The Duniverse

It’s no real surprise to theorize that any reader, let alone a reader of fantasy, to wish themselves in any of the worlds they find between pages. Or e-pages… you can call them pages in an e-book, right?

Anyway.

Over the course of my humble travels, I’ve experienced a few worlds I’d love to see, but not all would I really like to visit. Westeros, for one. Not too big on Middle-Earth, either (sorry guys). Azeroth – resounding no thanks. Four years was enough.

Two come to mind that I actually find to be above-average appealing, one of which would be Ravnica (City of Guilds), but more famously the planet Arrakis. Those who know it likely deduced this from the title of the post.

Arrakis, or “Dune,” is not a pleasant place. As a desert planet it has its charms, but overall I’d say it’s as dangerous a place to be as Pandora, from James Cameron’s Avatar. Another nice place, to be sure, but deadly in a different way.

But something about the Duniverse holds a firm grip on me; I’d be lying if I said I love everything about it, but the setting as created by Frank Herbert is one of the few I’ve come across where could think “Now there’s somewhere I could live.”

I only bring it up because I recently started reading Dune again, and I find myself enveloped in the same sense of wonder as the first time I read it. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way – this is coming from someone who rarely reads a book more than once. If you haven’t dear readers, I implore you to join me there.

What of you, dear readers? What worlds have you found and loved the most?

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On Redwall

Long ago, when I was a wee lad of single-digit age, I had a friend who at the time exhibited learning difficulties, and did not learn to read until much later. During this time, I remember having sleepovers at his house, and witnessing his mother read to him at bed time. Though I was personally exposed to very little of this, I do have fond memories of my old friend telling me about his favorite stories – about a mouse with a sword forged from the iron of a fallen star, about how foxes were sly people, and how snakes and cats were as dragons.

Then, some twenty years later, I finally came around to reading the first of these books, Redwall, by Brian Jacques, a few months ago. Recently, having completed a number of other books since, I have found myself coming back to the series, and am as of this writing have completed the second book, Mossflower.

In a word, delightful. The Redwall books are clearly written for younglings,  and the writer does not hide it (unlike the impression I got from Ender’s Game and Ready Player One). I normally am not interested in YA books, but something about the setting and atmosphere, if not the complexity of the plot, is intriguing. Brian Jacques is a wonderful storyteller and his characters feel alive, and there is a charm to the simplicity of things that truly makes for a story that is just plain fun to hear.

In understanding this, I think that after A Storm of Swords, perhaps the lightness of the subject matter is sort of a relief. Also, I’m quite familiar with Don Bluth’s animated The Secret of NIMH, and as such I wonder whether or not that primed me in my youth to enjoy stories about intelligent rodents, or I’m just drawn to that stuff regardless.

One day perhaps, I will come upon the opportunity to reading a book to my nephew, and in reading Redwall, I count this as among the top choices. Not far behind it would lilely be the Chronicles of Narnia, starting, of course, with The Magician’s Nephew.

As an aside, I have been listening to Redwall books as I have most books lately. It is worth saying that the Redwall series audiobook is tremendous – because it can be better describes as an audiodrama, with a wide cast and Brian Jacque himself narrating. This gives strength to the books, and I love them all the more for it.

Yet as I hear the words, I am saddened as well as joyed, because I know thst yet another one of my favorite authors has moved on the Dark Forest.

On Storm of Swords

I recently completed A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin. I suppose as far as fantasy goes, the Song of Ice and Fire series is all the rage these days. To that end, I believe it is safe to assume that you, dear readers, know what I’m talking about. It is not the lone opinion of this humble blogger that these books are popular, for if nothing else, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the HBO drama,  Game of Thrones. No doubt the advent of the series gave rise to the popularity of the books. Worked on me, but it’s interesting to see that the first of these titles was published 1996.

Before the Blizzardian Scourge, mind you.

Anyway.

I’m not going to talk about how awesome Game of Thrones is, or about comparisons between the show and the equally acclaimed books. My opinion on these as works of art and storytelling is overall positive, but I’m far from a fanboy. Three books is enough for me, at least at the moment – and yes, I did read them in time before the Red Wedding hit screens around the world. But I’m not even going to talk about that.

I simply wanted to present a question: Why is it television/feature films are considered the highest form of art? Why does our society believe that if they “make a movie about it” that’s how you know it’s ‘great’? As if that’s the highest, greatest thing that can ever happen?

Might have something to do with money. But we’re writers! We care about the craft, the art! …mostly.

I first came across this question when listening to commentary by Orson Scott Card, on his book Ender’s Game. Not getting into that either. All politics aside, he raised an interesting point, that to him, ideally, his work was perhaps best suited to an Audio Drama (which I how I happened to consume it), and to him sure, a movie would be great, but it’s not the highest aspiration. I found that interesting, and yes in case you haven’t heard, Ender’s Game is in fact due in theaters November 2013.

So, why movies? Most of us fantasy writers hone our craft and attempt to write great stories, convincing characters, driving plots, fun monsters and whatever the heck else we, and the audience, might want. But even I fall victim to the thought of “Wouldn’t it be neat if they made my book(s) for the silver screen?”

Truth is though, most books-made-into-movies are awful. They aren’t the same piece. They aren’t always good, let alone great, with very few exceptions. Game of Thrones happens to be one of those exceptions. In fact, I rather prefer the series over the books, for my own reasons. But who knows, maybe within the next year, in waiting for Season 4, I may pick up the next in the series.

Oh right, Season 4 is just the last third of Book Three. Seriously looking forward to that, actually.

Merfolk

There’s been a lot of buzz about merfolk lately, though I suppose I’m a little late to the party. Still fun to hear, though.

Thanks to the folks over at Animal Planet, where they recently aired a special entitled “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” which is in fact a sort of sequel to an older episode from a year prior.  This show was of course about mermaids and mermen, and because of this I heard that all manner of fishy people have made their way into the media. We’ve got imaginative storytellers, ambitious producers, and of course, gullible viewers – not to mention the actual oceanic swimmers themselves.

Not bad for a speculative science-fiction, because of course that’s what it is.

I admittedly first heard about this from one of my favorite podcasts, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, (find them here: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ ) who are overall awesome, and you know this an obscure fantasy blogger said it. You’d think I would have heard about it somewhere else, sooner, considering you know, its sorta my thing, but hey, there it is.

At any rate, I’m not interested so much in the tons of people who ended up calling National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which prompted them to release a public statement say “No, sorry guys, they aren’t real.” Nor am I particularly interested in the fact that airing the episode garnered a huge viewership – we’re talking the neighborhood of 3.6 million people, people. After all, their supporting “evidence” was a dark, blurry video supposedly filmed off the coast of Greenland (an Icelandic GeoSurvey scientist). The video itself is not hard to find on youtube.

What is interesting to me is how long we humans have had a fascination with merfolk. The earliest mermaid story is first known to appear in Assyria circa 1,000 BCE, but according to our friends at the Skeptics Guide, merfolk appear on cave paintings as long as 30,000 years ago. Now that’s cool.

Setting aside the Aquatic Ape Theory, people have likely always had a sort of dread fascination with the sea. It has been personified, deified, loved, hated and well, in more recent history, rather disrespected. I do my part, meager as it is, to keep my own pollution to a minimum when I can, but I’m not going to get into the “water=life” rhetoric either. We’re  talking about mermaids here. We’re talking about something people have imagined for a very long time, for before there was ever a concept of traveling upward and into the vast sea of outer space, there was fear and imagination revolving around a vast sea much closer to home, yet more alien than flying saucers and face-huggers.

They (that is, NOAA) estimate that 95% of the ocean is still unexplored. You want to talk about frontiers? Untapped markets? Knowledge of beasties we’ve yet to imagine? Oh yes, dear readers, mermaids are probably the substance of an idle (or scared) man’s imagination, but there’s still a lot we haven’t seen.

Yeah, no.