The Magicians Trilogy

The Magicians Trilogy

Lev Grossman has written three Magicians books about Quentin Coldwater, Brakebills Academy and the magical land of Narnia Fillory. (By the way you can buy a print of the image above here)  The first novel, The Magicians, took familiar tropes from a whole river of fantasy literature and invested in them a seriousness of emotion and consequence that was quite cathartic for me.  In particular, the book plays with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books which was an intense favorite of my childhood.  I am almost the same age at Lev and the way the Narnia books fired my imagination and my yearning for escape must have also been a profound influence on him.  His notion to revisit them in the guise of a novel grounded in… well at least emotional realism if not actual realism, is nothing short of brilliant.

The second book, The Magician King, was also quite good and took up sorting out what it would mean to be the Kings and Queens of Narnia Fillory.  I just finished the third book, The Magician’s Land, which has an amazing beginning section which is almost Ocean’s Eleven-like in it’s depiction of a magically-powered heist.  Neither sequel quite hit the punch of the first novel for me but they both were very good and I really did enjoy the conclusion of the third novel which I think captured the right moment to exit the stage on.  (I am not writing a review here — just another one of my bookmark posts to myself.  There are whole sections of the three novels that are complicated and on which I have read eagerly others’ criticisms and analysis.  In particular, there are some pretty solid and serious essays on how women are depicted in the novels vis a vis Quentin that absolutely are worth reading.  Needless to say like all works of art, these are imperfect — no matter how much I found them worth reading.)

The author put together a collage of famous (to me anyhow) people reading part of the first chapter as a trailer for The Magician’s Land:

This interview where Lev talks about his influences is pretty interesting.  I’m glad he acknowledges the titanic impact Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had on him.  Susanna Clarke’s novel of magicians in England at the dawn of the nineteenth century is an incredibly realistic depiction of magic, fairies and fantasy.  Which is not the contradiction it sounds like — Clarke invests her characters with a full range of emotions, crafts legends and rules for her magical version of Earth that make magic darker, deeper and terrifying.

I also liked this article in Slate about the trilogy with it’s argument that the books are actually about Julia and her painful story (it’s also about how hard it is to successfully write trilogies).

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Bookmark: Dicebox

Dicebox by Jenn Manley Lee is The Grapes of Wrath crossed with Star Wars.  And I’ve read large chunks of it at two different times – it just doesn’t always serialize that well.  It’s definitely a story that needs to be read in at least chapters to get sucked into it.

I’ve been re-reading it from the start over at Comic Rocket which will help me from losing my place in it.  I’m only about a little more than a quarter of the way through it’s almost 400 page archive.

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Farewell Iain Banks

Farewell Iain Banks

Of all the great authors I read in the last decade or so, none seemed to possess the combination of utterly fantastic imagination and optimism in the future of humanity that Iain Banks put into his culture novels.  It was startlingly sad news to read his post about his terminal cancer only two months ago; it is less startling but still sad news to see stories of his passing today.

A heartfelt post from author Charlie Stross (another favorite of mine) about the passing of Iain Banks.

He had a rare career combining success in science fiction and more general fiction (what some still call literature).  I have not had a chance to read his non-science fiction work; they are on the to get to list though. His science fiction is an updated and expanded take on what some would call the Star Trek view of the world: an expanded and ennobled humanity occupying the universe.

His body of work in science fiction spans twelve novels, 9 of which are labeled as part of a universe where humanity has joined a larger alliance of creatures known as The Culture (io9 has a great article on the series of novels).



Here’s an interesting interview with him from 2011:

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Bookmark: Steven Gould

Steven Gould is one of my favorite authors because of the way he takes one impossible idea and then logically delves into a world with this one new impossible idea in it.  He has a scientific method feel to how he writes science fiction that I really enjoy and he generally has a nice touch with action and characters as well.

He’s probably best known for his Jumper trilogy from which the movie Jumper was made.  The movie loses a lot of what makes the novels special, with the movie instead crafting a gigantic mythology of war between jumpers and paladins, with less believable limits and coherent explanations for the “jump” phenomenon. Plus it stars Hayden Christensen. Has he ever been good in a movie? AV Club tackles the misfires of the movie adaption here.

Here is AV Club’s summary of the aspects of the novel kept for the film (the implication being everything else is different):

Here, in a nutshell, are all the significant similarities between Jumper the book andJumper the movie: Both feature a protagonist named David Rice, who finds out, as a teenager, that he can teleport. He abandons his alcoholic father, drops out of high school, and moves to New York City, where he books himself into a shitty flophouse, uses his power to teleport into a bank vault, and teleports back out with a whole lot of money. Also, there’s a love interest named Millie who doesn’t like being lied to.

The third book in the Jumper series just came out. The first one is a coming of age story for Davy Rice.  The second one, Reflex, is about Davy’s girlfriend/wife Millie learning to jump and saving Davy’s from some government bad guys.  The newest one, Impulse, is about Davy’s and Millie’s daughter Cent and their life as a family.  (Gould also wrote Jumper: Griffin’s Storya book that’s a prequel to the movie and it’s decent but it’s not really in the same universe as the rest of the novels.)

Impulse is way more of a young adult novel than the other two (even than the first one) concerned with what seem like high school life and issues with bullies and boys and fitting in.  It escalates a little bit more as the book goes on but it never provoked the same sense of danger for the main characters as the previous books.  Still it’s a completely enjoyable read as Gould focuses his methodical eye on how a teenage “jumper” would try to fit into normal life.  The character of Cent is a great addition to this series.

Gould, in all of these books, is very good at showing jumping without doing too much telling at the reader.  The characters explain the limits of the power through their actions in the stories.  Of course Gould is making it all up but he makes you believe that this is a real physical thing that his characters are figuring out through trial and error.

The other Gould book I’ve read and also enjoyed is Wildside which posits a simple idea and then takes it nd runs with it.  The idea is that a teenager discovers a duplicate earth without human life on it and so completely undeveloped (hence, “wildside”).  You do have to take a leap of disbelief at the beginning when the door to the other world/dimension is discovered but from then on Gould once again builds a very logical and detail-laden story around that world.  There are some aspects at the end where some mystery is resolved in a way that felt a little deus ex machina but nothing I would actually complain about, just a bit of a departure from what you grow to expect and appreciate from Gould after reading his work.

The Gould novels I have not read yet include Greenwar (Forge, 1997; Tor, 1998) with Laura J. Mixon; Helm (Tor, 1998); Blind Waves (Tor, 2000); and 7th Sigma (2011).

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Bookmark: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is the first novel in the A Song of Fire and Ice saga and the teevee series adapting that string of novels. But you know that, everyone knows that. The popularity of this story is surprising to me; clearly the HBO teevee adaptation had a lot to do with it but it seems like the novels had gathered a lot of steam on their own.

I only read the novels last year and only just now, thanks to the free “preview” of HBO on the local cable system for a few months, have I caught the first two three seasons of the television series.  The show does a remarkable job of paring down the immense bulk of the first two novels’ plots and characters and set pieces. There is a different timing to a season of ten episodes than a novel filled with hundreds of chapters, each chapter told through a different characters viewpoint.  The teevee show feels like a reduction in the kitchen — boiled down to a more concentrated essence.

But also different.  I don’t know if its computer graphics, more money or just very talented cast and crew, but the visual scope of this show looks like as expensive a movie as I’ve ever seen.  Very few scenes do not meet or exceed what my imagination created while reading the text (with perhaps the exception of Stanis’ attack on King’s Landing.  The teevee version while dramatic and startling seemed more cramped and constrained than the vast battle I imagined.  Perhaps it was intentionally so.) and regardless of any debate you or I might have with someone who absolutely disdains genre entertainment; no reasonable person can ignore the production value here.

And the actors are almost uniformly great. The performances are just very compelling.  No wonder Peter Dinklage was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Tyrion Lannister.

UPDATE: Okay I watched seasons 4 and 5 (season 5 just finished).  I liked season 4 quite a bit.  Season 5 felt a bit more like it was spinning about 20 plates at a time, each episode trying to keep all 20 plates going.  And much was made of the fact that the show has now progressed into narrative that the books have not (Book 6 still not done…).  This last season ending episode was brutal to say the least.  Game of Thrones is all over the place, including the gutter.  Still the acting is largely really good, the special effects, costumes, sets – spectacle – are first rate.

Having read the books before the show, it’s only now that I actually can speculate about the plot.  Mostly every Stark character is dead or damaged at this point, except for the littlest one Rickon.  Maybe he’s the one true hero that saves the world, but I seriously doubt it.  I’m not sure I’d be surprised if George RR Martin ended his world zombie-style with the White Walkers overrunning everything.

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