Deus Ex Machina

Latin: god from machine.

From “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition”:

  1. In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation.
  2. An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot.
  3. A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.

I have to admit that I’m a bit torn by the ending of “Brilliance Of The Moon” by Lian Hearn. The first two books were so great that I leaped into the third one with gusto. Overall I still liked “Brilliance”, but I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth at the resolution.

On one hand I can understand the idea that for Takeo, destiny and prophecy were far stronger than his own desires and actions. I understand that Hearn has continually been setting us up for this ending by revealing the words of the prophecy to us, with the wise-woman telling him that all beliefs are the same, with the outcasts telling him that his life is not his own, with the ever increasing rumbles from the ground, and with the continual references to a higher power pulling his strings towards peace and justice.

But still, the “last minute earthquake that saves the day for both Takeo and Kaede when all hope is lost” is a bit much. Clever writers take a plot-governing device like a prophecy and find interesting and unexpected twists for resolution. This is not clever—it’s too contrived. I’m unpleasantly reminded of the “… and then the aliens come and save the day” ending to an otherwise excellent “A.I.”

There’s also something a bit too “Gift Of The Magi” for my taste when Takeo and Kaede finally see each other again outside the caves in Shirikawa. “Oh, her magnificent hair that everyone says is her best asset got burned off in the fire? Well, that’s ok because his right hand was horribly scarred and mangled. Ain’t love grand?!” Sorry, no.

I think there is also an extra level of frustration for me because Hearn had set the bar so high with the first two novels in the series. They were so good that I was counting on that level of excellence through to the end. I still like the book. I would still recommend the series. I just wish the ending could have been better.

More Ninjas, More Samurai

A couple of days ago I finished the second book of the “Tales of the Otori” series, “Grass For His Pillow”, and now I’m about half-way through the third, “Brilliance Of The Moon”. If I didn’t explain it well enough before, let me just say that this is really a great series.

This part is a secret, at least for the next 24 hours, so don’t tell anyone, ok? I gave Mary, my friend who just turned 30, hardcover copies of all three books for her birthday. Promise you won’t say anything to her? They’re not going to show up at her place until sometime tomorrow.

Several years ago, Mary gave me “Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone” for my birthday. (This was after “Prisoner Of Azkaban” but before “Goblet Of Fire”.) I loved that book and really enjoyed all ones since. I’m so glad that Mary introduced me to that series. I am hoping she will get as much enjoyment out of Lian Hearn’s books.

The Curse Of Chalion

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Curse Of Chalion” is a fun little book. It’s a bit more of a “popcorn” read than some of my recent undertakings, but at least it has a engrossing story and enjoyable characters—unlike a certain other fantasy book.

I don’t know what it is, but I seem to have picked a lot of “political” fantasy stories recently. Though not as convoluted as the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” series can get, this book is still full of corrupt high chancellors, scheming nobles and weak sovereigns. “Chalion” is more of a theological fantasy than the elves and dwarves kind. It is still set in a kingdom of knights, princesses and castles but the magic involves interaction with the gods of the realm.

The the ruling house of Chalion was cursed years ago by a death magic spell and ever since nothing has gone right for them—from disastrous military campaigns to tragic deaths to childless marriages. The quiet and unassuming Cazaril, a one-time lord and warrior who spent nearly two years as a slave rowing an enemy galley, is caught in the middle of this trouble while trying to tutor the beautiful young royesse and keep her from getting swallowed up by the corruption of her brother’s court.

It has much more of a Hollywood-style ending than George R.R. Martin’s books, but it’s still a good read.

Across The Nightingale Floor

Today I finished Lian Hearn’s amazing first book in the “Tales of the Otori” series, “Across The Nightingale Floor”. Ninjas and samurai are totally sweet!

In all seriousness though this story was fantastic. I experienced this as an audiobook and I’m so glad I did. Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone do a masterful job of bringing the world of feudal Japan to life with their reading. This book had all the political intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song Of Ice And Fire” series but it is told in a simple but powerful language that seems so appropriate for a culture that brought us their beautiful calligraphy and painting.

For someone such as myself who works with sound, to have a book that paints such lush scenes with descriptions of the sounds that can be heard is a real pleasure. After finishing the story, I tried to imagine what it would be like as a sound editor to be given the task of creating the world that Takeo hears as his Tribe (ninja) skill of super-hearing develops.

If you’re like me—loving Akira Kurosawa and hating “The Last Samurai”—you’ll dig this book.

A Truly Suck-tastic Book

I finished reading “The Dragon’s Son” by Margaret Weis today. It’s quite amazing how much that book sucked. No, seriously. Through the entire book I kept asking myself, “Who cares?” I have one of those life-size cardboard cut-out Stormtroopers. You know the kind you could take your picture with and say, “Hey, look I’m in Star Wars!” Well that Stormtrooper has more personality than the characters in this book.

It’s really a shame. The first book in the series “The Mistress Of Dragons” wasn’t bad. Not the best fantasy I’ve ever read but the world she creates is has a bit of a unique twist on the dragon lore. And it didn’t hurt that there was a lesbian love scene within like the first 20 pages. I think that alone managed to keep my interest for the rest of the book.

But “The Dragon’s Son” really bites. And what’s even worse is that the first book I ever read by her—actually her and Tracy Hickman together—was the first Dragonlance book, “The Dragon Of Autumn Twilight”. That is probably one of the coolest fantasy books out there. It’s D&D and I was in 4th grade when I first read it so there’s definitely some of that “childhood magic” flavoring my opinion. But still it’s really tough to see someone who wrote such a captivating book (series) write such crap. It makes you wonder if Tracy was the real talent behind that duo.

So if you’re into fantasy books and like dragon stories I would suggest you skip this one. Instead pick up the Dragonlance Chronicles. They kick ass.

A Storm Of Swords

Tonight I finished reading the third book in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song Of Ice And Fire” series, “A Storm Of Swords”. I’m almost speechless. I previously wrote about finishing the first book, “A Game Of Thrones”. Since then I’ve read the other two. This one of the best fantasy series, in fact one of the best series of any genre, that I’ve read.

The characters are so alive. The events are so real. It’s not for the feint of heart however. These are not books with your typical Hollywood endings were the good guys are always good and always come out on top. I’m almost tempted to tell you to not let yourself get too close to the characters because either something really bad will happen to them or they’ll do something really bad themselves. It’s not that there aren’t heroes in these books—there are. However, much like in real life, things don’t always go the way you’d want them to. And heroes are not always as squeaky clean as one might hope for.

The strong setting similar to the High Middle Ages that was established in the first book continues through the next two. However where the first book really only hints at the supernatural and things that would set this series firmly in the realm of fantasy—as opposed to straight-up fiction—“A Clash Of Kings” and in particular “A Storm Of Swords” adds much of the supernatural to the stories. These are definitely fantasy books. And although they are not set in D&D or Tolkien-esque worlds of dwarves, elves, goblins and wizards, they have an incredible richness and a very unique take on the fantasy realm.

Now the only downside is that Mr. Martin is still writing the fourth book, “A Feast For Crows”. We will have to wait a while still for the continuation of the tale. His website offers an update on his progress.

A Game Of Thrones

I just finished reading “A Game Of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin. What a great fantasy novel! Or maybe I should say, what a great medieval novel. There’s definitely a touch of fantasy in there but it’s not full of wizards and goblins like many fantasy books. This one sets up a mysterious and possibly supernatural event right from the start and proceeds into the tangled web of politics.

It’s more of a high middle ages book with knights defending the honor of ladies, and the thought that dragons, and giants, and the Others are fairy tales told to scare children. Much of the book focuses on the intrigues and machinations of the various families all vying for power in the kingdom. In fact at one point I was despairing because it seemed that everyone was so evil and deceitful. “Where is the hero?” I asked myself. But then I realized that the Stark family represented those ideals of “truth, liberty and justice” that we look for in our heroes. Everyone’s bound to screw up at times of course, but they still hold to those ideals.

But don’t worry there’s fantasy in there too. Fairy tales must have some basis in fact, right? Late in the book when many of the diverse story lines developed into enjoyably unexpected areas, we start start to see that maybe dragons are real after all. Maybe there are giants out beyond the wall. And just who are these mysterious Others that everyone keep exclaiming oaths against?

Towards the end I was experiencing that delicious combination of anxiety—badly wanting to know what happens—and heart-ache over the looming end. Thankfully there are at least 3 more books in this series. I will definitely pick them up!

Ender And The Net

I’ve started listening to my next audiobook, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I first read this book about 10 years ago and loved it. Enough time has passed since then, that I remember that I loved the book, and I remember the basic story but most of the specifics were gone. So experiencing it again but in a different format, audio, is a real pleasure.

Obviously the whole “children playing video games become the soldiers of tomorrow” is the primary focus of the book and part that I remembered from years ago. I don’t know who first came up with this idea. There was a speech that Reagan made when he was president which had the same basic idea. I’m not sure when that speech was. Did one of Reagan’s speech-writers read the book and appropriate the idea? Did Mr. Card use that as a basis for his book? Or was it some kind of convergent evolution?

The part that has struck me this time—and I should mention that I have not finished the book yet—is the story of Peter and Valentine, Ender’s siblings. This book was written 20 years ago. The Macintosh was just released. Personal computers were gaining in popularity but many homes did not have one. Modems existed but they certainly were only owned by a fraction of the computer-owning population which in turn was a fraction of the whole population. ARPA net existed and even though it connected many universities together, it wasn’t in use by the general college population. Usenet had been around for about 5 years or so but it relied on ARPA which meant again that there weren’t that many people using it.

The point is that some of the ideas computer-based communication were in place but they weren’t in widespread use nor probably even known about it by the majority. And yet in this culture, Mr. Card came with the ideas of the Nets. A communal posting area where all people can talk about their ideas. Peter and Valentine use it for specifically political purposes. And it dawned on me that’s really only now, 20 years later, that something like this exists. Ten years ago the internet was just learning to walk as far as the general public was concerned. The first image-based web browsers were just beginning to show up. The first large web entities like Yahoo were still a year or two off. Five years ago everybody knew about the internet and a large percentage of people were on it. Today it’s nearly universal. With the advent of cheap computers everyone has a TV, a phone and a computer in their home.

And now weblog software is easy enough to use and public awareness is large enough in the media that many, many people are finding their own voice on the internet. Not just being consumers of information but also providers. We’ve now entered the era of Mr. Card’s Nets.

Oh Nigel, Wherefore Art Thou?

I am almost done reading the Discworld series of books. Or I should actually say, I am almost done “reading” the Discworld series. For about a year and half now I have slowly been making my way through listening to the audiobooks of all the Discworld books from

Having completed “The Callahan Chronicals” on my morning drive to work yesterday, last night I started on Terry Pratchett’s “The Thief Of Time”.

It has been a very enjoyable experience to have someone read an entire series of books to me. Especially ones like this. If you like Douglas Adams, find Monty Python to be amusing, and are a sucker or subtle (or not so subtle) literary and pop culture references, then the Discworld might be for you.

But I’m not going to talk about the Discworld and how cool it is, or how much of a genius I think Terry Pratchett is. I’m going to talk about how much I miss Nigel Planer reading. This argument will (pardon the pun) fall on deaf ears if you haven’t listened to any of the Discworld audiobooks. (Sorry about that but I did just come off a stint with Callahan.)

Nigel Planer is the epitome of the Discworld. He is the Eric Idle, John Cleese, in fact the entire troupe of Monty Python in his readings. He “gets it”. The first twenty or so books are read by him. And they’re awesome. (Ok, there are a couple early witch books by a woman, but I’m going to ignore those.) Stephen Briggs, the reader on the later books, is ok. I don’t hate him by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not as good as Nigel.

I bring this up now because like I said, I’m on “The Thief Of Time”. This audiobook features an ensemble cast including Stephan Rudnicki and Harlan Ellison. It’s just plain awful. I’m sorry but Americans should not be reading this stuff. I’m an American myself, I should know. It just doesn’t have the right tone from an American. The accent is part of it. But I also think there’s a difference in thinking. A difference in which words are important. By “which words” I mean that a British reader seems to emphasize words in a sentence differently than an American would. Avid watchers of Monty Python will understand what I’m saying here.

Well, it’s still Pratchett and it’s still the Discworld. I’m not going to give up on it. It still is a bit funny. (Though not as funny as it could be.) I just miss Nigel. And I’m definitely going to go back and really read all these books at some point in the future.

Sci Fi And Fantasy Books To Read

This is a list of all the all the books in the Sci Fi Masterworks Series and the Fantasy Masterworks Series put out by the British publisher Gollancz. These books and stories are all considered to be “classics” by the Sci Fi and Fantasy community.

I am going to make the effort to read all of these books. (Though not necessarily these exact British pressing. They can be a bit more expensive.)

Books in bold I have finished reading. Books in italics I own but have not read, or have not finished reading.

I’ve got a lot of work to do!

SF Masterworks Series

  • “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman
  • “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
  • “Cities In Flight” by James Blish
  • “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester
  • “Babel Seventeen” by Samuel R. Delany
  • “Lord Of Light” by Roger Zelazny
  • “The Fifth Head Of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Gateway” by Frederik Pohl
  • “The Rediscovery Of Man” by Cordwainer Smith
  • “Last And First Men” by Olaf Stapledon
  • “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart
  • “Martian Time-Slip” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester
  • “Stand On Zanzibar” by John Brunner
  • “The Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin
  • “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard
  • “The Sirens Of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut
  • “Emphyrio” by Jack Vance
  • “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Star Maker” by Olaf Stapledon
  • “Behold The Man” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The Book Of Skulls” by Robert Silverberg
  • “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells
  • “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
  • “Ubik” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Timescape” by Gregory Benford
  • “More Than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon
  • “Man Plus” by Frederik Pohl
  • “A Case Of Conscience” by James Blish
  • “The Centauri Device” by M. John Harrison
  • “Dr. Bloodmoney” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Non-Stop” by Brian Aldiss
  • “The Fountains Of Paradise” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Pavane” by Keith Roberts
  • “Now Wait For Last Year” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Nova” by Samuel R. Delany
  • “The First Men In The Moon” by H.G. Wells
  • “The City And The Stars” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Blood Music” by Greg Bear
  • “Jem” by Frederik Pohl
  • “Bring The Jubilee” by Ward Moore
  • “Valis” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Lathe Of Heaven” by Ursula Le Guin
  • “The Complete Roderick” by John Sladek
  • “Flow, My Tears, The Policeman Said” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells
  • “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper
  • “A Fall Of Moondust” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Eon” by Greg Bear

Fantasy Masterworks Series

  • “The Book Of The New Sun: Shadow And Claw” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Time And The Gods Six Story Anthology” by Lord Dunsany
  • “The Worm Ouroboros” by E.R. Eddison
  • “Tales Of The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance
  • “Little, Big” by John Crowley
  • “The Chronicles Of Amber” by Roger Zelazny
  • “Viriconium” by M. John Harrison
  • “The Conan Chronicles: People Of The Black Circle” by Robert E. Howard
  • “The Land Of Laughs” by Jonathan Carroll
  • “The Complete Enchanter” by L. Sprague De Camp
  • “Lud-In-The-Mist” by Hope Mirrlees
  • “The Book Of The New Sun: Sword And Citadel” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin
  • “Beauty” by Sheri R. Tepper
  • “The King Of Elfland’s Daughter” by Lord Dunsany
  • “The Conan Chronicles: Hour Of The Dragon” by Robert E. Howard
  • “Elric” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The First Book Of Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber
  • “The Riddle-Master’s Game” by Patricia A. McKillip
  • “Time And Again” by Jack Finney
  • “Mistress Of Mistresses” by E.R. Eddison
  • “Gloriana, Or The Unfulfill’d Queen” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The Well Of The Unicorn” by Fletcher Pratt
  • “The Second Book Of Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber
  • “Voice Of Our Shadow” by Jonathan Carroll
  • “The Emperor Of Dreams: Best Fantasy Tales” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • “Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden” by Jack Vance
  • “Peace” by Gene Wolfe
  • “The Dragon Waiting: A Mague Of History” by John M. Ford
  • “Corum: The Prince In The Scarlet Robe” by Michael Moorcock
  • “Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams” by C.L. Moore
  • “The Broken Sword” by Poul Anderson
  • “The House On The Border Land And Other Stories” by William Hope Hodgson
  • “The Drawing Of The Dark” by Tim Powers
  • “Lyonesse: Green Pearl And Madouc” by Jack Vance
  • “The History Of The Runestaff” by Michael Moorcock
  • “A Voyage To Arcturus” by David Lindsay
  • “Three Hearts And Three Lions” by Poul Anderson
  • “The Mabinogion” by Evageline Walton
  • “Darker Than You Think: And Other Novels” by Jack Williamson
  • “The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Eldritch Horrors” by H.P. Lovecraft