Archive for heroic fantasy

Fool’s quest [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by xi'an

Although I bought this second volume in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy quite a while ago, I only came to read it very recently. And enjoyed it unreservedly! While the novel builds upon the universe Hobb created in the liveship traders trilogy (forget the second trilogy!) and the Assassin and Fool trilogies, the story is compelling enough to bring out excitement and longing for further adventures of Fitz and the Fool. Many characters that were introduced in the earlier volume suddenly take on substance and meaning, while the main characters are no longer heroes of past eras, but also acquire further depth and subtlety. Even long-lasting ones like Chade. I cannot tell whether this new dimension of the plights affecting the Six Duchies and its ruler, King Verity, was conceived from the start or came later to the author, but it really fits seamlessly and increases by several orders of magnitude the epic feeling of the creation. Although it is hard to rank this book against the very first ones, like Royal Assassin, I feel this is truly one of the best of Hobb’s books, with the right mixture of action, plotting, missed opportunities and ambiguous angles about the main characters. So many characters truly come to life in this volume that I bemoan the sluggish pace of the first one even more now. While one could see Fool’s Quest as the fourteenth book in the Realm of the Elderlings series, and hence hint at senseless exploitation of the same saga, there are just too many new threads and perspective there to maintain this posture. A wonderful book and a rarity of a middle book being so. I am clearly looking forward the third instalment!

Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…

Boring blades [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains with tags , , , , on June 14, 2015 by xi'an

This fifth volume of the “Blades” fantasy series by Kelly McCullough is entitled Drawn blades but it gives the impression the author has exhausted what she he can seriously drag from the universe she he created a few volumes ago. Even when resuscitating another former lover of the main character. And moving to an unknown part of the world. And bringing in new super-species, cultists, and even a petty god. Yes, a petty god, whining and poorly lying, And an anti-sect police. And a fantasy version of the surfing board. Yes again, a surfing board. Inland. Despite all those unusual features, the book feels like a sluggish copy of a million fantasy books that have mixed the themes of an awakening god awaited by fanatics followers in unlimited subterranean vaults, with the heroes eventually getting the better of the dumb followers and even of the (dumb) god. And boring a grumpy reader to sleep every single evening. The next instalment in the series, Darkened blade, just appeared, but I do not think I will return to Aral’s world again. The earlier volumes were quite enjoyable and recommended. Now comes a time to end the series!

the dark defiles

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by xi'an

The final and long-awaited volume of a series carries so much expectation that it more often than not ends up disappointing [me]. The Dark Defiles somewhat reluctantly falls within this category… This book is the third instalment of Richard K. Morgan’s fantasy series, A Land Fit for Heroes. Of which I liked mostly the first volume, The Steel Remains. When considering that this first book came out in January 2009, about six years ago, this may explains for the somewhat desultory tone of The Dark Defiles. As well as the overwhelming amount of info-dump needed to close the many open threads about the nature of the Land Fit for Heroes.

“They went. They dug. Found nothing and came back, mostly in the rain.”

[Warning: some spoilers in the following!] The most striking imbalance in the story is the rather mundane pursuits of the three major heroes, from finding an old sword to avenging fallen friends here and there, against the threat of an unravelling of the entire Universe and of the disappearance of the current cosmology.  In addition, the absolute separation maintained by Morgan between Archeth and Ringil kills some of the alchemy of the previous books and increases the tendency to boring inner monologues. The volume is much, much more borderline science-fiction than the previous ones, which obviously kills some of the magic, given that the highest powers that be sound like a sort of meta computer code that eventually gives Ringil the ultimate decision. As often, this mix between fantasy and science-fiction is not much to my taste, since it gives too much power to the foreign machines, the Helmsmen, which sound like they are driving the main human players for very long term goals. And which play too often deus ex machina to save the “heroes” from unsolvable situations. Overall a wee bit of a lengthy book, with a story coming to an unexpected end in the very final pages, leaving some threads unexplained and some feeling that style prevailed over story. But nonetheless a page turner in its second half.

The winds of Winter [Bayesian prediction]

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by xi'an

A surprising entry on arXiv this morning: Richard Vale (from Christchurch, NZ) has posted a paper about the characters appearing in the yet hypothetical next volume of George R.R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire series, The winds of Winter [not even put for pre-sale on amazon!]. Using the previous five books in the series and the frequency of occurrence of characters’ point of view [each chapter being told as from the point of view of one single character], Vale proceeds to model the number of occurrences in a given book by a truncated Poisson model,

x_{it} \sim \mathcal{P}(\lambda_i)\text{ if }|t-\beta_i|<\tau_i

in order to account for [most] characters dying at some point in the series. All parameters are endowed with prior distributions, including the terrible “large” hyperpriors familiar to BUGS users… Despite the code being written in R by the author. The modelling does not use anything but the frequencies of the previous books, so knowledge that characters like Eddard Stark had died is not exploited. (Nonetheless, the prediction gives zero chapter to this character in the coming volumes.) Interestingly, a character who seemingly died at the end of the last book is still given a 60% probability of having at least one chapter in  The winds of Winter [no spoiler here, but many in the paper itself!]. As pointed out by the author, the model as such does not allow for prediction of new-character chapters, which remains likely given Martin’s storytelling style! Vale still predicts 11 new-character chapters, which seems high if considering the series should be over in two more books [and an unpredictable number of years!].

As an aside, this paper makes use of the truncnorm R package, which I did not know and which is based on John Geweke’s accept-reject algorithm for truncated normals that I (independently) proposed a few years later.

Crossed Blades [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2014 by xi'an

After Broken Blade and its sequel Bared Blade, Kelly McCullough wrote Crossed Blades that I had ordered along with Bared Blade. And once again I read this volume within a few evenings. It is still very enjoyable, maybe the more given that there is a continuity in the characters and the plots. However, I did prefer Bared Blade to Crossed Blades as the former was creative in terms of plot and environment. Here, in Crossed Blades, the main character Aral is facing his past, from the destruction of his religious order and of his goddess to the possible treachery of former friends and mentors, to his attempt to drown this past in top quality whisky… While dealing with an adopted teenage daughter in the midst of a typical teenage crisis. This new instalment is thus full of introspection and reminiscence of past loves, and frankly a bit dull at times, even though there is a (spoiler warning!!) massive battle against the culprits for the destruction of the order. The very end is a bit disappointing, but it also hopefully closes a chapter in the hero’s life, which means that the next volume, Blade Reforged, may run into new territories and more into simili-detective stories.  (Two more books in this Blade series are in the making!)

Bared Blade [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2014 by xi'an

As mentioned in my recent review of Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough, I had already ordered the sequel Bared Blade. And I read this second volume within a few days. Conditional on enjoying fantasy-world detective stories with supernatural beings popping in (or out) at the most convenient times, this volume is indeed very pleasant with a proper whodunnit, a fairly irrelevant McGuffin, a couple of dryads (that actually turn into…well, no spoiler!), several false trails, a radical variation on the “good cop-bad cop” duo, and the compulsory climactic reversal of fortune at the very end (not a spoiler since it is the same in every novel!). Once again, a very light read, to the point of being almost ethereal, with no pretence at depth or epics or myth, but rather funny and guaranteed 100% free of living-deads, which is a relief. I actually found this volume better than the first one, which is a rarity if you have had enough spare time to read thru my non-scientific book reviews, I am thus looking forward to the next break when I can skip through my next volume of Kelly McCullough, Crossed Blades. (And I hope I will not get more crossed with that one than I was bored with the current volume!)