The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #17: Face-off! (Part 1 Finale!)

At last, I overcame my treacherous body-snatcher of an ex-wife!

I write this in mine own hand after mine magical quill refused to watch.

What madness had she concocted upon the land, upon my people, my great empire? Such questions did I ask myself as I sharpened poisonous, were-hare claws. Mine Legion of Librarians, once strong in number, now reduced to a mere few dozens all looked upon me, their faces taut with great joy.

Sven, my Prime Librarian went positively ashen in the face. Perhaps, seeing the young and loyal, and newly appointed, Head Librarian on mine majestic feminine heels made things clear to him, the disloyal cur!

But the thought of Sven, of anyone, vanished in an instant as I saw it. Mine glorious, majestic, magnificent body!

‘Wife!’ I screamed in her voice, quite prepared to defeat her with vocal might, alone.

She looked at me with what I perceived as fear, but now, upon great contemplation and use of mine great faculties, was relief. She ran towards me with this expression, the clatter of my beloved armor now a sound to fear. I half-crouched, ready to strike back at her.

Her/mine lips fell on mine/hers. (This whole business of body snatching confounds even mine great mind.)

Then, I was looking down on her, and I was back in the body that belonged to me, and once again I felt true power resting on mine fine, strangely lengthy fingers!

I studied her face, contemplating how best to dispose of her when she spoke.

‘Thank the gods you showed up! I didn’t think I would handle another day of this!’

‘…Wot?’

‘Look…’ she sighed. ‘I’m sorry I stole your body and tried to usurp your empire. I realize now, ruling is no easy feat. All these decrees, edicts, pronouncements, they are a bore!’

She circled me, shifting like a panther as she walked towards Sven. ‘Besides, I… I don’t know how to tell you this, Maus, but I’ve fallen in love.’ She took his hand in hers, smiling at me. Brr, I felt the cold outside of the armour cool by a score degrees. ‘Besides, I never meant for this to be permanent. I just needed to know if you had the little monster locked away somewhere. Now that I know you don’t…’ she shrugged.

I had summoned mine spiked helmet — a fashion statement if ever there was one — but removed it. ‘I have very many little monsters, woman. Which one eludes my glorious collection?’

‘You really should cut the grandiloquence a bit, Your Darkness,’ her voice was rich with mockery, but she tilted her head, confused. ‘You really don’t remember?’

‘You better begin making sense, woman, else I’ll–‘

‘Our little monster? Don’t the words mean nothing to you?’

A faint memory shifted somewhere behind a door forced shut.

‘Have you really forgotten our daughter, you egomaniacal despot?!’

Huh. Words rolled out from my mouth in a metallic voice. ‘Well, former wife, you have had your fun. With this in mind, I reckon us two have had a good enough reunion not to force this for another century or few. Enjoy the lad with my most heartfelt good wishes!’

But she didn’t seem in a mind to enjoy anything too much at all as much as to pull my spine out of my mouth, and so I snapped my fingers and sent both her and Sven far, far away. Somewhere tropical, with loads of sharks, preferably. She’ll manage, no doubt, the minx.

Huh.

I have a daughter. It’ll be mine. It’ll all be mine.

 

Well, that was a strange conclusion to a strange arc to a strange piece of really lazy fiction meant to mock fantasy tropes. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and we’ll pick up with Part 2 soon!  -Ish.

Baaai!

Book Recommendation: Jhereg by Steven Brust

I took a big chunk of time of last October and November to re-read most of Steven Brust’s excellent Vlad Taltos novels. I loved the first few novels as a child when I had read them in Bulgarian. I must’ve been between nine-ten, maybe eleven when I first held Jhereg in my hands. It was a spellbinding experience, the kind that speaks to you on a very deep personal level.

But that was a long time ago.

I do a lot of writing — never as much as I want, and not always as much as I should. I’ve learned a lot about it from reading, naturally. The fact is, one of the major POV’s in my novel is in the first person. During ye olde case of writer’s block, I decided to revisit Jhereg, discover how my adult self would take to a book I loved as a child, and maybe even find out how it holds out.

What we love as kids, adulthood sometimes takes away.

But boy, is Jhereg good!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner (read: human) in a world of humans (read: elves, or Dragaerans). He is a baronet in the Imperial House of Jhereg, but don’t let that fool you — the title’s been paid for with coin and means next to nothing. The Jhereg is one of seventeen Great Houses of the Dragaeran Empire. The Great House which deals in just about every illegal thing you could think of — gambling, prostitution, assassination and so much more!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner, and a Jhereg, and he’s a small-time boss of a small-time criminal organization, which owns several districts worth of criminal activities (read gambling dens, restaurants and whorehouses) in the capital city of Adrilanka. He’s pretty good at maintaining his business, for an Easterner, considering their life spans.

Vlad Taltos is the head of security to Morrolan E’Drien, a Dragon and close friend to the Empress, and the single Dragaeran to have a floating castle in the air. It’s called Castle Black, and the colour of magic is Black, and that says something for Morrolan, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Castle Black just so happens to be the safest place in the Empire, unless you’ve got the Imperial Orb looking out for you.

Vlad Taltos also happens to be a killer for hire, and that, most would argue, is where his real talents lie. He’s not a spectacular fighter — although he can hold his own — so much as he’s exceptionally crafty and very, refreshingly clever. The fencing and witchcraft he picked up from his grandfather don’t hurt one bit when handling the larger and stronger Dragaerans, used to a more brutal sort of fighting by far.

Vlad Taltos just so happens to get hired for the most complex job he’s ever had to perform. To kill a member of the Jhereg’s own Council, a member who’s done away with the House’s coffers. A man whose tenacity might very well surpass that of Vlad’s — for this man is a guest of Morrolan E’Drien and the Lord of Castle Black lets no one harm his guests.

The clock is ticking — and if Vlad doesn’t take care of the problem, two mighty Houses go to war. One is the House of some of Vlad’s closest friends, and the other is his own.

Tick-tock.

It’s a great book, worth every minute, every cent. A great starting point to a rich world filled with colourful characters and hours of action and tear-jerking comedy. This book reads like a detective story; the way Vlad works is very much like an investigator, and the books are all the better for it. Steven Brust’s use of language is beyond comparison.

But hey, I’m subjective. I love Vlad. Don’t take my word for it — check it out for yourself!

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time! Any books you’d like me to read and share my opinion on? Let me know in the comments! A like would also be appreciated! 

 

 

Reader’s Diary #001: I got Hart, Yo!

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I thought I’d write a wee diary. Not the ‘Dear Diary, a madwoman in the bus told me they were listening in through my headphones!’ kind, but a journal about what I read on a day-to-day basis. The sort of content I can put on my blog when I don’t have enough time to put the work necessary in a ‘Writing Advice’ blog post on a Tuesday — which is what I should be writing instead.

You’ll survive another week, no doubt.

But if you don’t, I’m sorry.

Today, I went through twenty-something chapters of Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart. I’m listening to the audiobook even as I write this, and it’s both entertaining and educational. He’s a great comedian, but this book shows him as a cool human being, too — a guy who’s made many mistakes in his time, but always struggles on. Hart is tenacious, someone who’s gone through a crapload of hardships. A loving, but deeply religious mother, a destructive relationship and later marriage, a lot of sleeping around, a few nights spent in a cell over domestic violence.

But through all the bad shines through an incredibly resilient, even singular, force of will. You’d have a hard time finding someone who wouldn’t be inspired by Kevin’s journey from a talentless swimmer to shoe salesman to young comedian working on his style, to…well, Kevin Hart.

It’s very good, this autobiography. I’ll probably finish it before night’s out — or tomorrow, at the latest. I’ve taken my time as is.

Warning: if you end up reading it, you’re in danger of random fits of giggles while writing blog posts!

I also read two short stories from this month’s Clarkesworld issue, Deep Down in The Cloud by Julie Novakova, and Obliteration by Robert Reed.

I enjoyed them both, but not too much. Both these stories were dystopic. Obliteration in particular reminded me of Black Mirror’s first season finale — technology has advanced to the point that all memories are stored in miniature hard drives, and can be relived instantaneously. The protagonist’s hard drive, and backup hard drive both get smoked via some sort of…I want to say hacker attack, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. Something like that, at any rate.

Deep Down in The Cloud is interesting. It’s a story about the loss of freedom, which begins with the fall of net neutrality — the main character seems to have grown up in our present, or close to it, and still remembers that time. She’s a freedom fighter, hacker, diver.  Interesting characters, mystery.

Both endings are ambiguous and the language is excellent. I’m interested enough to check the respective authors.

That’s it, the end to my first Reader’s Diary! Thanks for reading!

How about you, what did you read? What’re you planning on reading? If you were to live in the world of a book you read over the last week, which world would you pick?

 

Dungeon Master’s Diary, S01, Session 01: Beginnings

Beginning a D&D campaign is a daunting experience, especially when your entire experience role-playing is in a few Pathfinder games. Dungeons&Dragons’ latest edition is by no means an overly complex game. Most of the rules are explained in a clear, forthright way, and both the Player’s Handbook(PHB) and Dungeon Master’s Guide(DMG) are excellent books, introducing both the basics necessary to begin, as well as plenty of intermediate and optional rules — especially in the case of the DMG.

This first session either introduced or continued the stories of several characters from a short-lived summer sit-down with a group of six people, which relied on the Pathfinder ruleset and was quite the challenging first outing for me as a Dungeon Master.

My players were happy enough with it, or so they told me, but more importantly, I got to plant the seeds to what I envisioned as the main conflict.

The player characters found themselves on the Tenebrae island, the land of the Einhorn Duchy. Ruled by Duke Gregor Einhorn and his family, the Duchy began as a sprawling human colony. Soon enough, races of myth and legend, unseen since a war three thousand years in the past, make contact with the Duke and his people.

Cautious at first, eventually the Duke opens his lands to these strange creatures. Elves, dwarves, gnomes and more began mixing with humankind. That was the jist of my description for the setting of the game.

We see many fantasy worlds, especially D&D ones, which are entirely comfortable with a plethora of races mixing together, brushing shoulders against one another. I wanted to explore a world in which this diffusion had just occurred — that’s the main reason as to why I chose to put a single restriction on any half-elves my players were interested in playing. They could be no older than 22-25. (Somewhat vague, but giving too many details from the get-go backs you into a corner a wee bit.)

The main conflict I spoke about wasn’t anything too original — the Empress’ mage was checking in on the Duke. He didn’t want to be too obvious about it, so he asked one of the Empress’ soldiers (fighter PC), Captain-lieutenant Kalis Dargon, to investigate whether the Duke was planning to break away from this far-off Empire.

Kalis’ player(S.) is the most experienced D&D player at this point, having played since 4th edition so I gambled on anchoring the main plot to his backstory, on which we worked on together. I reckon doing a lot of that with most of the players who had the time and will to do so — three out of the original four’s backstories offered focal points at various times over our game, and continue to weave the story threads.

Nothing’s worse than a static world in which your players’ backstory has no meaning.

Faced with the need to get close to the Duke, our players explored the city of Moranth. Soon enough, they discovered an opportunity — the Duke’s son had disappeared during one of the last undead att–oh, did I mention the undead?

Aye, the undead were another thread of the conflict I had begun weaving for my wee lads. Nothing too original at all — the ancient dead awake, no one knows why, they begin attacking the smaller villages outside Moranth; they come from the seas, the fish is diseased, the ship of our human adventurers is the last ship to enter Moranth’s harbour before a blockade is enforced.

The blockade worked in two ways — first, it gave an in-world reason for my players’ characters not to just up’n’leave the island when the going gets tough; second, it created yet another, unspoken objective. Those characters who might want to get home now had another reason to disentangle whatever’s happening on the island.

Our group of adventurers discovered Boris Einhorn’s fate soon enough. Information about him was richly rewarded by the Duke, himself. Find his body, and…Bob’s your uncle. Probably not quite how the ‘Information wanted’ posters were phrased, but it’s been awhile.

They spent their sweet time considering how to go about finding the young Prince’s trail, discussing their plans loudly and in the center of city. Someone noticed, of course. That someone decided to place a little something in Logen’s pack.

Logen Thum is the company’s warlock/witcher; while using the warlock class, his backstory heavily borrowed from the Witcher universe. I allowed it because…who doesn’t like witchers in their universe? He’s a bit of an arse, though, and not nice to women at all. Something about spending all his life in a warrior monastery must’ve done its damage to the lad, but his heart is golden, and that’s all that matters! The lad who plays Logen is also one of my closest friends, so of course, I hand him an awful lot of rope and giggle as he hangs himself.

I’m a great friend.

At any rate, I asked P. to give me a perception roll, and he rolled high enough to tell that someone had tinkered with his pack; Logen sees a flash of movement and goes chasing the figure down. The rest of our adventurers follow.

He got the thief, blast his lucky die rolls! Surprise, surprise — the thief is a teenage girl who’s somewhat surprised to have gotten caught but there’s a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

The twinkle vanishes as Logen punches her in the stomach once, a second time — the rest of our adventurers catch up at last and Kalis, horrified, realizes that this girl is none other than the daughter of Duke Einhorn, and the heir apparent to the Duchy, now that her older brother’s disappeared.

Oh, boy.

Next up: An introduction to the rest of our characters, a lot more story, and behind-the-scenes decisions and a Dungeon Master’s reasons for them. Stay Tuned!

Book Recommendation: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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I enjoyed my time with Annihilation.

The plot of the novel takes place in Area X, a self-contained environment quite capable of winning the 2015 Nebula award for science fiction. More important, Area X is home to a mysterious tower that goes not up, but down into the ground. This tower houses unusual, even alien life. . . and other mysteries, besides.

Characters: Our lead is the biologist, a woman detached from the world. She is one part of a four-woman expedition into Area X, the twelfth known expedition so far. The previous expeditions all ended in failure.  The three other members of the team are the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist.

No pressure.

The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Her actions are the drive of the story, and her descent into greater and greater isolation makes for a thrilling character journey. In a place that defies a person’s entire life, the biologist desperately needs a ‘slice of reality’, as someone on Goodreads said, to use as a bridge to understand just what the hell is going on.

Atmosphere: There really isn’t much I can tell you about this book without spoiling it. Then again, I’m not sure that to spoil it would take away from the tension. A lot of people who’ve posted opinions and reviews about Annihilation have called the title ‘horror’. I was never once scared. Rather, I’d make the argument that Vandermeer’s novel is a venture into the unsettling.

What this reminded me of, in a very peculiar way, was Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. That, too, wasn’t scary as much as it was profoundly weird and deeply fascinating.

The prose is wonderful, flowing easily and creating suspense with a masterful stroke. This is my first Vandermeer novel but his prose would be reason enough to investigate his titles further, even if I hadn’t liked this particular one (which I did).

Closing thoughts:

Annihilation is a very atmospheric novel, and the opening act to a trilogy which, I hear, doesn’t close quite as strong as it opens. Perhaps I’ll see. Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sure I want to delve further into the mysteries of Area X. I quite like them as they are.

P.S. I just solved one of the mysteries the book offers, while writing this. You have to love books that offer you clues to a given question but don’t spell out the solution.

Thank you, friend who gave me this book, for giving me this book. It was a fun read. This one lies somewhere between sci-fi and mystery, in my opinion. You might also find it in the horror section, if your librarian looks like he scares easy.

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Talking about Narrative in a Life is Strange, Before the Storm Review

Oh, look! I’m going to talk about talking about games! Bit redundant, if you ask me, but I ain’t the one who decides what goes up on the blog, am I?

What do you mean I am? I-I am?

Welp. There goes that excuse.

Anyway, I’m hard at work at a video review for Before the Storm, the prequel to the excellent Life is Strange(2015), and I’ve been wondering whether the way I decided to go about making the video is right and proper.

How did I go about writing the video?

I spilled the beans about what happens during the game. Step by step, I do my best to present the thread of the story, along with my take on it, what impression major choices left me with, and the like.

I could’ve gone another direction — like most review sites, I could’ve chosen to keep mum about the details of the story, could’ve talked about how the general lack of fantastic elements and the time travel mechanic grounds the story in reality and whether that’s a good thing, or a bad one; I could’ve probably spent a good five-ten minutes on that, while keeping generally vague on any significant plot points.

The thing is, I want to talk about the story. With what the narrative does right, with that one topic it handles wrong. I want to give my viewers — all fourteen of them — concrete, honest thoughts.

That’ll probably eat in whatever tiny number of people would consider watching a 30+ minute video by a no one on YouTube, and that’s alright. I don’t make these videos to please anyone but myself.

If anyone ends up watching along the way — brilliant!

If not…That’s alright, too!

Thank you for reading. Before the Storm is brilliant, by the way, even if the post ended up being less about the game and more about my review-to-be about the game! Hope you’ll check it out when I post it on Monday! 

 

Book Recommendation: So, Anyway. . .

Autobiographies haven’t always agreed with me.

Granted, I have attempted to read a very limited number of books in this particular genre, and have finished considerably less than I’ve started. So, why…So, Anyway…?

I’ll share a secret with you — I really am quite fond of John Cleese. He’s a brilliant comedian, a part of some of the funniest British comedy troupes — and Monty Python, most of all. He is terribly clever, he’s intelligent, introspective and insightful. Most of all — and that, you’ll learn, is what matters most to him — he is funny!

So, Anyway… is not the kind of autobiography the author uses as a way to inform his readers of numerous slights and affronts they’ve suffered through, nor is it an unchecked ego trip. Lucky for me, since I’m no fan of digging for old dirt.  John Cleese chooses to go at this whole autobiographical business from a much more pleasant angle, and even when he’s critical towards old acquaintances and friends, he does it with such absurdity and good humor that it’s difficult to fault.

Who is this book for?

  • If you’ve ever loved anything John Cleese has had a hand in writing, you will enjoy witnessing his growth, from a pampered little daddy’s boy with a ‘precious thumb’  to a clumsy young man, to someone who eventually grows comfortable with success. Mostly.
  • Are you interested in, or already writing comedy? You’ll find a lot to learn, parts of the book can be read, or listened to, as a master class in comedy.
  • Do you enjoy humour that doesn’t ask you to lock your intelligence away somewhere in order to get the full experience?

The audiobook version

Is voiced by John Cleese himself, and excellent. He cracks up multiple times, which is hilarious. The fact that he enjoys recalling, reliving these memories is nothing short of contagious. If you enjoy audiobooks, you simply must get it!

Quotes

Don’t take my words for any of it, read these here quotes from a couple of humorous remembrances of John’s:

“Mother told me once that some Westonians privately criticised Dad for retreating so soon. They apparently felt it would have been more dignified to have waited a week or so before running away. I think this view misses the essential point of running away, which is to do it the moment the idea has occurred to you. Only an obsessional procrastinator would cry, “Let’s run for our lives, but not till Wednesday afternoon.”

“The Germans were a people famous for their efficiency, so why would they drop perfectly good bombs on Weston-super-Mare, when there was nothing in Weston that a bomb could destroy that could possibly be as valuable as the bomb that destroyed it?
The Germans did return, however, and several times, which mystified everyone. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that Westonians actually quite liked being bombed: it gave them a significance that was otherwise lacking from their lives. But that still leaves the question why would the Hun have bothered? Was it just Teutonic joi de vivre? Did the pilots mistake the Weston seafront for the Western Front? I have heard it quite seriously put forward by older Westonians that it was done at the behest of William Joyce, the infamous “Lord Haw-Haw”, who was hanged as a traitor in 1944 by the British for making Nazi propaganda broadcasts to Britain during the war. When I asked these amateur historians why a man of Irish descent who was born in Brooklyn would have such an animus against Weston that he would buttonhole Hitler on the matter, they fell silent. I prefer to believe that it was because of a grudge held by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering on account of an unsavoury incident on Weston pier in the 1920s, probably involving Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan.
My father’s explanation, however, makes the most sense: he said the Germans bombed Weston to show that they really do have a sense of humour.”

“British journalists tend to believe that people who become good at something do so because they seek fame and fortune. This is because these are the sole motives of people who become British journalists. But some people, operating at higher levels of mental health, pursue activities because they actually love them.”

“Yes, I know it’s easy to make fun of the organised churches, but has it occurred to anyone to wonder why it’s so easy?”

“I found Toronto an immensely likeable city, spacious and gentle and slightly dignified, but in a low-key, friendly way. The only people who didn’t seem to think much of it were its inhabitants, who could hardly wait for you to ask directions, because that gave them the perfect opportunity to apologise for it. What they were apologising for I never understood. I think they felt uninteresting, compared with America. I took the opposite view; I remember reading about the doctrine of American “Exceptionalism” and thinking that what I liked so much about Canadians was that they consider themselves unexceptional. This modest, unthreatening attitude seems to produce a nation that is stable, safe, decent and well respected. It’s just a shame that for seven months of the year it’s so cold that only Canadians would put up with it.”

“One minute, I was saying, “Hello, Mr. Bunny!” and smiling at its sweet little face and funny floppy ears. The next, the fucker savaged me.”

My apologies, I might’ve slightly overdone it with the quotes. There’s so many more I would like to share with you all, but the quotes are already quite a bit longer than my own review, and so I will resist the impulse.

Conclusion

What a wonderful autobiography. Filled with self-depreciation, a healthy dose of dislike for overt political correctness and a genuine love for comedy, ‘So, Anyway. . . ‘ is a funny, compelling look at a portion of John Cleese’s life.

If I had any complaints, they would have to do with the somewhat abrupt ending and the fact that a fairly large period between Monty Python and the reunion tour is left blank. The hope remains for a second book, then!

The Score

Five out of Five Black Stars.

Thank you for reading!