaa religion which has made the dead Survivor - Kelsier - into a god, and has put her in the role of his living Heir. There is a possibility that a shape-shifting kandra spy has infiltrated the innermost circle of the government - Kelsier's crew. Her nightly patrols throughout Luthadel, hunting assassins sent to kill her lover, are haunted by ghostly figures in the mist, as well as an enigmatic Mistborn who threatens to put a wedge between her and Elend. What's more, she now constantly hears an Allomantic pulse with no discernable source - a lot like the one that the Hero of Ages felt as he neared the Well of Ascension a thousand years ago. And what is even more troubling, it seems that the mists are now coming even during the day... and they are killing people. In the end, Vin's searchings might turn out to be Luthadel's only hope for salvation as the threat of occupation becomes a promise of utter annihilation.

The Well of Ascension is a solid read that, unfortunately, suffers from the Middle Part syndrome. Too much time is spent standing in one place and moving in circles. The book is relatively long, and yet most of it is dedicated to just building up tension. However, there is a lot going on outside of the main story. The addition of Elend as a main character seems to be problematic for a lot of readers, but I liked him quite a lot. Unfortunately, Sanderson was a bit ham-handed while describing his growth, and in the beginning the young king is really annoying with his pointed uncertainty and lack of authority while his idealistic ideas never stop grating on the nerves. The same applies to Vin's own feelings of insecurity and fear of betrayal. She has grown a lot since the beginning of The Final Empire, but still spends most of the book unsure of what she is and where her place in the world is. And yet, both characters grow into their own, and both turn out very, very well. Unfortunately, this comes at a price - mostly all the others from Kelsier's crew remain so much in the background as to be just names and the sporadic line in a conversation. The one exception is the Terris Keeper Sazed, who is the third major PoV in the book, and turns out to be a really interesting - if not overly original - character.

What The Well of Ascension lacks in speed, it more than compensates in its many action sequences. At the very beginning of the book Vin is presented with a new Allomantic metal - Duralumin, the alloy of the metal-destroying Aluminum that she was introduced to in The Final Empire. When she finds out what it does, the ante is raised to an even higher level of awesome than it was with Kelsier's acrobatics in the first book. However, the true gem of The Well of Ascension is the extensive descriptions of this world's other magic - the Terris Keepers' art of Feruchemy. Through Sazed's PoV we get to understand a lot more about Feruchemists and their Metalminds, as well as see the many differences between the two systems.

Still, the book is a step back from the brilliance of The Final Empire. It doesn't have an engaging enough story of its own, as its main purpose is to get its characters not from point A to point B, but from condition A to condition B. And grow they do, there's no denying that. Plus, there are a lot of really great revelations concerning the Hero of Ages, the Terris prophesies, the nature of the Deepness, and the actual events that transpired in the Well of Ascension a thousand years ago, when the youth Rashek stole the power for himself, remade the world and became the dreaded Lord Ruler.

And yet, when the entire book is dedicated to ancient secrets and character development, with the actual plot taking up no more than the final three hundred or so pages, The Well of Ascension feels a bit like cheating. Don't get me wrong, it is a pretty good book, and well deserving the time it takes to read, but it could have been either a lot shorter, or a lot more dynamic. Still, considering the sudden shift in direction caused by the final plot-twist, I expect a lot from The Hero of Ages - the final installment of the trilogy. I am not entirely certain I liked that plot-development, but I am certain that Sanderson will pull it off and deliver the ending this series deserves.