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An Evil Guest (2008) by Gene Wolfe continues his well confounded tradition of telling intriguing yet infuriating tales. His style remains cold and remote, detached, dwelling nothing on the feelings or moods of the characters. The primary character, Cassie, remains quite a cypher, barely revealing herself to us as we read. The other characters reveal themselves even less. 

Is this book SF, fantasy, horror, folklore, fairytale, or myth? In Gene usual challenge-the-reader style, yes, the tale is all these things and none of them.

Is this book in the past or the future or an alternate timeline? Who can say?

The book wanders in too many ways for my taste. Too many plot lines are picked and dropped, relationships built and forgotten, experiences build this way and that, none leading anywhere. Even the primary relationships seem to simply rock about as the narrative walks about, tilting in whatever direction the narrative happens to be in.

"Why did Cassie just do that?" often presents itself as a question. Usually, there is no good answer. Sometimes she acts according to her character, and sometime, it's as if she's a different yet similar characters. Earlier on, she feels more consistent, but about 2/3 of the way through, her characterization grows erratic, often expressing itself in unanticipated and inexplicable ways.

As a tale, you must resolve yourself to either not understanding the nuances of the work, accepting the narrative for what it is, or you must learn to understand, so that it makes sense on a deeper level. The problem with that is that you don't care enough to plumb the deeper levels, yet just accepting everything for what it is leaves too many questions unanswered to be satisfying, leaving the hapless reader in a middle-position devoid of any satisfaction at all.

While the book ultimately takes a stab at Cthulian derived horror, because we care so little for the characters and the setting, we don't care much when bad things start happening. The book simply feels too remote to leave us with much emotional reaction at all. That leaves us with intellectual horror, which isn't really a thing.
dmilewski: (Default)
From the opening paragraphs, The Skies of Pern (2001) by Anne McCaffrey shows the many hands that contributed to it, as paragraphs and descriptions flow in a very un-McCaffrey like way, but the bulk of the story remains pure McCaffrey. The book feels like a last horrah, one where many plot lines are wrapped up once and for all, where many gender wrongs and a righted, and providing yet another answer to the question of what dragon riders will do when threadfall is over. 

The books works mostly as three intertwined novellas rather than as a single overarching novel, which lends itself to the feeling of a more complete work.

The novels starts off agonizingly slow, following yet more Abominationists. I nearly gave up on the book as this section bored me. Meanwhile, we have a romance begin between F'lessan and a green rider. (This is not a spoiler because the book makes it very plain that these two will be shacking up at the end of Act 2). About a hundred pages in, the novel finally gets some Pern-like momentum, with yet more disasters to show the studliness of our dragon riders. The B-Plot of the Abominationists continues, dragging the plot whenever it shows up. In my opinion, the entire B-plot could get dumped with no harm to the work. 

I feel like one plot thread was left dangling. I had expected that Toric would finally get his come-uppance, eventually getting himself exiled, while F'lar and Lessa would have finally decided to retire south, but neither of these two plot threads came to anything. My guess is that both were in the original plot outline, but length considerations and manuscript delivery dates cut those threads shorts.

Expect to see some and all your favorite characters. If you haven't read a Pern novel before, don't start here. You'll see character both prevalent and obscure rear their heads, including those from short stories and B-plots.

Thankfully, most of the plot talking-head scenes tend to stay on topic and actually progress the plot, rather than just suck down air.

My understanding is that there's some vigorous discussion on the dragon abilities discovered in this work. I find that this yet-another-discovery is no less contrived than all the other contrived discoveries of the Ninth Pass, so it works well enough for me. I've already accepted teleporting telepathic dragons. What's a little more unbelievability?

Even with all its flaws, this book still works better than most of McCaffrey's non-Pern books, the ones where she didn't have strong editors or supporting writers, especially those written in the aimless 90's. The book will scratch your Pern itch, or drive a stake through it's heart, or both. 

dmilewski: (Default)
Freedom's Landing (2002) by Anne McCaffrey tacks onto the more or less completed story of Botany, the forced colony. With book #3 having wrapped up the major plot points, this work doesn't so much as explore life after empire as gently stroll through it while drinking iced coffee.

Like the Cattini books that came before, this book lacks any tension in it whatsoever, so you never have any doubts that our heroes will succeed, while failing to provide any character growth or challenges, while also dwelling on filler where everyone is agreeable but nobody gets any character moments.

While the work reads well, the lack of momentum or tension or anything leaves the book wanting. What SF that there is comes across as rather tepid, which is something of a feat as Earth is rebuilding after their occupation by the Cattini and you would think that would be an interesting and challenging story. Instead, Earth seems to have everything in hand, nobody seems to be fighting anybody else, and instead of riding this terrific setup into a challenging and engaging story, sips coffee and sets up an Irish coffee bar.

While I can't call this McCaffrey's worst book ever (because book #2 in this series already did that), the book does demonstrate a stunning degree of banality in the face of a terrific setup. Most of what's here is wasted, its premise completely unexploited.
dmilewski: (Default)
No One Noticed the Cat is a fluffy romance/adventure, well aimed at the middle school market. Boy and girl meet. They get married. There's an evil queen. Good triumphs in the end. It's all what you would expect, with a cat providing a bit of a twist. The highs of this book aren't very high, and the lows aren't very low, giving this book a very even keel. While this book shouldn't make anyone's must read list, but if you find it available and have a few minutes, you'll have a nice time.

Like all McCaffrey books, the villain is both smart and dumb at the same time.

You may feel temped to hold realism up to the adventure, but don't. This book has all the realism of a cartoon. If you think about it too hard, you'll ruin the charm.
dmilewski: (Default)
Portal (2007) catches lightning in a bottle. It's is a humorous first person puzzle video game developed and published by Valve. In this game, which is essentially a 3-D puzzle platformer, you use a portal gun to create teleportation points to solve physical puzzles. The gameplay develops wells, moves snappily along, and then throws you into the deep for an outrageous final level.

The humor and the storytelling in this game is top notch. There's just enough of this game to really make it work, giving you a good game play experience, while not so much of it that you're tired of the game by the end. Just like a good story, the game play adds hints of what's coming up, so when game play changes, you've been forewarned.

The game itself walks a nice line between challenging and frustrating, so even though you sometimes fail, you don't walk away in disgust or shout in anger.

What makes the game really work is the computer. Apparently, you are in an abandoned complex and the computer running you through scenarios isn't quite right, producing a very twisted comedy. They didn't need to make the computer that upbeat and that passive aggressive and that intolerably evil, but they made it all work out wonderfully.

Then there's the end song which is just the icing on the cake. My wife and daughter have been singing it for a week because it's so catchy and twisted.

The software itself was stable the whole time. I experienced no crashes.

I bought my copy for $5. If you can get this on sale, do so.

dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Chalice (2008) by Robin McKinley is a sweet slice of romance paired with a large dollop of fantasy. Served warm, they go rather well together.

The sweet romance progresses much as you would expected, with Robin finding plenty of ways move it along without the romance feeling too forced.

Robin spend considerable amounts of time ensuring that her heroine is a complete and round person, not needing a hero at all, but certainly not at the point where she doesn't need anybody.

Normally, I don't find magic systems very interesting, but I enjoyed her neighborhood fantasy, where the workings of the magical neighborhood matter. I was fascinated with idea of a magical local government, and how its members would work and function. Indeed, I found her magical beekeeper far more interesting than I find most magical folks. (I could call her a hedge wizard, but that would be like calling rice a kind of wheat. It's tru that they are both grains and very related, but you can't really call them the same thing.)

In total, I found this book a refreshing read and a nice break from doom and gloom fantasy.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
A Gift of Dragons (2002) collects together four Anne McCaffrey Pern short stories in a book aimed at the YA audience. The little hardback is well printed and bound nicely, making for a nice gift. One of the stories is new for the collection.

The stories pretty much unfold as you'd expect from a McCaffrey story. Bullies and egotists abound. So do dragons. The stories are all what they are, flowing well enough, twisting YA anxieties for all they are worth.

The new story in this volume centers around twins being searched, which triggers my anti-twin sentiments. (Since I'm a twin, I get to have anti-twin outrage and twin stereotypes.) The twins here, fraternal, look fairly alike and are inseparable. (Roll your eyes and sigh.)

Nothing here is fine literature, but they're perfectly good YA stories to keep a dragon lover occupied.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Final Fantasy X (2001) is highly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, of the Final Fantasy (FF) series. Replaying this game fifteen years later, I still find the story solid, the mechanics solid, the game play solid, and the mini-games so god-screamingly fubar that I want to murder a game developer. For this revisit, I bought the Remastered HD version for PC.

The HD remaster looks very, very nice, while retaining the bright colors and vibrancy of the original version. Thank you, artists, for not ruining the wonderful aesthetic. FFX is truly one of the most beautiful RPGs ever created.

The story itself follows the understandable Final Fantasy arc. We get a team, a crisis, a journey, eventually leading to an airship, and a final boss battle in an etherial place. It's what they did from there that made the story work. This is the first FF (I think) where a major point of the story is the romance between the hero and the heroine. It's a tragic love story. Over the course of the story, we learn that if she succeed, she dies, but if he succeed, then he dies. Our lovers are star crossed, their eternal longing certain. It's the success of this element, played straight, that expanded the story from being a boy's story to being and everybody story. Add to that the story of the previous generation, told through flashbacks, the stories of all the other companions, and the stories of other peoples, and you get a FF so packed with story that it splits its seams when it laughs.

You see all the usual FF classes, all the same, and yet all a little different. Yuna is both a summoner and a white mage, and the Aeons she summons don't just flash through for a round, but stick around and fight as their own beings. With the Aeons being so powerful, it means that Yuna is easily the most powerful character in the game when you need her to be. Lulu is a black mage, down to her black dress. She doesn't have a pointy hat, but her stuff animals that she uses to cast spells are of all the cutsie creatures that his version of FF didn't use (such as moogles and onion knights). Kimari combines the powers of a blue mage and a dragoon, in the most disappointing combo in the game, not being a strong enough spellcaster to matter and not being a strong enough warrior to matter. Rikku is both a thief and an alchemist. Auron is a swordsman. Tidus is another swordsman with elements of a bard. Wakka is an archer in the guise of a blitzball player, his specialty being status ailments.

The advancement system is like nothing that I've seen before or since, with the characters buying spheres on a grid, growing in power not by leveling, but by traversing the vast sphere grid. As the characters fight, they acquire both sphere levels and spheres for activating those levels.

Power doesn't just proceed linearly, it proceeds laterally. Rikku enables the modification of weapons using collected items and spheres. A few encounters allow the same with aeons, also using collected items and spheres. Combine the right things together for the right kinds of fight, and your characters can now grow powerful in completely new ways.

As all FF games, this one has bosses galore. Sometimes the boss fights are fun, sometimes they're annoying, and sometimes they are grinding long, especially at the end. Most of the time, I had fun with the bosses. My only annoyance with them is that they are immune to anything interesting that your character do. This makes sense, as the game developers didn't want you using any "I WIN" spell combo to trivialize the boss fight.

The PC Remastered version came with controls to increase or remove random encounters, a mechanical auto-fight, and a gameplay speedup. This helped in many instances later in the game when things got grindy.

Along with all the good comes a little bad. While some of the mini-games included were fun, for the most part, I found too many annoying, and some flat-out murderously frustrating. The monster arena subquest, where you seek to catch 10 of every monster, proceeds quickly at first, but in the later dungeons, some of the encounters show up so rarely that you can spend hours grinding just to get to 10 encounters. (I'm looking at you, Tonberry.) One subquest required that I dodge lightning bolts, but I dodged 0 lightning bolts in 30 or 40 tries. I think that my video was lagging behind the software so that when the image appeared on my monitor, I was already too late to dodge the lightning bolt. Even so, you had to dodge 200 of those thing in a row. That's FUBAR crazy. Challenges are one thing, but self-torture is entirely a different thing.

Getting to some of the best spells in the game proved rather hard. At this point, I haven't found enough Lvl. 4 key spheres to unlock any of the best spells. With enough work, yes, I can collect them, but that just brings us back to the grind. I had this problem on the first play through. Fortunately, you don't need the best of everything to complete the game. I think that those super spells were there to satisfy the completionist and challenge-obsessed players. They like the crazy hard challenges thrown into games.

The characters have all sorts of special celestial weapons that they can acquire, which is fun except for all the mini-games that have to get played to acquire said weapons. There's even a few hidden aeons that can be acquired.

This HD version is descended from the International version, which introduced dark aeons to the game. For some unfathomable reason, the designers put super-impossible (but not impossible) aeons into places where you had to face them, whereupon you got butchered. I found that they sucked so much fun out of the game that I used a game editor to remove them. I had no problem with the challenge, but I had every problem with the designers requiring you to power up your characters so that you could get the items that you needed to power up your characters. By the time that you can defeat the dark aeons, you don't need the special items at all.

As normal, the final boss fights are insanely hard and long, with multiple stages of defeat. Fortunately, you can work them out. The problem in losing, of course, is that you need to go through all the cut scenes all over again, and you can't skip.

My main problem with the end game is that it got rather grindy. I ran into this problem when I first played FFX. I can grind valiant at first, but soon I flag. There soon comes a point where the potential reward is offset by the tedium of the journey. The offered challenge is just not enough to draw me on.

And then there's Blitzball. I figured out more of it this time, but truth be said, the game bores me and your opponents run over you for so long that playing the game just gets unrewarding fast. Even worse, some of Wakka's best moves are tied to the blitzball subgame, so if you don't play it, one of your characters doesn't get his best stuff. Evil!!!

That much said, don't let my rants about the endgame fool you. The flaws of the endgame stand out so starkly because the reset of the game works so fabulously well. And for some, the flaws are what they love. There are people who love blitzball. There are people who love the challenges. There are people who love the crazy side quests. It's all good for somebody.

I hope that ten years from now, I take the time to play it again.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
I found The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (2007) a rather frustrating and glorious experience, depending on the story. On balance, I found too many stories simply not to my taste, so I skipped them. Of the stories that remained, I can heartily endorse each and every one of them as GOOD.

What was wrong with this collection? I found that too many of these stories weren't fantasy or science fiction stories, they were other kinds of story with fantasy or SF twists, usually at the end. While I don't call them bad stories, as each was written very well, they simply didn't strike me as belonging in this collection. You might think me narrow minded or intolerant or fussy or behind the times, and maybe I am each of these things, but I strongly disagree with the notion. I've read some pretty radical stuff in my day without blinking. This stuff wasn't radical, it was boring.

Even worse than boring was the sameness of all the stories. I could have sworn up and down that most of these stories was written by the same dull writer. The voicing came across like a machine had produced each story, each one using the same kind of pacing and technique. Unfortunately, without the engagement being in the stories, each one felt dull.

As for the good tales, they were a varied and engaging lot. I'll give a shout-out to some of my favorites. My criteria is that the story must work through its SF or fantasy element. If you can easily change the element while keeping the heart of the story, I don't consider it a SF or Fantasy story. Also excluded is any story which I've forgotten the plot for only a few days after reading it.

Three Twilight Tales - Jo Walton
These three, fairytale style stories, are just long enough to entertain and get their point across.

The Island - Peter Watts
A fantastic psychological hard SF story and a hard SF story at the same time.

Ferryman - Margo Lanagan
This is a very mythic tale, told well.

Dragon's Teeth - Alex Irvine
While I found the ending rather empty, and the structure rather awkward and forced at times, the story is a fine example of low fantasy which, when working well, works extremely well.

Mongoose - Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
This is pretty much a medium-hardness SF tale. While I think that the story lacks a certain something and has a few pacing issues, I rather enjoyed everything else.

Before My Last Breath - Robert Reed
Mankind discovers an alien graveyard. Simple, yet mournful.

Joboy - Diana Wynne Jones
A boy discovers his own heritage the hard way. I think that the story ended a bit poorly, but it held me all the way through with no issues.

Utriusque Cosmi - Robert Charles Wilson
I don't know whether to call this a time travel story, a memoir, or a rationalized Theosophical universe. Honestly, it's all of the above and it just WORKS.

A Delicate Architcture - Catherynne M. Valente
This is a fairytale style story, about a confetion-made girl, one with great heart and heartlessness.

The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles - Kij Johnson
This was a simple animal perspective story, well done. This story screams "read me out loud."
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2003) by Ursula LeGuin is a compilation of Hainish stories. As usual for LeGuin stories, they both hurl themselves deeply into the cultures of future and far away civilization, yet also have a clinical feel to them, feeling distant for all their immediacy. These stories come with all the quality, all the frustration, and all the idiosyncrasies of LeGuin. In my opinion, the stories all make for a good read, but not all the stories make for a satisfying read. If you are unfamiliar with LeGuin, these stories are not a place to begin. If you are familiar with LeGuin, then you'll know what you're getting into when you begin this collection.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Mostly Harmless (2000) by Douglas Adams shows demonstrates what happens when a novelist acts passive-aggressively towards his publisher. While technically a Hitchhiker's book, the novel lacks much of the charmingness that a Hitchhiker's book usually contains. If you thought that our heroes were sent through the ringer in previous books, they're positively steamrolled flat in this one. If there was any book that the fans wouldn't want, this is it.

This book sends a message to the publisher: if you want an even less sympathetic Hitchhiker's book, I dare you, just dare you, to make me write it.

On the writing side, the whole thing works as a story, the descriptions continue to engage, and the plot still rolls along nicely. However, without its metaphorical heart of gold, it's got a metaphorical heart of lead. I figure that Douglas must have played a rousing game of Fallout before penning this book, just to reacquaint himself to bleak.

If Le Miserables were written as a comedy, it would read like this. As a film, it would be directed by Lars von Trier. If it was a play, it would go on after Hamlet just so that the audience could get properly warmed up.

If you aren't up for it, then skip it. Your happy universe will be better off. On the other hand, if you love the humor in Fallout, then this is the book for you.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Gene Wolfe continues his soldier series with a third book, Soldier of Sidon (2006). The story follows the life of Latro, a man who forgets every day, and so writes down his memories on a scroll. The book itself purports merely to be a translation from an ancient scroll from the height of the Persian Empire. It is the literary equivalent of found footage.

Being a man who loses his memory has many implications, and in this series, having a head wound means that Latro sees and interacts with gods and spirits and things unseen. Although he forgets facts, he does recall feelings, and so can sort out who he prefers and who he trusts. Likewise, he retains skills as he learns them, such as the languages that he's exposed to.

In this book, we find Latro in Egypt, who will travel south, upriver, in search of restoring his memories. What follows is more of a travel log than an adventure, a witnessing of a time long ago when people were very different, yet very much the same.

If you are sensitive to sexism, you will find your sexism meter ringing. As the book seeks to give us a sense of time and place, it seeks to give us a sense of gender as well. In good news, the books gives us a sense of sexism because there are women present and those contribute greatly to the story. They are not absent characters, and they do not exist to be rescued. However, they do often sound like ingenues from some 1940's movie. Gererally, the women prove themselves useful and important without picking up weapons, a standard that I hold the male characters to.

As to the male character, all the men are not warriors. The men come from a variety of places and backgrounds, few of them steeped in testosterone culture. This is not a tale of manly manliness. I believe that stories which move away from testosterone culture are more important in addressing sexism in literature than addressing the status of women directly.

The novel itself is less of a novel and more of a happenstance, a recounting, a slice of life. It begins where it begins and ends where it end. I did not come away with a feeling of a complete loop. Some things were resolved, but their resolution passed by like nothing.

The fun of the novel comes from the multiple snapshots that you get of each character. As Latro always forgets them, he always reintroduces them as well. Sometimes this is confusing, but usually this is enlightening. One sees the arc of relationships progress, much being said in the reintroduction of each character.

The writing itself is fairly straightforward and unornamented. There is little inherent beauty in the plain language and sparse descriptions. Yet, I feel that the narrative is well told, except for the ending which I feel falls flat. The character walk off the page, the story undone. The only reason I don't give the story five stars is because the ending gives the story no meaning, not heft, no closure nor satisfaction.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Innocents Aboard (2004, Tor books) is a compilation of stories by Gene Wolfe. This compilation demonstrates all that is great and all that is awful about Gene Wolfe's writing.

Before I rip, know that Gene's technical level of writing is excellent throughout these works. The man's command of the language is sometimes poetic, and sometimes unadorned, but always solid in a way that only a good writer can produce. Gene's sentences are never the problem.

For me, this set of stories, almost to a tale, left me cold and empty. Aside from being told completely, I found little sympathy with the characters, their situations, or their misfortunes. I would ache no less for a mannequin as the protagonist. Given that these are, ostensibly, stories of horror or suspense, a lack of connecting with the characters takes away the emotional punch of the tales, if such tales can be said to have an emotional punch, which they don't.

As Wolfe is familiar with the 50's and 60's, many details in these stories come directly from his own experience, giving your a view of machinery and set dressing that lends a verite to these tales. You need that verite, for that experience gives these stories a basis of believability. Horror and suspense does not exist outside of the believable. You need this world and its experiences for the unbelievable to take on that air of possibility.

If you are into Wolfe,  recommend this compilation. I admit that I was thrown by all the horror as I'm just not into that. I won't deduct any stars over my personal tastes. If you happen to like both horror and Wolfe, they you should find yourself pleased.

A few stories stood out from the pack.

The Sailor Who Sailed After the Sun tells the tale of a monkey who goes whaling, only to end up in even more improbable circumstances. I enjoyed this tale for its lightness, its amusement value, and the fact that I liked the monkey. I think that this is the only tale where I felt any emotion connection to the protagonist.

Houston, 1943 tells the story of a boy who has an out-of-body experience. The tale itself is as cold as his other tales, but the support matter and the string of events brings a subtle horror to it. In not being structured like other horror tales, this story somehow achieves a deeper horror while bumping along with Wolfe notorious obscure narration, one that leaves you with an incomplete idea of what's happening.

A Traveler in Desert Lands tells the tale of a man who stopped in the wrong desert town. The horror of this tale again doesn't quite follow standard horror progression. I found the overall situation discovered actually befit horrifying, but I did not suffer over the man's ultimate fate.

The tale winds up with The Lost Pilgrim, the tale of a time traveler who wound up back in Mycenaean Greece, when the gods still walked the earth and heroes still roamed. For any of those who've read his Soldier Of series, the style of narrative is just as engaging. The story itself is structured as a portal fantasy, where a person from elsewhere shows up, makes good, rises in power, catches the heart of the only or most prominent woman, and then defeats his greatest enemy. Only, this person's greatest enemy was time, and when it comes to time, you lose.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Just when you thought it was safe to mock Ursula LeGuin, laughing at her for being a has-been or an over-touted never-was, she walks gently in with this book, throws you down to the mat with a gently push, and tells you to shut up. The grandmaster has entered the room and all will attend. That's how I feel about Tales From Earthsea.

This books fully retconns her Earthsea universe into one that is more equatable and fair in a way that her earlier books failed at. This books makes it clear that the opinion of wizards, and their view of the world, in no way encompasses the whole world. In many way, the earlier Earthsea books become a sort of propaganda, technically true, yet playing up one group of people and pushing down or marginalizing others. Sorcers and witches, old powers and strange lore, had always been part of Earthsea. In many ways, they were far more powerful as they made a material difference in the everyday lives of people. In contrast, wizards are few and far between, with many people never meeting a wizard at all. They may do grand things, but their lore often lends them to doing nothing at all.

The book opens with a long story about Otter that goes on and on, past where you think that it will end, winding itself around several other places, and landing nicely at its end, telling us a tale of a time before there was a school on Roke, when being a wizard was far more like being a cheap paperback wizard. Roke did not ascend through violence in its defeat of that unjust non-system, but through patience and cooperation, for in these stories, violence is not the axis on which these stories turn.

A handful more stories follow, all elsewhere and elsewhen in Earthsea, giving us a wider view of this place where heroes are not so important, and great things don't necessarily happen. A wizard winds up in the wrong place. A girl want to know her name. A boy falls in love with a girl. All simple stories, in their right, and all warm in their telling.

This book pleased me. 
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
I don't recall if I read The Other Wind before, so I likely listened to it as an audiobook. It tells the story of a mending sorcerer who talks to many people in Earthsea, who then tell their own stories, before finally wrapping up with something that approximates an ending.

The first quarter of the book catches us up on the events of previous Earthsea novels, making sure that all the highlights have been highlighted. We then travel onward, where we catch up with a few more characters, more events recapped, and more details filled in. Finally, for the last quarter of the book, everyone goes on a boat ride to Roke, then go camping, thus saving the world.

Ostensibly, the plot involves the fact that the Dry Lands are an artificial construct, created by wizards, to create some sort of immortality among themselves, but over the centuries that's pretty much been forgotten. At this point, the dead have gotten pretty sick of being dead and just want to be finally and completely dead, not just mostly dead. So, the dead reach out to a sorcerer particularly adept at repairing, for they want him to tear down the wall, which doesn't need repairing at all, and helps you to understand why that poor sorcerer was so confused. Who hires a mender to tear things down?

We have some symbolic plots closed up. When the Ring of Elfarran was rejoined, it symbolized rejoining in Earthsea as well, and so our good Earthsea king gets a fierce Earthsea Karg princess, and so the realms are joined and Earthsea itself made whole. This plot I actually approve of. Not only does it make thematic sense, it gives our dear Tenar something to do and lets her have her identity as a Karg back again. We have the mutterings of "change" finally brought forth and we get to see change, although we really don't know what that change means, so this is change with sparklers and neon signs. The presentation is pretty but we still don't know what's actually changed other than the dry lands, which only wizards could visit, is gone. I don't see most people noticing that change.

Other plots are wrapped up as well. Ged never gets his powers back. Tehanu flies away to the other wind, finally a dragon. The King finds his Queen. And everyone who's had a stick up their ass takes it out and gets to be a decent human being for once. The only thing missing from this book in the end was a rousing Kubaya around the campfire while a joint got passed around.

I'll happily recommend this book to any fan of Earthsea, but if you haven't read anything else in the series, most of the book will be lost to you. 
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