Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Classics: Ender’s Game – A Book Review

Hot off the completion of 1984 and typing out my review, I jumped straight into Ender’s Game.  There are those who would argue its place among the ‘Classics,’ yet I am one to wholeheartedly agree with its place on any top SF/F list.  I first read this back when I was in middle school or high school; from the first time I started reading it, I was hooked.  The pace is quick, and by that I mean fast!  There was an incredible amount of military theory, political manoeuvring and plot packed into such a compact book.  The fact that this was originally based on a short story and fleshed out into its current form may explain a lot of that.

Recently made into a cinematic adaptation (which I have yet to see), Orson Scott Card has certainly seen his fair share of criticism and bad press.  To be honest, I don’t agree with many of the author’s views, certainly not the ones that put him in such hot water.  To be clear, and to get it out of the way, this is a book review about Ender’s Game, not about the author.

We first meet Ender as his monitoring device is removed, a device that records his brainwaves and experiences.  It is no surprise that the first couple of encounters would be formative and revealing to Ender's character: with his older and diabolically twisted brother, Peter, and one of the older kids from his school, Stinson.  The former is a driving force for Ender throughout the book, as Peter’s torments and harassment plague Ender.  Poor Stinson is our first example of Ender’s capacity to excel in reading a scenario and overcoming it despite a multitude of deficiencies, defeating an opponent who outclasses him in every conceivable physical way.  The two sides of Ender are revealed and explored thereafter.

The Battle School and the games played with Ender, as well as those he plays within, are a quick overview of how he becomes the formative general and leader that will eventually save the world.  His leadership skills are developed and flexed until he finally gets to Command School.  There, he is set with the best and brightest from the Battle School.  Tutored through the most grueling challenges yet faced by the legendary hero of the Second Formic (Bug) War, Mazer Rackham, Ender and his team fight their way through new and more complex simulations.  They culminate with Ender winning the decisive victory over the Buggers.  We then realize that simulations, these were not.

The books ends with Ender leading a colonization of one of the Bugger planets, recently vacated after their queen’s died, leaving them devoid of reasons to live.  After establishing the colony, Ender makes a startling discovery.  He finds the last remaining egg of the Buggers, a queen who telepathically explains to Ender their perspective of the war Ender fought to defeat them.  He earns their love and respect, in doing so, healing the wounds that Battle School and Command School had rent in his psyche.

The dichotomy of the chapter introductions, typically a discussion between Colonel Graffe and Major Anderson about what Ender accomplished, or how they would mess with him, were perfect blends of world building and backstory in the context of what developed in the chapters themselves.  Typically laced with some significant humour, it often contradicted the seriousness of the activities Ender was forced to endure.

I found the chapters with Peter and Valentine (Ender’s older brother and sister) were originally a distraction from the story I really wanted to read: what was Ender doing?  In this, perhaps the fifth time reading, I came to understand just how important this part of the story was.  As Valentine assisted Peter’s megalomaniacal dream of ruling the world, it counter-balanced Ender’s genius; Peter and Valentine were the two greatest influence on Ender’s formative years.  As Peter and Valentine grew their influence over the global political landscape, it mirrored Ender’s control over the Bugger threat.  It was also the mechanism that justifiably allowed Ender to escape Peter’s clutches, but only through Valentine’s doing.

At just 225 pages, this is a quick and easy read, yet compelling in that you really want to keep up with Ender’s exploits and see what other obstacle he tackles.  Benefitting from a power outage, thanks to hurricane Andrew, I found lots of opportunity to grab a few pages here and there.  Before I knew it, I was done, having enjoyed it just as thoroughly as the first time.  An easy, and nostalgic, 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Scfi-Fi/Fantasy Classics: 1984 – A Book Review

So, I just finished reading 1984, by George Orwell.  It is the fourth in a project I began a short while back; read as many of the formative and recent classics of the science fiction and fantasy genre.  By most any standards, 1984 is a must read for the genre.  From an age where science fiction was really in its nascence, I could not agree more with the assessment.

The beginning of this book starts relatively slowly.  It introduces the reader to Winston, who lives in a world of totalitarianism, where the Party, led by the figurehead of Big Brother, defines and directs the lives of the citizens of Oceania.  As we explore Winston’s questioning of the world order, we are gradually introduced in the results of this level of control.  We don’t know the why or the how, just the net results, which in an odd way is a mirror of the Party’s control of its populace.

Winston meets Julia and begins a relationship with a kindred spirit, beginning to buck against the rules, the chafing that Big Brother and his cronies have inflicted upon them.  As things progress, they diverge more and more from the fold until Winston is given the book of revolution, the manifesto of the Resistance leader, Goldberg.  As Winston inducts himself into the revolutionary ideas of Goldberg, we are finally served with the world building that led to the creation of the Party and Big Brother’s control, a parallel I found quite inventive and infinitely satisfying.

Then they get caught.  Big Brother’s Thought Police capture them.  In a concussive and outstanding piece of literature, Winston is bombarded with physical and emotion torture that breaks his body and spirit.  He is reintroduced into the collective mind of the Party, but only after a prolonged series of tortures.  His resistance is broken and he accepts the system as just, as the way it should be.  Without giving it away, I found the very last line of the book to be a gob-smacking finale that literally left my jaw dropped.

As is likely done, this book is compared to the current state of world affairs and the parallels that Wells draws.  What I found interesting was the way this still translates into today’s current worldviews.  Particularly in North America, mainstream media is bitterly divided by party lines and their politics:  MSNBC and the liberal press for the Democrats and small ‘L’ liberals; Fox News and the associated right-wing media with the Republicans and small ‘C’ conservatives.  What I found interesting was the relationship between the Party in 1984 and how things are portrayed.  Today, both extremes are provided as fact, with sometimes completely divergent interpretations of the same events; the middle ground is often the sacrifice at the altar of truth.  Heck, there are too many times where the truth is completely abandoned to further exploit a turn of phrase or a fact to fit the extreme’s narrative, something Big Brother would approve of.  The selective cognizance of the past we now face n North America might as well be the equivalent as Winston’s edition of the past to fit the current narrative of the Party’s worldview.  As an example, I cite the case of the US Supreme Court upholding a closely held company’s right to decide what types of birth control to fund for their employees.  Here is a rather comical assessment from a Fox Host, with a definitively pendulum swung the other way response from MSNBC.

That the idea a political party could hold that much power and influence over the population, as conceived in the time Orwell’s penned the novel, is a rather profound and frightening premonition of our current state.  With such an information overload through instant communications, often with the unfiltered eye and untrustworthiness of social media, the idea that people would simply follow the current, accepting their political leaders’ opinion as gospel is chilling.

Orwell doesn’t pull any punches, something I enjoyed and appreciated; the book was superb and beat any expectations I had.  The info dump after Winston starts to read Goldberg was a surprise; the near thesis interpretation of the system the Party and Big Brother took me on a tangent I wasn’t expecting.  To be honest, I was relived when it returned to Winston’s perspective, yet the impact of the last chapter would have been completely lacking if we had not a complete understanding of the world dynamic.

As a political science fiction novel, I was stunned and mesmerized by the execution and appreciated the complexity of the system behind the story presented herein.  The novel 1984 has a definite place on my bookshelf of Classics, and a definite 10 out of 10.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Soul Sucking

There is simply no other way to describe it - moving can be an absolute and utter soul sucking exercise.  

Despite taking three days to pack, bag and box things with the help from my inlays and my wife's aunt and uncle, the process of dragging my family's stuff from one house to another was an effort I'd rather never repeat again.  I do believe that if ever there was an experience that would resemble the ripping of one's life essence from their body, I daresay I could now relate to it.  Vampires and soul leeching entities beware, I can now sense it happening before it is too late!

After living in our first home for eight years, we finally decided that, two children and their accoutrements and toys later, we had outgrown our semi-detached.  After four months of searching and dealing with the sale of our own house, we finally committed to and bought a new house.  I dare not say home, as I can't quite relate to it as "home" just yet.  Home is more the sense of belonging and familiarity you develop with your surroundings; you've developed your habits, tendencies and instinctively know where things are and when they out of place.  Less than a week in, we can't call it "home" yet.

My two girls took to the change remarkably well.  The first night was an absolute gong show, more so because of the fast food, lack of sleep and general over-tiredness that makes little kids into demon-djinni of immeasurable reserves of energy and equal amounts of dim-wittedness.  Don't get me wrong, I love my girls, they just picked the wrong two days to bananas on me.  I mean full blown B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Parents with two kids under the age of five will instantly relate.  For those of you about to start, beware.  For those of you without kids, I have only scowls.

My wife had a more emotional response, which she is apt to have when lacking sleep.  For her, the old house was a near physical thing she had to detach from.  We bought the house, got married and raised our two girls there, making wonderful memories along the way.  To her, the move was more than a step up to a newer, larger home.  It was like ripping out a part of herself.  During our final clean and inspection, I found her crying no less than three times.  My consolations only went so far.

All this said, we now have many more memories waiting to be created, new discoveries and challenges to overcome.  For myself, I can't wait to make my house into a home, particularly the little niche in the basement I carved out for myself as my man-cave slash inspiration and typing room.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Two Glorious Sights

The first, any homeowner will likely know about, if not shudder at their memories of the process.  When a real estate agent places that SOLD sign on your front lawn, it’s a magical moment.  As mine was fixing that innocent little placard atop our sign, it was all I could do not to go out there and help her out.  I almost convinced myself too:  “She’s only 5’6”, and that’s with the heels.” “She’s in a skirt suit for crying out loud, go help the woman!” “Boy, I’m glad I mowed the grass before she showed up.”

The second is really something only those who have acquired the taste for scotch will appreciate.  The Macallan distilleries have come out with a new way of branding their single malts.  Normally associated with ages (12 years old, 15, 18, 25, etc.), the 1824 series is marketed by its colour.  Going from Gold, Amber, Sienna and finally Ruby, they gain a deeper luster as one increases in price.  After a bit of research, I went with the Amber for my first try, and I must say this is a treat to drink.  The nose is abundant, the palate a little less than expected, yet a nice finish to round it out.

Of course, combining these two sights together only makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

House Sold!

One of the more stressful and oft-times mind-boggling experiences I could think of is selling a house.  I remember as a child, my father carting us across Canada and into the United States as he was posted from one military position to another.  From a child’s perspective, things were an adventure whenever we moved, every two or three years or so.  I distinctly enjoyed the prospect of discovering a new house and city, making new friends and just generally making the best of things.

My parents were extremely supportive of my sister and I, and I suppose they appreciated my mostly positive attitude to the whole endeavor.  I certainly could have made things much worse, as some of my friends did with their folks.  I developed a very outgoing personality early on and moving simply reinforced it.  I know my sister didn’t quite develop my outlook or facility, but she lived through as I suppose the majority have.

As a homeowner, I found the process of buying a house somewhat archaic and hidden behind a veil or ritual; the real estate agents are the key masters and the gatekeepers.  On the seller’s side this time around, it was a wholly different and sometimes wildly frustrating experience.  With their commission, they hold you beholden to their experience and tradecraft, if you could call it that; mystics in the art of selling a house.  I like a dose of fantasy in my reading and certainly in my writing.  Not when it comes to buying my house, thank you very much!

I did the research in home pricing, and we visited numerous potential homes.  Time and again, we found something rather significant that struck it from the list or made it distant thirds to whatever houses we still may have had on our list to visit.  When it came to selling mine, I didn’t skimp on the research either.  The market was working against us, and our style of house.  I didn’t expect our real estate agent to be causing additional friction to the sale, yet she did.  Nothing earth shattering, but an annoyance none-the-less.  After it all, we sold our home, an experience that left my wife infinitely more drained than I.

All this to say, it is finally off the market, a four-letter placard proudly standing on top of the real estate sign in our front yard.  One of the best and most sought after four-letter words any home owner in our circumstance could hope for: SOLD.

And with a bit of mysticism, things seem right again in the world; my wife is certainly the better for it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

World War Z: Cinematic Edition Review

One of the riskiest ventures Hollywood could sen to venture into is the adaptation of a novel or book into a cinematic rendition.  Typically, this leavens the risk associated with an original screenplay, in as much as it provides some measure of the studio's likely return.  Books that are adapted have already created a buzz around the author and the work; name recognition and publicity has largely already begun, including what one can assume is a loyal fan base.  

One of the risks the studio then faces is the adaptation itself.  There is no real way for them to copy the material of a 300+ page book into 120 minutes or so of screen time.  This necessitates certain cuts and revisions that could make it or break it with the book's fan base.  There are clear examples where the cinematic edition makes it, fully satisfying the books fan base.  In the past ten years, we've seen an increasing trend of these adaptations, to varying degrees of success.  A recent spate of book adaptations seems to demonstrate this trend is here to stay, and in some cases getting relied upon more and more as a business model.

Successful examples include the wildly popular Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy, and to a lesser degree the Hobbit trilogy's first two releases, Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, The Princess Bride, and a plethora of comic book movies but most specifically those tied into the Avengers franchise and their individual spin-offs.  These movies gave their audiences something they could buy into and appreciate.

Other successful examples follow a different path.  They use the book as a launching point, which can clearly distance a certain portion of the audience.  They can easily be sympathized with, expecting a certain thing and given an entirely different experience.  Offhand the most successful example I can come up with was Bladerunner, based off the Philip K. Dick work Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  

World War Z, the cinematic version, falls mostly into this category.  The book, which I reviewed in this post, was a fantastically well done collection of short blurbs describing the zombie apocalypse and humanity's eventual weathering of the storm and rise from the ashes.  The movie goes a different path, following Gerry Lane's (played by Brad Pitt) efforts to find the solution to the zombie infestation.  The movie itself is largely zombie war porn, with lots of explosions, action and teeth biting into flesh.  From this perspective, it largely follows every other trope within the zombie genre, whereas the book's approach was much more refreshing.   The movie itself was entirely centred around Brad Pitt, with very little other character involvement or impact, with the notable exception of  Segan, the Israeli Defence soldier that gets swept up with Lane's exploits.

I actually enjoyed the experience enough, though I must admit I caught it on Netflix and didn't invest my money and time to go to the theatre; that might have jaded my review.  I can't help but imagine how this might have turned out if the studio had thought to provide a movie experience closer to the book.  From my prospective, I can only imagine how that would have added to the already cluttered and generic mob of zombie movies that are out there.  Something fresh and original would have gone a long way to expanding the genre's boundaries.

I suppose this is simply a reflection of the risk aversion studios have when approving movies for investment.  A zombie flick that gives the audiences what they expect is likely a going to reflect a decent return of investment.  Throw them something a little more highbrow and they risk facing a loss of millions, regardless of Brad Pitt's tag to the work.  I must admit that is likely the fear of all authors and prospective authors dreaming their works onto the big screen (myself included).  

The written work is a huge investment of an author's time and effort.  To see it adapted (whether by active design from the author or by a studio's direction) into something else may or may not work.  The risk, of course, may be too much for the author, and there are certainly enough examples of horrendous adaptations:  Starship Troopers, based on the Robert A. Heinlein book of the same name immediately comes to mind.  The book was a controversial best seller with political undertones that certainly alienated a number of readers.  That said, the work was a solid piece of science fiction, whereas the cinematic version was a campy sci-fi action movie with little depth and wooden acting.  I can't think of a movie that did it's book worse justice.

As adaptations go, World War Z certainly isn't the worst on the list, yet it certainly doesn't do much to try and claw up and above the norm expected from its genre.  For a movie of this genre, it certainly provides a well produced and enjoyable enough experience.  I gave the written work 9/10.  The movie gets a solid 7/10 from me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Finishing The Trilogy

As an aspiring author, it's pretty much a given, unspoken rule: the more well-read you are (both in and outside your genre of choice), the better your chances of creating something unique, with a voice of your own that isn't just a rehashing of older ideas.  The additional addage that "It's all been done before, in one way or form" simply lends credence to the preceding argument.  To that effect, it is likely a rare fantasy author that will therefore not at one point either read or attempted to read the J.R.R. Tolkein Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I first read this trilogy back when I was in high school, not really knowing what I was getting into.  I actually read it while waiting for the Elfstones of Shannara to come into the local bookstore.  When I did read, my first thoughts were "huh, a lot like The Sword of Shannara."  I'll admit to my naivety at the time and ask for the forgiveness and latitude from any readers; the internet as an idea was in its infancy.  My recent embarkation into this rich and wonderous realm of magic and prose was something of a challenge to myself.  Given the prose involved, this wasn't so light a commitment.

That said, it has been completed.

I must admit to a few things about my experience reading Return of the King.  First, this was a fairly long and difficult read; I realize this was one of those "so close yet so far" from the finish line issues.  There were over a hundred pages of Annexes that led me to believe I had so much more to tackle.  Secondly, the pacing and energy of the first half (the exploits of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, Gandalf, as well as Merry and Pippin) was much better paced than the Frodo and Sam portion.  I understand in retrospect that this pacing effect only adds to the turmoil for our wayward pair of Hobbits, whereas the prior section was a hectic and valiant battle against near-impossible odds.  The ability of Tolkein to immerse his readers into the morose and terrible realms of Mordor and the effects it had on Frodo and Samwise only reinforces my highest opinion of Tolkien's works.

Return of the King was an incredibly rewarding read, in the end.  Out of the entire series, I think the most poetic and inspiring prose were the scenes where the Fellowship is reunited under the banners of the new King of Mordor.  The beauty of the words were inspiring in their tragedy.  For so long they shared a purpose, their quest.  Now that it's over, they face the prospect of returning to the previous lives, away from the friendships they have forged.  This bittersweet end only adds to the realism and scope of Tolkien's work.

One of the rewards I set for myself for reading the trilogy was to spend the time to re-watch the film trilogy.  The films were such a trigger for people to get into fantasy realms that I couldn't resist reading them The Lord of the Rings trilogy again. something I am infinitely happy for.

Monday, February 17, 2014

SFWA World Building Questions - Part 3

A continuation of this previous post, I decided to tackle examining the third portion of this exhaustive (daunting and exhausting if you try to answer it all) list of questions to help formulate an author's world building exercises.

SFWA World Building Questions

Part Three - Magic and Magicians

Well, one of the first things to identify is that this section is oft-times the most contentious.  The where, how and why for of magic use within any particular fantasy novel or series is likely going to make or break a lot of readers.  Is the magic system Hard Magic, with its rigid rules and laws that define the people who use magic and what they are capable, or more importantly, not capable of executing?  Is it a Soft Magic, where the mystery of the source and the limits of the powers wielded by these mystical creatures and beings are as much an element of the story?  There are a plethora of sources out there that postulate for one or the other, many of them returning with the "do what works for you" answer, which is likely the truest answer anyone can give a prospective author.

Myself, I prefer the Soft Magic system.  I played AD&D, Rifts, Legend of the Five Rings, GURPS and other systems that clearly defined the margins and requirements for magic use.  As the Game Master more often than not this gave me the tools to reign in my players more times than not.  Ever the story-teller, I was more interested in the conduct of the adventure and the excitement engendered in good role-playing, as opposed to sticking our noses into the book to find out what specific costs or requirements we needed to meet.

Rules of Magic

When we look at the SFWA list for magic, which is daunting, I realize that a lot of these I answered intuitively to a Soft Magic system.  I haven't specifically limited what magic can and cannot do, nor do I particularly plan to.  The difference between miracle and magic is clear enough, insofar that everyone knows there are magicians, sorcerers, clerics/priests and a few select other "classes" (to use the AD&D terminology) can cast these spells and do wired and wonderful things.

The source of power is not definitively endorsed.  Mages and sorcerers draw from an undercurrent of power from the All Father Ihr's creative efforts in making the realms. Mages are more restrictive in their aptitude, limited to spoken spells and rituals, which syphon the energy in a constructed format, with predictable results; sorcerers on the other hand use an innate focus to grab on and shape the power mages.  Mages can combine their powers in rituals to have greater effect, whereas sorcerers may not.  Clerics and priests draw their powers from the essence of their gods, who have all been limited in their contact with the physical realms.  Because they draw powers from their respective gods, they may not execute a ritual.  The one exception are the druids, who draw their powers from Ihr, the Mother Goddess who gives powers to the elements.

As the Realms of Ihr'Vessen purport to a Soft Magic system, the rules in any detail further than those described herein are largely neither required nor desired.  If the magic can help advance the story, without becoming any kind of deus ex machine, then the magic shall occur, in moderation.


I suppose this would include my mages, sorcerers and the like.  From the perspective of the J'in Empire, mages are ordered into various colleges, the details I have yet to bother addressing.  It is thus far a background detail that has no place in the story; my hope is to somehow introduce a mechanism or pot line to get into this detail.  Most of the questions in this section are directed to any author purporting to the Hard Magic system.

In a general set of terms, magicians in my world are a mysterious enough bunch; the only ones we see are samurai, which poses an interesting challenge I addressed in the previous chapter of this topic.  What is a peasant was born with the ability to tap into this mystical power?  Again, an interesting question, yet not one addressed in my plot points.  My first blush at the answer is to say that they are recruited and the families moved to cover up the fact a peasant born has been brought in among the samurai.  This doesn't answer a number of cultural issues, particularly in how does a peasant-born adapt to the new way of life and the secrecy he must bear; the birthright of a samurai is important to the culture, ergo a movement up into another class brings with it some complications.  That said, I've based the J'in Empire's customs on the Sengoku Period of Japan, whereas the result of some major upheavals and conflicts, there was some upward/downward mobility.

The language of magic on the other hand is something I have committed to.  The few times that spells are invoked, a certain form of gibberish is said.  The specifics about levels of power increasing with age or experience, whether spell components are required and the other tropes typically derived from AD&D, I have yet to bother addressing, yet I doubt I will go there.

Magic and Technology

When I first saw this heading I actually just skipped right over it.  My initial thoughts were, 'this must deal with steampunk.'  Well, sort of, kind of, but not exactly.  The idea of magic transport and communications make me think of magic carpets, pumpkin to carriage and the like.  Not my baileywick.  There are, of course, magic weapons of a variety of forms.  Magic wands, staves, swords and other weapons with magical upgrades, et cetera.  They aren't as prevalent as one would imagine.  This is something I am sure anyone having played AD&D or whatnot would be entirely frustrated at; I blame the adventure modules that sprinkle magic weapons and trinkets around like Skittles at a candy store.

Magic weapons of Ihr'Vessen requires a fair investment of power and material.  Certainly the more powerful require the rarest of materials.  There certainly isn't any mass production of these artifacts.  In fact, they are very much like a finely crafted katana; they take a long and arduous process to create.  Once completed, they are literally, functional works of art.

Miscellaneous Magic Questions

This section really kind of diverted from the previous ones; the questions deal more within a socio-historical context.  Magic fist in with the regular laws of nature, can manipulate and be manipulated by it as well.

Magical beasts are certainly a trope I've decided to include.  Dragons, Ents, Dryads, giant spider-like creatures, a myriad of others in a background way.  The ecology and biology of each I won't get too far into unless it has some place within the storyline.  Like Soft Magic, I don't find the details as pertinent as how they can be employed within the plot.

Questions on civilization seemed a bit odd herein.  It's been largely addressed already - in the case of Ihr'Vessen, the elves emigrated from the region to allow the other species the chance to develop.  This, by extension, makes the elven civilization incredibly old, as well as the most powerful, the most culturally renowned, the race with the most powerful mages and other spell casters   The humans are a 'new' race, the new kids on the block, and they are only just making a place for themselves.  They know the basics, but humans have only just scratched the surface.  I liken the comparison to Tiger Woods (in his hey day) compared to an amateur golfer.  The humans have figured out the rules of the game and sometimes hit the line drive or the clutch putt, whereas the elves have all the tools and tricks in the book and consistently outshine their competition.

Why we suddenly discuss political factions in a section magic is beyond me.  That said, there are various races, each with their own macro-level endeavours. The elves maintain a position of power and overwatch over the lands in the name of Ihr; dwarves, rat men, humanity in its three major kingdoms and scattered independent communities, the orcs and of course the goblin herds.  The main protagonists come from the J'in Empire, as previously described as based on Sengoku period Japan with a smattering of Korean and Chinese cultural references; it is a hodge lodge of Oriental societies for a number of reasons.  Primarily, and this I freely admit to, I am neither a native speaker to any Asian language or dialect, nor have I actually lived in the societies I base it off of.  This can lead to some dangerous ground, particularly when depicting cultural norms and linguistics paradigms.  For this reason, i have blatantly departed for a purely Japan-referenced culture.  One aspect I did try to maintain is the truly ferocious political manoeuvring involved in the courts and between the families therein.  Under a relatively recently established Imperial line, the provincial daimyos (governors, if you will) still maintain their own provinces as they see fit, under the auspices of the Emperor.  They each vie for favour and control over their political enemies and allies alike.  Truly too daunting an aspect for this post, I may have to come back to it to try and give an idea of what's involved and at stake within the Imperial Courts as book one closes out.

Surprisingly, a large part of this post dealt with things other than magic; perhaps these are just the questions I keyed off on the most.  Given a different slant on a work, these questions can really provide a writer with the tools to spur the imagination and discover parts of the story they never even knew existed.