Monday, December 12, 2016

Top 10 Christmas Books from My Childhood

Every December my mom brings half-a-dozen bins of Christmas decorations up from the basement. Cracking open the first lid releases the warm, spicy scent of seasonal candles and a wave a memories. Inside are everything from wreaths to pillowcases.

The box I want to share with you is the one that holds the Christmas books. Yes, more books in a house that nearly has a shelf in every room!

Except for a handful of grown-up morality tales like A Christmas Carol, Skipping Christmas, and The Christmas Shoes, the books are all well-worn and written for children. These are the favorites that are read every year.

1. The Night Before Christmas 

Written by Clement Clarke Moore and illustrated by Douglas Gorsline.

This was actually quite difficult for me to find. Our copy fell apart a few years back and we replaced it with another. The words are the same and we still read it together on Christmas Eve, but it will always be Gorsline's illustrations that I remember accompanying my father's hushed "not even a mouse."

2. Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect

Written by Richard H. Schneider and illustrated by Elizabeth J. Miles

This story is about a little pine tree who grows up in the forest from which the queen chooses the perfect Christmas tree. He strives to grow straight, thick branches, but throughout the story, he takes pity on forest animals, stretching and bending to give them shelter and food.

When the queen comes, he is not beautiful at all, but she chooses him anyway because she sees in him a reflection of her Savior.

3. One Wintry Night

Written by Ruth Bell Graham and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

As you no doubt can tell, illustrations are just as important as story to me. In this case, they are more important because I don't think I ever read through the whole book!

This story is about a young boy who takes refuge at a woman's home during a snow storm. She tells him the Christmas story, beginning in Genesis with creation and continuing all through the Bible.

Those pictures are so gorgeous!

4. A Wish for Wings that Work

Written and illustrated by Berkeley Breathed

This is a cute story about accepting and rejoicing in your unique abilities. Opus is a penguin who writes to Santa asking for wings that work. On Christmas Eve, something goes wrong and Santa crashes into the sea. Opus is able to save him because of his wings are made for swimming, which makes it possible for him to rescue Santa and his sleigh.


5. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Written by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch

I love this story because it deals with loss and grief without dismissing them. Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver who the children call Mr. Gloomy. A widow and her son approach this Scrooge-like character because she is new in town and lost her nativity set in the move. She asks him to carve her a new one.

As he works on the figurines, they visit him often, and he begins to form a relationship with the little boy, slowly opening up to them.

But he can't seem to get Mary and the baby Jesus right. On Christmas Eve, he pulls out an old picture of the wife and child he lost and uses it as a guide for the carving.

I love this story because it doesn't want Jonathan Toomey to simply "move on" and not be sad about losing those he loves. Instead, the events of the story help him grieve and begin to heal in a healthy way.

6. The Legend of the Candy Cane

Written by Lori Walburg and illustrated by James Bernardin

I just love the descriptions of the glass jars and the pictures of all the candy!


7. The Polar Express

Written and illustrated by Chris van Allsburg

I remember watching the movie for the first time and being thrilled that they included the wolves chasing the train because that was something from the book that I loved.

8. Santa and the Christ Child

Written and illustrated by Nicholas Bakewell

Santa breaks his leg before Christmas and can't do all the work that is necessary to prepare for his annual flight. A child arrives at the North Pole and helps out, giving Santa some much needed time to heal. He even designs a bed that can be attached to the sleigh so Santa can make his trip.

The child drives the sleigh and Santa, helping him deliver presents all over the world, but before they return to the North Pole, he wants to show Santa where he was born. He brings him to a stable, where he reminds Santa and the world that Christmas is his birthday: the birthday of the Lord.

9. The Joy of A Peanuts Christmas

By Charles Schulz

Every year I read this treasury. Can't go wrong with Peanuts!








10. Follow the Star All the Way to Bethlehem

Written and illustrated by Alan and Linda Parry

I enjoyed this book long after I out-grew it! It had pop-ups, mazes, puzzles, and lots of other fun activities that helped to tell the Christmas story!

I would love to hear about the Christmas stories you remember from your childhood! Were any of these important to you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fantastic Beasts: Unresolved Themes

Theatrical Poster
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one part light-hearted animal antics and one part wizarding Acura. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the dark tone of the movie took me by surprise. Despite the PG-13 rating, I was expecting a kid's movie more in line with the early Harry Potter films than Stranger Things.

SPOILERS

Newt Scamander has traveled from England to New York carrying a case of magical creatures. When some of them get loose, Newt and his new no-maj (muggle) friend Jacob run around New York trying to catch them.

However, there is another creature in New York. A young boy named Credence has suppressed his magic in an effort to avoid persecution by his family—religious fanatics dedicated to exposing and presumably killing witches—and has created a destructive swirl of smoke and lightning that will feed off of him until it kills them both.

This creature is called an Obscurial and its host, who rarely lives beyond the age of ten, is an Obscurious. (This distinction isn’t really explained in the film, and both terms are thrown about.)

There are three powers at play in this film. First is Newt, who has encountered an Obscurious before and failed to save her. When he learns what is going on, he tries to save Credence. Percival Graves is an Auror, who is actually Grindelwald in disguise. He wants to use the destructive power of Credence’s Obscurial to spark a war with the no-majs. Finally, there is the Seraphina Picquery, President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America. The Magical Congress is concerned only with keeping the wizarding world a secret from the no-majs and thus avoiding war with them.

Themes

The themes in this film are difficult to nail down, particularly because the repeating elements which suggest a theme remain unresolved.

1. Prejudice

The theme of prejudice (motivated by race, gender, class, etc.) is explored in the original Harry Potter series, but in Fantastic Beasts the theme makes far less sense.

While the film includes an African American female president, the depiction of prejudices in 1920s America is all but absent. This results in a sensation of detachment—the story is tied to its setting by the timeline of events described in Harry Potter and is not driven or affected by the chosen time period.

The wizarding world is so far removed from the muggle/no-maj world that the conflicts of American history have passed them by. Their only prejudice is against non-wizards of any kind (muggles/no-majs, house elves, goblins, etc.).

Fantastic Beasts depicts their prejudice against no-majs in particular.

Early on Newt says that Americans have a backwards law that prevents them from marrying muggles. (Why such a law would exist in America when it does not in Britain does not make sense to me and necessitates some explanation, I think.) President Picquery and the rest of the wizards in government are extremely concerned with managing no-maj knowledge about wizards and thereby their interactions with them, even at the expense of their rights: repeatedly demonstrating severe disrespect for them.

Despite the repetition of this prejudice, the film offers no solutions or messages on the topic.

2. Obliviation

Another element that arose repeatedly was the topic of the obliviating witnesses.

Newt’s friendship with Jacob is by far the most interesting and entertaining one in the film, yet at the end the no-maj has to have his memories wiped. Even Jacob does not seem to question its necessity, and although his friends are all sad, no one questions the morality of forcing people to forget.

The law requires obliviating any no-maj who learns about their world—so much so that the entire city has their memories erased after the epic climax. This allows the wizarding community to take no responsibility for their actions or the events that have occurred, although the president claims it will help them avoid war.

Despite this repetition, there was no discussion introduced about the morality of erasing the memories of unwilling or unknowledgeable individuals. Forcing people to forget should be one of the Unforgivable Curses. It is easily as damaging and intrusive as the Imperius Curse, so why isn’t there more discussion about its morality?

Unlike the theme of prejudices, film makers do not even seem to recognize the problem of obliviation and there is no discussion.

Fantastic Beasts is slated to become a trilogy, so it is possible that these themes will be resolved in future films. For now, though, it results in unsettled issues, which weaken the film as a stand-alone experience.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the movie, despite the surprisingly dark tone and unresolved themes. I hope that the rest of the trilogy works to answer some of the questions this film raised and that they are more grounded in the American setting.

Discussion Questions

Are memories important even if they cause conflict or pain? If everyone could forget an event, one in which people died, to avoid war, should they forget it (willingly or unwillingly)?

I think that a wizarding community in the US is an interesting idea, but one that was not well delivered in this particular film. What distinctly American concerns would a wizarding community like the one in Fantastic Beasts have?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Literary Pumpkins!

Hello all!

I was googling around, looking for some good Halloween pumpkin carving ideas, and I wanted to share with you my favorite literary pumpkins. Enjoy!

1. Classics

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Frankenstein's Monster from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and Dracula from Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Although these images are recognizable due to their popularization by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the 1931 films,the classic stories have been well served by the publicity.


2. Sherlock Holmes

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Gotta love the famous detective! Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle's stories (1887).


3. Jane Austen

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An elegant pumpkin for the fan of classic literature.  Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), among others.


4. Poe's Raven

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"The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe.


5. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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I am partial to the Hogwarts' crest because it has a certain nostalgia for me: reminding me of the books that were still about the school. However, the Deathly Hallows symbol is also cool, so I included it. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007).


6. Lord of the Rings
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These take a significant time to do well, but look so cool. I did not include the Eye of Sauron largely because it isn't really canonical. The Ring's inscription and the Fellowship from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (1954).


7. Camp Half-Blood

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (2005-2009).


8. Narnia

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The Chronicles of Narnia were a huge part of my childhood, so when I saw this one, I had to include it! Lucy and Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1984).


9. Cheshire Cat

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Any cat with a big grin is instantly recognizable as the Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865).


10. Cthulhu

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This is my favorite. It is on point thematically while being both rare and recognizable. Cthulhu from"The Call of Cthulhu"  by H.P. Lovecraft (1928).


Let me know if you try any of these!

Monday, October 10, 2016

I Am Not Writing from Beyond the Grave: Narrator in A Natural History of Dragons

I recently finished the first three novels in Marie Brennan's Memoirs by Lady Trent series: A Natural History of Dragons (2013), The Tropic of Serpents (2014), and Voyage of the Basilisk (2015).

Summary

Lady Trent, the world's foremost dragon naturalist, tells these stories about her pursuit of scientific research at the expense of her reputation. A Natural History of Dragons chronicles her trip to the mountains of Vystrana, when she was still Isabella Camherst, with her husband and others to study the dragons living there and the political and social implications of their discoveries.

I found the series enjoyable, if not necessarily exciting. The tone is similar to Novik's Temeraire series, in that the main character comes from a world governed by manners. I was also reminded of the Rain Wilds Chronicles' Alise Kincarrion, who was also bookish, obsessed with studying dragons, and plagued by social pressures. The dragons, though, do not exhibit human-like intelligence.

First Person Autobiographical Narrator

I was particularly intrigued by Brennan's use of the First Person Autobiographical narrator. Lady Trent is writing to interested fans the "true story" as opposed to the one they've read in tabloids.

Drawbacks

Such a narrator, by consequence of their age and wisdom in hindsight, takes something away from the suspense and excitement of a story. Especially when she says things like, "I am not writing this from beyond the grave." Lady Trent creates distance between the reader and the action, but also the reader and Isabella Camherst. Since Lady Trent often compares herself with her earlier character, the reader is forced to do the same, observing Isabella from without instead of investing in her personality and circumstances.

Benefits

However, Lady Trent does lend a sense that a larger world exists outside the story, which is a reliable world-building technique. Furthermore, her pragmatic sensibilities make a for a wonderful juxtaposition of realistic tone with fantastical content.

Conclusion

I am fond of Lady Trent's character, but I think the events of the stories would have been made more impactful without her constant reassurance that all will be well.

Nevertheless, Brennan's series is entertaining, and I am eager to read the last book, as soon as it comes from the library!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Discussion: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Learn how to make your own HP wand! 
Welcome to Otherwise Fantastic's first monthly book discussion! Today we are discussing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I've tried to make these questions more complex than the others I found online to prompt deeper discussion among adults (my main audience).

 If you have ever participated in a Harry Potter book discussion, some of the questions may sound familiar, but read them carefully! I have changed many of them to try to get at more complex issues.

Also be sure to vote in the poll on the right for the book discussion to take place on Halloween!

Instructions:

Read through the discussion questions provided and answer as many as you like in a comment.

OR

Read through the comments and reply to join a conversation.

OR

Comment your own questions and thoughts about the book!

Introduce yourself

In your first comment, let us know:

What house would you belong to if you attended Hogwarts?

What would your favorite class or activity be?

Who is your favorite character from the books?

Discussion Questions

1. Adult Impact

Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular with both kids and adults?

What impacted you most during your most recent reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? How is it different from your first reading?

Why do you like the Harry Potter series? How has that changed as you've gotten older?

2. Book Questions

What are the advantages/disadvantages to Harry not being aware of the wizarding world and his place there before he starts school?

[Spoiler] Later in the series, we discover the reason behind Harry's strange connection to Voldemort, but is his Horcrux the only reason Harry's wand chooses him and why the sorting hat recommends the Slytherin house? What else might this symbolize?

I've always felt that Neville should have been given at least as many points as Harry at the end of The Sorcerer's Stone, but he only gets ten. How does this contrast reflect Dumbledore's values?

Harry is often exempt from the consequences of rule-breaking. How might his character have been impacted if this was not the case?

3. Film vs. Book Questions

Many things from the books were omitted from the film. How did their exclusion impact the story/plot/characters/themes/etc.?

  • Professor Snape's potion task for the protection of the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Harry and Hermione do not sneak Norbert to the Owlery for pick up by Charlie Weasley
  • The Dursleys dropping Harry off at the train station
  • The Sorting Hat's song
  • Peeves the Poltergeist

Do you think some of the darker aspects of the book were skimmed over in the movie? Would certain characters have reached a higher level of development had those darker themes been included? (Thank you to /u/rewindrevival on reddit's /r/harrypotter for this question!)


Don't forget to vote on the book for the October discussion! See the right hand side for poll.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How to Train Your Dragon: Book vs. Movie Themes

written by Carlie Mead (my sister)

Discussing all the differences between the How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) books and movies could create another entire series.

While both the books and the movies are about a young Viking named Hiccup and his dragon Toothless, they are actually dissimilar in their plots. The movies have Hiccup learning about the Viking enemies--dragons--and the books have Hiccup attempting to release the dragons from slavery to the Vikings.

But despite the many differences (Toothless!!!) the movies stay very close to the books in their main themes.

Growing Up

The most obvious theme throughout both is Hiccup growing up. From book 1 (2003) to book 12 (2015), Hiccup slowly becomes an adult through his decisions, discoveries, trials and many, many errors. Releasing the dragon Furious was a good decision, but ultimately led to a war, which taught Hiccup that he was willing to sacrifice everything to save the dragons he loves.

Movie Hiccup also grows up (if you didn’t see it, you must be blind!). From a young kid seeking to get attention, to a Viking chief, Hiccup learns to accept responsibility and goes from boy to man.

Standing Up for Your Beliefs

from How to Break a Dragon's Heart (Book #8)
In Cressida Cowell’s series, every character learns to stand up against what they believe to be wrong.

After allowing others to take credit for previous successes throughout the books, Hiccup eventually stands up against Alvin the Treacherous, the main antagonist, denying Alvin the right to be Grimbeard’s heir, and not backing down even when it seems that he had already lost. Because Hiccup is firm in what he knows to be true, Alvin can’t win.

Despite fighting for Alvin’s army because of the position of power given to him, in the end, even Snotlout had to stand up for what he truly believed, no matter what the cost.

The movies also, promote the idea of standing up for your beliefs. In movie 1, Hiccup was hiding his true feelings, until his fight against the Monstrous Nightmare, when he denied his Viking heritage and refused to do something he thought was wrong. In the second movie, Toothless must stand against his own nature and alpha dragon to save a loved one.

Destiny

Destiny plays a big part in both the books and movies. In the books, many people and several old prophesies tell Hiccup that he is destined to be a great chief because he finds certain objects, and completes foretold quests. No matter how Hiccup gets into the situation destiny has Hiccup fulfilling ancient prophesies word for word.

In the movie (number 1) Stoic tells Hiccup, “But you will kill dragons.” As a Viking, it is an expectation to kill them, especially if you want a girlfriend. Hiccup is a Viking, and despite befriending dragons, he still kills the queen bee dragon, because, as a Viking, it’s his destiny. Even in the second movie, although he doesn’t want to be chief, Hiccup had to accept who he was meant to be.

Conclusion


If you can get over a well-mannered Toothless, Snotlout living while Stoic’s dies, and that Camicazi turned into. . . Astrid? then it is easy to watch the movies and see the similar themes in the books. 


Which is better: the books or the movies? Leave a comment and let my sister know what you think!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Game that Made Me Cry: A Brief Review of Chrono Trigger

Wallpaper available here.
Chrono Trigger (1995) is the first Nintendo game I've played since Duck Hunt when I was a kid.

My RPG experience has been largely in PC games, especially the Dragon Age series, so I was really impressed by this game. It surprised me with how modern it felt. Granted the graphics have improved, but the mechanics behind play are still there.

Now, all of this should surprise no one familiar with the game. It has been frequently cited as one of the best video games of all time, after all. But the best part of Chrono Trigger for me was by far the character development.

As an avid reader, I've often experienced the sharp pain of loss at the end of a good book--one that concluded perfectly happy--but never before upon completing a video game.

Many players have criticized the characters as being flat and stereotypical. Very little time is dedicated to backstory, and there might altogether be a page of dialogue for each character. So why was I so attracted to Marle, Lucca, Frog, Robo, and even Chrono, who never spoke a word?

1. Stereotypes Make Easy Identifiers

As I mentioned in my article on anime, the presence of archetype characters allows for the quick introduction of characters, establishing what to expect from them and then deepening them as the story progresses.

In Chrono Trigger, much of the character development is the player projecting their own imagination of the sprites, guided lightly by the dialogue and plot. This results in greater player investment, especially in the characters they choose to include in their party.

2. Self-projection on Chrono

The main character Chrono never speaks. This allows the player to take on the role of view point character themselves, with little to no character filter. Again, this results in greater player investment, this time in the relationships between characters because they feel like your own relationships.

3. Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

While the challenge of establishing loyalty within your party can be entertaining in RPGs like Dragon Age, it can also be divisive to party dynamics. The characters are different and complex, often with contrary opinions that must be taken into account before making a decision.

In Chrono Trigger, this complexity is absent, but in its place, the player is left with the feeling of party unity. Everyone is working towards a big picture goal and backing the player's decisions 100%.

Furthermore, instead of being at odds with one another, the party members care for each other. Lucca fixes Robo several times, Robo comforts Lucca when she is upset, Marle is always the first to offer help, etc.

Modern RPGs often give the impression that the party would fall apart without the main character there to hold everyone together, but this is not the case in Chrono Trigger. When Chrono is absent, the party is still unified in its goal and committed to saving him.

This results in a theme of genuine friendship, trust, and support.

Conclusion

Stereotypical characters with limited formal character development can prompt more investment from the audience--player, reader, viewer--with a greater emotional payoff.

At the end of Chrono Tigger, when each character left the party to return home, I was upset. That reaction is one that I have never experienced at the hands of any other video game.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you played any retro games recently that you were impressed by?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Japanese Steampunk: A Brief Review of Stormdancer

Stormdancer (2012) by Jay Kristoff is an exciting blend of dystopia, steampunk, and feudal Japan.

Unlike other steampunk themed stories I've read such as Jim Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass and Foglio's Girl Genius series, Kristoff's Japanese flavored version presented some ethical dilemmas, but ultimately failed to comment on them.

Summary

Stormdancer is about a girl named Yukiko who is sent with her father to hunt an Arashitora--a creature thought to be extinct. The hunters believe this is a death sentence since anyone who fails to obey the Shõgun, Lord of the Shima Isles, is killed.

The quest is not so hopeless, but far more dangerous, and Yukiko finds herself trapped in the forest with a wounded Arashitora. As these two form a bond, Yukiko learns more about the Shõgun's crimes, against her country and her family.

Ethical Dilemmas

The story presents the moral dilemma behind assassinating an evil ruler. The Kagé rebels want Yukiko to use the Arashitora to kill the Shõgun, but she is reluctant until she learns of how he had her mother killed. Then, all the objections to the act are swept aside without comment.

The quandary and the discussion it sparked are promptly ignored for the sake of revenge.

Environmental Issues

The story also touches on environmental issues. Several people comment that their way of life is destroying their world, but Yukiko concludes that they everyday person working to survive doesn't care.

Yet the Arashitora blames Yukiko's people for the destruction, and Yukiko realizes that it is almost too late; something must be done. However, the "power to the people" theme leaves the answer less assured than perhaps Kristoff meant.

Theme

The central theme is Yukiko's belief that "people can decide for themselves" (177).

At the end of the story she hands that to them directly: "Each of you must decide where you stand....All we ask is that you refuse to kneel. You are the people. You have the power. Open your eyes. Open your minds. Then close the fingers on your hand" (313).

Problem

This theme sounds very nice, but it presents some problems, complicating the ethical dilemmas.

What if the people decide that continuing to destroy the environment is how they want to live for as long as they can?

What if defending their new-found hope means killing innocent people--people like Daichi, leader of the Kagé, who was a tool of the evil Shõgun? Yukiko spared his life claiming he couldn't be held accountable for being used.

What if the people decide to put another Shõgun in power who is even more corrupt? Should he be assassinated, too?

Conclusion

Kristoff presents a world where questions of morality are presented, but not answered clearly. I believe this is because underlying Kristoff's belief in the power of people to make their own decisions, he doesn't necessarily trust them to make the "right" decision.

For the sake of a hopeful conclusion, the questions prompted by the ethical dilemmas must be ignored. Perhaps the sequels unpack these ideas more. This opening novel was certainly entertaining, if not cogitative.


What is your favorite steampunk story? How was it different from other steampunk?


Note: Image is of the Calbuco Volcano eruption in April 2015. It is in the public domain.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Theft of Swords: A Brief Review

Two books in one! After reading Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan's most recent book, I went to the library to see what else he had written.

Theft of Swords (2011) is the first book in Sullivan's Riyria Revelations series, originally self-published as e-books The Crown Conspiracy (2007) and Avempartha (2009). I have yet to be disappointed in Sullivan's work.

Fencing and Fighting

Royce and Hadrian's escapades are full of witty comments, sword fights, and an unbreakable friendship. I was heavily reminded of Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade, which I read earlier this year. While I'm entertaining the comparison, Theft of Swords is, in my opinion, a better adventure.

The Crown Conspiracy

Royce and Hadrian accept a simple job to steal a sword from a nobleman, but it turns out to be a trap and soon they are facing disembowelment for the murder of the king. The princess helps them escape on the condition that they kidnap the crown prince to keep him safe from the real killer and the political games behind the murder.

Great Character Development

It didn't take long to get caught up in the personalities of Royce and Hadrian. By dropping the reader into the middle of the thieves' career, Sullivan creates the impression that their lives continue before and after the story--a tactic I greatly appreciated in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and one that Sullivan carried off well.

Avempartha

The second book is about a monster terrorizing a village, and it was fun seeing the characters tackle a different kind of problem.

Sullivan is definitely an author to continue watching.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why Adults Enjoy Anime

Wall paper available at wallpapercave.com
Referred to as adult children, Anime fans are the only nerds still treated with true disdain. Republican strategist Rick Wilson claimed that Trump's supporters were Anime fans and described them as, "not people who matter in the overall course of humanity."

However, I would like to defend the adult enjoyment of this story medium. I touched briefly on the strengths of Anime when I discussed Legend of Korra, but I'd like to expand them here.

Themes of friendship and loyalty, as well as thought-provoking
questions are typical of Anime like Sword Art Online
Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

Most Anime, from fantasy to School Anime, feature themes of friendship and loyalty.

Unlike other television dramas, Anime promotes positive group dynamics. When something occurs to threaten group unity, it is portrayed as negative and the plot tends to revolve around re-establishing harmony.

The take-away is positive. The shows emphasize the individual's importance to the group and the importance of the group to the individual. The theme's message is that relationships are important and worth fighting for (often literally). 

As a result, viewers feel better about their own relationships and more willing to work at them.

Big Picture Questions

Psycho-Pass is a dark Anime that deals with difficult questions. 
But Anime isn't always friendship and schooldays. Some shows consider darker themes about life, death, and morality. 

Once again, Anime approaches these themes differently than other mediums do. 

Whereas modern television becomes preachy when a complex theme is introduced, the emphasis in the Anime shows is proposing questions for the viewer to think critically about.

The characters struggle with the issues, occasionally coming to conclusions that contradict the viewer's own, prompting more discussion.

Characters

Anime character archetypes, courtesy of Mahou Tofo
Anime is full of archetype characters. On the surface level, these seem simple in the extreme, and the female characters often seem stereotyped negatively for fan service. 

However, the presence of archetype characters in the genre allows for the quick introduction of characters to begin the show. Less time is spent of exposition and back story at the beginning.

Instead, the characters are deepened over the course of a show. The viewer knows what to expect from a character initially and learns more about them, growing with them, as the show progresses.

This accomplishes the creation of a deep attachment to characters.

Setting

The Japanese setting of most Anime incorporates mountains, busy cities, rural villages, and the sea. The history of the feudal system provides fodder for interesting commentary on class and politics.

Setting of my favorite dystopian Anime Coppelion 
The sci-fi/fantasy genre is brought to a much more successful realization in Anime art than CGI has yet to accomplish.

Finally, Anime still exhibits a range of colors and color symbolism that has been neglected in other mediums since films were boiled down to blue and orange or made dark to look cool.

Tone

In fact, Anime doesn't care much about "looking cool"  at all. 

The shows in general do not take themselves too seriously, resulting in a range of humor types, art styles, and goofy faces within a single episode.

Conclusion

Anime is entertaining in a way that is more positive than other tv shows available in English. Anime is doing things differently, and young adults especially have been drawn to it as a result. 

Sure, there are more bouncing boobs than in American television, but the messages are more constructive.

Are you an Anime fan? Do this article line up with your own experiences? What Anime shows would you recommend to those interested in trying it out for the first time?


Note: I do not own any of the images here; they are used as examples of my arguments.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The God Killer: A Brief Review of Age of Myth

Age of Myth (2016) by Michael J. Sullivan has a great rhythm. The adventure is well paced and the characters are artfully developed.

I appreciated his disclosed writing style: he finishes the whole series before he publishes the first book. That method may not work well for other writers, but from a reader's standpoint, it is a relief to know that the story's themes are interwoven consistently through its whole.

Summary

In a moment of revenge, Raithe kills one of the Fhrey. The Fhrey are an elevated race of many tribes, considered by the Rhunes to be gods because of their long lifespan and ability to use strange powers. As a result, Raithe is named the "God Killer"--a destiny he would rather avoid--and sets off a time of rebellion.

But the Fhrey are far from gods, although they have begun to believe otherwise. One tribe in particular has set themselves apart as the most powerful, and they must crush the seeds of dissension.

Emotionally Satisfying

One review I read faulted the story for being "emotionally threadbare" since the conclusion was clichéd.

This reviewer did not elaborate, but only said that the good guys win and the bad guys lose. I have always found that satisfying, myself. In fact, as far as the fantasy genre goes, the most successful stories end that way from The Hobbit to Harry Potter. The dichotomy between good and evil is a standard thematic element of the genre.

Is that cliché or a time-proven story pattern?

I found the conclusion satisfying, not only because my expectations were adequately met, but Sullivan set up many story threads that reached for the next book. I was not left thinking that the good guys had won, but that they had begun an important fight for their principles--one that was only going to get more difficult as they continued.

A rewarding read I highly recommend!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A New Look at Dragons: A Brief Review of the Rain Wild Chronicles

The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb are readable and exciting. The characters are flesh and blood, if a bit numerous, and the setting is artfully tangible. However, I only enjoyed the half of the plot that had to do with the dragons as the drama surrounding the characters' relationships is tedious.

Summary

Dragons have been driven to near extinction. A final group of them hatch deformed, and the agreement between them and the human settlements is becoming strained. Their only hope is to make the long trip up the river to an unknown location where their ancestral city of Kelsingra stands.

The city council agrees to send a group of people with them to care for the dragons during the trip. Among them are Alise, a scholar running from her husband, and Thymara, a young girl who is unable to participate in her society because she is heavily "marked by the wilds" (has scales and claws).

A New Look at Dragons

The plot line following the dragons' struggle to Kelsingra is great. Hobbs kicks around some fascinating ideas like ancestral memories for both dragons and humans and possible consequences and effects they might have. For example, the dragons know that they are deformed as no other dragons have ever been and it leaves them frustrated.

The pride they have in the superiority of their race is contrasted by their belief that they are not truly dragons because they are unable to fly or hunt for themselves. Pride and the desire to be a real dragon trap Sintara, the main dragon character, who refuses to spread her wings for a long time or attempt flight out of embarrassment.

Another idea Hobbs introduced was the mutual changes that dragons and humans cause in one another. The concept of dragons changing humans, both mentally and physically is an old one, but the reverse was tantalizing and subtly done.

Conclusion

If you can slog through the various romances with dubious thematic meaning, this series is great! It is a unique depiction of dragons that I found refreshing. You definitely will need the Cast of Characters printed in the beginning of each book, though! There are too many side characters with genderless names.