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Roundabout and Under the Radar part 3

April 4, 2012
radar screen

In part 1 of this series, I explained that media we enjoy can come to us in weird ways. If we’re not in the right place at the right time (or just not paying attention), we’ll miss out on great stuff. I detailed some crazy ways in which I’ve come to love certain music. In part 2 I talked about movies. Here in part 3 I’ll wrap up by talking about books.

I’ve read a couple of the Dune books and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I never would have considered myself a fan of epic fantasy/sci-fi literature. In 2002, my then-girlfriend had just finished The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass. It is the first in a fantasy trilogy that rivals Tolkien and Martin in scope. Upon then-girlfriend’s eager recommendation, I read it, enjoyed it immensely, and ended up devouring the remaining books in the series (Enchanter and Starman) as well as the first book (Sinner) of a second trilogy that expands the story. This series is “hard fantasy,” meaning there are mythical beasts, demi-gods, magical powers, and enchanted what-have-you. I daresay it makes George R.R. Martin look like historical fiction. The story is so immense that it’s difficult to summarize, but it centers around Axis, a man of the fantasy world of Achar. Axis is the leader of the Axe-Wielders, the paramilitary arm of a ruling religious sect known as the Seneschal. As the story unfolds, Axis’ adventures reveal secrets about his past. Epic battles ensue, Axis discovers latent cosmic powers, and the landscape of Achar is changed forever. At the time, I normally wouldn’t have gone in for what many people dismiss as “that whole dungeons & dragons thing,” but Douglass’ world is so fully realized, with the politics, religion, and social classes so wonderfully detailed and realistically intertwined it really feels like you’re reading history. She manages a wonderful blend of Game of Thrones‘ intrigue and drama with a little more of Tolkien’s flair for myth and the supernatural. Let’s face it, Tolkien was not a master of character development; Douglass, frankly, shames him in this area. There’s also quite a bit of classic good vs. evil and intra-familial conflict à la Star Wars.

Speaking of George “RailRoad” Martin and Game of Thrones, those of you who are into podcasts (and Game of Thrones) should check out Boars, Gore, and Swords. It’s basically just two San Francisco Bay Area chuckleheads opining breathlessly about the HBO series (and later the source material.) I’m not a podcast listener. Other than a few episodes of WTF with Mark Maron and Judge Jon Hodgman, I’ve largely ignored the genre/medium. But right after HBO’s Game of Thrones first season wrapped, Boing Boing had a brief post about Ivan Hernandez’ and Red Scott’s hilarious, everyman analysis of the series and book. I was intrigued, so I subscribed in iTunes and had the episodes loaded onto my iGadget. I listen to them on my 45-minute commute to my day job and LOL often. They’re just so deliciously clueless, often mispronouncing characters’ names and holding forth on the sheer amount of blood and casual rape in George R.R. Martin’s epic story.

Fellow Tweedster Mark Matics has a pretty good eye for my taste in literature. When I expressed vague interest in a book I’d read about online, he lent me his copy. It was Karl Schroeder‘s Sun of Suns. Equal parts science fiction and swashbuckling, steampunk pirate adventure, Sun of Suns is about the world of Virga, a gigantic sphere filled with air and floating city-states. At its center floats Candesce the “Sun of Suns” from which all light, heat, and lesser suns are derived. The inhabitants live in zero- or micro-gravity, with only the wealthiest city-states able to afford to light their own suns and rotate themselves to create gravity. Sun of Suns is told from the POV of Hayden Griffin, a young revolutionary seeking revenge against the leaders of Slipstream, a city-state which absorbed his home nation of Aerie and, he believes, murdered his family. Hayden later finds himself in the company of Venera Fanning, the headstrong wife of the admiral of Slipstream’s navy (in Virga, all vehicles are either rocket-powered “bikes” or dirigible airships). Hayden and Venera join in an adventure to seek a lost key that will give Slipstream the immense power of being able to shut down Candesce at will. The second book, Queen of Candesce, changes POV to Venera as she lands in the distant and bizarre city-state of Spyre where she must assume the identity of a long, lost noblewoman and challenge the existing political structure and escape before her identity is discovered, all while keeping secret the fact that she still has the key to Candesce. The third book, Pirate Sun, switches POV again to Venera’s husband, Admiral Chaison Fanning, as he adventures his way back to Slipstream after his ship is destroyed by their totalitarian rivals, Falcon Formation, in the first book. Sun of Suns is very Errol Flynn, Queen of Candesce is much more political intrigue and diplomatic drama, and Pirate Sun has elements of Mad Max as Fanning finds himself responsible for helping an entire city-state fight back against an aggressor. Schroeder has a knack for describing the mechanics behind living and getting around in a zero-gravity world without getting too technical (and boring.) I devoured these three books and eagerly seek the fourth, The Sunless Countries, and fifth, Ashes of Candesce, and I owe it all to taking a chance on my friend Mark’s recommendation.

Again, I encourage you, dear reader, to experience as much as you can and seek the opinions of everyone around you. Great art will come to you, I promise.

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