Friday, July 15, 2016

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Recommended for:

Mainly adults who want to read intellectually and philosophically challenging books, but are sick of being assaulted by unnecessary vulgarity, unwarranted crudeness, or pointless shock value.

Disclaimer:

It took me over two months to finish this book (I had limited opportunities to read) and I also don't have it right in front of me. Ergo, I may not be remembering the details particularly well, particularly when it comes to the language.

Review

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Stormlight Archive, which is still currently unfinished. As I recall, Sanderson first became famous when he was chosen to finish off the Wheel of Time series after the original author, Robert Jordan, died. (If you're not familiar with the Wheel of Time, I don't recommend picking it up unless you have 90 hours or more available for reading this summer - it's a very, very long series. Some chapters in that series stretch over a hundred pages. Also, in addition to being very long, it's very heavy reading. I haven't finished it, and I definitely don't recommend it for anyone pre-college.)

To the best of my knowledge, this is Sanderson's most famous work that is not connected to Wheel of Time. It explores themes of leadership that could probably be divided into two main streams - what makes a leader and what maintains a leader.

The story takes place in an imaginary land called Roshar. The Kingdom of Alethkar was recently reunited under charismatic King Galivar, who is murdered at the beginning of the book, leaving his son Ehlokar as king. Ehlokar starts a war against the people who murdered his father, called the Vengeance Pact, and the story mostly focuses around two characters in the war. One is Kaladin, a soldier who became the lowest slave in the army, only to become a leader among the other slaves; the other is Dalinar, Gavilar's brother, who's experiencing visions that he thinks are trying to tell him what to do, but everyone else thinks are signs he's going insane. There's also a section with Gavilar's daughter and a girl who wants to steal a powerful magic item from her, which explores the reasons why Gavilar was murdered. The magic in this world comes from Highstorms, powerful storms that sweep across the land and destroy everything, but leave behind stormlight that people use for power.

Overall, it was an interesting book. The story zipped along quickly, the characters were likable, and it was worth continuing to read. There was no (current, active) love triangle (THANK YOU!) and the twists in the story, particularly with the princess and the thief, were really cool and imaginative.

There are a few problems, but I think the biggest one has to do with Sanderson's methods of building mystery around the past. It's difficult to explain, but I think the best way to describe it is that instead of feeling curious, you just feel confused. It almost feels like the little hints he's giving are incomplete hints. There were certainly some exceptions; for example, at one point at the very end of the book, a character who's been well-behaved the entire time suddenly confesses "I killed my father," and that's it until (presumably) the next book. That was surprising, a complete hint, but not the complete story. Other times, it didn't flow so smoothly, and I occasionally found myself struggling to figure out if he was hinting at somebody's mysterious backstory or if he just hadn't given enough information for what he was trying to say. As something that spins off from that, I think he might have been trying to say that in his world, there is no god even though everyone believes in one, but I'm not sure if that's what he's saying or if he just didn't give all the information. That's something else I'm not crazy about, by the way - the absence of any god. And, finally, there were some random interludes that seemed to go nowhere, but will presumably be tied in for future books.

Having said that, the story was extremely interesting. Furthermore, I don't remember a lot of language, explicit scenes, or graphic scenes. I was really impressed with how comparatively clean it was, but all of its value weighted totally on the story and not at all on the shock value or "adult" elements. I can think of one time the author used any particularly vulgar term

All that said, even without being explicit, it definitely wasn't for young readers, either. The story alone is 1,000 pages, and it has some heavy stuff (especially pertaining to romances and relationships between the nobles). I'd guess 17 or 18 would be the youngest I would recommend it to, but truthfully I think it is for mature readers. Honestly, I wasn't planning on reviewing this anyway, but my mom and other adults have told me that they prefer teen and pre-teen writing simply because the language/shock value/crudeness is much more tolerable in teen literature. I think Sanderson has written an engaging story that doesn't rely much on anything cheap and disgusting, and for that I think he deserves to be commended.

So, factoring in the confusing backstory hints and the random interludes - 4 stars.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Just Catching Up

As per my last post, I don't really have anything more to say just yet, because I haven't had a chance to dig into my textbooks yet, but I'm considering bringing them to work and researching over lunch (because if there's one thing I learned in college, it's how to research.)

Anyway, here's my general update. I'm all moved back in at home, and working back at my summer job while trying to get a more permanent job to help tide me through grad school. In addition to my classes at SPU, I'm going to try to get a Webmaster's certification, because I really enjoyed working at FCC. (Side note: if you have a website that needs general upkeep, contact me. I don't know how much I don't know about Webmastery just yet, but maybe I can do the basics.) I am, of course, enjoying seeing Selah more often, since she's back in Washington as well. I'm afraid I might have gotten her hooked on going to Emerald Downs, the local racetrack, because we've started looking for nights we can go free. It's  a lot of fun to be around horses!

I am, of course, working on book four (currently titled Arashna) but that's going to be a while before it gets published. I'm sorry, but between working and going to school, it's just going to be difficult to do a lot of creative writing. I think it's also worth mentioning that I began the first twenty pages or so while I was still writing Darkwoods, but when I went back and reviewed them, I decided to start from scratch. I haven't completely scrapped what I've already written, but basically I'm starting from the very beginning for the first time since I started Darkwoods. (I had started writing Graystone while I was working on Darkwoods, and Pasadagavra used to be the very end of Darkwoods.) In any case, don't look for Arashna anytime soon. There may, however, be another series of short stories, similar to Quest for Rinaria, that also happen between Pasadagavra and Graystone and focus less on Zuryzel's adventuring with her friends (as fun as that was to write about) and more on her growth as a princess within her kingdom. Don't expect a detailed explanation of how she finally got together with Dejuday, though, because I am deathly sick of the saturation of romance in American literature. There will definitely be no future love triangles, because I am really sick of those.

Anyway, there will definitely be more blog posts. In the near future, look for my thoughts on a new book series I started and Captain America: Civil War. There may also be a few more academic-leaning posts, such as commentary on poems and novels, but since a friend as my Lit-Crit book, it may be a while before I get into those.

Well, whatever the future holds, I hope you keep checking my blog for updates (since there actually should be some this year) and of course tell your friends about my books. I really appreciate readership and feedback. Also, be sure to look out for me at some local fairs this fall, because I'm home in Seattle for the foreseeable future.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Proof That Nothing is Treated as Special Anymore

In the past, I've written about teenagers and young adults who have done impressive things. I enjoy writing those posts, but this is not going to be one of those.

According to The Guardian, someone took the time to "translate," edit, and publish... an Emoji Bible. I really wish I were making that up, but sadly, I think it's true.

Notice that the author gave himself an emoji for his name. 

So many things frustrate me about this, but I'm going to go with the one that I sort of picked up from my on-campus job.

For three years at WLC, I was the webmaster for a website called Fourth Century Christianity, which lists and sometimes translates writings from the fourth century. (If you want some convenient framing events, most of it happens between when Constantine made Christianity a legal religion to when Theodosius made Christianity the only legal religion. See the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Cunctos Populos on February 28, 380.) I also got a theology minor in my last year there. If there is one thing I noticed while doing both, it was how much effort went in to understanding exactly what God says. People struggled over the tiniest distinctions in wording. More importantly, Bible translations were treated with care and respect. Jerome wrote multiple translations of some books. 

And now we have... this. Emojis. 

I'll probably have more to say when I get back to Seattle (right now I'm in Phoenix) and am reunited with my text books.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Next Step - Graduate School

I guess technically I'm still at the graduation step, but I figured now was as good a time as any to talk about grad school. Since I'm planning to be a teacher, I have to go to extra schooling to get the teaching license. I was originally planning to go to University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but I applied to a bunch of places, and somewhat to my surprise, I got into Seattle Pacific University. They've been around for a while, and they're pretty famous for turning out good teachers who can get jobs pretty quickly. So - in the fall, I'll be going back to Seattle for grad school.

It honestly didn't feel real until I heard my name and grad school program announced at the Honors Convocation this afternoon. When I was in high school, and someone asked me what schools I knew about, were not forbidden, but I would never consider going to, I think SPU would have been at the top of the list. I've known about SPU longer than WLC - the first time I visited the campus, I was in fifth grade and there for Musicale with the Seattle Christian elementary school band - but I would never have considered going there. For one thing, I wanted to go somewhere pretty far away. Somewhere knew, exciting, and preferably off the beaten path.

But, long story short, things changed. Now I'm heading back home. I don't know if that's where I'll end up teaching, and once I graduate from there, I'll still have to take some extra classes if I want to teach in a school affiliated with my church synod, but really anything could happen at this point.

I'm excited. I'll miss WLC really badly, and all the friends I've made here, but SPU could be a really exciting place to be.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Semester Updates

I know it's been a while since I posted anything related to the final Darkwoods book, and part of the reason for that is that it's been a while (though not quite as long) since I did any work on that. I've had two extremely stressful semesters, and my creative writing has been cut to a minimum. That's an important plan for this summer - write more on Arashna. I have no idea when it'll be finished, or when you can read it. I will try to make it closer to Graystone than Graystone was to Pasadagavra, but don't hold your breath. The real world loves to intrude on my plans.

Anyway, like I said, my last two semesters were pretty stressful. Fall semester was my first semester overloading, an experience I am relieved I never have to repeat. As much as I enjoyed my classes, I have never been so busy or had so much stuff all due at once.

Spring semester was stressful because the stuff I've been working on is really difficult. I don't have quite as many assignments, but the assignments I do have feel like they're specifically meant to be as frustratingly nitpicking as possible. The subjects are pretty tough, even though I've had some background in most of them. Then there's my Honors class, which studies modern literature. I think the point of most modern literature is that it is not supposed to make sense. Things aren't supposed to add up, the reader's supposed to think the people in the story are weird. Ugh. I don't mind a book or two like that, but unfortunately, it seems to be a trend. Not a good trend. That's something I like about fantasy literature, actually - the world they're in makes no sense (talking trees, dragons, etc.) but the story and the characters actually end up making sense.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Review of the Live-Action Jungle Book

Remember when I said this?
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling's most famous work (which, incidentally, includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi") directed by the guy who did Iron Man, produced by the studio that trainwrecked the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and apparently starring Black Widow as Kaa - who thought that was a good idea? What was wrong with the original?
I still stand by that. The casting was ridiculous, there was absolutely no new music that didn't sound like Pirates of the Caribbean, and there was so much pandering to not just the cartoon Jungle Book but also to other Disney animated movies that it would embarrass the Hobbit movies.

And yet...

I was favorably impressed. The movie managed to do something that I honestly did not expect it could do: it justified its existence.

What I mean by that, is that it was not just simply a retelling of the already-perfectly-fine animated movie, now live-action with exactly one thing that's different from the original,just to be re-released and make more money. (That would be especially stupid to do with this movie, since most of it has to be CGI anyway. Seriously, the difference between a live-action Jungle Book and an animated Jungle Book is one actor on screen, if you don't change up the story.) No, this movie actually tried to tell the same story but in a very different way, and I think, for the most part, it succeeded.

When I asked "What was wrong with the original," what I mostly meant is, "What is a live-action remake by that crew going to improve upon?" And, in my defense, I think it was a justified skepticism. The original animated movie was a goofy, lighthearted movie, with passable animation, funny characters, and a few moments that were serious but what I would hardly call deep. I think, for a goofy movie, it was a very good goofy movie. Part of that means that it does sort of lack depth, though. For example, they never really do explain why Shere Khan hates fire in the animated movie. There's also a lack of jungle mythology and lore in the animated movie, and no mention of the Law of the Jungle that was a really big deal in the book. That's fine for the animation, because it wasn't the type of movie to deal with hatred, lore, and law - it was a goofy movie, and hatred, lore, and law are pretty heavy stuff. Imagine seeing those in Tom and Jerry - it would be totally out of place

I think I was perfectly justified in being skeptical of the guy who directed Iron Man being able to make a movie that somehow improved on any of those things, but, to my utter amazement, he did. The law of the jungle gets recited by characters a few times, and when it did, it sent chills up my arms. There's also a sort-of myth about how elephants made the jungle, which I thought was a nice addition. And, I think very cleverly, they give a reason why Shere Khan despises Man and fire.

The problem with this movie is that I cannot, for the life of me, give it an overall rating. Parts of it were amazing, and parts of it were shockingly terrible. So, I'm just going to talk about stuff individually.

Shere Khan and Bagheera were amazing. Bagheera was a stick in the mud in the animated, and he was meant to be laughed at, but in this version, he was the personification (pantherification? sure, why not) of tough love. You could just see there were points when his heart was absolutely breaking. Shere Khan was threatening and hardcore, and every time the two of them fought, I was really excited because it was cool.

On the flip side, Baloo. Was. TERRIBLE!

In the animated movie, he was a bit of an idiot, but he was also kindhearted, compassionate, and true to the end. In this movie, he starts out as a con artist who gets Mowgli hurt a lot and keeps trying to take advantage of him. My blood boiled with nearly every line Baloo said.

The other characters included Mowgli's wolf mother, who was cool but didn't have a ton of depth, and King Louie (who wasn't an orangutan because those aren't indigenous to India, but for some reason had a Chicago accent as strong as Al Capone), Akela the Alpha wolf (who I don't think was in the original animation) and of course Kaa. Kaa was every bit as terrible as I expected but only present for one scene, and Akela was okay. King Louie was almost the polar opposite of his character in the animated movie; he was terrifying, power-hungry, and absolutely ruthless. I kind of liked it, but my friend with me said she really hates it.

Voice acting in general went from Bill Murray as Baloo and Lupita Ngola as Rakshaa, at passable, to Scarlet Johansen as Kaa, at downright terrible. The two exceptions were Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley as Shere Khan and Bagheera, respectively - they were great. (But what's with the Marvel actors again?!)

The one actor on screen, Neel Sethi, was ... actually, pretty darn good. I mean, for a child actor who's never been in a movie before, he turned in a pretty good hand. Way to go, kid. You have a future ahead of you.

The cinematography was gorgeous, and the angles were great. The camerawork looked highly ambitious, and sometimes it was hard to follow. The editing wasn't very spectacular - there were some cuts that made no sense, like from place to place in the middle of a sentence, and from day to night with really no explanation of the passage of time, but it wasn't so bad that I couldn't keep up. There were parts where I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I wasn't left confused by the end of the scene.

The dialogue was okay, but kind of awkward at times. But it got a lot, lot better towards the end.

As I said before, the songs and most of the music were rehashed from the animated movie. That bothered me.

The CGI was consistently terrible and horrible (but, to be fair, the animation in the original wasn't that great either).

Possibly my favorite part is that there was no one "twist", like all the other live-action movies so far. Actually, within the movie itself, I thought there weren't really any twists, per se. (It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Snow White, it was the Huntsman! It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Sleeping Beauty, it was Maleficent! Ha! Psych! First of all, not really. Secondly, those were the only differences worth mentioning.) I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that this movie has a different ending than the animated movie, but it didn't feel like the ending was supposed to be that one pivot-point from the original. It just felt like the story they were telling would come to that conclusion anyway, logically and emotionally. This story really felt like its own story. Well done. (And there was a much heftier plot than the animated movie, by the way.)

Unlike the goofiness of the original, there was a sense of wonder and awe in this one that I was not at all expecting. I wouldn't go so far as to call it magical, like I guess some critics have, but it was serious in a beautiful and creative way.

If I had to give it a rating, I'd have to split it into two parts. The first two-thirds to three-quarters were anywhere between mediocre and terrible. The last part was easily between four and five stars. That was the best cinematography, acting, voice acting, characters, and action, no doubt. I have no clue why Rotten Tomatoes is giving it such a good rating, because I don't think it's that good - but parts of it are.

Honestly, I was so surprised to see a live-action remake that so thoroughly justified its own existence. I'm not sure I liked it. It definitely wasn't so good that it challenged in any way my overall skepticism of live-action remakes. But I don't know that it was bad, either. Either way, it's definitely worth watching at least once.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Go Home, Hollywood. You're Out of Ideas.

Remember my post a while back about the live-action Disney movies?

I just saw this tonight:
Do I need to say anything?

Snow White is the Brothers Grimm; Snow Queen is Hans Christian Andersen.

Also, the Huntsman was married at some point before Snow White and the Huntsman; are they going to reference that anywhere?

Also, those ice effects are terrible.

Also, if the mirror is so powerful, why did the Evil Queen have to marry Snow White's dad to get power over that kingdom?

Also, didn't the Evil Queen have a brother?

Also, is it even possible for them to rip of Frozen any more?

Also - and most important of all - why does this exist?

Fairy tales aren't meant to be fantasy epics; they're meant to be simple stories that teach lessons. The Snow Queen is probably the best fairy tale to turn into an epic (if you get the chance, read the story or watch one of the faithful movie adaptations - it's a great story), but that's not even remotely what they did here. Instead they... did... something. I'm not sure what.

By the way - that line, "You are my only weakness" - show, don't tell. Animated movies get that better.