Sunday, 28 April 2013

PokéJournal: Update 014

-I’m back in the game; it's time to beat Team Rocket and put an end to their radio signal conspiracy. Their
plan to force Pokémon to evolve is nothing short of cruel and I won't stand for it!!

-More importantly I want to beat Team Rocket so I can get another gym badge! I just want to advance in the game play. I feel like I haven't progressed a lot lately.

-Poké battle! I normally use my starter to fight any other kind of Pokémon, regardless of type and ability. Sometimes I forget I can't use the same barbaric strategy with my other Pokémon. If applied to the rest of the party, some of the Pokémon will nearly faint or completely faint. Case in point: Heracross vs. Zubat is a stupid fight. Poor Heracross has four HP!

-I need a card key! Where to find it, where to find it? Oh, I know, the one option you have while facing a gang of thugs in a tower: up!

-I find the radio tower Director on the top floor. It's Petrel impersonating him. I should have known! Slimy Team Rocket loser! Naturally I defeat him. He didn't make it easy for me, though. He's got a full party and he uses a lot of Weezings and Koffings. All my Pokémon keep getting poisoned and it’s frustrating. Growlithe was a little trooper and defeated five of those poison puffballs. His HP sucks, but he's a tough little guy.

-Petrel gives me a basement key which isn't the key I'm looking for but it will, hopefully, lead me to the key I need to put an end to Team Rocket's tyranny.

-Perfect timing, Craphat shows up and challenges me to a battle. Yay for good experience points! Because my Pokémon are awesome, Feraligatr makes Meganium faint in two hits. Type disadvantage, you say? Ha! I laugh at your puny dinosaur and flower themed Pokémon. Ah ha ha!

-All these battles are making a dent in my status healing items. I could walk to and from the Poké Center but I'm too lazy. I'd rather stock up at the Poké Mart later. It's conveniently opened 24/7, even on Holidays! I'll have to make a special trip to go buy more Moo Moo milk though.

-Stop poisoning my Pokémon! Blah! I'm getting tired of this. Stop fighting dirty Team Rocket. Oh, never mind.

-Finally, I find a hidden item. It's a Max Potion, booya!

-Over in the adjacent hallway, I find another hidden item. It's a Revive. Mega sweetness. The Dowsing Machine in Heart Gold is far superior to the one in Platinum. I really like it.

- I found the real Director. I'm comin' to kick your ass, Team Rocket lieutenants! After I heal my Pokémon, of course.

-Yes! I found an Amulet Coin! When the Pokémon holding the Amulet Coin enters a trainer battle, you get twice the prize money. Where was this item at the beginning of the game when I had money troubles? Nowhere!

-I’m in a warehouse now and I'm looking for hidden items. Found an Antidote, a Super Potion, and a Parlyz Heal. It's been a good haul for hidden items today.

-I easily defeated two of the three Team Rocket Executives. I've only got one more to go, Archer. He sends out a little Houndour. I've got Heracross as my lead which is good because of the Amulet coin but bad because Houndour has a major type advantage. I switch him out for Feraligatr who makes short work of the little fire dog with Surf. Archer then sends out Koffing. Poisonous jerk. I hate those floating bastards. Again, I use Surf and it takes him out in one shot. Archer sends out his last Pokémon, Houndoom. At level 38 it's a breezy battle. Again, Surf takes him out in one hit. Houndoom's fast though so before Feraligatr got a chance to use Surf he had already received damage from Faint Attack. Not a problem since barely a quarter of damage was done.

-The Director shows up and gives me a Rainbow Wing as a reward. It seems to be connected to one of the legendary Pokémon (you can guess which one).

-I’m flying to Mahogany. Next time I'll be walking to the next town. I still need to go back to the Safari Zone and pass the second test. Once that's done I'll be able to catch some better Pokémon. I would really like a Larvitar.

Pokémon caught: None.
Pokémon traded: Tons! More on this later.
Gym Leader defeated: None.
Fights with Craphat (Rival): One and I beat him. His starter Pokémon is weak sauce.
Evolutions: None.
Pokémon in party: Same as always.
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at 40.
Lowest level in party: Pidgeotto at 30. It’s not Sandslash! What’s going on? Again, more on this later.
Pokédex: 95.
Time played: 36:39. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Concrete volume 01: Depths review

Concrete is the superhero comic that could, but chose not to. I’m so impressed that Paul Chadwick deliberately chose to take his comic in a different direction. Let me explain. Concrete, I’ll call him Ron (his real name), is a seven foot tall creature with a thick skin of concrete which makes him very resistant to physical stimulus. Ron became this way after being abducted by aliens who transferred his brain into a new, concrete, body. His new body made super strong, extremely resistant, and it also gave him the ability to perform great and seemingly impossible feats for even the most extraordinary human. Sounds like a superhero origin, doesn’t it? And it is, but not quite. Well, it could have been. Ah, the more I think about it the more impressed I become of what Paul Chadwick has accomplished.  

In Chadwick’s introduction, he mentions that following his initial inception, Concrete was mistaken to be a superhero comic. People would ask him who Ron would fight next. Exactly how Chadwick was able to resist doing just that, writing a superhero comic, in the American comic industry in the 80s is beyond me. Not only that, but there is an interesting and even enjoyable environmental message that can easily be found within the pages of Concrete. I say it’s enjoyable because it feels heartfelt and real as opposed to forced and preachy like is often the case in fiction that deals with social concerns.

Concrete is a realist comic masterpiece. Paul Chadwick makes his comic a realist work by treating Ron and his exploits as if they were real. How would the government react to a concrete man who is in this state after surviving an encounter with extra-terrestrials? Would he still be considered a man? How would you give Ron his freedom without causing chaos and mass speculation from the populace? More importantly, how is Ron going to live his life? What can he do? What should he do? So many people would have written Concrete as a superhero. His origins are practically begging for it, but Chadwick decides to go in another direction and I can my express how glad I am that he did so. Ron decides to undergo several nature expeditions and write about his exploits like his childhood heroes did (I can’t remember their names but they’re famous explorers and adventurers who wrote about their exploits). To do so he hires an assistant (Ron can’t write or type with his giant hands) and they, accompanied by Maureen Vonnegut (no relations) travel to different parts of the world. 
I'm very impressed how Chadwick depicts the dark
 waters of the ocean in the middle of the night using
nothing but black ink on a white page.

I could not stop thinking of Concrete as a deliberate non-superhero work despite it being seemingly created for such a genre and in a market dominated by long underwear. Simple, real world things take on more meaning and weight than the most fantastic and imaginative superhero stories. In one of the stories, Concrete fights a bear and his thoughts are if how terribly scared he is of this common forest animal. It surprised me. Ron is huge and strong and nigh indestructible, but a bear, something arguably weaker than he is, terrifies him. In a different comic, a superhero comic, the hero would have thought little of a regular bear. Many heroes are forever changed by their powers. It's not the same for Ron. If anything his body has allowed for him to be who he really is. He's a pudgy boy who used to dream of adventures and daring do. This new body allows him to live those dreams but he does it with the sensitive approach of someone who, despite his current indestructible state, is very aware of the dangers.

There’s another example of Ron’s identity and how it’s not changed after acquiring his new body. A friend of his asks Ron to come to a nude beach with him and his girlfriend. Ron declines because it would make him uncomfortable. His friend points out that Ron, in his concrete body, is always naked. The reason he would be uncomfortable is because he feels he would be caught looking at other people's nude bodies and because he would never had done this before he became concrete giant. How Chadwick resists the temptation of having his main character resist the changes to his identity following his incredible transformation is just another impressive and surprising touch that adds a lot to the story.
Its because of pages like this one that
people thought Concrete was a
superhero comic.
More strange science fiction. Somehow
Chadwick makes it fit with the realist
tone found in the rest of the series.

One of the things that greatly contribute to Concrete being so good is that Chadwick’s art is very good. Not only does he have a strong grasp on the narrative flow of a comic book page, he also has a mesmerizingly good realist art style. The art is all in black and white. Some people have a difficult time reading black and white comics but I don’t mind. I prefer to read a comic in whichever format it was originally intended. I’m not a fan of older comics being recolored for a new printing or of coloured comics being printed in black in white. Here, the art is characterized by the stark contrasts between the white page and the black ink. You’re guaranteed a stunning panel or even an entire page every few pages you turn. A particular moment, when Ron is swimming in the Atlantic at night surrounded by phosphorous plankton, is absolutely stunning. Chadwick’s realist style captures the beauty and mystery of nature as well as it captures the facial expressions and body language of his human (and concrete) characters. At his best, Chadwick’s art reminds me of the Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert, of Love and Rockets fame. This is high praise since the Hernandez brothers are some of my favourite artists. At worse, however, his art still shows a young artist learning the subtleties of his craft.

This comic is for everybody. It’s for superhero comic fans that are looking to shake things up a bit. It’s for avid comic readers who don’t limit themselves to certain publishers or genres. It’s also for people who generally don’t read many comics at all. There’s something here to please every type of reader. I only have suggestion, take your time, savour it, because before you know it you’ll be looking at the last page of the book wishing the second volume was close at hand so that you could continue reading Concrete
Not only is this a great image on it's own,
it also demonstrates Chadwick's skill as a writer.

Concrete isn't Superman. He's can be hurt,
his leg get be nearly completely blown off. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

PokéJournal: Update 013

This is such lazy design. It's a tad
better than it's pre-evolution, Seel,
but barely.
-Wow, it’s been so long since my last PokéJournal update. The last PokéJournal was posted on the 17th of March, that’s more than a month ago. I’ve published 12 other posts since then! Four of them were posts I made after reading novels. I’ve also moved cities and started a new job since then. How is any of this relevant to Pokémon Heart Gold? Well, it’s been so long I have no idea what I was doing when I last played! Good thing I’ve written these PokéJournals, I’ll be caught up in now time!

-So, I just finished reading all the PokéJournal updates. How do you guys read that crap? It’s less fun reading them than it is writing them (impossible!)! Also, I’m terrible! I haven’t had one easy gym battle since the very beginning. Boy, I need a Pokémon coach. Double Boy, I need a life coach. I’m twenty-two and I’m still playing Pokémon? Ah well, it’s not so bad, I’ve got a level 39 Feraligatr, YEAH!

-First things first, I’m off to fight Pryce at the Mahogany Gym. What a way to shake off the rust and warm up the muscles, eh? By beating an old man and his equally old Pokémon to a pulp. If that doesn’t put a smile on my face, I don’t know what will.

-Pryce has one of those fun ice floors in his gym. Sweeeeee! I hope I have as much fun fighting him as I did sliding around on the floor. My friend Keith warned me Dewgong is going to heal itself over and over. I’m hoping Ampharos will be able to zap it to death in a few hits as possible.

-Why is there a snowboarder in here? The floor is ice and, more importantly, it’s flat. I hope he’s not looking forward to hitting the slopes because there aren’t any for miles and miles around. Loser. Dude should be wearing skates.

-While fighting the snowboarder, I discover that Heracross is a Swinub fighting machine. I haven’t played in so long I forgot what types my Pokémon are useful against!

-Two Swinubs later, Heracross has levelled up. Yup, turns out I’m pretty good at this Pokémon training thing. Bring it on, Pryce!

-Great, the other trainer is a skier! These two have clearly been out in the cold for too long. Their brains have frozen solid and they’re completely delusional as to where they can practice their downhill winter sports.

-Sweet, my Growlithe just levelled up. Seriously guy, I’m a pro.

This dude is as weak as he looks.
-Ugh, a trainer sent out a Dewgong. Listening to Keith’s advice, I paralyze it with Thunder Wave. The only problem is that Dewgong attacked first and used Encore or some silly attack and now Ampharos is stuck doing Thunder Wave over and over. Note to fans: using Thunder Wave more than once doesn’t make the opponent “more paralyzed”. It’s a waste of PP. Stupid Dewgong.

-SIX! SIX EFFING ENCORES!! I’m gonna kick that Dewgong’s tail!!

-One Thunder Punch later, Dewgong fainted. Let’s have a moment of silence and remember the bravery with which Dewgong battled. Undaunted by its severe paralysis, Dewgong endured. You only encounter such brave Pokémon once in a -- Sweet! Ampharos levelled up! Thanks for the boost Dewgong, ya sucker!!

-I’ve fought all five trainers and there is only Pryce left. For all those fights, other than the first one, I used Ampharos. I’m somewhat concerned about PP for the oncoming battle. Especially since Dewgong is apparently going to heal itself over and over. I’ve got a feeling this might be a little tough. We’ll see.

-Since I’m not idiot, and also because I’m rusty, I’m saving the game before challenging the old fart. I’ve also established a good strategy in case Ampharos runs out of PP: kick the dinosaur’s cane out from under him, steal a badge and my TM and slide all the way out of there. Here’s hoping the skiers and snowboarders don’t have time to step out of their bindings before pursuing me and I get off scotch free. Better yet, maybe my Pokémon will be awesome and I’ll have an easy victory. At this point, either option is good in my opinion.

-I defeated Seel in one hit, using Thunder Punch. Pryce is sending out Piloswine and so I’m sending Heracross. Kick him in the tusks, Heracross!!

-After one Brick Break, Piloswine is in the red. He hits back and Heracross is still well in the green. She does another Brick Break and Piloswine slumps over, utterly defeated. Bring on the Dewgong.

-I send Ampharos back out, planning to use the type advantage to my advantage. Dewgong attacks first with Aurora Beam. A bit of damage is done. Ampharos paralysis the poorly designed Dewgong and I get Ampharos to use Charge. I’m hoping one more hit will give me my victory. Dewgong is still paralyzed and I used Discharge. It’s a one-hit KO guys. Keith, you’re a wimpy trainer for having to deal with Dewgong healing nearly a dozen times. Clearly I haven’t lost any of my skill as a trainer.

-As soon as I step out of the gym, Prof. Elm calls me. It seems Team Rocket has taken over the radio broadcast tower in Goldenrod. Guys, I don’t have time for this, I want to go back to the Safari Zone and do my second test. Then again, that can wait. Let’s get some Pokémon training done. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some hidden items at the broadcast tower. Yes, yes. Hidden items are great. Even the items I’ll never use are great because I can sell them. Money, moneeeeyyyyy!

-Haha, I started to walk to Goldenrod when I remembered Pidgeotto knows how to fly. Oops!

-I got to the radio tower but the TR grunt doesn’t want to let me in! I’ve got to find a TR uniform and sneak in. Where the heck do I go for that? I run around town, jumping in and out of buildings trying to find a costume. I find one in the Goldenrod tunnel. I look as suave and evil. Mwahahahahaha!

-The same TR grunt lets me go up the tower this time. Too bad he couldn’t have done it without hitting on me “You look good in that uniform.” Well, had I known all I needed to do was flirt with him to get access to the tower; I would have done it long ago. Stupid grunt is wasting my time!
It's a buffalo without a body! This
is as lazy a design as Dewgong, but
I can't help but like it anyway. 

-Craphat shows up and ruins my disguise. The TR grunt is upset that I fooled him and so he challenges me to a fight. Come on, my wheels are spinning in the mud here guys, I just want to go up in the tower!

-Somehow Ampharos levels up again. It’s not even holding the experience share. What a strong trainer I am!

-The next grunt I fight has five Rattata. I send out Pidgeotto to train him up a bit and I use his only good attack, Fly. It takes an extra turn to defeat them all but it’s essentially a one hit KO for every Rattata. It’s good training.

-Pidgeotto is more or less out of commission. He got poisoned after fighting two Grimers and I just don’t feel like spending all my money healing him up. I gave him an antidote and he’s just going to chill out in his Poké ball at 7 HP. I put Heracross as my lead because she’s tough.

-I cleared a whole floor and I think that’s a good place to stop for today. Next time I’m taking down Team Rocket and freeing Goldenrod City of their tyranny.

Pokémon caught: None.
Pokémon traded: None.
Gym Leader defeated: Pryce. I kicked his prune-y ass.
Fights with Craphat (Rival): None, but I did discover he has a crush on Lance.
Evolutions: None.
Pokémon in party: Feraligatr, Ampharos, Growlithe, Sandslash, Pidgeotto and, Heracross.
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at 39.
Lowest level in party: Sandslash at 22.
Pokédex: 84.
Time played:  31:04

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Legend of the Drunken Master Q&A review

I’m doing something different with this review. I have a little helper with me this time. Lisa is my sister in law and she’s pretty young, only 11 years old. We watch a lot of movies together and we discovered not too long ago that she, just like me, enjoys watching Kung Fu movies.

Hi Lisa, thanks for watching Legend of the Drunken Master with me. Did you know this is my favourite Jackie Chan movie?

No. I feel like I’m on a talk show where people have their little notes and they’re asking questions. I asked Lisa the questions out loud and I’m writing down what she says.

Did you like the movie? If yes, what did you like about it? I no, what did you not like about it?

Yes, because there’s lots of funny parts and stuff and there was action. That’s what I liked about the movie.

What was your favourite part of the movie?

My favourite part is where he gets off the train and starts fighting drunken with the guy with the long staff.

So when the action started?


What did you think of the action? Is Jackie Chan good at Kung fu?

He’s very good at Kung Fu! The action was very good. It was exciting! You never know what’s going to happen next. You just want to keep on watching.

I know you like Kung Fu movies in general. What is it you like about them?

I like their funny accents. I like their facial expressions. It’s not something you see every day. It’s different. I like how they do their faces when they get punched, it’s all screwed up. I especially like Jackie Chan’s faces. It was really funny when he burped those bubbles at the end.

Would you say Jackie Chan is your favourite Kung Fu star?

Oh ya! He’s hilarious! That’s what I love about him.

Do you have a favourite Kung fu movie? I know we haven’t watched too many together, but from what we’ve seen.

Not the one we watched today, but the other time. The lady who smoked …

Kung Fu Hustle? The Funny one?


Would you recommend this movie, Legend of the Kung Fu Master, to someone else? Would you recommend it to someone who doesn't watch Kung Fu movies?

Yeah. I would recommend it to someone who doesn’t watch Kung Fu. It’s really funny and it would make them happy. Plus, if you’re not a person who likes a lot of action, there are funny scenes in it too.

Did you like the story or just the action? I think his step mom was pretty funny. Jackie Chan is funny too.

I like the story. Can I say both? I like both.

Do you think he really got drunk while filming or was he just acting? Haha!

Lisa laughs. I don’t think he was drunk. I could see his facial expression, he wasn’t drunk.

Is there anything else you want to discuss about the movie? Do you think your dad would like this movie? What about your sisters and your mom?

My dad would like it. Not my mom. She’s not into action movies like that. My dad would like it because he watches a lot of action movies. My sisters wouldn’t really like it.

What did you think of the idea of drunken Kung Fu? Don't you think it's a clever and funny idea that by drinking alcohol you loosen up the body and numb pain, two qualities that make you a better fighter? Do you think that would work in real life or is this just movie magic?

I think it’s just, like, a part of the show. Not something you could do it real life. I don’t think it would work.

What kind of Kung fu action do you like most: real stunts like Jackie Chan does or computer generated action like it Kung Fu Hustle? Can you also explain why?

Me I like Jackie Chan stunts. Because the computer stuff it looks all fake. When you look at Jackie Chan movies you know that he did all that. It’s kind of cool that he did all that.

Did you like all the Chinese stuff? The village, the houses, the clothes and all the rest? It's pretty cool, eh? I always enjoy seeing how other people live. Different traditions and cultures are pretty cool. I'm not sure if I could eat the same food as them all the time, haha.

Yeah I liked that culture. I’m really into stuff like that. I like their dresses and the village and stuff like that. It would be fun to be in that culture. Do the same thing they do and know how to do Kung Fu. You know you could have great, great grandparents that did Kung Fu and they teach you how.

Would you like to go visit China?

I’d like to go visit China. It’d be really fun.  And plus the stuff that you do over there you wouldn’t do the same thing in Canada. You wouldn’t do that every day.

What did you think of the dad being mad at his son? Do you understand why he was mad?

I understand why he was mad, I don’t understand why he was beating him up with the stick. You can see Jackie Chan was already in pain and bleeding from his nose and he was already drunk and he didn’t know what was happening . . . right?

Right. In the end though, he seems to have learned his lesson and he’ll only use his Kung Fu to defend things that are important for him and the village.


What did you think of Jackie Chan doing all of his stunts? He does some ridiculous stunts in this movie. He does crazy acrobatics, gets set on fire, he dodged big heavy barrels of sand, he crawled across a fire pit and other stuff too!

It’s pretty cool. I know I couldn’t do that and it’s cool to see someone else do that. It’s pretty darn amazing. And it’s pretty darn insane!

Well thanks, Lisa. I enjoyed watching Legend of the Drunken Master again and I’m glad I could share it with you. We’ll have to watch some more Kung Fu movies together, I think. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Blog Fantastic 004 - Dark Moon review

I've read a few David Gemmell books before, his Troy trilogy and Legend, the first of the Drenai series. I quite like him. His stories weren't filled with magic; he seems to prefer writing in the military fantasy mode. It’s been a few years since I last read a book of his but I don’t remember any other fantasy creatures and races in his books. Legend was a clean cut military fantasy novel dealing primarily with a siege and the battles surrounding it. His Troy trilogy, despite dealing with the story from The Iliad, didn’t deal with many creatures although there was a lot of talk about gods. Again, all three books focuses on military campaigns and those involved with the conflict. Whatever role magic played in those books, it was small. That’s definitively not the case for Dark Moon.

Based on the books by Gemmell I have read, his writing excels at fighting scenes and descriptions of violence. He’s also very good at writing warriors and other characters who deal with war be they healers, politician or other. Gemmell also has a good grasp on strategy which is an important skill to have since all five books of his that I’ve read deal with a military conflict of some sort. He’s also good at writing believable and interesting characters without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary information. His characterizations are quick and unburdened. In short, I’ve read books by David Gemmell in the past and I’ve really enjoyed them. I have no clue why I haven’t read more until now.

With Dark Moon Gemmell offers us a standalone fantasy novel, something few people can and have written. It's understandable why, so much world building goes into it that I can see why an author would like to write a story set in a universe they create without it being a universe they created from the ground up specifically for one story. The other problem with world building seems to be that some others things more is better. More detail translates into more books necessary to develop the world in the entirety of the author's vision. Gemmell doesn't seem to care about the amount of detail in Dark Moon. Instead he focuses on character and story. If the details of the world he created aren't necessary to the story they're left out. However, the elements he kept feel familiar her fresh. 

The book starts during the seventh year of the War of the Pearl. The Pearl is now in the hands of one of the four Dukes but the senseless war continues to be waged. The Duke in possession of the Pearl, an artefact belonging to one of the three Ancient Races, unknowingly unleashes an evil upon the world which long ago had been imprisoned by the Eldarin. A war that was being fought for greed and selfishness turns into a war for survival against the ferocious Daroth. Gemmell leads us through the conflict from the point of view of several interesting characters and all are profoundly affected by the situation taking place in the land of the four Dukedoms. The novel is permiatted with a deep sense of unknown and a possibility of change. Most of the characters are deeply changed by the novels end. None of the character development is reached by means of lazy storytelling, it’s all deserved.

Gemmell begins his book by introducing fascinating character with Tarantio and Dace who are two souls sharing a body, or at least that’s how it seems. The story only begins to solidify dozens and dozens of pages later. The author makes it clear that well developed characters will be a defining element of the novel. Tarantio’s unique relationship with Dace completely enthralled me as did the relationship of other characters later on in the book. Karis, the independent field commander, was particularly enjoyable to read about it. She has difficulty interacting with other people but in no way was this harmful to her development in the book.

The Complexity of War in Dark Moon:
One of the best things about Dark Moon is Gemmell’s meditation on war. It’s absolutely fascinating and it’s a subject he writes about with clarity and ease. By focusing his writing on characters and story, Gemmell is able to display various points of view and philosophies of war through most of the characters in the books. Very few of them share an opinion of war; a clear indication that war is as sensitive an issue in this fictional world as in our very own.

War is a complex issue and simple solutions rarely exist. Gemmell is clearly aware of this and he doesn't attempt to simplify the issue. Tarantio, although he doesn't like war nor approves of it, is opposed to Duvodas's peaceful philosophy. Like the golden skinned Oltor of old, Duvidas refuses to fight. To do so is to go against one’s nature according to Tarantio. He disapproves of war but also disapproves the total absence of fighting. Does Tarantio only believe in fighting for certain causes? Perhaps it's acceptable to fight for the defence of something important such as your beliefs or your way of life? If that is true could there be such a thing as a justifiable war? Tarantio's disapproval of the War of the Pearl is not reflected in his acceptance of the necessity of the war with the Daroth which is quite literally a war for the survival of the human race. Gemmell's decision not to simplify war and to discuss it intelligently with his reader is appreciated and it’s one of the book's strengths.

Gemmell seems to be indicating that war is a foolish undertaking by grown men who are really just children. The reasons for going to war are rarely, if ever, good reasons. He judges these decisions based on the negative outcomes that come with armed battle. Take a look at his main protagonist. Tarantio is a peaceful man. More often than not, he's engaging in combat in self-defence or in the protection of someone else. Yes, he is a warrior and he's paid for waging war but he takes no pleasure in it. When you consider Dace, he's very much the opposite. He relishes the feeling of killing someone, often time playing with his prey. Violence is the air he breaths and blood the water that sustains him. He's animalistic in his ways and it shows through his action and his desire for violence. Like and animal or a child he bases his actions on his instinct and his desires. By characterizing Dace in this way, Gemmell is also informing us of the type of people who engage in armed conflict. They too are children in adult bodies, waging war out of greed and pettiness. Tarantio mentions at one point that if he war ever ends his wants to become a scholar and by doing so he can benefit the world.

Albreck, the Duke of Corduin also feels like war is an exercise in futility. He is forced however to leave one war in order to engage in another. This second war, the war with the Daroth, is one for survival. This doesn't erase the fact that it is still a war, violence, loss and death abound but what else can be done? With the warring dukes, there remains a chance, however so slight, that peace can be brought on by negotiations. No such hope exists with the Daroth who are but a nightmare brought to life.

Gemmell makes us think of war and without necessarily a great deal of effort convinces us of that it’s a horrible thing. He then forces is to assist a new war in which none of the characters had much if any hope to survive. It’s a bit cruel but it helps to deepen our appreciation of the price the people must pay in order to obtain peace in a situation where military conflict is inevitable. Two options are given, fight or die. It seems clear what most people who choose to do but that’s not the case for every character in the book.

Gemmell doesn't limit his commentary on war to the senseless violence and death. He also deals with it from an economic and political point of view. The Duke of Corduin is as preoccupied keeping the city at peace than he is worrying about the Daroth. The city faced a hard winter with alarmingly low food rations to go around. As food stores emptied, the prices of food items rose accordingly and without much time passing by many city dwellers were on the verge of famine. Albreck did not stand idly by; he took it upon himself to buy all the available food so that it can be shared evenly with the populace thus avoiding much conflict amongst those who are starving. But suspending private trade did not solve all the city's problems. One of the other unsavoury aspects of war is that there will always be someone who tries to profit from the situation. The merchant Lunder in this case, sold food at already high prices but under delivered every order under the false pretences of not having enough food in his warehouses to properly fill the order. His defrauding of the city led to unnecessary additional suffering for the sole reason of personal prosperity and wealth. What's even more despicable is that Lunder was already a very successful merchant before the threat of war and famine were at Corduin's doors.

War, even senseless war, is almost continuously allowed to exist in this pseudo-medieval setting because there is a constant supply and demand for mercenaries and soldiers for hire. Tarantio has fought with and against several other characters in the book. Not because he will fight anybody but because nearly all available soldiers do it for the money regardless of how little they receive. Tarantio is far from the only character to fight for money. To them, it’s a way of life. What could these people do without a battle to fight? How do you make a living when the only thing you know how to do is fight and kill? Again, Gemmell asks difficult questions but he doesn’t provide easy answers.

The World of Dark Moon:
The most expansive element of world building in Dark Moon is the three Ancient races of the Eldarin, the Oltor and the Daroth. Little is known of the Oltor. They have golden skill, are adamant pacifists and healers. The Eldarin are furry skinned (like a rabbit’s fur) individuals who are the primary wielder of magic. They also despise violence and refuse to use force even in self-defence. The Daroth, unlike the Eldarin and the Oltor, live for violence. They are unable to socialize with others because any interactions with others lead to conflict. The Ancient races provide the mythological backbone to the story being told but the focus is squarely placed on the human characters and their problems. Gemmell also uses the Oltor and the Eldarin as a counterbalance to the pro war arguments and characters. He also uses them to included environmental messages in the book.

The map of the land is very simple if somewhat loose in its definition. The book has no map for the reader and we’re forced to use our imagination guided by Gemmell’s descriptions. Here’s the gist of it: there is a sea to the West and a vast desert to the North. Below the desert there are two Dukedoms in relatively close proximity separated by a small mountain range and forests. Below that there is yet another mountain range, this one more expansive than the first. There are two more Dukedoms somewhere in the south. That’s about all the information given to us and to be quite honest it’s plentiful. Although it can be very interesting and pleasant to read, overly detailed worlds are not a necessity in fantasy fiction and Gemmell proves it well with Dark Moon.

Magic in Dark Moon:
When starting to read Dark Moon I was looking forward to stepping away from dragons and magic for a while. It turns out; if that’s your intention you probably shouldn’t read Dark Moon. Sure, it there are no dragons, but magic and other fantasy creatures are well at home in this standalone novel.

Magic is related to and is part of nature. It emanates from it and is a quality of it. Sorcerers will use objects and creatures found in nature to power their magic. Healers and other magikers (Gemmell’s term) also use natural objects with magical properties to allow them to wield magic. When Brune gets his eye fix, Aldrin uses a coral stone to power the healing. Having no inner magic, Aldrin’s ability relies in using the magic already present in an object. Without it he is but a common man.

Duvodas grew up among the Eldarin and for that reason he is in tune with the magic of the land. Duvodas is more sensitive to magic and the changes of the land than most other men and for this reason he notices the change in magic when entering a city where the walls and foundations disrupt the flow of magic just like they disrupt the natural elements. We can read from this that the Eldarin society is close to nature much like elves are in most fantasy books. This is one of the ways that Gemmell while creating something new, the Eldarin race, makes it feel familiar. You could criticize Gemmell for creating something that isn't very different from a staple race of the fantasy genre but I won't. He could have easily use elves in his story and modified them even less without garnering any criticism for that choice. The fact that he chose to work harder and to create new elements for his book in order to make the world of Dark Moon unique is admirable.

Sorcery exists in opposition to magic in Dark Moon. It's something more attuned to what we consider magic in the real world. Potions made of rare and exotic ingredients, strange incantations, human sacrifices and other such things. It's not a natural force of the world harnessed through the mind and body, its most about using the strange and dark things that exist in the world in ways that produce effects not intended for those items. It's a malevolent activity that generally destroys instead of create, that sickens instead of heals. Magic can also be an advanced for of meditation where the user puts himself in a trance and can travel the land in spirit form. It requires concentration and the user must fight the urge to return to the body. 

I wanted to take a moment to comment on the cover. I like the cover. Initially I wasn't blown away but my appreciation for it has continued to increase. The artist is John Bolton. I've mostly seen his work in comics but he also does painting and other stuff. Neil Gaiman wrote and directed a short film about him. Look at Tarantio. He looks awesome. The colour of Karis’s face is odd but it looks deliberate. Covers specifically and art in general are one of the reasons I like fantasy. We've all seen a cover that sucked us right in and made us want to buy or read the book. I can think of a few times this has happened and I'm sure it will happen again in the future. I'll have to keep that in mind and make a post of my favourite fantasy novel covers of books I've read and books I haven't read.

One biggest disappointment with the book is the ending. My complaint is in two parts. The first part is that the ending felt sudden. Gemmell spends roughly a third of the book preparing for the conflict with the Daroth and the conflict itself last roughly 50 pages. Sure, those fifty pages where great, but it felt slight considering what preceded it. The second part is that Gemmell spends the entire book demonstrating the complexity of war only to end his book in all too clear cut a fashion. The resolution was too sudden but it was also to clean. It’s unfortunate that Gemmell wasn’t able to stick the landing as well as I would have hope. Had he done so, I would recommend Dark Moon to anyone, readers of fantasy or otherwise. As it stands, Dark Moon is an excellent book but if you’re looking for detailed world building à la Robert Jordan, this might not be the book for you. It’s harsh, it’s violent and it’s uncompromising in its portrayal of war and those who take part in it. If you’ve enjoyed previous Gemmell books, I don’t know how you could go wrong by giving Dark Moon a try. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kung Fu Corner - Kung Fu Hustle review

Written and directed by Stephen Chow

This movie is great. I laugh every time I watch it. The action is pretty good, and so is the story, but this movie separates itself form other kung fu movies with its humour. It’s very funny and part of what makes it work is that it has a combination of different types of humour and its combined with an interesting story that allows for many funny scenes as well as action scenes to coexist in the same movie without feeling forced.

The story of Kung Fu Hustle seems simple at first but it adds nice layers of complexity that enhance the overall experience. The Axe Gang commands respect from all parts of the city. The gang is continuously taking money from all level of society with exception only of the poorest places, places such as Pig Sty Alley. Two wannabee Axe Gang members visit Pig Sty Alley trying to con a free haircut and in doing so they attract the attention of real Axe Gang members. The gang attacks the alley only to discover some of its residents are retired martial arts masters. After suffering a humiliating defeat, the Axe Gang swears revenge on the alley and all its residents. Don’t be fooled by this short description of the story, there is also plenty of secret martial arts techniques to be learnt, a young kung fu master to be discovered, romances to be rekindled and a bit of Buddhist philosophy thrown into the mix for good measure. There’s even a dash of horror. One notable shot references the elevator doors opening and releasing a flood of blood from The Shining.  Oh, I also forgot humour and CGI kung fu craziness, something this movie has by the bucket loads.

I want to take the time to say yes, there is quite a bit of CGI but it’s used well. We’re not meant to “believe” the action is real. It’s used to show the viewer impossible martial arts move. It’s also used to humorous intent on several occasions.

Kung Fu Hustle creates several unique and interesting characters. The Landlady comes to mind. The director has created a funny, terrifying character that also has a surprising amount of depth. She may appear to be a terrible wife and an awful landlord but underneath that hard exterior there is a warm and caring interior. Throughout the entire movie she’s an absolute delight to watch. There are many other strange and eccentric characters and in a small handful of scene there is some very exaggerated acting. It’s odd and a tad distracting at time but it’s just part of the style of comedy being used.

Part of the style of humour can be found in the clothing of some of the characters. I particularly like how the Landlady and her husband dress before the final showdown. They look like an old cold that used to be very famous and very fashionable in their younger days but now they’re clearly spent too much time retired from modern life. Their clothes seem like it was fashionable years ago but they still wear it with such confidence and pride they can’t help but look good if still a little strange. Their body language is absolutely terrific.

Another stylistic choice works to enhance both the story and the humorous elements of the movie: the dancing. It’s funny because you don’t really expect it, more importantly though, it contributes a great deal to making the leader of the Axe Gang seem unbalanced and dangerous. The dancing produces this effect without turning him into a maniacal cackling villain from one of the lesser James Bond movies. No, this guy here, I would not want to mess with him or his gang.

There is joke in the movie where one of the guys pretending to be a member of the Axe Gang is confronted by all the people of Pig Sty. He challenges some of them to fight one on one but continues to change his mind. He picks out a wimpy looking man with glasses only to discover he’s incredibly built and looks very strong. He settles on challenging a woman and offered her the first punch. She punches him in the gut and he spits out blood. “Do you lift weights?” he asks her. “No, I raise cattle.” She responds. It’s very well timed and it’s a funny scene. It also provides us with the neat idea that by living a difficult lifestyle and working hard the poor people of Pig Sty Alley have become physically strong individuals. It also explains how some of the secretly retired martial arts masters maintain their physical form and technique.

What makes Kung Fu Hustle such a good movie is, for the most part, the humour. It’s a form of exaggerated slapstick. It’s like watching a live action cartoon. It’s not so surprising when you think about it that slapstick, a physical type of humour, works really well with a genre like kung fu. Jackie Chan’s been doing it for years but I’ve never really noticed how potent a mixture the two makes when combined together. Humour alone would not be enough to sustain a movie and Stephen Chow is aware of this and he packs as much story as he can in the movie to give it some depth and some weight. Yes, there are a lot of kung fu movie staples, nothing is really new here when looked at individually, but it’s all mixed together in such an effective way that it feels fresh and it’s definitively good. Great even, like I said at the beginning of this post. I encourage you to watch the videos I included if you haven’t do so already. If I didn’t convince you to give this movie a try or to rewatch it if you haven’t seen it in a while, I’m sure those clips will.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Some Assembly Required: Casanova Quinn, Pandas and Music

A pretty typical Casanova page.

There are several things that make a good comic. Some of those things are difficult to define; others are, well, just as difficult. One of the things that constitute a good comic to me is the role I play in the reading process. A comic that spoon feeds me the story through unnecessary storytelling elements is not only annoying as a reader but ineffective. This isn’t making too much sense, is it? Ok, let me try and explain as best I can.

When reading a book or a newspaper article or anything other form of prose, your participation in the reading process is limited. There are words on the page organized in lines stacked atop one another horizontally. The words are put in order from left to right and that’s how you read them. You read one word, move to the next word on the right, read it as well and as you go along you string one word after the other and read a sentence. As you’re reading you understand the words individually and as each new word is read, the meanings change and transform into something more meaningful than any of those words on their own. With this sort of storytelling medium, the writer has absolute control over which words appear where in the order and we, as the reader, have very little choice but to go along. If we go along with the established left to right reading order, we’ll be rewarded with whatever the writer has put together. If we choose to read it differently, say reading only every fourth word, we’ll get nothing but gibberish.

This might be surprising to some, but comics work very differently. The combination of words and pictures require us to combine the two into one narrative whole. Comics are further made complicated by the division of panels on one given page. The reader must read one panel at a time, understand it, move to the next panel all the while understand the relationship between the first and the second panel. You repeat this procedure panel after panel and eventually page after page. As a whole you’re working left to right but you can also work up to down and even right to left. In comics, contrarily to books, it’s not words that direct the way the eye flows on a page, but the art. Comic book artist are not limited to illustrating the comic, but also to direct it. How characters and objects are place in a panel will determine how it is read. Not only that, but the artist must also be conscious of the space the words will require in any given panel. Likewise, the writer must be conscious of how many words he tries to fit in each panel. The art is as important as the words, neither one can dominate for too long or else the comic becomes unbalanced and the story suffers.
Comics need more pandas. Especially
if Gabriel Bá is drawing them.
Before taking a closer look at these two pages, it’s important to mention a few details about the comic from which they’re taken.  The pages are from the third volume, Avaritia, in the Casanova series, all of which is written by Fraction. The first and third volumes are drawn by Gabriel Bá and the second volume is drawn by his twin brother Fábio Moon. The first two series were originally sparsely coloured and they have since been recolored by Chris Peter. She also coloured Casanova: Avaritia and she’s an indispensable member of the creative team.

Casanova is a very dense and rather complicated comic. It’s about Casanova Quinn a super spy in a world of inter-dimensional espionage where time travel is just another part of the job. Avaritia begins with Casanova visiting alternate worlds on which his nemesis, Newman Xeno, exists and destroy them in order to avoid Xeno’s rise to power. Casanova visits a world where he meets a Xeno that has yet to become evil and discovers what his real name is. His mission then changes and instead of killing entire worlds, he is sent to assassinate the Xenos of every world. The scene I’m presenting here is one of these assassination attempts.

Pages are routinely filled with many panels and even more words but that’s not the case for these two pages. There must be a reason for it, so what does it mean? The page is composed of four panels. The first one depicts a quite scene where a beautiful panda is having a snack. The only words in the panel are descriptive of where we are located. The colours indicate the sun is either rising or setting. I’m tempted to say its dawn because the colours are still a bit cold. Bá leads our eye from left to right following the gentle slope of the ground on which the panda sits and what appears to be hills in the background. This is a quiet moment, something uncommon for Casanova. The second and third panels work together. The first shows a close-up of the panda, it’s clearly disturbed by something. The third panel shocks us as much as it shocks the panda. Out of nowhere a left to right diagonal slash cuts the panda and the surrounding bamboo trucks. A single drop of blood is our only indication of what has happened. With the second and third panel our eyes are guide both by the art and the lettering. We look at the panda and then up towards the bubble. From there we begin in the upper left corner of the third panel and follow the slash to the lower right corner, to the speck of red. The fourth panel contrasts greatly with the first panel as well as the fourth. The understated carnage of the third panel literally erupts in the fourth. A fountain of blood forces the top half of the pandas head clear off the page. What was once a peaceful morning breakfast is now an endangered species crime scene. Again, our eyes start in the top left corner with the fountain of blood which leads to the panda’s body. We then shift our gaze towards the right at the bodies of other massacred pandas. From there we look at the figure of a man holding a sword, the obvious culprit. We follow the stairs to a lone figure, sitting at the tope playing music. The colouring makes it clear that he is the focus here. The pandas don’t matter anymore; they were nothing but collateral damage. The killer’s target is the musician at the top of the stairs. The colour plays an important role in this final panel simultaneously indicating the relative unimportance of the pandas by colouring them in darker tones and the revelation of the intended target by colouring it in warmer colours, making the lone musician pop off the page. The sizes of the panels are proportionate to their importance as well as their function. The fourth panel, the largest on the page, establishes several elements that drastically transform the simple narrative begun by the first three panels on the page but it must also set up the second half of the story taking place on the following page.

When looking at the second page, the first thing we notice is the colours. They’re more vibrant than the previous page. The musician (Xeno) is in a blissful state of harmony with his music and he nature. His hair indicates he’s leaning in the wind and he doesn’t so much hold the instrument as almost caresses it. The guitar (or whatever it is) leads are eyes up from bottom left to top right. The next panel does the same with the staircase and the body language of the assassin (Casanova). The natural left to right movement gives the illusion of great speed, the absence of text also adds to the illusion since we do not idle on the image. We immediately move to the third panel. Again, the upward momentum continues to build here but at a much more severe angle. The blood erupting from a panda’s skull is nearly vertical. This reminds us that the panda is physically situated at the bottom of the stairs. The action however, is at the top and as the fourth panel shows us, the blood is still part of the action. The blood does another thing though. It’s clearly gushing out violently and during this time the assassin has almost climbed to the top of the stairs toward his target. The blood continues its journey however and we follow it from left to right in the fourth panel. In the fifth, we see it collide with the instrument, making a perfect musical note. Look at the placement of the fingers. They look like they’re shocked by the blood drop’s interruption of their dance on the strings. (Excuse my waxing poetic, it’s a beautiful two pages, ok?) The sixth and final panel is excellent. So far all of the action has taken place in a very, very short amount of time. Casanova moves climbed the stairs so quickly he appears to be flying towards Xeno. Xeno, after being interrupted by the blood and at the same time alerted of Casanova’s presence, is immediately at the ready. He went from a near meditative state to a state of acute preparedness and focus. He’s ready for combat.  Bá does an excellent job showing how quick Xeno is by having his guitar hover in the air. It’s incredible how much kinetic energy and speed can be expressed by what are individually static images. There is a clear momentum that has been building since the first panel on the first page and in the last panel of the second page we witness the fraction of the second before both men collide. The next page segues into another scene and Casanova: Avaritia #2 continues on with its story. For two pages though, Fraction, Bá and Peter give is a beautiful, hilarious and violent scene that does an excellent job demonstrating the storytelling potential of words and pictures.

In the context of the rest of the issue, these pages provide a welcome breather to the complex story being told. The larger than normal panels, the relatively sparse detail, the almost total absence of words all contribute to the peaceful tone (peaceful despite the violence). Again, dealing with contrasts, the reader is almost forced to slow down despite the rapid action taking place. I would like to talk about what these scene represents in the context of the story, why it’s meaningful that Casanova is wearing black and Xeno/Luther’s skin is so pale in comparison and how this is a reversal of roles for the characters from the first two stories, but that’s not what this post was about.

Everyone has heard the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words” and its great collaborations like this one that truly demonstrate the truth of that. A picture is worth so many words not because of the detail, but because of the story an image or a series of images can tell. Comics challenge the reader by forcing us to interpret the art, to read it as we read words. We have to connect these snippets of story into a complete narrative. When the story and the collaboration are as strong as what you can find in Casanova, it’s incredibly rewarding. If you don’t believe me go buy the first volume Casanova: Luxuria and we’ll talk about it.  

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Blog Fantastic 003: Equal Rites review

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Cover art by Josh Kirby
Published by Corgi Books

Men are wizards and women are witches and that's that. Only things are not that simple for Eskarina Smith. On the night she was born, Esk received the staff of a powerful wizard. The wizard, feeling death approaching fast, want to give his staff to the eight son of an eight son. The only problem is that he ended up giving it to the eight daughter of an eight son. Having inherited his staff, Esk has also inherited the wizard’s powers. There’s a problem though, as a woman she can’t be a wizard. She’s a fluke of nature (well, magic) and she can’t be taught in the ways of wizard magic by the usual ways which is to attend the Unseen University. She just can’t. They wouldn’t accept her. Thus begins the third Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett.

Lucky for Esk, her village's witch, Granny Weatherwax, decides to try and teach her the way of witches fearing that her uncontrolled powers will hurt her or those around her. It's not an easy task, mostly because Esk catches on so quickly.

The world of Discworld is populated by all sorts of creatures found in the fantasy genre. Obviously witches and wizards but also dwarves and goblins and anything else you can think of. Pratchett also creates a few species and characters and cultures of his own, such as the Zoons. The Zoons are merchants and traders who travel the rivers of Discworld on barges. They're unable to lie, for the most part which makes their job rather difficult. Young Zoons who are discovered to have the capacity for lying are specially trained to become a sort of diplomat for the other Zoons. This special person is called a Liar and is in charge of trading with other merchants. That's just one of the many creations Pratchett has written to populate the world of his fantasy series.

Equal Rites doesn't have as strong a parody element as the first two novels The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Instead of parodying specific fantasy stories or characters (such as The Dragonriders of Pern and Conan the Barbarian in previous novels), Pratchett makes fun of more general elements of fantasy fiction as well as a few aspects of our society. For example, Granny tries to get a flying broom fixed by Dwarves who act like car mechanics in the way they go about it. Complaining about her broom being an earlier model and the difficulty of ordering that kind of wood, etc.; it makes for a funny scene. He doesn't completely refrain from parodies of well-known books and authors. Equal Rites has a good time poking fun of H. P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu.

I love this cover. It's a very different style from what you normally see on
fantasy covers nowadays but artist Josh Kirby is a pro. His style is
instantly recognizable perfectly suits the style of Discworld
Magic in Equal Rites:
As always with a Discworld book, one of the enjoyable aspects of Equal Rites is the humour. What makes Equal Rites stand out from the rest (keep in mind I’ve only read the first three Discworld novels) is the spectacular use of magic by Terry Pratchett. Magic isn't always regarded well in Discworld. It's a necessary job and people such as merchants need a wizard or two to protect their caravans while crossing dangerous territories but it’s regarded as a necessary evil. You wouldn't associate with a witch or a wizard if you didn't have to.

The magic of witches is particularly fun. It's as much about knowledge, secret and otherwise, and the art if fooling others into helping themselves. The magic of witches is also in tune with motherly instincts and other loosely defined female intuitions. Their magic is the magic of living things, of thinking things. Their understanding of how humans work will help them heal the sick. Their understanding as well as their love and compassion for all things living help them use nature to their advantage and to the benefit of others. 

In comparison, the magic of Wizards is brash, bombastic and destructive. It's about pinning down spells in large books to be used later, it's about the stars and the heavens above, and it’s about sparkling sparks and flaming fireballs. It's violent and uncompassionate. Wizards use their staffs to distil magic out of the old and powerful things of Discworld. The magic is then transferred to the wizard and he can then wield the raw, powerful magic using spells and incantations. Wizard magic is closely associated with worlds and symbols. Regular words are shadows or representations of everyday things. Magic words are different. They're more than just a shadow. Some magic words are so powerful they struggle to escape the paper and books they're inscribed on and become real. Ok Discworld, magic has a mind of its own and can be rather uncontrollable. 

In Equal Rites Pratchett takes the time to clarifies elements of wizard magic that appeared in the first two books. Wizards’ magic, and Discworld magic, are about the power of the written word. Spells written down in books have strong magical properties all to their own. They can bend time and space around them and cause a great deal of chaos in their immediate surroundings. As you can imagine this makes the library at the Unseen University a dangerous place to be. It’s also worthy of note that the rules the wizards mention throughout the book to support their stance against allowing women to practice wizardry are of an oral tradition. There is nothing written down anywhere as far as I could tell. This allows for some changes to be made hence Eskarina’s eventual admittance to the University. There isn’t a whole lot of information regarding the power of the written world in Equal Rites than the proper introduction of the concept but I assume that Pratchett continued to develop this in other Discworld novels. I can’t forget to point out that making the written word powerful and important in his fictional world, Pratchett is also making a nice meta commentary that I’m sure all readers enjoy.
Equal Rites is at its best when dealing with the main theme of the book, that of equality of the sexes and demonstrating that even in a fictional world women are as capable as men. Pratchett offers several conversations between characters offering different points of view on the feasibility of a woman becoming a wizard. It's quite clear that it’s considered a ridiculous notion on Discworld. I'm sure many if not all I the readers where thinking "Why not? What’s the big deal?" while reading the book but it remains an important and difficult question in our society today. What seems ridiculous in this funny little book is controversial in our own world. Even in the 21st century there are strong and seemingly unavoidable social pressures dictating certain jobs as being specifically reserved for men or women. A male hairdresser is a barber or a homosexual. A straight male hairdresser is not only an unusual sight but also something that is frowned upon by many. The same can be said for a female construction worker. Pratchett demonstrates his great skill at writing by making such a complete issue seem so straightforward yet during the entire book he also pokes fun at it and makes it all look ludicrous. Why are equal rights an important issue in all parts of the world despite all our other achievements and advancements? Then again, Equal Rites and all the other Discworld novels are just fantasy novels with jokes and not grand literature to be discussed in a serious way. My apologies.

The only reason you would want to read this book is if you like stories about witches whose broom's lifting spells are so old and weak she needs to run with her broom at shoulder height to give it a jump start. Either that or you enjoy well-crafted stories that expertly parody several elements of fantasy literature and the real world seamlessly into a surprisingly hilarious and worthwhile book. It’s all down to your personal tastes I guess.