Archive for » May, 2011 «

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 | Author: Casey Criswell

As you can see by my fancy title there, I’ve suckered you in to thinking that this blog post will be some highly educational essay on the Fantasy genre! Forsooth; it’s just a handy dandy little post in which I give you my own recommendations on a Fantasy Genre primer for the younger reader!

With the recent kick off of HBO’s outstanding Game of Thrones series, epic fantasy now has a fresh new light shined upon it. Seeing as the show is based on the much loved series written by George R. R. Martin, many of the viewers out there are already rabid fans. Not everybody mind you. There are a lot of folks that have been drawn in by the drama of the show, the political intrigue and the hint of something big looming down from the north. It’s those folks that this post is geared towards, the folks that may not have read the “Similarion” simply because it was more Middle Earth!

It’s no real question that I’m a horror nerd. I’ll also lay claim to being a science fiction nerd as well. When you dig all the way back to my roots, back to the earliest glint of nerdery in my eye; I’ve always been drawn to fantasy. Admittedly, it all began with the (EVIL AND SATANIC!!!) (Not really) Dungeons and Dragons games. Donning the role of a muscle bound warrior casting carnage left and right with my mighty blade seemed like a great escape from my own doughy awkward self. The games lead to stories, the stories to books and the next thing you know I’m risking a hernia dragging about a huge 800 page tome based on the adventures of a young boy drug out of his small town with a grand destiny slapped upon his shoulders!

It all sounds suitably dramatic but in reality; Fantasy just makes for a great escape from the daily grind. Even as a kid, working through homework every night and trudging through baseball practice; reading about somebody tromping around slaying monsters was just a nice break from the norm.

So today, here are a few series that kicked off my love of fantasy literature. The series that fueled much of my young day dreaming. For this first round, these books are all specifically directed to the younger readers out there! That’s where the fascination starts folks! The more you or I can fuel a child’s desire to read, the better future we’re all in store for. Reading is learning; who wants to hinder that? These fantasy books may not be up everybody’s alley, but if you are an old school fantasy nerd, this may be a great way for you to share some of your own loves with your kid.

One of my biggest delights is being able to turn to the daughter and say, “Hey, you should check this out, it’s pretty good!” The only thing that tops it is when she comes back a week later and says, “That was really awesome, especially that one part where that one guy smashed that monster dude!”

Dragonlance Chronicles

The “Dragonlance Chronicles” trilogy is where it all began for me and many of my friends. Though we never played the “Dragonlance” campaign setting specifically, the stories by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman bore a striking resemblance to a Dungeon and Dragons campaign in structure. The books were populated with well thought out characters that it was easy to identify with and the stories were steeped in the history of their made up world.

The stand out here is our band of characters that we follow along through the entirety of the trilogy. Each is essentially archetypes, which for a younger reader makes the characters easy to connect with on a deeper level. Every one that has read the series will inevitably wind up with one character that they identify with stronger than others. It’s this connection that makes the series so easy to dive into at a younger age but causes the books to feel a bit thin to an older reader.

Having tried to go back and read the first novel in recent years, I can honestly say that for grown up eyes…they’re really not all that great. For the younger set, say 11 to 15 or so, they make for some great adventure reading and a great introduction to the fantasy genre.

The Belgariad

For an epic fantasy series, especially for younger readers, it is hard to pass up David Eddings “Belgariad”. Told in a straightforward style, we kick off on this grand adventure with the orphan Garion and his Aunt Polgara and his Grandfather. While it’s not to say that the story is barren or skeletal, the “Belgariad” is pared down as far as most fantasy books go. There is decent description, but none of it becomes over bearing so that a younger version of us won’t get bogged down in the finery. We get straight to what we want; adventure!

Where as the “Dragonlance Chronicles” gave us a whole host of characters to identify with, “Belgariad” focuses on the lonely Garion. As a kid, I was far from orphaned yet I was an only child. It wasn’t a far stretch to extrapolate my own lot in life with the singular boy as he came into his own power. Stretching beyond that, it quickly became easy to envision one’s self as the lone boy with a heavy destiny. Mix in Aunt Polgara and Grandpa Belgerath and the hints of a deeper power and we come full circle; what kind didn’t dream that one of his parents were some kind of super hero at some point in their life?

Escapism is the foundation of the fantasy genre, much like its cousin science fiction. Escapism is far easier when you can imagine yourself in the roll of your central character and the “Belgariad” plays with this notion and excels. Again, looking back from my adult point of view, this series did not age so well. This did nothing to tarnisht he fond memories of Garion floating down through swamplands on a simple raft with the prospect of saving the world on his shoulders. Something that I think any kid out there could still sink their teeth into!

The Riftwar Saga

Wrapping up this week’s “Intro to Fantasy” is Raymond E. Feist’s “Riftwar Saga”. Unlike the previous two series mentioned, The “Riftwar Saga” is suitable for younger readers with its focus on the young Magician’s apprentice Pug. Where this series excels is that it is a damn good fantasy novel, period. For readers young and old, Feist gives us a truly epic saga that spans some twenty plus books, computer games, role playing games and more!

Ultimately, Feist spins a dark story that really grabs hold of your imagination and holds on tight. Where other fantasy novels have a fairly standard formula of discovery, unknown destines and fate, The “Riftwar Saga” adds in a deeper element, forcing us to live with fantasy characters in their truest sense! Ever read a book with a humanoid talking lizard as your main character? You will with Feist.

As an added bonus, “Riftwar” actually ages quite well! With so many books (that I myself have not read all of), he can easily accompany your young reader all the way through adolescence if they were so inclined!

If you’ve made it this far, you have a solid list of book sto get your own youngster started on the path to some truly epic fantasy reading. Now, I know what you are scrambling to hash out in the comments below! “HOW CAN YOU NOT INCLUDE TOLKIEN?!?!?!” Yes, “The Hobbit” is a great book for the younger fantasy reader to cut his teeth on! However, everybody knows it and this list was more of a primer from my own experiences. The discovery of “The Hobbit” was something that came to me from my own personal exploration and I would like to think that my own daughter will get there herself as she sinks her teeth into the genre!

As always, feel free to share your own fantasy series that got you started on the arduous journey into nerdom! It’s always a matter of personal taste and at my age, there are always some great books that I’ve forgotten totally about! Tune in next week as we dig into some of the more obscure fantasy series that I’ve decided where my own favorites (*cough*The Black Company*cough*) and later, tapping into some of the more epic grown up fare out there!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 | Author: Casey Criswell

For those of you not in the know, the first Saturday in May has now become an official holiday for comic fandom in the form of Free Comic Book Day! Wondering what “Free Comic Book Day” is? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like; free comics!

Setup as a way to bring in new readers and thank old fans in the flagging world of comic book publishing, this once a year event brings free books from participating publishers to participating stores. New fans get free comics, publishers get fresh eyes on their old characters and comic shops (which are already having a hard time of it) are getting potential new customers in the door. It’s a win-win for everybody!

This past Saturday, The Daughter and I decided that we definitely needed to take part in the festivities again. Luckily, we found ourselves up and awake by 10 am, which happened to be perfect timing to get make it to our local branch of Down Town Comics when they opened the doors at 11 am.

For The Daughter, still somewhat new to the idea of events and conventions in the world of fandom was a bit taken aback at the sight of a line at Down Town Comics. Myself, having been a veteran (victim) of a fair share of cons and the like, knew full well that there would be lines involved. Seeing something like a lengthy line can definitely be daunting to an excited eleven year old. Thankfully for all involved, Down Town Comics is a pretty stellar shop and they had things rolling in quick order.

The level of participation for Free Comic Book Day varies from shop to shop. Some set limits to two or three books per customer, some offer up unlimited freebies. To our excitement, DTC is of the latter variety so we were able to load up. This is great for our situation, myself getting back into comics after some absence and The Daughter, discovering the world for the first time. Sure, she’s been reading a few books here and there that I have passed down to her, but with Free Comic Book Day, she gets to take a large sampling and discover what she likes. That’s the way it should be done, isn’t it?

So this past Saturday, a great follow up to The Daughter’s birthday mind you, was pretty grand. We followed up Free Comic Book Day by going to see “Thor” that night and an afternoon of reading comics on the couch. Though we have a long way before we clear out the entire monster stack, we’ve both already found a few books that caught our attention. For myself, Mike Mignola’s “Baltimore” seems pretty great and the “Magic the Gathering Planeswalker II” title was confusing to say the least, but was entertaining as it got rolling. The Daughter found herself drawn to the Captain America/Thor cross over early on with a keen eye on the “Sonic the Hedge Hog” freebie and “Bongo Comics Free For All”.

With all that said, you should be sure to check out the Free Comic Book Day website and mark your calendar for next year. It’s a good time, you get some good stories to keep you occupied and despite what that jock back in high school told you as he stuffed you in your locker; comic books kick ass. It’s a great way to introduce a fun hobby to your kid and fun way to spend the day together.

Thursday, May 05th, 2011 | Author: Casey Criswell

Our house is a reader’s house. We’re all into reading, including my daughter! (Who just asked for a Kindle for her birthday if that gives you an idea how big of a reader she is!) Here recently, she’s been locked into a book series that really grabbed a hold of her imagination; Joseph Delaney’s “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch”. Every night throughout her first reading of the first book, she’s been coming out to tell us about the adventures of Tom Ward and the evil Mother Malkin but we really didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. I was able to gather that the story had monsters, was about a man known as a “Spook” who took care of the monsters, ghosts and other such maladies that plagued the small towns of this little world and an evil witch. Me being the horror nerd for so long, my attention was grabbed fairly quickly of course so I figured I would try it out so we could have a good chat. I started on a Sunday night…finished on Monday night and…can somebody tell my daughter to hurry up with the second book, I want to read it!

While it may be too soon to call this series the second coming of “Harry Potter”, I am fully confident in claiming that Joseph Delaney has created a dark and magical little world with strong characters and a great sense of adventure. He also tries to buck some of the conventional fantasy and young adult tropes that are repeated so often in the genre. Often times, you will find a child whose adventures start with finding out that the fate of the world rests on his shoulders and he must set out immediately to fulfill his destiny. Sometimes, this idea is augmented with a magical sword that was passed down to child at some point, or found in a dusty barn somewhere and it’s that weapon that will lead to his destiny. For Tom Ward, his life as the apprentice of the County Spook starts a little more humbly; he’s the seventh son of his family. It’s a given that his dad will pass the family farm on to the oldest brother and he’s used his favors with the local businesses to find jobs for the other sons. When Tom comes of age? There’s not many favors left to cash in, so it’s off to talk to the Spook to see if he’s looking for a new apprentice!

Now, I would be lying if I said there is no ‘destiny’ involved in Tom’s path. There are some foreboding comments here and there that leads us to believe that there is something big in store for you Tom. They are not presented as a key element to the characters persona however. He’s simply of the age that he needs to take on a trade and being the county Spook is the trade that’s available to him. As the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, there are some hints that Tom is perhaps a step above the other kids around him in that he can see a little more in the world than most. He’s not all powerful though. In fact, his master Gregory tells him straight up that they don’t use magic at all and stresses the use of carful thinking and preparation, both good traits for anybody to have.

Beyond the characters and plot devices, the world of “The Last Apprentice” is just plain old fun for standard horror fan and friendly for the younger members of our ranks. In the first book, Tom is forced to deal primarily with Boggarts, Ghasts and Witches. For most of us normies, that would be plenty! With the way these creatures are presented, it seems pretty obvious that as Tom’s training continues in the further books of the series, we will be introduced to a whole host of other creatures and things that go bump in the night. For me, nothing in the books comes out as outright scary, but who cares about that? I’m not the target audience for the story for one and I’m a bit jaded as far as scary things go after being a horror blogger for years! Judging from my own daughters’ reaction, the stories pack a good level of creepiness for the target audience of 10 to 13 year olds. There seems to be just enough there to make their imaginations run wild and perhaps check that shadowy corner twice when they’re going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but not enough to keep the same kid up for three nights straight with night terrors and cold sweat. The world is dark and there are some slimy things in there, but you’re going to have a good time wandering the county getting to know them all!

In the end, this young adult book as captured my 37 year old imagination pretty heavily. I read the thing in one night after all! Judging by my own daughter’s imagination, the books are equally effective for the tween set too. Give it a read and have some fun.


One extra addendum here; my digging on the book series has revealed that there is a movie in the works for “The Last Apprentice”! There is a change in title to “The Seventh Son” but it looks to have the same good adventure packed inside. Even better? Jeff Bridges will be playing Master Gregory and from what I’ve seen of the character in my own readings…I’m beside myself! That’s going to be awesome! The movie touts Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin as well, but I don’t really know about that. She’s way too pretty to be a hag!