This page collects recent BookReviews. Collecting them on a single page just did not scale well.
I’m interested in giving away old books!
These days I read a lot less books than I used to. I read too much blogs on the topic of role-playing games, too much time spent on Google+, also on the topic of role-playing games, I skim this role-playing book and that PDF, and since I’m mostly interested in the Old School Renaissance of role-playing games—namely D&D from the nineteen eighties—I also feel like I ought to like the books recommended by one of the founding fathers of D&D, Gary Gygax in his Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you’re interested, you should check out the articles in Martin Ralya’s blog tagged Reading Appendix N.
These books are weird. Compared with the The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire or Malazan Book of the Fallen, these older books are short. There are sometimes short stories, collection of short stories, novellas, or little paperback books. All of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian fit into two books of typical size for these fantasy series.
A while back, I remembered how eagerly I read all those Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I decided to find them all second hand, in German, on Amazon, and buy them for Claudia. Every now and the she reads one of them, interspersed with some Steven Erickson and George R. R. Martin. We start talking and comparing. There are two aspects I like about these books:
Tolkien may have started this dreadful fashion of telling multiple stories at once. But in his case, at least each segment was long, very long. When I read George R. R. Martin, I feel like the author is suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. Is every little segment ending on a cliff hanger? When I start noticing the literary devices, when I start to see the man behind the curtain, it doesn’t really work anymore. It starts to bore me. I start noticing that—like in Zeno’s paradox about Achilles being unable to overtake the turtle—as the number of segments increase, the time slot available decreases. As more stories are told in parallel, less actually happens. Plot is reduced to flashes and still images.
I am exaggerating, of course. In comparison with older books, however, I start to appreciate a tight plot, a unified vision, a drive forward. All the Conan stories stand on their own. They can be arranged in some sort of chronological order, but that’s not the important part. Similarly, the Darkover books can be read in any order. You get the occasional reward for regular readers. Older stories are referred to, but understanding this is strictly optional.
I was once again reminded of this when I read The Walrus and the Warwolf. It was published in Paizo’s Planet Stories line (now discontinued). I liked it very much. The book itself wasn’t short, but the chapters were short. The characterizations were short. Things happened. I felt that it incorporated not the best of literature, of language, of fancy words and synonyms and antonyms but it incorporated what is best in story telling. Keeping things short. Just enough words to let the reader’s imagination embellish it all without ever taking too long to read.
I’m hoping that I’ll like the other volumes in Hugh Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series. I’ve ordered many of the volumes second hand, via Amazon. I also ordered the four books that got translated into German. Perhaps Claudia will enjoy them as well.
I sometimes think that every type of media has its own way of telling a story. If you watch a movie, sometimes good movies have snappy dialog, visual splendor and a soundtrack. Books, on the other hand, have a vast array of characters, multiple parallel plot lines, a lot of details. When taking a story first published as a book and turning it into a movie, one needs to pay attention to these media preferences.
As readers, we learn to experience stories in particular ways, depending on context. I expect snappy dialog in movies. If it doesn’t deliver, I’ll note.
When it comes to Fantasy books, it seems to me that the books written have changed and our expectations have similarly changed. The Conan stories by Robert E. Howard were just short stories. Other people started to write novels. Successful novels got follow-up novels and got turned into a series. As a kid, I loved the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey and the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Every book was a self-contained story. Every story shared its world with all the other stories in the series.
As I grew older, expectations changed.
I wanted a lot of value for my money and that meant that I wanted thick books. I loved books with five hundred pages and more. I loved to read more about the people and places I loved.
The market went farther than that, however. Authors started telling epic sagas that required trilogies to tell. These trilogies got extended by appending another trilogy. I’m thinking of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, for example. Sometimes, I didn’t understand how trilogy after trilogy got added after the first. Hello, David Eddings.
What had happened? Authors no longer tried to tell the story of a single protagonist. I’m not sure where this all started. Was it The Lord of the Rings? It was published as a trilogy. It featured multiple protagonists. Their respective story lines diverged. The rest of the story was told using interleaved chunks.
I loved J.R.R. Tolkien but I did not get into David Eddings. I started to read less. I just could not keep up. The turning point was reached when Robert Jordan wrote The Wheel of Time. At first, I hated it. It seemed like such a cheap Tolkien rip-off. Then I started to like it. But when I reached book six I realized that there was another problem. The author just wanted to tell too many damn stories, all at the same time. He introduced more people, more plots, more stories, and in order to tell them, he started to interleave the shrinking segments more and more until I felt that the story had hardly progressed over a thousand pages.
And then he died. Ever since Robert Jordan’s death, the phrase “pulling a Robert Jordan” has turned into a short hand for a series that just keeps on growing and one has to fear that the author won’t live long enough to tell the entire story.
I have started to notice the same ennui with A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I think I stopped around book three. There just wasn’t any progress because too many stories were being told at the same time.
Recently I discussed this with some friends after we had begun talking about A Song of Ice and Fire RPG campaign and the latest book in the series, telenovelas and TV series like Lost and Six Feet Under.
It seemed to me that my expectations had fallen out of sync with what authors were publishing. I still expected stories to be self-contained. I was expecting a climax and closure.
The market, however had moved on. It seems to me that many successful authors now expect to keep adding to their corpus for as long as they live. Instead of reading a short story, a book, a trilogy, or a ten volumes series, readers are now expected to keep on sharing a part of their reading life with the living and breathing world of their favorite author.
In a way, I don’t mind. Perhaps the same thing is true with Arthurian romance. There’s the story of the love triangle, the grail and Merlin. But if you want to, you can add Tristram and Isolde. You can add Parcival. You can focus on Morgaine Le Fay. The older versions of King Arthur’s story is in the public domain and therefore anybody can add to the whole. People can rewrite, retell, edit, merge or highlight aspects of the whole. If you are interested, you can spend a part of your life with Arthurian romance.
I am a traditionalist in many things and I find this sort of explanation soothing. Spending a part of your life with an ever growing tree of related stories is not new after all.
Comics work the same way. You can spend a part of your life with Superman or Batman. A gazillion stories are told about the various protagonists. Sometimes authors change, sometimes there is a reboot (2011 DC Universe reboot). It’s all good (unless you are talking to nerds).
Perhaps I just have these two problems:
I cannot help but wonder if A Song of Ice and Fire would be more palatable if I could just read the various plots in separate books.
Sure, the main events of the story will be revealed in the first book, but it seems that spoilers don't reduce the reader's enjoyment of a book.
Wow, this post wasn’t short at all.
I wanted to add a final, role-playing related thought: I’m suspecting that there is a similar divide in expectations when it comes to typical campaigns. In one of my games the characters can have followers (Entourage Approach). These followers can earn experience as the older characters turn into NPCs (or die), players continue playing the followers. Thus, barring a TPK, the campaign can go on forever. My wife told me so: “I could keep playing in this campaign forever!”
It wouldn’t make a good book with a climax and closure, but it obviously is a good way to spend a part of your life with an ever growing tree of related stories.
Claudia hat vor einiger Zeit angefangen mit uns D&D 3.5 zu spielen. Gleichzeitig fing ihr Bruder an, in einer Bibliothek zu arbeiten. Plötzlich bekamen wir ganze Fantasy Serien geschenkt! Claudia begann wie wild zu lesen. Die Malazan Bücher von Steve Erickson, Eis und Feuer von George R. R. Martin, Eragon von Christopher Paolini…
Als sie mich nach Buchempfehlungen fragte, musste ich an die Zeit zurückdenken, in der ich Fantasy Bücher entdeckte. Ich muss so zwischen 10 und 14 Jahre alt gewesen sein, als ich den Herrn der Ringe und die Nebel von Avalon verschlang. Mein Mutter war mit jemandem befreundet, der hatte eine ganze Büchewand voller Perry Rhodan, Darkover von Marion Zimmer Bradley, Pern von Anne McCaffrey, Welt der Ebenen von Philip José Farmer, … Und ich hatte gerade eben wieder ein paar Buchempfehlungen online gesehen. Also habe ich mich hingesetzt…
Was wir uns also besorgen werden:
Ich war etwas enttäuscht, als ich merkte, dass die Bücher meiner Jugend nicht mehr aufgelegt werden. Aber Amazon Deutschland bietet ja einen ziemlich guten “Marketplace” an, wo man 2nd hand kaufen kann. Man muss in der Schweiz einfach nach dem ersten Anbieter suchen, wo das Wort “international” vorkommt.
Gerade habe ich ein paar Stunden online verbracht…
Gebrauchte Bücher kaufen rockt! :D 👊
Was ich auch empfehlen kann sind die Artikel von old school B/X Blackrazor Blogger JB zum Thema Darkover:
Was habe ich wohl gelernt? Vor allem eines: Ich bin damals zu einem beinharten Feministen geworden und nie mehr davon weggekommen.
Hierzu kann ich auch noch einen Blog empfehlen:
Uhm… Warum heisst die Seite eigentlich “Books” und nicht “Bücher”!? Ich war wohl überzeugt, ich würde wieder einen englischen Artikel zum Thema RPG schreiben.
Looking around for some books on medieval arms and armor – including details about polearms, and not necessarily with gaming application – I found the following books via Amazon. What do you think? Other books you want to suggest? Warnings? Is this series from St. Martin’s Press good?
Or start with some books from other lists? 
I got recommendations for Gary Gygax’s World Builder and The Palladium Book of Weapon and Armour via Twitter. What do you think of these?
What I really like about Scott’s campaigns (real name?) is his literary grounding. It seems that he picks a number of books that will act as inspiration for a particular campaign, and exclude all others. Here are his two lists:
So many unread books and so little time!
Update: It turns out that Zachary has been thinking of a very similar topic – instead of asking the per-campaign question, he just asks the per-judge question.
Update: Even more…
I’ve accumulated lots of points on BookMooch – more than 180 points at the moment. But I’m having two problems:
There’s a local exchange site here in Switzerland called Exsila. The problem there is that I have to assign a price to my books. While adding the book to your inventory, the site suggests to use the retail price (?), but I’m sure nobody wants to pay that much. This was easy for BookMooch: Every book is two points; sending outside your country is an extra point.
So what happened is that I entered a dozen books and looked at my listing. Ten of my books were listed as “best price” but two samples revealed that I was also the only one with the book in question. The two books were I was not “best price” seemed to be going for 10% or 20% of the price the system had suggested to me. Damn. Go back and edit those prices? Hope to score? Compare with Amazon?
Instead of reading the books for the English BookClub, I’ve been reading the series Malazan Book of the Fallen for a while now. I decided to take a break and read one of the pulp books I’ve been quietly collecting recently. Inspired by the review in the Grognardia Pulp Fantasy Gallery I picked The Broken Sword, where a human changeling raised in elven courts battles trolls and giants at the side of elven hunters, his human love, and faery gods. I’m approaching the end, and I really like it up to now.
I thought I was doing fine:
Points: 178.8 Books received: 37 Books given: 72 Feedback: +73
But today I saw this guy:
Books received: 5306 Books given: 4930 Feedback: +4931
A new delivery of books has arrived:
I really enjoyed the first volume of the Conan Chronicles. I was less enthusiastic about Black God’s Kiss by C.L. Moore. In fact I haven’t finished the last story in that book.
I am excited! And my collector’s heart also laments the fact that I already gave away some books in these two series via BookMooch:
Then again I also got some fantasy and science fiction books via the same service, so I guess it evens out.