w/e 2020-08-30


§ This week we drove across England to the Essex coast again. I was a dash of navigational garnish in the human/machine sandwich, interpreting the phone’s directions as if they were slow rally driving pacenotes.

The “Avoid motorways” settings on Google Maps and Waze appear to do strictly that, happily sending you along A-road dual carriageways that aren’t techincally motorways. On the other hand Apple Maps’ “Avoid motorways” option largely includes dual carriageways in the definition of motorways, making for a calmer but longer drive. Both options are potentially useful but it’s an odd-to-me inconsistency.

Having generally only travelled the country by train it’s interesting to cut across those rail routes and see different places. But given my knowledge of geography is quite bad it’s hard to get a feel for where in the country we are by only following the phone’s linear, always forwards, route, like trying to imagine the shape of a country from a linear road map.

Yesterday I read this edition of the awful mass newsletter whose journey to Kent reminded me of our drive through the nowhere of Milton Keynes’ logistics warehouses striped along the A421:

Ashford happens by accident. It happened by accident to me, a passenger in a car, seeking solace on the very edge of England. A day trip to Dungeness takes us on a slow and grinding descent through the worsted subtopias of Tk and Sidcup. Long, fearless roads of worn tarmac and greasy plane trees lined with fat, fastidious Tudor mockery. Petrol stations, car dealerships, distribution sheds. An Amazon warehouse whose gigantism rouses something like beauty from its deeps – striped in blue-white gradient, so as to make it disappear into the air.

I also like the idea of a town called Tk, unmarked on maps, never findable, a settlement that exists only in legend and ancient hand-drawn maps.

Photo of dark grey clouds over a calm and dark grey sea
Some weather on Flickr

§ § This week I tried to get Webmentions up and running on this blog but eventually gave up. They seem like a nice thing – automatically sending notifications between websites that they’ve been mentioned somewhere (like Trackbacks for the older folk) – but they currently seems like more trouble than they’re worth.

I’m not going to write my own implementation from scratch, and there are, I think, two Django implementations of Webmentions:

  • django-wm which requires the use of Celery and RabbitMQ; way too much hassle for what I assume will be, at best, a couple of incoming or outgoing Webmentions every… week? month? year? (Maybe the asynchronous part of it could be simplified now Django has asynchronous support?)

  • django-webmentions is much simpler but, it turns out, only handles incoming Webmentions. I don’t want to add the complication of another app for another rarely-used feature if it only does half of what I want.

So, Webmentions, whatever.

§ I finished watching The Plot Against America just before it randomly vanished from NOW TV. (Presumably it is now only available on THEN TV ha ha sorry.) It was very good. As expected, watching America slide slowly towards Nazism during an alternate World War II is not at all uplifting, but it’s well-done: the delusion, the increasing intensity of fear, the growing desperation. The good thing about miniseries based on books is that they’re usually pretty tight, with a good solid ending or, at least, no “come back for season two!” openness. Unfortunately the ending here felt a bit pfffft. Good otherwise though.

§ We also finished Watchmen after that randomly re-appeared on NOW TV. I’d been looking forward to it after reading lots of positive tweets etc. during its initial broadcast.

I think it was good? I mean: it had a strong, not-all-white cast; it looked quite impressive; the right-on heroes stick it to the racist baddies; and I got fuzzy nostalgic feels from having been a fan of the comic in the 1980s. And, although it relied on many, many flashbacks this structure worked well, and also reminded me of the nature of the comic’s storytelling. But, despite all that, I did spend a lot of it thinking, “yes, but is it any good?”

Some of the time it seemed like a taught thriller but without being very taught. Just as things get tense and thriller-y, we’re off to watch Jeremy Irons slowly doing weird things for a bit too long. By episode seven I was really quite bored. Thankfully episode eight was very good, and nicely made sense of many loose strands, and the ninth and final episode wasn’t too bad. So, I don’t know. I’m a bit mystified about all the enthusiasm but it was often entirely fine.

§ Good luck if you have to go back to school or work this week. And good luck if you don’t.

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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.