Dying of the Light Book Review

George R.R. Martin is well-known today as the mega-successful author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. With the appearance of these stories on the small screen as Game of Thrones, Martin has become a household name, not just as one of the foremost fantasy authors of America, but as one of its preeminent authors, period.

Before he became the architect of Westeros, Martin was the editor of the Wild Cards series. If you have been reading fantasy and science fiction long enough, you would have seen these popular anthologies on the shelves of your local bookstore for many years prior to the arrival of A Game of Thrones in 1996. Before that, Martin was the author of other works, one of which was Dying of the Light in 1977, recently reprinted in a new edition by Bantam Books.

Dying of the Light is a far shorter work than we have become used to with the Ice and Fire novel series. But it shows the same seriousmindedness and attention to detail that we have come to expect in Martin’s later work. Indeed, comprehensive worldbuilding is Martin’s forte, and he creates a rich and deep far future background in which to place his troubled characters.

The story begins with the arrival of a “whisperjewel” in Dirk t’Larien’s possession, sent by Gwen Delvano, his former lover. He inteprets the jewel as a cry for help, a call for rescue, and sets off to find Gwen. Gwen, unfortunately, is trapped in a relationship with a stern but noble man, Jaan Vikary, who is not quite her husband, and she is not quite his wife. The resulting love triangle (actually something of a love quadrangle, as Jaan Vikary has a male hunting and fighting companion, Janacek, whom he places above all others people) is a complete mess, and bodes no happy ending for anyone involved.

Martin shows adroitness in developing “alien” cultures without the need for non-human aliens. The cultural stance of Jaan Vikary of High Kavalaan, with its immensely strong bonds between males, but relatively weak ones between men and women, is markedly and almost unbridgeably different from that of Dirk and Gwen, who hail from a culture nearer to our own. High Kavalaan is well-developed as an alien culture, with a seemingly plausible reason given for its development as a world where men form closer relationships with one another than with women.

The setting of Dying of the Light is the fading planet Worlorn, awash in melancholy and regret. It is a world colonized by the peoples of several other planets for the short time that it drifts through space in the vicinity of a grouping of life-giving stars. That fifty-year era is now coming to an end, and Worlorn is now nearly empty of inhabitants, much like a grand old building just before its demolition.

Dying of the Light is a love story, a planetary romance, an adventure, and an examination of how cultural preconceptions make it difficult, if not impossible, for people of radically different cultures to comprehend each other. It is worth a read.

 

Marc DeSantis

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Mark of Calth Review Part One

Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) is a science fantasy universe with a heavy emphasis on the fantasy. Heroic Space Marines (think knights in power armor) battle against every threat, alien, human, and demonic, that the galaxy can throw at them. It is a dystopian setting in every sense of the word. The Imperium claims to rule all humanity in the name of an immortal but very much physically-dead emperor. Progress of any kind has halted, and people live lives of drudgery, superstition, and fear.

There is also an epic backstory. Some ten thousand years before the “present” of the WH40K era, or about 30,000 AD, there was massive insurrection by nine legions of Space Marines that cast their lot with the foul gods of Chaos. This has become known as the Horus Heresy, after the previously honorable and beloved Warmaster who first raised the banner of rebellion in the name of Chaos. The bright and glorious future promised by the then-living Emperor of Mankind came to a halt in a civil war of fire, iron, and blood.

One of these Traitor legions, the fanatical Word Bearers, attacked the noble and loyal Ultramarines as they mustered unsuspectingly at the world of Calth. Though the Ultramarines blunted the Word Bearer attack, Calth was left in ruins. The survivors of the battle sought shelter from triggered solar storms, along with their enemies, deep underground. The story of the invasion of Calth is told in the excellent novel by Dan Abnett, Know No Fear.

This began the so-called Underworld War, and the unabridged audiobook anthology Mark of Calth refers to the clock that the Ultramarines left running ever since the surprise attack against them. The Ultramarines know how to hold a grudge. The clock still ticks, some ten thousand years later. It also refers to the way that the radiation burns of their poisoned sun has marked the loyalist warriors still fighting for their survival on wrecked Calth.

Mark of Calth features short stories by Black Library’s best writers, and in a brilliant move, each has also been released as an audiobook of about one hour or  more in length. The readers employ their rich tones and voice changes well, and the effect is fantastic. This is such a winning combination that I can’t help but implore other SF and fantasy publishing houses to do the same with their own shorter works. It would certainly help breathe some life into the often-overlooked but vibrant world of SF/F short fiction, which deserves to be better known outside of a handful of yearly anthologies.

Publisher Black Library has an advantage, in that the success of the WH40K miniatures game, as well as several videogames, has created an eager market for such stories. This is military fiction with a strong dose of fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, and the stories in Mark of Calth deliver action and chills in equal measure.

The Traveller, by David Annandale and read by Jonathan Keeble, is a morbid, Cthulhuesque tale of a loyal subject of the Emperor of Mankind who kills heretics wherever he finds them. But has he gone too far in his pogrom against those he deems traitors? And what is the actual source of the voices that he hears?

The Shards of Erebus, by Guy Haley and read by Jonathan Keeble, follows one of the most sinister of all figures in the WH40K universe, the Dark Apostle Erebus of the Word Bearers, and the ultimate instigator of the treason that would swallow the previously loyal Horus and nine entire legions of marines. He is ever-plotting, and The Shards of Erebus follows him as he grasps for ever more power and knowledge of Chaos.

Dark Heart, by Anthony Reynolds and read by David Timson, stars Reynolds’ infamous Word Bearer Dark Apostle Marduk, who is a menace to humanity in the current timeline of WH40K. In the Horus Heresy, he is a scheming would-be apprentice of the Dark Gods. He slays his own teacher of the dark art, but can he somehow survive the retribution of both his own high command and the vengeful Ultramarines too?

Athame, by John French and read by David Timson, tells the story of a blade of Chaos, an athame, created to take life, as it winds its way through human history. In a smart turn, the story of the blade is being told to the blade itself.

So far, Mark of Calth has been extremely good, and I look forward to the remaining stories.  I would recommend it on the basis of just the stories mentioned above.  Several remain on my to-do list, however.  My consideration of Mark of Calth will continue in Part Two of this review.

Marc DeSantis

Blood Like Wine – Now 100% Free For A Limited Time Only

I have set up my Kindle fantasy novel, Blood Like Wine, as part of a five-day-long free promotion over at Amazon.  You can click on the cover of the novel to the right and it will take you there immediately.  My inspiration for the Kindle novel was Tolkien, my favorite author since I was ten.  I have also put a great deal of effort into getting the battles right.  I am a student of ancient warfare, and I have modeled the combat on real battles, sorcery not included.  The novel is set in a fantasy version of the Roman Empire.  It is not called the Roman Empire, of course, but it is very much like it, just as Tolkien made Middle-earth a fantasy version of early Medieval Europe, but did not call it that.

Download it now, while the price is right!  It will make a great holiday stocking stuffer too!

Marc De Santis

Tolkien and Technology

J.R.R. Tolkien was no fan of the modern world.  Technology was more often employed by the bad guys than by the good guys in Middle earth.  Here is an interesting take on Tolkien’s feelings toward technology.  I especially find intriguing the notion that technology and magic were once twins, and that one, magic, died out.

This article is a must for Tolkien fans.

Marc De Santis

 

John Carter Rides Again!

If you have been reading this blog for the last few months (which is as long as it has been going) you will recall that I was very enthusiastic about Disney’s John Carter.   You may also be aware that John Carter cost a sizable portion of Disney’s movie division their jobs.

John Carter has been maligned as a bomb – but is that a fair assessment?  My best movie buddy and I watched the DVD this weekend, and we agreed that the movie was (1) awesome; and (2) flew by.  It is over two hours long but feels like a much shorter film.  This is due in large part to the fast pace.  The action never lets up.  The film’s worldwide take was an impressive $282 million.   That is not pocket change.

Here is the rub:  John Carter cost $250 million to make.  It cost another $100 million to advertise – not that this advertising was apparent in even the slightest degree to me, and I was looking forward to the film.

I can’t believe that John Carter can be called a bomb with a straight face.  A box office bomb makes little money.  John Carter made lots of it, but Disney forgot to control costs.  Any product launch (and that is exactly what a movie is) will fail if expenses spiral out of sight.

I thought that John Carter was much better than Prometheus, which I also enjoyed.  Prometheus has not bombed, but it cost only half of what John Carter did.  That is a big factor.

If you would like to help Disney recoup some its money, the DVD is available at Amazon here.

MGD

Battle of Blackwater

Yes, it was a spectacular episode.  Game of Thrones spent an entire hour on the crucial Battle of Blackwater, in which the soldiers of Stannis Baratheon are repulsed by those loyal to Joffrey Lannister.

Tyrion, my favorite character, proves himself to be the real leader of men in King’s Landing.   Read Scott Meslow’s take on the episode in The Atlantic here.