Angelina Jolie as Maleficient


Angelina Jolie as Maleficient

I was very curious about the new Disney movie, Maleficient, so while we were in Novi Sad, we went to see it in a theatre. Basically this is Sleeping Beauty retold from the perspective of the Evil Fairy Godmother, although the movie tries to spin this as being the narrative of sleeping beauty at the end. I was not sure what the audience of the movie was supposed to be, but I felt the movie was pretty adult: the relationships and the motivations are certainly more complex, and more believable than the original animation.

The movie roughly follows the plot of Sleeping Beauty, with a lot of backstory: who is Maleficient, her relationship with the king. It somehow reminded me of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Sleeping Beauty happens in the background, and we are focusing on the evil fairy. Her crow becomes a real character, while the queen becomes pretty secondary, not that she was important in the original animation. I found Angelina Jolie pretty good as Maleficient, I loved Sam Riley as the crow, I was less convinced by king Stephan (Sharlto Copley).

Sadly I saw the movie was in 3D, which resulted in slight headache and did not bring much, I really wish Hollywood would stop with this idiocy. At least in Serbia they lend you the 3D glasses. The movie is not perfect, I found some of the battles tedious, and the three good fairies to cartoonish, they too could have used some more depth, still it was a good watch and a refreshing take on an old fairy tale.

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Infinity Blade II

Infinity blade – sakura garden

Another game given away for free on the fifth aniversary of the Apple app store is Infinity Blade II. Infinity Blade is a sword-fighting game, but its striking feature is the ridiculously gorgeous graphics. This is a game that runs on my mobile phones, but whose screen captures would make acceptable desktop pictures.

Infinity Blade II
Epic Games
iOSGame available on the Apple App Store

The game itself is not to bad, controls are pretty rough, all actions, parrying, striking, dodging, blocking and casting spells are done by taping or swiping the sword. The fight system is pretty classic: drain down the hit-points of the adversary and you get a finishing move sequence which is nearly as over the top as in Bayonetta. Besides the fights, there is a bit of moving around and clicking on boxes, enough to give some depth to the game, but not enough to make it a real exploration / puzzle game.

All in all a nice game, in particular when you consider it is now pretty old (it was released in 2011), and free.

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A young woman in a white dress wearing a red glowing ring

Eternal Vows

A young woman in a white dress wearing a red glowing ring

While I use technology a lot, I have only started using ebooks, mostly because my backlog of paper-book is sufficient to keep me busy for some time. Pretty randomly, I discovered that Eternal Vows by Chrissy Peebles was for free, so I gave it a try [spoiler alert, but hey!]. I read it on three devices: my laptop, my nexus 7 tablet, and my iPhone 5. The Kindle application on those various devices is not very advanced, lacking even basic copy-paste, but it works, the text, including the reading position in the book was synchronised between the devices. I had the feeling that screen pixel density has a very large impact on the reading experience, larger that the screen size. My laptop has 50 pixels per centimetre, the tablet 85, the phone 128.

Eternal Vows

ISBN: 978-1-4841-3167-1

I read quite a lot of fantasy books when I was younger, and the archetypical story is that a random young guy gets projected into some fantasy world, where he has various adventures. Eternal Vows follows the same basic structure, but the main character is a woman, pretty early in the story she puts on a magical ring that give her magical powers, but that she cannot get rid from, and she looks for a way back to her own universe.

The book is described as Paranormal romance and fantasy adventure on amazon, personally, I would describe this as non-geeky fantasy: while the text has all the superficial bits of fantasy, the fantasy part is quite secondary: neither the character not the author seem to actually care for it. After reading the book, I cannot really say much about the world the heroine entered, it is medieval, people speak and understand modern american, there is some kind of church, and there is some magic, reserved to an immortal elite.

Clearly I’m not the intended readership of this book, quite the opposite in fact, but it is pretty interesting to see this variant of the archetypical fantasy story. The main character, Sarah, is a scientist, but she does not work on something that would be mentioned in the American Scientific, instead she is looking for the Bigfoot, science is not really a driver for her, in fact she is just looking for her lost sister. Readers can rest assured that the book is pretty devoid of sciency bits after chapter 1.

Sarah is supposed to be the leader of a team, but her leadership skills are pretty low: she basically says no a lot, rolls her eyes, and tells reminds her team-member that she is paying them, while they are in another dimension with no way back. Besides that, she mostly agonises about the situation and does what the male character tell her to do.

The core plot point of the book, and I suspect the following ones, is that Sarah weds Victor, some immortal lord and puts on a magical ring that makes herself immortal and capable of magic. Her decision to do this is not of her own devising, but rather an idea of her sceptic journalist ex-boyfriend, Frank, who also got projected into this world.

While Frank is presented as a jerk, he seems to be the only character with some skills, he asks questions about the universe they are in, and organises a rescue for Sarah, and generally tries to do things. The central plot is basically Sarah being torn between Frank who is, as his names indicates, the honest good guy™, deep-down, and Victor, who is basically the immortal, century old, über-winner. Both guys are of course hot, but Victor more so.

Once the story went over the dimension rift and the wedding, it is just a sequence of chases with some interludes of bickering between Sarah, Frank and various members of her team, a lot of emoting is involved. They are helped by various locals, luck and the magical ring, which is a good thing, because Sarah and her team have the general skill level of lost US tourists, even when the author conveniently whisked away the whole language issue.

On the other hand, Victor, who is supposed to be a century old tyrant is not very good at recovering his runaway wife, once she puts on the magical ring, he is quite smitten over her, and tells her telepathically that he admires the fact she stood up against him (by accepting to marry him after less than a day in dungeon). So he basically follows her remotely in the pretty random quest Sarah sets herself up to at the end of the first book.

Generally this book reminded me of Alexia Tarabotti story I read (in French), and while I cannot claim that Gail Carriger’s writing is good (I read a translation), I found the style of Chrissy Peebles very weak. The plot, the character and the universe are pretty shallow, and even the emotions are underwhelming, a lot of them are thrown around, but given the uninteresting the characters are and how little they actually do, it is difficult to care, by the end of the first book, I really wanted Sarah to move with Victor and get over with it all… In conclusion an interesting read in the academic sense, but a pretty lame book.

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Three characters in front of an ornate ring, a man with glowing fire in his palm, a red-haired woman in armour holding a spear and a black haired woman with the same spear, but with wings a a glow on her brow.

I recently bought the first volume of the comic book Ravine by Stjepan Šejić, aka Nebezial and Ron Marz. This purchase was a bit curious for me: my interest in fantasy has waned with the years, and I tend to be picky about the drawing style. I had been following Stjepan Šejić on deviantart for some time and I really love his drawings, he has a style that is both detailed and energetic, his pictures reminded me of the art by or , basically the good covers of Dungeon and Dragons modules. Except Stjepan Šejić has this level of quality throughout each page of the whole album.

Ravine Book 1
Text: &
Illustration: Stjepan Šejić
Top-Cow Production
ISBN : 978-1-60706722-1

The universe seems like a mix of classical fantasy fare: a founding drama, lots of dragons, many humanoid races, a falling empire, a growing religion, and of course a malediction. The book starts with a map and there is a glossary at the end of the book, along with character and race descriptions. While this sounds very much run of the mill, this was clearly done with both passion and skill, the art is just gorgeous. More importantly, the story with its two chaotic main character is what makes the whole thing tick. Usually fantasy is extremely predictable, but this story seems to have the level of chaos of a RPG session but few of the conventions, making the story very interesting.

All in all a very interesting first book, and I’m curious to see where the second one will go, the sneak peeks on deviantart look promising.

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Cover of the Terry Pratchett Book 'Snuff' – Commander Vimes at the wheel of a paddle boat in a storm with a bunch of chicken fleeing.


Cover of the Terry Pratchett Book 'Snuff' – Commander Vimes at the wheel of a paddle-boat in a storm with a bunch of chicken fleeing.

Yesterday, I took the day off an spent the day at the Badi in Wollishofen. Badis are bathhouses on the lake of Zürich, with showers, lockers, a cafeteria, a nice taal tree and a box full of books. Although the box contains some Terry Pratchett books (Diggers, if I recall correctly), I had brought my own: a copy of “Snuff” that was lent to me by a friend. So I bathed and finished reading the book in the sun, and managed to get some sunburn, which is very astonishing because the weather was quite cloudy.

Snuff is a new adventure of Commander Vimes, of Ankh-Morpork fame, this time he goes on holiday in his wife’s country-side house, of course, there is a crime, and then something bigger, so the holidays are far from dull. While most of the action happens in the country-side, part of the action happens in Ankh-Morpork, so all the characters of the guard make at least a token appearance.


Double Day
ISBN : 978-0-385-61926-4

The book basically follows the classical recipe of recent Disk-world books, it is well written, and gripping and I enjoyed reading it. I found the shift of Vimes becoming old and respectable interesting, but the story basically fell appart once I put down the book.

First one can feel that Terry Pratchett is getting really old, I felt more dramatic tension in one posh dinners than in the fights, this reminded me of “A Civil Campaign” by , where the most dramatic moment was a family dinner going quite wrong.

Second, the character of Vimes is starting to collapse on his own weight, he now has a bazillion titles, he is the protégé of the Patrician, and since the book Thud! he has magical powers. All this power undermines the dramatic tension, as no-one really believes that anything really bad can happen to him or his family. A small part of the book is devoted to Vime’s internal struggles, but it is minor and felt like an afterthought. I think Sir Commander Vimes is starting to be way to much of a Mary Sue for Sir Terry Pratchett. I also found that the way Vime’s child is described feels a bit to much like an introduction, that we are soon going to get the adventures of Vime’s son.

Third, the parts of the story besides of the country-side where Vimes resides feel hollow and artificial. The whole Sergeant Colon sub-plot should either have been the center of the story or been removed, it just feels like some filler to justify having the other characters coming around. This also seems to be a trend with older authors, everything needs to become some kind of family reunion. Even Nobby Nobbs finds a girlfriend in the last chapter.

In summary Snuff is a pleasant read, showing that Terry Pratchet can do his usual tricks quite well, but it probably won’t leave any lasting impression once you finished reading the book. This is certainly not him at his best, the writing is good: but the story below it feel increasingly hollow.

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100 Fantasy Adventure Seeds by James 'Grim Desborough'

100 Fantasy adventure seeds

100 Fantasy Adventure Seeds by James 'Grim Desborough'

I could not stay in London without going to the Forbidden Planet shop. While I think the RPG shelf has seriously shrunk since the last time I went, I still found an interesting supplement: 100 Fantasy Adventures Seeds by James Grim Desborough. Meanwhile I realised it could also be bought in pdf format (with a different cover), still this is the kind of text I liked to have in a bound form.

The content can easily be guessed from from the title: each page contains a short scenario description, followed by three twists, an epilogue, and sometimes a few more notes. The scenarios in themselves are usually nothing special, and I could have though of most them by myself, but having them all together gives a very good source of inspiration. The idea of decoupling the core idea from the twists and the outcome is in my opinion very good, this helps clarify what is the narrative and what the characters can figure out during the game. As there a multiple twists per scenario, the game-master can even change his mind during the game, something I often do.

100 Fantasy adventure seeds
James ‘Grim’ Desborough
Cubicle seven / Postmortem Studios
ISBN : 978-1-907204-20-3

The setting used in the scenarios is fairly standard high fantasy, with a lots of magic and powerful gods, the back-cover contains the note: Warning: Mature Content, but there is not much to get excited about. I also suspect the author has something for undead creatures. References to non-human races (orcs and gnomes) are few, and thankfully there was nothing involving elves – for some reason scenarios that require elves tend to suck…

In conclusion, I found this an interesting read. If you are just after a few good ideas and don’t think of using this as a kind of reference, buying the online pdf would probably be a better option.

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Erdsee 4 Romane in Einem Band – Urusula K. Le Guin


Erdsee 4 Romane in Einem Band – Urusula K. Le Guin

Les habitués de ce blog auront remarqué que la légère schizophrénie linguistique qui hante ces pages. Aujourd’hui je vais parler, en français, d’une œuvre de science fiction américaine que j’ai lu en allemand. La raison principale est que j’ai la flemme d’écrire en allemand, et que mes lecteurs habituels sont plutôt francophones. Bref, j’ai acheté, l’année passée l’intégrale de Terremer d’Ursula Leguin dans la langue de Goethe pour 18€. Un achat plutôt avantageux lorsqu’on réalise à l’aéroport de Zürich qu’on n’a rien à lire pour un vol trans-continental. J’ai donc lu les deux premiers livres durant un voyage aux États-Unis, et les deux derniers durant mon périple nippon.

En commençant à écrire ce billet, ce qui m’a frappé, c’est que les trois livres précédents étaient eux-aussi écrits par des femmes. Je ne saurais dire s’il s’agit d’une simple coincidence ou d’une tendance. Curieusement, je n’avais jamais lu de roman complet d’Ursula Leguin, mais quelques nouvelles, éparpillées dans les anthologies «Histoire de…» en édition Livre de Poche. C’était donc une expérience un peu étrange de relire de la Fantasy classique avec vingt ans de retard.

Erdsee – 4 Romane in Einem Band
Urusula K. Le Guin
Serie Piper
ISBN 978-3-492-28523-0

Soyons clair, il ne s’agit pas du genre de médiéval fantastique dont le Boulet se moque fort bien, mais d’un cycle prenant et fort bien écrit. Pour quelqu’un qui aime la voile et la mer, le cadre est réellement sympathique et décrit avec soin. Les intrigues des différents livres ne sont pas particulièrement originales et les différents éléments on depuis été absorbés par la littérature fantastique, mais les personnages sont attachants et l’écriture élégante et efficace. En bref, un classique donc je recommande la lecture…

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D’aucun m’accuseront de faire du n’importe quoi lingui­stique sur ce blog, et ils auraient probablement raison. Astrópía est un film Islandais que j’ai regardé en version originale avec des sous-titres en allemand, il est donc parfaitement approprié que j’en parle en français. La bande annonce du film résume assez bien l’idée : une jeune femme blonde et super­ficielle voit son univers basculé quand son fiancé est arrêté pour escroquerie. Elle se retrouve à la rue et doit vivre chez sa sœur, et trouver un travail. Elle finit par trouver un poste de vendeuse chez Astrópía, un magasin de de comic book américains, d’anime et de jeux de rôles. N’y comprenant rien au jeu de rôles, dont elle hérite du rayon, elle participe à la partie organisée par le tenancier du magasin.

Astrópía est un film Islandais (motto Þar sem reglurnar breytast) qui se passe en Islande avec des acteurs du cru, l’actrice principale se prénomme Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir réalisé avec un petit budget. Si le scénario n’est pas très original, j’ai trouvé l’approche très fraîche et le style visuel très intéressant. Il mélange trois approches différentes, un aspect bande dessinée, une approche réaliste et une approche fantasy. L’histoire passe naturellement d’un style à l’autre. On retrouve à nouveau le mélange entre réalité et fiction que j’aime toujours. Bref un film très sympathique que je recommande à tout ceux qui ont de près ou de loin une âme de geek. À noter que le DVD en allemand contient les fichiers PDF des versions débutantes de trois jeux de rôles  : Cthulhu, Das Schwarze Auge (l’œil noir), et Shadowrun, ainsi qu’un petit jeu de rôle papier.

Some would claim that I’m doing a complete linguistic mashup with this blog, and they would probably be right. Astrópía is an Icelandic movie I watched with the original soundtrack and german subtitles, so it is only befitting that I review it in english. The tailer of the movie summarizes the movie quite well: a young blond superficial woman sees her world destroyed when her fiancé is arrested for cooking the books. She ends up in the street and has to live with her sister and find a job. In the end, she finds one at Astrópía, an RPG-comic-Anime shop. As she does not know anything about roleplaying games, she participates in a game organised by the shop owner.

Astrópía is an Icelandic movie (tag Þar sem reglurnar breytast) which happens in Island, played by Islandic people, including a lead actress named Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir. The movie was produced with a small budget. While the scenario is not very original, I found the approach fresh and the visual style compelling. It mixes three approaches: a comic book aspect, a realistic style, and a fantasy style. The story glides from one style to the other. The movie contains this mix between reality and fiction I really love. In short a very nice film I recommend to any person with some geeky soul. It’s noteworthy that the german DVD contains the PDF files for three roleplaying games Cthulhu, Das Schwarze Auge (black eye, a D&D clone that is very popular in Germany), et Shadowrun, and small paper game..

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Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles

Couverture Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles - ⓒ Didier Graffet

J’ai fini de lire Blanche Neige et les lance-missile de Catherine Dufour. Cela faisait longtemps que je n’avais lu de Fantasy française et ce livre a été une surprise intéressante. Le texte de présentation du livre donne d’entrée le ton :

Catherine Dufour est née en 1966. Elle a commencé à écrire des poèmes à l’âge de sept ans. Cinq ans plus tard, elle apprend que les poètes finissent tous trafiquants d’armes : elle jette ses poèmes et commence à écrire des nouvelles. Vingt ans et quelque prix plus tard, elle découvre Terry Pratchett, et décide de tout recommencer à zéro. Ainsi naîtra son cycle Quand les dieux buvaient (prix Merlin), qui l’a imposée, avec son roman de science fiction Le goût de l’immortalité (Prix Bob-Morane, Rosny aîné, prix du Lundi et Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire), comme une figure centrale de l’imaginaire actuel français.

Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles

Le Livre de Poche
ISBN : 9782253125402

Ce texte pose d’entrée l’intérêt et les problèmes de ce livre : ça n’est pas du Terry Pratchett. Le récit se place clairement dans la même catégorie du médiéval fantastique déjanté, et regorge d’idées fabuleuses. Expliquer l’antenne de Pleumeur-Bodou par une conspiration de fantômes télégraphistes bretons est à mon avis un coup de génie, la description du pays hors du temps à la fin du second texte est magnifique, sans parler du plan génial pour détruire le paradis à coup de coton hydrophile. En idées brutes, c’est réellement un chef d’œuvre. Plus d’une fois, je me suis dit, ça serait sympa dans un scénario Rêve de Dragon, ce qui m’arrive rarement ces jours.

Ça se gâte au niveau réalisation : Je n’ai pas été impressionné par le style d’écriture, que j’ai trouvé lourd et inélégant. On passe de descriptions élaborées à un style télégraphique en passant par le français ancien, mais les transitions semblent arbitraires et au bout de la cinquième fois, ça devient lassant. J’ai eu l’impression que toute ces manœuvres de style ne sont pas présentes pour soutenir la narration, elles existent par et pour elles-mêmes.

Ce qui nous amène au problème central du texte : les personnages. Il y en a beaucoup, trop et ils sont trop caricaturaux et abstrait pour qu’on s’investisse du point de vue émotionnel. J’ai tendance à facilement confondre les personnages, et dans ce livre j’ai été servi. Ce n’est pas que les personnages ne sont pas différentiés, mais ils sont nombreux et restent trop abstraits et dénués de motivations. C’est à mon avis la grande différence avec les récits de Terry Pratchet : l’investissement dans les personnages. On s’attache aux personnages du Disque-Monde, je n’ai rien ressenti de tel dans le monde de Catherine Dufour. La narration est trop détachée, trop distante. Le problème est accentué par le fait que la majorité des personnages sont passifs et la narration découpée en nombreux fils parallèles.

Le livre regroupe de fait deux textes assez différents, et j’ai trouvé que le second était de meilleure qualité : le style est plus régulier et les personnages mieux différentiés. Reste que le personnage central reste une femme écrivain qui passe toute l’histoire à ne rien comprendre et à se faire expliquer ce qui se passe par d’autres personnages. Les explications à l’intérieur du texte sont une alternative aux exposés du narrateur, mais il y a des limites. Mis à part ça, sur trois cent pages, elle frappe un démon avec une épée (sans effet) et vole un disque dur. Il faut qu’on m’explique pourquoi la fée dans ce livre s’appelle Cid et l’humaine normale s’appelle Mismas. À part embrouiller le lecteur, c’est quoi le but ?

En bref, Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles est un livre qui regorge d’idées brillantes mais qui souffre à mon avis d’un style écriture lourd et fouillis, ce que je trouve un peu décevant pour une figure centrale de l’imaginaire actuel français.

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Daughter of the Empire

Daughter of the Empire – Cover by Geoff Taylor

The way I read books can be quite random, some are finished a few days after I bought them, others can wait for years on my shelves. Daughter of the Empire, written by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts must probably be one of the books that stayed the longest in my shelves and boxes, unread. The book, and the the following ones in the cycle where given to me while I still lived in Lausanne, by a friend leaving for Japan after his PhD.

Daughter of the Empire could be defined as crypto-japanese fantasy: an fantasy empire where clans play a complex game of intrigue and murderous politics. In this world, society rules are strict and complicated. Still this is not Japan, the authors went to great length to invente some exotic world, with a lot of japanese sounding words for plants, animals and rules. The result is very strange for somebody who lived in Japan, this fantasy is in many aspects less exotic than the country it seems based on. I’m not a fan of books who define new words for plants or adds creatures of burden with six legs just for the sake of fantasy.

Daughter of the Empire
Grafton Publisher
ISBN : 978-0-58607481-7

The plot is very classical, the last daughter of an old but weak clan ends up in power, as her brother and father are killed in battle, she takes over the clan and tries to assure its survival. Nothing ground breaking, but a good read in the airplane nonetheless. The writing reminded me of Marion Zimmer Bradley, but in my opinion it is more readable, as the story spends less time on self-pity so I tended to identify with the main character, instead of wanting to slap her. I also found the descriptions somehow heavy handed, but this seems typical of this kind of fantasy the actual writing style and thinking process is very american, so a lot descriptions are added in to try to hide this.
In conclusion Daughter of the Empire was good read for the airplane, and definitely something worth considering for people who like classical fantasy – I will probably read the next volumes of the cycle – but this is nothing ground breaking.

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