Archive for April, 2009

The Light Fantastic

“You said you could fly one of these things!” “No I didn’t; I just said you couldn’t!”

Cohen was shocked. “Bonfires of books?” “Yes. Horrible, isn’t it?” “Right,” said Cohen. He thought it was appalling. Someone who spent his life living rough under the sky knew the value of a good thick book, which ought to outlast at least a season of cooking fires if you were careful how you tore the pages out. Many a life had been saved by a handful of sodden kindling and a really dry book. If you felt like a smoke and couldn’t find a pipe, a book was your man every time. Cohen realized people wrote things in books. It had always seemed to him to be a frivolous waste of paper.

The Light Fantastic is the second of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It, unusually for a Pratchett book, takes off from directly where its predecessor left off. The last book, The Color of Magic, left Twoflower and Rincewind falling off of the world, via spaceship. However, that has all changed. This is because the whole world is being changed, using a giant change spell, so as to stop Rincewind from dying. In the last book, it was established Rincewind could not cast spells because of the Great Spell left in his head from a bet. In this book, the Great Spells are revealed to be sentient, and working to keep Rincewind alive until they need him to say the Spell in his head. Rincewind and Twoflower continue to explore the Discworld, discovering new flora and fauna in places such as the Forest of Skund, the Vortex Plains, and even Death’s Domain. But trouble is brewing. A red star has appeared above the Discworld, and no one knows what it will do. Some of the wizards at the Unseen University want to use the spell in Rincewind’s head to stop the problems. Unfortunately for him, this would require either his cooperation with the corrupt and/or bureaucratic head wizards, or his death at their hands. He’s not too keen about either of these ideas, so he decides to solve this like he solves all his other problems. That is, by running away.

This book ups the quality of the Discworld series from the last book in several ways. For one, the humor has improved. Pratchett is no longer simply poking fun at other fantasies in specific, he’s now both poking fun at the general aspects of fantasy, and creating humor through his characters. The second thing that’s better about this book is that it has a plot! I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. It has a storyline that weaves throughout the book, as opposed to just meandering adventures without a thread tying them together, like The Color of Magic is. Along with Twoflower and Rincewind, the other character in this book who appears in later books is Cohen the Barbarian. Cohen is a parody of Conan the Barbarian. Except for the fact that he’s an octogenarian librarian. Actually, nix the librarian part. That was just a rhyme. No, he’s really like Conan, but older. And with dentures made from troll teeth, which are diamond. This book also features an evil villain named Ymper Trymon, and the first appearance of the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions. (But more on them later…) This is a good Discworld book, but it’s nowhere near Pratchett’s full potential.

My Rating: 76/100

Next Up in Pratchett Reviews: Equal Rites

April 28, 2009 at 5:45 PM Leave a comment

Schedule Update

After the first week of this blog, I’m beginning to find a rhythm. I’ve decided that the best speed I can successfully maintain is three full-length posts a week. This does not count news posts like this, but it does count reviews, poems, creative writing excerpts and the like. Mind you, it may be more than three posts some weeks, but the minimum will be three posts a week. Thanks! The Bibliophile…

April 28, 2009 at 5:18 PM 1 comment

The Pearl

She knew there was murder in him.

The Pearl is a famous novella by John Steinbeck. It features a man named Kino, his wife Juana, and his son Coyotito. They are a poor family, but happy. Kino dives for pearls, while Juana bakes meals and minds Coyotito. One day, though, Coyotito is stung by a scorpion! The family wants the help of the doctor, but they are too poor to afford him. Kino goes diving for pearls, and he finds a magnificent pearl. It is hailed as the great Pearl of the World, and Kino and Juana believe it is worth a lot of money and is the answer to all of their problems. Of course, in reality, their troubles have just started…

Their problems go from bad to worse:

  • The doctor, who they can now pay, realizes that Coyotito has recovered from the scorpion bite. he wants more money, though, so he poisons Coyotito under the premise that it’s a cure for the relapse that he says, lying, that Coyotito will suffer. 
  • The pearl dealers, working to together, decide to cheat Kino out of the money for the pearl. 
  • The pearl causes Kino to become possessive and nasty, even hitting and kicking Juana.
  • Kino then kills a man at night who, he suspects is coming to steal the pearl.

Kino and Juana then attempt to go to the capital, to escape the corrupt citizens of the town and its law enforcement. They bring a few essential supplies, the pearl, and Coyotito. In a complex situation involving a group of trackers, Kino, and Juana and Coyotito hiding in a cave at night, Kino grabs a rifle from one of the trackers and shoots them. He then discovers Coyotito’s head has been half blown-off and that he is dead from the tracker’s shot. He and Juana then go back to the town, after having thrown the pearl back into the water. All is forgiven by the townspeople, and they decide to live in the town again.

Kino, due to the pearl, ends up worse off than he started. His son is dead. His house has burnt down. He has to reforge connections with the other villagers. There are several different problems with this story. The first is the confusion of Coyotito’s death. It requires several rereads to see whether the tracker or Kino shot Coyotito. The second problem is the one-dimensionality of the stories characters. The only character with any depth in him is Kino. No one else has much depth, and even Kino is not that interesting to read about. It really reads more like a fairy tale or a folk tale than a novel or novella. The third problem is the moral of the story. For something that so clearly is supposed to be folk tale of some sort, the moral is not so evident. “Money is bad?” “Be careful what you wish for?” “The world should adopt a barter system?” “It’s a hard life being poor?” “Poor people shouldn’t try to improve their lots?” It’s just not obvious. This is the sort of story that would be better as an oral tale of a bedtime story of old (the bloody Grimms…) than it is as a novel!

My Rating: 38/100

April 25, 2009 at 5:20 PM 5 comments

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

This guy was in love with computers. I wondered if he was secretly writing a romance about a skinny, white boy genius who was having sex with a half-breed Apple computer.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not actually a diary, unlike some children’s/teen’s “diary” books you might see at a bookstores. Diaries have recently become a trend in children’s books, but that’s besides the point. This book is not a diary. It does, however, have picture clippings from the main character, Arnold/Junior’s diary. These add to the flavor of the book, but it’s not a diary on its own. This book is also humor. But not really. It’s more tragic. Perhaps … tragicomic? All the comedy in the story derives from the main character, Arnold Spirit, oft called Junior. If the story was read without his, well, spirit, it would read as a tragic story about drinking and fatalities on Indian reservations in the USA. It’s only Arnold’s comments and attitude that save it from becoming a tragic, angsty funeral of a story. The above quote might be the best summary of Arnold’s humor. He retains this ability, even in most tragic moments. At a few points, especially in the latter part of the book, the tragedy overcomes the comedy. This is not a happy book.

Arnold lives on an Indian reservation. His school is awful, people die frequently, and life is all around lousy. One of his teachers, filled with guilt over failed pupils, recommends that he go to the school in the nearby town where the only other Indian is the mascot. He manages to get there, helped by his strong-willed and lovely grandmother. But his troubles have only begun… He has a hard time, both in becoming accepted at his new school and trying to avoid being hated by the others at his reservation for being a “traitor.” He meets new people at his new school, including Gordy the computer geek and Penelope, who becomes his girlfriend. And life goes on. So does death. I won’t spoil it all, but the latter parts of the book are literally blow after blow.

This book is very different than the other two books I have examined. They are all comedies, but this uses the comedy for more than just blasts of funny. Pratchett does this with his later Discworld books, but the earliest ones are often just pulling for gags. Parents should be warned, however. The treatment of several serious issues is probably not how they should first be exposed to teens. The key example, in my mind, is the treatment of bulimia. Penelope, Arnold’s girlfriend, has bulimia and keeps it hidden. Little more than a page discusses her bulimia, whilst her beauty has much more description and such. This should be emphasized. The characters also casually use swearwords, especially ret*rd and f*ggot. I personally do not care much about that, but parents who are concerned about that sort of thing should keep it in mind. Still, it is a great teen read! (Also, many pictures for those teens who still feel nostalgic for picture books…)

My Rating: 74

April 22, 2009 at 9:58 PM Leave a comment

The Munchkin’s Guide To Power Gaming

There exists a way beyond the path of magic and the path of mental powers. A third way. A way that depends on the intervention of a third party on your behalf. A way that allows – nay, encourages – you to play a bigoted racist psychopath who wishes to cleanse and burn the whole world. This is the way of the Cleric.

The above quote really summarizes the whole book. Funny, roleplaying game themed, and likely to offend anyone who reads it! This book was published by Steve Jackson Games, often abbreviated to SJ Games (www.sjgames.com). SJ Games is a successful and famous gaming company, responsible for releasing many gaming books, board games, and card games onto the world at large. The most successful of these are the Munchkin card game (originally a direct spinoff of this book) and GURPS, a popular roleplaying system. This book is essentially a humorous guide at how to cheat at roleplaying games, such as GURPS or Dungeons and Dragons. It is split into chapters, each encompassing a different roleplaying genre (fantasy, science fiction, horror, superheroes, etc.)

Roleplaying games often emphasize diplomacy, relationships with other characters, and acting as your characters. Munchkins (otherwise known as twinks, gunbunnies, and a variety of other names) really don’t give a crap about all that roleplaying nonsense. They just want to slaughter stuff. This book shows you, in a humorous fashion, how to get around the Games Master (aka GM or DM; basically the referee) and any other players who don’t want to participate in your massacring of everything in sight. It shows you how to cheat directly (flubbing dice rolls, messing up your character sheet) and how to cheat indirectly (arguing with the GM, getting around rules, which skills to pick, etc.)

Although this book is humorous, it’s not worth a ton of money. If you can buy it used for minimal price, do so. I wouldn’t spend the cost of buying it new, though, unless it’s on sale or low priced. That said, it does have some funny parts, especially some of the tables and lists (Uses for Halflings, The Gun is Your Skill List.) You’ll really only appreciate it unless you’re a gamer, though. It’s a specific brand of humor.

My Rating: 55/100

April 21, 2009 at 5:36 PM Leave a comment

The Colour of Magic

“It is forbidden to fight on the Killing Ground,” he said, and paused while he considered the sense of this. “You know what I mean, anyway.”

“I wish to be directed to an hotel, tavern, lodging house, inn, hospice, caravanserai,” he said. “What, all of them?” said Hugh, taken aback.

The Colour of Magic is the first of Terry Pratchett’s acclaimed Discworld series. The book’s main character is the inept wizard Rincewind, a master at languages, running away from things, and survival and a failure at most else. Rincewind lives (at least at the book’s start) in the city of Ankh-Morpork, a loosely defined fantasy city full of thieves, assassins, barbarian heroes and the rest of the fantasy stock types. The book begins (after a brief introduction) with a pair of heroes, parodies of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, watching the city of Ankh-Morpork burn down. They see Rincewind gallop out of the city, followed by a mysterious figure attempting to ride a horse. The two heroes accost him, and ask who the figure is. Rincewind explains to them, in exchange for food. The person is Twoflower, a visitor to Ankh-Morpork. He comes from a seemingly more modern land, as he himself is a clerk for an insurance company. (Although in Rincewind’s tongue, this is pronounced. reflected-sounds-of-underground-spirits.) Twoflower thinks he is poor, but his money is gold, which is common in Twoflower’s home but valuable in Ankh-Morpork. Rincewind becomes his tour guide, and helps him survive in a city where even the cockroaches had an unerring instinct for gold. Twoflower tours the city, taking pictures with his demon-operated camera and having a good time. It begins to go downhill when Twoflower offers the owner of the tavern/inn that he is staying in a fire insurance policy. The owner decides to burn down the inn, and the city burns as a result. When this story ends, the heroes ride away, leaving Rincewind and Twoflower to explore.

From here on, Rincewind and Twoflower explore the continent. The book is really more like a set of chronological novellas than it is a single united story. Rincewind and Twoflower are playing pieces in an intensely complicated game run by the Gods which is suspiciously like the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. They tangle with a Lovecraftian horror from beyond the boundaries of space and time. (Twoflower kills it with his camera.) They get involved with a parody of the famous Dragonriders of Pern series. They even take a brief journey into our world!

This is not one of Pratchett’s best works, at least in my opinion. Most of it is purely a parody of other famous fantasies, with very little of the originality of his later works. It does introduce Rincewind, one of his most beloved protagonists whom often appears. Nevertheless, it does not possess the same degree of plot or humor as even its immediate successor, The Light Fantastic. If you enjoy starting at the beginning of a series, this is the place to start. If you want a representative sample of Pratchett’s work, a better place to start would be Guards, Guards, the ninth book and the start of the City Watch subseries. This, merged with The Light Fantastic was recently made into a movie.

My Rating: 73/100

Next Up In Pratchett Reviews: The Light Fantastic

April 20, 2009 at 7:18 AM 2 comments

Hello blogosphere!

Hello everyone! Bookworm here. I’ve decided to start a blog with the primary focus being reviews and commentaries on books and book series. It may, however, also feature various tangents… On with the show!

April 20, 2009 at 7:00 AM Leave a comment


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