w/e 2020-05-10

Hello. Today I’m a bit bored of regular headaches. Ah well, there are worse things.

Photo of me wearing a cloth face mask with a wave pattern in dark blue on beige

§   This week I bought some very nice cotton face masks made by Studio Masachuka, a small Japanese clothing manufacturing studio in Stratford, a sentence which I award 6 Mongolian yak blankets on the Monocle scale.

This is me planning ahead for a time when I might once again go somewhere and be near people. Lately, the only people I’ve seen have been while walking country lanes, or when we walked to the shop in the next village – I’ve yet to see anyone wearing a mask, because why would you?

Anyway, I have planned ahead, and the masks are lovely things, reasonably priced, buy here.

§   I’m very wary of private companies that provide services anywhere close to the NHS because I assume they’re doing Bad Things, at best dealing only with the most wealthy and healthy people to make a profit.

But I had a repeat prescription due and a friend recommended the “digital pharmacy” Phlo. I wouldn’t have used them when we were within walking distance of several chemists but now we’re a half-hour drive from the chemist and we’re trying not to go anywhere…

It was really good. I signed up, nominated them as my chosen pharmacy, and ordered my repeat prescription at the doctor’s the usual way. A couple of days later Phlo emailed to say I could set up delivery, so I entered the delivery address, paid the standard £9.15 prescription charge, and a couple of days later the medication arrived with our standard Royal Mail post.

I’m not often pleased with new services like this, and throughout I was expecting things to go wrong, or to surprise in unpleasant ways. But they didn’t and it was good.

§   We watched the final ever episode of Homeland this week. We stuck with the show even when it seemed to be losing its way, which was probably inevitable after the high-profile and self-contained first season and, at some point, it must have picked up again because I was no longer watching it a little grudgingly. It probably helped that I had got used to suspending my disbelief entirely.

Surprisingly, after eight seasons, they managed to pull off that most elusive thing, a satisfying ending to an open-ended, long-running show. Good work. All in, and allowing for that disbelief suspension, it was a good last season, tense with good cliff-hangers.

I have my own theory about Carrie though. While she’s ostensibly a brilliant but psychologically troubled agent, I suspect she’s actually very bad at her job (and still psychologically troubled). I haven’t conducted an exhaustive review but I’m pretty sure everything she’s involved in goes disastrously wrong and, if it eventually achieves some success, this is only via an overly-roundabout route on which many, many people die unnecessarily. I assume Saul has run out of other agents in the field which is why he, at the end of his career, has to keep turning to her. “Fuck it,” he thinks, “this is all fucked. Might as well send Carrie. It can’t get any worse.” He never learns.

§   Important telly news in our household: this week we signed up to Now TV, the first time we’ve paid directly for telly other than the licence fee. Having found iPlayer and All 4 to be gradually thinner pickings it seemed time. Given Now TV is owned by Sky I’d have previously felt, at best, awkward about giving Rupert Murdoch any money, but now Sky is owned by Comcast, so it’s all fine!

(I often wonder whether having a human public face at the top of a company is, overall, a good or bad thing. Elon Tesla, Jeff Amazon, Richard Branston… apparently some people like them, but they all put me off their companies more than if they were run by more publicity-shy bosses. I assume Comcast is as terrible as Murdoch’s Sky was but, because I don’t know, it’s apparently OK.)

So now we are spoilt for choice when it comes to televisual feasts. We’ve started with season one of Westworld which we enjoyed a lot. It is very in love with its own pompous twistiness, but it is good fun. Although the behind-the-scenes company politics were a bit tiresome and feel rather stilted compared to the in-park adventures.

My main takeaway is that it’s a terrible company to work for, even worse than the one in DEVS. Employees are rude to each other, departments fight against each other, the boss does whatever he likes, the board loves money and hates art and wants the boss gone, you don’t get fired for being an arsehole and drunk and pissing over co-workers…

§   This week I read the short novel literally show me a healthy person by Darcie Wilder, another one I noted from this Guardian article, and which I enjoyed. It’s a stream of sentences and paragraphs, free of much punctuation and capitalisation, that makes up a very vague narrative. Here’s an excerpt. In a way it reminded me a little of David Markson’s books like Wittgenstein’s Mistress in that it’s “a series of statements made in the first person”, as Wikipedia puts it. Anyway, interesting, and builds to more than the sum of its parts. Which I guess is true of every novel ever written but still.

§   That’s all. Chin up, soldier on, let it go.

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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.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.