November 7th, 2014


Persuasions (Mating Flight 205/240)

Persuasions (Day 1130)

I spent most of the day being a tourist in Tublier. Tublier with an ignorant white cat for providing local color is not as much fun as Dorday with an expert native guide for local color, but we managed. The Alberhominie Civic Museum provided us with much more entertainment than we had expected of it, in the form of a special exhibition on zeppelins. Nrararn did have to turn into a hoven to come in; they don’t allow pets. Everyone thought we were twins. Next time I shall have to tell him to look like some other no-hoven-in-particular.

“Sorry, miss, but the armchair in 21G needs to be re-finished,” lied the superintendant as I walked in.

“No hurry”, I didn’t lie.

“Oh, and there’s a note for you called in,” he said. “Sounds like you might be dating someone important soon, if you play your cards right.”

«You are dating someone important,» wrote my small white cat.

«Really? Csirnis will barely talk to me anymore,» I wrote back, to annoy him.

“Miss, oh heavens! I’ll get you a bandage straightaway!” said the superintendant, and rummaged in his desk drawers. “But you should get rid of that cat, if he bites so much.”

“No, this is quite unusual for him.” (Usually he breathes lightning.) I bandaged my cat-bite, renewed the Hoplonton on both of us. «Wait until we’re in private to bite me!»

“And here’s your message, miss,” said the superintendant, after I was bandaged. “You should tell him your room number. We’ve got three Joffees living here. I had to make him tell me fur color, and lucky we don’t have another dark grey or you might be missing a date.”

Sporthen wanted to meet me for a discussion at the Laich Street Cafe in mid-afternoon.

“You think it’s a date?” I asked the superintendant.

“Young woman new in town, older important man? How badly do you need work?”

“Not that badly, yet,” I said. In part because my cat was glaring at me. I scooped him up and went back to my apartment, to tend my wounds properly (the Arcane Anodyne, though nearly anything would have worked), and to scold him properly (a Caramelle in the bathtub, with both of us as small as possible, which he won by one touch.)

Not a Date

“I’m very sorry if I kept you waiting,” I told Sporthen, when the waiter in the red flannel hat took me to his table.

“Hardly a concern these days,” he said, setting aside a bowl of cream-of-oyster soup. “Government business does not proceed with breakneck speed under the dragons. An hour or two off in the afternoon to tend to other important matters is not a matter worth troubling over. And if it is delayed, what then? The legal problems concerning the Tublier-North punishment camp may not be resolved for a bit longer. Certain contractors may spend an afternoon cooling their hooves in a lobby. Fortunately the dragons pay them by the day, not by the project, so complaints are few. Such things happen now and then, under the dragons. Do you not approve?”

I just laughed. “RARU is quite clever.” I don’t actually approve of hovens cheating my best friend in order to delay quarantining a very unpleasant menace away.

He smiled, and indicated a red-cushioned chair. “We do our best. Please, sit, choose a mid-afternoon snack if you wish, as my treat.” He looked a bit more closely, and grinned. “Does your cat need anything?”

«Tell him to perform our marriage straightaway!» said my cat, hopping into another chair and curling up.

“My cat will be ridiculously demanding given the slightest encouragement. So let’s not, just yet.” I ordered a smoked fish omelette, with sour sauce and a mug of cocoa.

“Very well. You bring your cat everywhere?”

“He’s very well behaved, with one or two notable exceptions,” I said. «And we’re on duty now, so no exceptions please.»

«I am very helpful! If he attacks you, I will kill him!» Nrararn answered.

«I think I can defend myself against one unarmed hoven.»

«Well, if a grand of warriors with mystic lances leap out of the woodwork, I’ll be invaluable. For one example. Not that the hovens are able to make mystic lances.»

I petted Nrararn, and smiled at Sporthen. “What did you want to talk about today?”

“Simply this: you wished to join RARU. We would happily accept you — as we would any true-spirited Trestean, make no mistake. But all of our members have sworn a promise to oppose the dragons. So, we were wondering if you would like any further discussion or information that might make you more comfortable joining us.”

«He’s asking us to spy on him!» wrote Nrararn.


OOC: Ignifer's Rise

Ignifer's Rise, by Michael John Grist, has several things to recommend it, and is somewhat better and a lot more interesting than the run-of-the-mill self-published fantasy book, but it's still bloated and disappointing.

The setting and language are the best. Setting: a huge grimy ancient city, its people splintered into a thousand subspecies castes. Interesting castes, too, the nearly-stone Balast, the anthro(?)bug Moths and Butterflies, Spindles and Deadheads and Blues and a zillion others. The Molemen are usury-butchers, who collect on unpaid loans by dissecting the valuable qualities out of their victims. The Adjuncs are chimeras stitched together out of dead flesh, used as police and shock troops. And above it all, the Rot: a black hole in the sky which once tried to eat the world, and will try again, soon. So that's creepy and eerie and horrible and wonderful, and entirely worth the price of admission.

The language is noteworthy. A number of important words in the setting are coined and work nicely: the Moth and Butterfly are 'Sectile' people. The butchers work in 'mogrified' flesh, and the Adjuncs are made of it. There are "gomorrah flies", and "ghasting suits", and stuff.

(One word notably does *not* work. Grist consistently uses 'mons' for 'mountain' or perhaps 'really big mountain', I guess after Olympus Mons. He frequently talks about "St. Ignifer's mons". But 'mons' does not mean that in English. It refers to a nice part of the female body. It's the Wrong Word and Grist *keeps* using it.)

Now the bad stuff. Bloated: The book really needs to be edited down by about half. There's lots of repeated material with slight variations, material repeated with slight variations, slightly-varied repetitions of the material, and repetitions of material, slightly-varied. E.g., the main characters have a lot of history together. We've watched every minute of it develop. They keep talking about it and more or less reiterating it. After the seventeen reminder of the time so-and-so injured sy-and-sy, it gets a bit tiresome.

Disappointing: SPOILER: the characters are trying to save the world, and they do everything right, and they still fail, and most of them die. I guess because it is book 1 of a series. Now, I *do* approve of having interesting twists in save-the-world plots. But this is a boring twist: the quests are performed, but the Rot is just stronger than the stuff that characters did, so it kills them all and nearly everyone else. (Of course by this time I was annoyed enough with them that I didn't mind a bit.) Still, it was a rather WTF sort of ending. It made the whole book seem futile, and reading it seem just as futile.

Well, anyways. It's a more interesting read than many. Three mysteriously-gathered child companions out of five.

OOC: A Path to the Coldness of Heart (long-awaited conclusion review)

Over half my lifetime ago, a newish author named Glen Cook published the impressive Dread Empire trilogy, which was (and still is) about my favorite gritty military fantasy. Lots of interesting and sometimes sympathetic characters on all sides. War seen as a sometimes-obligatory but devastating evil rather than anything glorious, including the deaths of several of those interesting and sympathetic characters. Intense terse writing — I think the whole trilogy would fit inside one of George RR Martin's massive books, for all that Cook gets through way more plot and more characterization than Martin. Highly recommended.
But it was subtitled "The Dread Empire Series". A few more books showed up: a couple prequels, and a couple sequels in which some important parts of the peace constructed at the end of the core trilogy, and some main characters, fell apart. Lots of mysteries were glimpsed. Glen Cook was clearly building up to an impressive climax…
But it never happened. Glen Cook wrote many other things, some in the Dread Empire style and some other. It eventually came out that he had nearly finished the sequel to the last published book when some evil fan stole the only extant copy of the manuscript — Cook wrote on a typewriter at that point — and all of Cook's Dread Empire notes.
Well, last year or so, Cook did write and publish 'Path to a Coldness of Heart', the last of the Dread Empire books.
… I almost sorta kinda wish he hadn't bothered.
OK, it's not *horrible* by any means. Glen Cook is a first-rate writer in this genre, and his worst novel (which this isn't) is better, in my opinion, than the best of most other military fantasy writers.
But 'Coldness' doesn't come anywhere close to living up to the promise of the rest of the series. Glen Cook is going through the motions, but he doesn't seem interested. He's careless and distracted.
Case in point: The Dread Empire series has a cast of thousands … dozens of characters who get viewpoint for a page or two, enough to clearly be people in their own right. Admittedly, lots of them are dead by this point, but plenty are alive, and it would be good to tie up their stories. But instead we get a pile of *new* characters. Some of them belong: several main characters had children who are now old enough for speaking parts, or (if this were the rest of the series) becoming hostages to fate. But the rest ... why on alternate-Earthy-place do that annoying Colonel and that annoying pedophile-lite sorcerer-lite and his nearly-of-age consort get prime billing in 'Coldness'? Not only don't they deserve it on the grounds of being new characters, their inclusion in the main action at the end of the book seems wholly superfluous.
Case in point: the last book ignores some events from the main trilogy. In book 3, four characters (offstage) penetrate the mysterious Place of Iron Statues and do some impressive things there. Three of those characters are alive and deeply involved at the climax of 'Coldness'. In which another expedition to the same Place is performed, this time on-screen, and we actually get to see it (yay!). But the first expedition seems to have been forgotten. OK, there's sort of an in-book reason why the people who were there could have been compelled to forget (though one of them is one of the strongest three sorcerers in the world so /maybe/ she'd've protected herself, and another has a super-good memory and is compulsive about information, so why didn't he remember or at least write stuff down?). But /nobody/ seems to remember that they were there.
Also, the main trilogy had as a crucial fact that Varthlokkur and Nepanthe's relationship was a crucial thing for the universe. It'd be nice to have that come
Case in point: The series starts with Nepanthe's family stealing the Windmjirnerhorn from the Star Rider. They never quite figured out how to use it very well, and after their [self-]destruction (due in some part to having the Horn) the Star Rider gets it back. But several of them were (a) good sorcerers trying to study the thing, and (b) later deeply involved with the top-rated sorcerers who dominate 'Coldness', so how come Mist and Varthlokkur seem so unaware of how it works?
Case in point: The Star Rider, up to this point, is a mysterious and secretive meddler in the affairs of the world. He has always operated in strange indirect ways — setting up massive wars by a bit of indirect prodding, like that time he 'lost' the Windmjirnerhorn to Nepanthe's family. This, IMAO, makes him a fantastic antagonist. Until the second half of 'Coldness', in which he suddenly goes ultra-terrifying world-class-sorcerer who, despite being seriously weakened, terrifies *all the rest of the sorcerers in the world put together*. He goes from a delicious mystery to a guy with a huge club. His final set of moves don't even make sense to *him* — he knows that attacking the castle is a poor choice, and he'd be better off hiding for a century and sneakily intriguing to split the anti-Star-Rider alliance apart, like he's an expert at doing. Attacks anyways.
Case in point: Some really interesting characters are hinted at — Radeachar acquires a bit of a personality and its first friend; the Star Rider's winged horse gets a personality too — and /nothing comes of it/. The characters are introduced but barely developed. Mist's children get a bit more stage time, but still not enough. They're all set to be major players in the next book of the series, which, of course, will not exist.
Case in point: Bragi essentially is in psychotherapy for most of the book. Knows it, too. Glen Cook's skills do not extend to writing brilliant psychotherapy. Not even *sensible* psychotherapy. Mist tells Bragi to think about stuff, and he does, and that's about it.
Case in point: In the last few books it has been established that Mist and Varthlokkur are the greatest wizards in the world. Mist rules the Dread Empire by this point. So it seems more than a little goofy that they *both* take time out — significant time out — to investigate a couple of child abuse cases in Kavelin. Between that and the sympathetic pedophile-or-so wizard, pedophilia turns into a main theme of the book, as if Cook wants to say something about it, but it's not even clear *what*.
Finally — WTF is up with that title? This book is massively *warm-hearted* by Glen Cook standards. Yeah, it's the last sentence of the previous book. Yeah, the title of the vanished book ("Wrath of Kings") would make less sense. But still, I have no clue whose heart is supposed to have gotten colded.
Anyways, it's not /awful/, but it's more of a gravestone than a capstone for the Dread Empire series. I'd rather have an unfinished masterpiece than a finished inferior work. So I'm gonna go reread the original trilogy and forget that the other books ever existed.