Sorry about the delay. I blame George Lucas.
So, it’s been a while since I’ve done this, but Mike inadvertently reminded me that it’s time to compile a track list for 2011. I put it off because I’m lazy and because I had some last minute additions that I wanted to give a listen to before the year ran out. I stopped doing these primarily because I wasn’t even blogging, but also because I was listening to less music. I deliberately tried to turn this around this year.
To recap: I’m picking my favourite songs from 2011. The tradition is thus: pretend like it is 1999 and you want to burn this to a CD: thus, 80 minutes is the arbitrary limit. And the songs must be released in 2011 — I think I differ from Mike in this regard — so there might be other songs or albums that were new to me this year, but they are not under consideration.
List and links below the fold.
A bit of lag on the reading here, since I was carpooling to work for the past month and so got a lot less reading done…
I stepped over the body as carefully as I could because it would have been embarassing to slip. The Dark Lady of Dzur Mountain indicated a chair for me. I sat in another one only partly to be contrary — the one I chose wasn’t as soft, and thus easier to get out of quickly. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was, like, scared.
The Book Of Taltos contains the 4th and 5th Vlad Taltos novels. Taltos, thus far the only volume not named after one of the official noble houses, is a prequel covering Vlad’s origins, both as a criminal and assassin (which was touched upon in the first volume), and as a friend to lords, the undead, and the occasional deity. Phoenix picks up where Teckla left off, as social tensions rise among the populace, marital tensions rise between Vlad and Cawti, and a bit more divine intervention brings Vlad to a key turning point in his life.
Taltos is the first book that really breaks with the traditional feel of the series. The previous three all revolved around a fantasy take on what were basically crime stories/mysteries. This volume is more of a take on a traditional fantasy quest story. It also ramps up the supernatural elements somewhat, which sounds like a stupid observation to make when you’re talking about a fantasy novel, but what I mean is that there are more appearances of ghosts and Gods and such.
Structurally the novel is somewhat distinct within the series up to this point. There are 3 plot threads (well, 2.5). The framing thread, which features a paragraph or two to open each chapter, is a slow narration of Vlad attempting to cast some sort of difficult and unique bit of witchcraft. The “primary” thread is of Vlad’s first meeting with Morrolan, who recruits Vlad to steal a gem that houses an old friend’s soul, then take this gem to the Paths of the Dead which is the actual physical afterlife for Dragaerans in order to resurrect this old friend. This culminates in the spell being cast in the framing thread. Interspersed with this is the final thread, which is a more detailed recounting of how Vlad went from busboy son of a restauranteur to budding assassin and turf boss for the Jhereg.
I remember not really caring for this novel’s change of pace the first time, but this time around it didn’t really bother me. It’s got a real back-and-forth feel between the two main plotlines, as it switches between them almost on a page by page basis. This has the odd effect of making the entire book feel high-tension even when people are just sitting around talking and reminiscing. This book also marks a bigger shift toward some kind of overarching continuity, and (at least in what I’ve read so far) this continues in later volumes. It’s a bit of an odd duck in the series in many respects, but in some ways it’s nice as a way to shake up the “formula” established by the first three volumes.
Phoenix picks up following the conclusion of Teckla, where it seemed that Vlad and Cawti could come to an accommodation with one another. Phoenix begins with things still in a bit of a strained state between them, and things don’t get much better. The plot is kicked off when Verra, a goddess of ambiguous motives about whom we’ve heard plenty but only first encountered in Taltos, “hires” Vlad to kill a political figure in a neighbouring kingdom for undisclosed reasons. Vlad reluctantly goes along with this — after all, she is a goddess and all, and so presumably there is a reason to it all and the consequences of refusing are likely high. This assassination, predictably, has Consequences of its own, among them war. War leads to conscription, and conscription precipitates another bit of social upheaval amongst Cawti’s revolutionary brethren, which lands her in prison and Vlad desperate to get her out whether she wants to go or not.
Where I found Teckla to be a bit of a downer, Phoenix is a bit more hopeful in my mind, despite the fact that it really marks the point where a bridge too far has been crossed between Vlad and Cawti. I think it’s because it’s a bit easier to sympathize with Vlad’s position this time around and the actions he takes to resolve it, whereas Teckla was a frustrating mess of non-communication. Basically, while Teckla had Vlad pretty much asking for trouble the entire time, I think he comes across as a bit more sympathetic this time and the points he is making are more fair. Of course, Vlad himself has changed, and it is here where he finally turns a corner with respect where his loyalties and personal guilt lie when it comes to his criminal lifestyle. It concludes with a dramatic shift in Vlad’s situation that will carry on to the (chronologically) subsequent novels.
Phoenix is an interesting story but somehow it fell flat for me at the end of the day. Vlad spends most of the novel reacting to events, and events occur at a very rapid pace, unlike prior volumes where the action is more sort of a build-up around some central mystery or conspiracy. It’s an important book in the grander scheme, and appropriate to its title it represents a rebirth for Vlad that drives the future novels.
But I was not helpless. At just such times as these, a witch may always take comfort in his familiar. Mine is a jhereg — a small, poisonous reptile whose mind is psychically linked to my own, and who is, moreover, brave, loyal, trustworthy–
“If you think I’m going out there, boss, you’re crazy.”
Okay, next idea.
Man, I can’t believe it took me this long to find about this thing. Living in a bigger town is kind of awesome sometimes!
I kind of suck at pinball! But that’s OK, it wasn’t super embarrassing.
I often forget, funnily enough, that my dad owned/owns a pinball machine, an old electromechanical one, and I played it a bit when I was very young. When we moved to Fredericton, it never got set up because our basement was unfinished, and has been languishing in disrepair ever since. Growing up during the death of arcades, my experience is limited, but for whatever reason I always gravitated towards pinball (and shmups, but I was better at pinball.) I was never great and its kind of hard to practice at 25 cents a pop on an allowance. But I knew how to trap a ball and could manage the odd slap save and somewhere between the first time the sirens turned on in High Speed and my first multiball on The Addams Family I kind of got hooked.
Of course, in recent years the only pinball I played was of the virtual kind, via the Williams Collection and the kind-of-wonky-physics of the Pinball FX series. But now I have the opportunity to get some live pinball time in on a semi-regular basis. Score!
Concluding thoughts on the disappointing installment.
A lot of stuff being pruned this month as I picked up quite a bit of new stuff and had a lot of stuff lingering on the end of the playlist that I’d forgotten to drop earlier. Let’s see if I can crash your browser with embedded videos.
Last weekend was Ludo Outaouais, a boardgaming convention in Gatineau. This was my second time attending, though I was only able to attend on Saturday. I tried to make the most of it. The two big appeals were: a large library of games to borrow and play, and a large selection of used games for cheap plus discounts on new games from local stores. I got 4 solid game plays in, 3 of which were new to me.
We were all friends here. Morrolan carried Blackwand which slew a thousand at the Wall of Baritt’s Tomb. Aliera carried Pathfinder, which they say served a power higher than the Empire. Sethra carried Iceflame, which embodied within it the power of Dzur Mountain. I carried myself rather well, thank you.
Vladimir Taltos is an assassin and a mob boss for a modest amount of territory. He is an Easterner, what we would call human, in a world run by what we would call elves, where humans are second class citizens. He is a member of the noble House of Jhereg, the House in charge of all organized crime and one of the few Houses to accept Easterners into the ranks. He is accomplished at witchcraft and okay at sorcery. He has a real life Jhereg (think miniature dragon) as a familiar, and friends in high places, both literal and figurative. The Book of Jhereg collects the first three published volumes of his adventures, though they aren’t the first three adventures he has had.