Four Letter Nerd

Category - Books

The Top 5ish Quotes from “The Martian” by Andy Weir

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Full disclosure, there are more than five quotes. You see, as I was working on this post I had a really hard time deciding which quotes to use, because The Martian is so good. So, instead of agonizing over which quotes to cut, I just included all of them. You’re welcome.

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If you haven’t read The Martian yet, you are missing out.  Do you have a favorite quote?

For more on The Martian check out our book and movie review!

The Martian book review

The Martian movie review

4LN Book Review – The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes #2) by Brittany Cavallaro

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Recently I was trying to keep both of my children in sight while I perused the best place in the history of ever—Target—when my eyes landed on A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes novel #1). It had a cover that drew me in (I judge books by their cover), and it was an obvious play on the classic Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet . . . how was I supposed to pass it by?

Short answer: I didn’t.

I quickly grabbed the book (signed by the author!) and set out after my kids, who were trying to put every LEGO Batman set in existence into our cart. Less than a week after I picked up A Study in Charlotte, I had read and purchased the second book in the series, The Last of August.

Quick note: since this is a sequel to a book we haven’t reviewed, I will do my best to not spoil the first book while talking about the second.

Summary from HarperCollins:

In the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.

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The Charlotte Holmes series follows the great-great-grandchildren of the fabled Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. In this world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was merely their publicist. While the Watson family lived relatively normal lives, the Holmes clan continued the legacy of Sherlock by training their children in the arts of deduction, baritsu, and a myriad of other Holmesian pursuits. The first book begins with the latest Watson (James) being sent to a boarding school in the United States, where he meets Charlotte Holmes. The tumultuous relationship gets tumultuous-ier (I know this is a made up word, but I am using it anyway) when the pair are framed for the murder of a fellow student. The Last of August begins shortly after the events of A Study in Charlotte and finds the pair in a European adventure that involves missing persons, art forgeries, and hipsters.

If you have been a patron of 4LN for a long, long time, you might know that I am a bit of an amateur “Sherlockian.” I’ve read a majority of the original stories, love both Elementary and Sherlock, and I’m currently working my way through the original short stories that I haven’t read using Audible (my wife is still mad I used this month’s credit).

What I am trying to say is this: I like Holmes/Watson stories regardless of the medium. I might be a little biased, but I really enjoyed the first two books in the Charlotte Holmes Novels series, and I am looking forward to the next book.

Brittany Cavallaro, the author of the series, manages to pay respect to Doyle’s work, while presenting a fresh take of the mythos. Instead of taking the original characters and placing them in present day (i.e. Sherlock and Elementary), Cavallaro presents two new characters that manage to be more than just stand-ins for the original characters. The stories are fast-paced, with just enough of the Holmesian “magic trick” revealed to the reader to string you along.

That being said, my favorite aspect of the series: the friendship between Charlotte and James. It’s endearing, if not a complete train wreck (it’s not their fault . . . they’re 16, somewhat famous, and she’s a genius with poor social skills and a vice or two). They genuinely care for each other, but there is a lot of stuff they have to work through in both books. The introduction of Holmes’ family (and the Moriarty’s) makes the second book even more of an emotional minefield for the the two to traverse.

Ultimately, the Charlotte Holmes series might not appeal to every Sherlock fan. It’s a young adult series with teenage protagonists and a smidge of sexual tension, which means it’s a bit different than the Holmes and Watson characters in other versions of the Sherlock stories. However, I think the younger half of Sherlockians will find it an entertaining read that pays homage to the source material. I give it 4 out of 5 “Three Pipe Problems.”

4LN Top 4 – Michael Crichton Novels

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You may or may not know who Michael Crichton is, but you are without a doubt familiar with his work.  Crichton dominated the early 90’s box office with films like Jurassic Park, Twister, and The Andromeda Strain, but he is also the man behind the original Westworld and ER.  In 1994, Crichton became the only person to land at the top spot on charts for television, film, and book sales.  Think about that for a second, the three most popular forms of entertainment all topped by the same guy at the same time.

Sidenote: I’m a pretty big fan of the Crichton novels I’ve read, but my wife is OBSESSED with the show ER. She is currently on her fifth or sixth viewing of the series, and there are fifteen seasons. Also, Twister is one of those movies that if it happens to be on TV, things get ignored – chores, kids, you name it.

Below you will find my Top 4 Michael Crichton novels along with a spoiler-free, mini synopsis.  Enjoy!

4. Timeline

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A tech firm led by a volatile, Bill Gatesian billionaire creates a time machine.  A professor in the employ of the firm is studying a 14th century French village with his team of grad students.  When he gets lost in 1357, it is up to his students to go back in time to rescue the beloved professor.  Oh, did I mention that 14th century France is violent?  This novel became a movie starring Paul Walker and Gerard Butler.

3. The Andromeda Strain

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The government launches satellites to collect organisms and dust for study.  One of the satellites crashes in a remote town, which leads to an outbreak of a deadly virus.  A team of scientists enter a secure, high tech bunker in order to contain the (1950’s announcer voice) VIRUS FROM OUTER SPACE.

This novel became a TV miniseries starring Benjamin Bratt.

2. Sphere

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A alien spaceship shaped like a (you guessed it) sphere appears at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  A team of scientists is dispatched to a secret, deep-sea research facility to study, and attempt to make contact with the spaceship.  Deadly shenanigans ensue.

This novel became the 1998 film starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel F. L. Jackson.

1. Jurassic Park

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Not only are dinosaurs no longer extinct, they are going to be on display in a brand new theme park named Jurassic Park.   A team of scientists  is invited to tour the park in order to make sure everything is on the up and up.  Chaos theory prevails.

This novel became the smash-hit blockbuster starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff erm Goldblum.

Honorable Mentions

Eaters of the Dead

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I am adding this to the list, not because I think it is in the upper echelon of Crichton’s novels, but because it’s fascinating.  Eaters of the Dead is a fictional retelling of actual journal entries written by an Arab traveling through Northern Europe in the tenth century.  During his journey, he meets a band of Viking warriors, and joins them as they suddenly return to Scandinavia and attempt to save the Viking clan from monsters in the mist.

This novel became the film The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas.

There you have it, folks.  Have you read any of Crichton’s work?  What’s your favorite Crichtation (Crichton creation)? Let us know in the comments.

 

4LN Book Review – The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

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It has only been a matter of minutes since I finished reading John Scalzi’s latest novel The Collapsing Empire, and holy cereal balls is it fantastic! So much so that I couldn’t even think of a way to express it than “holy cereal balls.”  I just wanted to say that before we get down to the nitty-(spoiler-free)-gritty of this review.

Side note: look up the etymology of the phrase “nitty-gritty.”

Summary from Macmillian Publishers:

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster-than-light travel is impossible—until the discovery of the Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding the Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, the Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

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John Scalzi is by far one of the most accessible writers in science-fiction today.  Old Man’s War and Redshirts are both really great sci-fi reads, so I have been looking forward to this book for a while now.  If you couldn’t tell from my outburst above, I genuinely enjoyed this book, and I am already pining for the sequel.  He manages to take political intrigue, civil war, astrophysics, and religion, cram them together into a baseball, and knock it out of the literary park.

The scientist, starship captain, and emperox of the Interdependency mentioned in the summary are all enjoyable characters that I found to be relatable and well thought out.  And as far as the dialogue goes,  I’ve read books from the humor section that didn’t come close to making me laugh as much as this title (looking at you, Kiva Lagos).  However, throughout the book he still manages to craft in intriguing story full of levity and consequence.  The potential collapsing of the Interdependency (not a spoiler, it’s in the summary) could be an extinction level event, since, you know, all of the systems are dependent upon one another.

I can’t get into much more detail without beginning to divulge spoilery bits, but suffice it to say, The Collapsing Empire is a breath of fresh air that is a perfect mix of hard sci-fi, humor, and drama. This book is the Pringles of books I’ve read so far this year, in that once I popped the cover, I couldn’t stop.  If you or someone you love is in need of a great new book, make sure to pick up The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi’s, out March 21, 2017.

 

4LN Book Review – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

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Norse Mythology has been at the top of my “books-I-can’t-wait-to-read” list since it was first announced.  If you’ve been reading 4LN for a while, you are probably familiar with my love of The Lord of the Rings and Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, so a book that dives into the lore that inspired Tolkien and Stan Lee, plus the fact that it is written by the great Neil Gaiman is definitely a must read.

Here’s a summary of the book from the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company:

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

 

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Norse Mythology is a fresh take on Norse myth pulled from various sources (mainly the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, which date back over 900 years), told using modern language.  Gaiman then takes these myths and forms a, more or less, cohesive journey from the beginning to end.  Throughout the different tales we learn what Odin sacrificed for wisdom, how Loki’s mischievousness led to the creation of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir by the Dwarves, and how the children of Loki play a major role in Ragnarok, which is both the end and the beginning of the gods.  Oh, and we also learn why Loki tied his genitals to the beard of an angry goat – a story that my fellow 4LN writer Bill is quite fond of, for whatever reason…

 

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

 

Overall, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a well written, accessible story the gives the reader some insight into the epic tales of the Norseman. Before reading this book I had at least partial knowledge of several of the tales, mainly from Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series (which is outstanding), but reading several of the main stories in what is mostly a single narrative is a great way to not only learn about Norse myth, but enjoy a great book at the same time.  It’s an easy and informative read that is well worth the price of admission.  I grant Norse Mythology 5 out of 5 Golden Apples of Idunn.  Make sure to head to your local bookstore to pick it up when it hits shelves on February 7, 2017.

An Interview with Derek Taylor Kent, author of Kubrick’s Game

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A few weeks ago, we put out a review of Derek Taylor Kent’s Kubrick’s Game, a puzzle-based adventure thriller that focuses on an elaborate mystery hidden within filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s greatest films.  The book was highly entertaining, and will entertain everyone from die-hard Kubriphiles to veritable Kubrick laymen.  We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Mr. Kent about his new novel, and a few other things.

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4LN – To help our readers get better acquainted with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started as an author?

Derek Taylor Kent – My name is Derek Taylor Kent. I’ve been an author and filmmaker since I was 15 years old. I started out writing children’s picture books, later transitioned into writing middle-grade novels, and have now transitioned into writing grown-up novels. Won’t go into it all, but you can see all my books, scripts, web series, theater work at DerekTaylorKent.com

 

4LN – What writers/novels had the biggest impact on you as an author?

DTK – When I was 15 years old, I become obsessed with Dr. Seuss, and for the next ten years I was writing picture books in a very Seuss-ian style. I used his distinct meter, but was writing epic stories similar to Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz. In retrospect it was not a smart choice as picture books are only supposed to take about five minutes to read but mine were waaaay longer, so nothing ever happened with those. During college my next obsession arose, which was Harry Potter. I decided to put the picture books aside and focus world-building novels like those for which I wasn’t dependent on illustrations like with picture books. I don’t have any drawing talent so it might it quite difficult. My first foray into novel-writing didn’t land a book deal, but a spin-off of it led to the Scary School series, which got a three-book deal with HarperCollins. I was focused on writing those books from 2009-2015. Book 4 of that series just came out last year. In 2011, I read Ready Player One and it became my latest obsession. I made me want to write a puzzle-adventure based on my own passions, my biggest being director Stanley Kubrick since high school, which became Kubrick’s Game.

 

4LN – The puzzle found in Kubrick’s Game is incredibly complex. Not only do you weave clues throughout Kubrick’s movies, but you also include different fan theories, conspiracy theories, and cryptology. I can’t imagine what went into making this into a reality, and since I can’t imagine it I have to ask you: How much time and research went into making this enormous puzzle?

DTK – There was a bout a year and a half of solid full-time research, plus several months of dedicated puzzle-creation working with the puzzle mavens of Fantastic Race. I read every single book ever written about Kubrick and his films, read every single online essay/theory/analysis, and of course watched the movies frame by frame many times. It was the biggest creative undertaking of my life by far. When I do signings, I set up a display that shows how I compiled all of my research into a 1000-page tome so I had everything I needed in one place. Now, we’ve begun a whole new part of the process by creating a real life treasure hunt that accompanies the book. I once again worked with the puzzlers from Fantastic Race and created a very fun quest for everyone to play. It’s already underway, but there is still plenty of time to get into it. You can get started at DerekTaylorKent.com/the-game – you don’t have to read the book to play the first round, but you may find it helpful.

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4LN – Your cast of characters is extremely diverse and each one uniquely versatile. Was it easy to craft such an eclectic cast, or did you struggle at all writing their personalities and attributes?

DTK – It wasn’t terribly difficult as most of characters were based on people that I’ve known. UCLA is a very diverse campus, so I felt like I was reflecting the reality of the environment rather than making any conscious choice to be diverse. For instance, the character of Wilson is based on an African-American former child star who closely resembles Jaleel White (Urkel), who also happened to attend UCLA film school while I was there. You’ve previously written several picture books and middle-grade books.

 

4LN – What inspired you to make the leap into writing books geared towards adults, and what is different about the process?

DTK – Making that transition was the most difficult part of the process. I had to adjust my style from being one that an 8-year-old would have no trouble reading, to one in which even the most sophisticated readers would feel challenged and in competent hands. I had trained my brain to write short sentences with a minimal vocabulary and had to retrain myself to write longer, more complex sentences and use vocabulary and metaphors that an adult would relate to. There was a lot of work in the editing process that took about another year after the book was written, but I think it ultimately came out as well as I could have hoped for a first effort.

 

4LN – What advice would you give to an aspiring author looking to break into the industry?

DTK – First and foremost is to read and write as much as possible. That’s the only proven way to become a better writer. If you’ve finished a novel, make sure you give it to unbiased readers and editors before submitting to any publishers and agents and spend many, many months working on it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but should be in much better shape than your first draft. The submission process is enough to teach 3-day seminars about, which I’ve done, but have fun with it, write an awesome query, and get it out to everyone who might be into it.

 

Lightning Round (short questions, gut answers)

Favorite Kubrick Film

2001: A Space Odyssey

 

Favorite non-Kubrick Film

Back to the Future

 

Last book you read

Cake in Bed by Sheri Fink.

Currently reading Infomacracy by Malka Older

 

Favorite book of all time (at the moment)

Maus: Parts I and II by Art Spiegelman, Breakfast of Champions by Vonnegut, HP: Deathly Hallows

 

Finally, You just started to realize you are in a Truman Show that’s centered on you. What do
you do now?

Take off all my clothes and never put them back on. Also put on the movie The Truman Show and play it on a loop to make my show very meta.

 

I want to send a huge THANK YOU to Derek for chatting with me! Make sure you check out his website, read the first chapter of Kubrick’s Game here, and pick up the whole book right now!

4LN Book Review – Kubrick’s Game, by Derek Taylor Kent

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Summary from the Amazon: “What if Stanley Kubrick left behind more than just his classic films? What if he also left behind an elaborate puzzle cleverly buried within his films, which would lead the player toward a treasure that could change the course of human history?”

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To be honest, I was slightly hesitant to start this book.  I mean, I have seen a majority of Kubrick’s films, but I was not an Kubrick junkie (do Kubrick fans have a nickname? I will try a few out throughout this review).  I also usually have a pretty good idea what I am getting myself into book-wise.  Generally, I like to do some research on the book before I buy it – what can I say… I’m cautious.  However, having received an advanced reader copy, I dove in feet first (I know headfirst is proper form, but I’m not a great swimmer).

Kubrick’s Game fits squarely into the unique genre that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One made so popular.  I’m not entirely sure there is name for it, maybe adventure/thriller, but it involves a high-stakes puzzle laid out by a genius at the top of their craft, and includes life/world changing reward (also, Spielberg gets referenced).  All in all, it’s sort of like the Da Vinci Code for pop culture geeks.  The main difference that Kubrick’s Game has with Ready Player One is that the puzzle is laid out by Stanley Kubrick and involves almost all of his biggest blockbusters (most notably Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange).

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Derek Taylor Kent

When most books have the phrase “page-turner” emblazoned on the cover, I generally take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, Kubrick’s Game is legitimately a page-turner, and I am not even a Kubritch.  The puzzle the Kubrick leaves behind is inSANEly detailed, and while it starts innocuously enough, the stakes get higher and higher.  After finishing the story, I can’t imagine how much time and effort went into developing Kubrick’s puzzle, but I imagine it was quite a lot.

The book centers of Shawn, an autistic film student, his former child-actor friend Wilson, and Sami Singh.  I really like that the author’s main protagonist was autistic.  It was interesting seeing Shawn work through the puzzle, while also working through his own obstacles throughout the course of the book.  Along the way, Shawn and his cohorts face multiple trials that test not only the bonds of friendship, but their resiliency.  The dialogue held my attention pretty much the entire time, and the shadowy organization trying to steal the prize is sufficiently malevolent.

What made this book even more enjoyable was the fact that I had no idea what was going to happen from page to page.  That’s not necessarily rare, as I generally try to just enjoy the flow of the story, but this book was particularly mysterious.  Again, I would like to emphasize that I am not Kubro by any stretch of the imagination.  I have seen a handful of his movies throughout my life – never more than once or twice – and I still had an awesome time reading this book.  Kudos to Mr. Kent for writing an enjoyable adventure for both Kubrickians and us lay persons alike.

Kubrick’s Game was written by Derek Taylor Kent, who previously wrote the middle-school series Scary School, and is available everywhere as of September 26, 2016.  I encourage everyone – from people looking for a good fall read to legitimate Kubriphiles – to head down to the their local bookstore/online store and pick up their copy today!

Fantasy Books to Read While Waiting for Game of Thrones Next Summer

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The sad news, though it’s been expected for awhile now, is official: Game of Thrones will only run seven episodes next season. And thanks to the appearance of winter (finally!!) in the story line, producers will start shooting later than usual. That means our usual April start date for a new season is getting pushed back to sometime next summer.

So what do you do this extended offseason while waiting for Game of Thrones’ delayed return? How about sinking your teeth into a solidly written fantasy book series.

Here’s a couple of exceptional works to check out while enduring the long wait for Season Seven:

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

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Patrick Rothfuss, a modern day fantasy writer whose received much acclaim from George R.R. Martin himself, wrote the first “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, “The Name of the Wind” in 2007. The story follows a great adventurer named Kvothe as he recalls the story of his life over the course of three days (each book representing a different day).

Much like Tolkien, Rothfuss really focuses on detail, emphasizing the mundane parts of Kvothe’s journey as well as the landmark events. And though the world in “Kingkiller” has political complications similar to Westeros, Rothfuss exposes the reader to situations through the eyes of someone of “low birth” as oppossed to the members of noble families Martin uses to tell his story.

Now much like Martin, Rothfuss has been slow to get his third book finished (A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2011). But at least “The Kingkiller Chronicle” is likely to be finished before Lionsgate makes a film/tv version of the series.

2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

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“The Stormlight Archive” follows the Martin style of alternating third person perspectives as Brandon Sanderson presents a world coming to grips with both a looming threat and the reemergence of mystical powers lost thousands of years before.

But while Sanderson’s world has as similar scope to Martin’s, he centralizes it on a hand full of characters in one central location instead of bouncing around all over the map. This makes his story easy to follow, but (at least at this point) lack some of the “punch in the gut”moments that make Martin’s work so special. He also does a nice job anchoring his story with a flashback arc for one major character that provides insight into why they think and act as they do in the present.

Sanderson has currently released two of his books: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance.” The third book of five (with a possible ten if a second set of five books goes on as planned), “Oathbringer,” has a tentative release set for sometime next year.

3. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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Yes, the artwork on the covers of these books is really cheesy. But the story absolutely is not. It also takes two books for the story to really establish itself. But once it does, “The Wheel of Time” is very hard to put down.

Robert Jordan focuses mostly on a group of central characters who begin the story together (much like Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”) only to take distinct paths as the story progresses. And like Martin, Jordan’s world is full of distinct political alliances and situations. But while Martin bounces back and forth between all these different areas, Jordan mostly uses the central characters to introduce and update us on the conditions of these diverse locations.

The downside to Jordan’s books is they are a long haul. The series is comprised of 14 books and 1 prequel book. In fact, Jordan died before the series was completed. So Brandon Sanderson (the author of the previously mentioned “Stormlight Archive”) stepped in to finish it.

But if 14 books is not too large a commitment for you, I strongly recommend Jordan/Sanderson’s masterpiece.

4. Read the Classics

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Or you could just stick with GoT’s source material. If you haven’t read “A Song of Ice and Fire,” jump on Martin’s series first. Though Martin’s books can be just as long as the previously mentioned authors, they read much quicker. And the experience is a distinctly different one than the TV series, so don’t let the spoilers you already know from the show discourage you from reading the books.

The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy. Yes, it is a chore to get through the first half of the first “Lord of the Rings” book, “Fellowship of the Ring.” But if you’re willing to see it through, Tolkien rewards you with, arguably, the best work of fantasy fiction of all time. And much like Martin’s work, the books are a much different experience than the movies.

And if you’ve been through all of Tolkien’s works (including “The Hobbit”), check out “The Silmarillion,” the Middle Earth origin story that is much darker than Tolkien’s previous works. 4LN’s Cam Clark wrote this piece about the Silmarillion. He also recently did a brief history of Middle Earth using “The Silmarillion” and other works by Tolkien.

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series. And I’m also hopeful “The Winds of Winter” will be available before Season Seven starts (though I’m not holding my breath on this). What are some other works you’ve been reading or plan to read while we wait on the next season of Game of Thrones?

A Brief History of the First Age of Middle-Earth as Found in the Silmarillion and Other Writings

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In the beginning, eons before the first star was born, there dwelt a divine being known as Eru Ilúvatar. In his infinite wisdom Eru Ilúvatar stretched forth his hand and created the Ainur, the Holy Ones. Together they would create a Great Music that would form a vision of what could be, weaving together the very fabric of the universe. And so it came to be that light filled the void and Eru brought this vision to life by forming Eä, the “World that Is.”  While a great many of the Ainur remained in the Timeless Halls created by Eru Ilúvatar, a number of the Ainur were so enamored with this creation that they elected to depart and journeyed forth to Eä.  Those that made the decision to cross over into Eä would become the Valar, as well as the less powerful Maiar. The Valar and Maiar would reign as gods to those that would come to inhabit the land, which they called Arda.

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Ainulindale by Alassea Earello

The Valar and the Maiar worked in tandem to form a perfect world, but there was discord and war broke out amongst them. This was called the First War.  Eventually Almaren, the first kingdom of the Valar, was formed.  It was during this time that the two great Lamps were created to light the world, one placed in the North, the other in the South. This marked the beginning of the era known as the Age of Lamps.  However, the greatest of the Valar named Melkor, who would later be named Morgoth, revolted against the others. In his wrath Melkor laid waste to the kingdom of Almaren and extinguished the light of the Great Lamps.  In response to this devastation, the other Valar, led by Manwë, the Wind Lord, fled West and created Valinor, a land that was said to be even fairer than Almaren.

During this time the Valar dwelt in Valinor and enjoyed a period of blessedness known as the Ages of the Trees, for in Valinor there grew two magical trees from which their light the day and night were measured. During the Ages of the Trees the Valar created many diverse races, such as the Ents, guardians of the forests, the Eagles, magnificent winged rulers of the sky, and Dwarves, delvers of the deep and master craftsman, before awakening the Elves during the Age of Stars.  From thence Middle-earth entered into the Ages of Darkness and of Stars. Meanwhile back in Arda, Melkor ruled from his dark stronghold Utunmo, and his devotee, Sauron, ruled in Angband, a second stronghold. The race of Elves caught Melkor’s eyes and over time he sought to corrupt them, which lead to the return of the Valar to Middle-earth and ushered in the War of Powers. Many battles took place and when the dust settled the walls of Utunmo were felled and Melkor was shackled in unbreakable chains.  Without the corrupting influence of Melkor, the Elves prospered in Middle-earth and many traveled to the Undying Lands to dwell with the Valar.

Silmarillion

For ages peace reigned, until Melkor was brought before the Valar for judgement.  Manwë, believing Melkor to have repented of his past sins, released Melkor from his bonds.  Alas, Melkor’s deception ran deep and while appearing reformed he planted the seeds of discord amongst the Elves, and made a secret alliance with Ungoliant, the ascendant of Shelob.  United in dark purpose, Melkor and Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees, killed Finwë, High King of the Elven Noldor and creator of the precious Simarils which gave light to the trees, and fled to Middle-earth with Simarils in hand.  It was here that Melkor, now called Morgoth meaning “Dark Enemy” or “Black Foe” in Sindarin, attacked the Elves of Doriath, who drove him back to his dark fortress of Angband.  This marked the first of many battles within the Elvish kingdoms of Beleriand.

Enraged at the death of his father, Fëanor and his kin the Noldor, swore an oath of revenge on Melkor.  The Noldor raced eastward seeking the famed ships of the Teleri.  However, when the ships were not given freely the Noldor set upon the Teleri and wrested their ships from them by force, slaying many in the process.  With vengeance on his mind, Fëanor set off at once, leaving many of his own people to make a long and treacherous journey to Middle-earth by foot.  Once they made land, Fëanor and his host drove back the forces of Morgoth at Angband, but in their victory Fëanor was slain by the dreaded Balrogs.

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From “The Silmarillion” Illustrated by Ted Nasmith

Many wars were waged between the Elves and the forces of Morgoth, and eventually all of the Elvish kingdoms of Beleriand fell.  It was not until Eärendil, the Half-elvin, sailed the Aman and persuaded the Valar to return to Middle-earth that Morgoth fell.  The Valar, alongside the Maiar and Vanyar, descended upon Angband, destroyed Morgoth’s armies and fortress, and cast Morgoth out of Arda and into the void.  So vast were the scars of war that ravaged the land of Beleriand from the fierce battles that took place that eventually it was swallowed by the sea, forever changing the landscape of Middle-earth.  Thus ended the First Age of Middle-earth.

(Editor’s Note: This piece was co-written by Josiah Po’e, Muindor)

4LN Book Review – A Hundred Thousand Worlds, by Bob Proehl

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A Hundred Thousand Worlds hit the bookshelves June 28, 2016, or, right when I needed something to read that was a little more portable than my giant 50th Anniversary, one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I had been seeing the title popping up in different newsletters and Goodreads recommendations over the last few weeks, and decided that, even though I knew next to nothing about it outside of the setting (a road trip hitting several comic conventions across the US), I should give it a shot.

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Bob Proehl, bobproehl.com

Summary from Penguin Random House:

Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer stuggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.

A knowing and affectionate portrait of the geeky pleasures of fandom, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is also a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son—and to the way the stories we create come to shape us.

Let me start by saying that even though this is Bob Proehl’s debut novel, it was packed full of emotion, beautiful descriptions of the ordinary, and multiple plotlines that interweave into a fantastic, heartfelt story.  Oh, and it is also stuffed with references, Easter eggs, and nostalgia that only a fan of nerd culture could spin together.  It’s the kind of book that is hard to describe while you are reading it, but impossible to put down.

The story centers on nine year old Alex and his former TV star mom Valerie Torrey as they road trip across the country making stops at various comic conventions along the way.  Val starred in the show Anomaly, which is a stand in for popular shows like X-files or Firefly, and is stopping to make appearances on their way to LA, where her ex-husband/former costar still lives.  Along the way, they meet indie-artist Brett who works for Black Sheep (think Image or IDW), Gail, a writer for National Comics (DC), and a pack of professional cosplayers.  Proehl uses these side-characters to explore the inner workings of the comic industry, and fandom in general.

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Like most good novels, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is tinged with a little sadness.
It is full of measured tension, but broken up with up with nostalgia and comic relief.  Proehl does a good job with Alex as a protagonist.  He is wise for a nine year old, but never seems too wise for his years.  His burgeoning friendship and “co-mission” with Brett is a fun side-story, and his commentary on life in general is fascinating.

In the Acknowledgements section, Proehl describes A Hundred Thousand Worlds as a love-letter to a medium that has been dear to his heart since he was a kid, and it really shows.  Proehl’s commentary on the culture of fandom is unique and interesting, and his story is one that will resonate with people.  Few books leave me with a book hangover, but this one certainly did.  I wholeheartedly recommend A Hundred Thousand Worlds to anyone looking for a captivating summer read.