Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Eight

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 | Ch6 | Ch7 |

Who could have guessed that our party of questers would wander from the path and into danger? Sorry, that's too easy, no prizes for guessing that one.
However, they travelled for many weeks without encountering even a hint of danger. Okay, there was an enchanted river, but they had been warned about it and the dwarf in question simply fell in, losing them their dinner at the same time.
Now they have used up all their food and wandered from the path in search of a feast they believe they saw. The feasters disappear in a flash each time they come across the gathering though and finally Bilbo and the dwarves run into some giant spiders.
12 dwarves get captured, though Bilbo manages to escape and rescue the others with a little help from his magic ring. Bilbo notes that there are 12 dwarves cocooned in spider web but doesn't wonder where the 13th is.
The dwarves are freed and run off into the forest, but none notice that their leader is missing until nightfall.
All I can do is roll my eyes at this point and wonder how, being so stupid, they have managed to stay alive at all. They are so dumb that it's a wonder they can even tie their own shoe laces. Or maybe they don't have laces on their boots; just as well really, Velcro is more their intelligence level.
It turns out that Thorin has been captured by elves and will remain their prisoner until he talks, which he presently refuses to do. I really hope he has the guile to get out of this on his own and redeem the dwarves somewhat but I am not hopeful. Not at all.
Also, I'm getting sick and tires of all these references to food and being starving. Honestly, we get it, you like food, you're hungry, but there is no food so STFU and get on with getting out of the forest!

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Seven

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 | Ch6 |

Wouldn't you know it, although they lost everything again, horses, food, supplies, they found a nice shapeshifter called Beorn (he wasn't in Abba by any chance, was he?) who was more than happy for them to sleep in his house, take his food and use his horses. I'm only surprised he didn't give them the shirt off his back! These middle earth types are incredibly helpful, you know.
But now Gandalf is finally leaving and they are heading into a dangerous forest. No really, extremely dangerous. The most dangerous part of the trip.
Once again they must not stray from the path lest they encounter all sorts of evil. I and forced to wonder what makes these paths so safe from evil creatures. Anything malevolent forces that had a brain would surely keep and eye on all paths through the forest. Maybe they're some kind of survivalist evil creatures who feel that they have to work a bit harder than just laying an ambush for their food?
As I have come to realise, logic doesn't have much place in this book.
I am also hopeful that without Gandalf present, the dwarves might prove themselves the mighty warriors that we have been so often told they are.
Here's hoping!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Six

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 |

Ah, what luck, wouldn't you know it, the dwarves, all of them, happen to be right on the path Bilbo was walking. Damned good job too since if you take a wrong path in these mountains, you have to go right back to the beginning and start again!
Once again, Gandalf saved the day, rescuing the dwarves and showing them the exit, but forgetting about poor ol' Bilbo.
So they continue on their journey, and there is a little more peril when they are trapped up trees by wolves and the goblins light fires under the trees to get them out. But, blessed be, Gandalf once saved an eagle's life and he and his fellow eagles collect them from the trees and fly them to safety, giving them some food too.
I think the term Deus ex machina could have been invented for Tolken.
And for a warrior race, the dwarves don't do an awful lot of fighting. I am no longer surprised that they lost their kingdom to a dragon, I'm only surprised that they ever had their own kingdom to begin with. Seriously, they're a bunch of inept, incompetent braggarts who would have killed on day one of the quest by falling from their horses had Gandalf not been there to help them keep their balance. At least that's how it's coming across. 

I have a little more respect for Bilbo after his escape in the last chapter and while Gandalf is still a manipulative bastard, at least he's  on the right side, the dwarves on the other hand... My god are they annoying!

And the real shame is, I want to like them! Aside from 2 actors I fancy the pants off, they have some great character actors cast as dwarves too, like Ken Stott (who plays Rebus which is set in Edinburgh and written by an Edinburger, so I'm naturally inclined to root for him) and James Nesbitt, who it would be impossible not to like with his cheeky chappy persona. I really really hope that the film has simply taken it's general premise from the book and actually manages to turn the dwarves into something other than blustering, blundering buffoons. 
So, back to the book. Our questers are now fed, getting rest and out of the horrible mountains where danger lurks around every corner (no seriously, it lurks around every single corner!). So what's next for them?

Despite this being a quest with a nifty map, we have no inkling of what's coming next. Not once have they sat around a fire and given any thought to the next stage of the journey or even the next day! I'm starting to think that Tolkien had no idea of where this story was going when he started writing it, which is forgiveable. Not going back and foreshadowing some of these events once he'd finished is not forgiveable. This books feels more like a random collection of events rather than a journey.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Five

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 |
Bilbo meets Gollum. A strange chapter compared to the others but the most compelling so far.
It's not a long chapter so I don't have an awful lot to say about this one.
Waking up alone after his fall (he was on Dori's back when he fell) Bilbo first finds a ring then meets Gollum. Gollum wants to eat Bilbo but he wants a little chat first; as you do. Quite by chance, by the time Gollum is hungry and beginning to suspect that Bilbo has found his lost ring, Bilbo slips it on his finger and realises he is invisible, which he uses to help him hide from Gollum and eventually to pass the goblins and escape the tunnels.
I enjoyed seeing one of the characters use his wits (and a bit of blind luck) to escape peril rather than Gandalf simply swooping in and saving the day. I hope there will be more of this kind of action to come.
Gollum came across as a lot more sympathetic than I previously imagined. I mean, we all know why he's like he is and what he was before (though this book hasn't said. Well, it hasn't said yet, I don't know if someone will fill in the pieces later on) his situation is all of his own making but he's just such a pathetic creature. He reminds me of an addict, repeating unhealthy behaviour, knowing it is bad for him but completely unable to stop himself. Had I not seen the Ring's trilogy I might hope that he had hit his rock bottom and start to recover (especially now that Bilbo has possession of his addiction, the ring) but alas I know that is a false hope.
I'm curious now to continue the book. I want to know more about Gollum (I only remember vague details) and what happened to the dwarves. And how they're ever going to find each other again!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Four

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 |
JRR Tolken seems to do an awful lot of telling and not very much showing. As a writer I know this is a cardinal sin. I mean we all do it but we also know that we're not supposed to and so we cut it down as much as possible. I don't recall ever reading any book that 'tells' me quite so much while actually showing me so very little. As I mentioned in the last chapter with the interactions between the dwarves and elves, sometimes what I am being shown directly contradicts what I have been told!
I'm quite expecting that fairly soon I will be shown Thorin's strong chin, even though I have been told he has a long beard and so I couldn't possibly see his chin.
Having been told 3 times how dangerous this path through the mountains is (and chapter 4 begins with a few more warnings) I'm just thinking it's all just a bunch of silly superstitions and that there actually is nothing evil lurking just off the beaten path when we meet some goblins.
Like the dwarves and elves, goblins also sing, which for some reason makes them far less menacing despite the lyrics being liberally sprinkled with words such as 'boom', 'bang' and 'crash'.
Surprisingly, despite Thorin having a sword, the orcrist, which was used to 'cleave and kill' goblins, he doesn't use it. As far as I can see, no one even puts up a fight. Except Gandalf, who once again saves the day and rescues them. It strikes me that the dwarves and the hobbit are just slowing him down!
The goblins give chase to our questers but are sent running and shrieking by the sight of the orcrist and Gandalf's sword, the glamdring. Reminds me of playground bullies stealing some poor kids lunch then running scared when the kids fight back.
Unfortunately the goblins aren't giving up yet; they regroup and after donning some magic slippers that make them silent, give chase to the dwarves and take down Dori and Bilbo who are at the rear of the party!
They can't take down Dori! Thanks to an uncanny resemblance to my Dad, he's the only dwarf I have any kind of affinity for at the moment!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Three

Before we start on Chapter Three, I must direct our attention to the picture on the right (click to enlarge) a reaction on twitter to the hobbit trailer. There really isn't enough fail in the world!

Previous chapters: Introduction | Ch1 | Ch2 |
"O!" said Bilbo, and just at that moment he felt more fared than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!
Poor old Bilbo thinks many things “not for the last time”.
Not long after, Gandalf says
"Also it is very necessary to tackle the Misty Mountains by the proper path, or else you will get lost in them, and have to come back and start at the beginning again (if you ever get back at all)."
Um, why? I was under the impression that people could just turn and head in the direction of a path and come across it once again. What is it about these mountains means that you cant walk sideways and can only trace and retrace your own steps? See, this is exactly the sort of nonsensical thing you find in pure fantasy books which irks me and throws me out of the story! I call them 'WTF?' moments.
Next they stay with some elves, who we are told dwarves don't like. Nevertheless, there doesn't seem to be any animosity between then, no dwarf even questions the decision to stay at an elves home, nor do the elves show any doubts over paying host to dwarves. I'm not quite sure why we were told of the animosity when we were then shown that there isn't any.
The elves also tell them that the sword Thorin took from the trolls hoard is a Orcrist. For some reason I don't know, this seems to be important. The elves also discover some additional writing on their map. The writing may be important as it says that the hidden entrance in the mountain that was once home to the dwarves can only be found on one day a year, the dwarves new year to be exact. Sadly the dwarves are no longer able to tell when this falls.
"The first day of the dwarves' New Year," said Thorin, "is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter. We still call it Durin's Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again."
Really? REALLY? Cos our human ancestors had no trouble telling the time of the year, in fact many of our celebrations were centred around specific days and changes in the seasons. While I have a handy calendar these days, it surely can't be that hard if our ancestors could tell the day and date without even so much as a compass to help them!
Finally after 2 weeks of rest and not doing much (so we are told) as though to prove that there is no animosity between dwarves and elves, the elves restock the dwarves supplies, give them handy bags to carry everything in and then the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf continue on their way.

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Two

Previous chapters | Introduction | Ch1 |

After waking up late an finding the dwarves gone, Bilbo seems to embrace being left behind until a note from the dwarves is discovered, telling him to meet up with them at an inn in fifteen minutes time.
The adventurous side of Bilbo's schizophrenic nature seems to assert itself once again and he rushes out to meet them so quickly that he leaves behind his handkerchief (which is apparently very important if you are a hobbit) and he heads out on his quest with the dwarves.
All is good and I began to think that the book would be over in another chapter with the pace they were making, but of course they can't get to the mountain too quickly and thus an encounter with some grumpy trolls is invented. Thorin does seem to regain a little of the ground he lost with his bad manners here as he proves to be the only dwarf with any wits and fighting prowess about him. He at least manages to get a few good licks in before he is captured, unlike the others. Bilbo proves himself a coward, though at least he does try and Galdalf uses his manipulation to save the day.
A strange chapter really, it just felt like filler mostly and I'm left to wonder why, since Gandalf is needed to save the day from three stupid trolls, the dwarves think they have any chance of defeating a dragon who single handily torched an entire dwarf town.
I don't know, maybe I'm supposed to feel that this is an impossible task but I'm forced to wonder, since Gandalf is clearly the hero (at least so far) why he doesn't just magic himself ahead and trick the dragon into leaving?
It would be a bit of a boring book, I suppose, but in some ways a lot more plausible.
In good news, since Gandalf is part of the quest it does mean that there will be lots of Ian McKellan in the film and that can never be bad.

The Hobbit Read-along, Chapter One

Previous chapters | Introduction
My first thought upon starting the Hobbit was 'aren't you supposed to jump straight into the plot and capture the readers attention?'. JRR Tolken clearly didn't get that memo as the books begins with a very long-winded description of a Hobbit's home. I'm not yet sure why I should care, especially when it becomes clear that most of the book will not take place in a hobbit home.
It seems that hobbit's are short, don't wear shoes and like their food, especially cake. They like quiet lives, live in comfortable homes built into hillsides and are very hospitable by nature.
There, I told you in two lines what JRR Tolken took pages to explain.
I can't help thinking 'get on with it already!'.  
Galdalf visits Bilbo, the hobbit in question, and Bilbo makes it clear that he does not want an adventure. Nevertheless, Gandalf picks him and proceeds to send 13 dwarves who are on a quest his way.
Much like JRR Tolken, the dwarves don't seem in any hurry to explain exactly what their quest is to poor Bilbo, indeed they eat him out of house and home (though they do clear up after themselves) then have a little sing-song before getting down to the nitty gritty. 
They need Bilbo to act as burglar (I'm assuming this trade is viewed rather differently in Middle Earth) to help them steal their ancestor gold back from a mean dragon called Smaug, who stole it. Well, when I say steal, I mean he killed the dwarves then moved into their home with the gold.
Now come on, any self respecting thief knows you make off with the goods, otherwise someone will come knocking, wanting their stuff back. I'm guessing dragons aren't that smart.
Mind you, no one seems very smart yet, save perhaps for Gandalf, and he seems more manipulative than clever.
Bilbo clearly needs assertiveness lessons but before that, he might try some counselling. Poor chap doesn't seem to know from one minute to the next whether he wants to go on this adventure or not.
As for the dwarves, they need some etiquette lessons, STAT. I can forgive them barging in on Bilbo since that was Gandalf's fault but seriously, would a please or thank you be so very difficult?
Considering that they lost their home and riches decades ago when Thorin (the king) was just a boy he is incredibly up himself! Were he master of a mighty empire I might forgive his conceitedness but as it stands, I just want to slap some manners into him.
Hopefully I'll find a redeeming feature or two in the next chapter because right now, they're all as annoying as each other.
I also can't help but note that there are 13 dwarves and one hobbit, just as Jesus Christ had 13 disciples (yes he did, people just prefer to forget that Judas was also a disciple*). I can't help wondering if one of these 13 dwarves will turn Judas on his friends and betray then. Then again, it might just be a coincidence; too soon to tell.
The only woman mentioned is Bilbo's deceased mother, Belladonna, who's wealthy family paid for the lovely house she shared with Bilbo's father (Do female dwarves hobbits come with dowries? Was his father a gold digger?). She is also whom Bilbo gets his schizophrenic tenancies from, uh, I mean his adventurous nature.
Having seen the trailer and heard a glimpse of the dwarves song (sans instruments) it is rather moving. Not moving enough to give me goose bumps like some music but much better than I had imagined in the book. Thanks to the slapstick way in which the introduction of the dwarves was handled, I imagined the song as being very loud and comical rather than touching.
The book seems to want to find the humour in every situation and to have us laugh at the characters rather than with them (although granted, I am not far in) where as the trailer gives the impression that the characters are not being made fun of but are taken much more seriously. I have heard that the film will have humorous moments but I suppose it remains to be seen if they are at the characters expense or not.
I seem to remember the dwarf being a figure of ridicule in the Ring's trilogy (that dwarf reminded me of Scrappy Doo, 'let me at 'em, let me at 'em!'). I'm pleased to see that doesn't seem to be the case with the Hobbit movie.

[ETA: For those who have been telling me on various message boards that there were only 12 disciples, let me list them for you.  1 Peter, 2 Andrew, 3 Philip, 4 Bartholomew, 5 Thomas, 6 James the Greater, 7 James the Lesser, 8 Matthew, 9 John, 10 Thaddeus, 11 Simon, 12 Judas and 13 Matthias. Here endeth the lesson]

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Welcome to the Hobbit read-along!

Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 | Ch6 | Ch7 | Ch8 | Ch9 | Ch10 | Ch11 

Richard Armitage as Thorin
It's safe to say that I know nothing of JRR Tolken or any of his books. I have never read them, not have I had any desire to. I sat through the first three lord of the Ring movies because they were so popular but by the third film I was literally willing the movies to finish. They were not very obliging.
While I read fantasy books, I generally only read those set in this universe, in familiar places. Real life with a twist if you like, things like urban fantasy, speculative fiction, horror etc
I have read a few fantasy novels set in their own universes (such as some of the Diskworld series) but most of the rules in these invented universes just seem pointless and done for comic effect, but it is obviously a sense of humour that I don't understand.
For example, a flat world that rides through space on the back of an elephant which sits on the back or a turtle, or something. A weird image but only in the “WTF!” sense. I'm sorry but to this geek's mind, all universes must follow the rules of physics; they are universal, after all.
Another reason I actively avoid these invented worlds is that, while my exposure is limited, they do seem to be very sexist.
Some unintentionally so in that the author probably didn't think to include many women; indeed among a cast of thousands, you will sometimes find barely enough female characters to count on one hand. The Lord of the Ring films seem to be a perfect example of this thoughtless sexism and I can't see that the books will be very different (probably worse).
The other kind of sexism is much more overt in that the authors seem to think the only role of women is as slaves; scantily clad, beautiful specimens of womanhood who's purpose is only to be submissive and please their male masters, often in a sexual sense as well as in terms of being a servant to him. The Gor novels for example, are sadomasochistic in their treatment of women; rape, torture and beatings are common. Why would I read something by an author who makes it clear that he hates me and my sex?
In both kinds of books, women never feature in the plot, The Great Quest which the male characters must undertake.
So it's hardly surprising that as a feminist I avoid sexist fiction. I experience and read enough about inequality in real life, I hardly want to spend my downtime immersed in more of the same crap I deal with day in, day out.
So you can imagine how depressed I was to find out that two of my favourite actors have been cast in the Hobbit movies. Seriously? I have to watch two more of these sexist, over-hyped, self indulgent and long-winded movies?
I fully intended to avoid both films like the plague. Just because I am a fan, doesn't mean I have to watch everything an actor I like is in, especially if it disagrees with my principles. However being both a Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner fan I have simply been unable to avoid information about the films. It seems that Peter Jackson is quite good at this publicity lark and information has been trickling out in the form of official set videos, pictures, blogs from AICN and so many interviews and articles I couldn't possibly begin to count them. I'm learning about these films by osmosis without even wanting to, the same way I know what Kim Kardashian looks like and that she had a sham marriage, even though I have no idea why I know this.
Of the Hobbit cast list of 35 on Wikipedia, just two women appear and none of them appear to be among the main cast. That's 5%.
Women make up 50% of the population, Hollywood, wake up and smell the sexism!
I'm not saying that Peter Jackson should disregard the original book but he changes things that he wants to in order to adapt the book to the screen, surely he could have also adapted the book for a 21st century audience and perhaps made one of the dwarves female? Out of 13 dwarves, is that really such a departure from the original that fan's of the books will boycott the movie? I don't think so.
All of the recent super hero movies seem to understand that you need at least one kick-ass female role, even if the original didn't have them, why is Middle Earth so very different?
Anyway, despite myself this trickle of information has piqued my interest and so I will attempt to read The Hobbit and find out for myself what all the fuss is about.
I will then attempt to blog about it, chapter by chapter (assuming it doesn't piss me off or bore me to the extent that I cannot continue).
So, if you fancy coming along for the ride, chapter one will be posted tomorrow.

Update: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 | Ch6 | Ch7 | Ch8 | Ch9 | Ch10 | Ch11
              Ch12 | Ch13 | Ch14 | Ch15 | Ch16 | Ch17 | Ch18 | Ch19

Buy your copy and read along! Amazon UK | Amazon US

Friday, 16 December 2011

A Merry Little Christmas

A Merry Little Christmas, Part Three is out! 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

All I Want For Christmas Is... Reviews!

Sigh, maybe next year?

As much as I would like to wake up on Christmas morning and find Richard Armitage lying under my tree wearing only a strategically placed bow, I fear that is highly unlikely and so this year I am going to make a plea for something more realistic. Reviews.

With the rise of the ebook the number of books on the market is growing rapidly; not only can authors publish their own back catalogue now but the rise of the digital age has made it possible for indie authors to publish their own work. The big publishing houses these days won't touch a new author without an agent and most agencies get over 1,000 manuscripts per agent per month, so even if you have written the next masterpiece, getting discovered is next to impossible in this day and age without knowing the right people or an incredible amount of luck.

Most indie authors I know write because they love it, simple as that and they would continue to write even if no one ever bought another copy of their books. Having said that, the dream of most indie authors is to one day be able to make a living from their writing, however when competing with publishing houses who spend millions on marketing, we have to offer our books at low prices in order to be competitive. Without the money for a marketing campaign, it's exceptionally difficult to get the word out there. Some indie authors do have the money for limited promotion but whether they recover that investment or not is another story.

Regardless of whether you have a marketing budget or not, whether you're an indie author or a traditionally published one though, there is really only one thing that matters when it comes to books; are they any good?

And this, dear readers, is where you come in. If you like a book, please take a little time to share that with your friends. Twitter and Facebook are great tools and most sites will have a “share” button for them, saving you the trouble of getting links etc. but even better than that is a review. This is where the quality of a book can't be faked because the rating is based on readers views. Not all readers agree, of course but that's the great thing about reviews, you can see for yourself if you agree with Reviewer A who doesn't like boink busters, or Reviewrr B who really enjoyed all the sex!

Writing a good reviews does take a little time and effort but even a two line review and a rating helps. When you consider the time an author puts into their book, the hours it took not only to write but then the love and care needed to craft it into something publishable, then realise that most of the, time indie authors still have a full time day job because they only make a pittance from their books*, does it really seem like a lot to ask?

In the past I've even tried giving books to friends for free with the only condition being to please put a review on Amazon, which of course, they say they are more than happy to do. I have now stopped that. They're perfectly happy to tell me how much they enjoyed it but to actually write a few lines after having spent hours reading the books is obviously too much to ask.

Even if you hate a book your opinions are still helpful to other readers. My only ask with reviews is that, love it or hate it, they are honest and in fact I know of one person who bought a book based solely on a terrible, one star review because the amount of sex the reviewer described sounded right up her alley!

So please, take a little time this Christmas and give an indie author that you love a little recognition. Review, like, tweet, retweet and ask your friends to do the same.


Indie Authors Everywhere.

[*On Amazon I price all my books at $2.99. For some reason that is too technical to understand, this goes up to a sale price of $4.12 and $4.66 in the Amazon store of which, also for reason that are very complicated and I don't understand I, the author earn between, $1.05 and $2.06 per book in royalties. That's right, Amazon take at least 50% (often more) of the sale price. Even for those authors who have chosen the 70% royalty option, they just add fees on! Authors who sell their books for $0.99 are lucky to see 20-35 cents per copy]