Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wheel of Time [14] A Memory of Light - Part 2

This is Part 17 of my continuing series of blogs regarding what may possibly be my last re-read of The Wheel of Time, coinciding with the release of the final book in 2013. Please see this blog post for an overview of the re-read and why I am blogging about it. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES. The best way to approach this retrospective is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet, you may want to wait on reading this.



Book 14: A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 2
Now we get into the meat of the book.  The Last Battle.  Imagine my surprise when I realized the chapter entitled "The Last Battle" was actually 190 pages long.  It's a novella in itself.  Bravo to Brandon Sanderson for deciding to do it that way... perfectly fitting in terms of epicness (is that a word?).  He wanted to make it feel like you couldn't put the book down during the battle, and it does feel that way.

There's even a quote at the beginning of the chapter, something we never see in Wheel of Time.  Sanderson does it in his work, though (see The Way of Kings), so it wasn't surprising that he squeezed one in there somewhere, and the importance of the chapter does call for it.

The Last Battle
When I first looked at the Table of Contents, I noticed there was a map for the Field of Merrilor later on in the book.  At the end of the previous book, Towers of Midnight, Rand is preparing to meet the leaders of the "world" there to discuss the Last Battle, etc.  I thought that would happen right at the beginning.  Surely that wouldn't be delayed until then?  Not to worry... turns out the Field of Merrilor also ends up being the location of the Last Battle.

Hinderstap
My opinion of the strange, almost out-of-place Hinderstap storyline in Book 12, The Gathering Storm, is revised after this.  The way Mat used them was pretty awesome.  I didn't catch the hints about them the first time I read the book, so when they came back to life to take down the Dreadlords and Trollocs at the dam, I was pleasantly surprised.  The setup was much clearer on my re-read.

Quick Character Cameos
I'm a bit torn on these.  During the Last Battle, the action will cut to a character we haven't seen or heard from in a long time... characters whose stories you thought were pretty much complete and didn't expect to reappear.  I understand the purpose: to let you know that everyone, high and low, is fighting against the Shadow.  But some almost take you out of the action, because they abruptly appear and are abruptly gone.

The ones that stand out are:

Ila = The Tinker married to Raen, grandmother of Aram (the Tinker who took up a sword, died in Book 11, Knife of Dreams).  She hadn't been seen since Book 4, The Shadow Rising.  I don't mind her appearance too much, her and the other Tinkers checking the battlefield for wounded that can be Healed; it shows how every type of people are helping at the Last Battle somehow.

Juilin Sandar = Had been with Mat for a long time, doing nothing important, went to Tar Valon before Last Battle.  He hadn't done anything impactful since Book 9, Winter's Heart.  I don't like his abrupt appearance in the Battle, especially when you never learn if he lives or dies.  Better to have left him out, in my opinion.

Hurin = Featured character in Book 2, The Great Hunt, but he had pretty much been gone since then, only briefly reappearing in Book 12, The Gathering Storm, as part of the Borderlander army.  Not a fan of his brief appearance either... at least you find out that he dies later, when Rand sees what has happened to his friends on the battlefield.

Androl Stealing the Seals
I don't know about you, but this seemed a bit unrealistic.  Taim has the 3 remaining seals on the Dark One's prison - the real ones.  They had been stolen from Rand's hiding place at some point in the past.  Androl disguises himself as one of the Dreadlord Asha'man using a Mask of Mirrors to get close to Taim on the battlefield, and proceeds to steal the seals by bumping into Taim and filching them from the pouch at his belt in the few seconds they are in contact.  Taim is completely unaware they are stolen.  Really?  By far the most unbelievable portion of the book.  It would almost have been better had the seals not been stolen.

Credit Todd Cameron Hamilton

Abrupt, Off-screen Deaths
There are a couple of these.  And it sucks that you don't realize that a long-running character has died until after the fact, when someone's telling someone else.  I know it's war and this happen abruptly like that, and I can understand that sometimes it doesn't make narrative sense to break away for a quick death... but in the case of Gareth Bryne, I feel Sanderson should have.  Bryne and Siuan have been around since the first and second books, respectively - they deserved a little more than that.  At least cut away to show Bryne going mad after Siuan dies.  I was disappointed in how that was handled.

Demandred and Shara
I thought this was the coolest part of the entire book.  It was a huge plot twist that I honestly did not expect.  As I mentioned in the blog for Book 6, Lord of Chaos, I've always thought the mystery of Demandred's whereabouts and disguise was more interesting and important than that of the biggest mystery (Who Killed Asmodean?).

The first theories thought he was Mazrim Taim in the Black Tower, which seemed obvious until Jordan denied it.  Others thought it was King Roedran of Murandy, which I never bought into (Sanderson kills this theory right at the beginning of A Memory of Light, when Rand first meets Roedran at Merrilor; it's an amusing moment and I felt like Sanderson specifically put this in there to kill the theory without question).  Not epic or important enough.  So where was he?  There were subtle mentions about how he had an army ready, but we never got anything concrete.

When he appears on the battlefield with a massive army of Sharan warriors and channelers, I was completely stunned.  Sure, people theorized that he was in Shara, but the way Shara was essentially ignored and how Jordan intimated that nothing would take place in Shara, I figured it would continue to be ignored.

Not this time.  My basic reaction to Demandred and Shara's appearance was "Fuck Yeah."  Keeping it secret all this time made his reveal that much more effective and awesome, though it might have been useful to put a few more obvious hints about it throughout the series, to keep it from the realms of deus ex machina.  Because it was very close to being that, and I know many readers felt it came out of left field.

Either way, we finally get to learn a substantial bit more about this culture that has been shrouded in secrecy the entire series.  Channelers are tattooed all over and rank is determined by how few tattoos you have.  So as Egwene astutely notes, you can fall down, but you can't rise back up.

But since Demandred and his time in Shara are covered in the short story "River of Souls," which was released in the Unfettered anthology (see below), I'll talk about it more in the blog for that.  After reading that, I'm a bit torn on Jordan's treatment of the storyline.

Demandred and the Three Champions
Demandred turns out to be a total badass in this book, and I loved how the Light essentially sent three champions out to try and take him down in single combat.  Now Logain did try to battle Demandred with the One Power, but that was a silly notion on Logain's part, and he got his ass whooped.  It's not worth recounting here.

Gawyn
This battle is only made interesting because of Gawyn's use of the Bloodknife rings.  He would have never stood a chance on his own.  It was a good fight, but you knew hands-down that Demandred was going to win.  No contest.

Galad
I actually thought Galad would win.  The foxhead medallion was a great twist, because it rendered Demandred's channeling relatively useless.  It seemed like the perfect scenario to take him down and I kept thinking about that prophecy that says the royal line of Andor would be the key to the Last Battle.  That can be interpreted in different ways, to refer to both Rand and Gawyn/Galad/Elayne, but it's obvious by this point that all of them were important to battle in their own way.  Still, it was too early for Demandred to die and in the end he was much too skilled in the sword, even for Galad.

Lan
What else can be said about this, other than it was completely awesome?  Lan practices what he preaches and essentially won his self-proclaimed war against the Shadow by knocking out their general.  Waaaay back in Book 2, The Great Hunt, he mentions "Sheathing the Sword" to Rand:
"I said listen sheepherder," the warder growled. "There will come a time when you must achieve a goal at all costs. It may come in attack or defense. And the only way will be to allow the sword to be sheathed in your own body."  
"You will know when it comes, sheepherder, when the price is worth the gain, and there is no other choice left to you. That is called Sheathing the Sword. Remember it." 
Now, Rand uses this at the end of that book, when he battles Ishamael in the sky and receives the first of his never-going-to-heal wounds.  So to see it used again, by Lan himself, was awesome.  It was by far the most important battle of Lan's life, and he knew it.  I also loved how Demandred was defeated during a simple swordfight, rather than by a massive channeling battle.

From the WoT Wikia

The Other Ta'veren
In Part 1 of this blog, I talked a bit about Mat and how he ends up the general at the Last Battle, so I won't go over that again.  I was satisfied with his story and Sanderson did a good job with Mat in the last book (in my opinion), though his whole affiliation with the Seanchan is weird.  Will he really stay with them after Tarmon Gai'don?  I think he would, for a while... then eventually leave.  I can't imagine him staying within the Seanchan Empire and under Tuon's heel for the rest of his life.

As for Perrin... well, his sections grew a bit tiresome.  It was the same stuff that happened in the previous volume, Towers of Midnight, more Matrix-style fighting against Slayer in the Wolf Dream, dreamspikes, etc etc.  His Towers of Midnight arc was great and he became cool for me again, but only for one book.  In this one he went back to being boring.  I always thought he was going to lead the beasts to the Last Battle, but that didn't happen (Elyas did).  He simply watched Rand's back while he fought the Dark One.

And what about his new hammer, Mah'alleinir?  After that great forging scene... nada.  Virtually irrelevant in the Last Battle.  His skill in Tel'aran'rhiod killed Slayer and his hands killed Lanfear.  Disappointing, to say the least.

Speaking of Slayer... that whole deal I've never liked.  Like Fain, he's a confusing character who ends up an amalgam of multiple people, and really doesn't make sense to me in the overall arc of the story.  It's like Jordan got lost along the way and didn't know what to do with either of the characters in the second half of the series.  They essentially end up being Mat's and Perrin's nemeses, but aren't really that important in the grand scheme of things.

Olver and the Horn
What happens to Olver during the Last Battle became one of the most memorable moments in the series for me.  Olver is the only true child character we have in this series, so his journey is a lot different than all the others we've been following.  It's a nice change of pace whenever we get to see things through his eyes, because he has a completely different perspective on the world than the adults do.

The Horn of Valere was found in Book 2, The Great Hunt, and was blown by Mat.  The entire series we figured Mat would still blow it at the end while commanding the armies of Light, despite the fact that he had seemingly died twice and may have lost his link (once in Book 4, The Shadow Rising, getting hanged in Rhuidean and saved by Rand; twice in Book 5, The Fires of Heaven, when Rahvin killed him in Caemlyn, but Rand brought him back by using balefire to kill Rahvin).  Jordan already confirmed that he did not die at Rhuidean.  Now, given the fact that Olver blows the Horn at the Last Battle, we learn that the Caemlyn death did indeed sever his tie to the Horn.  It's one of those things that is ambiguous and is not fully explained, and could be considered a plot hole.  Apparently his death and his link to the Horn are separate things, and balefire only repaired his existence, not his bond to the Horn, and I'm fine with that.

From the WoT Wikia

So... the sequence of bringing the Horn to Mat was very well done.  It was quite ironic that Faile, who starts out the series as a Hunter for the Horn, ends up being the one to bring it to the Last Battle.

And Noal (Jain Farstrider) returning as a Hero of the Horn to save Olver?  Brought tears to my eyes.  Very well done sequence.  Birgitte coming back for Elayne was cool too, but not even close to the Noal return.

Padan Fain
There weren't too many disappointments in the final book for me, but this is by far the biggest one.  I knew that Jordan didn't intend for everything to be resolved or explained sufficiently, and I'm okay with that, but the resolution on Padan Fain seemed carelessly tossed in there.  I asked Sanderson about this at the signing I went to and he said that it was a matter of "Jordan says Padan Fain meets this fate, so I made it happen."  He said there was nothing else left to him in the notes for Fain to do.

There might have been more that Sanderson could have done with the character, but it would have been complete conjecture / invention on his part, and I understand the decision.  So I have to place the blame for this squarely on Jordan, who built up this character as important during the first half of the series, then completely ignored him.  He explained Fain as a "rogue," operating outside of the Shadow's plans, and like I said earlier, it feels like Jordan didn't know exactly where he was going with him... and throwing the death into the end like this left a bitter taste in my mouth.

If he wasn't going to be important or worth writing about later, just kill him earlier.  After injuring Rand in Book 7, A Crown of Swords, he served no purpose.  Fain is nothing more than a victim of the sheer scope of the series.  There was no place for him later on, and it showed with the way he was disposed of here.

My favorite picture of Fain.
From the WoT Wikia.

Moiraine
I have to say that this was another disappointment for me, though very minor.  All the build up to free Moiraine... and she really did not do much.

She did convince the rulers of the world to sign the Dragon's Peace, so that was important, but in terms of Rand's fight against the Dark One... well, any Aes Sedai could probably have done that.  Though I guess the point was that she and Nynaeve were the only Aes Sedai that Rand trusted enough to take with him to Shayol Ghul and perhaps put his life in their hands.

So on one hand, she probably should have remained dead, but on the other, without her survival we wouldn't have such awesome storylines as the Tower of Ghenjei sequence from Towers of Midnight and the return of Noal as a Hero of the Horn.

On the other, Sanderson has said that her purpose was to prevent Rand and Egwene from going to the Last Battle separately.  They had to be united and in agreement.  Which she did, at the meeting at Merrilor.

Rand vs. The Dark One
This was slightly underwhelming the first time I read it.  Since time works differently near the Bore, days can pass on the battlefield while it's only minutes for Rand.  So what's a relatively short confrontation with the Dark One is stretched across half of the book, in small bits and pieces.

In retrospect, and after a second read of the book, the confrontation makes sense.  At least it wasn't a cliched sword fight, right?  Though it started out as one, with Rand and Moridin (effectively the avatars of the Creator and the Dark One) dueling it out.  But this is thankfully interrupted for the real battle, and Rand and the Dark One simply take turns showing each other the realities they would make if they were to win, while pointing out the flaws in each reality.  Eventually Rand scraps his plan to destroy the Dark One or create a world without Shadow, because there has to be some sort of balance.  You cannot have Light without Dark.  The common duality you find in a lot of fantasy work.

Rand also learns to "let go," and let others fight their own battles, die on their own terms, be heroes on their own.  All throughout the series he assumes he has to do all of it for them, which he finally realizes was selfish of him.  He has his battle, they have theirs.

And so everything goes according to plan.  The surprise is that Callandor is actually a sa'angreal for the True Source and has a flaw that allows females to take control of the male wielding it.  So they essentially trick Moridin into drawing the True Power through Callandor, then Moiraine and Nynaeve seize control of him.  From there it's a simple matter to patch the Dark One's prison after Logain breaks the remaining seals (part of the "glory" Min saw for him many books ago).

Callandor, aka The Sword in the Stone, from
the cover of Book 3, The Dragon Reborn

Finally, People Die
This has been something people have criticized Jordan for in the past: his main characters never die.  Even Moiraine, who we thought was dead, comes back 8 books later.  Half of the Forsaken are resurrected and put into new bodies through the course of the series.  It does bother me on some level, but it doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the series.  This time around, however, we have the Last Battle and all bets are off.


I will say that having them around for so long does make their eventual deaths more emotional - when they are given the attention they deserve, at least.  I'll just give my thoughts on each major death.

Gawyn Trakand
At least he went out trying to make a difference.  He's always been an okay character for me; I neither hate nor love him.  He was a good choice to die.

Egwene al'Vere
This was a surprise, but in retrospect it makes sense.  I cried when she died, it was a very powerful scene - one of the most powerful in the series for me.  She definitely went out in a blaze of glory and took out a big chunk of the Shadow: M'Hael (Taim) and many other channelers.  Her death also trapped Sakarnen, the male sa'angreal of Demandred's that he gave to M'Hael to use, and prevented it from being retrieved from someone else.

Bela
I wish she hadn't died.  I liked how this one horse was featured throughout the series, all the way from the Two Rivers to the Last Battle.  In the end she dies doing something important.  Every creature has a purpose it seems, and that was hers.  We do know that Harriet mandated her death, so if you're upset about it, blame her.


Siuan Sanche
This one surprised me.  Once Min said that her viewing about staying close to Gareth Bryne had not actually come true, I was like, "Oh no you didn't!"  That was a great reveal.  Jordan was very clever with his prophecies and foretellings and visions, etc... and this added a new layer to it.  You know immediately that something bad was going happen after Min's reveal, but when she did die... it was a bummer.  I had grown to like the post-Amyrlin-post-Healed-now-married Siuan.

Gareth Bryne
After Siuan dies you know Gareth will.  His death scene getting cut was a disappointment for me.  I've already discussed that so I'll just move on.

Birgitte
Not a true death since she comes back as a Hero, but the way she went out was brutal.  Beheaded by Doilin Mellar, who then plans to cut Elayne's babies from her womb.  At least now we know that Birgitte would have come back as  Hero, had Elayne not bonded her to save her life back in Book 5, The Fires of Heaven.

Davram Bashere 
Another abrupt, off-screen death.  I've never been a huge Bashere fan, so eh.

Rhuarc
This one was a bit sad.  Rhuarc was such a strong man, so to see him reduced to one of Graendal's pets was sad.  It's actually a good thing he died, it was pretty much over once Graendal got a hold of him.

Forsaken
I thought they were all going to die, so I was slightly disappointed there.  The ones that did survive, though (Hessalam/Graendal and Moghedien), got their just desserts.  For the others, it was time for them to die.  Finally.  None would serve a purpose after the Dark One had been defeated and the Bore sealed, and the Dark One would not have the power to bring any of them back, since he would be shut away from the Pattern again.

Rand's Resurrection
And so in the aftermath, Rand survives the Last Battle.  Did not surprise me.  We all knew it was coming.  He somehow swaps bodies with Moridin (this is left unexplained).  His previous body is burned on a pyre and most believe he is dead.  Except...

...for his three lovers.  His bond to Elayne, Min and Aviendha remains.  So they know what is up and don't act very sad at Rand's funeral.  There is no explanation as to how the bond remained after he switched bodies, which I thought was lame.  How much better would it have been had everyone truly thought he died?  Rand could have gone out into the world a free man, no more ties, no one else to be responsible for.

Instead, he rides off into the sunset with a few knowing he still lives, which I'm not thrilled with... but what can you do, it's not my story.  Still, it's quite bittersweet and I like how he's rewarded with a new life and a clean slate.  I keep thinking, what would he do?  He's been virtually everywhere already.  If you had spent two years traveling the world and saving a generally ungrateful humankind, what would you do?  Things that make you go hmmm...

Credit Duncan Lilly

Who Wrote What?
A topic that has come up many times since the first book of the "Sanderson Trilogy" (as I call it), The Gathering Storm, was released, was "who wrote what?"  Which parts were Jordan, which Sanderson?

Personally, I don't really care, as for the most part Sanderson did a fine job of melding his style to Jordan's writing and WoT, but since A Memory of Light has been published, Sanderson has elaborated a bit on who did what.  He doesn't go into detailed specifics, since that would distract from the story - and I agree with him.

If you're curious, here's what we do know:

  • The Gathering Storm = Egwene is more Jordan, Rand is more Sanderson
  • Towers of Midnight = Mat is more Jordan, Perrin is more Sanderson
  • A Memory of Light = Ending is Jordan
  • Prologues across all 3 books = Mostly Jordan

So as you can see, there was a ton of filling-in-the-blanks that Sanderson had to do.  He's also mentioned that many times people think he wrote a part, when actually Jordan did.

Also, it has been noted that two deaths were added by Harriet McDougall (Jordan's widow / editor) and Sanderson.  Harriet said Bela should die.  Sanderson was responsible for one of the major deaths, but refuses to specify which.  It's not Egwene, I know that, since that came from Jordan's notes.

Chapter Names
A brief note on something that I probably should have included in Part 1 of this blog, rather than Part 2.  Chapter Names.  It's known that Harriet came up with most of the chapter names.  She even thought up and assigned the chapter icons and most of the book titles, after each manuscript was complete.  I find this interesting, because I like to come up with chapter names while I write.  Of course, for the book titles, it makes sense since Jordan had no idea how many books the series would take or what exactly would be in each book.

From the WoT Wikia

But I digress.  What I wanted to mention was that I was actually disappointed with the chapter names in this book.  I felt they should have been more epic and interesting, without giving too much away.  You should be able to read through the list, be intrigued by the chapter names, and also be eager to read if you're familiar with the series - it should give hints of things to come.

This is the most epic book of the series, yet we have titles like "A Smile," "Too Many Men," "A Practiced Grin," "A Knack"... etc etc.  I know for some of the chapters, there's not much to go on, and I know how that is (in coming up with chapter names for my current work, The Hope of Memory), but still... they aren't very exciting to me.  Oh well.  I suppose it doesn't matter, they don't really need to entice readers with chapter names in the 14th book of a series.

The End?
As Darth Vader famously said in Star Wars, the circle is now complete.  The Wheel of Time is over and after 20 years I finally got to read the end of the story.  It was very emotional for me.  I never thought it would come.  It was an odd feeling - for the first time, I was able to finish a WoT book feeling content.  But I can say that I was completely happy with the ending despite a few minor disappointments; it was appropriate, and I was satisfied.

There's still one more piece left, though.  A section was cut from A Memory of Light, entitled "River of Souls."  It was cut for pacing reasons and because it introduced too much new information when things should be wrapping up.  This section is included in the Unfettered charity anthology as a "Wheel of Time tale."  The story is from the POV of Demandred, detailing some of what he was doing in Shara while Rand and Co. were having their adventures in Randland.


I finally received this book in the mail while writing these blogs for A Memory of Light (it was supposed to released in May, was pushed back to July).  So that will be the next entry.  After that I'll do a conclusion post and finally wrap up this Retrospective after 2+ years.  There are a few more things to talk about, but after Unfettered and the eventual Official Encyclopedia that Harriet has mentioned, there will be no more Wheel of Time stories.

Depending on what kind of content the Official Encyclopedia contains, I'll do a blog post for that.  We'll see.  I will buy it, regardless.

Usually I end each blog entry in my WoT Retrospective with thanks... since I've thanked everyone already, I'll just thank myself for sticking with the Retrospective and actually getting it done!

Next: 

Short Story  River of Souls

Previous:


Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 1
The Wheel of Time is Complete
Reference  The Big White Book
Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight

Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World

Retrospective Overview

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hope of Memory [Update 14] Outlines and Previews

An update on my The Hope of Memory trilogy.

Rom Tar Outline
I've completed the detailed outline of Book 3, Rom Tar.  I know you're wondering: Why I didn't have a detailed one from the very start?  Well, I did have an outline, but it was very high-level, without any real specifics.  I knew how I wanted it to end and the general way to get there.  Now I have a 21-page document with plenty of background and a detailed summary.

I couldn't have written this before finishing the second book, Wilders, since as I've mentioned plenty of times, I always come up with new ideas while actually writing.  So I adjust the story as needed.  The plot points of Rom Tar changed as a result, but the end is the same.  And now that I have that, I've been able to make a few adjustments to The Distant to reflect the future storylines.

I will say... writing an epic series takes a lot of planning and discipline.  Just doing a trilogy is tough, especially with the way mine is structured.

The Distant Sixth Draft
The sixth draft of The Distant is complete.  One more draft, I think.  It has taken longer than I anticipated, but that's okay... it will be ready when it's ready.  I hope to release the eBook version in August, at least.

I plan on doing a trade paperback version through CreateSpace.  I need to do more research on that; haven't done it before and don't know what to expect, or the timings and costs involved.

Previews
Something I'm struggling with, is whether to put a preview of the next book in Books 1 and 2.  I'd like to give readers a taste of what to expect in the next volume, but each starts from a different POV and contains revelations that change the way you view the story; I'm hesitant to reveal it right away like that.

So should I leave those to their respective books to kick them off with a bang, or entice readers to get the next book by giving them an interesting and unexpected taste of where the story goes next?  Can't decide... can't decide... brain aneurysm!

Of course, some would say the story in The Distant should be interesting enough that you don't need a teaser for the next book to keep the reader invested in the series.  And I do feel that it ends strong enough to do that.  But still... reading the opening for the next book right away would push them over the edge, in my opinion.

So still thinking about that.

Friday, July 12, 2013

PHP Simple HTML DOM Parser

I used to be a staff member on playstationtrophies.org, helping out with all kinds of things there.  One thing I did during my time there was create a new BBCode Guide Template, using a Simple HTML DOM Parser for PHP.

You can find it here:

http://www.vyrastas.com/guide_template.htm

BBCode

First, a little background.  On playstationtrophies.org you post trophy guides in the forums.  To format and include images, etc, you use BBCode - it's like HTML in that you surround text with tags to provide functionality.  It's a standard for some forums, like VBulletin-based ones.

Since they require guides to be posted in a specific format, the user has to take data from a game's trophy page (like this) and turn that into the proper format on the forums (like this), as shown below:


This usually takes some work since you can't simply copy and paste from the trophy page to the forums - the formatting is different and depending on your browser it will copy differently.

Templates

Enter the template.  What it does is generate the exact BBCode you need to have the forum guide in the proper format, based on the trophy list for the game you choose.  All the user does is fill in their descriptions, etc.

Now this wasn't entirely my idea, a different user had posted one first, but it was taken down... and since we had become quite dependent on it, I decided to make a new version since I was already versed in PHP and HTML.

Simple HTML DOM Parser

The solution is to use this really easy PHP library, called Simple HTML DOM Parser.  Essentially it takes the HTML structure of a page and lets you traverse it in code, extracting info that you can then output in PHP in a different format.  Simply include the php file in your code and you're good to go.  There's a FAQ / Manual here that explains the most common functionality, and you can also read through the code itself to figure that out.

So to use it, in the PHP section of your HTML, include the PHP file/library:
   include('simple_html_dom.php');

Then pull the webpage you desire into a variable:
   $html = file_get_html('http://www.urlhere.com');

From there you can traverse the HTML DOM (Document Object Model) a variety of ways.  The most useful for me was something like:
   foreach($html->find('tr') as $x) { 
      //code here to handle every <tr> tag found
   }

Another way to move from a specific variable/tag (like the $x above) is to use the first_child() function:
   $e = $x->first_child();

This moves to the next child tag of the parent (<tr> in our case).  So this would most likely give you the first <td> tag (since <tr> is part of a table).  Using if statements for these within a for loop is the way I did it for the guide template.

You can check the $e properties (each <td> tag) by doing things like:
if ($e->class == 'linkT')
   // if the class of the <td> tag is "linkT", do something
   echo $e->plaintext;
     // print outs to HTML any text found within that <td> tag

So for the BBCode template, it's a mix of the data from the DOM of the page we're traversing and the tags you need for that specific data.

Inspecting Elements

Of course, to do this you need to be familiar with a page's structure in order to traverse it properly and get the data you want.  To do this I use the Inspect Element feature in Google Chrome.  I use Chrome for pretty much everything now; it's by far the best browser.  Anyway, just right-click on any webpage and select the "Inspect Element" option.

In the window that comes up, you can expand sections and mouse over them, and it will highlight that particular spot on the web page itself.  It's extremely handy when working with a tool like Simple HTML DOM Parser.  Here's an example for the trophy page I mentioned earlier:


I dig down to the content I need, look at the HTML tags available, and figure out how to identify them.  For playstationtrophies.org, it's fairly easy since most of the elements have a consistent and unique CSS class.

From there, just use echo to print everything out, along with the BBCode tags.  Here's an example, for the trophy tiles:
echo '[IMG]http://www.ps3trophies.org/' . 
   $e->first_child()->first_child()->src . '[/IMG]';

See?  Simples.

Resources

You can find some more suggestions on how to use PHP Simple HTML DOM Parser here:  http://davidwalsh.name/php-notifications

Also, another DOM Parser worth checking out, called Ganon, can be found here: https://code.google.com/p/ganon/.  This one handles more complex HTML and allows for better modification of the HTML.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Wheel of Time [14] A Memory of Light - Part 1

This is Part 16 of my continuing series of blogs regarding what may possibly be my last re-read of The Wheel of Time, coinciding with the release of the final book in 2013. Please see this blog post for an overview of the re-read and why I am blogging about it. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES. The best way to approach this retrospective is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet, you may want to wait on reading this.



Book 14: A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 1
And now... it all comes to an end.  Earlier this year, in January, the 14th and final book of The Wheel of Time, entitled A Memory of Light, was released.  After more than 20 years of waiting, I could finally read the end.  I took the day off work as usual, though it still took me 3 days to finish, reading it any free chance I got and neglecting more important responsibilities.

The post for this book ended up a bit longer than all the others, so much like the last "planned" book of WoT was split into 3 books, I'm splitting this into 2 posts.  It took me quite a while to put together, mainly since I took a break and eventually re-read the book once it was released as an eBook in April.  I thought about leaving it as one single post - which would be fitting, considering how long and epic the last book is - but in order to make it easier for me to review and the reader to digest, I split it.  The second half will be along soon.

In this post I'll talk about the first half of the book - everything prior to the Last Battle - along with the Sanderson signing I attended.  The second post will feature the Last Battle and character-specific musings.

I'll also be going back and updating previous posts in this Retrospective to address any conjectures I made about the final book, now that I know how to it all ends.  So recheck the previous posts to see those, if you like.

A Memory of Bookstores
During this Retrospective I've touched on how the bookstore landscape has changed over the years... well this time I went online to look for the closest place to get this book, as I moved to San Jose, CA after the release of Towers of Midnight, and most books I buy now are from Amazon.  I only bought 13 brand-new physical books in 2012 (stats brought to you by my handy media database).  Only one was bought at an actual bookstore - all the rest were ordered online.

Anyway, since I had bought that one book, I knew there was a Barnes & Noble around 20 minutes or so away across town, but figured in a city like San Jose, with a population of 1 million, there would be a closer "large" bookstore, one that was guaranteed to have the book.  Nope.  I had to drive out to that one.  All the Borders have been closed.  There are no Books-A-Million in California.  All those other big chain bookstores that existed when I started reading this series - B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Little Professor - all gone.  Now there's only Barnes & Noble, and even they are starting to close some locations down.

So all I have left are online outlets, which have the best price anyway, though publishers and authors have lamented that fact for a while now (most noticeably L.E. Modesitt, Jr, one of the few authors I follow regularly; his blog posts are usually good reads).  Today, most books I order from Amazon or occasionally buy at a used book store.

My go-to bookstore now...

The Future of Books
And so we have eBooks, which I'm starting to prefer, as after so many years of tracking my reading habits, I've discovered about 90% of the books I buy I only read once.  They then collect dust on bookshelves and make moving a pain in the ass.  So I only buy physical books for authors I like, or for specific series I know I want to re-read eventually or show off to visitors.

Speaking of eBooks, there was a big hubbub on Amazon when this book was released.  Even though it had been announced nearly 8 months prior, and had happened for the last couple volumes as well, everyone got all upset that the eBook version would not be released until April 2013.  So everyone freaked out and bitched about it and posted a number of 1-star ratings on Amazon (look at the early 1-star reviews) - which I think is completely unfair to the author and the content of the work.

Our on-demand internet-enabled world has definitely spoiled us.  We are not entitled to an eBook version on day of release if the publisher doesn't want to release it.  It's like a movie... if you want to see it when it comes out, you go to the overpriced theater.  How many times do you see people complain and rate a movie poorly because they didn't release the DVD edition the same day it came out in the theater?  Never.

Regardless, it's been an interesting journey, watching the rise and fall of book retailers over the course of this series.  Publishers can complain about it or try to fight it, but the real solution is to adapt to the changing book market.  It's never going to be like it was before.  Not with the advent of the internet and eBooks.

The Cover
I'm not going to go in-depth on the cover, as I already covered that when it was released back in Apr/May 2012.  Suffice to say, I like the cover, but honestly would have been fine with either version.  Yes, I actually like the Sweet cover for once.  It would have cool to use it... the unfinished cover for Jordan's unfinished novel...

Anyway, here is the official, final cover (by Michael Whelan) with the text and stuff.  I was so excited to get it, I even posted this on Facebook, to prove that the book was in my actual hands.


More Forsaken
So you thought we were done with new Forsaken and their continuous rebirths, eh?  Well, if you were one of those that liked how the Forsaken kept coming back, you'll like the beginning of this book, when the surviving Forsaken (or Chosen, as they refer to themselves) meet up for one last pow wow before the Last Battle.  At this point, the only ones left are Moridin (Ishamael), Demandred, Moghedien, Cyndane (Lanfear) and two new ones...

First, we have Hessalam, which means "without forgiveness" in the Old Tongue.  This is actually Graendal, after being "punished" by Shaidar Haran at the end of the previous book, Towers of Midnight.  This new body of Hessalam is quite ugly, something that highly irritates the vain Graendal.

Second, we have M'Hael, whom we all know and love by a more familiar name, Mazrim Taim.  In this early meeting, the theory of Demandred = Taim (which is hard not to subscribe to) is finally tossed down the drain as both are present at the same time.  They just happened to look like each other and entered the story around the same time (Book 6, Lord of Chaos).  Demandred did recruit Taim, though, and the Asha'man is elevated to the Chosen because of his success with recruiting Dreadlords (the Black Tower).

Side note: I don't know about you, but I've been rather disappointed in the new names for the Forsaken.  The original names are all badass.  The only cool new name is Cyndane... the others are weak and uninspired.

The "rebirth" of Graendal (I assume she was killed and cast into a new body) was not surprising, though if you've been reading these blogs you should know I'm not thrilled with the constant rebirth of Forsaken.  However... there's a nice explanation later in this book, I believe by Demandred, where he thinks about how the Dark One doesn't discard useful tools just because they've failed once.  Which makes sense.  The Dark One has no time to train and find new Forsaken, as he's lost so many now.

Graendal... no longer hot.
Courtesy of
Dabel Brothers / Dynamite Publishing

The Black Tower
This storyline essentially wraps up before the Last Battle proper.  The Black Tower has been neglected quite a bit since Rand set it up in Book 6, Lord of Chaos.  We visit it here and there over the second half of the series, and though details are scarce, we realize that something's very wrong.

There's a division in the ranks, between the erstwhile false Dragons Logain Ablar and Mazrim Taim.  We figured Taim was a Darkfriend of some sort. All signs pointed to it.  We learn here that he's been forcibly Turning "good" Asha'man (those that follow Logain) to the Shadow.  Logain has been a prisoner, resisting the Turning so far... but he's close to breaking.

Side note: I wonder why Jordan chose to call Logain by his first name in the narrative, while Taim went by his last name.  An intentional hint of the division to come?  Or simply because Logain sounds better than Ablar?

Anyway, the "problem" of the Black Tower is quickly resolved early in the book.  Sanderson takes Androl Genhald and develops him into the savior of the Tower.  Androl's only appearance during the Jordan books is a brief one in the Prologue of Book 9, Winter's Heart.  Sanderson said he wanted a character that Jordan hadn't really touched that he could develop on his own.  Team Jordan suggested Androl and he ran with him.

Side note: Some readers didn't like how much screen time Androl got (we don't need new characters at this point!), but it didn't bother me at all; I enjoyed it quite thoroughly.  He's the only character that has a complete arc in this book, which helps give it more depth and make it more than just the "final book."

So Androl rescues Logain (with some timely, convenient help from Perrin, who removes the dreamspike at the Black Tower).  And instead of them being pissed at Rand for abandoning them, they realize it was a good thing: they were able to fend for themselves, which they'll need to do after the Last Battle anyway, since Rand will be gone.

Taim and his new Dreadlords flee to prep for the Last Battle.  It's also hinted that Taim has the remaining Seals to the Dark One's prison - something Rand and Egwene are not aware of.  And Androl has plenty more to do during the Last Battle... we'll get to that in the next post.

On the Uses of Gateways
Speaking of Androl... many seem to feel that the new ways in which gateways were used in this last book reeks of fan fiction.  Sanderson has confirmed that they are entirely his own creation.  I think it's cool and agree with his reasoning on it. Instead of inventing new kinds of weaves, extrapolate on existing ones.  This happens throughout the series and things are discovered and then used in new, interesting ways (like the rediscovery of creating cuendillar, which is then used to turn the harbor chains in Tar Valon to cuendillar to block the harbors during the siege).

Jordan essentially opened Pandora's Box when he introduced gateways; they can be used in almost limitless ways.  He already proved that with Deathgates in Book 11, Knife of Dreams.  Who knows what else he planned on doing?  Sanderson picked up on that and I didn't feel any of the new uses were out of place; they fit the story perfectly.  The characters have had plenty of time to get used to this new weave and now should be able to invent clever ways to use them.

It's kind of like the game Portal...

First, we have Androl.  Since his Talent is anything gateways, despite his weakness in the One Power, he has to find efficient ways to use them.  Thus we get things like small gateways to swallow rays of balefire, or to get hot water for tea from a hot spring, or opening a gateway within a volcano so the lava can be unleashed on others in battle to devastating effect.  Pretty much anything he did with gateways was awesome, and he turned into one of my favorite characters in this book.

Second, we have Gareth Bryne, who gets one of the Aes Sedai to create a horizontal gateway high in the air to give him an overhead view of battle.  This was probably my favorite new use of gateways.  Who knows if Jordan would have done something like this, but along with Androl's clever uses it adds a new layer to the Last Battle, making it even more interesting and exciting.

Magic Limitations
However... the concept of gateways does seem flawed and almost a plot hole when you step back and think about the way Sanderson started using them.  Jordan was very reserved and restrictive when it came to them, as if the people in the current age were scared to try anything new.  There has to be limits on that sort of magic, which he did have in place - until Sanderson gave Androl the Talent of gateways.  I can see how Team Jordan was concerned about getting too crazy with them, because you then start wondering why they didn't do this stuff before.

Sanderson has written about a few "Laws" for magic systems that he uses when creating them (magic is his favorite thing to toy with in his writing).  The second one states that Limitations should be greater than Powers.  The paradox here is that the One Power already has limitations built into it, as Sanderson mentions in the essay.  But when you give someone a Talent like gateways, and coupled with the fact that the taint has been cleansed from saidin (a limitation for male channelers in WoT), that virtually cancels those limitations when it comes to Androl, as his strength in the One Power doesn't matter to the Talent.  Sanderson kind of breaks his own law when you really think about it...


Many others on forums brought up similar concerns, too.  If Androl and his ideas with gateways were so efficient, why not take it further, as discussed here?  Open a gateway to a river and let it wash the Shadowspawn into another gateway (which would kill them immediately, since only gholam can safely pass through a gateway).  I suppose it would be tough because if they started doing that, Androl would be targeted almost exclusively and be killed... but still.  Things that make you go hmmmm.

Four Battlefronts, One General
I was hoping these early battles weren't going to be the Last Battle, as they weren't even close to what I'd imagined.  But they get underway a bit early, and since there's a huge chapter called "The Last Battle" much later in the book, I quickly realized they were more of a prelude.  This is a decent section, yet it pales in comparison to the meat of the Last Battle.

What these early battles really did, was make things look bleak for the forces of Light and set the stage for Mat to command their armies in the Last Battle, something we all knew was coming since roughly Book 4.  He secured the Seanchan by marrying Tuon (I suppose I should say Fortuona now, may she live forever), but obviously the others wouldn't just hand over command, not with the four great Captains (shouldn't it be Generals?... it's kind of used interchangeably at times) still around: Davram Bashere, Gareth Bryne, Rodel Ituralde and Agelmar Jagad.

Instead, command falls into Mat's lap after Hessalam uses Compulsion on the four Captains, sabotaging each of the four fronts.  Since Mat has the foxhead medallion that prevents all channeling against him... the choice is clear.  It's set up rather neatly, though I doubt many expected it to turn out that way.

Once again, it's clear that Jordan was a master at planting seeds and hiding the sprouts... then suddenly a half-dozen books later there's a tree before you and you wonder how you could have missed it this whole time (like the secret of Mat's ashandarei).

The Last Signing
The Last Battle will be in the next blog, as it takes up an entire entry in itself.  To end this one, I'll skip ahead to the Last Signing.

For the last time, I attended a Wheel of Time book signing.  This one was 45 minutes away, in San Francisco, CA, at Borderlands Books in the Mission District.  I had never been to this bookstore, so did not know what to expect.  It's a pretty awesome store, though, specializing in new and used fantasy and science fiction.  You can even check out the interior on Google Street View.  If it weren't out of the way for me, I'd go there regularly.


Although we didn't have to purchase anything to get books signed (marking the first signing I've been to like that), I got there early and bought Sanderson's The Alloy of Law.  I always like to get something from the bookstore since they have expenses that come with signings.  Borderlands probably didn't have an issue with that, though... they have a side cafe (where the signing took place) and lots of people were getting coffee, etc.

The signing featured Sanderson and Harriet Rigney (Jordan's widow).  An interesting tidbit of information is that Borderlands was about the only place that wanted Sanderson to come sign after he released his first novel, Elantris.  Everyone else rejected him.  Sanderson drove all the way from Utah for this one signing, signed and drove back the next day.  So now, when Sanderson wants to come to SF for a signing, who gets it?  Not a big store like Barnes & Noble, but Borderlands, who have supported him from the beginning.

Another thing I found interesting was that during the Q&A most of the questions from the audience were not about WoT, but about Sanderson's own work.  And many people seemed to be there for Sanderson, not WoT, which is quite different from the signings I attended for The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight.  Sanderson spoke about some of his future works, and he has some interesting things planned for the future.

The one that intrigued me the most is that he's doing two more trilogies in the Mistborn world, one in the present, another in the future, where the first trilogy has turned into the myth of the present and the future features space travel.  This is somewhat annoying because I've had similar ideas brewing for some of my works - a lot of what I focus on now (in Bonebearer and my upcoming trilogy, The Hope of Memory) is how events affect others over time and how they are perceived later.

Anyway, I got my books signed by Sanderson and Harriet.  I only asked him about Padan Fain, and his response will be covered in the Padan Fain section of Part 2 of this blog entry.  I even got my picture taken with them.  I figured I might as well, the "Memory Keepers" (helpers chosen by Dragonmount.com) were offering to do it and it was the last WoT signing, after all.




Oh, and someone took a video of the Q&A as well.  I'm the guy in the bottom left wearing the gray hoodie and red hat (as you can tell from the picture above).  It won't let me embed it for some reason, so just click the link to watch it on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1YwYJpjcfc

So thanks to the person who filmed that.  :)


Next: 

Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 2

Previous:


The Wheel of Time is Complete
Reference  The Big White Book
Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight

Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World

Retrospective Overview