Monday, March 29, 2010

Towers Analogous

It's obvious that not all is well in Iest.

As the Bug continues his upward assent, carrying Elrod, and with Cerebus desperately trying to stop him, others in the city have begun to notice that the big tower like mountain that hangs over the city is starting to lean.

The Roaches ascent is drawn very cinematically. I don't know if Dave ever wanted Cerebus to be made into a film or if he studied movie making, but he drew a lot of the novel as if it were a very elaborate storyboard. As Artemis climbs he incurs a number of serious injuries, and catalogues them as he goes ever upwards to his goal. It's rather like a parody of James Bond or John McClaine, it doesn't matter how badly these celluloid heroes get hurt they just keep on going. From the Cockroaches frenzied muttering it appears he believes he has a score to settle with Thrunk (or as Artemis refers to him Epop). As always Astoria is at the heart of it. The insane 'superhero' thinks Thrunk has taken his beloved hostage.

Around the city the fall of the tower is being noticed. It crashes through the window of Powers cathedral. It is not known if the Bishop survives the impact. Thrunk appears not to notice it, but as he's a mountain himself it may not appear to be unusual to him. Astoria sees it happening and runs to the edge.

She sees the Roach and joyously welcomes him. It's highly likely she arranged this, telling Artemis that she was being held hostage, knowing that he'd move heaven and earth to rescue her. Imagine her surprise when he pushes past her with a growled 'Out of the way, bitch. I have a score to settle.'

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Broken Sword

Third in the Must-Read challenge.

I knew the name Poul Anderson, but I tended to see him as more of a science fiction author than a fantasy one. It was an unfair view, because like many of the early SFF authors Anderson crossed genres. He was actually well regarded as a fantasy author, being one of only 8 members of S.A.G.A (the Swordsmen and Sorcerors' Guild of America, Ltd), membership was limited to authors of the sword and sorcery subgenre of fantasy (the other 7 members were: Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, John Jakes, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton and Jack Vance) august company indeed. The Broken Sword, which Poul Anderson wrote in the early 50's (it was first published in 1954) is a fantasy classic and it tends to defy categorisation, there are elements of S&S in it, but it's more than a barbarian hack and slash fest.

The Broken Sword is a short book, especially by today's doorstopper standard, it weighs in at just over 200 pages, but not one of those pages is wasted. The story follows it's hero; Skafloc, a child born of Orm the Strong, a Viking who settles in England, Skafloc is stolen by the Elf King Imric and in his place is placed Valgard, the result of a union between Imric and a captive troll lady. Eventually the two men clash and while the story builds to the inevitable battle between Skafloc and Valgard there is so much more to this story.

There's a vengeful witch, the war between elves and trolls, a forbidden love affair between Skafloc and his sister Freda. There's a patricide by the tortured Valgard, and the adventure of Skafloc and his Sidhe compatnion Mananaan to reforge the broken sword of the title. In fact the adventures that Skafloc and Mananaan have whilst trying to return from Jotunheim back to Alfheim would have made a book of their own, they are covered briefly, but you got the impression there was more material for Anderson here and it's a shame he never got to explore it.

There seems to be a misconception among readers new to the fantasy genre that hard edged, gritty and gory fantasy began with authors like George R R Martin and his epic A Song of Ice and Fire, this is not the case. While Anderson drew on Norse legends and the sword and sorcery work of Robert E. Howard, Martin has drawn on Anderson and his contemporaries. It even has the bleak sort of ending that is so beloved of Martin.

The Broken Sword is the work of a master and there's not a lot wrong with it. Some of the wording was a little old fashioned in parts, I could have done with a few less 'erenows', but even that assists Anderson in setting the mood he's was trying to evoke.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of Norse themed fantasy around if anyone enjoys what Poul Anderson has done with The Broken Sword. The only thing I can think to recommend are the works of Elizabeth Boyer, she wrote 3 Norse themed series between 1980 and 1995 (World of the Alfar, Wizard's War and Skyla), however she has stopped writing, so the books may be hard to find.

Flying Off The Handle At Oblique Angles

Keef returns with the Elrodroach in tow. Cerebus is still clinging to Prince Mick's leg thinking happy beautiful thoughts. Keef believes that the roach is a figment of his imagination caused by prolonged drug abuse. Once Elrod starts talking it's obvious that he too ins part of the Secret Sacred Wars.

One of the best Prince Mick and Keef jokes occurred at this point. Keef produces a small bag of drugs from somewhere. Mick demands to know where he found it. Keef replies that it was 'be'oind the 'ead rest tucked up unner th' fine trim. Sime plice you always 'oide it.' Keef then proceeds to snort the entire bag up his nose. Keef passes out and Cerebus asks Mick to tell Cerebus a story.

The Elrodroach tells Mick that he's off to touch the face or Tarim. Elrod leaves, then Mick remembers that Cerebus had gold, he asks Cerebus how much, a question to which the aardvark replies: 'oodles and boodles.' The princes are off to the upper city. As Keef says he should want to boy drogs with his 'alf.

Meanwhile the Secret Sacred Wars Roach is climbing up the mountain to the upper city to confront Thrunk, the false Pope, who he has taken to calling Epop. He meets Elrod, who he remembers as his sidekick Bunky (see the Captain Cockroach chapters way back in Swords of Cerebus) Seeing the Cockroach snaps Cerebus out of hid drug induced funk and he takes off after Elrod and the Roach. Mick tries to follow, but he's just had his nails done and doesn't want to damage them climbing up a mountain of gargoyles. Cerebus is desperately climbing after the Roach trying to get him to stop, he seems to feel that the Bug is courting disaster and with the final panel showing a looming tower over Iest it's hard to shake that feeling.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Malacia Tapestry

The second of the 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels challenge.

I’d never read any Brian Aldiss before. He’s predominantly a science fiction writer and as I’m not much of a science fiction fan he’d never interested me as an author. Until finding out about The Malacia Tapestry I was not even aware he’d written any fantasy, let alone something that seems to be regarded as a minor classic.

Calling The Malacia Tapestry a novel is rather misleading, it’s a series of vignettes that are loosely held together largely by the fact that they are all set in and around the fictional city of Malacia and told from the point of view of the idle, hedonistic, morally bankrupt actor Perian de Chirolo.

Some of the fun of the book is in trying to work out where Malacia is in our world or where it’s based on. There are elements of Renaissance Florence or Venice in the city, and I’ve seen a theory elsewhere that it’s in Dalmatia. While Malacia itself is obviously not real with its references to lizard men, flying people and ancestral animals (from the brief descriptions given they appear to be related to dinosaurs), there are a number of references to places such as Bosnia and the Ottomans. Malacia may be in some sort of alternate reality or world, there are hints that people are descended from the lizards that are now generally used by the Malacians as menials.

The stories are told in the first person by Perian de Chirolo and assume knowledge of the city and its wonders, which is a device Aldiss uses quite effectively so as to not over explain or describe what he is writing about. At times this can be frustrating, but overall it works successfully and retains a sense of wonder and gives the reader the feeling of reading about a genuinely alien place.

I found the book hard to take to, mainly because of Perian. I can’t really call him a hero, as he embodies so many characteristics that are anything but heroic. Anti-hero fits him nicely. Perian spends most of his time using his charm to prevail upon women for a living and sexual favours. He is, like his equally vacuous friend Guy de Lambant, an actor, although I don’t think he is ever paid for acting, I suspect he only pretends at being an actor because the ladies like it and it means he doesn’t have to actually get a job. Perian is not at all likeable and I wanted him to come to a sticky end.

The book lacks focus and this makes you wonder why you’re reading as there doesn’t seem to be any real point to the whole thing. One possible focus could be the way Malacia fiercely resists progress of any sort, this is what leads one of the other main characters; Progressive and foreign inventor Otto Benghtsohn, the owner and creator of a primitive form of movie camera to a tragic end.

Ultimately the lack of focus and purpose combined with an unsympathetic protagonist made the book a less than enjoyable experience. It’s hard to know what else to recommend to anyone who was thinking of reading this or something similar because I’ve never read anything quite like it. Two works that have elements that put me in mind of The Malacia Tapestry are: Scott Lynch’s first volume of the Gentleman Bastards series; The Lies Of Locke Lamora, the setting of Camorr, a city obviously based on Renaissance Venice is not unlike Malacia and more oddly Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures, the 10th Discworld book satirises Hollywood, but contains a magically powered moving making device which put me in mind of the ill fated Bengtsohn’s zahnoscope.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Missing It For The World

Cerebus is tramping through the snow, trying to get back to the upper city and he comes across a tall, outlandishly dressed man sitting by a broken down cart with a half empty bottle cradled in his hands.

When this character hears Cerebus' name his reaction is priceless: 'A Powp! Fancy tha!'
This is of course Prince Mick, we know him as Mick Jagger, he's travelling with his brother Prince Keef, who is better known as the other half of the Glimmer Twins; Keith (or as Dave likes to call him Keef) Richards.

Mick offers Cerebus the rest of his bottle of 150 proof T'Capmin whiskey, which Cerebus downs quickly before finding out that it is the brother's special blend, half whiskey, half codeine. So Cerebus is not only drunk, he's also high as a kite.

Mick and Keef were due to marry some large buttocked girls, who they later named the Buttock Sisters, whether or not this was really their name was never made clear. The brothers are trying to escape and Mick is burdened by the fact that if his brother is not permanently drugged to the eyeballs he wanders off in search of more narcotics.

Cerebus has a rather extreme reaction to the drugged alcohol and believes that bits of his body, most amusingly his nose, are coming loose and floating away.

The drug has the effect of making Cerebus 'love' everyone and he offers to give Mick ALL of his gold if he can just depose Thrunk and get to it.

Keef has wandered off in search of drugs and meets Elrod, wearing an enormous cockroach suit.

Dave adored the Rolling Stones, or more specifically Keith Richards. He once told the story about how he went to a Clapton concert and at the end Richards came on unnannounced to jam with Clapton. Dave's friend said that he jumped at least 3 feet in the air and started screaming 'Keef! Keef!' hysterically.

He nailed the Glimmer Twins in this chapter. It was the two of them in their prime, he had the clothes and the accent down and they acted the way everybody imagined they would from their public persona.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Watership Down

The first of the 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels Challenge

I’d never actually read Watership Down. I heard the audio and saw the film, but as I was 12 years old when this happened my memories of both were virtually non existent. The only thing I could unfortunately remember clearly was Art Garfunkel’s awful chart topper: Bright Eyes, from the film soundtrack.

Watership Down began its life as stories that Richard Adams; a British civil servant, used to tell his daughters to keep them entertained during long car journeys. The girls insisted that their father write the stories down and have them published. It took him 18 months to put them into novel form, and to assist with accurately describing wild rabbit behaviour, he used The Private Life of the Rabbit by British naturalist Ronald Lockley. The book was rejected by 13 publishers before being accepted by a small publishing house.

Watership Down was published in 1972 and I can see why it was rejected so many times, not because it wasn’t a good book or well written, it is, but because it was a difficult book to classify and market to an audience at the time. Watership Down is a book about anthropomorphic animals; animals given human characteristics. These were nothing new, not even in the early 1970’s, but where Watership Down differed from other anthropomorphic animal books such as those written by Beatrix Potter and even Kenneth Grahame’s classic Wind in the Willows, was that Adams’ rabbits didn’t wear human clothes, live in houses or follow other human conventions. These were wild rabbits, they lived in burrows, they fought against other animals and each other for territory, food and mates. It was aimed at an older audience than had previously been interested in these type of books, at times the character’s speech evoked images of disenfranchised adolescents, in 1972 the subgenre of children’s fiction known as Young Adult did not exist. Despite this the book was marketed as a children’s book and even won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction in 1972.

The story follows a group of young rabbits (bucks) who leave their warren of Sandleford and set out to establish one of their own. They are driven by feelings that they don’t fit in and they also pay attention to the visions one of their number; Fiver, has regarding some sort of disaster that will befall the warren. Along the journey the rabbits survive encounters with predators (including foxes, cats and even people), adverse weather and other rabbits. They make friendships with other animals; an unnamed fieldmouse and a black-headed gull called Kehaar, finally they set up their own warren in an area known as Watership Down and are ultimately forced to defend it from attack by a nearby militant warren, led by the fearsome General Woundwort.

Eleven bucks set out from the Sandleford warren and this number has swelled to twenty by the end of the book when the original eleven establish their own warren. Hazel, is the main protagonist, he is an intelligent rabbit and becomes regarded as the Chief Rabbit by virtue of his natural leadership qualities. Fiver, Hazel’s litter mate, and runt of the litter, is a visionary who at times displays what appear to be mystical abilities. The heroic Bigwig, a big rabbit, who was formerly a member of the Sandleford warren’s ‘police’ or owlsla, is Hazel’s lieutenant. Dandelion is their storyteller and a late comer from Sandelford; Bluebell seems to be used for comic effect, although I think his experiences at Sandleford left him slightly addled, and at times he is almost comic tragic. The book has been criticised for its lack of strong female characters, although I felt that the does Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang played pivotal roles in the latter part of the novel. Of the non-rabbit characters only the black-headed gull, the heavily accented Kehaar, plays a significant part.

Adams gave his rabbits a history and a mythology, mostly featuring stories about the mythical trickster rabbit; El-ahrairah and his friend Rabscuttle. This was not something that had been done previously and he wove the stories skilfully into the main narrative. He also added in Lapine (the language of rabbits) words and phrases, they seemed to be old English in origin and I personally felt that the story would not have suffered without them. The way he expressed the accent of Kehaar was also irritating and made much of the gull’s speech hard to understand and difficult to follow.

Those two small quibbles aside I found the book a fast moving, exciting narrative that holds the reader's interest and it is one of those rare books that transcends age barriers. Child and adult alike will find something to enjoy and think about in the pages of Watership Down.

If you liked Watership Down and wanted to read other similar novels I can personally recommend: The Plague Dogs (another Adams novel, this is about two dogs that escape from a laboratory in an effort to be free and find somewhere that they belong), Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams, a heroic fantasy about cats, A.R Lloyd’s Kine or Marshworld, about a weasel’s attempt to defend his home and friends from an invasion by escaped minks (this is actually the first of the Kine Saga trilogy, but reads well as a standalone and I didn’t think the other two lived up to the standard set by the opening novel) and Garry Kilworth’s House of Tribes, a tale about the societies of mice living in an English country house, where all cats are French and the dogs are Japanese. Kilworth has also written a series about anthropomorphic weasels; The Welkin Weasels.

Chariot Of The Queen, Chariot Of The Lovers

Sometimes I think Dave spent more time working on the titles than the actual story. This is one of those issues.

Michelle calls her 'boys' into dinner. I assumed it was workers on her property. The 'boys' are actually Michelle's 'Uncle' Artemis aka The Roach and the McGrew brothers. This is possibly why the sudden appearance of Cerebus in her basement didn't surprise Michelle.

The Roach and his two disciples behave rather like large, squabbling children and Michelle treats them that way.

Once they've eaten and left Michelle sits down with Cerebus and tells him that Weisshaupt gave her something for him. Apparently it was one of his dying wishes that if for some reason Cerebus lost the papacy he wanted him to regain it, it belonged to someone mundane. Even from the grave Weisshaupt is still managing to irritate the aardvark.

In the envelope that Michelle gives to Cerebus is a single sheet of paper, on the paper is a picture of a cannon with the word BOOM written next to it. Cerebus' eyes snap wide open, he now knows how to get his papacy back. The thought of Cerebus with something more lethal than a sword is a frightening one. Michelle looks out the window and to her surprise sees that it is snowing in the middle of Summer.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Touch Not The Priestess

Cerebus, he of the recently elongated snout, suddenly pops back into this plane of existence, along with the accompanying 'POIT' sound effect and lands on top of his head on the stones of what looks like a cellar.

Countess Michelle appears at the door and doesn't seem the least surprised to see Cerebus, in fact by the way she talks, you would think she'd actually expected him.

He follows her upstairs, lured by the promise of food. Cerebus doesn't do a lot of talking in this chapter. Most of it is done by Michelle. Cerebus lets her ramble. We hear about her relationship with Weisshaupt, his love of gardening, his attempts to turn her into some sort of protege. I was reminded of Therese, who seemed to have a similar relationship with the recently departed President. There was one very funny moment when Michelle finds out that Cerebus has never cleaned up before, he doesn't even know how to use a dustpan and brush. It makes sense, prior to becoming a political and religious mover and shaker, the kind of places Cerebus frequented had dirt floors or didn't much care if they were dirty anyway. After people cleaned up for him.

While Michelle cooks, Cerebus sits at her kitchen table and lets her talk. Michelle seemed to be the prize in a fight between Lord Julius and Weisshaupt. I don't think either of them won, but it made Michelle wealthy. From what the Countess says it appears that Weisshaupt was paranoid even then.

Eventually Cerebus asks Michelle why she is telling him all this, she then says that everything she told him when he was staying with her was a lie, but he had to know what really happened before she told him what she felt she had to.

The man knows how to write a cliffhanger ending.

Friday, March 12, 2010

TBR Pile

Most fantophiles have a TBR (to be read) pile, actually most keen readers have one of these. I was making some headway with mine. I had it down to under 10, I even had a schedule worked out. I’m rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s marvellous Flashman series (it’s historical fiction, which is what I tend to flirt with most when I’m not reading fantasy), so I’d read a Flashman and then whatever happened to be laying around that I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading.
So what went wrong? I’m still trying to figure that out. All of a sudden it just went crazy!
Like I said it was under 10, now it’s jumped to over 20. A couple of things contributed to it. I have 2 Flashmans to go, so it’s not Harry’s fault. One was my self set challenge of trying to read everything recommended in 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, (already started that, expect my take on Watership Down soon) and the other was that come March publishers started putting out things I wanted to read.
I think I’m going to have to tackle the ever growing pile this way: read one of the challenge novels and then something not on the list, there will be no rhyme or reason to that I’ll just pick out whatever happens to be on top of the pile (it is an actual pile, it sits in a corner of the lounge room) or possibly if I’m in a specific mood or I’ve got something I’m really dying to read I’ll delve a little deeper. How is your TBR pile going? Growing or shrinking. What’s in it? How do you work out what you’re going to read next?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Talking Heads

I know I've never seen it stated anywhere, but I really do think Dave was a Talking Heads fan.

Cerebus is hurtling downwards through space, he lands heavily on a platform suspended amongst the stars. A disembodied head belonging to an old man with an impressive set of whiskers is observing him and talking to him. On the other side of the platform floats another head, this one is wearing a conical wizard's cap and belongs to Henrot, not Sophia's mother, her father, the wizard.
Henrot and the other head are both wizards, although Henrot seems to delight in baiting his colleague, who has a hair trigger temper and always bites at the insults Henrot throws out there.

While Henrot and his 'friend' argue the action moves back to Iest, where Thrunk has set himself up as more than the Pope. He has declared himself Tarim, although his demands are every bit as excessive as Cerebus' were, he has the muscle to back it up, too.

We are taken into a room containing Astoria and Lord Julius. Julius continues with his usual nonsense while we find out just what Astoria believes and stands for. The art on these two pages is excellent, it goes from cartoony to looking like photographs.

Back in space a new creature appears. It's the combination of the Womanthing and Sumpthing with the artists head somewhere in the middle. He now calls his joined monsters Fred and Ethel. It appears like everyone thinks they are Tarim. The unnamed wizard, the artist with his two monsters, Cerebus thought he was and although Henrot hasn't openly declared it I bet he thinks he's got a fair claim to Godhood, too.

Sumpthing squeezes the impressively whiskered wizard out of existence on this plane and then knocks Cerebus off his head before floating away. This leaves Cerebus and Henrot together. Cerebus suddenly feels the need to sneeze, but doesn't want to because he knows it will hurt. Henrot tries to help him keep it in, but eventually he does and this time no fire, but his nose grows. He resembles Cerebus back in the first few issues when his nose was considerably longer than it currently is.

The glowing ball reappears startling Henrot. He asks Cerebus where he got it as it starts to engulf the aardvark and Cerebus flippantly replies that it's been in his family for years, as Cerebus disappears a stricken Henrot exclaims: 'Tarim! I hope he was kidding.'

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I don’t talk about music here, a lot of other people do on their blogs, I don’t do it here because I listen to my iPod most of the time when I’m reading on the train to and from work, I have it on permanent shuffle and no specific genre or artist gets played more than any other. You’ll find everything from Beethoven to Kayne West on my iPod. This morning a song and an idea hit me. I just had to write it down.

I quite like Alice Cooper, as glam rockers go I think he was one of the best things to come out of America during that period. Due to the image and the controversy that provoked at the time a lot the humour and cleverness of Alice’s songs got glossed over. Hardly anyone knows about the Donny Osmond reference at the end of The Department of Youth. The song that hit me this morning was No More Mr Nice Guy.

I was reading and listening and then all of a sudden this song blared into my ears. I put my book down and really listened to it and an image formed in my head. A Conanesque figure striding around a battlefield wreaking havoc and No More Mr Nice Guy playing in the background. I started thinking about it a little more and I wondered what current or future filmic projects this could fit. This lead me to the upcoming HBO A Game of Thrones series. I searched my memory banks and couldn’t really find a scene to fit the song until I remembered Syrio and Arya when Meryn Trant and the Goldcloaks come for the youngest Stark girl. When Syrio Forel, Water Dancer, First Sword of Braavos unleashes hell on them. I could just see it, Syrio saying that the First Sword of Braavos does not run, telling Arya to GO and then as the music amps up he flies into the Goldcloaks. Of course they won’t do it this way, they’ll pick something suitable, but it won’t be Alice Cooper.

Anyone else do this? Anyone else got a scene they’d like to see with music to fit? Or am I just mad?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Becoming Synonymous With Something Indescribable

Well one thing hadn't changed with the switch from Church & State to Church & State 2; the titles, they were still delightfully nonsensical. Dave doesn't actually call the books Church & State 1 & 2, he calls them both Church & State, I've added the 2 so as not to confuse readers and myself. Judging by the covers you could actually call them White and Black. The cover of 1 was predominantly white. The cover of 2 is mostly black, a picture of a fearful Cerebus walking across a carpet of what look like skeletons, holding a glowing black ball, he is surrounded by darkness.

The name of the first book of Church & State 2 is called Sacred Wars. This is an obvious allusion to Marvel's Secret Wars, which was a concept they had begun not long before this came out.

Cerebus ls laying somewhere in the lower city, when he's discovered by an outlandish figure wearing a black costume, with a picture of a cockroach on the chest. The Cootie is back. This time he's got up as Spiderman's dark alter ego; Venom, but he is undeniably Cerebus' old occasional ally and usual nemesis: The Cockroach. He's now involved in a crusade he refers to as the Sacred Wars, he often refers to it as the Secret Sacred Wars, mostly because no one other than the Bug can understand it. I saw this as another veiled insult thrown Marvel's way. I was almost out of collecting mainstream titles by this time, but I knew enough about The Secret Wars to understand that it was a desperate attempt by Marvel to move product. The storyline of The Secret Wars crossed into almost every title on the publisher's roster, which meant that particularly devoted fans would buy titles they did not normally collect to keep up with the storyline. Even then I doubt most of them understood it. I doubt that the writers at Marvel even knew what it was all about.

The Bug drags Cerebus back to his hideout, where he still has the McGrew brothers as his disciples. They both wear white versions of the Cockroaches costume, only he is allowed to wear the black one. The Cootie is as crazy as ever and still has weaknesses that don't fit in with his current character, but did apply to one of his other personas.

After getting drunk with the imbecilic brothers the white glowing ball appears to Cerebus again, only this time it swallows him up. I think we're going on another acid trip.

Causality Casualty

The final chapter of Church & State. This was going to be good.

Lord Storm'send keeps talking and as he's stuck in the crack there's not a lot Cerebus can do about it. Storm'send is going on about false Popes and Cerebus can't work out why, although the farmer insists that it has to do with the end of the world.

Cerebus is rescued by the reappearance of Sophia. She proceeds to give him a good telling off (hooray!) and then says that her major problem with their relationship was that once he became Pope she felt that the nature of their relationship became perverse as she was making love to a God on earth.

She leaves as Cerebus is dragged by Lord Julius back into the wall. Julius tells him that Tarim is outside and he wants to talk. When Cerebus asks why they're going upstairs Julius says that's so he can look Tarim in the eye.

Outside the hotel is a giant stone golem clad in papal robes. Thrunk has returned, and he says he's Most Holy. Everyone believes him. I know I would.

Because Cerebus has gold that Thrunk believes belongs to him he has to get Cerebus out of the way. What follows is a great sequence of Thrunk's enormous stone fist trying to squash Cerebus and the aardvark using every evasive trick he knows to avoid the rock giant. Cerebus finds Bran. The former leader of the Pigts tells Cerebus he's made a mistake and then drives the point of a knife into his chest. The ritual suicide stuns even Cerebus and he can't get away when Thrunk's fist crashes through the wall and grabs him.

In something reminiscent of Cerebus' actions as Pope, Thrunk flings Cerebus away. The aardvark grabs a tree and manages to land on the head of one of the gargoyles carved into the mountain above the city. He can't maintain his grip and falls to bounce twice and end up on somewhere in the lower city.

It's going to be a long climb back to the top for everyone's favourite earth pig.

Spinning Straw Into Gold

Cerebus has no idea what Lord Storm'send is doing at the hotel or even in Iest, but he follows him anyway. It looks like someone, maybe Powers, has sent him to try and talk some sense into Cerebus. The problem is that the pragmatic farmer is the wrong person to send.

Despite the fact that they're roughly the same height the two do not see eye to eye. The major problem is that both of them think they're always right. Cerebus shows his contempt for Lord Storm'send by ignoring most of what he says, noisily crunching an apple and then sneezing.

The sneeze is accidental and it comes out as a gout of flame. That impresses the Lord and he even says that Cerebus should do that in his talks from the roof, Cerebus says that it means he has a cold and sure enough he does.

He calls for Bear to remove Lord Storm'send. The mercenary gets up from his sleep and proceeds to do as asked. Cerebus goes back to bed, but a door opens in his wall and Lord Julius appears before shutting it again. Cerebus wakes up and looks for the door, it opens above him and smacks him in the head. Cerebus bellows for Bear again.

Cerebus tells him to punch the wall to find the trapdoor. When Bear does so all he gets is a sore hand and a large crack in the concrete. Cerebus climbs into the crack to investigate and gets stuck. As the aardvark says through his blocked up snout: 'Why do nese dings always happed do Bost Holy?'

Lord Julius then starts tickling Cerebus' feet and the trapdoor reappears about half a foot from where Cerebus thought it was. Bear tried to grab Lord Julius, but only succeeds in getting hold of an effigy of Julius, which explodes in his face and throws a cream pie at him. That's enough for the mercenary. He walks.

Cerebus then has to endure a nonsense conversation with Lord Julius and his imbecilic brother, who is now a Lord Julius lookalike. Just when Cerebus thinks things cannot get any worse Lord Storm'send reappears.

I thought things couldn't get much weirder than the dream chapters, this one proved me wrong. Very funny stuff.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Odd Transformations Part Two

I didn't think the end of the last chapter was really the end of this. Very glad to see that it wasn't. The first part of Odd Transformations was both fun and thought provoking.

It begins with Cerebus sleeping soundly, then shifts to a jail cell, once again the aardvark is back in his vest and medallions. The cell opens and Lord Julius appears at the door. He tells Cerebus that they're having some trouble in the kitchen so the Red Marches may not be well done, but he could take the ladder to Upper Felda. Cerebus is wearing his papal robes and now notices a ladder up against the wall.

Cerebus climbs out of a pillar with Julius telling him not to bother wiping his feet, Astoria's busy changing the baby. Cerebus' robes are tatters and he's holding a white sword with runes clearly visible just below the hilt. He hears a voice calling to him and the Wolveroach is standing on a stone telling him not to stand on the quick grass. Cerebus suddenly realises that he is sinking, he manages to grab onto a stone just in time, haul himself up on to it and look at the landscape.

The stones lead Cerebus across a grassland, through a canyon and across a river. Professor Claremont's Woman Thing appears in front of him. Cerebus' papal robes are back, he stabs the Woman Thing and leaves his sword in it, it topples off the pillar into the water. Suddenly the pillar that Cerebus is standing on begins to tip alarmingly. Cerebus jumps off and lands on the water. He rides a wave up to it's peak and then it crashes, taking it's passenger with it.

Back in the hotel Cerebus wakes before he falls, following the old myth about a fall in a dream leads to a fall and possibly death in the real world, Cerebus looks around and falls back to sleep and back to his dream. He is standing in the snow, dressed in winter clothing, out the front of a cathedral. Elrod is shouting about chickens and Lord Julius looks like one of Henrot the Wizard's magical creatures.

Cerebus, now wearing a shapeless white robe, trimmed around the collar with fur, leaves Elrod shouting nonsense and looks in on an argument between Astoria and Countess Michelle about who was a better niece to Lord Julius. Cerebus is again a child. Maybe it's just me, but as a child Cerebus looks incredibly cute, absolutely drawn to make a soft toy out of.

Continuing on, and now maybe dressed as he was when he was a child, with a cap covering his ears, Cerebus sees the adult Jaka and a child, who is either Jaka's child or Jaka as a child. Echoing through Cerebus' head is the argument he had with Jaka so many times about love and loss. Cerebus morphs back into an adult and his vest and medallions are back. The child Jaka's hand, holding a flower appears out of the wall and Cerebus' hears someone shouting: 'Did you hear me?'

Sitting by Cerebus' bed is Lord Storm'send from The Deciding Vote, way back when Cerebus ran for President. It's not a dream any longer.

If the first part of this chapter stretched Dave and Gerhard then this one must have damn near killed them. Dreams are hard enough to write I can only imagine how difficult they are to draw and keep the quality throughout the chapter. It was also a way for readers to connect to all the recurring characters they'd come to enjoy and possibly missed throughout a lot of Church & State.

Odd Transformations

When you get a title like that you wonder if the chapter is going to be a reminiscence of one of Dave's acid trips. We weren't disappointed.

Cerebus drags himself back into the hotel and collapses onto the pile of money sacks. He falls asleep and begins to dream. He's standing in a stream, someone calls his name and all of a sudden he's a child aardvark, although still clad in his papal robes. Poling herself towards him is a large woman in a maids outfit. She's his mother and implores him to put his hat on, because no one wants to look at those ears. I wondered if this was a real memory in the dream. Was Cerebus, an aardvark child, really raised by human parents and forced to hide his differences?

Cerebus runs away, across the water. Possible Jesus parallels there. He leaps as high as he can and sails into space, as he's flying he encounters the baby he threw away, still wailing. While staring backwards at the infant he crashes into a large roman column.

He comes to at the base of a tree, now wearing his vest and medallions. Coming towards him is Henrot, wearing Sophia's chainmail bikini. Now there was an image I never needed to see. Cerebus takes off in terror and is forcing his way through a dense forest. Once again his clothes have changed and he's wearing some sort of military coat, with a fur trimmed cape. He emerges into a long grass path lined by statues and giant chess pieces. As Cerebus stalks down the path the statues and chess pieces rise into the air and float around behind him. In front of Cerebus is the moon. A voice from one of the craters invites him inside.

Sophia is waiting for him, she removes her bikini and tells him to come to bed, once again he's in his papal robes. Cerebus climbs into bed with Sophia and she morphs into Jaka. The two of them twine around each other and Jaka says she'll never leave him again. Cerebus falls asleep in her arms and wakes on the pile of money. There's a message about Cerebus here and it's debatable what he loves more, money or Jaka.

He clambers up and goes to his bedroom. There's a long three and a bit page sequence of Cerebus standing by his bed urinating. It's not clear if he was using a chamber pot, but I sure hope so. Again Cerebus falls asleep, this time in his bed.

Visually the chapter was arresting, with a lot of location and costume changes, this would have stretched both Dave and Gerhard.

Varying Reasons Of Assorted Depths

You keep asking yourself, what the hell do these titles mean? They do sound great, though.

The title scrolls across the 1st three pages, which once again gives the opening of this chapter the feel of a movie. The only image on those first three pages, on nine panels, is Bishop Powers' cathedral. I can't remember seeing it before, it's quite a striking building and because Gerhard drew it, it looks better than it ever had if Dave did happen to show it in any other chapters.

Powers is inside discussing Weisshaupt's impending death. Being the marvelously compassionate churchman that he is Powers wishes Weisshaupt a hideously painful, but quick passing.

Cerebus is still siumped against the wall where he was when Jaka left. Boobah comes to tell him that Weisshaupt is near death, but wants to talk to Most Holy about the end of the world. Cerebus puts on his robes and takes the carriage Weisshaupt sent for him.

Weisshaupt is very near death. He's almost unrecognisable. He's no longer wearing the wig or the 18th century suit, but even taking that into consideration, he's changed. He has lost a huge amount of weight, his cheeks are sunken and his eyes slits. Interestingly enough he looked a lot like Professor Charles X Claremont.

He and Cerebus spar verbally and Weisshaupt accuses Astoria of pulling Cerebus' strings. Cerebus tells Weisshaupt he has not seen Astoria since he resigned as Prime Minister. For some reason Weisshaupt refuses to believe him. When Weisshaupt dies Cerebus will be the only extraordinary person left in Estarcion. Cerebus counters that with his belief that Weisshaupt is not extraordinary, he's a dying fool.

That's when Weisshaupt drops his first bombshell. Cerebus is not the only aardvark in Estarcion. There are two others. We probably knew there were other aardvarks. Cerebus couldn't be the only one, he had to come from somewhere, it's just that at this stage the reader knows next to nothing about his life before he rode into that dirt city and took on a job for two treasure hunters.

Cerebus demands Weisshaupt tell him where the other two are. At this stage Weisshaupt holds the cards, he is going to die very soon, what can Cerebus possibly do to him?

Weisshaupt reveals that he believes himself to be the great redeemer. Cerebus says that is just stupid, he's the Great Cerebus, the one whose coming has been foretold for centuries. This is when Weisshaupt questions the source of that information. Despite his current appearance Bran Mak Mufin is a primitive who wore a loin cloth and lived in a rabbit warren.

Cerebus asks Weisshaupt the answer to a question that has been bothering him ever since he first met the manipulator. The Roach told him not to stare at Weisshaupt's ankle. Cerebus wants to know what's wrong with his ankle. Even in his weakened state Weisshaupt has to smile. The Bug was under strict instructions not to stare at Weisshaupt's uncle, because, second bombshell, his uncle is Suenteus Po.

Cerebus demands to know where the other 2 aardvarks are. Weisshaupt still refuses. Cerebus backhands him and storms out. Weisshaupt lays on the floor, blood trickling from a cut on the side of his mouth, Cerebus' parting words of 'go to hell' echoing in his head and murmurs: 'I shall Great Cerebus...I shall.'

Despite how long the book had been running and how many people had died up to this point I felt this was the first truly significant death.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Larion Senators: The Eldarn Sequence Book 3

SPOILER ALERT! If you have read the 1st 2 books in the Eldarn Sequence: The Hickory Staff & Lessek’s Key, and wish to read on be warned this review contains spoilers. I’ll try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but do not wish to ruin anyone’s future enjoyment of the books.

After the tedium of Lessek’s Key I was hoping that the trilogies conclusion; The Larion Senators may provide the gripping conclusion that The Hickory Staff promised.

Unfortunately the early signs were not good. Of the various groups that had been focussed on in the series the least interesting tended to be the one containing the books main protagonist; Steven Taylor. Despite being the wielder of powerful magic Steven is remarkably bland and uninteresting character that I never built up any real attachment to. Most times when the action is with Steven, the cliched and increasingly boring Larion Senator Gilmour and the morose self loathing archer Garec this reader just wanted the story to move on.

Brexan was only covered briefly, she was used mostly as a vehicle to get Steven, Gilmour and Garec to where they needed to be to cross over from Eldarn to our world and ultimately defeat the evil that had first possessed Nerak and now taken over Steven’s best friend and room mate; Mark Jenkins. The idea of turning Mark from hero to villain was a good one, but was unfortunately handled in a confusing manner and the conclusion was not at all believable or satisfying. The subplot concerning Brexan and the spy Jacrys ended with the spy’s death, but I was left wondering why the whole episode was even in the books, because it added virtually nothing and was not relevant to the major plot thread. I got the impression it was possibly an idea that Jay Gordon had initially had, but unable to resolve before he passed away and Robert Scott did not feel he could cut it.

As usual the story built around Hannah Sorenson, the thief Hoyt and the other Larion Senator; Alen was the most interesting as those were the characters I connected best with. They had also added another cliche fantasy character; the unbelievably powerful and precocious child magician. This one’s name was Milla, although the three adults nicknamed her Pepperweed, after an Eldarni herb. Milla’s antics and the things she sometimes said also provided some much needed humour.

They tried to add another humourous character: a talkative and inept partisan, who also happened to be blessed with clairvoyance, I have to confess to liking Stalwick, despite the fact that he seemed to be totally unnecessary and his gift was underused, but the rather grim and humourless crew that he was with certainly needed some lightening and Stalwick did that effectively.

The last 200 pages brought this epic to a thrilling conclusion and gave it a happy ending that was all neatly tied up with a bow. I found the most frustrating thing about the books was the fact that at times there was some really good writing and evidence of a solid trilogy trying to break through, but overall the authors made too many mistakes and did not develop their characters or their world enough for this to happen.

If someone was new to heroic fantasy and wanted to get a feel for the genre The Eldarn Sequence may not be a bad place to start, it’s also an easy enough read if you don’t want to think too hard or explore much, but that type of reader may not want to commit to three books. Overall The Eldarn Sequence was a good try, but simply not handled well enough to entirely succeed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Terrible Analogies

A stunned Jaka says 'But you're the head of the Eastern Church.'
Cerebus reasons that he used to be the Prime Minister, too. Titles don't mean a lot to him, the power they give him does, though. To prove his point Cerebus spins and slashes a piece of the curtain off, he picks it up on the point of his sword and tosses it on the bed, Cerebus used to be a lot of things.

He's already planning the life he and Jaka will have, they'll take some of the gold he's acquired, get on a caravan going north east and set up a cabin in the Kota Mountains, just he and Jaka. He holds out his stubby little four fingered hand to Jaka, she won't take it, she's married. Cerebus tells her that he is still the Pope, he can dissolve the marriage.

Jaka starts to cry, she doesn't love her husband, but he's good to her and she can rely on him, not words one generally associates with the avaricious aardvark. Cerebus tells her that she doesn't love him, but she knows she loves Cerebus.

Jaka sits on the bed, puts her face in her hands and through her sobs tells Cerebus that she's pregnant. Cerebus is speechless. He tosses the sword aside and that's when Bran enters with the news that the Red Marches belong to Cerebus, his followers are poised to drive into...the words die on the smooth former tribe leader's lips as he takes in the scene before him. He apologises and retreats.

Jaka confesses that she's scared of starting a family, of losing her looks, of not being able to dance anymore. Cerebus stands in front of Jaka and tells her that she'll never be ugly. Just for a moment Cerebus isn't the former Presidential Candidate, he's no longer the former Prime Minister of Iest and he's not Most Holy, the Pontiff of the Eastern Church, he's Cerebus the Aardvark, a wandering freebooter who had just fallen hopelessly in love with the most beautiful woman he has ever seen; a tavern dancer who calls herself Jaka. They embrace and share a cry. Jaka kisses Cerebus on the forehead, just between his ears. One of the most beautiful pages Dave ever drew. Heartbreaking. They want so much to be together, but they never can, not really, not the way they want. If this was written just after Deni left then I'm not surprised that Dave is writing about his own fantasy. Jaka is as much Dave's perfect woman as she is Cerebus'.

Jaka says she has to go and Cerebus in a desperate attempt to extend the moment tells her to wait, to stay. He runs out of the room, telling Jaka to wait right there. He returns holding out a bag of gold for her and the baby. Jaka thanks Cerebus, but refuses the gift, Lord Julius will give her money if she really wants it and she wants to manage on her own as she always has, and then she leaves.

Snout pressed against the glass Cerebus watches her go. She stops, looks back and waves, Cerebus stands there waving at her until she's gone from sight. He sinks down against the wall and adopts the classic Cerebus post, knees drawn up, arms folded, snout between them, elbows resting on knees, scowling and thinks to himself 'Shit.'

You knew it was too good to be true.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Acquired Tastes

The news that Jaka is no longer single shocks Cerebus to his core. He climbs up on Bear and demands to know if it's true, Bear confirms it and Cerebus goes to see Jaka.

Jaka is a little different, still serenely beautiful, but she's cut her hair short and she is dressed demurely. When Cerebus enters the room she abases herself before him, murmuring Most Holy. An angry Cerebus tells her to get up and he goes to stare out the window. Dave is amazing in the way he can make Cerebus eyes look so alive and convey so much without words.

Cerebus turns and points at Jaka accusing 'You got married.' It isn't a question or a statement of fact, it is an accusation. With a smile Jaka replies 'So did you.' Cerebus explains that was different, he was drunk and then says that Sophia left him. Jaka says she's sorry, she didn't know. Of course how could she it only happened an hour ago, something that stuns Jaka when she hears it.
Cerebus flies into a rage, calling Sophia a slut, threatening revenge and breaking a vase by throwing it against the wall. Jaka tries to defuse the situation, but only seems to make the aardvark angrier.

Cerebus tells Jaka that as Pope he can dissolve a marriage...any marriage, intimating that he can annul her union. Cerebus grabs Jaka's wrist hard and growls that she said she wait forever for him. I couldn't believe Cerebus was doing it again! He has Jaka there and he's doing his best to drive her away from him. Once he lets go her wrist, after nearly breaking it Jaka shouts that she said she wait forever for him to remember, he DID remember and he never came back.

Cerebus has the grace to at least be embarassed by his behaviour then and now. Jaka remembers that first meeting, she thought he was a child pretending to ape her speech, she affected the accent herself, of course it is Cerebus' natural way of talking. When Cerebus told her he would kill a yak for her supper she thought he was the cutest thing she'd ever seen. He wanted to give her everything, he told her stories and wanted to share his life with her. Cerebus says that he still wants that.

After a silence Jaka says that now he's Most Holy he can't do that, it's not like he's an itinerant mercenary anymore. Jaka says she loves Uncle Julius (I can't get the impression out of my head that he's not her real uncle), but that everything around him is different because of the power he wields and she won't ever live that way again. Cerebus tells her to be quiet while he thinks.

Cerebus tears off his papal robes, goes behind a curtain, opens a drawer and then reemerges dressed in his vest and medallions, carrying his sword, the sword that Jaka reclaimed for him. He tells Jaka he is ready and says purposefully let's go.

I always wanted Cerebus to go back to the life of a sword for hire, ranging across the country, having adventures, but from the time he dragged his treasure sack into the lobby of The Regency and demanded a room it was just never going to happen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fascination And Fruition

Dave tried something different with the start. The title does not appear on the front page, it's some wonderfully intercut panels which show an awed Cerebus managing to climb off the pile of money bags.

Whilst backing up the stairs he runs into Boobah, who is carrying a pile of folded sheets that obscure his view, so the inept mercenary goes tumbling down the stairs to be followed by an enraged Henrot threatening to rend him limb from skinny limb, until she too trips over the retreating Most Holy.

Cerebus races up to his room to tell Sophia what has just happened, to find her packing. She tells him she's leaving. He asks why. Sophia says that she told herself she would if things didn't get better, they haven't so she's gone. Dave seemed to write a lot from personal experience and I wonder if this wasn't art imitating life. I think the timeline fits for when he and Deni's relationship fell apart.

Initially Cerebus calls for Bear to force Sophia to stay, but then tells him to forget it and stalks down to the cellar, where he pries open a crate of Borealan whiskey. Before the aardvark can get down to some serious drinking the glowing ball of light returns, and this time it isn't a false Elf.

This ball of light talks to Cerebus, it tells him that he didn't even like Sophia, so why did he want to stop her leaving? The one he really wants is dancing in the lower city. Jaka.

Cerebus sees Jaka, the way she was when he first met her and once again he bellows for Bear. The big mercenary asks what Cerebus wants him to forget about this time. Cerebus tells him to go to the lower city and bring him a dancer called Jaka, and he wants her in one piece.

Most Holy goes to the garden on top of the hotel to brood and wait and we readers get to once again appreciate Gerhard's brilliant backgrounds.

Bear returns and advises Cerebus that Jaka is waiting in the middle room of his suite. As Bear and Cerebus are going downstairs to meet Jaka Bear casually drops the fact that Jaka wanted to bring her husband.