Archive for June, 2012


Fanuilh

I found Daniel Hood’s series about a dragon familiar while searching for dragon art.

Remove the text and I’d put that on my wall.

It’s one of those books I’d have checked out simply because of the cover, had I seen it, but sadly it seems to be out of print. In fact, everything of Daniel Hood’s is, or at least none of our local stores carry his work anymore. I had to order it used. My copy’s rather worn, but still functional. At least it’s intact and devoid of coffee stains and the like. The book’s only about 260 pages, but my edition has enough words per page to resemble a shrunken hardback copy. It’s a tad longer than it seems.

I began reading the book right before we left for a short vacation to Disney, and on the way there the car broke down. I must have read nearly half of it waiting in the lobby at Tuffy’s auto repair, all the while trying to tune out a TV playing a looping infomercial about replacing your wipers, and other repairs. I find it difficult to read if anything else, music included, is going on, and I kept “accidentally” turning off the TV. Once I knew I couldn’t get away with it, I went outside to sit in the hot sun for a few hours. The rest of my memories of it were done in our resort down at Disney or out by the pool, so I have a mix of frustrated and relaxing feelings attached to the book without even getting into the content.

I spent nearly a hundred pages changing my mind on how to pronounce Fanuilh, including seeing about halfway through that I had been swapping the L and U. By the time I settled on just saying Fa-Nyool, I realized he wasn’t the main character. The story is a murder mystery from the sole point of view of Liam Rhenford, a recent transplant to the town of Southwark where the entire book takes place. He stops by to see a wizard friend of his one evening, only to find him murdered. The wizard’s familiar bites him, thus stealing part of his soul so that he can live. There Fanuilh says he’ll help him out if he helps him find the murderer.

Liam isn’t too thrilled at giving up part of his soul, including the side effect of Fanuilh “hearing” everything he thinks, so he gets to work, even though he’s hardly a detective. Liam has a complex past that’s only hinted at, so we never fully know what he’s done and where he’s been, but we do get the impression that he’s had a more interesting life than wasting away in bed all day. He doesn’t care much for Fanuilh either, and even forgets to go feed him more than once. There were a few moments where it seemed they were bonding, but Liam went back to ignoring him and wishing he would go away, though he only sees him when he returns to the wizard’s house. Usually he’s out and about in town trying to figure out whodunnit.

He meets a handfull of characters who actually feel like individuals, and not simply filler to give Liam something to do. I sensed there was far more to all of them than what we learned. I particularly liked, and kind of felt sorry for, the overly religious Viyescu who seemed to be using his faith to compensate for something. I also really would have liked to have seen Fanuilh more, and though he does get one heck of a scene near the end, it was a shame that even then Liam chose to ignore him for a while.

While I didn’t get much of what I came for, the dragon, I did enjoy the book quite a bit and look forward to the sequels. This felt like a set up to much more. Daniel Hood writes well, and it’s refreshing to see a more modest fantasy story, one wrapped up in a mystery.

Metroid

While I began my lifelong friendship with video games on the old Atari 400, it wasn’t until the late 80s when Santa brought my first Nintendo that it really took off. One of the first games I was ever addicted to was the original Metroid. It began by watching my sister’s boyfriend at the time play it;  the music creeped me out (especially Kraid’s hideout,) but I was also intrigued by the strange world and freedom to go wherever you wanted. It wasn’t like in most games at the time where you either had to go left to right, or bottom to top. It even broke that convention right away by placing the first required item directly to the left of the start.

I remember saving up my money from yard sales to finally get the 40 bucks to buy my own copy. I was the happiest kid in the word, even though I had rented the game for months and knew where everything was. It did take me a while to really learn the game, but soon I could find the ice beam and everything else with my eyes closed. This was back before the internet. Many locations in the game look similar. There is no in game map, and you had to make your own or you were screwed. Well, make your own or have the right issue of Nintendo Power.

The game could be brutal at times. Not Ninja Gaiden hard, but still a heck of a challenge. Enemies can hit you leaving a room or entering one before you can even move, and they hit hard. Everytime you die, you start with hardly any health. Your beams hardly do any damage, and you don’t even start with a full shot. It vanishes a few body lengths away. You can’t duck and shoot or aim down or at angles like in future Metroid games. There was even a room in Norfair where if you fell into a certain spot, your only option was to stand there and wait for Samus to get burned to death. No way out.

The music’s one aspect that stuck with me over the years, from the adventurous Brinstar theme, to the creepy parts, such as in Kraid’s lair where it sounds like a demented circus. Then there was the item room music, eerily atonal with what almost sounds like some creature shuddering its breath beneath.

The environments were varied in their strangeness. While it’s dated by today’s standards, as a kid all of the  platforms and blocks that looked like faces stuck with me. Why does this elevator have a rock that looks like a monster coming down at me? Why does this room have what appear to be floating gum drops? Are those walls even organic?

And then there were the metroids the game was named after. Nothing was scarier than those things coming at you and trying to shoot them before they got on your head. Did I mention the game gives you no help?  You’d have no way of knowing to freeze them and then fire missiles without some guide or trial and error, and if you error, you’re not getting another chance to try right away. The best beam in the game doesn’t even work on them.

Metroid was one of the first games that made me want to create my own game. I’d make huge maps of worlds I created on graph paper, based off of the areas in the game. I designed my own creatures, weapons, all kinds of stuff. Kind of wish I still had them. And while the original Metroid hasn’t aged well, it’s still a fun game, especially for the nostalgia trip.

Now, have a picture of Samus and Ridley, one of my all time favorite characters.

When it was revealed that Samus was a girl, all fears of that hot pink suit were relieved.

The Dragon and the George

I first heard of Gordon R. Dickson’s, The Dragon and the George, in middle school after watching The Flight of Dragons, an animated classic based on the novel, though with Peter Dickenson’s ideas on dragons incorporated into the story. The novel’s far less sciencey, but our hero, Jim, shares his counterpart’s scholarly nature. Due to a friend reminding me of the book recently, I finally decided to pick it up. So, off I went to my favorite book stores only to find that no one had it. Odd, I thought, as I could have sworn I had seen it every time I wasn’t looking for it. Eventually I had to order it used. I have an old hardback copy from the 70s with a delightful painting by Boris Vallejo, who’s done every fantasy piece you’ve ever seen.

note: Actual knight cannot summon castles from his lance.

It begins in the modern world and for a while feels like a fantasy version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Dickson and Adams seem to share a similar sense of humor. Eventually Jim’s better half, Angie, is victim to an experiment that sends her away to a fantasy world. Jim follows, but when he arrives, he finds out he’s ended up in the body of a dragon. And so begins a quest to learn just how the heck to be a dragon, and somewhere in there rescue Angie from the forces of evil.

Along the way, Jim meets others who tag along on his quest, including a dragon slaying knight and a giant talking wolf who does his best impression of a honey badger. While everyone has their moment, the latter was my favorite due in part to his no nonsense nature. The others tended to ramble at times, especially Jim. We spend a lot of time in his head and he doesn’t always take the quickest path to his point. It’s this wandering nature that bogs the story down. There was even a side plot involving the nemesis of Sir Brian, our knight friend, that took away from the adventure. I didn’t feel invested enough in him at the time to care much about it. It suffers from excess descriptions too. Dickson tries too hard at times.

I did want to like the novel more. It’s a unique set up with a man stuck not only in a different world, but in the body of a dragon, but I never felt gripped by it. It was enjoyable to see the basis for one of my favorite fantasy films, including so many of the characters who were lifted directly from it, and at least from that I’m glad I read it, I just wish it had a little more to it. I’ll have to give the nod to the movie as my favorite.

This is a book I’d have definitely loved as a teenager, and likely finished the series, but for now I don’t feel compelled to do it. Yet.

After being bogged down the past few months, it’s time to start catching up. Feels great to be back at this again.