So Many Narrators

“So tell me,” I said to Blake Hausladen as he sat down across from me, “where did all the other books come from?  The series I know has two books and a novella.”  We were in Capricon’s Cafe, a low-key quiet area for small concerts and book readings, one of which Blake had just finished upon the nearby stage.  And I desperately wanted to know what I’d been missing.  “When you post on Facebook about this being the last of the Vesteal series,” I continued, gesturing to the brick he was signing for me, “there’s a lot more than three covers.”

He laughed and explained.  I, being an experienced reader, would note that most books are divided into parts, long sections of about 75 pages up to half the length of the book.  For those with e-readers and impatience, those smaller sections have been published individually.  Across the whole series there are fifteen in all.  In fact, the novella The Silent Rebellion is no more than that first section of the final book of the physical trilogy, The Vastness.  He merely thought to put it out on its own as a way to encourage patient readers and draw in new ones.

This explains why The Silent Rebellion is by far the most cohesive portion of the entire series.  Like many new authors, Blake writes in first person.  The problem is that he utilizes multiple viewpoint characters.  Ghosts in the Yew was a little more than I’d prefer, though it only featured four narrators; Barok, Dia, Geart, and Leger.  And at least each chapter opens by telling you who’s talking.  Although it can be confusing because each chapter also has a subtitle of sorts, listening either what day or passage of days is covered, or what the focus of the chapter will be, whether it be an object, an action, or another person.  However, then we move on to Native Silver and our first four narrators are joined by Sikhek, Soma O’Nropeel, and Evand Yentif – nearly doubling the number of perspectives.  Then The Silent Rebellion brings in Emi, the last narrator.

In the novella, which I did not read on its own because it is complete within The Vastness, Emi is the only narrator.  We see what was happening to the churls (slaves) in Bessradi during the chaotic events of Native Silver‘s climax through her eyes as she discovers her own power.  Regardless of the larger world, I do thoroughly enjoy The Silent Rebellion.

But I spent a lot of The Vastness trying to figure out what was going on as Hausladen started breaking the rules of his world.  Well, maybe not breaking.  Again, the author is going to know more about the underlying rules than the reader.  But there are a lot of elements in The Vastness that I question as they seem to come straight out of left field.

First and foremost is, well, the Vastness.  I think it’s the ocean…but regardless, it is the third great Spirit, equal in power to the Earth and the Shadow.  And while it hasn’t played an active role before now, it seems to be waking as well.  Although I have to snort at myself.  “Hasn’t played an active role” as in I cannot recall any kind of clues dropped in either preceding novel that indicate a trio instead of a dichotomy.  I have to check because some of the aspects of this book I took issue with I really shouldn’t have, as they were laid out in some way previously, even though I chose not to consider them foreshadowing.

Also, everyone is terrible.  Seriously, part of The Vastness is no longer being able to trust any character to remain good and worth cheering for.  People grow and change over time and become selfish and greedy.  And it’s just not fair to them or the reader.  So many times I’ve wanted to slap narrators or the people they’re dealing with.

Part of my frustration is that the ending made it clear that this was always the intent, always what was being built up, and it had callbacks resonating throughout the whole series.  And yet…so much of the series was wasted on economics, on building, on wandering all over Zoviya trying to accomplish goals rendered moot by the finale.  I know that authors like to write about their own interests, but it can’t be at the cost of the story itself.  Because of this, the plot was often rushed and confused.

And that doesn’t mention the grammatical errors.  No typos, but a few wrong words, a couple wrong names…you get the idea.

And yet…that ending.  How I hate it when I’m just about ready to wash my hands of a book or series and then out of nowhere comes that beautifully satisfying ending.  Well, mostly satisfying.  There are still aspects that I’m not thrilled about, still explanations I wanted, but any good book should leave some questions unanswered.

Nothing about The Vastness makes me want to reread this series any quicker than necessary, and I don’t expect to revisit Vesteal for another four years at least.  But…I’ll be keeping these books.  They’ll never be my favorites, but they’re not ones I’ll toss as I reach the point of needing more shelf space.

In other news, I found out about Barnes & Noble’s big blowout sale with a bunch of stuff available for half off completely by accident.  Over the weekend I went over to acquire books for friends – I comitted to this thing on Facebook to promote reading and offered to get books for the first five people to comment.  The first of those arrived in my friend’s mailbox on Monday, she opened it Tuesday, and finished it Wednesday.  She’s very happy.  The second of those is in the mail now, set to arrive on Monday again and I’m tracking it like a crazy person.  I have the other three books, but these people I will be seeing in person, starting this weekend.

My point is that I went to Barnes & Noble to get the book currently in the mail and managed to find the book for this weekend as well.  On my receipt was an ad for the blowout sale and I figured it would be worth taking a look.  When I checked the website last night, I couldn’t resist Batman: White Knight for only ten dollars.  I mean, that’s less than even Amazon would have you spend…and I didn’t have to pay shipping as I told them I’d pick it up at my local store.  Which I did on my way home tonight.  I was very tempted to reread it tonight, but I think I’m not in the right mindset for it.

As for tomorrow, I really have no idea.  Definitely not more brickish fantasy for a bit.  Luckily a weekend is coming up because I’d like to read some comics curled up in my home instead of toting a large stack to work.

Memory is Kinder

It never ceases to amaze me how much or how little of a book can be remembered after a space of years.  Native Silver, book two in Blake Hausladen’s Vesteal series, was kickstarted into publishing back in 2014.  So it’s been close to five years since I last read it.  And, frankly, I did not remember much at all.  I remembered two details from the end of the story, no more than that.  And…wow does a lot happen.

You’ll remember that book one, Ghosts in the Yew, kicked off with Prince Barok Yentif being exiled to the province of Enhedu.  He was, as was fitting for a son of the Exaltier, made arilas (governor) of the province.  Of course, Enhedu was the most wretched and undeveloped of all the provinces in the Yentifs’ empire.  Which meant that a lot of the first book was spent watching Barok and his people create industries and a real economy.  That is, of course, expanded upon in the second book.

Here we see Barok trying to open trade routes with other provinces, for Enhedu does not need all of the goods, especially the finished products, that they produce.  Revenue is necessary and trade would produce it.  Of course, given that Barok’s father the Exaltier is on the decline, there’s bloody conflict in more than one region of the empire.  Fortunately, the alsman Barok was exiled with, Leger Mertone, is a capable war hero who’s been training up a real army for Enhedu.

And that doesn’t even begin to get into all the stuff that starts happening in the pages leading up to the Exaltier’s death.  And no, that’s no spoiler.  He was clearly going downhill in the first book and the only questions about it in Native Silver are “how will he die” and “who will succeed him”?  After all, just because the eldest living son is Crown Prince does not mean he’s capable of becoming the new Exaltier.  Which says nothing of the requirement that an Exaltier have sons in order to take control…kids are kind of important in this culture.  As a status in many cases, rather than as people, but that’s a different discussion and I’m not going off on that tangent.

It’s taken me so many days to finish the book because I’ve been alternately bored and captivated.  Like I said, there’s a couple things I clearly remembered and some characters that I find far more interesting than others.  But there’s a lot of events that I find uninteresting and not strictly necessary to the plot and I just…don’t want to read them.  I suppose I could theoretically skip over those pages, but that’s not how I read books.  If I want to go through and read certain sections – I do that.  But that’s not what I consider reading the book.  So you’ll note that when I do go back and reread highlights I don’t discuss them here.  Hell, I did it over the weekend with Guardian of the Promise by Irene Radford.

I do still want to know where this is going, which is why I’ve book three on my shelf, purchased at the convention.  But memory has been kinder to Hausladen’s work than I realized.  Or…maybe I did know.  After all, it’s been years since I reread any of it.

For Love of 119

Several years ago at Capricon, I met an author armed with a smile, a handshake, and a single book. I’d seen him several times already in the convention halls, which gave him as much a claim on my attention as anyone else. He was at the signing table at the time, barking his book to all who would listen. And so he called out to me. I, having just come from my first ever visit to the Judging a Book by Page 119 panel, decided to give it a shot. His reaction, which I’ve since learned is typical, was to ask “what on earth is on page 119?”

For the record, page 119 of this book is the final page in a chapter, showing a cliffhanger of a confrontation between two men whom the reader hopes will learn to trust each other. Also a threat against drunkenness.

Anyway, that’s how I came to buy Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen. It’s a fantasy meant to be on an epic scale, though we focus mainly on a single province – a province that was once a kingdom in its own right. But let me back up a bit.

Barok Yentif is a son of the Exaltier Vall Yentif. The Exaltier is functionally an emperor and he has more than a hundred sons, each and every one of them a Prince. The family is, on the whole, largely corrupt and spoiled. So when Barok finds himself unexpectedly exiled to the distant province Enhedu, he’s not thrilled. Oh sure, he was made arilas, or ruler of the province, answerable only to the Exaltier. But it’s a rural place, with a whole one taxpayer on its rolls. So what if this rulership is his birthright from his long dead mother? It’s a nothing of a place.

And he’s going to be stuck there for life. However, Barok is not without allies. His newly appointed alsman, Leger Mertone, is a drunkard who somehow has to function as seneschal. And his loyal guardsman Geart Goib is imprisoned as a party to the crimes Barok was exiled for. But the twist that may just save them all is Dia, a fully trained courtesan just graduated before the whole mess starts.

There is a lot going on in this book. It covers roughly a year’s worth of time, but you can be forgiven for thinking it longer. Hausladen has varied interests including agriculture, military, and economical history and trends. All of these are utilized to build a more realistic world and give weight to the events of Ghosts in the Yew. Not to mention the handwritten reports, ledgers, and letters included. I’ve heard him speak about how he physically produced much of this content and, well, I’m not surprised. A lot of the cursive is very clearly handwritten and not the easiest to read. Frankly, I think a lot of people from younger generations may not be able to read those parts at all because they don’t teach cursive in schools anymore. But that’s a different subject.

There’s often random maps, drawings, or photos included as part of the chapter headings. And…I usually ignore them. It’s nice that Hausladen has so much background and support for his world. I am more interested in the story than anything else. Except the maps. I do always like knowing where our characters are in relation to other important geographical and topographical features.

I did note, on today’s readthrough (well, yesterday’s as you’re reading this, I finished right around midnight), that there is a typo on one page. It’s a minor one. “If” instead of “in” if I remember correctly, and so barely worth mentioning. I’ve seen far, far worse.

As I’ve implied, this is not the first time I’ve read Ghosts in the Yew. I’d have to do some digging to figure just how long ago, but it must’ve been 2011 or 2012 when I bought the book. It’s not bad, although I don’t think I’ve sought to reread it outside of having acquired new volumes to continue the story. I like it, yes, but it feels like it could’ve used another round of editing in some respects. The more visual additions like the letters and sketches and whatnot just seem unnecessary and lead to some odd formatting and spacing in the book that I don’t find conducive to a flowing narrative. Squinting at a single cursive word and trying to read it three times is not my preferred method of experiencing a novel.

I feel a bit bad saying that. Blake’s a nice guy who loves his creation and has poured so many hundreds of hours into it. I feel it and I get it, but there’s definitely a point when you have to figure that most of your readers will not care about the background. There’s the understanding that very few people will read through every line in your cast of characters, will persevere into your glossary, and will memorize your other appendices. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate such inclusions or that I’ll never utilize them to clarify who I’m looking at, what they mean, or what these events indicate on the whole. But I generally look at additional materials as a resource if I need them…and I generally don’t.

And, it bears repeating, I really hate awkward formatting. There are cases where there’s an actual space between paragraphs, weird amounts of space bare to feature letters whose size is smaller than that of the whole page, but sometimes share the space with normal text, and of course, widows and orphans. These items in particular are just aesthetic features, but they really do help make (or break) the reading experience for me. There’s the expectation of how text on a page should look and breaking that expectation draws the eye. It’s one thing for that to be a conscious design choice such as in The Octopus Rises (and that is definitely a fascinating book to discuss design-wise), but it’s another thing for those changes to be unnecessary for the sake of a quirk.

With any work of literature, there’s a fine line between enough detail that people can imagine they’re standing next to the action and so much detail that readers are drowning in it. At this year’s page 119 panel, I was asked why I gave a passage a thumbs down without hesitation. I replied that I wasn’t in the mood for sci-fi and really long glamour shots. Because, seriously, the passage included what had to be at least two, maybe three pages of description. Sure, I understood that we were arriving at a long-awaited goal, but 119 is generally a quarter to a third into the book. It is not the time for big introductions. Those should happen earlier or later. And the description was just putting me to sleep because absolutely nothing was happening but a ship coming in slowly for a landing. I had flashbacks to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the ridiculously long glamour shot of the Enterprise.

So, while detail is not the devil, it’s very easy to use too much and bury your readers under meaningless sensation while they flounder around trying to find the plot. And on that note, I do need some sleep.

I didn’t put this up earlier because, despite having plans for the day, there was always the chance that I would finish something, either the next Hausladen brick or something else.  That wasn’t the case, but we’ll see what happens next.

I May Have Jumped In Deep

I’ve never read The Silmarillion. I know what it generally is; a collection of backstory, mythology, and other miscellaneous information fleshing out Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth.  I’ve at least one friend who claims this is their favorite book in the series.  Me, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and overall found it so dry that I don’t need to read anything else from Tolkien.

Reading Canticles Mythos Series Anthology I: The First Sires feels like reading The Silmarillion without having read either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.  All of the stories in this collection take place in the Age of Origin, which is roughly the first thousand years counted in the world.  I guess.  I’m not wholly clear on everything.  And the stories mostly read like the opening acts of various books or series, where the last line of each could be “and the rest is history”.  But since I don’t know the history, I’m floundering a bit.

So, let’s back up.  This is from Canticles which, from what I understand, is a group of people creating a world together across various mediums.  Not just literature, but film and music as well.  I first heard about the project a couple years ago when Alexander James Adams was at one of my local cons.  He does a lot of the music and is an actor as well.  (He was supposed to be there this past weekend, but was unable due to weather.  Although I later heard that weather caused a tree to fall onto someone’s driveway…)  Anyway, if you want to know more about the project as a whole, you can look at their Patreon.  I’m only here to talk about the one book I read.

As far as books go, this is another case of “I spent long enough talking to the author that I felt obligated to buy the book”, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There are twelve stories within, each featuring one of the twelve different races making up the world of Canticles.  The stories are told in chronological order, although the dates range from 629 at the earliest to 972 at the latest.  Little is said about lifespans, but we can assume that most, if not all, of the characters in the first stories are dead before the last.

Several stories discuss interactions between the races and so it’s not common for one story to pick up where the previous ended, just from a different point of view.  It gives me the continuity I crave, which I do appreciate.  Because this book was a struggle.  Like I said, this is history, legend, and myth for the world of Canticles.  But because I am unfamiliar with the present timeline, I have no idea how what I’ve read informs it.  I don’t know how these formational events created some related (or not) present day.

What redeems the book for me is the fact that Matthew R.R. Morrese is a good writer.  The characters are relatable and likable, even when they seem utterly foreign.  They’re strong enough to keep my interest in the individual stories even when I am trying to figure out how these tales can possibly fit into a whole cloth of history.  Hell, I get pissed off at the little map bits shown here and there because not once in the volume is a world map.

So, I would read more.  I’m definitely interested in the world and want to know what was shaped by these events.  It’s that lack of knowledge that made this book more annoying than it should be.  Although I really only have myself to blame.  So, I’ll probably add Canticles to my list of monthly patreon support and see what I can do about remedying my ignorance.  Even when I know so little about what I’m reading, I can tell that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating the world.  Several of the twelve races seem distinctly humanlike, to the point where I have no doubt they can interbreed if they choose.  Others are very different and while they might be able to interbreed, there could be difficulties including just the physical compatibility.  Also there’s gods and some forms of magic and it hits all the right buttons for me.

Canticles: The First Sires is a collection of figures who will become larger than life in the memories of those who come later.  Each individual is an enjoyable read and shares with us a portion of their understanding of the world.  This book might not be the best jumping-on point, but there are worse ways to get involved.

Then, because I finished Canticles on lunch, I needed something to read over dinner. Which meant returning to my stack and pulling out Beetle Bailey: Take Ten.  It’s more escapades of everyone’s favorite lazy GI.  Although Sarge in a dress is a…special image.  I was a little disappointed because I don’t have a huge number of these books and the first set of panels in this volume was in one of the others.  Luckily, nothing else was a repeat.  Still, it was nice to have something to read for the few short minutes I needed this evening.

I’m definitely craving something longer to read next, but whatever that may be can wait until morning.

Independent Books

Over the weekend a friend of mine said it was good that I read self-published books. I had to think about that for a bit. I mean, she’s not wrong. I do read self-published books. They are not the first things I gravitate to though, as I tend to look for the professionally published novels. Which is weird when you think about it because I know full well that a lot of those books are crap. Terry Brooks’ Shannara series is utter crap that’s sold millions of copies – years before a certain young adult vampire series. Hell, I was just ranting last month about the obscene errors in a professionally published book.

So what makes books from the big publishing houses “inherently better” than self-published? Oh sure, they have the big name authors like Mercedes Lackey, David Weber, etc. But other known names like Barbara Hambly seem to have gone with a smaller press. I know there’s industry politics and such, plus a lot of money changing hands, but does it really just come down to name and brand recognition?

Well, no, there’s also my preferred format, the mass market paperback. From what I understand, the greatest return on investment comes from selling hardcovers. Which is unsurprising when the cheapest generally start at about $23 and can go up to $35 for your average novel. I’m pretty sure the margin goes down when you shift to oversized paperbacks, although those are also cheaper to produce than hardbacks, which is why all self-published books seem to end up in that format. But the mass market paperbacks? I get the feeling indie authors and presses would lose money on them. They’re not set up to manufacture the things and probably don’t have the reach or the audience to recoup the investment.

So I read a lot of books from the big companies because I’m a fan of the smallest, cheapest format. Mostly because it’s not unwieldly or overly heavy, and it allows me to fit more books on my shelf than any other type. I would probably not mind oversized paperbacks and hardcovers as much if they were at least consistently sized. But when I’m getting ridiculous height variations within a series from the same publisher…I get a bit annoyed. And that is again, a major publisher, not a small press.

Actually, I think the small press books are at least consistently sized within the same press. Which is a benefit. Now if only I could manage to group enough of those together to double-stack…but I’m getting off topic.

The point is that I think most of the reasons why I don’t read as many self-published books are because of my preferred format and price. Indie author pricing ranges from $10 for an oversized paperback to $35 for a hardcover (and yes, I just paid both of these prices over the weekend). Generally I find most of the oversized paperbacks run about $15 a pop, at least when you’re buying from the author in person. The books can be more on amazon sometimes, plus it’s way more fun to buy from the author. And not just because they’ll sign and personalize for you without asking.

Of course, because these indie authors are awesome people who excel at networking, they are personable and fun to talk to. Which makes me feel guilty if I do so and don’t then buy their book. Or at least one book. Because I am still a cautious buyer with unknown authors and don’t usually buy more than one book at a time until I know what I’m dealing with. Even with my friend Lauren Jankowski; I bought Sere From the Green by itself, but then contacted her and set up a time to meet in person and get the next three books after I devoured the first.

So when I was talking with Lauren on Thursday and we were accosted by a friend of hers with fabulously bright blue hair, I was already inclined towards K.M. Herkes. After all, we’re all con friends at the very least. And so I felt somewhat obligated to pick up Rough Passages at the table Herkes shared with other friends. The premise was intriguing as well, and overall the book wasn’t particularly long. I told Herkes (as I showed off my tongue bookmark) that it would be the next book [novel] I read now that I had finished Single White Vampire Seeks Same. And yes, you can say I am a liar but it is definitely the next novel I read!

In the world of Rough Passages, some people have abilities. Powers, mutations, anything and everything you can imagine and still technically be human. There’s just one little quirk: they don’t manifest until middle age. Usually between 40 and 55 years of age. So you’ve got these parents and grandparents flaring up into the kinds of crises most young adult books reserve for teenagers. Of course, this has been happening for several decades now and while they can’t predict exactly when or where such a rollover (as the common term is) will occur, they’ve put together the best methods they can for dealing with it. Every metahuman has to be trained in the use of their powers. The more destructive types then do military service while those whose abilities are less concerning can be released back into the general public. Of course their lives will never be quite the same again…but they can certainly try. For their sakes and the sakes of their families, they have to.

Rough Passages is the first book in this world. It sets up the concept, the history, and showcases several characters and examples. There’s Valerie, the single mother of two whom we see go from null to rollover. Also Jack Coby, an early-onset case (he rolled over at fourteen), who’s got the potential to be a good officer if he’s given the chance. Ruth is something of a fanatic and has got to have some real political and probably religious ramifications coming for the series as a whole. And then there’s Elena, a young teenager about to be tested for her r-factor, though such a thing most likely wouldn’t manifest for decades.

All of the characters, including the ones I’ve omitted, are interesting and compelling to one degree or another. All of them leave me wanting more. I mentioned that the book isn’t particularly long, hence my eagerness to read it sooner because it wouldn’t tie me down very long. The story itself is only 166 pages, with another eight pages of appendices about power rankings and slang, making this a very short book. If this was one of the more conventionally published works I’ve read, what I’ve got here would be the first book within the book, the opening section of the overall novel. The physical volume itself would have at least two more books within, progressing the story and timeline and allowing each character to grow and adapt to the changing situation of the plot.

But writing that kind of brick takes a lot more time, and the overall cost of the book would be higher. So, for an independent author, it’s probably more worthwhile to stick to the shorter books that are easier to convince new readers to buy. Less time and money needed to invest and gain interest. I personally would prefer the brick, but that’s because the ending here is too much of a cliffhanger. Not a literal “will they live or will they die?” sort of thing, but it’s obvious that this book exists mainly to set things up and set various elements in motion. It’s too soon to even see the shape of the main plot, so there’s no way the ending can truly be satisfying.

I guess I could think of it as being the first “arc” of a television season, although even that term has connotations of a complete story. But it does carry some of the meaning of an incomplete tale that is still in its formative stages. Hellsing it is not.

Of all the books I’ve read, this reminds me most of Mercedes Lackey’s (and friends’) Invasion series, the Secret World Chronicle. They have a similar government presence when dealing with metahumans, and even some similarities in history – such as everything first showing up during World War II. And that does make me wonder how far the similarities will go, if Herkes means to turn her world into hell in a handbasket…

I am genuinely intrigued by Rough Passages. I want to read more. I like most of the characters and want to know what happens to them. I’m having a hard time saying outright that I like the book because for me, this just feels like an introduction, not something that stands on its own. But it’s obviously a good introduction because it’s not enough.

Very Visual

As expected, I’ve now finished rereading Hellsing 5-8. I could have cheated and gone online to find scans or scanlations of the last two volumes, but that would be annoying in multiple ways, including the fact that the manga chapters are not well labelled in the physical copies. And since I do have Hellsing Ultimate to put in…why not? I’ve got episode IX onscreen now, which does overlap somewhat with volume 8. Not that this is a bad thing, I’d rather have overlap when transitioning from one medium to another than a gap.

Does it surprise you to learn that most of Hellsing is one massive conflict? Sure, you need a conflict to really create any kind of plot, but volume five kicks off the Battle of London that will last the entire rest of the series. There are set pieces within this massive engagement and some key one-on-one duels, but literally six volumes of manga is a giant battle in London and surrounding environs. There’s actually some lines that describe other conflicts in several international locations, but the focus of the series has ever been on England.

It’s a weird balance when you think of it. That’s half of the entire manga series devoted to a single engagement. Oh sure, other notable books have massive battles that take up a ridiculous amount of time, but the sheer percentage of Hellsing is far higher than any other I’ve seen.

Of course, the books I have run out before one of the most emotional scenes in the series (it’s onscreen now as I type this) but at least I have it in some format. As I said before, I don’t really need the Hellsing manga. I’ve read it all and own both anime series. But it’s a classic for good reason, even buried under Christian symbolism. So I still have no regrets for picking up eight volumes in the library sale. They were there and the price was right. It would be nice to find the other two in a similar price range, but it may be years given the values I’m seeing online. Until then, I’ll have the discs to enjoy. Which are cleaned up, beautifully animated, and have a killer soundtrack. And (somewhat) better accents.

For the anime they also cut out a lot of the bonus material for Heinkel and Yumie, the Section XIII assassins of the Vatican. And changed Heinkel to male instead of female. Of course, those bonus stories didn’t add a lot to the main plot. And Heinkel’s gender really doesn’t matter. He and Yumie are partners regardless and care for each other because of it.

I do love Hellsing. Sure, part of it may be my personal interest in vampires, but I was first exposed to the original anime and enjoyed it then. When I stumbled across scanlations of the manga, I fell in love all over again. And then my discovery of Hellsing Ultimate coincided with my birthday…and there was a simple way to get my hands on all of it.

There’s always something satisfying about revisiting a good series like Hellsing. I always thoroughly enjoy myself from the highest highs to the lowest lows. There’s more I hope to read today after this, but first…anime.

Continuing my theme of visually-based works that I got for cheap, I started in on the one real stack I got at the convention – Beetle Bailey. You know, that newspaper strip about army GIs? I remember reading it as a kid, then the local papers stopped including it. Sometimes I’d see it on vacation when the hotel had a paper that still carried the strip. I’ve always wanted to read more, but never had the opportunity. So when I saw a number of collections in a box marked “two for $1”, I gave in to temptation.

Today I got through Beetle Bailey, Beetle Bailey: Not Reverse!, Beetle Bailey on Parade, and Shape Up or Ship Out, Beetle Bailey. According to Wikipedia (which I used to help me figure out what order to read these in), none of these are the oldest books, but that’s fine. In general, this is not the kind of strip that really needs to be read in a particular order. Well, to be fair, most newspaper strips are meant that way. After all, not everyone reads the paper every day and while they want to be entertained by the comics, they need to be able to follow the few panels included without having to know all the backstory that may exist. Just within these books here I’ve seen the introduction of Sarge’s dog Otto and Lt Flap, the token black character.

I don’t think I’ve actually seen Lt Flap in a strip before, and a lot of his jokes are about discrimination or lack thereof. For example, Beetle refuses to accept the lieutenant’s authority because he doesn’t accept any other officer’s authority. Which is nondiscriminatory…but also not what the army wants out of a private. Although some jokes are timeless and don’t even require a vague familiarity with the armed forces.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of jokes that I know I wouldn’t have understood as a kid because I hadn’t read much military fiction at the time and don’t come from a family involved in any of the branches of service. In fact, I’ve got several family stories of how relatives avoided the draft…and only one of them does not involve money changing hands. (I am not getting into details.) However, I have read enough military fiction by now to have a better understanding of and appreciation for the culture that’s informing these jokes.

There are definitely some dated jokes that would not fly today at all. The ones that make me narrow my eyes are generally the sexist ones involving General Halftrack’s attractive secretary. That’s not to say there aren’t other strips of questionable content, just that those are the most obvious offenders.

Because there’s no real story to follow, I don’t feel bad about not being able to tear through the entire stack today as I’d vaguely hoped. It would be nice, but on the other hand I’ll have the rest of these to fill in gaps between one longer book and the next, especially if I’m switching series or going from one standalone to another. I often prefer to start new books in the morning, not at night after I finish the last and its related blog post. Call me weird, but it works for me.

I don’t know how many of these books I’ll choose to keep in the end. I will retain all of them at least until I’m done reading the lot, but then I’m not sure. I do know that I probably won’t buy more books from the series, just because I don’t need them and they’re not that important to me. I bought the whole lot I found because the price was right and I had no way of knowing which books were better to read than others, especially because most were wrapped in plastic.

These books are entertaining for the most part and made me smile more than once. I’ve already included one of the best strips above, out of Beetle Bailey on Parade. We’ll see how future volumes go, when I get to them.

Bedtime

Well, I survived the convention and am absolutely tuckered out. I’ve been reading to ensure that I go to bed at a normal time and don’t wake up in the middle of the night because my body’s gotten what it considers to be a normal amount of sleep. Of course, it’s Sunday after a four day con and my ability to focus is minimal at best. Which is why it can’t be any surprise that I finally got around to reading more of my library sale acquisitions, Hellsing 1-4. I’d been thinking about rereading them ever since I got my hands on them, but there was always something else in the way. Well, I did manage to pick up something that might require even less effort to read, but that would still be new material for me which means it would be more difficult to read in this state than Hellsing.

What can be said about Hellsing? It’s a manga series from the late nineties loosely based on Bram Stoker’s work. It’s set mostly in England and draws heavily on Christian…stuff. I’m loose on that part of it even at the best of times and right now I am not up for analyzing a foreign religion. The manga itself is probably classed as horror due to the vampires and violence, although there’s also some comedy and sexuality. There’s been discussion on Seras Victoria’s changing bust size in the anime and, well, it’s not exactly subtle in the manga.

The Hellsing organization is a religious government group responsible for safeguarding Queen and country from supernatural threats. Namely vampires. There’s been an upsurge in such incidents of late – an unnaturally high occurrence rate. Something stinks and it’s Hellsing’s job to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it.

The story opens in the small town of Cheddar which is rapidly destroyed by a vampire. Hellsing is sent in…and Hellsing sends in a single agent. This is, of course, Alucard, the Hellsing organization’s “pet” vampire. He takes care of the mess and brings the police girl, young Seras Victoria, under his wing. She ends up as the audience stand-in as she tries to understand this strange new world of evil night creatures, those who fight against the, and her own place within it.

Hellsing is classic. The original anime suffers from being based on just the first two volumes with no real understanding of how the third really starts delving into the main plot of the ten volumes. The new anime is…let’s just say I love it and when I run out of manga I’ll probably finish up by rewatching the last episode or two. If I have time.

It’s been a long, exhausting weekend. But a good one for all that. I did take home more books than I had feared, though not with the same distribution that I would prefer. I didn’t get more than a couple books that I had specifically hoped to acquire, but that’s life sometimes. I’ll simply have to hope and continue trying to track down those specific volumes I seek. As has been aid before, sometimes the hunt itself is more important than the book. Because in the age of the internet yes, I can find just about anything online. However, there’s still no substitute for seeing and handling books in person to truly understand their quality and judge whether or not it’s worth the price. For example, who am I to turn down a copy of In Conquest Born with a cover that’s not about to fall off? Especially when they ask only a dollar in return? Totally worth it.

There’s not really anything else to say at this point. I am falling asleep as I type and starting to make more typos and grammatical errors than normal that I then of course have to fix as soon as I notice them. So I’ll wrap up and get to bed.

At the Convention

I was wondering if I’d be here sooner or later. It’s a convention weekend after all, the only four day convention I regularly attend, so I’ve been here since Thursday, with breaks to sleep. And because my people are not always here as early – or easily found once they arrive – I’ve been tearing through the book I chose. This is the anthology I picked up at the library sale knowing full well one of the stories inside. This is Single White Vampire Seeks Same edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A. Koren.

Now, as I said, I already knew I would find “Someone to Share the Night” by Tanya Huff. It’s a Henry Fitzroy story that takes place after (although also potentially during) the Tony Foster novels. And it is about a Single White Vampire looking for love. Or at least a long-term stable relationship. A cute story with no cameos, but what more do we really need sometimes? Anyway, when I saw the title of this book, I knew instantly that story must have been written to this premise.

Not all of the stories feature vampires. In fact, there’s at least one where the only supernatural character is neither of the romantic leads. But there’s some kind of magic in each and every one…although it’s not always that of forming a meaningful romantic or sexual attachment.

Sure, I’m not big on sex, but I don’t dislike a good romance when it crosses my path. At least not if it has fantastical elements to also interest me.

The opening tale, “Personals Wishes”, does not have magical romantic leads. From Mickey Zucker Reichert, it’s a cute enough story, utterly predictable, but what more do you need at times? It does what it needs and helps set the tone for the book. That is to say while some of the authors don’t shy away from horror elements and tragedies, you’re far more likely to find a mushy happy ending from these tales.

“A Kiss at Midnight” by R. Davis is one of my personal favorites in this book. It’s a story of love at first sight, of destiny, of fate, and of the changes those things can go through. It’s about the inevitable and the decision to accept it. It’s dark and loving and I love it.

Bradley H. Sinor’s “Fireflies” is another good one. It takes the premise of the anthology one step further and is both endearing and entertaining. A nice feel good story, like so many of the others here.

Then Esther M. Friesner contributed “Werotica” which has one of the best side stories I’ve seen in a short story. The main character and plot is entertaining, somewhat predictable, and funny. The main character’s fabulously gay best friend and his side plot is absolutely hilarious and just a great topping on an already good story. Hint: there are no vampires in this tale.

Most of the rest of the stories are perfectly fine, although there’s one or two I don’t care for quite as much. I don’t actively dislike any of these, at least not after this initial reading. Which really, is all I generally ask for from my anthologies these days.

This being a con, I’m not wholly certain what other time I’ll have for reading, but I’m posting this hours after typing these paragraphs. As I sit it’s morning, the dealer’s room opens in roughly five minutes, and I’ll eventually be tracked down by at least one author friend to buy a book. Hopefully two. There’s only one good book dealer this year – a highly unfortunate fact – and all I found at the booth was a dollar copy of C.S. Friedman’s In Conquest Born that is in better shape than my old one. I did get a short list of other books I should acquire from my favorite panel of “Judging a Book by Page 119”, but I’ll have to look into that Sunday night or Monday when everything is over for another year.

I do have another book with me to start – it’s a self-published novel from a friend of a friend with amazingly blue hair. (I was told it had been freshly dyed for this weekend). Anyway, I have their book to start if things end up slow for a bit. It’s not an anthology, but it’s not excessively long. So, we’ll see what happens and when I return to this post!

Well, back in the dealer’s room I remembered that I needed to acquire books on behalf of friends as promised. So I found myself back at Dreamhaven Books’ table. You may recall them as the bookstore who published Shelf Life, that collection of stories featuring bookstores. Well, I decided to give in and buy what is actually their first publication, Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse. It is edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones, if that begins to give you an idea of what to expect.

Frankly, if you’ve ever read any of Neil Gaiman’s poetry, you should know what you’re getting into. I don’t really buy poetry, but this book was on sale for $2 and who am I to naysay such a price? I’ve definitely gotten more than two dollars of enjoyment out of reading the insanity contained within this slim volume, so it was a good investment.

They’re not kidding about the “nasty” part. The first poem, other than the editors’ introduction, discusses dismemberment being served as school lunches. And that’s before you get to the section labelled “For Adults Only” which includes both drugs and sex. But there’s a lot of death and destruction throughout the entire book.

As something that’s not taken me especially long to read, despite endless reasons to stop including conversations, book readings, and conversations with friends, it’s very short. A bit over one hundred pages. There are, of course, a full thirty-one poems including the epilogue. Which is par for the course when it comes to poetry. Frankly, I’m not sure I could imagine picking up any larger book of poetry because I do not read this very often. I used to, especially back when I was in high school and deviantart was a big thing. (It may still be, but I rarely do anything there anymore.)

There were definitely some poems here that grossed me out. Some I found unpleasant. Some whose meter or lack thereof drove me crazy. And one about cocaine which I’m not a fan of at the best of times. But for the most part I enjoyed the authors indulging their darker sides. And for $2, it’s hard to go wrong.

Despite there only really being one main book dealer this year (there’s another guy with a lot of books but his stuff tends towards specific fandoms), I have actually managed to pile up a good number of volumes today in particular. I finally tracked down a couple people I’d been meaning to throw money at in exchange for dead trees all weekend, so those are going in the Pile. I also managed to find a good deal on a largeish pile of something a bit out of my usual wheelhouse, but I’ve always wanted to read more of. And I guilted myself into at least a couple books. But that usually happens when you talk to self-published authors for a while.

For the record, I’ve also gone to multiple panels and, of course, played numerous games. Some of which I’d never heard of before, which is no bad thing. Let’s just say, I’m having a good con thus far.

We’ll see when I next finish a book. And what said book will be. There is a bookmark in something at this moment, but nothing more has happened. And there are many things to pick from. More than just a few days ago.

Screw it, I’m wrapping this post up and going to find something and call it dinner.

A Vehicle

I am Cyan Dag.

Well, no I’m not, but I certainly empathize with him.  He is the protaginist of The Tower at Stony Wood and I’m not quite sure what to think about this book.  After an enticing prologue of a woman watching a mirror in a tower and seeing a knight riding towards her, we meet said knight.  Cyan Dag serves Regis Aurum, king of Yves.  The king’s new queen has just arrived from her homeland of Skye.  Cyan’s eye, however, is caught by an old woman in the retinue who later introduces herself as the Bard of Skye.  She tells our hero that the queen is false, that the true Lady of Skye is trapped in a tower in her homeland and that he must go and save her.

So he leaves, without a word to anyone.  Not to his beloved and not to his friend the king.

I empathize the most when Cyan complains that he’s been led to multiple towers, none of which is home to the woman he’s seeking, that he doesn’t even know where he’s going.  This is entirely how I felt reading this book, that I was being led hither and yon and yet could not see the shape of the narrative.  I felt this way about Song for the Basilisk as well, that the story seemed to meander with no real hint of plot until about two-thirds through.  For me, this is a frustrating layout and I don’t find it rewarding.  I spend a chunk of the book getting increasingly frustrated, then I feel rushed at the end or, worse, that it wasn’t wrapped up.

I didn’t notice or care as much with Winter Rose because that was overall a much smaller story.  Instead of ranging throughout a wild countryside or dealing with the political machinations of multiple noble Houses, Winter Rose was set in a single village and the nearby wood.  The aimless early chapters seemed to evoke a normal enough life and a protagonist not quite certain what she wanted from it.  The increasing pace and frenzy toward the end reflected her interest and growing desperation to save those she cared for.

As for Cyan Dag…he is a vehicle.  A tool.  And even he can feel it.

I mean, the book is fine.  It’s certainly not awful.  I just…want to know the story I’m reading.  I’ve read more than enough books to be familiar with the common tales and tropes.  And while there’s nothing wrong with being different and telling a different kind of story, it makes it that much more difficult for me to follow.  So, because I am so familiar with the basics, I crave them more than most and suffer through books without them.

What more is there to say?  The Tower at Stony Wood has travel, magic, a swordfight, and more.  It seems to hit every fantasy note.  I’m just neutral towards it.

Now, this isn’t the last Patricia McKillip book on my Pile, but it is the last of the nice little hardcovers from the library sale.  However, I think I’m done with her for the time being.  I’m not normally inclined towards a new book when I’m gearing up for a convention, but I think I may make an exception.  After all, anthologies are good reads when you’re most likely going to have short periods of time at unpredictable intervals in which to read.

An Eerie Song

After the rousing success of yesterday’s book, I opted to continue with the theme of Patricia McKillip and went for another of the books I’d picked up.  This was Song for the Basilisk and it’s a somewhat different story.  The book opens “within the charred, silent husk of Tormalyne Palace” (these are literally the first eight words of the novel) and little is clear for a time.  We can reason that something terrible has happened to and inside of Tormalyne Palace and that many are dead, but who or what or why is unclear.

Our protagonist is rescued from the palace, given the name Caladrius, and advised to bury his memories.  It seems the caladrius is a “bird whose song means death” and it is hoped that the boy will know what to do with this when he grows up.  For safety and isolation, the boy is taken to the island of Luly, where the bards live.  What the word “bard” means is unclear on the whole, but it is said that the meaning changes the farther one goes from the island.  Obviously these people are skilled musicians, but there are rumors and underpinnings of magic.

I should note that in this book in particular, McKillip does not permit her readers to codify her magic.  Magic can do many things, can be seen and heard, but it is never truly explained.  It remains mysterious and otherworldly, something ordinary people can never quite grasp and is generally described in such unspecific terms.  That doesn’t rob it of power by any means, simply makes the force more mysterious.

Anyway, very little happens in the story for thirty-seven years.  Our protagonist spends most of this time on Luly pretending he has no past.  However, some things are not meant to be forgotten and have a habit of returning with a vengeance.  Thus the story returns to Berylon, the city in which we started.  There the Basilisk, Arioso Pellior, rules.  Thirty-seven years prior he destroyed Tormalyne House which had ruled for four hundred years.  The other two Houses, Iridia and Marcasia, were injured in the conflict but have regained much over the years.  And it seems that many are willing to take action…

Song for the Basilisk is a mix of fairy tale mystery and a more typical fantasy novel.  The scale is not especially epic, but it doesn’t need to be to get its point across.  It’s certainly not as gripping as Winter Rose in my eyes, but I don’t need every book to be like that one to enjoy them.  I found Song for the Basilisk an interesting read and was pleased to finish it in a single day.  The length wouldn’t have been much of a difficulty (though this is a bit logner than Winter Rose), but disinterest can prolong even the shortest of books.

So, maybe I really was unlucky in the Patricia McKillip books I chose to buy first.  Whatever the explanation, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to correct any misapprehensions caused by lack of exposure.  Who knows, maybe I’ll be back again tomorrow with the third.