Monday, December 28, 2009

Happiness is Not Your Friend (Disclaimer: drunken rant)

***Removed due to embarrassment at inebriated ramblings***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

That Empty Feeling Again

I hate this. You know that feeling when you find a really great book, one that consumes you for two days straight as you plough through it, captivated? And then you finish it only to find that the world is cold and hollow? Well it’s been over a week now since I finished ‘The Gathering Storm’, book twelve of The Wheel of Time, and I’ve been in that dark place since.

Ok, maybe I’m being a wee bit over dramatic here. It’s not as if the book was some great literary masterpiece or anything. It’s just that I, and about a zillion other geeks like me, had been waiting on this latest instalment in the epic for FOUR YEARS. For an addict four years is a long time. Very long.

The death of it’s author, Robert Jordan, in 2007 didn’t help hurry things along. Nor did it bode well for the conclusion of the saga. Fortunately, and I say that only after reading the book, fellow fantasy novelist and fan of the series Brandon Sanderson took up his hero’s mantle (and the supposed mountain of notes that Jordan spun out before he died). Thank the Light for that!

I have to admit that, as much as I craved it, I really didn’t expect to enjoy the novel as much as I did. First of all, after 20 years and 11 novels (+one prequel), the world of The Wheel of Time suddenly had a new master. This was inevitable. With Jordan’s sad passing, Tor publishing suddenly had a legion of hungry consume-o-bots (like me) and nothing to sell them. Oh no, what’ll they do?

Turn what was supposed to one book into three, that’s what. My heart sank when I heard this was the plan. I know I was not alone in my desire for closure on the series. Jordan himself had promised that he’d wrap up the story in one final publication, “even if it ended up 2,000 pages long”. It was only fair to the fans. For a moment there, it seemed that noble sentiment had died with the man it came from.

In fairness, I can now see why it is so. I’m even happy about having two more WoT novels to look forward to. Young Sanderson fits his master’s boots quite comfortably, so Tor did well on that account. As for splitting the conclusion in three, well, judging from the way the plot is forming, I can see that it was necessary. Anything else would’ve either made Jordon’s joke estimate of 2,000 pages seem conservative, or resulted in one very hurried and unsatisfying ending. So Tor did right on that account too.

You have to forgive my scepticism of such publishers, I’ve fallen into their honey trap once to often in my quest to ‘find-out-what-happens-next’.

I’m glad they got me this time, though, even if it has brought me to where I now find myself, sulking with all the other books on my shelf for not being Number 13. I’ve started and stopped reading three other novels since last week, but I just can’t take to them. The Wheel of Time is so very epic, it really gets under your skin once you get into it. One needs time to recover from a dose of it.

It’s like when your favourite pair of trainers finally pack in and you’re forced to wear that ‘new’ pair you bought months ago. You eventually come to love them too, but not before a spell of huffing. Well, that’s the way it is for me anyway.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Changing Times

Right, so I’m not sure what the rules are on this sort of thing, nor do I care (I’m a rebel, you see, a real bad ass), but I’ve replaced the post that was here.

Previously I had up a tongue-in-cheek, letter-to-the-editor type article by Newton Emerson for the Irish Times. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, which is why I posted it in the first place, but on reflection it didn’t quite fit in with the rest of my stuff. To start with, it could’ve only really been appreciated by someone familiar with the subtle ridiculousness of Irish history and politics. Plus it was so long it took up half the page. (If you’re intrigued you can read it here.)

Instead I’ve put up another news story from the same week that made me smile just as widely, and will be appreciated by anyone in their right mind. I find one’s attitude towards tea to be a strong measure of one’s character. Maybe that’s just another Irish thing.

Anyway, here you go, the news I’ve been waiting for. Finally, they’re saying something I love is good for me!

Drinking eight cups of tea a day 'reduces heart attack and stroke risk' 

Drinking up to eight cups of tea a day offers "significant health benefits", including a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, according to research. Read More

Japanese Animation

These are a few delightful animations from an art show on Japanese news channel NHK World. I can’t tell from the info on YouTube what the artists’ names are. God, but I’d love to have the patience to learn that language... Anyway, I think the first one is particularly enchanting. I actually saw the artist on the programme talking about the piece and I had to hunt it down. She showed how she made it by hand cutting many, many sheets of paper into the lace-like patterns you see and then layering them for effect. Watch it, it’s wonderful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our hearts are broken, yet there is still hope.

My fiance laughs at me every time I talk about football, but he doesn't know about this blog so I might get away with this...

So 82% of French people want the match replayed, Sarkozy has apologised to Brian Cowen, and now even Henry himself has called for a rematch (even if he did wait until after he was sure it wouldn’t happen).

Here at home they’re protesting the French embassy and there’s petitions for a replay flying all over the place.

It won’t happen, will it?

For years I’ve bemoaned the apathy that abounds in this country, where the general population have put up with- worse, they’ve endorsed- a regime that would make the most corrupt African dictator blush. Sure, everybody's disgruntled now things have gone belly up, but we've had a totally inept government since long before I was able to vote with hardly a peep out of anyone about it.

Now, it seems, the Irish have grown themselves a back bone and all over a silly game of football. No, not a silly game, a brilliant game, played out by heroes who for an hour and a half gave a nation hope.

We were robbed, and we should be going to South Africa. All based on that one little match, granted, but the fact that we had a lethargic qualifying campaign (the French did too) in no way diminishes the verity that that game was OURS.

What people don’t realise, though, is that they were never going to let us win. ‘They’ being that pervasive entity known as FIFA. I’m not saying that they fixed the match or told Henry to cheat, That Incident aside, the officials were only a little bit biased across the two legs.

But there’s simply too much money involved for FIFA to allow a little team like Ireland to triumph over the former world champions. We’re not brand-able enough. That’s why the governing body decided to seed the play-offs half way through the group stages. They changed the rules after the game had started!

Now that they’ve got what they wanted they hide behind their rule book, ignoring their own mantra of ‘fair play’.

Will we stand for it? It would appear not! And the French, it seems, have too much honour to accept their tainted victory so they may even back us up.

Tomorrow they march from Lansdowne, who knows what might happen. It’s a small hope, very small, but hope nonetheless.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dragon Crack

Ha! Now here is a book review that brightened my day: Getting Hooked on George RR Martin.

Under pressure from his followers, Guardian book-blogger Sam Jordison recently decided that it was time to delve into the perilous realm of epic fantasy. And guess what- he found himself hopelessly and totally addicted.Imagine that!
Thankfully, he began his maiden voyage with a novel that’s not half bad and at least semi-decently written, the first in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, ‘A Game of Thrones’. Jordison’s criticisms of the book are numerous and valid, I have a few that I’d like to add myself, but ultimately he sees the story for what it is- a darn good read.

It would have pained me if a non-believer was introduced to a genre which I love so well by something like Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth. If that had been the case then his expectation of formulaic ‘fantasy-by-numbers’ would have been realised.
Believe me, the tripe is fresh in my memory. That day, not so long ago, when I finished the final paragraph of book twelve, and the realisation dawned that I’d read the whole bloody series, I hung my head in shame. I still feel unclean.

In my defence, I didn’t buy a single one of the books, a friend emailed them to me, and I only read them while I played online poker, and even then only because I was urged by numerous friends to keep reading. (“They get better, they really do.” Hmm, sometimes I worry about the human race…)

The point is, though, I read them. But then I’m a fantasy junkie, a publisher’s dream, willing to gobble up all the whimsical soap opera they can throw at me. That must be why they call it dragon crack.

It would seem that Jordison may be developing a similar vice himself. I totally empathise with the man; as a lover of literature it can sometimes be degrading to find yourself plodding through the cringe-worthy adolescent make-believe lands that most people rightly associate with the genre.

Only sometimes, though, for out there in the world of fantasy fiction there are gems to be found. Like Robin Hobb’s Farseer books, or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (the latest instalment of which I just started reading today, but that’s for another post). Even stories that are aimed at children can be joys to read, such as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Indeed, there are many delights for Jordison to behold as the addiction takes hold.

At any rate, I don’t think his condition has progressed that far yet if he’s complaining about how long it’s taking him to read Martin’s 800-page novel. “A pretty terrifying figure if you consider that this is one of the shorter entries in a projected seven-part series,” he moans. Lightweight. It’ll probably be a while before he starts on Jordan then… ;)

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Like Her Style

Now I love fantasy art but if I’m honest a lot of it can be quite clichéd and cheesy. So it was quite the treat when I came across these images at The artist’s name is Lauren K. Cannon and you can see more of her work here. (The names of the pictures really add to their effect, too. Like the one above, for example, which is called 'Fairy'. Isn't that just lovely?)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So Sweet

Here's a something I found on a while back and thought it was so lovely I saved it. The journalism website had it in their funnies section 'cause of a subbing error which labelled it an obituary but I'm a bit blinded by the sentimentality of it. I've been going out with my fiance since I was 16 and we were supposed to get married next year but the recession has killed that idea. Ah well, I've waited this long, what's another couple of years?

Alice is looking good!

I was a little bit worried when I first heard about plans for this film but I'm starting to really look forward to it now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Child of Danú

I really doubt anybody other than myself will ever read this blog, but, on the off chance that someone actually bothers, maybe I should offer an explanation of its somewhat silly and slightly ostentatious title.

First of all, I just want to point out that I am by no means claiming to be a ‘Child of Danu’ ( that, in my opinion, would be arrogant). Nor do I intend this to be a place where I’ll mull over the great goddess, or any of her demigod children.

I simply thought the term to be an apt, if a little irrelevant, heading for a scrapbook of my flights of fancy. Apt because it alludes to many such fanciful flights, irrelevant because it may be that after this initial post I’ll never refer to anything pertaining to it directly again. Who knows?

Anyway, here is as concise an explanatory note as to its meaning that I can provide:

The Children of Danu were the legendary Tuatha De Danann, a people strongly linked to my local area, my family name, and the imagination I inherited from my childhood.

They were a heroic, mystical race who inhabited Ireland in pre-Celtic times, yet they remain a pervasive force on the psyche of the Irish, whether they realise it or not, and stand for all that I love about the culture and mythology of my homeland.

Evidently enough, they worshipped Danu who was mother of all gods and goddess of all things. The Tuatha De Danann were themselves godlike, though mortal. They possessed ancient knowledge and commanded great magic, as can be seen in tales of their coming to this land, which they won following a battle with a race called the Fir Bolgs.

According to legend, upon their approach to Ireland the Tuatha De Danann “spread druidically-formed showers and fog-sustaining shower-clouds over the country, and caused the air to pour down fire and blood upon the Fir Bolgs,”  but their enemy had druids of their own who cast counter spells and enchantments.(Squire, 1905)

The story goes that due to a magical coastal mist summoned by the Fir Bolgs the Tuatha De Danann were forced to circle Ireland nine times before making landfall on the shores of present day Leitrim from whence they marched northwards, stopping to make first contact with the natives at a place dear to my heart.

      An Grianan

That place was An Grianan of Aileach, an iron-age stone ring fort perched on a hill not far from my hometown. From within the fort it is possible to access tunnels that apparently run underground for miles. It is said that deep within the labyrinth lies a room where a band of Tuatha De Danann horsemen still slumber. Just as in the tales of England’s Arthur, they will come again when Ireland needs them most, marking their return by lapping the island nine times.

But that’s just a local yarn, sourced from a story about a drunkard who fell in a ditch one night and found a hidden, external opening to one of the passageways. He claimed to have spoken with one of the horsemen who, astride his mount, woke momentarily to tell the bewildered gentleman of their apocalyptic-esque plans.

It is likely that the stories of the end of the Tuatha De Danann’s reign inspired the tale. You see, with the arrival of the Celts and the subsequent advent of Christianity, like the people of Avalon, the Tuatha De Dannan did not simply die away. Instead they retreated from the world of men into the mounds of the earth, supposedly revealing themselves on occasion to this very day. They are the Aes Sidhe (usually simply called ‘Sidhe’), more commonly known as the fairy folk.

According to a wee woman down the road, and probably American tourist guides to Ireland, they can still be found living in trees and caves, by ancient stones and sacred lakes, around ruined forts and craggy hills.

Indeed, the Children of Danu were not the first peoples to inhabit this isle, nor were they to be the last, but tales of their magical mastery and later demise have left their mark on our mythology and folklore.

When I was little I was often warned to stay away from the bells of purple foxglove lest I anger the fairies who made their homes there. The fantasy was somewhat spoiled when I discovered that the flowers are actually poisonous and it was more likely a clever conspiracy by my mother to keep me for picking them. But I believed it, if only for a time. *sigh*

Still, though, even in the commercial, money idolising society of Ireland today, where tradition and story-telling are fading away as fast as Aga cookers and local bakeries, you’d be hard pressed to find a child who’ll step in a ring of toadstools but on a dare, or a man who’ll cut down a fairy tree without a care to his own well being.

More than that, many of the practices and characters that litter the sagas of the Tuatha De Danann can be yet found in Irish society in the guise of saints, shrines and sacraments. From Danu herself (St Anne) to the patron St Brigit (Brigid, goddess of love and war), and in the now holy days of Beltane and Samhain. The list goes on and on… They weren’t the most inventive, the early Celtic Christians, but they certainly were adaptive.
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