Archive for October, 2011


Halloween Memories

As I sit here this Halloween morning, I find the old childhood enthusiasm lost somewhere in an old bag of sugar and wax lips. I do love the decorations and the feel of the world this time of year (at least when the south lets it be autumn) but I find it difficult to remember the last time I did anything Halloweeny or cared to. Candy aside, what I liked the most about this day was the atmosphere. Back when the time changed in October so it was actually dark in the evening, we’d get to trick-or-treat at night as it’s supposed to be. Always loved the candle light glowing from the jack o’ lanterns.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I last trick-or-treated. I didn’t buy a new costume that year, just threw together left overs from before. I think I was a goblin/ninja/skeleton, but whatever I was, I was tall, and when wearing a mask I easily passed for an adult. More than one person said I was too old based solely on that, despite not even being a teenager yet. With a heavy heart I stayed home the next year. And the next. And now here I am wondering when my hair will start graying or falling out.

How did I ever eat so much candy in one night? If I have two candy bars nowadays I’ll be sick for the rest of the week, and I’m bigger now too. I honestly can’t imagine how I ate an entire bag (or pumpkin shaped bucket) of candy. Nor am I sure how I survived on a daily diet of pizza and french fries in middle school either. McDonalds used to have halloween buckets as happy meals during that month. Of course I had to collect them all.

These things:

There was this dentist a few blocks behind us that always gave out toothbrushes. We didn’t like him too much. The people who handed out taffy or tootsie rolls weren’t very well liked either.The best hand outs were Butterfingers, Snickers, Nerds, and Smarties. I remember Bart Simpson used to do the ads for those back when the Simpsons was actually good. The annual Halloween episode was always a big thing.

Once when I was around five or six we went up to this house with a big gorilla as part of the decorations. After I got my candy it turned out it was actually a man in a suit. He jumped at me and scared me to death. I don’t think we went back to that house. Looking back on it it was great though. Halloween should be scary, not this sterilized day you see now. How many cherubish decorations are out there? I want to see rotting hands popping out of the ground, and monsters falling from trees. Let’s turn the neighborhood into Silent Hill.

One of our local grocery stores for a few years had a haunted house set up outside. It wasn’t anything fancy. I seem to remember it being made of connected boxes and spider webs.

I went as Batman one year, and a ninja three times. Same costume. My grandmother made me a clown outfit once.

We’d have Halloween parties in elementary school. Those were fun. We’d get to wear our costumes for the day and bring candy that got mixed together and given out, and I remember all of the speeches about not taking certain kinds of treats cause it might be poisoned. My goodness. Really, is there anyone out there wanting to poison hundreds of kids?

Happy Halloween.

Now have some dancing zombies:

 

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Dragoncharm

At one point, Graham Edwards’s Dragoncharm made me tremble. A book hasn’t had such an emotional effect on me since Novik’s Throne of Jade two years ago where I ended up losing five hours of sleep so I could finish the book and put my nerves to rest. I first heard of Dragoncharm a few months back while doing a search for dragon centric novels to help me get a feel for how other authors handle them. This was all in hopes of aiding my own work that has a dragon lead. I searched for the novel at every book store in the area, but sadly no one had it, and so I did what normal people do nowadays and went to Amazon. The newest edition of the book was unavailable with a message that they had no idea when it ever would be. Discouraging; disappointing. Then I saw they had the original edition from the mid 90s, and I could buy it new starting at about $115. Starting at. Fortunately they had sellers with used copies for far less and with shipping I finally managed to get a copy of the original print for around the price of a new book today.

I prefer the older cover design by Paul Youll. The dragon seems more fitting to how they’re described in the book and it has raised font that I’m a sucker for. The dragon image is raised too and in some places you can feel individual scales and bony ridges. It’s a nice touch. Sadly the edges of my cover are starting to peel.

Dragoncharm’s cast is almost exclusively dragons. According to the author’s website, the idea came from the classic Watership Down where all of the characters are rabbits, and he wanted to try it with fantasy creatures. Dragons were a great choice. There are a few other beings, but no humans to be found. A brief scene has fairies and trolls are enormous beings of the earth. Literally, they are the land in places. Toward the end is the basilisk, a creepy pale creature older than time itself, who usually prefers to watch, but by the end begins to leech on others, manipulating them. Otherwise everyone’s a dragon. Here what I found an interesting variation is there are two kinds of dragons. There are the Naturals, who are beings that could exist in the real world. They still have only four limbs, with their wings connected like bats. Their bones are hollow to aid in flight. Then there are the magical dragons known as the Charmed, who can alter their form (sometimes into genuinely grotesque horrors) and whose wings are more for show than function. They use magic to fly. As magic in the world weakens they’re slowly going mad. It’s sad to watch. The weaker Naturals fear the Charmed, some of which give them good reason, and this tension forms the main source of conflict in the book. It’s a story of blind prejudice and friendship, all wrapped up in an end of the world plot.

Usually prologues in stories tend to be akin to previews at the theater. They’re short and a necessary evil before getting to the main event (unless you’re one of those people who go see a movie only for a certain trailer.) The prologue in this story did it right, giving emotional investment in some of the characters from the beginning. I had to wipe a tear at the end.

The characters are all wonderfully portrayed with depth and heart. Edwards knows has to toy with your emotions. Even the two main antagonists draw out sympathies if you’re paying attention, as terrible as they can be. The lead dragon, Fortune, has to grow up quickly as he’s pulled on his quest by a Charmed named Cumber to stop everyone from slaughtering each other. Fortune falls for another, and while it seemed their love came a touch fast, it might just be how dragons are. Another pair grew on each other quickly too, though in an amusing moment, both were too shy to say anything.

Fortune’s childhood friend, Wood, who I continually wished the best for, has to choose between him and his father when they take different sides. The agonizing nature of it is that his father is burned almost to his death by a Charmed, and then Wood is slowly twisted with propaganda into thinking Fortune is his enemy. Another Natural, Brace, has a similar conflict as he hates the Charmed, loves his sister, but she defends those who he opposes. It’s a joy watching him grow up.

One of the antagonists, a Natural named Shatter, grew up in forced isolation. We never find out why, but for a while I wondered if it was their fault or because he was bad from the start. Shatter certainly has no problems killing them and even infants to gain what he wants. The second “bad guy,” Wraith, is a black Charmed dragon with extra limbs making him look like a spider. I was hoping for a fight between these two, but the conclusion was still satisfying.

I like how there’s good and bad in both sides, and everyone’s arguments can be understood whether one can agree with them or not. Fortune even mentions this when trying to convince a Natural friend that the Charmed aren’t all the monsters they’ve been led to believe. He admits that those he defends can do wrong, but so can everyone. He even has his moments of weakness that have negative consequences.

The narrative at times can be rough as Edwards’s writing is full of mixed metaphor, and at times, sentences extended with chains of propositions. This can make understanding magical events, in particular early on, difficult. The Aether’s Cross section of the story bogs down from it. Here it begins jumping to new characters as well. It can be disorienting, but once through the early middle point of the story it all comes together quickly. The last 200 pages had me gripped. I finished the second half of the book in two days and was left with so much to think about and discuss. The story leaves events up to interpretation in a positive way. That’s a great a feeling. It’s unfortunate that there’s no where to do it since the book is buried deep under mainstream works.

Edwards’s site mentions that at one point a TV mini series was planned for the book. It’s a shame it never came to light, though I’m not sure how it would have looked with mid  90s CG technology.

Dragoncharm has its moments of clumsiness, but that can be forgiven by memorable, emotionally rich characters and an engaging story. If you like dragons and can actually find the book, I highly recommend it.

Now for something horrifying before Halloween month is over.

****/*****

Turning Point

Two months after finishing Flesh and Gold, I decided to have a date with my old nemesis.

Yes, it’s time for another telepath story. Lisanne Norman’s Turning Point is yet another sci-fi book I purchased in the 90s that was never read because it involved telepathy, but I survived this encounter. While reading I thought more than once that this would have been a book I’d have devoured back in highschool when I was a Niven junky, and soon would have plowed through each book in the series if not for that one stumbling block. What drew me to it in the first place was the human/alien interaction, and that the featured aliens (known as Sholans) appeared cat like, something I was into at the time thinks to Niven’s Kzinti and all of the spin off books about them. Further intrigue came from a romantic relationship between the female protagonist and one of these aliens. So I bought it back then, and as it turned out while digging the book out of my collection, the next two in the series as well. I have no memory of buying the latter two, so I was amused and surprised to find them.

There are more aliens than the cats. The antagonists are semi reptilian, flat faced, pallid skinned beings known as Valtegans. So yes, they look like Voldemort. We only see them early in the book and near the end, but they are mentioned as background from time to time. They’re portrayed unpleasantly, killing without regret and even bringing in others for personal procreation if you read between the lines. I do hope in later books that at least some of them are seen in a better light as I hate monochromatic characterization among species, like Brian Jacques tended to do in Redwall. It’s hard to believe ever member of a species is the same, unless they’re clones, but even then it could be argued that each clone could branch off into its own being depending on upbringing. Humans certainly are widely varied. We never see enough of the Valtegans to really know however.

At least the Sholans are shown to have great variety in personality. If the author does one thing well, it’s characterization with her protagonists, even with a POV that tends to hover outside of any one character’s head. The deeper we go into the story, the more often the camera tends to pull back. Even then we really feel these characters, both emotionally and physically. Wounds make the reader wince, frustrations cause tension, and feelings of love lift the spirits.

Where she excels with character, the world tends to take a back seat. It’s disappointing when the most striking part of the environment comes from coffee. The characters drink it often, including the Sholans who have their brand of it that lacks the potency of ours. Outside of drinks there’s a swamp with some dangerous critters and buildings with lifeless interiors, but otherwise she spends little time immersing us on this alien planet.

As for the telepathy, only a few members of each species can use it, and each treats the members of its respective species differently. The problem with Carrie, who is our leading lady, is that she had a twin who shared the gift with her and Carrie could feel all of her pain. Her sister however felt none. It lead to her taking advantage of the situation and a miserable life for Carrie. She nearly dies right at the beginning of the story when her sister is killed by the Valtegans. That’s no spoiler. Eventually she saves the wounded Kusac, a Sholan and fellow telepath, and they begin to bond in that way throughout the story. There’s more to their mental link than simply being able to communicate. Carrie instantly learns Kusac’s language through it, she finds she can help him heal, and more. The link seems to have a mind of its own, and while this isn’t explained much, it’s what pulls them together emotionally and locks them together to where they would die if separated too far. This makes their love seem a bit cold and manipulative. While I do believe they do love each other, that feeling of it being false lingers. I hear Norman gets into the power of the link more in future books. Hopefully it doesn’t take a Phantom Menace approach to explaining. Sometimes it’s better to leave things a mystery.

I still don’t care for telepathy as a plot device much but I’m tolerating it.

It’s a good read if you enjoy character driven works. Most of the plot involves Carrie and Kusac learning about each other and their species. Little happens in the way of action and adventure until the final chapter, and when it’s over it feels like only half the story has been read. This is unsurprising since the other books are about two to three times longer. Overall it feels undeveloped but still well written.

Here’s the book:

 

I’ll likely return to the series later, but for now I have other books to read that need to stop collecting dust. The dragons are calling.

***1/2 of *****