Tag Archives: Books

Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale

I have had this argument so many times on the internet in the last month, I felt I needed somewhere to compile all of my thoughts and arguments against the idiotic masses.

The idiotic masses look at Hunger Games and say: “I liked it better when it was called Battle Royale. What a ripoff.”

I look at them and say: “Clearly you have never read the Hunger Games or you wouldn’t be making such a comment.”

To sum up the truth of what is being said, it’s like saying that Star Wars is a ripoff of Star Trek because they both take place on ships in space.

So let’s begin shall we? Standard spoiler alert here.

Point 1: Suzanne Collins never read Battle Royale. You can take this as truth if you want, but honestly there is no way to prove it one way or the other. She says she didn’t. However, it is a point in her favor that many many people have never heard of Battle Royale. It wasn’t released in the US. If she isn’t a fan of Japanese anime and writings, she wouldn’t have had a chance to be exposed to it.

Point 2: She has a completely believable story of where she came up with the initial idea. Flipping back and forth between channels and seeing reality tv and soldiers in Iraq. Add to this her father’s experiences in Vietnam and her own love of Roman and Greek history and mythology and you have all the components required to make Hunger Games.

Point 3: There is prior art before Battle Royale that sets up the idea as well. Running Man, Lord of the Flies, even back to the Roman gladiatorial games.

Point 4: The Roman Connection: even before really thinking about it, I remember being surprised at the very Latin names giving to characters. Cinna, Seneca, Cato, and dozens of others. I know enough Roman history to recognize the names. I was surprised to say the least. After reading the second and third books, I was convinced that the true basis for the idea was the Gladiatorial games and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur where 7 men and 7 women, even called Tributes, are drawn by lots, and sent to die to the Minotaur every year. There is a parade of chariots. The entire world watches the arena, as the entire world watched the gladiators. We find out in book 2 that Finnick was “sold to stud” much as the Roman gladiators were. Battle Royale is very Japanese. It doesn’t have a single Roman connection or reference.

Point 5: The pageantry. Oh and was there pageantry. The costumes, the stylists, the interviews, the dresses, everything has been turned into something for the audience to revel in. There is tradition and ritual in everything. This all ties into the sponsors and earning the assistance of outsiders in the arena. Unlike Hunger Games, Battle Royale has their competitors chosen in a very sneaky and sudden way. They aren’t trained, interviewed, paraded, or even televised. They are simply taken. This really shows the reality show influence Collins used in telling her tale.

Point 6: Yes, they are both stories about kids, but the relationships are different. Imagine, for whatever reason, you had to push a button, knowing, a 1000 miles away, it would kill someone. But if you didn’t push that button, instead your whole family would be killed. How hard, really, would it be to push that button? Hard, yes, but not as hard as say, if instead it were, you have to push that button and kill a friend, your close friend, who has spent years at your side, to save your family? That defines the largest difference between the children in Battle Royale and the tributes in Hunger Games. The tributes do not know one another. Katniss feels little pain when many of the tributes die in the initial bloodbath. Why should she? She’s never met them. They mean nothing when compared to Prim. The chances of even having a person chosen in your own district you didn’t know was likely. The kids in Battle Royale are a single class. They have been together all year. They are close, with rivalries, friendships, relationships. It’s a very different sort of combat. This is why Katniss doesn’t want to make friends. She doesn’t want to be friendly with Peeta. She knows that will make it harder to kill them later.

Point 7: Collins works very hard to make all of her characters connectible on some level. Even Cato and the other careers, we come to learn they are simply indoctrinated into the belief that they are fighting for glory and honor for their district. We find sympathetic ways of viewing them all. In Battle Royale, most of the characters just go immediately crazed. It is like they all received a high dose of PCP and were let loose on each other.

Point 8: Books 2 and 3. Battle Royale was a single book. It dealt with the one event, the one group of people, and ended in much the same way as Hunger Games, right after the victors managed to make it out alive (which isn’t a ripoff but rather the logical ending point to such a charged story). But Catching Fire and Mockingjay are where the story really comes to deeper waters. It shows that each part of this world was designed for a purpose. Collins thought it out. There is also the fallout from the events that happen inside the arenas. Collins knew the effect war had on people and wrote it into her book. We never see the fallout in Battle Royale. In Hunger Games we literally have two books that are steeped in the emotional baggage Katniss has built up and carries with her from the first games. The nightmares, the flashbacks, the reaction to being told she has to go back in, even Katniss’ realization that she could never be with Gale, even if she were free to, because the arena changed her, and she just can’t be with someone who doesn’t understand the deep effect it had on her psyche.


One thing creative people have to accept is that there are going to be similar stories told. These things are deeply wove into our culture and resonate with many people, thus many people are going to tell these stories. The Hero’s Journey and the Mono-myth exist for a reason. This is nothing new. Clearly the idea that reality tv and the very televised glorification of violence and war in Iraq could lead to people fearing this kind of event and possible horror. Taking the time to read both clearly shows that while both have a similar idea that saying Hunger Games is a ripoff is a very narrow and absurd conclusion to reach.

The Hunger Games – Or what a true female rolemodel should look like.

As always, in preparation for the release of the Hunger Games movie, I took a weekend to read the books. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins follow the experiences of a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, in a post-apocalyptic North America. She starts at 16, and by the end of the last book is 17-18. Although, true to epilogue format, she is much older in the epilogue.


Okay, Spoiler Alert.


All gone?


I cannot begin to express how enraptured I was by Hunger Games. I haven’t been this stoked about a new series book since I read Mistborn. First and foremost, Mrs. Collins is an exceptional writer, grabbing the reader by the nose, dragging them through horror after horror and moment after moment, only to drop them at the end of the book, overwhelmed, excited, exhausted, entertained, and sated with the story. I remember thinking when I closed the book (after reading it in a single sitting) “Man, this woman KNOWS how to pace a story.” Moments of rest, perfectly balanced with moments of excitement, horror, nostalgia, emotion, and even humor, all in what should have been a rigid framework of a story, but she manages to slip it all in, unnoticed.

After doing a bit a research, I find Mrs. Collins has been a writer for children’s cartoons on TV, which explains her exceptional pacing skills that she uses to such great effect.

I had seen the trailers for the movie prior to reading the book, so I was a bit biased in the character looks and the central moment of the Reaping. Oh and what a moment it was. Seeing the event on screen brought tears to my eyes. Reading it sent them running in streams down my face. Katniss is in no way the typical teenage girl. Her thoughts and personality have been shaped by the world she lives in.

She seemed very cold, even in the book. Not mean, or bitchy, but cold. She has emotional walls that made Fort Knox look insecure. As we are introduced to this character we slowly discover all the reasons she has built these walls. Her father is gone, dead in a mine accident, her mother is known for withdrawal, and the world she lives in presents a very real, very immediate possibility for starvation. The reader picks up very quickly that Katniss relies on no one but herself. She protects and cares for Primrose. her sister, which seems to be her purpose in life. (It is.) And merely accepts Gale as a friend because he is useful to her. He is let inside the walls, simply because she knows he has many of the same scars and qualities that make her what she is.

Let me take a moment to point out my very favorite thing that separates Katniss from all other young woman role models. She in no way, shape, or form wants a boyfriend, husband, or marriage. What a relief to have a heroine that strongly WANTS to avoid these institutions. She has her reasons, she doesn’t ever want to have a child who might be Reaped. She lives in terror of Prim being Reaped. One of my biggest complaints for the movie was they made Prim much more fearful than she seemed in the book. In the book, she was, if not unconcerned, but ambivalent and accepting of the fact she might be Reaped. I think, this was Mrs. Collins’ way of showing us that even Prim knew Katniss would never allow her to go to the arena. Katniss lives for one thing, to protect Prim. I also like that even though Gale is the one who talks of running away, Katniss already has a plan to “rebel” against the Capital. She isn’t going to play their game, simply by not having children. If she doesn’t have kids, she doesn’t ever have to play their Hunger Games.

Prim’s name is called at the Reaping and Katniss’ only thought is, she can’t let her go. Here is the first time we see Katniss trust someone else. She trusts Gale to care for her sister once she is gone. She knows her mother will likely fall apart again. She knows that Gale will take care of Prim. (Though how she knows Gale isn’t going to be picked at that point is beyond me.) When Peeta is Reaped, Katniss’ first thought isn’t relief that it wasn’t Gale, but rather dismay. She feels she owes Peeta something for the burned bread he gave her years ago, that prevented her starvation. She worries that this feeling will impede her ability to win.

As with all of the characters in Hunger Games, Katniss is completely indoctrinated into the belief that she can’t fight the Capital. Her only way to come out alive, which she doesn’t believe she can do, is to the play their game. Although, her mentality is very much a “I am gonna try, but I don’t expect to win.” She begins to shed the things that she would have held dear. Her mother’s dress, the Mockingjay pin, even her friendship with Gale. She has no use for them now. This is the tempering of her spirit, to deal with the horrors of the arena.

Peeta makes overtures, but even at this point, she sees him as a weakness. Being friends will only make it harder. So her walls are in full effect. What a wonderful character. She doesn’t fall apart. She doesn’t become melancholy. She becomes blindingly focused on one thing. Surviving the arena. The rewards of food for her and her family.

As the story progresses, she falls into the role she believes will make her most likely to win. She trusts Haymitch only as far as she needs his help to get sponsors and win. She trusts Cinna, in that she knows his efforts have already helped her and Peeta become noticed, increasing the chances that one of them will win. She even has a moment, where she thinks that if Peeta wins, at least Prim will benefit. It’s all about Prim.

During their training she receives the first hit to her wall. Rue. A kindred spirit of Prim. Katniss’ thought is already one of “How am I to deal with her? I can’t. Better hope the careers do it.” She goes along with the act of “liking Peeta” because she completely understands that she must play the game, completely, both in and out of the arena to win.

Once in the arena she immediately sheds all other thoughts and completely relies on herself. Even when she is about to die of dehydration and calls out to Haymitch, she doesn’t expect him to help her. She expects to have to stand on her own. No heroes to rescue this princess. Does she get angry and depressed? Does she give up? Not a bit. On the heels of asking for help, knowing he isn’t going to, she thinks, he wouldn’t withhold help unless he knew I could do it on my own. Her strength wells up once more, and she fights to survive.

During all of this, she believes Peeta has turned against her. He has joined the careers and is helping them find her. Any normal person would have been angry, hurt, and understandably ragey about such a turn of events. What does she do? She plays the game. She plays like nothing is wrong. Here is the first time I really see the overlap between her two realities. In one, she is frightened, worried, anxious, and knows that horrible things are happening. She knows she isn’t going to make it out alive. She has no one to trust and no one to lean on. The second, she is cool, collected, and in on a secret even the Capital can’t fathom. She knows she will win. There is the old adage that if you wear a mask long enough, it stops being a mask and becomes your true self. Katniss is already using the mask, and has been using it with Prim all these years. She puts up a brave front. So adapting it to protect herself in the arena is a logical step.

This is one of the most fascinating things of this character. Her ability to take two completely incompatible viewpoints and ignore one over another because the one allows her to succeed. It allows her to switch from being uncaring about Peeta to playing the star crossed lover. She does what she must to survive, not what she truly feels. Every moment she spends with Peeta only re-enforces the truth that she doesn’t love him, but she will believe herself in love if that’s what it takes to get sponsor assistance and win the games.

When she loses Rue, she doesn’t respond by falling apart, or being consumed by sadness, despite her deep feeling about the event. In her mind, Rue and Primrose are the same, and so she give Rue a true send off. She acts with compassion and love, despite knowing Rue was in direct competition with her. At this moment she shows the truly fractured and conflicted person she is. She is so very human, and so very conflicted and interesting.

I think it is the loss of Rue that makes Katniss realize fully, that even if she comes out alive, she won’t really be a victor. She understands Haymitch in a way she couldn’t before. She knows she has been changed, affected by the violence in the arena. She only has one goal, to get her and Peeta out alive. Primrose, for the first time, takes a backseat to her own survival. But even now, she is in the protector role. A role generally reserved for men. She protects Peeta, at the risk of her own life, for no reason other than she wants to repay the gift he gave her so many years before.

At the end of the Games, Katniss is presented with a choice. Peeta or Primrose. Only one victor can survive. It’s as simple as letting Peeta win, or taking the victory by killing him. Instead, Katniss comes up with a Romeo and Juliet plan. Her reasoning isn’t to defeat the Capital, outsmart the game masters, or even to win the games, but simply that she knows if she kills Peeta, who she has protected and saved just as much as she has Prim, she will never leave the arena. She will forever be trapped there in her mind. Both of them have to go home, or neither will.

Victory is bittersweet. Katniss is deeply scarred by the events she has lived. She has PTSD. She is terrified of losing Peeta. At this point, I think she has fallen into a sort of love with him. She has played the game too well, she has worn the mask too long. BUT regardless of this, she is unmoved in her convictions. She will go home. She will live in the victors village with her mother and Prim, and she will grow old, without ever marrying or having children. Despite her growing care for Peeta, it is not romantic in nature on her end. Or if it is, it’s not enough to bring her off the path she has set on. Katniss doesn’t change because of her time with Peeta, she changes because of her time in the arena and later her experiences with the rebellion.

At no point in the story does she rely on another character for strength. At no point does she allow herself to be protected or hides behind a stronger male. She sets a goal and goes for it with a single minded intensity. She thinks critically and reasons through her actions, even when in stressful situations. She retains her emotions and passions, but without becoming the stereotypical “bundle of illogical emotions” most men portray women as.

These same themes continue through out the second two books. She remains strong. She makes efforts to protect the people she has come to care for, Peeta, Haymitch, even Cinna and her prep team. She doesn’t allow herself to be swayed, by either side, or by the people closest to her. She still has emotional moments, she still clings to her strength, and she sticks to her decisions to never have children that might be a part of the Capitol’s sick game.

Finally, for once, we have a female heroine, worthy of the title. Worthy of the regard. Someone who relies on her own strength, rescues herself and others, and is able to be compassionate and passionate without turning into a sex pot, damsel in distress, or an extension of the men in her life.

Ready Player One

I recently read Ready Player One over the Christmas break. As it had been descibed to me, it was a book about what happens when everyone plays WoW, loves video games, and pretty much worships the 80s. As an avid WoW player, a rabid reader, and a child of said decade, I figured, why not, it seems to be right up my alley. Ready Player One: Target audience: me.

So how did I like it? Should you read it?

1. Do you like old video games and like impressing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of them?

2. Do you like movies made between 1980 and 1996 and like impressing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of them?

3. If there was a multi-billion dollar scavenger hunt through a virtual world, where all the clues were directly related to question 1 and 2, would you take part?

If you answered yes, to any of these questions, you will likely like RP1. RP1 is an orgy of pop culture, video games, and geek culture on the level of ComicCon. If ComicCon were a virtual world like Second Life where pretty much everyone spends all of their time. The book is one long scavenger hunt, about a socially awkward and nearly outcast boy, who becomes a hero, without ever really changing who he is. Never is the nerd forced to stop being a nerd. In fact, his nerdiness receives him praise and admiration from all who encounter him.

Wait, scratch that. RP1 is every nerd/geek/dork’s wet dream. A virtual school where you can mute bullies? Yes, please. The ability to make yourself appear normal, as opposed to fat, short, red haired, bespectacled, or so thin and pale you look like a drinking straw? Why in God’s name would I ever ever meet people in real life again! RP1 is absolute porn on a stick, dipped in chocolate and deep fried for those of us who loved all the things the characters in the book revere. The ability to be famous because you can beat a video game? The chance of winning unlimited wealth because you can recite a movie from heart? Becoming the hero, not because you slayed the dragon, but rather because you did something relatively inconsequential that later turned out to be the magical macguffin you needed to save the world? Okay, well maybe we are getting into spoiler territory with that one, but seriously, anyone who has ever played a graphic adventure knows the truth of “If you can pick it, it’s gonna be important later.”

RP1 is set in a future where virtual technology has advanced to the point that people can easily enter a virtual world, called OASIS, where they can do… anything. Kids are given access so they can go to virtual schools. People show up to virtual work. Chat rooms are more like hang out spots. It’s like WoW mated with Second Life and had the perfect love child. Of course, the author points out a few of the social ramifications of such a creation. No one interacts in real life anymore. Poverty is widespread, escapism the reality. The government is second to the virtual government. The sad thing is though, the author notices these huge, monolithic social issues, and then completely ignores them in favor of more anime references. Yet another video game name drop. The fact that the big bad in the book, IOI, is an internet service provider and wields more power than anything else even mentioned is terrifying, and yet even at the end, when the credits roll, they are still in charge of the access. They are still alive as Glados would say, because she would totally be a part of them.

The book is great. Fairly well written, with a few odd pacing moments. It has some truly unbelievable conceits that one just accepts to move on with the story, but in reality, it’s a nice fun romp through a virtual world every nerd wishes they could live in. But then the crippling truth of the book is… it only appeals to us. Those of us who want to live in OASIS, not the real world. The main character isn’t really a hero, despite saving the virtual world. He is given the tool to save the real world. The one with crippling resource shortages, wide spread starvation, and more social problems that could ever be solved, even if all it’s members weren’t spending most of their time plugged into computers.

This book could have been a fantastic philosophical discussion. It could have been the cautionary tale of allowing ourselves the ultimate fantasy. How everything a human thinks they want is really what is absolutely worst for them. The fact that the “hero” is given the tool to save the world, the real one, not the virtual one, and he glances at it, then WALKS AWAY, just proves this book was written by a nerd for nerds. He would rather make more references and more jokes than face and deal with the very real and very terrifying truths his tale reveals in the dangers of virtual fantasy fulfillment. The dangers of living in video games, movies, music, and tv shows. He would rather end on the hero sitting next to the girl, happy to not want to go back into the virtual world, not realizing that only having one person change isn’t going to change the horrid truth that their world is still dying. It’s still on the brink of chaos and destruction. The author ignores the philosophical, moral, and religious ideas that his book touches on in favor of another video game joke. True discussion and thought could have come from this work, with a bit more gravitas.

It’s a great adventure book for nerds/geeks/dorks, who worship Steve Jobs, Richard Garriott, and Shigeru Miyamoto, instead of the nerds who want to step up and make these men look like idiots. The nerds who want to figure out how to make cold fusion a reality. The nerds who want to find the Higgs Boson. The nerds who aren’t content playing other people’s games, watching other people’s movies, and listening to other people’s music, but instead strive and seek to create their own. The people who would be fixing RP1’s world, instead of practicing Pac Man and watching Pretty in Pink.

I guess I shouldn’t admit that despite it’s faults, I really liked this book. Oh well. I am going to go re-watch Lord of the Rings now.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Recently I decided to start reading more books that fell outside my “normal” reading patterns. The first book I picked was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery book by Stieg Larsson. I chose it, as the main character, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker, and earns her living working for a security firm by finding out people’s darkest secrets.

Overall I think the book was a good book. Worthy of a spot on my shelf, and it has lead to me acquiring the second in the series. (I will buy the third when it is released in paperback.)  If you like mysteries, I can suggest it as one of the best I have ever read. If not, perhaps a look, but maybe with a bit of a check first.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. (Or if you don’t mind being spoiled.)

First off, I love the character Lisbeth. She is a wildly intelligent hacker, that clearly has had a very rough life. Her social skills are painfully absent. She trusts no one and has very odd sense of right and wrong. Through the course of the first book, we see her sense of fair play that borders on psychotic. She always does what she feels is right, regardless of whether it is legal.

She seems completely unable to understand people’s intentions or responses towards her. Her antisocial and standoffish behavior seems to draw others in the book to her. I find it interesting that unlike most authors, who will give their characters “abilities” beyond the norm to assist them, Larsson realizes that her ability makes her that much more incapable of handling things. He makes her exceptionally strong, while giving her extremely profound weaknesses. He also doesn’t seem to mind heaping misfortune on her. One of my favorite qualities is her inability to have compassion for a victim. She is furious at a character for fleeing. Even going to far as to blame the victim for not doing something about the crimes sooner. But then in the very same scenes, proceeds to cover up a serial killer! She also scoffs at the notion that society or upbringing can be blamed for anyone’s crimes.

The book is very dark and is far more along the lines of a Law and Order Special Victims Unit than a standard mystery. The author is not one to shy away from detailed gruesome details. It makes for uneasy sections, but then, it really solidifies the reader to Lisbeth’s side.

I also really liked the fact that the book is very Swedish. They didn’t change or edit it (at least not as much as some others) to make it more “American”. The constant issue with characters not owning cars and having to rent them. The fact that square footage is generally included in a place description (how many Americans can even tell you how much square footage their home is?). They always speak of money in kronor, although I think they converted the numbers to the American equivalent without taking into account the exchange rates now…  Otherwise the numbers all appear to be shockingly low. $20k driving a company into the ground?  Regardless, it’s nice to read a story that is allowed to be told from a different culture and viewpoint.

The ending, while “happy” does not feel satisfying. Much the way that I dislike Law and Order Episodes where the outcome is unclear or the guilty party is not punished for their crime, this book leave the reader with a hollow victory. Yes, the serial killer is dead. But was he brought to justice? Were his crimes brought to light? Was he forced to suffer the atrocities he committed on others? The grand cover up just annoys me more. As I pondered why, especially since the characters give such convincing reasons why it should be covered up, I realized that my biggest issue is none of the characters grew as people from their experience.

Harriet was no more able to face the truth of her childhood than when she ran away. She was just as irresponsible and weak willed as she was at 16. Mikael is just as flaky as he has always been, and just as self centered. He ignores Lisbeth’s feelings to the extend he might as well be just as oblivious as her! Does he consider the women who have died? Does he lose sleep over the person he was friends with that turned out to be a serial killer? Do ANY of them stop to wonder about the man’s girlfriend?!? No, he is far more concerned with his vendetta against the guy he libeled.

After reading the first part of the second book in the series I discover that Lisbeth is in fact the *only* character that grew as a person!

All in all, it was a good book. I am reading the others in the series, but I am wary of suggesting it to others, as it could be a bit squeamish.

1001 Video Games You MUST Play Before You Die

It’s a book. http://www.amazon.com/1001-Video-Games-Must-Before/dp/0789320908

I saw it, got excited, and decided to pick it up, quite a while ago. First off, any book like this *should* be subtitled with “As of 20## year.” Dozens of games are release every week and you never know when a new one is going to be a new Must Play. After all, Minecraft a year ago was barely a peep, and now I would say it is definitely worth the title of a Must Play.

I skimmed some of the index, of course great favorites were present. However, once I got the book home and took some further time to read it, there were dozens of terrible terrible games included. And some wonderful games that were truly great passed over. Not to mention that with 1001 games to list, one will likely have to list a huge number of lesser games. The book, while not great by any means, gets the idea across. There are games worth playing, even if they aren’t up your alley.

Of course, 1001 is over kill, but still, a 100 or so wouldn’t be amiss. (My List, not theirs)

Bioshock, Pac Man, Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, King’s Quest, King’s Quest 6, Zork, Pong, Lego Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Warcraft 1-3, Dune, Command and Conquer, Suikoden, Xenogears, Plants vs. Zombies, so on and so forth. Even if you get snobby and don’t count Facebook games, Windows games (like solitaire) or such, you are still gonna have a ton of great games.

I can forgive terrible games. What I can’t forgive is the serious omission of *critically* acclaimed games. No mention of Dark Cloud, Dark Ages of Camelot, Heroes of Might and Magic, but here we see Knights of the Old Republic 2?!? Really? The buggiest game ever released, and it gets mention? Heavy Rain, but no Indigo Prophecy, from who Heavy Rain stole the story? A slew of Final Fantasy’s, each more redundant than the last, but no Legend of Dragoon, with it’s innovative timing attack mechanic? No addition of Alan Wake or Mirror’s Edge, but we have three virtually word for word ports of Bomberman? Table Tennis makes the cut, but no Xenosaga?  I am shocked Valkyria Chronicles and Persona 4 made it in!

The most obscene of these errors is the inclusion of Suikoden 3, which while a decent game, with an innovative mechanic that allows the story to be told from 3 points of view, but NOT including Suikoden 1 OR Suikoden 2!!! We have every Zelda, even the terrible ones, every Mario, even the terrible ones, Guitar Hero METALLICA, enough Tennis games to choke a horse, games that aren’t even games but MODS of games, indie games that aren’t really games because they don’t have defined goals, Bass Fishing, Wii Sports Resort, 4 Wipeouts, 6 Resident Evils, 3 Space Invaders, and dozens of other sequel prone games that didn’t deserve their second!

To this DAY Suikoden 2 sells at $150 FOR A USED COPY. Clearly this is a game WORTH owning and playing at that cost.

All this has done is confirmed my belief that games reviewers are idiots. And that even if you have 1001 games, you are gonna miss a few diamonds, in addition to getting a ton of filler.

I judge books by their covers

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” If I had a nickle for every time during my childhood my mother said that, I would have a metric ton of nickles. At the time, I didn’t. To be completely honest, I didn’t judge books at all. If I could get my hands on them, I read them. I distinctly remember the moment that I realized books weren’t always great. I had been binge reading Nancy Drew. This was the point I noticed that in the last 3 books, she had received early birthday presents from her father twice. Both were large, extravagant gifts for her 18th birthday, and the catalyst for her adventure that book. It was at this point I realized all the books were inherently the same. I *saw* the formula.

Needless to say, it *quite* ruined a LARGE number of books for me. I couldn’t read Nancy Drew anymore, because it felt so similar. I couldn’t read Goosebumps, Sweet Valley Twins and Friends, even Boxcar Children, all of my favorite childhood books, fallen to the wayside. I began to gravitate towards books like Goblins in the Castle, The Westing Game, and other such titles that fell outside the realm of serial books.

This was the point where I became a “book snob”. I didn’t just want books that were enjoyable. I wanted books that were worth my time. This didn’t mean the book needed to be academic or even critically acclaimed, but rather that I found the author good and the book had quality writing. It also caused my secondary reading quirk where I want to read something good, but because I don’t trust a book to be good any more, I re-read something I *know* I like already. I get stuck in these cycles of endlessly re-reading books I have already read.

What does one do in this instance? I tried asking friends. Six books worth of Sword of Truth and half of Game of Thrones later, I have discovered this is not necessarily the best course. (To be fair, at least Sword of Truth *started* off well.) I am aware of the cyclical nature of this problem. Every time I try to branch out to a new book, I discover a *terrible* book and am further convinced that the target I am attempting to find is heavily obscured.

So I started judging books by their covers.

Karen Miller, author of the Godspeaker trilogy, has superb covers. The first, called Empress, has dark and sullen looking girl on the front. Reading the blurb on the back identifies this girl as the main character. Born into poverty, sold as a slave, she would eventually become the titular Empress. The other two books in the series were equally lovely. They didn’t fit the high fantasy norm. So I purchased it and read it.

I have never loved and hated a book more. Empress, and the two other books, are among the most wonderfully written books I have ever read. With the absolute worst story. The main character, the sullen girl Hekat, starts off great, but then turns into this arrogant self centered b*tch who makes up her own rules as she goes, and even the jealous “divine” in the book allows to her just do whatever, despite handing down swift and vicious justice to anyone else who even toes the line. By the end of Empress I was completely convinced that this was the worst book I had ever read, if well written. I am known for hating books that kill off characters I like, and yet, I realized that the entire cast could be wiped out and I wouldn’t shed a single tear. Hateful little snots, all of them. But Miller was just good enough to keep me reading. By the end of the series, I had at least found a few characters to like, and read with glee as a few of the more hated characters received their just desserts. The cover had proven true. The story was bleak and arid, with bright spots of color. In addition, the description on the backs were spot on for the books.

To break away from Fantasy a bit, if one looks at Romance books, you will tend to find all the covers are *abysmal*. with few exceptions (just like the books!). Ironically Julia Quinn (previously mentioned) has very nice, very plain covers. (No bare chested men here.) She doesn’t need the titillation to drive readers to her book, she knows she will get them on her own. They pick up one and the next thing you know they have bought them all.

Now, when picking over a book and trying to decide what to read, I try to decide based on friend’s input, in addition to the cover. Does it mention “prophecy” on the back (ie does the writer use a generic convention to make their story “work”)? Does it have one of those poorly drawn fantasy images of a woman in a metal bikini? There is nothing worse than a leftover 80s image of some bad science fiction image to push me away.

This can lead to good finds (Karen Miller) and bad finds (Brent Weeks, I so wanted you to be good) and completely missed finds (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, currently my next possibility for a good book, but man could you *have* a more boring cover???). I also have learned that brand loyalty, while not always positive, can lead to good finds (Brandon Sanderson by virtue of Robert Jordan.) I tend not to trust Amazon reviews (they hate McKiernan, so I ignore them for the most part) and will at least give friend reviews a bit of a look. I find sites that promise to lead one to good fantasy dubious at best (anyone notice how they rant on derivative work but then all their top favorites are *exactly* that?) I find it utterly hilarious that the go to phrase when I ask people why they like Game of Thrones is “No one is safe! He kills off major characters all the time!” Yes, so does Whedon and it ticks me off when does it too. I do understand the “gritty realism” as a logical reason for liking it, but this is the point where I always look at the person and say “So, you read fantasy for it’s realism?” Although, as an interesting point to the topic, Game of Thrones has a very dull cover on the commonly sold copy that is seen in most bookstores now, but even the old one was fairly plain by say Wheel of Time standards (maybe the gritty realism coming back?). I want Tolkien, only with a better editor, more compelling characters, and better action. Call it derivative if you want, but there is a REASON the man spawned an entire genre.

Despite judging a book by it’s cover, it seems to lead to just as many successes as failures. And less hurt feelings when a person says “Read this you’ll LOVE it.” I read. And then I am like, seriously? And you make fun of *my* Wheel of Time?

I know the truth is I am just as unlikely to find a good book based on it’s cover as any other criteria. At least with the cover I can blame clever marketing instead of feeling the depression that a majority of the world has absolutely terrible tastes in books.

You got your philosophy in my fantasy…

It’s always hard talking to someone about something you *love* when they don’t love it. It’s harder when they really don’t like it. As a general rule, I avoid really getting negative on things I don’t like to people I know like it. It’s why, despite my borderline psychotic hatred of Twilight, I generally don’t rant about it at work (we have at least 2 Twilight fans, so I rein it in).

Any time I get to talking about books, it always come up that I read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. A great deal of the time the person’s face squishes up and they frown. Before they can even say anything else, I laugh and say, “That’s fair.” I love Wheel of Time, but that doesn’t make me blind to it’s faults. (I swear *every* *single* *woman* in that world “sniffs” when annoyed.) Anyone who read the series and made it past book 5 has shown they are incredibly patient and has perseverance. The man wrote tomes worth of description and got far too interested in minor characters. I understand why people wouldn’t like it.

The thing that always trips me up is when I get to talking about a book I like and the other person likes and we like it for two different, and occasionally conflicting, reasons. It always happens in such a fashion that I almost stop and ask, What book were you reading?!?

I always want to talk about certain books, but invariably no one has read them. I long to find someone who has read Dennis L. McKiernan as much as I have. Or Brandon Sanderson (though I am getting pretty close on my mom for him). The irony being, when I finally *found* someone who liked Dennis McKiernan the first words out of their mouth was “Well, I liked his early work. His later stuff is just terrible and cliche.” I caught myself right before very rudely saying “What the —- is wrong with you? It’s totally the other way around!” McKiernan’s first book was originally written as a sequel to Lord of the Rings. And when the publisher couldn’t get the rights they had him re-write it *just* enough to not be Lord of the Rings. It was terrible. Entire sections were inconsistent. Not to mention that as a whole it felt very derivative of LotR without anything good to differentiate it. The later Mithgar books, after he had a few years to really feel the world and branch out… they are exceptional. He shakes loose his Tolkien roots and sprouts wings of appealing and engaging fantasy tales.

The best thing, in my opinion, is that in every book he generally interweaves some philosophical idea that ties into the main story. The ever shifting nature of good and evil. The positives and negatives of organized religion. The protection and destruction of nature. Predestination versus free will. Kings and the balance of power. Immortality, mortality, and future generations. War, peace, and the necessity of battle. Generally these are scattered throughout the book and one doesn’t think about them until later, after they have put the book down. I love it, but apparently some people hate it. He tends to do this much more in his later works, with little or none in his early works.

Add to this his truly villainous villains, stalwart heroes, range of environments, detail in the world and cultures, and non conventional plots and you have a truly wonderful series. Best of all, each book stands alone, despite having an overarching chronology and overlapping characters. (Non conventional plots – Have you ever read a story all about chasing down a specific bad guy to keep him from doing some horrible thing, only to have the heroes *fail*? It’s great! And sets the stage for the rest of the series!)

Most of the Mithgar series is currently out of print. To me, this means a decrease in the already rare number of people I meet who have read his work.  Maybe this is a good thing, considering how attached I am to the series. It also makes me wonder, what books do I rave about that other people have the same reaction to?

Bookshelves, the window to the soul…

I love books. Good, bad, wildly ugly, I love printed word. I read faster than I talk (which is really saying something as people who know me will attest to). I read something out of a book nearly every single day. I am one of those “Luddites” who will cling to my books to my dying breath despite loving my iPad and iBooks with a passion. I also have some exceptionally weird ordering schemes I use on my bookshelves. (Awesomeness/Number of Times Read/Quality/Similarity/Authors) I also have that wonderful habit of trying to read anything type written around me. More than once people have gotten pissy at me for “looking at their chest” and I am like, well then don’t have tiny words printed across it that is hard to read. More often though, people will try to engage me in conversation around a bookshelf. And unless I can identify the books by the spines (which I can on a shockingly large number of books) they will get the joy of repeating themselves, as I am likely not listening. Chances are, I am reading the titles.

As a side effect of this, I tend to know, more than most people, what books are on a shelf. When I was in college, I was waiting on a professor in their office, they had a bookshelf, and I, as always, took time to read all the titles. While every book on the shelf was academic in some form, many had *nothing* to do with what the professor taught. I then noticed something that was very telling. A huge, intricate cobweb, spanning one corner of the shelf. It was clearly ancient, and cut off a large portion of the books, showing they hadn’t been moved in a long time. When the professor got back to his desk, we talked and at the end of the meeting I asked him about one of the books. He hemmed and hawed, but was unable to actually speak on the book (I had read it). At this point I was certain that his bookshelf was just for show. He didn’t read these books.

This sparked what would become a minor hobby of mine. Looking at a bookshelf and trying to identify personalities based on the books the person chooses to show. First, a caveat, the entire system generally breaks down on shelves that are alphabetized (author or title, it ruins the theory) or that are “hidden” bookshelves, like ones in bedrooms, or what have you, that are generally not viewable by the public. I am just looking at shelves that are essentially a “public” face people are putting up. (There are always exceptions, like a very neat alphabetized shelf with dozens of classics, a few recently popular books, and then realizing that the person doesn’t read at all.)

Bookshelves, first and foremost, are generally used to make a person appear smarter. They like having a full bookshelf in their office or living room because it makes them appear more intelligent. Second they are used to hold reference. One can usually spot a “reference” shelf because there are a ton of thick books, with noticeable holes. (If you look by or on the nearby desk or table, you will find the books to fill those holes.) Any time you see holes in a bookshelf and see books stacked about the room or office, you know you are in the presence of someone who actually reads.

Third, they are used to create an appearance. Just like a nice pair of shoes, a tshirt with an image, or a hair style, a bookshelf can portray a person. Let’s use mine for example.

In my living room there are 4 bookshelves (2 book, 2 media). First, this is an excessive number. A standard living room contains 1 bookshelf and one media shelf. Or at least from my experience that is fairly average. A logical conclusion would be that I have all my books in my living room, which would be wrong, there are 4 more bookshelves in my apartment. But back to the 4 shelves in my public space. The media ones are clearly overloaded, and organized into dvd, bluray, tv series, and video games. Then alphabetized. Then beside both shelves are stacks of media, all jumbled, some still wrapped. This shows that media doesn’t get placed where ever. It has to go in it’s spot, or it doesn’t go on the shelf. The organization to it, shows a logical, sometimes ocd mind. Sometimes, because note, the media stacked to the side has no organization to it. The fact that there are “type” groups, as well as being organized shows that I tend to partition things and inherently think of things broken down into subsets.

Now, on to my books. There are books stacked all about the room. On ottomans, arms of the couch, next to the desk, in a pile on the coffee table. Dozens of “floating” books with no place on a shelf. There are two tall book shelves. The one on the right is organized with a majority of the books properly on the shelf, spine out. However, there are dozens of books stacked on their sides over the top of the books on the shelf. There are even more books stacked on their side in front of the spine out books. Also there are toys and figures, jumbled, and not well spaced. The top shelf contains a large number of Robert Jordan books, both hard back and paper back, and a majority of the Harry Potter books. The next shelf down contains Dennis L. McKiernan books, turned on their side and stacked horizontally, spines out. Then over-sized books, Penny Arcade, Sheldon, and some more hardbacks beside those. The third shelf contains another selection of paper backs, while the bottom two shelves are bowed under the weight of dozens of roleplaying books of various rulesets, intermixed with Game Development books, text books, and such. The crowded shelves show that I am a voracious reader. My ability and desire to acquire books out paces me getting rid of or purchasing new shelves.

Note, that the books placed at eye level are generally not well known. (In fact I have only ever known 2 other people who read Dennis L. McKiernan.) But they are also my favorite books. I read them at least once a year, and they are well worn and well loved. I place them specifically on that shelf because not only are they easy to access, but also easy to see. These are my “comfort blanket” books. The ones I would carry everywhere if I could. The ones that the idea of not having makes me twitchy. Then above them and below them are other well loved favorite books. Decorating the shelves are figures and toys that I have collected over the years and that I love to look at. They get jumbled though, when I move them to get to the books and never move them back.

The other shelf is a wondrous mix of dvd overflow, even more rpg books, more paperbacks, and collectibles. It’s scattered, messy, and totally me. The variation of books ranges from World of Warcraft Manga, to the Riverside edition of Shakespeare, to Mercedes Lackey, to Hawthorne. It is, at it’s best, a collection of books I love. It shows my impatience, with organization and with keeping things neat. It shows that I am comfortable with who I am, I don’t mind if you see all my favorite books. I don’t have anything to prove. You won’t find my bibles, philosophy, or Greek tragedies out there, despite the fact that I read and study those things. In fact, I am a bit of an extrovert. I *want* people to see my favorite books. I want people to ask about them and look at them. I love it when people notice I have a copy of the first Harry Potter book that is from England and as such is called Philosopher’s Stone.

How does this apply to other people’s book shelves? Many nerds/geeks have Lord of the Rings, no big stretch there. (In fact many people NOT nerds/geeks have them as well.) But is there a copy of the Silmarillion? If there is, is the binding cracked? The best part is, ask that person, “What did you think?” Some people are honest and say they haven’t read it, that they have it because it deals with the series and shelved it with it’s cousins. Some people will say something like “Oh it wasn’t too bad.” or “I liked the series better.” Busted. That’s what I think every time I hear that. They added this book to the shelf because they want people to think they read it. They feel the need for some sort of street cred that they are more of a fan than you because look, obviously they read it. (To head off confusion, nearly every single person I have ever met who actually read it responds with a wildly negative and sometimes very angry response about that book. It’s TERRIBLE. I persisted and yet only managed to read about half of it before I was in too much pain to continue. My own copy is buried in one of the back shelves because I hate it that much. Stupid book.)

Do they have a “pretty” edition of a book, but no “reading” edition of the book? I have the lovely Complete Works of Shakespeare, with thin pages, gold edging, and lovely images. Right next to several very worn copies of a few of the plays. Do they have paperbacks with no binding cracked? Let me say that this is not necessarily a bad thing, I have dozens of such books in my apartment. Generally they get purchased with the intent to read then shuffled to the side when I get something else. But these books are almost never added to my shelves in a fashion that they are easily seen. (I tend to stack paperback books with their bottom facing out, so there is a vertical stack that allows for more books per shelf.) Also, I find I like to put my Pretty Edition, or Signed Editions, on eye level. Because it isn’t just the book that I am showing off, it is the “specialness” of that copy. Though nearly all of mine have a reading edition tucked in the same shelf.

Do they have Ayn Rand? These books tend to be the line in the sand as far as a shelf that is used and loved, and a shelf that is for show. I have Anthem, spine out. You can see it. But I can also talk about it, how many times I have read it, and *why* I like it. I have a copy of Atlas Shrugged somewhere. (That should give you a clue there.) I read about half of it. Once. I haven’t tried to read it again. I am constantly amazed by people who say they love it, but can’t speak for more than a sentence or two on what it is about. My favorite experience with it was the person who had TWO copies of it. Different covers, on two different shelves and when I asked them why they liked it so much, they knew nothing about it. Then when I pointed out they had two copies… Whew, that was embarrassing.

Do they have only “quality” books? Or do they have McDonald’s books too? I once expressed to a colleague how excited I was that I was going to get to go meet R.A. Salvatore in person. His response was one of swift derision. How could anyone like that two bit hack of a writer? I laughed and replied “No, he isn’t spectacular. His work isn’t literature. But regardless, it always fills the need I have for it. It’s always enjoyable. It’s like… McDonald’s. I don’t want to eat it every day. I like good food. But sometimes, *nothing* else will do. And sometimes, you just want the comfort food of the fries.” He blinked a few times, then nodded. As if this wasn’t something he had considered. I was once in an apartment and saw the Narnia series cuddling next to Dickens next to a Magic the Gathering book. Yep, this guy was not afraid to admit that he liked pulp as well as “quality” books and was more than happy to talk about all three. This also goes for age appropriate books. Do they have Narnia? Or is it too “childish”? I was thrilled to see Susan Cooper’s series on a friends shelf recently.

Do they put “intelligent” books at eye level and try to hide the books they feel are “lesser”? There are very few exceptions to this. I mix the good and the bad. Just like I own bad movies, I own bad books. One exception I make is Julia Quinn. She writes romance novels. Roll your eyes, I’ll wait. All done? Okay. I agree. Romance novels are the *worst*. Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly planned, with terrible dialog, word choice, and plot. As a general rule, not worth the paper they are written on. I have found exactly one author of such novels that I like. That’s JQ. Her writing ability is so stellar, that I am often amazed at her turn of phrase. Her word choice gives me goosebumps. Her characters are deep, flawed, human, and yet, always manage to learn and grow as people. Her dialog is witty. Her situations range all emotions from tender to hilarious to absurd to heartbreaking. And best of all, every single one ends as it should, with a happily ever after. (Again, the McDonald’s idea, sometimes you just need a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.) But despite my fandom, and often passionate defense, I do not put her books out on my living room shelf. In part because they are too often stacked beside my bed in the piles of finished books there, but more because I don’t want someone to color their view of my books/reading habits/discussion because of their view of romance novels (which I will completely admit is spot on 99% of the time).

There are dozens of simple examples that identify if the person cares more about the appearance of the shelf or about the books it contains. Does it really matter? Not really. But I like using it as little windows to people’s true selves. The little things they tip off about themselves. And when I find a shelf I like, then I know I can strike up a conversation about it. I can talk to them about books and it won’t end in awkward silence once I realize they haven’t actually read any of their books. This can also go deeper. Is someone like me and 90% of their shelf is fiction? Or the reverse? Do they keep copies of books, or do they give them away after they have read them? Do they frequent libraries and as such only buy books they love?

A Memory

I have recently been reading a great deal of books on writing. One of the most interesting things that struck me was the advice to read books that are similar to what you are writing. And even beyond that, read voraciously. The ever snarky part of my brain piped up with, “No sh*t Sherlock.” It is perfectly obvious that as a writer, one should always be reading. But then I suppose the writer of this book intended to cover all his bases and make sure that everyone knew this as well. I read to excess and exceptionally fast. It is easy for me to blast through a 300 page book in 3 or 4 hours. People are always amazed at how fast I read and yet manage to comprehend and remember everything I read. This is always the point where I look at them and tell them “Well, to be honest, I have had a great deal of practice.”

As a kid, I lived in a house where TV was not considered an important thing. Not to mention we lived so far out in the country we had a grand total of 6 channels, and 2 of them were frequently static-y or down if it was cloudy. My parents didn’t see the value in buying movies, so I probably had about 10-12 VHS tapes of various kinds, mostly Star Wars and Disney. But books were a different story. $6 for a paperback book that I could read over and over again was considered a frugal bargain and as such I quickly discovered that while I could never convince my mother to buy a movie or toy, I could always convince her to buy a book. Add this mentality to the fact that as a high school student I often stayed after school for drill team practice or band practice, after which I would walk to the public library, to have somewhere safe to do my homework, and they sold old books for 10 cents a piece and you have all the makings for a girl with her nose in a book most of the time.

The real point at which I became so enamored of reading and by it’s extension writing my own stories down was in the 4th grade. I remember the event quite well because it was one of the first points in my life I felt real frustration and excitement. Every week or so our well meaning teacher would take us to the library in our elementary school. Here she would attempt to teach us about research, decimal systems, and the value of reading. We would do our best to ignore her and hope to get on to the end of the day. In an attempt to convert us, she required us to check out a book every time we went to the library. The first day she instituted this policy many of us were quite annoyed, but dutifully searched the shelves for anything we might want to check out. Several students took the easy route and checked out something they had read. We were, after all, mildly intelligent and it was easy to see this spawning book report assignments.

I wandered down a shelf of books reading titles, not really interested in anything. I didn’t particularly like reading “grown-up” books, i.e. books not written by Seuss. Near the end of the row I sat down and started pulling out books to look at their covers. My mother always said “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But I had nothing else to judge it by, so I judged away. I found one book with this rather nifty looking image of a wolf on the front. The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Sounded good enough for me to check out and tote around with me until we had to return it.

Ever the normal child I carried the book around, but didn’t actually read a word of it. To avoid the search for a new book, I continued to check it out over and over again. I can only assume the teacher believed me to be a slow reader, or the book to be a bit out of my vocabulary range. Then the unthinkable happened. For whatever reason we had downtime, despite trying I cannot remember what is was we were doing. We weren’t allowed to get up, or even to doodle or whatever. All we could do was read a book in between the something or other. So I pulled out my library book and read it pages for something to do other than stare at the same walls.

Imagine my surprise when the book was quite interesting. I became immersed in the world and deeply interested in what happened. However, before I could finish the book we were back in the library. With a far more suspicious teacher. She insisted that if we had checked out a book 2 or more times we could not check it out again. I was only a part of the way through The Grey King and had checked it out 6 times. It never occurred to me at the time to lie or even to go home and ask my mom to buy the book for me. All I knew was I *had* to keep the book and take it home that day. So I went up to the teacher and told her the truth. Yes, I had just picked a book randomly from the shelf. No, I had not been reading it. But I had started and it was pretty good so far. I wasn’t done and couldn’t I please just have it for one more week so I could finish it. I promise I will turn it in next week. Perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realize that this was indeed a turning point for me. Perhaps she hoped maybe even one good book would make a difference. Maybe she was so surprised I told the complete truth. If she remembered the event, I would certainly ask her now. Regardless, she acquiesced and let me check the book out one more time.

The Grey King was exceptional. At least to me. I thought it was the most wonderful book with a fascinating story, characters, and ending. I returned the book the next week, having finished it over the weekend. I immediately went back to that section of the shelves and touched the spine of what was now my favorite book. Though to be fair, it had no competition. In my childish mind, this was the section to pick another book from for the next week because clearly the shelves had given me such a wondrous treasure before. Next to it on the shelf was a book called The Dark is Rising. Sounds good to me, I thought and checked it out.

I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the author’s name was the same. I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the small print on the cover of The Grey King that plainly marked it as a series. But I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when the new book I had checked out was about the same characters! But it told the story of what happened before! How exciting for a 9 year old! It took less than a week for me to finish The Dark is Rising. Far wiser, I returned to the section and with a bit of assistance figured out it was a series of five books. Suddenly the librarian had to deal with a girl who previously had checked out the same book for 6 weeks just for show wanting to check out THREE books at once. The limit on checkouts was 2 at time. Bless her reading heart, she bent said rules and let me take home Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.

This was my snowflake. This was the tipping point. It lead to Coville, Keene, Lewis, Alexander, Raskin, Bradbury, and so many more. A snowflake that became a snowball that became an avalanche. For years I known for reading books every chance I got. At the dinner table, in the car, sitting at home, in class… In fact, by sixth grade I was so known for reading when I should have been paying attention I was the only person *not* allowed to have books at my desk.

Hero of Ages

I finished the Mistborn series and as such I am compelled to review the final book. Let me start with *SPOILERS* for this and many other series I have read. (Mistborn, WoT, Harry Potter, Mithgar.)

I must say, the first two books were exceptional. I strongly recommend them for anyone interested in fantasy but bored by the overabundance of the same old thing.

It is difficult to end a series and end it well. Do you end on a positive note? Do you conclude the entire story? Do you leave it a bit open ended? Do you have the final chapter saying “Where are they now?” When J.K. Rowling was finishing book 7 she said in an interview she was tempted to kill Harry. Not because she didn’t love him or felt he needed to die, but because she knew that would *end* the series. Without him, there is no continuing.

To go ahead and spoil it, at the end of Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson proceeds to kill off the MAIN character and her husband, who is essentially the second main character. Now I am a Joss Whedon fan. I am used to losing characters. But the ending seemed… wrong. These were not the first two characters to die. In fact, several other major characters pass in the telling of the story. But all of them “felt right” meaning that when the character died you were left with a sense of resolution and completion. You missed the character, but you could see how the death was required to make other characters stronger and progress the story. Much like Dumbledore must die, otherwise Harry will never strike out on his own and become the man and wizard required to defeat Voldemort.

So why did the ending of Hero of Ages leave me bereft? Well to begin with, I read fantasy, as opposed to Non-fiction, for enjoyment and the happy endings. I like when good conquers evil and all the good guys go home, get married and have babies. It just feels nice. It is, after all, the fantasy of any hero. Kill the dragon, save the princess. But even this isn’t 100%. When I read Voyage of the Fox Rider, I was distraught at the end of the book. Aylis was dead. Or presumed dead. But then, I understood. I knew there was a slim chance, but even if she had died it was necessary for Aravan to move forward. (Fortunately, she did not die and they were reunited 8 books or 8000 years later, depending on how you look at it. Which let me tell you, was a very emotional time for me.)

Near the end, Vin, the focus of the story, is imbued with the power of Preservation, one of the two gods in the story. (Up until this point the book is beyond excellent.) She becomes a god. At this point I immediately thought, well crap. Unless she could make Elend (her husband) a god, she was already irreparably separated from him. Then it occurred to me. No! She has to give up the power! I mean, after all, this is the crux of the story. Ruin was trapped and needed to be freed. He changed the legends to say she needed to give away the power. But what if Ruin didn’t change it much? What if instead it meant she had to give the power over to a person who could use it properly? But of course! That is it. Knowing that knowledge of religion and belief was a major theme of the book, this made sense to me. She would give the power to the one character who truly understood religion, natural and otherwise, and had all of the knowledge needed to make everything right within the world, Sazed. Ah ha! and so I kept reading.

But then the unthinkable happens. Elend is beheaded. In a short, one sentence clip, this character, so vital and central, dies. With nary a whisper. Of course, I expect Vin to go revenge mode. She doesn’t. And in fact states something to the effect of “Well you just got rid of the only thing I had to fight for.” and proceeds to suicide against the strength of Ruin, killing him as well as herself. I can honestly say I stared dumbfounded at the book for at least 5 minutes. The essences of Ruin and Preservation float down, Sazed takes over, and makes everything right, using both powers. Of course the book ends with the implication that Vin and Elend have gone on, and are happy in the after life, but all that remains are a ton of minor characters.

First, if you plan on killing the main character, you had better have a backup ready and loved. In Harry Potter, Rowling had Ron and Hermoine. If Harry had died, we would all look to those two and feel better. At least they made it. Sanderson had no such backup. Who cares if the world was saved if all the characters we truly cared about are dead? Even having Vin die, with Elend you would have had someone to hang on to.

In the end, I am left with a sense of loss, failure, and the question of why. Why were these two deaths necessary to the story. I can only answer that they weren’t. Vin could have given up the power of Preservation to Sazed and become normal once again. Ruin was *still* thwarted by Elend and the Allomancers burning all of the Atium. Sazed still had the power and knowledge to restore the world and it’s ecosystem. He didn’t *need* Ruin to do that. What of Ruin? Well, considering the Atium crystals were destroyed and all the Atium burned… He is going to have to wait a few thousand years to regain the power to destroy the world. Plenty of time for Sazed to build power or to figure out a way to balance against Ruin once again. Essentially return to the status quo. But instead Sanderson takes the easy way out. It is a final win, but at that point you don’t care. It would have been better to allow for the short term win, with the survival of the characters you know and love, with the knowledge that in a thousand years, another battle will be fought.

The only thing I can conclude is that he wanted the story to be done with. No hope of returning or falling back on the series. We have all seen the fantasy author who writes one or two good books then proceeds to write way past the point the story can sustain. But is that a good reason to slaughter your main characters? I say no. Even with the short term win, we know all those characters will die of old age. We know that when the battle is fought in the future, that will be with different people. And even so, with one minor change, don’t allow the Atium crystals to regrow, you can prevent that to begin with! To this possible explanation I say, get some self control and be done with it!

Now I am wildly concerned about the end of Wheel of Time. Please, please please let RJ have written a list of who survives, who dies, and why. Otherwise we may see the mass slaughter of dozens of characters we love.