Star Wars authors at Origins Game Fair

Ohio has several good yearly conventions, and the one for gamers is Origins Game Fair every summer in Columbus.  My husband B headed down for four days to meet some friends and play some games.  While he was there, I discovered that two of my favorite Star Wars authors were also in attendance!  So I gnashed my teeth that I had stayed home and sent B to go meet them. 🙂

He went first to Timothy Zahn’s booth.  Zahn is best known for kicking off the old Star Wars Expanded Universe books with the Heir to the Empire trilogy, and he recently brought one of his best-loved characters back into SW canon with Thrawn (which is on my to-read list).

B got to chat with Zahn for a little bit, and with a promise of my undying love in return, he procured me a signed copy of one of his books.  Scoundrels is a fun little heist story featuring Han Solo and Lando; I reviewed it here a few years back.  B knew I already own the Heir to the Empire trilogy, and Zahn was kind enough to suggest that he sign bookplates for my copies of those novels as well.  There was a lot of squeeing when B got home with this surprise.

I asked B if he told Zahn that Mara Jade is my favorite EU character, but sadly he had not.

Next, he found Michael Stackpole’s booth.  Stackpole is known for his excellent Star Wars X-wing series, and I have read a few of his fantasy novels as well (check out reviews here and here.)  Sadly, Stackpole had already sold out of books, but B got to chat with him for a bit as well.  He was able to inform him that I named my laptop after his X-wing pilot character Corran Horn (it’s silver, like his lightsaber).

In retrospect, I’m not at all surprised that these two authors should be at Origins, because they are both known to fans as big gaming nerds and frequently attend cons.  They’ve both written in game universes like WOW and Starcraft; Stackpole just finished a novel set in the Pathfinder universe, a tabletop RPG setting similar to D&D.  Stackpole has also been a game designer his entire career and is a board member of GAMA, who runs Origins.

So, who knows?  Maybe next year I’ll make it down to Origins to meet them both in person. 🙂

 

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Handmaid’s Tale

the-handmaids-tale-coverThis month on the GNBC we are featuring Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale.  I’m a little late responding to this one, but you can check out the original discussion post here.

I actually went and bought this one in paperback because I thought this might be the kind of book I’d want to own.  It’s been back in the public consciousness recently because of the critically acclaimed Hulu adaptation, plus the fact that it’s been a number one seller on Amazon–unusual for a book first published in the 80s.

There is so much to unpack with this book; I can see why it’s frequently taught in universities and even high schools.  But quite frankly, I’m glad it didn’t come to me until now; I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much.

This was a difficult book for me to read, and I mean that in several different ways.

First of all, it is slow.  The book is not plot-driven.  Pretty much nothing really happens until the midpoint of the book, just Offred going through daily life and thinking.  Thinking about her lost daughter, about her indoctrination into the Handmaids, about the past, about her room, about suicide.  Thinking is enough; it paints a marvelous picture of Offred’s world.  But I didn’t find it “gripping” in the way of other novels, which is one reason I never made it past the first few chapters when I tried to read it over ten years ago.

Second, Offred’s story is presented in first person, present tense (her remembrances of the past are in past tense).  This is currently all the rage in YA novels, and I am not a fan.  Luckily, Atwood is a good writer, and the narrative style is entirely purposeful.  From chapter seven:

It’s also a story I’m telling, in my head, as I go along….But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone.  You don’t tell a story only to yourself.  There’s always someone else.

And the end of the story reveals that Offred has recorded her story on audio tapes which were later recovered and pieced back together.  This explains why the narrative jumps around so much, but it doesn’t change the fact that it can be confusing.  Sometimes I wouldn’t immediately understand what day it was or where in the flow of time the words I was reading took place.

I also had a hard time picturing the locations in the story as being overlaid on the localities in the modern day Boston area.  Maybe if I’d been to Boston for more than a few hours it would have been easier, but I could only see the community as something new, secluded in an unrecognizable place.  Making the connection between pre-Gilead and post-Gilead was hard to me.

But the most fundamental reason that this book was hard to read was the subject matter; it is disturbing.  And even now I am having a hard time writing about why it was so particularly disturbing to me now.  This book affected me like it wouldn’t have before because I am five months pregnant.  Everything that Offred goes through, her blissful existence in her past life with her husband and young daughter, her anguish at that being taken away, her life being stripped to an equivalence with her mere reproductive capabilities, her shifts between guilt, despair, and hope, hope of a new pregnancy, of a new child that will also not be hers–all of her thoughts and feelings felt deeply personal to me.

I believe in my empathetic nature, that the book would have affected me before, but now, as I start a family with my husband, I think I truly understand the stakes, how much there is to lose.  I was reading this book with a love note from my husband tucked between the pages as a bookmark.  Can you think of anything more ironic than that?  I’d like to pretend that it wasn’t an accident, but an act of defiance.

I thought it was interesting how Offred and Ofglen are presented as foils for each other.  Of the two, Ofglen is the revolutionary, the Katniss Everdeen of Gilead.  But she is not our main character.  We are following Offred instead, who is not a revolutionary.  In fact, she feels, well, almost satisfied, once her life is bearable.  It is enough for her, and she won’t risk it for the sake of others.  She stops being interested in the machinations of Ofglen’s secret group.  But for Ofglen, there is no “satisfied,” at least maybe until Gilead is done away with.  She is an amazing woman, but I think I am more like Offred.  I understood her perfectly.

I liked how the ending is ambiguous; we don’t know where Offred is being lead, and by whom.  I think it fit very well with the rest of the book, and I’ve always liked these kinds of endings (The Giver, Inception)–but I know some people hate them.  I remember people arguing in the sixth grade about whether Jonas lived in freedom or died at the end of The Giver!  The Historical Notes tagged on to the end provide a lot of interesting context to the story, but the tonal shift is so jarring; I am undecided whether the book is better with or without them.

Image result for the handmaid's tale

As I was reading some articles about the Hulu adaptation (which I haven’t seen; I don’t have Hulu), I came across one that mentioned that Offred is raped repeated by her Commander.  Immediately, my inner head voice said, No, that’s not right.  Offred herself says it’s not rape.  From chapter 16:

Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.  There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.

But I pushed that knee-jerk reaction aside and thought about it some more.  Just because Offred doesn’t consider it rape, are we obliged to do the same?  Offred clearly doesn’t want to consider herself a victim; she wants to maintain control of her body, her life, her mind.  But what, really, was the choice she had, the alternative to having sex as a Handmaid?  Possible torture and death, from what I can tell.  This is exactly the kind of situation, the kind of dilemma, that we as a society consider rape all the time.  Just because the torture and death aren’t immediate doesn’t make them any less real.

In any case, perhaps the semantics are irrelevant.  The point is that no one should have to do what Offred has to do.  The perverseness of the social order of the Republic of Gilead is well-established by the novel, and will stick with everyone who reads it for a long time.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: As You Wish

51aluqonyfl-_sx329_bo1204203200_This installment of the GNBC features As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.  It is a memoir by Cary Elwes (who played Westley in the film) about his time spent making that film.  If you have never seen The Princess Bride…well, first of all, you should go see it, because it’s wonderful and funny and appeals to so many types of people.  But obviously this book is intended for fans of the movie, and as I consider myself one, I enjoyed it greatly.

I have been a fan of Cary Elwes in many roles, including his turn as a thief on Psych, and his role as a Robin Hood with an English accent.  He has always seemed like a very charming man, and consequently his book is very charming.  He comes across as very modest and gracious, (mostly) level-headed but with a spirit of joy in life.

I’ve never read a memoir from a film set before, so it was very interesting to me to learn not just about The Princess Bride, but how all movies are made in general.  Shooting on location, training, stunts, cast interactions, the whole process.  For example, the very first scene Elwes shot was the Fire Swamp, which involved setting Robin Wright (Buttercup)’s dress on fire, and then later practically improvising the stunt where Westley dives headfirst into the quicksand (he was originally just supposed to jump in feet-first).  He also trained with fencing professional for months to be able to do the swordfight scene with Inigo.  I was constantly telling my husband (also a fan) all these little tidbits I was learning as I went along.

The book also makes frequent use of perspectives from the other cast members (Fred Savage, Christopher Guest, Christopher Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, etc.), the director Rob Reiner, and the writer William Goldman (who also wrote the original book).  Everything that everyone says just gives you a sense that they all had such a good time making this film, that they put so much love into it, and it has a very special place in their hearts.  I think it really shows in the finished product.  Because of this happy energy, it is a fun, light read, and because of the format of vignettes and anecdotes, it is very easy to pick up and put down if you don’t have much time for reading.

The book covers many of the famous scenes from the movie, as well as some behind-the-scenes things, and it even covers a little of the release of the movie.  I always kind of figured The Princess Bride was considered a “cult classic,” because I had never heard of it until I was in high school, and the book outlines why this is.  Upon its release, the studio had trouble marketing it, apparently because of the mix of genres, and though the initial audience reaction was great, the movie basically flopped.  But once it started making its way onto VHS and getting spread by word of mouth, its popularity picked up,eventually becoming such that the cast had a 25th anniversary reunion screening at the Lincoln Center in 2012.  The movie is now thirty years old and just as popular as ever.

I think this book will definitely change the way I see the movie the next time I watch it.  I will now never be able to NOT think about the fact that Westley is actually getting knocked out by Count Rugen (no acting required!) and that he had a broken toe in some scenes, etc.  It does kinda pull the veil of movie magic back a bit, but I still find it entertaining, just in a different way.

Reading the memoir also inspired me to start reading the original novel, which I am also really enjoying.  Even just getting through the author’s forward is an entertaining journey.

Next time on GNBC we will switch back to fiction, so keep an eye out for a new pick soon.

My Top 5 Versions of Beauty and the Beast

As I’m looking forward to the new Disney live action version of Beauty and the Beast (early reviews are vaguely positive), I recall the first time I read a Beauty and the Beast story: in elementary school, one of our Reading textbooks had among its folk tales a telling of the traditional French story, complete with illustrations and a pretty page border.

Since then, I’ve developed a great love of fairy tales and have seen and read many version of Beauty and the Beast.  Here are some of my favorites.

OUAT

Once Upon a Time (S1 Ep12 “Skin Deep”)

It’s been a few years since I watched Once Upon a Time, but the first season is particularly enjoyable, and BatB is one of the key fairy tales introduced.  Emilie de Ravin is a charming Belle, and they added some nice twists to the tale (Rumplestilksin is the Beast, and Belle becomes the town librarian) while keeping some nods to the Disney animated movie (Belle’s dresses, the chipped teacup).

Beastly by Alex Flinn

T544891his YA novel updates the BatB story to modern times and also follows the Beast’s perspective.  Kyle Kingsbury is cute, popular, and rich…until he manages to insult a real, live witch at his high school, who turns him into a beast.  His famous father stashes him in a NYC townhouse with only a housekeeper and a blind tutor (plus a chat room for other magically transformed teenagers) for company. Our Belle here is the bookish Lindy, which is short for Linda, the Spanish word for “pretty.”

I gave this book a 4/5 when I first reviewed it.  It’s not my favorite YA fantasy by a long shot, but Kyle is a compelling narrator and it’s a nice urban update on the tale.

Masque by W.R. Gingell

I just re-read this book again recently; it was one of my great 29481285finds of 2016.  The BatB story is nestled inside a murder mystery filled with magic and intrigue.  Lady Isabella “Belle” Farrah is one of my favorite protagonists of all time.  She has such quick wit and emotional control, yet still manages to grow over the course of the book.

This book will appeal to fans of historical romance, fantasy, mystery, or even steampunk genres.  There’s so much to love!  Check out my original review here, or you can pick it up for cheap on Kindle on Amazon.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

8084This is a classic fairy tale novelization and was key in my (and I’m sure many other’s) love of the genre.  It’s a very traditional, novel-length telling, and pretty much a YA book before YA was a genre.  There’s no surprises here, just a great story with lovely writing.

Beauty is currently available as part of a $15 Humble Bundle of  “Women Of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” 

McKinley decided to revisited BatB twenty years later with Rose Daughter, which is a more daring, quirky take.  I like it a lot, too, but it’s not quite the classic that Beauty is.

 

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

This movie came out when I was about five years old; consequently it was one of the first Disney movies I saw, and it has remained a favorite throughout the years.  The opening sequence contains some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen.  And the songs!  I can still sing them all.  It stands tall as part of the Disney Renaissance, and was even the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Image result for beauty and the beast 1991
I picked this movie poster for an image because we used to have a giant puzzle of it.

 

What’s your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?

Book Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

104089Last year, while I was waiting for my library copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s new book, I decided to get myself in the mood by reading his most famous work: Tigana.

Well, I still haven’t gotten around to reading his newest book, but I think it was worth it for Tigana.  It’s widely considered his masterpiece, and while it wasn’t my favorite of his works, there were scenes in this book that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I think that’s about the highest praise I can give a book.

The story begins with a young bard, Devin, who’s been employed to sing for the funeral of a local Duke.  He quickly stumbles into a conspiracy involving the overthrow of not one but two invading sorcerer kings, and a mysterious conquered province whose name has been erased from memory…Tigana.

Most of Kay’s works are what I would call historical fantasy; they are based on historical places, people, and events, but transported into a purely fantasy setting.  Tigana takes place in an fantasy version of medieval or Renaissance Italy.  If you look at the lovely maps included between the section breaks, you’ll see that the peninsula of the Palm looks very similar to Italy flipped upside-down.  The world building is amazing, and the setting gives it a “classic” fantasy feel.

 

This is not a quick-paced book, but it has a wonderful style.  Kay’s prose and tone has been an inspiration for my current WIP (and last year’s NaNoWriMo project), so I tried to study his effortless techniques in making the story feel both immediate and personal and yet epic.  He often uses a kind of “two sentence foreshadowing” to give context for some event that is occurring, giving a brief tease as to how it will be viewed later by the characters or by history.

Even when I felt I knew where the story was going, I was still on the edge of my seat.  And there were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming, especially a big one at the very end.

If you are interested in reading Kay, this is a great place to start! (I’d also recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan, set in fantasy Spain.)

5/5 stars