Rhetorical questions: 26 March 2011

Jonathan Lake asks:

How could you fail to mention Denmark’s gift to the world, Lego?

The article under discussion concentrated on recent Danish creations: the television show The Killing, currently being shown in the UK; two films to be released in April and August this year; a restaurant that opened in 2004; books from the last few years; and current knitwear. Even the article on Danish design, which mentioned artefacts from the 50s and 60s, focused on recent designs.

Lego, on the other hand, was first sold in 1949, and therefore outside the primary scope of the article.

Name and address withheld asks:

Please, Daughter Of A Sperm Donor (What I’m Really Thinking, 19 March), stop marginalising your parents. All your biological “father” ever did for you was deposit some stuff in a tube. Your real parents are the ones who supported you as you grew up and who made the conscious decision to have you in the first place. Does it matter that those who have given so much time, effort and love to us did just one thing differently?

It does indeed matter, at least to the woman who wrote the column! In fact, she explicitly addresses the concerns of the letter-writer: When I tell people I’m trying to trace him, they often can’t understand why. They say things like, ‘But you already have a family. Why do you need to find him?’. I love my parents, but that doesn’t change the fact that the man who helped create me is my kin.

Simon Penny asks:

Is it editorial policy that Weekenders should be astonishingly self-absorbed, of just a coincidence?

It’s neither! The “Weekenders” are readers of the Weekend who have written in to express their desire to be featured on a full page of the magazine, complete with photograph details of how they spend their weekend. The group of Weekenders therefore naturally excludes the shyer and more retiring Guardian readers, without the need for any editorial policy or coincidence.

Graham Larkey asks:

How to deal with a black ring left by an iron candlestick on an oak dining table (Ask The Experts, 19 March)? Easy: put the candlestick back where it was so it covers the mark. Next!

Graham’s suggestion is an ingenious one. However, it assumes that the owner of the table is happy to have a candlestick atop it indefinitely – for table-owners who feel candles should be restricted to special occasions, for example, this would be less useful. Since the person who was asking for advice specified that they had placed the candle on the table for “a birthday meal”, it seems likely that they fall into this category! For this reason, the “Ask the Experts” suggestion of a light sanding might turn out to be more suitable than Graham’s alternative.

Conor Whitworth asks:

Hilary Swank’s most embarrassing moment (Q&A, 19 March)? Wearing a Christian Dior and it not looking like a Christian Dior. Like, OMG, that is, like, so dreadful, yeah?

Conor’s sympathy is admirable, but perhaps a mite misplaced. The incident Swank describes was indeed an embarrassing one for her – she wore a “terrible dress”, in which she was very widely photographed, to the Academy Awards (her industry’s most public event), which resulted in her appearance on “Worst Dressed” lists and widespread mockery in the media. However, embarrassed though Swank understandably was, it’s now seven years later; she’s clearly comfortable enough with the incident to refer to it in newspaper interviews, and Conor need not fret himself unduly.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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