Here’s a throwback post to some of my work over at Comparative Geeks. Give them a look and tell them I sent you!
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to hunt and kill monsters. Such a desire led me through many interests over the years, as well as the inevitable realization that the only real monsters in the world were all human beings–something that Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, also realizes in his own adventures. My first experience with Geralt came in the second Witcher video game. After that, I read The Last Wish (a collection of early short stories about the character), played the original Witcher video game, began working my way through Andrzej Sapkowsi’s other Witcher books, and then lost several months of my life to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I have no regrets.
The appeal of Geralt as a character is manifold. He is different; he is other. The mutations that allow him to hunt and fight monsters also make him a pariah, and Witchers are often seen as half-monsters themselves. His outsider status within his own story coupled with his deep, heartfelt distrust of authority have always been positives for me, and his near-inability to be impressed with anyone else effectively makes Geralt my spirit animal. He has little time for the artificial institutions of self-important humans, and is usually far more comfortable on the road or knocking a few back with a band of dwarves than within a city’s walls. I must say that I agree in total.
I eagerly await Henry Cavill’s performance in the upcoming Netflix Witcher series.
A disaster strikes your home, and you have to get out quick. You’re risking leaving a lot of things behind, but the important parts of your life–your family and pets–are already safe. You only have a few moments to grab at most seven books from your shelves and run. What will those seven precious books–the backbone of starting over–be? Here are my choices. Consider sharing your own.
Forgive the condition of some of these; my books have been through a lot with me, which is why it’s nearly impossible to make this decision. This is a background anxiety I believe a lot of us with large book collections likely possess, and I wanted to interrogate mine a bit. If you had to pare it down and start over, where would you begin?
We’re going to try a little something different today, both to explore something(s) awesome and to commemorate Claudia Gray’s newest Star Wars novel, Master and Apprentice, which came out last week. The two Star Wars novels of Gray’s I have read so far are among the franchise’s most fantastic recent offerings: Lost Stars (2015) and Bloodline (2016).
I never, ever thought I could become enamored with a YA love story, but here we are. Lost Stars is an absorbing journey through the entire original Star Wars saga told from the points of view of two entirely new characters who grow up together on a backwater planet and who both join the Imperial Academy on Coruscant. The love story goes star-crossed after Alderaan, with one character remaining in the Imperial Navy and the other joining the Rebellion. The depth and nuance of Gray’s understanding of human emotion are staggering, and will impress even the most cynical and hard-hearted Star Wars fan. I cannot recommend this book enough!
While the sort of emotional power found in Lost Stars is also strong with Bloodline, it is foremost Claudia Gray’s gripping effort to set a political thriller in the Star Wars universe. Focusing primarily on Leia and her closely-guarded secret about her true parentage, Gray also paints a disturbing picture of an up-and-coming generation who did not witness the Galactic Civil War and who have developed an unhealthy fascination with the Empire. This, as we know, is one of several factors that leads to the rise of the First Order. It is also unsettling to witness this same sort of fascination among many young, white American teenagers with Nazism. If you are a Star Wars fan and you worry about younger generations forgetting the past far, far too easily, I heartily recommend this book to you.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to try to defend the vampire sub-genre here. While some of the older, campier versions of Dracula can be fun, my favorite iteration is the one portrayed by Gary Oldman in the Francis Ford Coppola film from 1992. It also hearkens back to my favorite section of the original Bram Stoker novel, and what, for me, redeems the monster at the center of the entire story.
In the original novel, there is a scene where Dracula and Harker stay up all night just talking, and as dawn breaks Dracula has to run away to hide from the sunlight. I loved this moment. It demonstrates the lonely old immortal Dracula, and that he truly did just yearn for companionship. The novel gets really tedious after this when it swaps to Mina’s letter-writing perspective, but that one small section always gets me.
I feel that the lonely Dracula longing for a human connection (despite, you know, eating Gypsy babies) is the one best embodied in Gary Oldman’s performance. I love this movie, and I can’t recommend it enough if you have never seen it. The cinematography is fantastic, and the central story line that develops of an immortal, heartbroken being chasing a lost love throughout time is one certain to catch the attention of fans of horror, dark fantasy, and paranormal romance all at once.
Conan is a character continually returned to in prose, comics, and films since his first appearance in 1932. Created by Robert E. Howard, a man who found it difficult to reconcile his views of the world with modern life, Conan is the ultimate misanthrope. Conan despises civilization and prefers a life in the wild, though he continually drifts back for wine, women, and opportunities to hone his craft and shed some blood.
I’m not saying I wish the world were exactly like the ancient age of Conan, but can you honestly say you’ve never just wanted to get away from it all and experience a version of the world entirely different from the urban jungle-dominated landscapes that can be seen on every continent except Antarctica?
What does speak to me on a level my life experiences and education push back against is the idea of riding free and making your way in life at the point of your sword. Friends, wealth, adventure, booze, sex are all there waiting for you, without the burden of a structured life to go with it all. I have to say, a life in fur briefs and an Atlantean sword at my hip beats the office grind any day.
Note: Update(s) at bottom.
Good day, everyone! With all the new content from our contributors, I thought it was time I released a little something myself while I continued to work on my other column ideas for the Thoughts. For today, I thought another short post about the Black Company books by Glen Cook was in order. I’m not going to stop until I make readers out of some of my followers and friends.
Moving forward from what I started with my post on Croaker awhile back, I wanted to present all of you with an accessible reading chronology for the series, being as I found it difficult to keep straight what order some books should be read in. There doesn’t seem to be that much out there about the series these days, what with it wrapping up over a decade ago.
The first trilogy of books, often called the Books of the North, have also been collected in The Chronicles of the Black Company.
4. The Silver Spike (1989) – This one is a bit of a misfit. It chronicles the adventures of a side group of characters after the company parted ways at the end of the third book. Various lists place it as either first or last in the second trilogy. I actually read it in between the following two books.
5. Shadow Games (1989)
6. Dreams of Steel (1990)
The second trilogy of books, often called the Books of the South, have also been collected in The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company. These stories, generally speaking and avoiding spoilers, explore the adventures of the Black Company as it seeks to return to the lost city of Khatovar far to the south from which its original incarnation emerged centuries earlier.
These books, the first two of the four-part Glittering Stone, have also been collected in The Return of the Black Company.
The last two books of Glittering Stone have also been collected in The Many Deaths of the Black Company.
There are also a few short stories set in the same world. I’ll admit, though, I’m not familiar with them but plan on adding them on after I complete the novels.
1. “Raker” (1982) – Apparently, this is an early version of an early chapter from the first book.
2. “Tides Elba” (2010) – Appeared in Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery.
3. “Smelling Danger” (2011) – Appeared in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2.
Glen Cook has also talked about two more possible novels in the series if he can get around to writing them.
A Pitiless Rain – Forthcoming with little known.
Port of Shadows – Forthcoming with little known.
I hope this list will be helpful to any of you looking to get into this classic fantasy series. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
I was curious to see an uptick in traffic to this old post, so I wanted to go ahead and make some additions to it on releases since I first wrote this list:
“Shaggy Dog Bridge” was released in 2013 in Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, and is set between Shadows Linger (Book Two) and The White Rose (Book Three).
“Bone Candy” was released in 2014 in Shattered Shields. It takes place after “Tides Elba,” which takes place after The Black Company (Book One), but before Port of Shadows (Book One-and-a-Half).
“Bone Eaters” was released in 2015 in Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams of Lightspeed Magazine. It is set right after “Shaggy Dog Bridge” before The White Rose.
Port of Shadows was released on September 11th, 2018. It is set between The Black Company (Book One) and Shadows Linger (Book Two), so feel free to read it whenever!
At this point, we’re still waiting on A Pitiless Rain and any other short stories that may come about. I know this addendum isn’t the most convenient way to absorb this information, so I will be remaking this post in the near future. Either way, I hope this helps out new readers!
In today’s post I’d like to explore the use of sentient creatures (called Animals in this series) and the possible connotations associated with this character set. I find it interesting that the differentiation between sentient and non-sentient beings in Maguire’s world begins with the simple addition of a capital letter (animals vs. Animals), but expands farther than that.
In The Wicked Years novels, sentient Animals have the same basic capabilities as humans, meaning they have the capacity for speech and coherent thought, they have the ability to walk upright, and they also possess the moral obligation to clothe themselves. However intelligent these Animals are, they are still hindered by the handicaps of their physicality. Brrr, the Lion from A Lion Among Men, for instance, is described as having difficulty with handwriting due to his paws. Yet, not only can he write, but he is employed (using this word loosely) as a court reporter/investigator. Despite his intellect and the fact that he overcomes his physical “handicaps,” Brrr, like other sentient Animals, is still treated as a lesser species. In fact, one of the main social tensions plowing through The Wicked Years novels is the battle for equality: people and beings viewed as less than equal against those in power who attempt to impose their ideas on the whole of Oz.
Sound familiar? It should, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few hundred years. In an ever-evolving world, the only constant thread binding generation to generation is the battle for equality— that Us vs. Them mentality.
Not only are the Animals treated as less than human, they are too human for the animal world. Maguire’s series hosts Animals who have retreated into the wilderness to live among animals that look like them, but have nowhere near the capacities they have. A creature who is too intelligent for one group, yet dismissed as unworthy by another group? Well, that should sound familiar, too. I expect that each of us has experienced some feeling similar to this in our lives, some more harshly than others, I’m sure.
Now, I don’t ascribe to overt political notions, but I can safely opine that of all the canonical, classic literature I’ve ever dealt with, most harbor a thematic notion (however vague it may be) of equality or social justice. This construct is the common denominator in the hopelessly obtuse equation of our past, present, and future. Regardless of the “side” you would choose or have chosen in your own battles for equality, a hint of understanding and empathy can be lent to the characters in Maguire’s series.
Whether you are a fantasy junkie or not, check out The Wicked Years series. And if you aren’t sure about it, I know of a certain green-faced character who may be able to change your mind.
Let’s deepen the discussion. Tell me your thoughts on the parallels between Maguire’s Oz and what we know as reality. For instance, what other parallels can be drawn between Animals and their struggles and our reality? Also, how do you feel about the theme of social justice in literature? Do you think that it anchors a novel (or series of novels) in the reader’s mind? If so, how?
Hello all! For my first sci-fi post here at the Thoughts, I wanted to tackle the book series from the early 2000s called The New Jedi Order. I was always under the impression that this book series was not well-written and generally not a good read. However, some time ago, I decided that it would behoove me to know more about the details of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. This seemed to impact so much of the Star Wars galaxy that I felt under-accomplished as a Star Wars nerd for not having read the series.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
…if you haven’t read any of these books or been on Wookiepedia at any point in time.
The series begins with a book by R. A. Salvatore titled Vector Prime. This is Salvatore’s first Star Wars novel, and he does a fantastic job. I doubt very much that this surprised anyone, as Salvatore is the rather successful author behind many of the Forgotten Realms books. I’m sure what did shock everyone was his choice to kill one of the main cast from the original trilogy movies. The death of Chewbacca was a hard one to take and affected the tone of the whole series, but the subsequent authors did a very nice job of picking up where Salvatore left off and expounding on the new society he created: the Yuuzhan Vong, a race from a whole other galaxy.
The Yuuzhan Vong are a completely alien entity to every facet of life in the Star Wars galaxy. They embrace pain as a natural and very important part of life. They intentionally inflict pain on themselves as a means of worshiping their gods. Indeed, their creation myth tells them that the first Yuuzhan Vong were cut off of their most revered deity, Yun-Yuuzhan. His initial sacrifice to bring his children into existence is a big part of why the Yuuzhan Vong practice ritual sacrifice of slaves and captives, as well as personal sacrifice of their person.
Another major differentiating factor is their use of biotechnology, or shaping. The Yuuzhan Vong do not use any form of technology as we, nor indeed the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy, understand it. But the Yuuzhan Vong take it a step further to the point that mechanical technology, no matter to what scale it is used, is blasphemous and an abomination to the gods. This is usually the first thing they set about doing when they have conquered a planet during the invasion.
Perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with for the Jedi is the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong exist outside the Force. The Jedi can’t detect them, anticipate their movements, affect them with mind tricks, pick them up and toss them away, none of that. However, the Jedi quickly become the focus of much of the Yuuzhan Vong’s efforts to splinter the factions of the galaxy by more or less posting a bounty on Jedi.
I will admit that I have not finished the series yet, but I am close to the end. With only three and a half books to go, I believe I have found the part of the series where some start to take issue with the writing. There is a trio of books toward the end of the series written by two authors: Sean Williams and Shane Dix. Admittedly, I know nothing else by either of these authors. However, they do seem to railroad the story line into a particular direction in their first book, and also have a distinctly different approach to some of the characters.
Jaina Solo is a major player, both militarily and as a Jedi, throughout the entire Yuuzhan Vong war. She was deeply affected by the Mission to Myrkr with the other young Jedi, including her brothers Jacen and Anakin. With the death of Anakin, and Jacen’s capture on that mission, Jaina was in a dark place for a while. She eventually came to the conclusion that Jacen had also died in Yuuzhan Vong captivity. As such, she closed herself off to a lot of her friends and family. Her outlook on life became very grim as well, and she fully expected to die before the end of the war. It therefore made absolutely no sense to me that suddenly, in Force Heretic: Remnant, she is quite jovial and optimistic about things.
I’m not sure which of the authors penned this part of the book, but it is making this trilogy within the series quite difficult to read at times. However, my overall opinion on the series still stands. It has been my experience that The New Jedi Order is a vastly underrated series in the Star Wars expanded universe. I intend to have future posts that return to this series, so please tell me your thoughts on the book series in the comments. May the Force be with you.
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