Saturday, June 19, 2010

Epic (Not Figuratively)

After several weeks' worth of "effort," I finally finished reading the Silmarillion. As anybody who has even attempted to read the Silmarillion will tell you, this is not an easy book to read. Except for a few brief passages, the book is not presented as a dramatic narrative. This makes it nearly impossible to "lose yourself" in the story.

Rather than the dramatic narrative structure used in most works of fiction, Tolkien presents the Silmarillion in the manner similar to that of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. The tales presented in the Silmarillion are the myths and legends of the Quendi (Elves). The story spans several millenia, beginning with the creation of Eä (the universe) and ending with a brief version of the War of the Ring.

This book illustrates one of the greatest difficulties facing an author of fantasy: setting. For stories set in some version of the world that we inhabit (past, present or future), most of the setting already exists, waiting to have characters and story imposed upon it. Fantasy, however, presents the additional challenge of creating the very world in which the story and characters exist.

Okay, this isn't always true. There are Shared Worlds out there, but these are practically exceptions to the rule (somebody still had to create them). From the whimsical Discworld to war-torn Westeros, most of the world's fantasy authors have created their own worlds in which to spin their tales.

By the way, if the worlds I just linked to are not familiar to you, I have some excellent books to recommend.

Part of what sets Tolkien apart from the others is the depth with which he created Middle-Earth. Not only did he create a world and populate it, he gave the peoples of Middle-Earth a deep, rich history and mythology. This history and mythology, which shaped Middle-earth, are very nicely detailed in the Simlarillion.

My rating? I give it ten wrathful Valar.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

That Should Simplify Things

Recently, I was browsing the website of a rather excellent purveyor of comic books and other geek paraphernalia when I noticed that they (like so many other online retailers) offer a wishlist function. Geek that I am, I immediately started a list.

A couple days later, I got to thinking about this wishlist. I already have a wishlist on Amazon, and another on ThinkGeek. A third wishlist was sure to make Christmas and other gift-related events unnecessarily confusing. Inevitably, I came to the conclusion that it'd be awesome if there was some sort of wishlist aggregator available, to keep all of the cool things that I want in one list. Sure, Amazon has an "Add To Wishlist" button that will allow you to add anything on the entire internet to your Amazon list, but that doesn't sit right with me. If you're looking at an Amazon list, you tend to assume that you're looking at a list of products offered by Amazon - this is especially important if you're hoping to score free shipping.

I did a bit of searching, and I found three promising candidates:

The first one, Meta Wishlist, seems to be long gone. simply redirects to Google, so no luck there.

The second one, Wish Radar, immediately showed promise by existing. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed. Wish Radar is really little more than a service to monitor your Amazon wishlist and let you know if something goes on sale. Not quite what I was looking for.

It's been said that the third time's the charm. My third try was a service called Wishpot, and it was indeed the charm. Wishpot uploaded my entire Amazon wishlist, and through the use of their "Add to Wishopt" bookmarklet, I was able to quickly add the items from my ThinkGeek and TFAW wishlists.

Gaze in wonderment upon my master wishlist!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Question is Changing

I know, I know...It's been over two weeks since I last posted a Geek Question of the Week, and I still haven't even responded to the feedback on the last one. Fear not, loyal geeks, I have not forsaken you.

Simply put, it's not easy to come up with new questions every week. Sometimes, I just can't come up with anything interesting enough for the Geek Question mantle. Thus, I am changing the nature of the Geek Question.

You probably noticed the snazzy new seal at the top of the page. Your eyes do not deceive you, I am switching from Geek Question of the Week to Geek Question of the Month. Yes, it's less poetic, but it also allows me more time to ponder good ideas.

I do happily accept suggestions. The last question, in fact, was suggested by a reader (my Wife swooped in at the zero hour and saved my sorry arse). You can send me your idea via Twitter, Facebook, or Email.

Now, on to my thoughs regarding excellence in television.

I saw a lot of shows mentioned that I want to start watching soon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer...Flash Forward...Babylon 5... I really need to get moving with these shows. Unfortunately, most of these are shows that The Wife is also interested in watching, and it's in my best interest not to watch them without her.

On the topic of current shows that I recommend highly, Fringe is certainly at the top of my list. They've managed to take all the best parts of the X-Files, add in a deep, puzzle-filled mythology, and wrap the result around some very interesting characters (Walter Bishop, anybody?).

I'm also really enjoying Doctor Who, Stargate Universe, and Caprica. I'm hoping that, once it really gets going, Caprica will be able to really bring the drama the way Battlestar Galactica did. They're building nicely, and I'm anxious to see where they go.

The next GQOTM is coming soon, and I think it'll prove to be very interesting. Keep one eye peeled...

Maybe They Missed Me

A box on my front porch
Sent by the Sci-Fi Book Club
My day has improved

If you follow my Twitter account (and let's face it, why wouldn't you?), then you may know that, about a week ago, I placed an order for four books from the Science Fiction Book Club. In order to get the "buy one, get one free" deal, I had to sent my order to them via snail mail rather than just ordering from their website. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I arrived home after work today (precisely eight days later) to find a box full of books waiting for me.

I was not expecting to receive the books quite so soon. I mean, I sent the order via snail mail. That should add at least a couple days to the turnaround time, no? To give you a bit of perspective, I placed an order with Amazon the day before I placed my SFBC order in the mail. The Amazon order arrived two days ago (Saturday).

Has the SFBC discovered the secret of Warp Drive?

Needless to say, I'm very excited. Three brand-spankin' new books for me to enjoy. Most likely, I'll start one of them as soon as I finish the reading project that I'm currently working on (you'll hear about it here soon enough). I'd be interested to hear what you, dear reader, would suggest that I read. Therefore, I present to you:

My New Books

If I do decide to read this one, I'll want to go back and re-read Inferno first.

This book hasn't been shipped yet, because its official release date isn't until July 6. Much like Escape From Hell, I'm going to want to go back and re-read the previous stories first (because they're that dang good).

One of these books (okay, one of the first three) will be moving to the "on deck" position in my reading list, but I'm not sure which one. If you'd like to try to influence my decision, feel free to try in the comments. I figure you have somewhere between a week and ten days to sway my mind.

If you wanna join the book club, let me know about that as well...they give me free books if I get a friend to sign up. </shameless commerce>

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Won't it Die?

Last night, I beat Borderlands (the first playthrough, anyway). I'm not much of an FPS gamer, and I've never beaten an FPS before so this was something of an accomplishment for me.

The game itself was a load of fun. Set on a Pandora, a distant frontier/mining planet, Borderlands lets you play as one of four characters hunting for the fabled Vault - a treasure trove of alien technology and artifacts. Your quest will bring you into conflict with the local fauna (Skags and Rakk), gangs of bandits, and eventually the paramilitary Crimson Lance.

Gameplay was particularly well-balanced. The game was definitely a challenge, but at no time did I feel as though I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. Every time I died (which was a lot), I still felt as though I just needed to try again, maybe employ a different strategy.

I also liked the fact that Borderlands is more than just a shoot-em-up game. While it's certainly possible for you to wade into a swarm of enemies and mow them down with Schwarzeneggerian bravado, that's not the only way to play. Quite often, you can find yourself a nice perch, equip a scoped rifle, and pick of your enemies like so many little ducks.

Without doubt, the most difficult part of this game was the final boss. I don't want to ruin the ending for those who haven't finished it yet, so this is your warning. If, for any reason, you don't want to know the gory details of the final boss of Borderlands, turn back now.

Here Be Spoilers

As soon as the Vault opens, a tentacle shoots out, impaling the poor fool who opened it. Moments later, the head of The Destroyer emerges, with its huge eye, toothy maw, and mass of writhing tentacles.

This beast is every bit as tough to defeat as it looks like. At a rough estimate, it killed me a dozen or so times before I finally got a handle on the strategy necessary to avoid its exploding thorns, pounding tentacles, eye beam, and lashing tongue, all while scoring the hundred or so critical hits that I needed to take it the hell out.

I really liked this boss. It was very difficult without being impossible, and it reminded me of another favorite fictional character...
click for fullsize