Monday, March 1, 2021

Dragonlance: Legends [2] War of the Twins (1986)

I don't remember anything that happens in this book, it's been so long since I read it.  So it almost feels like a new book entirely.  I'm sure I'll recall things as I go along—oh yeah, I remember that!—but it's almost strange knowing that I read the book a number of times in my youth, yet remember nothing about it.  Like it didn't happen at all.

Memory is weird like that.  Sometimes I'll look at pictures of my younger adult self and have no recollection of ever being in the place the picture was taken.  I sometimes struggle to also remember that I once looked different.  It's like a different life entirely that's slowly fading away.

But that's the magic of books and things of that nature.  They're constant.  While I can't relive the times in which I first discovered them, I can re-read them and recapture a bit of that lost memory as nostalgia.

Before you continue:
  • This is Part 5 of my Dragonlance Retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the Retrospective
  • These blogs are not plot recaps—they are most effective in conjunction with your own re-read of the series

Fast Out of the Gate

The first part of the book was very good and I flew through it, even though they're basically in the Tower of Sorcery at Palanthus the entire time.  Lots of good character-driven storytelling.  Even the Tas chapter wasn't too annoying (more on that later).

It wasn't clear from the end of the previous entry, Time of the Twins, but Raistlin's hasty spell caught up both Crysania and Caramon, whisking them to yet another time—100 years after the Cataclysm.  So I guess that's the way someone eventually gets back to their original time.  Some magic user can magic them there.

Raistlin explains why the Cataclysm happened in an offhand way.  It was necessary to prepare the world to fight back against Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness, when she tried to come back in the Chronicles trilogy.  Without the Cataclysm, she would have been able to take it over much easier.

The flashback showing how Raistlin became Fistandantilus was great and did a nice job explaining a battle between Black-robed magic users.  By far my favorite scene of all the Dragonlance books so far in this retrospective.

Slow Down the Stretch

The second part of the book bored me a little and it took me a while to get through it as most of it is traveling.  We get some insight into the dwarves at Thorbardin and a glimpse of what the continent is like 100 years after the Cataclysm—which is not all that much different than how things were at the beginning of Chronicles.

After reading this section, I'm debating whether to continue this retrospective past this Legends trilogy.  Most of the other Dragonlance material is not that good.  The only reason I'm still considering it is because Weis & Hickman wrote it.

The third part of the book is hit and miss.  Probably the best scene is when Raistlin abruptly kills Tas's gnome friend Gnimsh.  It's brutal and surprising for such high fantasy fare, exposes the side of Raistlin we all want to see but rarely get to, and makes Tasslehoff bearable for a moment because he's being serious for once and not silly.

The Cover

Courtesy of Wikimedia
This time we get Crysania and Caramon on the cover, courtesy of Larry Elmore.  They try to add a little drama to the story with Caramon showing some feelings for Crysania, but she's having none of it.  You know Caramon will get back together with Tika at the end (fantasy in those days was predictable), so you know it won't go anywhere and it's somewhat of an unnecessary diversion.

You can see the higher quality version on Larry Elmore's website.

I wouldn't mention the newer versions of this cover, except that the current one shows Caramon and Tasslehoff for some reason.  I like this depiction of Tasslehoff, actually.  It's different than many of the others I've seen (even by Elmore).  Tas's proportions are a bit off and make him look like a different race, rather than a small elf.

The Problem with Tasslehoff

Speaking of Tas, I'm not a fan of his storyline in this series because it pulls me out of the seriousness of the main storyline.  Tas ends up in the Abyss after the first book and meets a gnome called Gnimsh who invents things that actually work.  He fixes the time traveling device and hilarity ensues—Tas and Gnimsh appear just when the dwarves of Thorbardin attempt to assassinate Raistlin.  And they would have succeeded, except for Crysania.

This raises the issue I have with Tas... the story in Legends ultimately revolves around him.  You thought it was about the brothers Majere, didn't you?  Nope.  Tas's blundering presence drives the entire story and actually makes it possible.

Because as we find out in the next book, Tas is the one that enables Raistlin to change the past in the first place.  Kender are not an original race and his presence in the past allows it to be changed.  And now that he got Gnimsh to fix the time traveling device, he bungles his way out of the Abyss and into this book's timeline too.

Tas was bearable in the first book, but at this point he becomes annoying to me, like Fizban from Chronicles

The Problem with Time Travel

This also begs the issue of time travel in fiction.  I'm generally not a fan of the time travel stories where the timeline we know of is altered.  That's not "time travel" to me, that's creating an alternate universe or jumping into another "time stream."

The time travel I like is where there's a single timeline and even if you go back to do something specific, whatever you do then is what causes things to be the way they are in the future in the first place.  A closed loop.  A good example is an episode of The Twilight Zone called No Time Like the Past.  The time travel book with a closed loop that stands out for me most is The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein.  It's a bit dated, but it's short and one of his better works, in my opinion.

As entertaining as they are, the alternate universe version of "time travel" allows the author too much leeway, essentially letting them do whatever they want.  For example, I was extremely disappointed in Avengers: Endgame and how they used time travel (especially after how awesome the non-time travel Avengers: Infinity War was).  The Star Trek reboot by J.J. Abrams is similar... we're lazy so let's just use "time travel" to go into an alternate version of the universe so we can ignore everything that's come before in the franchise and do whatever we want, rather than actually work within the already established universe that people fell in love with in the first place.

An author who has a really great take on this is Stephen King with 11-22-63.  In that novel, the timeline resets every time a person travels back in time (there's only one place and time to which you can time travel), and time itself resists being changed.  I won't spoil the novel if you're planning on reading it because it's quite good, but King's take does the alternate universe version right to me—there are rules that serve to keep the primary timeline (our reality and history) intact.

Random Observations

Just a few things to comment on this time.
  • I'm missing the draconians in this series.  They are a unique element of the world but they're basically MIA in this series because it's set in the past and they haven't been created yet.
  • Crysania doesn't have a lot of depth as a character and I don't care that much for her, at least compared to the brothers.  Part of being a specific plot device, I suppose.  There was no female cleric in the previous series that would do what Raistlin wanted, so they had to make a new one that will.
  • I remember the series being awesome.  So far not feeling the awesome.  Not sure I like it better than Chronicles based on this re-reading, but there's still one book to go.

Memories of Fort Adams

Since this book continues to take place in the past, let's go back in time again to when I first read it... and where I lived: Fort Adams, RI.

The actual Fort Adams at the time was in poor condition and fenced off, not open to the public.  I believe the only time they opened it up was for the Newport Jazz Festival each year.  It was an old Civil War fort and had a lot of tunnels and stuff running underneath it.  How do I know, you ask?  Because my friends (Josh, Jed, and J.P.) and I used to sneak into it and explore them!

It was so awesome... our own real fort and dungeon!  There was a back way into it, where the fence had been cut through in a wooded area.  It led straight into the back part of the Fort where we could walk around its perimeter or go underground—with flashlights, of course.  How many 9th graders get to have something like that available to them?  We even tried to map it out on graph paper so we could use it for a D&D session (I don't think we ever completed the map).

We had to be very careful though, as some tunnels would be flooded, many sections were ruined, and there were big fines if we were caught—occasionally security would patrol the area.  We always avoided the open area in the center of the Fort, for fear of getting caught.

If you want to see what it was like for us, here's a video from before it was completely restored:

Anyway, Fort Adams is now open to the public year round.  It's been restored and they even have youth overnights in the barracks.  I haven't been back there since I moved in 1991... next time I go to New England (and who knows when that might be, due to this pandemic), I'll have to go there.  It'll be cool to see it restored.  The pictures of it now look weird... it was completely run down back then.


Book 3 — Test of the Twins


Book 1 — Time of the Twins

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Wheel of Time Companion (2015)

Over 7 years ago I completed my The Wheel of Time Retrospective, celebrating the completion of the series after 20+ years.  At the time, I mentioned Team Jordan was working on an official "encyclopedia" for the series, but wasn't sure when it would be published.  Well, it was published in late 2015 and the fan that I am, I did purchase it, but never got around to writing a blog entry like I thought I would.

Fast forward to now, early 2021.  A lot has changed since I completed that WoT Retrospective:

  • I changed jobs twice, bought a new house, and my family is now firmly established in Silicon Valley.
  • I finally visited Charleston, South Carolina and got to see Robert Jordan's home.
  • My first child was born 2 years ago.
  • The Wheel of Time TV series began production.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much put my fiction writing on hold, as between working at home full time and caring for my child I have little time (or the ability to get into the mindset) for it.  I've basically decided that until I sell my newest book, Hop Limit, I'm not going to spend much time on further fiction writing.
That said, it's the perfect time to do a post on the official encyclopedia, titled The Wheel of Time Companion.

The Content

I'll be honest.  I haven't read the Companion.  You can't actually read it, just like you wouldn't read a dictionary.  Because that's basically what it is.  Every single WoT-specific term, character, place, or event in alphabetical order, with however much detail the editors thought to include from Robert Jordan's notes or the book themselves.

I've paged through it a number of times and have gotten a bit lost that way, looking at cross-references and searching for new information that I wasn't aware of before.  There's probably plenty that I saw that I don't realize is new, because I don't remember every little detail from the books.

The book does contain illustrations beyond the maps we're already familiar with, but many of them aren't anything new...I've already seen them before on fan sites.  There are some newer ones I wasn't familiar with, but since all the illustrations (presumably done in color originally) are printed here in black and white, quite a bit of the impact is lost.

The name of the book is apt, though.  Companion—because that's what it is.  A supplement that you might look at while reading the books, or if you're totally bored.

I guess I was expecting a better version of the Big White Book and was a little disappointed at first, because after thumbing through it a bit after receiving it in the mail, it went on the shelf and has been hardly touched in the years since.  Perhaps I'm not a true fan!

Other References

I mentioned a few different online resources in my Retrospective Conclusion post, way back in 2013.  Since then, a few things have changed while some have not.

  • Wheel of Time Wiki = This is the top online WoT reference in my opinion.  It has a lot more content now than it did in 2013 and is much more complete, especially if you're looking for chapter summaries with cross-references and such.
  • Dragonmount = Still the biggest and most popular community.  If you're looking for WoT news and forums, this is the place to go.
  • The Thirteenth Depository = An extremely insightful and detailed blog that analyzes every nook and cranny of the series.  Still going strong today.  I personally don't get this deep into the material.
  • Composite Glossary = All the entries from every book glossary combined in one place.  Somewhat obsolete at this point given the existence of the Companion.
  • Encyclopaedia WOT = This used to be my #1 go-to reference site for WoT, but sadly it seems to have been abandoned, and I don't recommend it anymore.  It doesn't look any different than back in 2013, despite one of the owners of the site commenting on my blog about a new version in development.  The complete chapter summaries for A Memory of Light are still not up, 7 years after the book was published!

Visiting Charleston

In 2016, we finally took a vacation out to Charleston, South Carolina.  Most people probably know that's where Robert Jordan lived.  It wasn't hard to find his home online and one day we stopped by it to see the famous Dragon gate I've seen in pictures before.

I'm pretty respectful of people's space and generally hate doing things like asking a famous person for a selfie or whatever when I do bump into one.  I always think of Neil Peart (the late, great drummer for Rush) and how uncomfortable he felt when someone who was a Rush fan would come up to him and act like they were friends.  The person would know everything about him but he would know nothing about the person.  That would feel weird, wouldn't it?

So with that in mind, I didn't want to linger, despite the gate being invitingly open and the serpent and wheel flag prominently displayed over the front porch of the house.  I took a quick glance at where so much of the series was conceived and written, got my wife to take a few pics of me, then moved on.

By the way, the house was really cool looking.  I like old Southern houses like that (particularly in New Orleans), with the high ceilings and windows...maybe one day I can live in something like that.

The TV Series this the real-real end of my WoT blogs?  Perhaps not.  A TV series is coming!  Unfortunately Red Eagle Entertainment still has their claws in the property, but I don't think they have any creative control in it, so I can live with that.

Anyway, it's been filming since 2019, but was halted for a bit because of the pandemic.  But I expect it will air some time in 2021.

I've been reading about details of the show and news as it comes out, and I really hope they don't take the path that The Shannara Chronicles took (which I did actually enjoy as a guilty pleasure, to be honest, despite how it handled the source material).  I'll reserve full judgment until I see the show, but I'm not enthusiastic about some of the casting and sadly I expect them to cut a lot of quality book material.  So we'll see.

Will I blog about the show?  Most likely.

The best place to find info about the show is on Dragonmount.  As mentioned before, I recommend that place for any worthwhile WoT news.


Retrospective Conclusion
Short Story – River of Souls
Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 2
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