“Game of Thrones: A Pop-up Guide to Westeros” illustrated by Michael Komarck, designed by Matthew Christian Reinhart (Insight Editions, 2014) [REVIEW #800!]

Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westeros

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It’s that time of year again, deep in the dark of winter, when Christmas is almost upon us; and we sit a fair distance away from the next riveting season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and even longer from the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. You’re probably thinking in these dark times what possible gift could I be rewarded with that will make everything feel better, what pricey item would make the perfect Christmas present or possibly a worthwhile spending of the Christmas money? Why not take a look at Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westeros.

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There aren’t many books out there to which nothing bad can be said about them, and this is one of those very rare books. However, there is a dilemma with this beautiful pop-up book, which is that you want to continuously open it and lift every flap and card and pop-up section and study and read and admire; but at the same time you also want to keep everything pristine and mint and unopened to preserve its value and perfection.

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Much as with anything Matthew Reinhart puts his mind and skill to, this is simply an astonishing work of art. One of his more recent popular works of genius is Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy. The level of detail and work that has gone into this pop-up book knows no bounds.

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Generally, your average pop-up book will have maybe one or two on a page, and sometimes none to continue whatever story it is trying to tell, not so with Game of Thrones. Reinhart pushes the envelope with multiple levels of pop-ups cunningly conceived and designed to defy artistic logic, while other great page-spanning scenes rise up from the paper like Lazarus to dazzle your very eyes.

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In addition to the main pop-up on each page, the smaller sub-pop-up has a little corner cover to be folded into so that it remains firmly locked in place and protected, making it easy to release and open up and admire, and then put back again in safety. This device also makes it easy to know how to open up a pop-up so it doesn’t bend the wrong way and possibly get damaged.

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The book takes you across the scenes and locations of Westeros, showing you the lands and its citadels, giving you information on the people and characters and some of the familiar story pieces you have come to love and hate and perhaps love again.  Whether you’re an addict of the books, the TV show or both, as you slowly and delicately leaf through this incredible book you will no doubt have the Game of Thrones theme song running in your head.

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Originally written on November 23, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westeros from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Bookbanter Column: Get Lost in a Good Fantasy Series Part 6: A Song of Ice and Fire (September 21, 2012)

Little did George R. R. Martin originally know that when he started writing A Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, changing from an idea in his head to something real on paper, that it would become such a bestseller and so popular with readers around the world.

Now with the success of the HBO series, even more people are turning to reading the books for the first time.

But it can be pretty intimidating facing that premiere heavy hardcover tome or that weighty fat paperback for the first time as you begin the series, so here’s a rough breakdown of what happens in the books.

While Martin had originally intended for the series to be trilogy and soon realized it was going to be much longer, the planned length is now seven books, with five books now released and two more to go.

One hopes Martin can reach the end of the series before the HBO TV show catches up with him.

 A Game of Thrones: Journey to Westeros for the first time, with A Game of Thrones, but beware for winter is coming.

In the first of George R. R. Martin’s landmark, epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, readers will be introduced to a complex world of many lands and many families, with many characters, but have no fear for Martin tells the story from unique viewpoints of different members of different families, forcing the reader to fit the different pieces of the story together, creating the overall puzzle of plot.  Readers will be reminded of everything they love about great fantasy stories, whether they be simple or epic; as well as discovering why George R. R. Martin has earned the title of the “American Tolkien.”

In the world of Westeros, there are Seven Kingdoms, long ago independent, now united under the Iron Throne, but those named king never seem to last long in this world of corrupt, power-hungry families.  There are two main families which readers are first introduced to: the Starks and the Lanisters, emulating the Wars of the Roses with the Yorks and Lancasters.  With the Starks there is proud and strong Ned, who is to be the King’s Hand to Robert Baratheon, and his determined and caring wife, Catelyn.  The sons are Rob, the eldest, Jon Snow, a bastard, Bran who suffers a debilitating accident, and Rickon who is too young to really understand what is going on.  The daughters are Sansa, who is a young, fair maiden always looking for her knight in shining armor to whisk her off her feet; and Arya, who is boyish and wants to learn how to fight with a sword, ride a horse into battle, and defend herself.  The Lannisters are a different type of family, constantly looking for gain whether it is with land, riches, or power.  At the head of the household is the aging Lord Tywin, with his children: the beautiful, blond and blue-eyed Jaime and his twin Cersei – who share much more than a sibling affection – and little Tyrion, a dwarf who has had to fight for everything in his entire life.  Cersei is wife to the king, Robert Baratheon, and together they have young Joffrey, heir to the throne, along with Tommen and Myrcella.

While tension builds between the families at King’s landing, far to the north lies the Wall – 700 feet tall and 300 miles long, protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the evils of the far north.  There lies myth and legends of demons and ghouls, as well as a landless king.  It is here John Snow is sent.  To the east in the Free Cities is Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, the last surviving children of King Aerys II, looking to one day take back the throne that is rightfully theirs.

A Game of Thrones is fantasy at its very best, with lots of complex, interesting characters; moving storylines filled with tension and adventure; a detailed and varied world that is well explored; and an underlying question of who is truly good and who is truly evil in this harsh world.

A Clash of Kings: To the north beyond the wall the wildlings are amassing behind a man known as Mance Rayder, the so-called King-beyond-the-wall, as they prepare to attack the wall and infiltrate Westeros.  All that stands in their way is the weak army of the Night’s Watch, as this small number of the men in black with Jon Snow head out to put a stop to them.  In this saga, Snow will learn of this Mance Rayder, as well as one of the wildlings whom he becomes close to.

Far to the east across the waters, Daenerys Targaryen continues to rebuild her own army in a bid to take back the kingdom of Westeros and her royal lineage.  She travels with her consort to the renowned trading city of Qarth where she will face the ultimate test with powerful warlocks and the House of the Undying.  Meanwhile her three dragons continue to grow and become stronger and more deadly.

And in the heart of Westeros the war rages on.  Young Joffrey is arrogant, cruel, and impetuous, feeling he is in his birthright to be king of all the lands, while rumors run amuck of an incestuous relationship spawning this possibly illegitimate ruler.  Joffrey rules from King’s Landing with the might and support of the house of Lannister.  To the west is Robb Stark, the King of the North, looking to unite his lands and protect his people.  So far he has never lost a battle, but gains little ground in the ongoing war.  On the island of Dragonstone sits Stannis, the eldest brother of the surviving Baratheon family, feeling he is the rightful heir, while advised by the red priestess of R’hllor, Melisandre.  His biggest contender is his younger brother who currently holds Storm’s End and the larger army.  And finally, to the far west on the Iron Islands, a new contender decides to take the stage and declare himself king, one Balon Greyjoy.

But it is not these squabbling kings that keep readers hooked, but Martin’s work in diverse viewpoints from unique, unforgettable characters that you either learn to love or hate or perhaps both.  Over hundreds of pages, readers begin to hate those they loved, while loving those they detested, as Martin swings his unstoppable scythe pendulum, not knowing who will come beneath the blade next.  A Clash of Kings culminates with a mighty battle at King’s Landing that will leave many dead and a world in shambles, as the survivors look once again for personal gain, while readers will be left hungry for more.

A Storm of Swords: To the north Jon Snow has infiltrated the wildings, looking to get close to Mance Rayder, the king-beyond-the-wall, and find out when they plan to attack the Night’s Watch, but he will find his loyalties challenged as he must fight and decide where his allegiances lie.  Then there is the storyline of Bran, one of the Stark children, who is traveling to the north to find his brother.  Theon Greyjoy now controls Winterfell through lies, deception and competing against his more popular sister for the love and support of his father, King Balon Greyjoy.  Meanwhile, Arya Stark continues to get pulled back and forth from bad character to worse character, but because of her smarts and cunning she is able to scrape through alive.  Jaime Lannister is let go to travel back to King’s Landing under the protection of Brienne of Tarth with the hope that the Lannisters will free Sansa Stark.

As for the war, things are not going well, but then that really depends on whose side you’re on.  Robb Stark continues to win battles but make little headway in the war, but after falling for a girl who looks after him when he is wounded and marries her, he must meet with the Freys to soothe their relations.  His uncle, Edmure Tully, will wed one of the Frey daughters and all will be well, it is hoped.  Robb’s mother, Catelyn, doesn’t trust Lord Walder Frey, as she travels with her son, grieving over the loss of her father.  But the Tully’s have something fiendish in store for them.  Meanwhile in King’s Landing Joffrey rules in his cruel, childish way, while his uncle Tyrion, the dwarf, continues to fight with his sister, Joffrey’s mother, Cersei; then their father, Lord Tywin, arrives to upset the balance and organize things in his own way.

Far to the east, Daenerys Targaryen returns to Pentos by sea in search of an army.  She finds one in the Unsullied, a slave army, but she must give over one of her dragons for the thousands of slaves.  Daenerys has a plan and soon has her army which she immediately frees from slavery, making them unstoppable soldiers who will never defy an order.  As she travels across the land, looking to grow her army and power and create peace among these peoples, she discovers two of her closes retinue are traitors and must decide what she will do with them.

A Storm of Swords is Martin at his best, as the events and actions that have been building in the previous books are brought to a harsh fruition, and the author continues to reveal what makes his series so unique.  Some character storylines go on for too long and could use some heavy editing to shorten them down, or perhaps have been cut entirely as little seems to happen, while others are simply riveting, even when involving two character viewpoints covering the same event.  At the end, just as with the first two books, readers will be left impatiently wanting more.

A Feast for Crows: Readers of the first three A Song of Ice and Fire books – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords – will notice a trend with them: the page count is steadily increasing with each book.  It seems like there must be a breaking point when it simply won’t be possible to bind that many pages into one book . . . well, that’s exactly what happened with the fourth book of A Song of Ice and Fire.  George R. R. Martin was given an ultimatum from his publisher that the book needed to be divided into multiple volumes.  The resulting A Feast for Crows only features a limited number of the main characters readers have become familiar with in the earlier books, as well as a number of newer ones as further lands and parts of Westeros are explored and revealed for the first time.

The War of the Five Kings is coming to a close, as many of the rulers readers have come to know are now dead, or fled for their lives.  King Tommen now rules at King’s Landing, though under the guise of his mother, Cersei Lannister, who has finally gotten her lifelong wish to rule the realm.  She fills her cabinet with loyal elders who soon fail in their duty and she becomes ferociously angry, suspecting and suspicious of everyone, driving herself to incessant drinking.  Then there is Margaery Tyrell, who is married to her son, the king, who she believes is looking to take over the realm as queen and do goodness knows what.

Meanwhile, Jaime has had enough of his sister and leaves to make what reparations he can to the kingdom, to regain control over the Riverlands in the name of Lannister and the realm.  Brienne is in search of Sansa, to free her from whatever perils she is in, fulfilling an oath she promised.  In the Eyrie, Sansa remains seemingly trapped by Littlefinger who conducts himself in a very strange way with her.  In the Iron Islands, the king Balon Greyjoy is dead by a freak accident, and now begins the long and laborious process of choosing a successor, as Balon’s children come home to claim the throne, including his tough and determined daughter, Asha.  Far to the south, in the lands of Dorne, unrest is stirring as new contenders look to play a part in taking the throne, through Myrcella Baratheon who is told she has every right to the throne as her brother Tommen does.  Finally to the east is Arya who is learning and training in the ways of the people of Braavos, while Samwell Tarly travels on his own journey to Oldtown to become the new Maester for the Night’s Watch, and travels to Braavos along the way, meeting with Arya.

A Dance with Dragons: In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.  Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of.  He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far east.  Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehendible as the great continent of Westeros.  Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine.  He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen.  Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.  She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons.  Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.  The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons.  It does not end well for him.  Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

Bookbanter Column: The Long Read (June 22, 2012)

Books come in all shapes and sizes and most importantly, in various lengths.

A variety of authors write and publish a variety books with a variety of page numbers. Some are small and seemingly pathetic 200-page novellas, some are your average 300-400 page-turners, and then there are those special authors that like to write those 800-1000 page behemoths.

Now, mind you, books will vary in length depending on genre: children’s books will usually be within that 200-page mark, young adult pushes it to 300 (unless you’re Harry Potter!), mysteries tend to be in the 300-400 page range, and a number of fantasy authors like to write those really long ones.

This column is about those special heavy tomes.

In the last couple of years there have been a number of these long books published by a variety of authors in various genres, and I’ve read a fair number of them and they’ve all been pretty good.

So if you’re looking for that long 800-1000 pager to get sucked into, check out the titles below.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (849 pages)

Jake Epping is a thirty-five year old high school teacher living in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He enjoys his simple life, conveying to kids not just the beauty of the English language, but discussing and enlightening the teenagers with some of the great works of literature.

In the opening of 11/22/63, the reader learns about Harry Dunning’s past life. Dunning is an adult student who got his high school diploma a while ago; Jake still has that very special essay Dunning wrote. It wasn’t grammatically correct, and was filled with spelling errors; but it was also the story of the day Dunning’s father came home drunk, when he was a child, and brutally murdered his mother, sister and brother with a hammer, while Dunning barely made it out alive with his life, suffering a smashed leg.

It was a moving story that Jake has never forgotten.

He enjoys his days after school going to see his friend Al, who owns a local diner, where he enjoys one of the most delicious burgers on the planet, and the amazing thing about it is he hasn’t raised his prices in decades. A customer can still enjoy a burger with fries for the ridiculously cheap price of under $3. It seems like something Jake should be suspicious about, but the burgers taste too damn good. The following day Jake meets up with Al again and finds him to be a changed man, incredibly aged overnight and he looks like he’s dying; that’s when Al tells him his story.

In the back of his diner is a portal to 1958.

Al himself has been back a number of times, and each time he comes back through it to the present, everything resets. He’s narrowed everything down to one important event he believes will change everything: the assassination of JFK. He tried once, spending five years back then, but it didn’t work. Now it’s up to Jake. And just to prove that anything is possible, Jake’s first mission is going to be to go back and stop Dunning’s father from killing his family.

Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1008 pages)

Readers are returned first to Kote at the Waystone Inn with his friend and apprentice, Bast. A new day begins, after the stories and surprising events of the one before. Chronicler sits ready to record the story, while Kote has already been up many hours, preparing fresh cider and newly baked bread. And so Kote continues the story of his life, the story of Kvothe the arcanist.

The sixteen year-old continues his studies at the University, struggling to get by. He has spent his recently acquired monies on a new lute and now has little to show for it, but the instrument is an investment. Now raised to the next level of arcanist, Re’lar, his tuition is considerably higher, and his must borrow money to pay for it. Fortunately, he has his incredible talent as a musician and singer, and is able to make some money this way through a clever scheme at the inns.

Then there is the Fishery, where all manner of arcana are made. Kvothe has spent previous terms learning and inventing simple items such as sympathy lamps that bring in a decent amount of money, but this term he is challenged to create something truly unique; it will take him many months, but the result will fetch a high price.

Kvothe is also finally granted access to the priceless Archives once more, and after learning how to travel its complex, labyrinthine halls, corridors and stacks; begins his incessant research on the unknown Chandrian, for they are the ones who murdered his family and friends.

Meanwhile, Kvothe’s relationship with Deanna continues to go nowhere fast, as he does all he can to make her happy and feel special . . . everything that is except confess his love for her. He even breaks into the rooms of his mortal enemy to steal back Deanna’s ring and proceeds to get himself into a whole mess of trouble.

At the end of the term, Kvothe seems to have everything in order, but has a couple of options: he can continue with his studies the following the semester, and risk having the gossip of his involvement jeopardize his studies; or he can leave town and try something different for a while. Fortunately at that moment, there is a rich noble from Vintas looking to woo a certain lady and needs one skilled with words. So begins the second half of the book, as Kvothe is soon on his way and finds himself involved in the noble courts, as a different world is revealed to the reader of manners and ways and courtly intrigue. Kvothe is also employed into a gang to stop a band of bandits terrorizing the tax collectors. In this gang he befriends a unique man and seeks to learn his ways and culture.

The question is whether he can understand and learn this man’s language, as well as stop these bandits once and for all. Meanwhile, in the back of his mind, Kvothe wonders and hopes if the rich noble who has employed him may wish to take him on permanently as his patron.

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (1040 pages)

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of. He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far East.

Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehensible as the great continent of Westeros. Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine. He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen. Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.

She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons. Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.

The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons. It does not end well for him. Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson (1056 pages)

Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.

T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection. And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players. Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character. Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him. Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge.

Reamde begins like an expected Stephenson book with computers and an MMO, but then makes a change to a Tom Clancy-style thriller, as the characters travel around the world, getting involved in elaborate shootouts in distant countries.

Eventually Islamic terrorist even get involve, as well as a member of MI6 who seems to appear from nowhere and gets a twenty page introduction. The crux of the book takes place towards the end of the first third of the book, in what Cory Doctorow calls “. . .an epic, 100+ page climactic mini-war.”

The ongoing saga eventually leads back to Seattle and the northwest, passing into Canada, where the novel began, pulling Richard Forthrast into the mix.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1008 pages)

Our story focuses on two characters.

One is Kaladin, a young man in his twenties who has seen much of life already. Raised by his surgeon father to become a brilliant doctor, he instead turns to the life of a warrior, with hopes of getting his hands on a Shardblade, and soon sees his fair share of death and bloodshed.

Now he is a slave, for reasons unknown, with little to hope for in life. He soon becomes a member of the bridge crew, a group of slaves whose job it is to carry a giant, heavy bridge across great distances and to lay it across the chasms to allow the soldiers to cross and attack the enemy. Kaladin becomes part of bridge team four, which is renowned for losing the most lives each time it races into battle. Kaladin finds a unique luck on his side, as he manages to continue to survive, and then chooses to work for his team, train them, create survival tactics for them, and he discovers something he thought he’d lost for good: hope and his will to live.

Then there is Shallan, a young woman whose family has fallen on hard times after the death of their father. The family is in possession of a Soulcaster, a unique magical device that can essentially create just about anything out of nothing, only now it is broken. However, Shallan has a plan: to become the ward and student for Jasnah Kolin, sister of King Elhokar of Althekar, with plans to replace Jasnah’s Soulcaster with her own; her only problem is she has no idea how to use it.

A number of interludes throughout the book help to introduce some minor characters to explore some more of this overwhelming world, such as Szeth-son-son-Vallano, who is an assassin from the land of Shinovar, possessing a unique magic to flip gravity around. And then there are the spren, which are spirits that seem to be caused by or drawn to specific happenstances and emotions, such as fear, pain, music, rot, and glory to name a few.

Little is known or understood of the spren, other than they exist, while Kaladin finds himself befriending a specific spren that seems to be evolving.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (1074 pages)

Imagine the quintessential American town – Chester Mills, Maine – where life has rolled along at its own sedate pace since the beginning of time; it is a simple life that many envy and yearn for, while others disregard and ridicule.

Now imagine that an invisible dome forms around the boundaries of the town, trapping everyone and everything inside, as well as preventing anyone and anything from entering; all that is able to pass through is air since it’s composed of tiny molecules. From now on the humble citizens of Chester Mills must live off of whatever supplies and reserves they have.

Then add some classic, unique and outright bizarre Stephen King characters; you’ve got yourself a very special story, weighing in at over a thousand pages.

There’s Dale Barbara, an ex-military man who came to Chester Mills to get away from everything, working as a cook at Sweetbriar Rose. After getting into a serious fight with the town bullies – who include the sheriff’s son – he’s all set to quit town, but the dome comes down before he’s able to make his escape. Now he’s trapped inside with a whole mess of people who hate his guts and would sooner see him dead.

Jim Rennie – known as “Big Jim – is the town’s Second Selectman, a member of the three-member team that makes up the governing body for Chester Mills. Only Big Jim has everyone in his pocket, owning him favors, and he’s also been running an underground scheme that’s making him a very rich man. He thrives on power and being in charge, and when the dome comes down he thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world; his calling from God to take charge once and for all.

Julia Shumway is the editor, publisher, and devout writer for her very own Chester Mill’s Democrat, continuing the family business, and always looking for a great story and a way to reveal the true, seedy underbelly of Chester Mills that she knows exists. After Dome Day, she knows Jim Rennie is up to something and will stop at nothing to expose him for the fraud he is.

And 13-year-old Joe McClatchey, a good-looking nerd with all the answers, but he also has some important ideas about what exactly the dome is and what might’ve made it happen. While the town slowly devolves into pandemonium, he spends his time trying to find out the cause of it all.

Stephen King conceived this book, originally titled Cannibals, early on in his career, but was never satisfied with the story.

Now he has delivered the weighty tome of Under the Dome, where lines will be drawn, sides declared, alliances forged, and enemies and allies made.

Many people will die – which is no surprise for a King novel – but the wild thrill ride will keep you addictively reading, aching to find out how it all ends.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

2012 Hugo and Campbell Award Nominees

Courtesy of Locus.

Nominees for the Hugo Awards and for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer have been announced by Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Chicago, Illinois, August 30-September 3, 2012. The Hugo Awards ceremony will take place September 2, 2012.

BEST NOVEL

BEST NOVELLA

  • ‘‘The Ice Owl’’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 10-11/11)
  • ‘‘Countdown’’, Mira Grant (Orbit Short Fiction) [Mira Grant Interview #1 & #2]
  • ‘‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’’, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11)
  • ‘‘Kiss Me Twice’’, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 6/11)
  • ‘‘The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary’’, Ken Liu (Panverse Three)
  • Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

BEST NOVELETTE

  • ‘‘Six Months, Three Days’’, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com 6/8/11)
  • ‘‘The Copenhagen Interpretation’’, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s 7/11)
  • ‘‘What We Found’’, Geoff Ryman (F&SF 9-10/11)
  • ‘‘Fields of Gold’’, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
  • ‘‘Ray of Light’’, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11)

BEST SHORT STORY

  • ‘‘Movement’’, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s 3/11)
  • ‘‘The Paper Menagerie’’, Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
  • ‘‘The Homecoming’’, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 4-5/11)
  • ‘‘Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Prologue)’’, John Scalzi (Tor.com 4/1/11)
  • ‘‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’’, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld4/11)

BEST RELATED WORK

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – LONG

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – SHORT

  • Community: ‘‘Remedial Chaos Theory’’
  • ‘‘The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech’’, Christopher J Garcia & James Bacon (Renovation)
  • Doctor Who: ‘‘The Doctor’s Wife’’
  • Doctor Who: ‘‘The Girl Who Waited’’
  • Doctor Who: ‘‘A Good Man Goes to War’’

BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR LONG FORM

  • Lou Anders
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Anne Lesley Groell
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Betsy Wollheim

BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR SHORT FORM

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST 

  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • Bob Eggleton
  • Michael Komarck
  • Stephan Martiniere
  • John Picacio

BEST SEMIPROZINE

  • Apex Magazine
  • Interzone
  • Lightspeed
  • Locus
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction

BEST FANZINE

  • Banana Wings
  • The Drink Tank
  • File 770
  • Journey Planet
  • SF Signal

BEST FANCAST

  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast
  • SF Signal Podcast
  • SF Squeecast
  • StarShipSofa

BEST FAN WRITER

  • James Bacon
  • Claire Brialey
  • Christopher J Garcia
  • Jim C. Hines
  • Steven H Silver

BEST FAN ARTIST

  • Brad W. Foster
  • Randall Munroe
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Maurine Starkey
  • Steve Stiles
  • Taral WayNe

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER [NOT A HUGO AWARD]

  • Mur Lafferty
  • Stina Leicht
  • *Karen Lord
  • *Brad R. Torgersen
  • E. Lily Yu

*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

There were 1,101 nominating ballots received from members of Chicon 7 and Renovation. The deadline for online ballots and the receipt of paper ballots is July 31, 2012 (midnight PDT).

The Man of Westeros: An Interview with George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin needs little introduction after the recent success of the HBO show Game of Thrones, as well as his internationally bestselling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. At a recent signing Kaye Cloutman and I had the chance to interview the great man himself and find out what he has to say on matters like his strength and weakness as a writer, what he likes to do in San Francisco, what he thinks about eBooks and the end of Borders, and whether he’s know how the series ends. [Read the interview . . .]

A Dance with Dragons

“A Dance with Dragons” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 2011)

A Dance With Dragons
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Six years in the making; over a thousand pages in length: while A Dance with Dragons has gone on to become an instant super bestseller (as well as the hardcover outselling the eBook edition), sadly the best thing about this book is really that fantastically mesmerizing cover.  This mighty tome falls more in line with its less well received and not so well reviewed predecessor, A Feast for Crows, than with the groundbreaking first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire.  It seems that time may not be the best thing for George R. R. Martin when it comes to writing his epic series, as he seems to enjoy spending more time describing scenery, and food, and anything gruesome or unpleasant than moving the story along.  He goes on tangents, taking trips with new characters that appear to have little bearing on the main plot; or spends literally hundreds of pages with characters readers have come to know so well and love . . . and nothing bloody happens!  Martin is becoming what can only really be truthfully described as Jordanian; no he’s not immigrating to Jordan, but writing in the style of the man who became the true master of the “massive mass market,” Robert Jordan.

Warning: here be spoilers.

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.  Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of.  He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far east.  Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehendible as the great continent of Westeros.  Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine.  He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen.  Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.  She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons.  Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.  The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons.  It does not end well for him.  Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.  These appearances may not have be so incomprehensible if their storylines were allowed to go somewhere, and yet many of them barely get one chapter, leaving the reader wondering why they were ever added to this book in the first place.  What was the point?  Especially when many hundreds of pages are spent on other main characters, with very little happening with them, other than plenty of description of what they’re wearing, what they’re eating, and what the scenery looks like.  Pure Jordanian!

At a recent signing, George R. R. Martin briefly brought up one of his most tumultuous periods in the six-year writing saga of A Dance with Dragons, saying that in a year or two who would discuss it in greater detail once everyone had read the book, but confessing that he had sacrificed at least a year at what he refers to as his “Meereenese Knot,” in trying to decide how events were to transpire and what characters and POVs were to be involved, featuring rewrite after rewrite after rewrite.  It seems Martin may have in fact written himself into a deep, dark pit of despair that he hasn’t really been able to write himself out of.  Perhaps he should’ve scrapped everything and started again?  After sacrificing over a half a decade of his life and the reader’s impatient waiting, he couldn’t exactly do that.  Instead, the result is a book that is too long, has too little going on, and falls behind A Feast for Crows in that it is that much longer with less important story happening.

There may be a number of readers under the same delusion suffered by those who professed the excellence and genius of the Star Wars prequels, starting with A Phantom Menace; but over time have come to realize the error of their ways and the true reality of the situation.  A Dance with Dragons just simply isn’t that good of a book, but does serve to further the story somewhat, and fill in the details with many words and many pages and little action.  At the end readers will certainly be left unsatisfied, as they ponder on the possibilities of the penultimate book in the seven-book series (assuming it will stay at this number) with The Winds of Winter, where winter will supposedly have finally arrived.  The question remains: if winter is finally here, how long will it be before readers actually get to read about it?

Originally written on August 9, 2011  ©Alex C. Telander.

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07/01 On the Bookshelf . . . “A Dance With Dragons”

A Dance With Dragons

It exists!  I have received my review copy and now have factual, absolute proof that the book that has been overdue for half a decade now, A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin, is real and will be officially released on July 12th.  Little did I know when I started reading the series and met Martin at a signing in 2005 with the release of A Feast For Crows, that it would be this long a wait, but at least now it will actually be released, and now the wait and wonder begins for the penultimate book in the series, The Winds of Winter.  In the meantime there’s a thousand page plus tome to enjoy . . .