Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Way of Kings
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 magical swords

The Way of Kings (or just Kings from now on) is the first novel in a planned ten book series written by Brandon Sanderson. A ton of hype surrounded this book before release, and many hoped (myself included) that it would be the beginning of “our” generation’s great fantasy series. How does it stack up against the monolithic authors that we have come to rate all others upon (I’m looking at you, Tolkien, Rowling, and Lewis)? Let’s find out...

Kings, at its heart, is a story of war. There is plenty of bloodshed on the battlefield, but conflict is also buried deep in the hearts of the main characters of the novel. The story follows the lives of three people as they struggle to survive in the desolated continent of Roshar.

They are...

Kaladin: A young man who was trained as a surgeon, and then became one of the best spearmen in Alethkar’s army. For unknown reasons, we now find him branded as a slave and a murderer sent to rot and die in a work camp for the same men that he protected. Memories of past failure and death haunt Kaladin, and he must overcome them if he is to escape the clutches of the tyrants who rule him.

Dalinar: A Highprince of Alethkar, uncle to the reigning king, and commander of a tenth of the nation’s troops. Rumors run wild through the camps that this once brutal war chief has lost the taste for battle, and has slowly been losing his mind. Dalinar walks a difficult line between the man others need him to be and the man who he promised himself he would become.

Shallan: A young woman who has traveled to a far-away kingdom in order to become a pupil of Jasnah, one of the wisest women in the world, and sister to the king. Shallan would do anything to achieve this goal; to fail would signal the fall of her entire family.

Kings focuses mainly on the nation of Alethkar, as it seeks vengeance on a seemingly endless number of foes for the murder of the previous king. The Highprinces, instead of uniting to crush the foe – squabble and compete with one another. Alethkar used to be a symbol of honor and pride, but it has quickly descended into chaos.

Sprinkled among the chapters are various “interludes” – short tales focusing on different characters and different regions of Roshar – meant both to break up the story and to give some hints at the broader plot of the series as a whole. Some of these are very exciting (especially those about the brutal assassin who can bend gravity to his will), but others seem only to slow down the pace of the novel. After all, it is likely that we will never hear from these “interlude” characters again, so it is hard to care about them or their situations.

The main characters, though much more solid, do not feel as three dimensional as Sanderson’s other creations. You can be sure that all three of the characters...

1. Are hiding a terrible secret from their colleagues
2. Are “rife” with a simple internal conflict
3. Change from one viewpoint to a second (opposite) viewpoint multiple times throughout the novel

Sound familiar? These elements are part of every character (ever), but Sanderson doesn’t seem to take that extra time to really add something MORE to the mix in order to make them shine. I still cared about the characters, but they weren’t as colorful as those from other Sanderson novels.

This may be in part to the vast amount of time that Sanderson spends building his world – and let me tell you, this is a monolithic undertaking. Sanderson’s love for the unique is stamped throughout Roshar. It seems he has thought of everything, including...

Class structure and sociology – Those who are born with light colored eyes are naturally born to rule and hold higher places in society than those with dark eyes.

Economics – Money is in the form of small glass spheres that hold a gem stone. The type and size of the stone marks different denominations.

Religion – The most popular religion of our characters is Vorinism, a teaching rife with past failure and political implications

Gender roles – Males focus on war and politics and are often illiterate. Females read, write, and create art. Therefore, in order to be powerful, men and women must work as a team to account for the others’ weaknesses. There are even masculine and feminine foods.

Technology – Mankind has invented a variety of contraptions called fabrials, which use the power of gemstones to do many functions, from heating a room to turning stone into food.

Mythology – Countless stories and myths including The Almighty, his ten Heralds, evil Voidbringers, and the once majestic Knights Radiant who turned their back on mankind in their hour of need.

Geography and biology – The land of Roshar is constantly assaulted by disastrous storms that can rip people apart in an instant. As such, life has adapted. People live in small stone houses on the leeward side of large rock formations, plants such as blades of grass are able to retract themselves into the ground at the first sign of a threat, and animals are covered with large chitinous plates to protect them.

Nothing has been left out of Sanerdon’s world, and it is very satisfying to read about all of the little pieces that other authors tend to ignore.

Of course, the icing on the cake (as always) is Sandersons use of magic. In this novel, magic tends to be left to the myths and legends of Roshar. In fact, what magic the people do use is in the form of relics that have survived, namely powerful Blades and Plate armor that grants their owners superhuman strength and agility. All of these magical objects seem to feed off of Stormlight, a mysterious luminescence that is infused into gemstones whenever a storm passes. Unlike in Sanderson’s other novels, magic in Kings is mysterious even to those who wield it, so there is never a perfectly clear explanation of its workings. Indeed, I imagine a large portion of the series will be devoted to uncovering the secrets behind the magic of the land.

Being the first novel in a ten book series, Kings is meant mainly to introduce the main characters and the world that they live in. The pace is often slow and with a few exciting exceptions, not much actually happens in the book. This is understandable for a first book in a large series, but it can feel a bit tedious when that book is about 1000 pages long. Having said that, Kings is still a fun and exciting read, one just needs to have a good amount of “reading stamina” to get through it in one piece.  Those that do finish it will be rewarded:  the last few chapters in particular are like a punch in the stomach, and make you wish the novel was twice as long.

In all, The Way of Kings is a great start to what looks to be a lasting series.  Due to the unique and detailed world that Sanderson paints, Kings comes highly recommended.

4 out of 5 magical swords!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes of HBO's Game of Thrones

Good day to you all!  I am very excited this evening because it means that HBO's new series based on George R. R. Martin's The Game of Thrones is one more day closer!  HBO has been showing the trailer more frequently, and they recently aired a short "Behind the Scenes" featurette about the first season.  Exciting!  Check it out!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Picture the Dead Giveaway Results

First, as always, I would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who entered this giveaway.

And the winner of a signed copy of Picture the Dead, by Adele Griffin ans Lisa Brown, is...



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giveaway: Picture the Dead (signed), by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

 Hi folks!  I've got a great giveaway for you...  Picture the Dead, by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown.  From the book sleeve:

"After losing her parents and her brother, falling in love with Will was Jennie Lovell's last opportunity for happiness.  But then she lost him too...  

As Jennie tries to mend the pieces of her broken life, she feels an eerie presence from something otherworldly...  something that won't let her leave the past behind.  

Acclaimed author adele Griffin and bestselling author Lisa Brown have created a spellbinding mystery where the living cannot always be trusted, and death is not always the end."

I was lucky enough to have both of the authors sign this copy for me, and it would make a great addition to any mystery/scifi/romance reader's bookshelf.

This giveaway is for one signed, hardcover copy of Picture the Dead, by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown.  The giveaway will run from 11/28/2010 to 12/12/2010.  The winner will be announced on 12/13/2010.  Please, United States entrants only.  The following is a list of how you can enter the giveaway and increase your chances of winning!

+1 Entry - Comment on this post and include your e-mail address (required to enter)
+3 Entries - Become a follower, or tell me if you already are a follower
+1 Entry (each) - Link to this post in a tweet, blog post, blog sidebar, facebook status, or smoke signals.  Be sure you leave a link to your publicity in your comment on this post (or include a photo of any applicable smoke signals)

Good luck everyone!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

UPDATE, and a new book-related network

Hi folks, I know that I haven't been blogging lately, but there is a very good reason for that.  It's not that I haven't been reading much, but the types of books I have been reading has changed considerably.  You see, vet school has started, and I have been left with precious little time/energy to read for pleasure.  I've been feeling guilty for not posting reviews for a while, so I figured I would take a study break to review some of my more recent reads.  Without further adiue...

Title:  Textbook of Veterinary Physiological Chemistry
Author:  Larry R. Engelking
Genre:  Romance

A new-age take on a classic tale of eternal love and compassion.  Acetate is the upper class girl trying to make it on her own in the big city.  Carboxybiotin is the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is trying to hide from his past.  Will they ever be able to reconcile their differences and make sweet, sweet malonate?  Not if Acetate's well-to-do father, Propionate, has anything to to with it.  He knows those young fatty acids only have one thing on their mind:  condensation.

Title:  Guide to the Dissection of the Dog
Author:  Evans de Lahuta
Genre:  Cop Drama

In a world where the hip bone's connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone's connected to the knee bone, Officer Neuron patrols the streets of the Central Nervous System superhighway.  One day, he comes upon a notorious synapse dealing in dopamine and gamma aminobutyric acid.  It's up to our protagonist to bring him down, and get back to his muscle at home in time for contraction.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fun with Cthulhu (the many humourous things people have done with the greatest evil in the known universe)

Happy Friday everyone!  We have come to the end of H. P. Lovecraft week, and I would like to leave you all with a smile.  With the advent of the internet and "geek culture", Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has recently become something of an inside joke to many e-geeks (such as myself).  Although Lovecraft describes Cthulhu as the most evil entity in the universe - and perhaps in spite of that - people love to laugh at the tentacled monster.  I showed you one example yesterday in the form of a humorous story written by Neil Gaiman.  Something about Cthulhu just makes people want to laugh.  Here are a few more examples that you can find floating around on the internet...

Under the ocean, Cthulhu rests... patiently awaiting the time when he can devour your feet!  er, soul!

Feeling patriotic?  Cthulhu loves the taste of patriotism!

I love the facial expressions on this little guy's victims.  I'd be scared too!

A Cthulhu-based parody of "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's, and a photo montage.

Yes, this place actually exists, and I want to go there.

Foiled again!

Calls For Cthulhu - The Great Old One answers all of your burning questions!

A cartoon about the adventures of Lil' Cthulhu.  Aww isn't he cute?

I hope you all enjoyed H. P. Lovecraft week!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Cthulhu, by Neil Gaiman

Hi folks.  Today, I have a special treat for you.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, the work of H. P. Lovecraft has inspired a generation of writers, many of which added their own tales to the Cthulhu Mythos.  One such author is Neil Gaiman, a common topic of L&M.  Most known for his dry humor and imaginative "fairy tales", Gaiman wrote his own piece inspired by Lovecraftian Lore.  I Cthulhu is in the form of a memoir, dictated by the Great and terrible Cthulhu to one of his puny slaves.  Gaimain pokes fun at the often serious nature of Lovecraft's tales, and gives us possible insight into the life of Cthulhu, a creature that we've otherwise only read about in reference to unspeakable evil, devouring souls, and the end of the world.  Enjoy!


I Cthulhu
or What's A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9' S, Longitude 126° 43' W)?
Cthulhu, they call me. Great Cthulhu.
Nobody can pronounce it right.
Are you writing this down? Every word? Good. Where shall I start -- mm?
Very well, then. The beginning. Write this down, Whateley.
I was spawned uncounted aeons ago, in the dark mists of Khhaa'yngnaiih (no, of course I don't know how to spell it. Write it as it sounds), of nameless nightmare parents, under a gibbous moon. It wasn't the moon of this planet, of course, it was a real moon. On some nights it filled over half the sky and as it rose you could watch the crimson blood drip and trickle down its bloated face, staining it red, until at its height it bathed the swamps and towers in a gory dead red light.
Those were the days.
Or rather the nights, on the whole. Our place had a sun of sorts, but it was old, even back then. I remember that on the night it finally exploded we all slithered down to the beach to watch. But I get ahead of myself.
I never knew my parents.
My father was consumed by my mother as soon as he had fertilized her and she, in her turn, was eaten by myself at my birth. That is my first memory, as it happens. Squirming my way out of my mother, the gamy taste of her still in my tentacles.
Don't look so shocked, Whateley. I find you humans just as revolting.
Which reminds me, did they remember to feed the shoggoth? I thought I heard it gibbering.
I spent my first few thousand years in those swamps. I did not like this, of course, for I was the colour of a young trout and about four of your feet long. I spent most of my time creeping up on things and eating them and in my turn avoiding being crept up on and eaten.
So passed my youth.
And then one day -- I believe it was a Tuesday -- I discovered that there was more to life than food. (Sex? Of course not. I will not reach that stage until after my next estivation; your piddly little planet will long be cold by then). It was that Tuesday that my Uncle Hastur slithered down to my part of the swamp with his jaws fused.
It meant that he did not intend to dine that visit, and that we could talk.
Now that is a stupid question, even for you Whateley. I don't use either of my mouths in communicating with you, do I? Very well then. One more question like that and I'll find someone else to relate my memoirs to. And you will be feeding the shoggoth.
We are going out, said Hastur to me. Would you like to accompany us?
We? I asked him. Who's we?
Myself, he said, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Tsathogghua , Ia ! Shub Niggurath, young Yuggoth and a few others. You know, he said, the boys. (I am freely translating for you here, Whateley, you understand. Most of them were a-, bi-, or trisexual, and old Ia! Shub Niggurath has at least a thousand young, or so it says. That branch of the family was always given to exaggeration). We are going out, he concluded, and we were wondering if you fancied some fun.
I did not answer him at once. To tell the truth I wasn't all that fond of my cousins, and due to some particularly eldritch distortion of the planes I've always had a great deal of trouble seeing them clearly. They tend to get fuzzy around the edges, and some of them -- Sabaoth is a case in point -- have a great many edges.
But I was young, I craved excitement. "There has to be more to life than this!", I would cry, as the delightfully foetid charnel smells of the swamp miasmatised around me, and overhead the ngau-ngau and zitadors whooped and skrarked. I said yes, as you have probably guessed, and I oozed after Hastur until we reached the meeting place.
As I remember we spent the next moon discussing where we were going. Azathoth had his hearts set on distant Shaggai, and Nyarlathotep had a thing about the Unspeakable Place (I can't for the life of me think why. The last time I was there everything was shut). It was all the same to me, Whateley. Anywhere wet and somehow, subtly wrong and I feel at home. But Yog-Sothoth had the last word, as he always does, and we came to this plane.
You've met Yog-Sothoth, have you not, my little two-legged beastie?
I thought as much.
He opened the way for us to come here.
To be honest, I didn't think much of it. Still don't. If I'd known the trouble we were going to have I doubt I'd have bothered. But I was younger then.
As I remember our first stop was dim Carcosa. Scared the shit out of me, that place. These days I can look at your kind without a shudder, but all those people, without a scale or pseudopod between them, gave me the quivers.
The King in Yellow was the first I ever got on with.
The tatterdemallion king. You don't know of him? Necronomicon page seven hundred and four (of the complete edition) hints at his existence, and I think that idiot Prinn mentions him in De Vermis Mysteriis. And then there's Chambers, of course.
Lovely fellow, once I got used to him.
He was the one who first gave me the idea.
What the unspeakable hells is there to do in this dreary dimension? I asked him.
He laughed. When I first came here, he said, a mere colour out of space, I asked myself the same question. Then I discovered the fun one can get in conquering these odd worlds, subjugating the inhabitants, getting them to fear and worship you. It's a real laugh.
Of course, the Old Ones don't like it.
The old ones? I asked.
No, he said, Old Ones. It's capitalized. Funny chaps. Like great starfish-headed barrels, with filmy great wings that they fly through space with.
Fly through space? Fly? I was shocked. I didn't think anybody flew these days. Why bother when one can sluggle, eh? I could see why they called them the old ones. Pardon, Old Ones.
What do these Old Ones do? I asked the King.
(I'll tell you all about sluggling later, Whateley. Pointless, though. You lack wnaisngh'ang. Although perhaps badminton equipment would do almost as well). (Where was I? Oh yes).
What do these Old Ones do, I asked the King.
Nothing much, he explained. They just don't like anybody else doing it.
I undulated, writhing my tentacles as if to say "I have met such beings in my time", but fear the message was lost on the King.
Do you know of any places ripe for conquering? I asked him.
He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of a small and dreary patch of stars. There's one over there that you might like, he told me. It's called Earth. Bit off the beaten track, but lots of room to move.
Silly bugger.
That's all for now, Whateley.
Tell someone to feed the shoggoth on your way out.
Is it time already, Whateley?
Don't be silly. I know that I sent for you. My memory is as good as it ever was.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fthagn.
You know what that means, don't you?
In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
A justified exaggeration, that; I haven't been feeling too well recently.
It was a joke, one-head, a joke. Are you writing all this down? Good. Keep writing. I know where we got up to yesterday.
That's an example of the way that languages change, the meanings of words. Fuzziness. I can't stand it. Once on a time R'lyeh was the Earth, or at least the part of it that I ran, the wet bits at the start. Now it's just my little house here, latitude 47° 9' south, longitude 126° 43' west.
Or the Old Ones. They call us the Old Ones now. Or the Great Old Ones, as if there were no difference between us and the barrel boys.
So I came to Earth, and in those days it was a lot wetter than it is today. A wonderful place it was, the seas as rich as soup and I got on wonderfully with the people. Dagon and the boys (I use the word literally this time). We all lived in the water in those far-off times, and before you could say Cthulhu fthagn I had them building and slaving and cooking. And being cooked, of course.
Which reminds me, there was something I meant to tell you. A true story.
There was a ship, a-sailing on the seas. On a Pacific cruise. And on this ship was a magician, a conjurer, whose function was to entertain the passengers. And there was this parrot on the ship.
Every time the magician did a trick the parrot would ruin it. How? He'd tell them how it was done, that's how. "He put it up his sleeve", the parrot would squawk. Or "he's stacked the deck" or "it's got a false bottom".
The magician didn't like it.
Finally the time came for him to do his biggest trick.
He announced it.
He rolled up his sleeves.
He waved his arms.
At that moment the ship bucked and smashed over to one side.
Sunken R'lyeh had risen beneath them. Hordes of my servants, loathsome fish-men, swarmed over the sides, seized the passengers and crew and dragged them beneath the waves.
R'lyeh sank below the waters once more, awaiting that time when dread Cthulhu shall rise and reign once more.
Alone, above the foul waters, the magician -- overlooked by my little batrachian boobies, for which they paid heavily -- floated, clinging to a spar, all alone. And then, far above him he noticed a small green shape. It came lower, finally perching on a lump of nearby driftwood, and he saw it was the parrot.
The parrot cocked its head to one side and squinted up at the magician.
"Alright," it says, "I give up. How did you do it?"
Of course it's a true story, Whateley.
Would black Cthulhu, who slimed out of the dark stars when your most eldritch nightmares were suckling at their mothers' pseudomammaria, who waits for the time that the stars come right to come forth from his tomb-palace, revive the faithful and resume his rule, who waits to teach anew the high and luscious pleasures of death and revelry, would he lie to you?
Sure I would.
Shut up Whateley, I'm talking. I don't care where you heard it before.
We had fun in those days, carnage and destruction, sacrifice and damnation, ichor and slime and ooze, and foul and nameless games. Food and fun. It was one long party, and everybody loved it except those who found themselves impaled on wooden stakes between a chunk of cheese and pineapple.
Oh, there were giants on the earth in those days.
It couldn't last for ever.
Down from the skies they came, with filmy wings and rules and regulations and routines and Dho-Hna knows how many forms to be filled out in quintuplicate. Banal little bureaucruds, the lot of them. You could see it just looking at them: Five-pointed heads -- every one you looked at had five points, arms whatever, on their heads (which I might add were always in the same place). None of them had the imagination to grow three arms or six, or one hundred and two. Five, every time.
No offence meant.
We didn't get on.
They didn't like my party.
They rapped on the walls (metaphorically). We paid no attention. Then they got mean. Argued. Bitched. Fought.
Okay, we said, you want the sea, you can have the sea. Lock, stock, and starfish-headed barrel. We moved onto the land -- it was pretty swampy back then -- and we built Gargantuan monolithic structures that dwarfed the mountains.
You know what killed off the dinosaurs, Whateley? We did. In one barbecue.
But those pointy-headed killjoys couldn't leave well enough alone. They tried to move the planet nearer the sun -- or was it further away? I never actually asked them. Next thing I knew we were under the sea again.
You had to laugh.
The city of the Old Ones got it in the neck. They hated the dry and the cold, as did their creatures. All of a sudden they were in the Antarctic, dry as a bone and cold as the lost plains of thrice-accursed Leng.
Here endeth the lesson for today, Whateley.
And will you please get somebody to feed that blasted shoggoth?
(Professors Armitage and Wilmarth are both convinced that not less than three pages are missing from the manuscript at this point, citing the text and length. I concur.)
The stars changed, Whateley.
Imagine your body cut away from your head, leaving you a lump of flesh on a chill marble slab, blinking and choking. That was what it was like. The party was over.
It killed us.
So we wait here below.
Dreadful, eh?
Not at all. I don't give a nameless dread. I can wait.
I sit here, dead and dreaming, watching the ant-empires of man rise and fall, tower and crumble.
One day -- perhaps it will come tomorrow, perhaps in more tomorrows than your feeble mind can encompass -- the stars will be rightly conjoined in the heavens, and the time of destruction shall be upon us: I shall rise from the deep and I shall have dominion over the world once more.
Riot and revel, blood-food and foulness, eternal twilight and nightmare and the screams of the dead and the not-dead and the chant of the faithful.
And after?
I shall leave this plane, when this world is a cold cinder orbitting a lightless sun. I shall return to my own place, where the blood drips nightly down the face of a moon that bulges like the eye of a drowned sailor, and I shall estivate.
Then I shall mate, and in the end I shall feel a stirring within me, and I shall feel my little one eating its way out into the light.
Are you writing this all down, Whateley?
Well, that's all. The end. Narrative concluded.
Guess what we're going to do now? That's right.
We're going to feed the shoggoth.
© Neil Gaiman 1986

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories.  It focuses on a young man who travels to a run-down Massachusetts port town called Innsmouth for its reputation of picturesque architecture.  He begins to realize, however, that there is a reason that people stay away from Innsmouth.

Robert Olmstead, on a mission to discover the identity of his distant ancestors, finds himself in rural Massachusetts.  On the tips of some of the people he meets, he decides to take a bus into Innsmouth.  The people he meets on the bus, and later in town, seem to look a little strange.  They have sloping foreheads, big lips, and bulging fishy eyes.  Once in town, he asks around and eventually hears rumors about the interbreeding of the citizens of Innsmouth with fish-like creatures that came from the sea.  This story shakes Olmstead's nerves, but he eventually chalks it up to unfounded rumors and speculation.

That is, until, the bus he hoped to take out of town before night fall breaks down, leaving his stranded in Innsmouth.  Olmstead is forced to sleep overnight in a run down hotel when the natives suddenly become hostile.  Olmstead must choose to either flee or run for his life but one this is sure - what he discovers off the shores of this little Massachusetts town will alter his life forever.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is unique from Lovecraft's other works in that it partially abandons the theme of plausible deniability.  By the end of the story, a police investigation begins regarding the people of Innsmouth.  However, we don't know the result of the investigation...

I loved Innsmouth for two reasons.  One is the great "chase-scene" that ensues, in which Olmstead is certain that he will be killed if he is found.  The other is the ending, which I will let you read on your own - it's a doozie!

To read the whole story, click here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

At the Mountains of Maddness

At the Mountains of Madness is one of Lovecraft's longest short stories.  It s in the form of a petition written by a geologist, William Dyer.  Dyer is trying to stop a public expedition to Antarctica based on the fact that his previous expedition to the frozen pole ended in catastrophe that he (almost) dare not speak of.

Previously, Dyer traveled to Antarctica with a group of scientists and explorers.  Once there, the party finds a dozen strange animal corpses buried in the ground.  They looked like nothing the scientists have ever seen before.  When some members of the team go missing, Dyer and his companion travel to the other side of the mountain where they find strange and ancient ruins of a civilization that has not yet been discovered.  The two land and enter the large complex of ruins... what they find there is both enlightening and mind-shatteringly horrific.

At the Mountains of Madness is a quality story.  There's a great mix of overt horror (i.e. the discovery of missing party members being slaughtered by some unknown - and intelligent - being) and the unknown.  What is more, The Mountains serves to further the mythology surrounding the Great Cthulhu - where it came from, what it did when it arrived, and what it is waiting for in order to rise once more.

The only thing that I didn't like as much about this story as some of the others is the ending.  Lovecraft is known for keeping things hidden from the reader (to keep them guessing and let their imagination roam) but it is just TOO ambiguous for my tastes.

All in all, At the Mountains of Madness is a worthwhile addition to your ever-growing knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos.

You can read the full version online here.

The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu, written in 1926, is one of H. P. Lovecraft's most iconic short stories.  As I mentioned earlier, the Cthulhu Mythos takes its name from this tale.  Now, if you've never read any Lovecraft before, I am sure that two questions come to your mind, the first of which is something like "How in the world do I pronounce Cthulhu?"  Good question.  In truth, no one really knows how to pronounce it, because it comes from a language that is not human.  According to popular theories, however, it sounds something like "Ka-thool-hoo".

The second, more relevant question you may be asking is "What is this Cthulhu thing, anyway?"  Well, that is the question that Lovecraft attempts to answer in this short story.

The Call of Cthulhu is broken down into three sections.  The first is written as a journal (as most of Lovecraft's works are) written by one Francis Wayland Thurston.  In seems that his great uncle recently died and has come to inherit the old man's papers and personal effects.  In looking through these items, Thurston finds a sculpture of a hideous monster surrounded by strange symbols.  It seems to have the body of a man, the head of an octopus (tentacles and all), and giant scaly wings and massive claws.  A bit of exploring hints at curious events leading to mass hysteria in certain parts of the globe - people having horrible dreams and deranged thoughts.

The second section is in the form of a journal entry of Thurston's uncle in which he meets a peculiar man who tells a tale of cults performing horrible rituals and giving praise to a creature called Cthulhu, whose description matches that of the sculpture.  They were overheard chanting the phrase "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." (later translated to "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming".

In the last segment of the story, Thurston happens upon a transcript of a sailor's journal which describes a landing on a horrible slime covered island.  The monstrosity they discover there could spell the destruction of the would.

An interesting thing to note here is that Lovecraft utilizes a mechanic called plausible deniability.  That is to say that events occur in such a way that only a few people know of them.  In this case, Thurston is the only man alive that knows about the lurking presence of this evil Cthulhu creature.  By keeping the events in his stories a mystery to the outside world, Lovecraft increases the tension that the main character is feeling.  There is no sense of "Oh, Cthulhu, I read about him in the newspaper."  Each character is on his own as far as discovering the hidden truths of the universe.  Lonecraft does this with many of his stories.

Read the full version of The Call of Cthulhu here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

H. P. Lovecraft Week is Coming!

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890 and did most of his writing in the 1920's.  Although he was not considered a great writer of his time, he is now viewed as one of the most influential horror writers of all time.  Until he died in 1937, he wrote many short stories which have gained a cult following and have served to provide inspiration for a whole new generation of horror writers.

Lovecraft focused on many distinct themes in his story telling.  Most deal with the unknown.  Lovecraft told tales about deep and hidden truths - things that were never meant to be discovered by man kind - being uncovered by unsuspecting people.  These cosmic horrors mostly deal with the creation and destruction of reality as we know it, and the people that stumble across the truth often become insane; their minds unhinged at the prospect of a horrible and unspeakable evil.

The most impressive part of H. P. Lovecraft's body of work is that it is still expanding.  His literary efforts have created a nidus of creation, later termed the Cthulhu Mythos (named after one of his more popular works, Call of Cthulhu).  Many authors of the past 70 years have used Lovecraft's themes and writing style as a jumping off point for their own stories, each one adding their own perspective of the Mythos.

What is more, the Cthulhu Mythos has been spun off into many other elements:  board games, toys, stuffed animals, and many other things.

Throughout the coming week, we will be exploring a few aspects of this giant (and ever-growing)  sub-genre of horror literature.  If you've never explored this "Lovecraftian" universe before, it can be a little daunting, so I am going to try to give you a good starting point.  First, I will be focusing on a few of his stories.  I will be calling them reviews, but I will mostly just be summarizing (excluding spoilers) the plot and pointing out how they each contribute to the Mythos.  Towards the end of the week, we'll check out a Lovecraftian story written by one of my favorite authors, and look at some other fun Lovecraft related stuff.

There's a lot out there - too much to cover in one week - but I hope that this expedition piques your interest for further study!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Review - Sandman, by Neil Gaiman (Issues 1-20)

Title:  Sandman
Author:  Neil Gaiman
Genre:  Fantasy / Comic
Rating:  4 out of 5 crazy nightmares

Neil Gaiman has proven himself to be one of the most influential writers of fantasy novels and poetry.  I take time to look at one very different Gaiman project:  the comic book series Sandman.  How does it stack up to one's expectations?

Just a quick disclaimer here, folks.  This is the first time I have reviewed a comic book.  And while I'm not 100% sure on how to go about it correctly, I promise I will do my best to consider both the writing and visual aspects of the comic book.  Also note that this review takes into consideration the first twenty issues of the comic.

The comic book Sandman follows the adventures of Morpheus, the god of dreams.  The series begins with the deity being held captive - his powerful artifacts and belongings being stolen and strewn throughout Earth and hell.  Morpheus eventually breaks free of his prison and encounters many colorful characters on his journey to attain his former power.  This is the basic premise of the series, but the story is much more complicated and interwoven.

The writing of Sandman is spot on for what one would expect from Gaiman.  The dry wit is there, along with undertones of fantasy and brooding darkness (the latter much more so than his other works).  This is an important point to keep in mind about this series.  Gaiman tackles some heavy issues in this series (substance abuse, death, serial killers), and although he manages to weave everything together nicely, the story does get a little dark at times.

However, for the most part Sandman is very well written.  Themes of hope and redemption run throughout, especially when Gaimain introduces his personification of Death (incidentally one of Morpheus' siblings).  These issues are some of the best in the series and really make you think about why people die and what happens afterward.

Most issues in this selection are great, but there are also some that don't quite hit the mark for this reader.  For instance, one of the longer chapters involves demons and fanciful creatures putting on a Victorian-era play for Morpheus for apparently no reason.

 Here are some highlights regarding the plot of Sandman:
  • Two of Morpheus' nightmare creatures attempt to overthrow his throne while he is imprisoned
  • Morpheus meets up with the rulers of hell and competes with a demon in a battle of wits
  • A disfigured and imprisoned Dr. Doom faces off with the king of dreams in a fight to the death
  • A group of people in a diner are held under the twisted persuasion and mind control of an evil man
  • A young girl inadvertantly stumbles upon a convention for murderers
  • Morpheus grants a man from medieval times endless life, and checks in on him throughout the centuries to see how his life has changed
The art of Sandman is amazing, and is really a treat to look at.  The artists blend color panels with black and white to great effect, and the individual details in each page can have you spending a lot of time just staring at the book.

I have never been a great connesuir of comic books, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.  I definitely reccomend this series if you like comics, and even if you don't it's worth a try!

For more information about Sandman, check out my Spotlight post on Morpheus and my Review of The Ultimate Sandman, Volume 1.

4 out of 5 crazy nightmares!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First Impressions: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

I have been reading The Way of Kings for a few days now.  Although my review is still - regrettably - a ways off, I hope this post gives you some perspective on what you may be getting into when you crack open the pages of this literary beast.

(the U.K. cover of the book)

As loyal readers may know, I am now in veterinary school and pretty much all of my time is being taken up by studying and sleeping.  This serves all the more to emphasize that fact that I have been unable to put down this book.  Something about Sanderson's writing style is so infectious that you always need to find out what is going to happen next. I am about a quarter of the way through the novel, and so far there have been bloody battles, dangerous hunts, catastrophic storms, and witty banter.  The story begins with two main characters:  Shallan, a young girl trying to decide between her calling of a naturalist and the devious plans of her family, and Kaladin, a young surgeon - turned soldier - turned slave, trying to fight his way back to the man he once was.  These characters (along with many others) are set against a backdrop of a landscape that has evolved to survive during horribly devastating storms.

I don't want to give too much away, and there will be more details (never spoilers) in my coming review, but know this:  I was instantly hooked into this book, and if you get any enjoyment out of reading a large novel filled with great characters and a detailed world, I think you may as well.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mailbox Monday - The Way of Kings

The time has come, folks, and The Way of Kings is finally here!  As you may have gathered by my reviews of Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker and Elantris, I am a big fan.  Well, Sanderson is back, this time with a large first volume in - what promises to be - an epic series.

If you don't know much about The Way of Kings, you've come to the right place!  I've attempted to gather together the most pertinent information on this novel.  First of all, check out this introduction, written by Sanderson for

As you can see, this novel (and series) has been a long time coming from Sanderson.  With over fifteen years and a thousand pages invested between the covers, I am sure The Way of Kings will live up to everything I hope to find in a large-scale work.

Now go ahead and check out these Youtube videos - Sanderson talks about The Way of Kings (among other projects) and reads some excerpts.

PART 1/3

PART 2/3

PART 3/3

Finally, feast your eyes on the full version of the cover art of the novel, done by Michael Whelan.  Notice the giant storm clouds, cracked and scorched earth, and small crustacean-looking creatures at the man's feet.  For more information, check out this interview of Whelan, also at

(click on the above picture for full size)

I think it is clear that I am very excited for The Way of Kings, and I hope this post starts you feeling the same way!  Make sure to check back for subsequent First Impressions posts and my review!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dracula Week Wrap-Up and Giveaway Winner

Hey everyone, happy Saturday!  Dracula Week has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope it's been fun for you too.

The first order of business is sending out a big THANK YOU to everyone that made this possible.
  • Thank you Heather, from the Maiden's Court, for helping develop this whole week!
  • Thank you to Karen Essex for giving us a great interview!
  • Thank you - ALL of you readers - who read, enjoyed, and joined in the discussions of the week.
Secondly, if you missed any Dracula Week events (or want to revisit them), feel free to use this handy directory
And finally, the moment you've all been waiting for...

The winner of the Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is...


Congratulations!  And thank you all for making this the best Dracula Week ever!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Origins of the Vampire

Greetings to you during this fine week of the Vampire.  I would like to wrap up the week with a brief discussion about the origin of the vampire:  where the myths originated, the beliefs that led to the legends, and the rise of the vampire in popular culture.  There is a ton of information out there, and this post will primarily serve as a summary and a starting point for your own research.  Feel free to check out the links at the bottom of the page for more information.  And without further delay, let us begin our journey...

Although the term "vampire" is a relatively new one, ancient cultures have all had their own way of describing evil entities who survived off of the life and essence of others.  These were classically monsters or demons that fed off of the blood of living people.  The ancient Persians described men who drank the blood of their fellows.  Gods and goddesses of religions were known to drink the blood of their worshipers; both Sekhmet of Egyptian lore and Kali of Indian legend are examples of this.  Even the Old Testament of the bible describes Adam's first wife, Lilith, as giving rise to demons who would drink the blood of men, women, and children.

The first manifestation of what we would now consider a vampire legend occurred in ancient Slavic culture.  Through a mix of pagan worship and the new influence of Christianity, these individuals strongly believed in the separation of the body and the soul, and that if a malignant soul was buried improperly, it would rise again and take the form of an animal or human to destroy its former loved ones.  The evil spirit, called a vampir would be so jealous of life and beauty that it would strip all things of these boons.

As these legends began to spread to Western Europe during the Medieval period, new stories of horror began to spring up.  In a grim preview of the ignorance that would fuel the witch trials of early America, hysteria swept throughout Europe and countless innocent citizens were murdered and maimed in the name of slaying possible vampires. 

The romanticism of the vampire myth began as a result of John Polidori and his short story, The Vampyre, in 1819.  In it, Lord Ruthven is a suave vampire who seduces and kills innocent women.  Vampires popped up in plays and serial publications for the next few decades until Bram Stoker published the quintessential vampire tale, Dracula, in 1897.  This novel has served as a jumping-off point for countless movies, novels, comic books, and television shows.

Despite this period of marketing the vampire, legends and paranoia still abound in some parts of the world.  In the early 2000's, accusations of vampires in Africa led to at least one man being stoned to death.  There have also been urban legends in England that a series of murders occurred in which the victims were bitten on the neck.  In 2004, a Romanian family dug up the corpse of a man and burned it under the assumption that he may become a vampire.  It is clear that the legend still lives on.

I hope you enjoyed this stroll throughout the history of the vampire.  For more information, feel free to follow these other leads:

The Watcher's Zone
The Mythology of the Vampire

Head on over to The Maiden's Court for Heather's long-awaited review of Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex

And today is your last day to enter the giveaway for Dracula by Bram Stoker!  The winner will be announced tomorrow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Know Thy Enemy! Anatomy of a Vampire

Throughout history, many attributes and powers have been attributed to the vampire.  Today, we inspect the anatomy and physiology of a vampire, as put forth by Bram Stoker in Dracula.  One can only hope, dear reader, that this makes you prepared in the event that you face a member of the undead.

The Strengths of a Vampire...
  • Super human strength.  Stoker depicts Dracula has having the raw strength of twenty full grown men.  This enables him to fight proficiently and climb up walls.
  • Transformation.  Dracula is able to transform into different animals, many of which are so called "evil", such as rats, bats, and wolves.
  • In the mists.  Vampires are able to turn into mist and fog, and travel through very small cracks.
  •  Immortality.  The vampire does not die of old age, and cannot be killed with traditional weapons.
The Weaknesses of a Vampire...
  • Distaste for garlic.  The scent of garlic, especially the garlic flower, keeps a vampire at bay.  Wearing a garland of garlic flowers can keep an individual protected, and lining windows and doors can bar an entire room from the undead.
  • Unholy monsters.  Holy symbols, such as holy water and crucifixes, can stun a vampire and make it flee.  A blessed Eucharist can be used to seal doorways or be placed in the vampire's coffin to bar its entry.
  • Limited traveling.  Vampires can only cross running water when the tide changes.
  • Picky sleepers.  A Vampire often sleeps during the hours of daylight, and then only on the soil of their native land (often contained in a box or coffin).  Contrary to popular belief, Dracula is able to come out during the day.  This myth came about in the film, Nosferatu.
Other Traits...
  • Little to no vanity.  Upon looking into a mirror, vampires show no reflection.
  • Sneaky sneakers.  Vampires do not cast a shadow.
  • Polite, too.  Dracula is not able to enter a household unless an individual who resides there gives him express permission.
Disposal of a Vampire...
  • Heartless.  A stake must be driven through the vampire's heart.  Ash or oak is best.  The vampire must then be decapitated and garlic must be placed in its mouth.
I hope you enjoyed this examination of the vampire.  Now, check out The Maiden's Court for the second part of our interview with Karen Essex, author of Dracula in Love.

And remember to enter the giveaway for Dracula.  The giveaway ends tomorrow!

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Author Interview - Karen Essex, author of Dracula in Love - Part 1

    Hello everyone, and welcome back to Dracula Week!  Today I am happy to share with you the first part of a two part interview with Karen Essex, the author of Dracula in Love.  I hope you enjoy!

    Lions and Men:  What was it about Bram Stoker’s Dracula that made you want to revisit the story from Mina’s perspective?

    Karen Essex:  From the first time I read Stoker’s Dracula in my teens, I just knew that Mina Harker, Dracula’s obsession, was not satisfied with her role as the quintessential Victorian virgin. I knew that there had to be more to her than that. (I knew that there had to be more to any woman than that.) Little did I dream that many years later, I would actually be a novelist and have the opportunity to revise the story, retelling it from Mina’s perspective.

    LM:  Were you always a Dracula fan?

    KE:  It began when I was a girl in grade school and saw Dark Shadows on TV. I remember racing home on my bicycle to see what blood-curdling adventures awaited the characters at the Collinwood Mansion. I’m from New Orleans, where we believe in the mystical, and the Anne Rice novels only fueled my fascination. I do a lot of screenwriting and have been influenced by vampire films as well, everything from Nosferatu to The Hunger to Coppola’s Dracula. I’ve always loved the glamorous vampires more (too much of the New York Dolls at an impressionable age, I guess), but have great empathy for the monsters.

    LM:  Was it difficult/scary to attempt to write this classic story from a new angle? How did you tackle this challenge? How did you determine what to stick closely to and what to change up?

    KE:  Yes, it was intimidating, and I knew that I would automatically alienate the purists. But what is life without risk? I believed that I had a lot of new elements to bring to the party such as a strong female perspective, a rich portrait of the era, and the lexicon of vampire mythology. At some point I realized that I had to “free” myself from Stoker’s text or I would be too beholden to its trajectory, so I introduced Stoker himself as a character. He runs into my characters and misinterprets what is going on with them. He goes on to write his own story, whereas Mina reveals the “truth.”

    I want to send a big thank you to Karen Essex for taking time to do this interview!

    You can catch the second part of this interview at The Maiden's Court tomorrow.  As for today, check out Heather's special "Caught on Tape" segment featuring Dracula films.

    And don't forget to enter the giveaway of Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  You only have three more days to enter!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Vlad the Impaler - the Man Behind the Myth

    Bram Stoker's depiction of the master vampire Dracula has become so iconic that the character has been replicated countless times.  Dracula has become the pinnacle of vampire lore, a mold to which all others are compared.  However, an even more interesting story is centered around the man whom Stoker took inspiration from in his horrific antagonist:  Vlad the Impaler.

    Vlad III (the Impaler) was born in Transylvania (present day Romania) in 1431, and would be destined to be a ruler, an avenger, and a monster.  In seventeen short years, he would rise to become the ruler of Wallachia, an area within modern day Romania.  The wake of blood and death he left in his path would prove to be more than enough inspiration for Bram Stoker.

    Vlad's story actually begins with the story of his father, Vlad II.  Vlad II adopted the surname of Dracul, meaning dragon, when he was inducted into the Order of the Dragon.  This brotherhood of knights were sworn to protect the Holy Roman Empire and wage war against the Islamic Turks.  Surprisingly, Vlad Dracul betrayed the Empire and made a deal with the Turks - he would give up his two sons (one of which was Vlad III) to the Turkish Sultan in exchange for power and wealth as the ruler of Wallachia.

    Vlad Dracul's life was cut short, however, when his brother (still loyal to the Holy Roman Empire) assassinated the traitor and filled the court with his followers.  Vlad III, taking the name of Dracula, meaning "son of Dracul", was released and eventually rose his own group of rebels to overthrow his uncle.  Dracula forced his uncle's strongest followers into slavery and killed and tortured the rest.

    Although Dracula showed that he was skilled in various forms of torture and murder (burning alive, decapitation, etc), his favorite by far was impaling, in which a human body was impaled on a large vertical pole, the weight of the body slowly pulling it downwards.  The death was painful, and slow.  In this way, Vlad the Impaler struck fear into the hearts of his enemies and followers alike.

    Another example of Dracula's brutality:  When he decided that hunger and poverty held no place in his kingdom, Vlad gathered all of the poor and hungry from the streets and invited them to a large banquet.  When asked if they would like to never feel the pains of hunger again, the pauper's were obviously overjoyed - until Vlad ordered the banquet hall sealed off and burned to the ground.  No one survived.

    After many battles and shifting alliances, Dracula wandered down his father's footsteps one more time when his brother betrayed him.  Vlad's demise finally met up with him when he found himself in the middle of a battle that he could not win.  He was decapitated, and his head was impaled for all to see.

    Now that you have read about the origin of the character of Bram Stoker's Dracula, head over to The Maiden's Court to listen in on a conversation between Heather and I about the similarities and differences of Dracula and Dracula in Love.

    And also don't forget to enter the giveaway of Dracula.  It ends this Friday!

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Book Review - Dracula, by Bram Stoker

    Title:  Dracula
    Author:  Bram Stoker
    Genre:  Horror
    Rating:  3.75 out of 5 fangs

    An ancient evil lurks in a decrepit castle in Transylvania.  The natives know well enough to give the mansion a wide berth, but the ignorance of a young Englishman, Jonathan Harker, threatens to spread a plague of living death throughout England.  Dracula has long been known as a classic of suspense and horror.  L&M finally gets a chance to sit down with Mr. Stoker's masterpiece.

    Dracula tells the tale of a group of people who live in and around London.  It begins when Jonathan Harker, a real estate lawyer, visits Count Dracula in Transylvania.  The Count recently purchased a mansion in England, and wishes to learn everything he can about the culture before he moves.  We quickly learn about the horrific reality of Dracula, and follow the main characters as they struggle to undo the evil that has been done to their loved ones.

    The novel is written in the form of a journal, or more accurately, in the form of the journals of many of the main characters.  I always loved the idea of telling a horror story in the first person, as the reader only knows what the characters know.  This method builds up a lot of suspense.  Almost all of the main characters have a journal, which gives a variety of viewpoints on the happenings of the book.  While this is a good way in which to tell the story, I imagine it is somewhat unrealistic.  Although people may have been more into writing journals in Victorian England, the amount of detail and exhibition included in the entries borders on ridiculous.  How does one write 30 pages about an event that lasted only a few minutes?

    The characters in Dracula, while interesting, tend to be somewhat two-dimensional.  Mina Harker is the beautifully intelligent young woman, Quincy Morris is the rough-riding American from Texas, Arthur Holmwood is the English gentleman.  But although we may have seen all of these archetypes before, the situations that Stoker puts them in are unique (to the period anyway), and this is where Dracula truly shines.

    The story of Dracula includes some very shocking and interesting scenes, including a recently deceased woman drinking the blood of children, three beautiful and deadly vampires, and an empty ship captained by a dead man.  This is what really keeps the reader forging through the novel.

    Although perhaps not fully realized, I believe Dracula deserves its place in history and literature.  The lore introduced and embellished in the novel has dramatically affected an entire genre of horror writers.  I ultimately enjoyed Dracula, and would recommend it to any hardcore horror enthusiast or those who enjoy classic literature.

    3.75 out of 5 fangs.

    Don't forget to enter the giveaway for this book, ending August 27th (this Friday!)