Book, books, books...all he ever blathers on about is books...
The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers)
I read another eBook on my brief Idaho adventure in May (which I've yet to ramble on about - sorry about that), The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers) by R. Kane Maurer. I had fully-intended to post a review on Amazon and Goodreads immediately afterward, but I just never quite got around to it. This isn't meant to imply that the book was poorly written or that I didn't enjoy it. Admittedly, it did have some issues, but nothing that made it unreadable. And unlike some of the other author-shared eBooks I've read, this one did have a real plot and generally well-developed characters. And it was really long compared to most of the other eBooks I've read, so there was a ton of material to sift through and try to organize my thoughts around when I finished reading it.
First, an observation about the content - it's almost all-ages appropriate. There's the usual monster battling/violence common in all fantasy novels, which isn't really a huge factor for me for age-appropriateness. There are also brief references to sexual content1, but there is no actual sexual content. But the reason for only being "almost" all-ages appropriate is the profanity. It's a little heavier and cruder than the light profanity in Jake, Lucid Dreamer, but not quite up to Quentin Tarantino standards of vulgarity. There are no F-bombs, but there's a fair sampling of lesser - late-night network TV-level - profanity.
The primary protagonist of The Cup in the Shadows is a nine year-old boy named Jonny. For all appearances, he's a normal kid from our own specific dimension/universe/world and our current timeline. Jonny's story begins with an inadvertent trip elsewhere (not exactly a past timeline in our world, but it's never really made clear exactly where he went). His arrival to this new place immediately took me back to a series of Alan Dean Foster books I read a million years ago, the Spellsinger series. But I also felt a strong Army of Darkness (specifically the screwheads scene when Ash drops into the middle of a battle between medieval jarheads). But the actual story really wasn't much like either of these - they just share this story's fish-out-of-water premise.
So little Jonny embarks on an adventure - against his will - that borrows quite a bit from the Harry Potter stories and The Lord of the Rings (probably a little more from LoTR). There is one primary difference from both of those fictional universes - there are no elves (majestic Tolkien elves or weird little house elves), dwarves, or other non-people people. There are a few monsters - trolls (more similar to Tolkien's small, but fierce, goblins than Tolkien's enormous trolls), dragons (more like the intelligent and mostly benevolent dragons of Eragon than the dragons of Tolkien) and a smaller, almost-dragon/griffin sounding creature called a grevice. The dragons play a very minor role in the story, but the trolls and grevices are the shock troops of this book's Sauron/Voldemort character.
One complaint about the writing style: Much of the book (very nearly all of it) is written with third-person narration. Which is fine and generally preferable. But every now and then, the book slips into first person narration with Jonny as the narrator. And the observations he makes with his first-person perspective seem unlikely from a nine year-old boy (from our world/time, anyway). Here are a few examples of Jonny observations from the early chapters.
"The breastplate, boots, greaves, and shoulder plates were mismatched and ill fitting"
"ring mail cowl covered his head, "
What nine year-old boy knows the names of specific pieces of armor? A small thing, but it gave me pause as I read.
There's also at least one clear Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference, which was fun.
"Now, I know bunnies prancing through a meadow of flowers is often enough to make Aethin wet his breeches..." The men erupted into laughter.
The big man behind Cazar flushed redder than his beard. "It was a big rabbit," he shot back.
"Aye, and it had teeth like this." Cazar mockingly gestured his fingers like a pair of fangs. "We've heard your stories."
I highlighted, and had planned to share, passages from the story showing all the many parallel characters from Tolkien's stories and the Harry Potter series. But there are so many that it's been keeping me from finishing this sad little write-up, so I'm going to just blast through a few, and be done.
There are several references to "the fellowship" that is seeking out a magical artifact, the cup, that can give the bad guy all-power over the multiverse if he gets to it first.
There is a flawed ranger-type character, very Aragorn-ish, who takes the "fellowship," our reluctant nine-year-old and a bunch of other hero-types on a journey to the unknown.
Along the way they meet a giant bear of a man who bore a striking resemblance to Tolkien's Beorn, or maybe even Rowling's Hagrid.
There's a ciy of "Forest Folk" who I thought for sure were going to be elves, but they just turned out to be regular old people who lived in the forest in very Tolkien-like almost elf villages/cities.
The King of the realm Jonny finds himself in bears a striking resemblance to Dumbledore and/or Gandalf.
The story's villain is more Voldemort than Sauron, but his quest for the cup (this story's One Ring or Deathly Hallows) feels more Sauron than Voldemort. But he's definitely way more hands-on than Sauron ever was in LoTR.
Here's a very brief, but action-packed, excerpt between this story's Aragorn and Voldemort characters with the helpless Harry Potter parallel character sitting on the sidelines. Out of the context of the story, it probably isn't that exciting, but t was a pretty good
And then everything happened all at once. The door burst open and in stormed Cazar, his sword, Ethwayl, gleaming in hand. Jonny pushed to his feet, sending his chair tumbling backward. "Jonny, run!" Cazar shouted, charging forward.
The cloaked woman sprung to her feet, sending the table flipping on its side. The thick, black cloak flew off as though stripped by unseen hands. Where a short, haggard, old crone had been an instant before, now stood a young man, as tall as Cazar.
His hair was jet black and cropped short, brushed back with ardent meticulousness, not a single lock out of a place. By contrast, his skin was pale and smooth as porcelain. A few pearly blue veins were visible beneath the veneer. He wore black robes immaculately tailored to his thin frame. High cheekbones overrode his shallow cheeks and sharply angled jaw. Though as chilling as his overall countenance was, it was warm and friendly compared to his eyes. Piercingly black, they reflected the soullessness of a shark, the intensity of a rabid wolf, and the patience of a vulture circling prey.
As Cazar charged forward, swirling balls of fire appeared in the man's hands. With inhuman speed, he hurled the fireballs, each the size of a baseball at Cazar. As fast as he launched them, a new orb of flames burst into life in his hand. Cazar moved fast, dodging the first and swatting the second away with his sword. But the third caught the Guard square the chest, sending him flying back. The warrior collapsed in a limp pile by the door, tendrils of smoke drifting from a charred hole in his chest.
Also worth mentioning was some of the vocabulary that I found confusing because it was used differently than I had seen it used previously. For example, Barrow was used several times, but not as a tomb, as in LoTR, but in reference to hills/mountains. Tor seemed to be used interchangeable with Barrow, which is an acceptable use. To be honest, I was completely unfamiliar with "Tor" as anything other than a SCi-Fi publishing house prior to looking it up after reading this book. And lastly, Spriggan was something I'm sure I've read in other fantasy novels because I did have an idea of what it was, but I did look it up to be sure I was picturing the correct mythical critter.
If you enjoy the aforementioned author's works (Tolkien, Foster, Rowling, Raimi), you'll probably enjoy The Cup in the Shadows. While it has a few flaws, it's certainly not the worst writing I have come across.
I've finished one and started another physical books in the past few weeks (so there are six waiting to be mentioned now) and still have a mountain of other stuff I might get around to talking about (like May's Idaho adventure). There's just too little time and too many distractions.
Oh, another distraction has been a foray into the world of Harry Potter fan-fiction (writing, not reading). It feels lazy to use a world/characters that someone else created and create new stories, but it's something that I wanted to do after spending too much time playing the Android Hogwart's Mystery game. Maybe I'll share that here someday. Or maybe not. We'll see.
1 i.e. Women waving to the passing heroes, who were likely to have listed their occupation as "seamstress," when no actual sewing occurred in their actual occupation. Or these same women lurking half-dressed in dark alleys. You get the picture.
I'm getting ridiculously behind on book-blathering. I've got a stack of four or five physical books I've read over the past few months and have yet to mention here, as well as an eBook that I've finished and have yet to mention1. This writeup was finished weeks ago and has been languishing, un-posted, since then. I have no excuse. I'm a bad, bad person.
So without further ado, here's are my thoughts - written weeks ago - on Jake, Lucid Dreamer by Dr David J. Naiman (AKA David Z Hirsch, author of the previously mentioned Didnt get Frazzled).
A few months ago, I talked about an eBook I read over the Christmas Holiday, Didn't Get Frazzled. It was a book I enjoyed a lot, but was way too adult to share with my kids. If you felt the same way, then do I have the book for you: Jake, Lucid Dreamer. Dr. Dave has come out from behind his pseudonym (David Z Hirsch) to write a book for kids under his read name, Dr David J. Naiman, about middle-school aged kids. There is some light profanity in the text, but no words beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet. And there's no sex or child-inappropriate material.
My biggest complaint about the book is the title. The story itself is great, but I would never pick up a book called "anything, Lucid Dreamer." It just seems too literal. Imagine if The Catcher in the Rye had been titled Holden, Prep School Dropout or Holden, Unstable Teenager. I doubt I'd have four copies of that sucker around the house, had it been less creatively-named.
But if you can get past the title, and endure through the Xanth-esque dream sequences, you'll find a great story about dealing with loss and the importance of being introspective enough to identify your own...issues. The dream sequences are important to the story, despite their ridiculousness, and get more meaningful as the story progresses. But first, here's a glimpse into the most Xanth-like dream sequence from the story. I may not be providing enough context to follow along, but here it is...
"It's right over there." The bull points his knobby arm.
When I step around him to look, he shoves me onto the ground. A pack of hands ambush me like starved piranhas, tugging me in all directions, pinching and scratching. The bull snickers. "You've played right into my hands."
I swat away the hands that try to latch on to my face, but like when I battled the foot swarm a few nights ago, using force gets me nowhere.
"You're no match for me." The bull releases another haughty snort.
... [I clipped the mid-section of the quote in the name of brevity]
The bull snorts. "What do you think you're doing?"
I seize the hand on top. "Now I've got the upper hand. You never should have shown me the key - you tipped your hand. And now I'm going to tip the rest of them." I give the stack a shove, and the hands crash onto the floor. Their fingers writhe in the air like capsized beetles.
"I've won hands down," I say. "Now hand it over."
The bull sulks. "I've got to hand it to you," he says, untying the hand behind his back. I snatch the key from its fingers and make for the portal, beckoning Ginny. "Let's get out of here before we're arrested by the Pun Police."
"There are Pun Police?"
Oops. I should not have said that. Behind us, the Pun Police race forward, shaking their batons. I jiggle the key into the slot, but the lock is sticky. The Pun Police close in fast. We're running out of time."
On top of the dealing-with-loss theme, which is a major story element that isn't immediately obvious and only gradually becomes apparent, there's an interesting look at what it's like to have your feet in multiple cultures (Jake, our story's hero, has a Chinese mother and caucasian father - which is straight from Dr Dave's life, he's a white guy with an Asian wife). That said, there isn't really much discussion of race outside of Jake's own familial observations. here's one taken from a scene with Jake's maternal grandmother.
Pau Pau likes to say that the Chinese food served in America isn't real Chinese food because Americans' tastes are so different, but I don't think that's the reason. I'm American and this stuff tastes good to me. The problem is that it's so complicated. You'd have to stick a Chinese person at every table just to make sure the food's being eaten correctly.
No, pick it like this from the other end. That's the juiciest part. Wait, pluck out the bone slivers so you don't bleed internally. No, no. Wrong sauce. That one'll blow your head off.
Please. If you can't scoop a handful of grub and cram it directly into your mouth hole, just forget it. This is America: strap on your feedbag and flick on your computer. Don't worry about indigestion. There'll be plenty of pop-up ads for any pill you want.
"Who's ready for dessert?"
I'm ready to explode, but yeah, bring it. Pau Pau sets out every sweet permutation of rice cake, red bean, almond paste, and sugar ever invented over the last millennia behind the Great Wall. And unlike the dinner food, this stuff you can shovel right in. My white half is pleased."
Though I can't say I've ever learned a thing from a dream, apparently Jake's ability to dream lucidly has him learning new life lessons just about every night. Here's a dream sequence that has Jake getting introspective with Ginny the GPS, one of his dream buddies who has a real-life counterpart in the story.
"I am sick of everyone trying to put me in a box. Have you ever felt that way? Like you're stuck in a box and can't get out?"
"Can't say I have."
"Huh, I though you could relate."
"Not really." I lift the GPS unit with the hand not still petting the bazookapus. "I don't live in a box."
"Don't be so sure. There are all kinds of boxes. When people see you in a certain way, it's difficult to get them to realize there's more to you than that. You wind up buying into it and acting the way they expect you to. I think you've been stuck in a box for a long time."
So what is lucid dreaming? It wasn't a term I was familiar with before reading this story. I assume it's a real thing (Dr Dave is a real doctor, after all), so here's a conversation between Jake and his dad to that help explain it.
"If you say so. You probably won't believe this part either. Over the last week, when I'm dreaming, I realize I'm dreaming during the dream, and I can take control of my body."
"Seriously? You're a lucid dreamer?"
"I'm a...wait, that's a thing?"
"Sure. It's called lucid dreaming. Most people can't do it. In fact, most people don't believe it's even possible. I'd never met anyone who could until -""
There was one scene in the book that really hit me right in the old cardiovascular organ - the scene is with Jake, his Dad, and his younger sister. I don't know what you'll get out of it without context, but reading it still makes me a little...emotional.
When I gaze into her eyes, all my excuses wither to nothing. Why? I don't remember. Did I even have a reason? Yeah, all I thought about was myself. "I'm so sorry, Em. I didn't understand. I was being mean." Her expression causes me physical pain. I glance down at the carpet. "I'm a terrible brother."
She marches right toward me. I figure she's going to hit me, and I decide I'll let her. Go ahead, right in the face. I have it coming. Instead, she lays Beenie on my chest. "You can keep Beenie as long as you want." Emma positions her ridiculous monkey so it looks like Beenie's hugging me. "She'll make you feel better."
I wish Emma had hit me. It would have hurt less.
"That's very sweet," Dad says. "Jake, what do you say to your sister?"
I pluck Beenie off my chest. "I don't want to hug Beenie." Emma looks crushed. I put out my arms. "I want to hug you."
She rushes over and leaps on me. She's soft and warm like Mom. She's my Beenie."
So, in summary, two thumbs up for this book. It's probably better suited for kids than adults because of all the ridiculous dream sequences. But if you can suffer through those (or if you are a fan of Piers Anthony's brand of silliness, as I very much was in my youth), it will be worth it.
Despite having many more things to ramble on about, I'm going to stop here because I really havent organized any of my thoughts/photos for those rants. Sorry, Tim, there won't be any new workplace observations today. I've got a long laundry list of complaints and office-observations that I may soon complain about, but now is definitely not the time. Send me an e-mail and I'll fill you in, in the meantime. I was just having an e-mail conversation with Paul about recent All-Hands announcements. I figured you already have an inside source who was feeding you the same info.
1 For the record, the books I've recently read, yet neglected to comment on, are:
Take Back the Sky (Greg Bear)
The House of Secrets (Brad Meltzer)
Star Wars, The Last Jedi (Jason Fry)
Dragon Teeth (Michael Crichton)
All You Can Worry About is Tomorrow (R.D. Hubbard)
And the one recently read eBook:
The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers) (R. Kane Maurer)
I started getting a barrage of garbage in my comments section this morning so I made an attempt to enable IP filtering to black all those little gems I was receiving.
Sadly, my tools in the office are not adequate to the task, so all I ended up doing is breaking the Comments section and the Contact page. So no comments for Dan until I get home and fix things.
** Update (several hours later)
Things should be back in order. We'll see how well the scumbag filter works a little later, I'm sure.
** Update 2 (many days later)
The garbage-filter seems to be holding steady. If I'm blocking anyone who isn't a complete waste of space from commenting, you have my apologies. Please let me know through the site contact form if this is the case and I will endeavor to remedy the problem.