Archive for Game of Thrones

a journal of the [downplayed] plague and [endless] pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2022 by xi'an

Read another novel by Fred Vargas, the early This Night’s Foul Work which carries the usual Vargas’ themes more focussed on the psychology of the characters than on the police work, with no pretense at realism (from police work, to ignored regulations and procedures, to superhuman abilities of the improbable villein), and a rather simplistic (and surprising for a CNRS researcher) vision of regional idiosyncrasies. Again. (Maybe I am being thin-skinned because Normans are the targets this time.) Adamsberg, the main detective gets positively (or rather negatively) sleazy when spying on a romantic rival.

Read [in planes] The Traitor God sounded like an interesting plot when I picked it: a rogue mage, having left its order and city ten years ago, and coming to the rescue of old friends in trouble. However, the blob-like evil behind said trouble got particularly grotesque and absurd, till a ridiculous finale that was only the premise to a second volume. While sounding similar in concept, Paladin’s Grace proved much more enjoyable [in the same planes], if pure mindcandy (and hence hardly at level with a Hugo or Nebula Award). More a form of fantasy sleuthing than anything of a cosmologic scale (and no explanation as to why the god died), with a perfume-maker as the scientific police equivalent!  (But this is definitely not Süskind’s Parfum.) A bit heavy-handed on the romance part, though, with endless internal debates of both central characters. And also read The Maleficent Sevens, whose most redeeming quality is its title, as otherwise, I found little to enjoy there: the characters are not compelling, even in their maleficiency (facade grim only if this qualifies as grimdark fantasy), their motivation for (re)banding together is unconvincing, the magical abilities and actions hold no coherence, usual plot u-turns aplenty (like walking dead, krakens, subterranean demons), the naval battle is beyond stretching belief, contrary to the other (anti)heroes, the orcs are discriminated against in being the only ones to miss salvation in the final chapter, the dialogues are far from witty (far far away from Terry Pratchett if this qualifies as comic fantasy).

In contrast with my earlier light encounter with COVID, I attended a COVID funeral in Normandy a few weeks ago, which, besides the deep sadness of seeing a relative depart, made me question the general laisser-faire attitude about COVID, despite the dozens of thousands of daily cases (in France) and more than an hundred death. With hardly anyone wearing a mask in public transportation for instance. (In a cruel if not unexpected irony, some people attending the funeral later tested positive.)

Watched Hokusai in the plane to Santiago, and back, which I found a little bit stiff in its historical reconstruction and somewhat missing in getting the uniqueness and genius of Hkusai’s paintings. But interestingly bringing to light that paintings and sketches became somehow prohibited unless restricted to actors and courtesans, after the demise of the Tokugawa shogunate, during the Meiji Restoration. And un-enthusiastically completed the House of the Dragon, still lacking in scope. And in dragons.

a journal of the [experienced] plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2022 by xi'an

Read The Cybernetic Tea Shop, by Meredith Katz, which is a short and rather clever (if YA) novel about the hazy boundary between humans and humanoids. Plus involving tea addicts! (Which is presumably why Amazon suggested it to me following my reading A Psalm for the Wide Built). And further read over a few sleepless nights the terrible Isandor series starting with City of Strife, by Claudie Arseneault, which had an interesting built of characters and fantasy universe, only to collapse into the usual cracks of super-evil villeins, a massive imbalance of power and a focus on the mundane (like foods and romantic attractions) when their society is under attack. The writing style is also heavily handed, to the point that I found myself skipping more and more paragraphs as the story unfolded. And will definitely not consider the incoming volume.

Went smoothly through my first (?) COVID positivity, which only caused a mild fever over one single day, amidst common cold symptom. Luckily did not pass it to anyone in my immediate vicinity, and resumed running if not swimming almost immediately (if not hard enough to train for the Argentan 1/2 marathon!). But sadly missed the 800th anniversary conference in Padova, as I was still testing positive the day before. I may have gotten infected in Britain or Belgium, despite my constant use of a mask (except in restaurants!).

Watched three more episodes of House of the Dragon, with great characters but a definitive lack of scope (when compared with Game of Thrones). The story remains at a highly local level of power fights and bickering, with existential threats inexistent. Still relatively enjoyable.

a journal of the [downgraded] plague and [mostly] pestilence year [from Belgium, w/o fries]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2022 by xi'an

While away for more than a week in Brussels, Belgium (for reasons I cannot reveal at this point!), I had various culinary experience ranging from terrible (in a ghastly Turkish pizza stand) to fabulous (at Ethiopian Toukoul), with a scandalously bland lamb vindaloo in the middle…

And found an historical (!) public swimming pool near my airbnb, namely the Bains de Saint-Josse, that dates from the 1930’s, with original changing cubicles where one can leave one’s clothes, great opening hours, reasonable water temperature, few swimmers, and cheap access. (The only negative point is the shallow end of the pool that makes turning awkward.) Which was fantastic as running options in the vicinity were limited and all involved 100% street trails.

Read Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovski, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie, and the first two volumes of The Scholomance by Naomi Novick. The Scholomance has a rather difficult start with a complex setting only described by an insider (although an outlier in the school pecking order), hence less inclined to details. Then the central character gets more attaching and then a bit too popular. The series is (again) rather too YA-ish for my taste, with the now common pattern of a coming of age in a wizard boarding school, just without any adult in control, which makes it a most bizarre school. However, I am rather shocked by how of little consequence deaths of students are, incl. for the central character. Sharp Ends is rather aptly named since this a collection of short stories, it is inevitably mixed in quality. The setting is the usual (and by now solidly established) First Law World, involving some of the most famous Abercrombie characters like Glotka and Logen Ninefingers. Some I felt like having already read in other books, like the final story, some were too light for grimdark, and some were going nowhere. But when looking at the original cover,  I seem to remember buying it at a farmers’ market in Northern California! And Elder Race is a short novel on a theme inspired from the early Ursula Le Guin novels, namely the impact of an “advanced” civilization on a less “developed” former colony. Where an anthropologist (an homage to Le Guin?) gets progressively involved in the plight of a population he cannot any longer treat in a clinical and remote way. The core crisis initiating this epiphany is however rather poorly constructed, as the “plague” impacting the colony merges too many tropes of the genre, while clashing with the overal rationalism of the novel. In addition, the depiction of the depression symptoms of the anthropologist is overdone.

Watched three episodes of House of the Dragon, none of RIngs of Power (so far). Lacking somewhat in scale (except those on the dragon), but with a brilliant actress playing Rhaenyra Targaryen in these episodes.

WoT first three impressions

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2021 by xi'an

As I was pessimistic about the adaptation of the behemoth (14 volumes) Wheel of Time adaptation as an Amazon TV series, I was not particularly disappointed after watching the first three episodes! Regarding the following comments, I do realise that having started reading these books in 1990 and having completed reading the 15 volumes puts me in a tiny minority and that anyone unfamiliar with Jordan’s universe would take the story as it comes rather than checking for discrepancies from the gospel.

Good stuff:

  • Egwene and Nynaeve are delivering strong personalities to their respective character, kudos!, in a sense improving upon their book counterparts!
  • Moraine Sedai is reasonably well rendered, although she could have appeared as more ambiguous though (and why did they add this injury in the Bel Tine scene to the original story?)
  • this includes her telling of the story of Manethren
  • the way Trollocs and Fades are rendered is great
  • the scenery is mostly fabulous, esp. the entrance to Shadar Logoth
  • meeting the Tuatha’an was great, except for the fake scare at the beginning, and the arguing about their non-violent commitment is pretty convincing
  • the idea making the first Darkfriend we meet  more humane and ambivalent than in the book is hopefully going to be seen again

Bad lines:

  • the choice of having the Dragon being one of the five friends, incl. Egwene and Nynaeve, clashes with the structure of Jordan’s world, as well as Moraine’s early infodump
  • Matt, Perrin, and Rand appear incredibly naïve, but maybe this was already the case in the book
  • Matt is decidedly downright unpleasant from the start (i.e., even before Shadar Logoth)
  • the notion to have Perrin already married and the ensuing trauma are terrible novelties, the more because he doesn’t look so traumatized by the ending
  • the special treatment of Nynaeve by one trolloc is missing from the book and unclear as to its contribution to the plot (and why would Moraine leave without her?)
  • costumes are terrible, almost uniformly!, and too modern, looking like they were bought from second hand stores (and more globally there is a feeling of cheapness in the set designs, from Shadar Logoth to Tar Valon)
  • Moraine’s and Lan’s fight in the Two Rivers is rather unconvincing and messy (why did she need to turn this nice inn building into missiles?!)
  • why would Rand and Tam miss the village Bel Tine celebration to return to their farm?
  • The Guardian got highly negative about the show and even about the books (which the first reviewer had never read) maybe seeing too much in the (admittedly terribly heavy) writing style of Robert Jordan and maybe trying too had to draw a comparison with Game of Thrones (just like so many critics). So did the New York Times
  • making the only Darkfriend so far coming out of the open and a sword expert
  • Lan not commenting on Rand’s father’s heron sword, while zooming on said heron several times
  • the sooo slooow walk of Egwene and Perrin in the third episode once they get on track(s), thanks to the wolves
  • the Whitecloacks being depicted as just too evil from the start, with no ambivalence whatsoever (this was also true in the book, which [spoiler alert!] makes Galad joining them later—sorry for the spoiler—difficult to fathom)
  • similarly, the first Red Sister we meet (Liandrin) is similarly too one-sided to give a balanced picture of the different Ajahs in the White Tower

a journal of the plague year [post-december reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2021 by xi'an

Read a (French) novel by Fred Vargas, Sous les Vents de Neptune, after finding it in the book depository near my office. And enjoyed it very much, partly because it was partly taking place near Ottawa [which I visited many times while my wife was completing her EE Master there] and partly because of the author’s ability to make us doubt the main character and to keep the suspense tight enough for most of the book. There are a trip to Montréal to attend a concert and a journey to Detroit and back to find a lost relation, both reminding me of drives on these roads more than 30 years ago. What annoyed me though was the caricaturesque depiction of the locals, with a Québecois French that sounded overdone. Checking for a local perspective on that aspect, I found a book review in Le Devoir of 2004 sharing the reservation on that aspect, if with humour.  (I would also have rather done without the super-hacker character à la Lisbeth Salander.)

Watched Still Life (三峡好人) a 2006 film by Jia Zhangke, as it was proposed in the list of my local cinema (which I support during the endless lockdown of cinemas and theatres in France). This is an amazing film, which at the same time feels incredibly remote or alien… It follows two characters arriving by boat on the at the Three Gorges Dam under construction in search of a runaway spouse. The search for their respective spouse takes place among the demolition of the old Fengjie, soon to be drowned under 150 meters of dam water. This demolition makes for a unique soundtrack, workers hammering in cadence as blurred black shades against the sky. The dialogues are full of long silences, except for the background hammering, and it often feels theatrical. But the characters maintain a strong dignity throughout the film and the depiction of the last days of Fengjie is gripping. The film received the 2006 Venezia Golden Lion.

Cooked a few Venetian dishes from a Venetian cookbook that was my Xmas gift. And finished that way past-the-date polenta boxes. Managed to escape unscathed from both the bûche and galette weeks! And found that cooking spelt bread with spelt yeast was unbelievably easy, taking less time to work on the dough than to reach the closest bakery!

Could not manage to achieve a coherent discussion with some anti-vaxxer relatives over the Xmas break. And gave up, still hoping they would change their mind.

Watched the first episodes of The Expanse, which started as a collection of eight novels and eight shorter works, before turning into a TV series which won the 2020 Hugo Award. Enjoyable if a rather conventional setting, with the usual disregard for space physics! Reminded me very much of the Takeshi Kovacs novels.  To quote from Wikipedia, “Ty Franck began developing the world of The Expanse initially as the setting for a MMORPG and, after a number of years, for a tabletop roleplaying game.” Some of the actors are terrific (even though Steven Strait’s Holden painfully reminds me of Kit Harrington’s Jon Snow, to the point I wondered for a while if they were the same actor…)

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