May 30, 2008

The Expectations of Imagination

I just finished reading King of Foxes, the second book in Raymond E. Feist‘s Conclave of Shadows series. I woke up in the morning thinking of something that I had first thought on reading the first book in the series, Talon of the Silver Hawk. So what was I thinking? I was thinking that it ruins the magic of an imagined world when the author takes shortcuts :)

Of course, I must start off with the disclaimer that Raymond E. Feist is a successful author and I cannot claim to be anywhere even remotely close to his level as a writer, in terms of success. However, I’m not writing as a writer but as a reader and all a reader needs to criticise a book is the fact that they didn’t enjoy it thoroughly :)

Now in the case of Raymond E. Feist, I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed his writing. in fact, quite the reverse. However, the more I read his work, the more I realize that he tends to use shortcuts in building his world and this tends to disappoint me. I expect a completely new world springing forth from the author’s imagination when I read a novel which is set in another world, not a pale imitation of our own clothed in slightly different trappings to hide the fact.

I don’t know if I was aware of the similarity to Japanese culture in Feist’s Tsurani when I first read his Magician and the other two novels in the series. But then again, that was close to 20 years ago. However, when I read Talon of the Silver Hawk, I was immediately aware that his Orosini were lifted wholesale from various North American Indian (or Native Americans or First Nation or whatever they are called today …) tribes. Then I woke up today with the realization that the continent on the other side of Midkemia, the world that Fiest’s stories take place on, is called Novindus. Nov + Indus as in New India, get it? Like Columbus thought America, the continent on the other side of our own world, was India. (Then again, apparently Novindus is supposed to be shaped like India and so it is actually India since the known world in Midkemia might be the Americas …)

There probably are other races and other places modeled after our world in Feist’s novels. And I’m not saying a writer has no right to do that, it’s a writer’s prerogative to write their story (and build their world) in any fashion they choose. But as far as I’m concerned, when somebody copies stuff from the world we know simply because it’s easy, it takes something away from the overall story. Now Terry Pratchett copies countries and people from our world in his Discworld series but that’s for satirical effect, there is a purpose to it. Not to mention that PTerry’s copies are never exact copies :)

But I see no real purpose to Feist’s wholesale copying of nations and peoples except that it’s easier to do that than to create something completely new. Perhaps I am mistaken and am assigning incorrect motives to Feist, Perhaps he did have a reason for creating these parallels. But if so, I can’t see that reason. All that it’s done for me is to slightly dilute the enjoyment of reading his work. And I don’t think any writer wants that ….


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May 29, 2008

All Things Art and Good VI

(The reasons behind the series of articles titled All Things Art and Good and the format followed in each article is explained here, in the first post in the series.)

I have not been able to find the first artwork of Ron Crabb‘s that I saw on his site. Instead, I guess I will have to link to it at the original location at the CGTalk forums. The painting, called Keep a Sharp Eye, is simply brilliant! It’s from a series that Ron calls Illustrations from Untold Stories and is supposed inspire writers, storytellers and other imagineers to come up with a story to fit the image. And I tell you, this is the kind of image that can send you off on all sorts of voyages of the mind :)

I absolutely love the dark and gloomy swamp, the little flickers of firefly glows creating holes in the shroud of darkness, the warm glow of the torch held by the boy at the front of the boat, and overall, the entire image which seems to proclaim that dark and foul (or mysterious and exciting) events are afoot. Most of all, I love the feel of the painting. It has the the feel of an oil painting by one of the old masters like Rembrandt or Da Vinci – clean lines, great lighting and great colouring. Yes, if you couldn’t tell by my previous words, I love this style of digital painting :)

Exploring Ron’s site, I came across more gems in a variety of styles. There’s the imposing and mysterious Petra which seems to hint at a forgotten civilization and age-old buildings full of treasures hidden away in the mountains or the desert. Or the breathtakingly golden beauty of Arabian City, left and right, which I can’t help wishing was available as a single image so that the viewer can see the full glory of that wonderful mural. I love the little splashes of colour from the awnings on the buildings appearing as sudden splashes of colour across the golden browns and yellows of the desert and the buildings. And those feathery streamers of clouds across the blue sky sort of crowning the whole thing, what can I say except that this is another painting by Ron that I just love gazing at for hours? :)

If you wanted something different, then there’s the cartoony line drawings like the Kitsap County Fair mascot – the horse reminds me a bit of Jolly Jumper, Lucky Luke‘s horse :) Or, there’s the Foosball table top which is colourful and interesting and has a different style. And of course, if you were to explore Ron’s Fine Art section, you’ll find a whole new world of paintings to gaze at for hours on end :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:41 am  |  No Comments

May 26, 2008

Interesting, but weird :)

Apparently, I’m published with Reuters. Yes, *the* Reuters :) I didn’t know about this at all, though I believe traffic has been slightly heavier than usual, till today :) And even then, it was totally by accident.

This blog is part of the BlogBurst network, which syndicates blog RSS feeds to online media sites. I’ve been with them for years and as far as I know, I haven’t been featured by any of the BlogBurst media partners. So I haven’t actually paid much attention to what was going on with BlogBurst.

However, I was fiddling around with the RSS feeds for the site today and so decided to go check if BlogBurst can still access my RSS feed and to my surprise, I found that my site had been featured on Reuters! Of course, I was curious to see what had been featured and so I did some more digging and came up with this article.

Now the funny thing is, that article is on the Reuters Investing Blog but it has nothing at all to do with investing :) So I’m not sure why the article was picked unless it was the word "China" in the title. Guess I should experiment by adding more country names to my titles :p

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Posted by Fahim at 10:50 am  |  No Comments

No updates, update

Things have been rather quiet on the blog because I’ve been busy plugging away at a couple of projects. I’ve also got to get busy on the next issue of C3, the magazine I edit and that’ll mean even less time to update the blog or do any of the other hundred odd things that I keep meaning to do/fix on my site :)

I’ll get back to the All Things Art and Good series soon, I promise …

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Posted by Fahim at 10:10 am  |  No Comments

May 20, 2008

More Lulu-science

OK, the results are in – at my current level, the purchase of one book appears to bump me up about 3,000+ places on the Lulu sales rankings. I was at 50,227 last month when my friend Ginosion was kind enough to purchase a copy of my book, Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog. Today I discovered that my Lulu sales ranking had jumped up to 47,063!

Well, there you have the results of the not-so-empirical evidence. Of course, now the question is, is the jump in rankings consistent if another book is purchased? 😀 To find out, somebody else will have to buy a copy of the book though. Any takers? :p

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Posted by Fahim at 12:09 pm  |  No Comments

May 16, 2008

All Things Art and Good V

(The reasons behind the series of articles titled All Things Art and Good and the format followed in each article is explained here, in the first post in the series.)

I first came across Dan Phyillaier‘s artwork on the CGTalk forums. It was a painting called Meeting of Land and Water. As I’ve mentioned before, I love paintings with neat lighting techniques. And of course, I love paintings with nature scenery and then if that wasn’t enough, this also includes angelic/cherubic kids, fairy tales, and lighthouses! My cup ran over and filled a few others too when I saw this one 😀 It is a wonderful piece of artwork which manages to freeze a dynamic and magical moment of time forever. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I simply adore the lighting effects – the rays of light from the lighthouse tinging the clouds with a sparkling bit of gold, the tiny pinpricks of light on the bridge connecting the lighthouse to the mainland, the rosy golden hue cast by the lantern on the boy’s face, the blue-greyish cast to the entire scene indicating that it might be dusk; it’s all so wonderful and moody.

And to show how addicted to lighting effects I am, there’s also In the Beginning. I have no idea of the history behind the painting but it has a religion meets science, Noah’s Ark meets Gene Roddenberry, kind of feel to it :) I’m left wondering as to the events leading up to that image. What happened there? What is the story? It almost tempts me to start writing the story myself and when that happens, it’s a good image, at least as far as I’m concerned :)

Then there’s Dan’s landscapes, like Genesis I, or Genesis II, or Homestead which fill you with longing for wide open spaces; land unsullied by the hand of man; crystal clear water that is icy cold to the touch and refreshing to drink; and vast tracts of land which make you realize just how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things. It’s the kind of wonderful imagery which makes you long for a different time, a simpler time, and lets you escape, at least for a little time, from the world we live in. Powerful stuff :)

There’s plenty of other wonderful digital artwork on Dan’s site. So go, explore lands untouched by humanity and feel the wonder and joy that explorers must feel, at least virtually :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:29 am  |  3 Comments

May 13, 2008

All Things Art and Good IV

(The reasons behind the series of articles titled All Things Art and Good and the format followed in each article is explained here, in the first post in the series.)

The first digital artwork of Erwin Madrid‘s that I ever saw was Amends. For some reason, the painting reminds me of a dark, Disney vision. The girl and the slight sense of light playing around her gives the feel of a classic Disney heroine while the crows somehow manage to evoke all the dark and evil step-motherly feelings from all the classic fairy tales. I also like how the crows are almost like leaves on the tree and how all the lines in the painting, the bark on the trees, the way the branches are laid out, the angular lines created by the crows, the girl’s dress and even the stripes on her socks, create a world of lines. It might not be very colourful but it sure as heck is an interesting painting that I can stare at for hours!

Then there’s Erwin’s Umbrella on Balcony. This is another one of those classic play-of-light paintings. I love paintings where the light becomes almost an entity by itself. Here, the light does just that. There’s hint of sunlight coming off from somewhere behind the roof of the building at the left edge of the painting. The light turns the church spire golden, limns the laundry hanging on the lines so that it’s transformed from common laundry into something ethereal and then burnishes the edge of the umbrella on the balcomny with gold. You can also see a hint of the gold on the climbing plant on the balcony. It might not be a very detailed painting but what I love about the composition is the fact that the light does most of the work for you. The light is the central player and it gives you visions of hazy golden afternoons, idle Sundays where you just soak up the sun, and of warm sunlight playing gently on your skin. Sometimes, less is more :)

Erwin has quite a few other paintings which evoke various feelings of awe, wonder, and joy in me. And I’m sure you’ll find your own favourites too if you explore his site. However, I feel that I must mention Factory, if not for anything then because it is so different from the other two paintings that I mention here :) This one is so dark, foreboding and damp that I can only imagine that it’s from a far future when the world is bereft of sunlight because everything is smothered in smog. Sure there is a golden haze through the murk but it seems to be more of a promise of sunshine (perhaps if the world got rid of the dirty smoke from the factories) rather than any actual sunshine. While it is a bit of a downer after the brightness and gold of the previous images, Factory is an image which still manages to transpose me and think of far future worlds where factories will sit by bleak coastlines like some fat, bulbous insect and belch smoke and dirt into the air, covering up the last bits of golden sunshine.

When you have such powerful imagery, what else would you need? :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:30 am  |  1 Comment

May 12, 2008

Dresden, Files not China

I’m feeling much better than I have in almost a week :) Give me a couple more days (or weeks …) and I should hopefully be completely back to normal.

While I was sick, I finished reading the (currently) last book in the Dresden Files series. It made me wonder why I had never talked about the books here because the more I read from this absorbing series by Jim Butcher, the more I like it :) And now that I’ve reached the end of the series, I can’t wait for the rest of the books in the series to make their appearance. With 20+ projected books in the series, and only 10 written so far, there’s a long time to go before I can complete the series, and the anticipation is killing me 😀

I didn’t even know of Jim Butcher or his books till I picked up the DVD boxed set for the Sci-Fi channel series by the same name. At that time, I found the similarities between a wizard named Harry living amongst normal humans who are oblivious to the existence of magic, and another young wizard named Harry living amongst muggles, a bit too comical. The show wasn’t all that great and was too full of inconsistencies and plot holes to make it very appealing. However, the show did its job in getting me to read the books …

I read the first book and liked it. The second book wasn’t so good, in my opinion but this was mostly because the plot for the second book was given away by an episode of the TV series. I liked how the book handled werewolves much better than the clichés the TV series used but I couldn’t enjoy the book fully. By the time I read the third book, my interest was back. The fourth book, I was hooked! And since then I’ve been rushing through one book after another, always eager to find out what happens next.

The best thing about the Dresden Files is how intricately they are plotted. While each book is a story in its own right, it also advances a much bigger, overall story arc. This wasn’t as evident in the early books but now into the middle of the series with book ten, it is well-and firmly established that these things are all leading up to what we hope will be a very satisfying culmination.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that each and every book seems to pit Harry against bigger and more stronger opponents than before. It’s almost as if Harry is being trained to go up against the biggest opponent you can think of in the final book and these are simply to get him trained both mentally and physically to meet that challenge.

And of course, Harry’s friends are a topic unto itself. Each character has been fleshed out and expanded upon over the course of several books. Some of them have started out as really negative characters who have over the course of time have become much more morally ambiguous. Others have always been what they started out as but have still managed to show different facets as the journey progressed. And that probably is the biggest reason for enjoying the books – the journey itself, the things you learn about people (and about yourself) as you read these books.

If you’re into fantasy or crime noir (or both), the Dresden Files will prove to be well worth the read if you stick with it past book four or five :)

May 9, 2008

Fever Dreams

Apparently, dengue and Chikungunya are sweeping through Colombo these days. Being the reclusive people we are, we haven’t been out much nor do we read newspapers or watch/listen to the news. So we really wouldn’t have known about any of this unless both of us hadn’t been struck down by what seems to have the symptoms of one or the other. But then again, Chikungunya has symptoms similar to dengue, so it’s all the same boat anyway :)

Anyway, the fever’s still around, nipping at us from time to time like a guerilla force :) Nothing much we can do except to hope we can last out the attack. But one of the more … umm … interesting is not the right word here but I guess it will have to suffice, aspects of the whole experience was the dreams.

The first day of fever, the dream was line of HTML. Yes, I’m not kidding. I would have this one single line of HTML code (or text on a web page, I’m not sure now …) and it would keep repeating and looping through my mind over, and over and over and over, like a hamster at its wheel. I would have thoughts flashing through my mind at the same time in a sequence similar to this:
It’s coming off the default web page!
All I need to do is change the default web page and the text will change!
But where is the web server in my mind?

And that of course, was the real question. Where is the web server of your mind? :)

The second day, it got a little more complex. From one line of text, we moved on to a whole book. I had been reading Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust during the hours when I was awake and when I slept, the novel transformed in my mind. The protagonist somehow received the ability to create illustrations which were alive and he in turn illustrated the scenes in the book so that the words were replaced by living, moving images. The dreams this time were of the text turning to images over and over and over and if that wasn’t torture enough, even in my dream, I was questioning the logic of the dream :)

I was wondering how the story could stay true to how it was written if the illustrations were alive. What if a character stepped out of the scene – how could the story be told properly? And if all the characters were fixed in space, but are alive, would they grow old? And if they did, would that not ruin the story for later readers who would find an older man carrying out the actions of a teenage boy? And if the images were fixed both in space and time, then was there justification for calling them "alive"? As you can see, I create most of my own trouble :)

The third day of dreams was more scattered. It wasn’t as repetitive though it still involved quite a bit of computers, blogging, and so on. So it might simply be that whatever I did during the day has a direct bearing on the dreams that I had. I just wish that I didn’t have to have the same dream endlessly repeated. That’s no fun and I tell ya, it’s exhausting!

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Posted by Fahim at 7:03 am  |  3 Comments

May 6, 2008

Sick!

Yes, I’m sick. Not the sick in the head kind but the joint-aching, head-achy, whiny, complainy kind of sick. So I probably won’t get back to the blog (or to the All Things Art and Good series) for a while. Unless I buy the big one, in which case, you’ll just have to be left in suspense :p

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Posted by Fahim at 4:54 pm  |  No Comments

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