The Magic of Recluse

The Magic of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt

@Amazon | @ SFFWorld

The Recluse fantasy series is another epic saga of 12 books (and counting?) that along with the much longer and more popular Sword of Truth series and the Wheel of Time compendium make me think that fantasy sagas have to be long to be read :-). While there are a few exceptions to the rule, most notably The RiddleMaster books, even that is a trilogy (or is it four books?) and length seems to be the measuring rod of popularity for this genre. The Recluse books however do not continue the same story unlike the two sagas mentioned above, they are but books set in the same universe.

However, length is not a measure for quality. The SoT and WoT series of books are apt examples on what not to do with a fantasy series. While the Wheel of Time dragged on and on and on until lovely characters became caricatures of themselves, the Sword of Truth series became so idealistic and objectivistic so as to make me puke. There were a few excellent books in both the series, but every time the authors came up with additions to an already long story, rehashes of the same theme became more commonplace, and the story seemed to be going nowhere. There is nothing that can disillusion fantasy fans more than a still story, and both these very promising universes seemed to have stood stock-still for some time now. The Recluse series, as I mentioned above, does not fall into this trap, and since it does not have the same characters for every book, there is an element of fresh air that makes some quirks palatable. There are still rehashes of the same plot, but it is much more bearable.

Enough of the introduction ;-). Recluse is a world based on Chaos and Order. Chaos is white – since it’s a chaotic mixture of all colours, and Order is black – since it doesn’t have any impurity at all. There are wizards – Chaos masters and Order masters who wield these opposites and fight each other until someone comes on top. At least, that’s the basic premise. One of the interesting things about this series is the “science” in it. Chaos and Order are very strongly explained in the context of the series, so much so that the rules in this universe become believable. While it is slow going, particularly at first, slowly as Recluse becomes clearer, we can understand the workings of order and chaos much more clearly as well. This much of a strong explanation for magic is one of the best things about Recluse. If you can get through the first few hundred pages of the book, you’ll soon find the characters very interesting.

Our hero is Lerris, a boy from the island of Recluse in this world who has been rejected by the people on the island because he thinks Order is too “boring”. Recluse is built on Order, and since it does not allow a foothold to chaos, Lerris has to undergo a dangergeld – a sort of trial – so that he can prove himself and come back to the island. It seems a straight-forward story when I tell it like that, but the plot thickens from the very beginning, and it is a confusing read if you’re a speed-reader and looking just to finish this book. This is a book that must be taken slow and slowly dissected. Lerris has many adventures, and the book has a satisfying ending, but even the first few pages would tell us that the world of Recluse has enough material in it for a hundred books or more, and a few sequels bunched in :-). I liked this book.

A Little Princess

It’s not often that I can exactly say how I stumbled across a particular site or a webpage that interests me. Most of the kewl links that you see here are like that, their history forgotten the instant I found them interesting. But it’s often very interesting in itself to know how I stumbled on some of them, for a geneology of interesting things will lead me to a place which points me to interesting things often – and that is a very good thing to know.

Off-topic: The XML specification by the W3C aims to make what I described above easier. Although it has not been implemented yet, the Xlink specification contains a feature known as back-links or bi-directional links – every hyperlink is “aware” about its referers, so when you ask a page to translate how exactly you came to be there, it’ll tell you that. It’s much more complicated than a back-button because information can be passed both ways through such a hyperlink whereas now it just moves forward. It’s one of the things in the spec that might change “browsing” the net forever.

Well, all that was because I stumbled on a most interesting story today in a very roundabout manner. You would have to be dead to not know that the Alfonso Cuarón directed Potter movie – The Prisoner of Azkaban is to very shortly hit the big screen. Cuarón also directed another movie called the Little Princess, and it was largely because of it that he was chosen for this one. And that is how I stumbled upon A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

If you like Anne of the Green Gables by L.M Montgomery, you’ll like this book. It’s an adorable fairy tale that is written so wonderfully that you’ll empathize with Sara – a little princess who goes from riches to rags and back – so much that the book will keep you mesmerized. I loved this.

You can read A Little Princess online thanks to the Electronic Text Center of the Univeristy of Virginia Library.

Drunkard's Walk

Drunkard's Walk by Robert M. Schroeck

As a rule, I don’t like fanfic. If the fanfic happens to be anime derived (as most fanfics on the net are) I avoid it. Drunkard’s Walk is an exception to that rule. It has excellently crafted characters, a wry sense of humor, cute tall Japansese girls (who for once appear to be real people rather than manga material) and good quotes at the beginning of every chapter. I liked Douglas Sangnoir. In fact, I’ll recommend this series to anybody who asks. Sadly, only Part II is available on the net right now 🙁

Snow Crash

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

[Slashdot | Amazon | Neal Stephenson]

I’ve mentioned Neal Stephenson before, he’s the guy who brought cyberpunk fiction into the mainstream, and even though the furor of the immersive web has died down a lot, he still wears the cyberpunk crown. Whatever anyone says about the genre as a whole (drivellish teenage hormone infection may come to your mind), Snow Crash is a literary classic in its own right.

Before I go further, what is cyberpunk fiction? I can’t give you traditional examples, because there is no precedent for this sort of writing. The closest in mainstream media nowadays is the Kill Bill movie by Tarantino. Snow Crash plays with many streams (as diverse as Sumerian history and hacker lingo), new and unique words (like the ‘Metaverse’, ‘Avatars’ and the ‘Deliverator’), interesting unique characters (like Hiro, Y.T, and Raven), and troubling undertones of the difference between a utopian cyber-netherworld and the reality of the mudworld. Cyberpunk fiction is about the ever-cool fuzion, bringing together diverse elements from everywhere into a coherent (and sometimes not so) plot.

Like many online works (which it has decidedly influenced) Snow Crash doesn’t read like a conventional book. It breaks rules and makes reading and understanding it harder, and many sections of the book (including references to binary and hex) would be indicipherable to anyone not familiar with computer lingo. It also has a very abrupt ending and if you don’t follow the story very well (and appreciate the nuances of the plot and puns that are littered everywhere) it will be a very bad read.

But for anyone who aspires to understand the hacker, the script kiddie, the kewlness of code, the relationship that true koders have with the ninja and the art of war, the fascination that many hackers have with the weirdest of alternate lifestyles, Snow Crash is a must read.

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Taken by Thomas H. Cook

If only great movies could be great books! Granted, Taken isn’t an epic movie by any stretch of imagination, but it is one of the major Scifi dramas to hit Television recently, and it could have been a great book. But this, the novel by Thomas H. Cook isn’t what you’re looking for. Perhaps I was unfavorably biased (because I knew the story almost word for word coz I saw the series) but the writing is drab with words and dialogues copied from on screen, and there is hardly any extra material. This is boring, mostly because the whole point of writing a companion book should have beeen to give us something more than the stuff in the series. But this just doesn’t cut it.