Review: City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian Poster

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Sometimes a good thing is worth waiting for. Fifty years after the debut of the French space adventure comic series Valérian and Laureline, these intrepid heroes have reached the big screen. Valerian is the creation of writer Pierre Christian and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières. The series has won numerous awards but few people know it in the English-speaking world. Though I haven’t yet read this long running series (it would give Doctor Who a run for its money) judging by the movie, it must be pretty impressive.

Valerian follows the 28th Century adventures of government agent Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and his partner and love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne.) The story’s exotic settings include the giant multi-species space station Alpha and the paradise world of Mul. The film is visually stunning and replete with the usual CGI spectacle. The action is non-stop but well paced, not needlessly frenetic like, for example, J.J. Abram’s recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies.

Though “City of a Thousand Planets” is not the most inspired title, I’m at a loss to think of a better one, except perhaps “Series that Spawned a Thousand Imitators.” As I watched the move, I was struck by the number of elements I’d seen in other sci-fi TV shows and movies, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, The Fifth Element, and Babylon Five. Since the Valerian comic series has been around longer than most of them (and almost as long as Star Trek,) we can guess who was plagiarizing whom. The Millenium Falcon, to name just one example, looks an awful lot like Major Valerian’s spaceship.

Overall, the movie was quite enjoyable but no masterpiece. It couldn’t live up to its amazing trailer, which features a pastiche of the movie’s most spectacular images set to the Beatles song “Because.”

The story is interesting, though not terribly original. I correctly predicted many of its plot turns, which is always disappointing. The main characters are likable though their acting is a bit flat at times. In fact, my favorite performance was by pop singer Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifter. In particular, I found DeHaan’s youthful appearance jarring. He barely looks old enough to drive a car, let alone pilot a spaceship. The movie’s lowest points revolve around the romantic banter between him and Delevingne, which was at times painfully cliché. The action scenes made up for that.

Flaws aside, Valerian is still a must-see for any science fiction buff, especially Star Wars aficionados who loved the originals. I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Starchild of a Hipper God

Review, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot

Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) a.k.a. Trash Panda

Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another Marvel Comics series that has been made into a popular movie franchise. Like the first, it features Chris Pratt as Earth-born star pilot Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana (is she in every sci-fi action movie?) as his green-skinned kick-ass love interest. It’s a lot like the first installment of Guardians, lots of fun and non-stop humor. There are the same classic cliché space opera characters in the same over-the-top action sequences. The biggest change is that the walking tree alien Groot is now Baby Groot, who can be insufferably cute at times.

It’s not quite as cool as the original, though sequels seldom are. The uber-powerful alien-as-god plot has been done before, notably in the Star Trek franchise, and Kurt Russell does a bang-up job as Ego, Quill’s long-lost father. The animation is spectacular, but these days, that’s to be expected. The only drawback is that it will be difficult to top that in the inevitable next movie.

The best thing about Guardians is that there is no overt political message unless the monomaniacal Ego is supposed to remind us of the “Hitler of the week” – there are so many to choose from! The gold-skinned Sovereigns, probably the film’s most original concept, seem to be a good swipe at the self-righteous elitist-type, whoever you conceive them to be.

As usual, the best characters are the (ostensibly) bad ones, and my biggest complaint is that my favorite one gets killed off at the end. This is the occasion for one of the most over-the-top schmaltzy space funeral scenes ever.

I was never bored, even during the tearjerker part, and the only time I said “WTF” to myself was the scene in which Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) creates a detonator with an “immediate destruct” button that Baby Groot MUST NOT PUSH. It’s a very funny scene with a really weak premise.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to sci-fi and comic book fans. On the other hand, there’s nothing outstanding that makes it a “must see.” It stands out mainly against a background of the boring hyper-focus-grouped junk that the studios are churning out. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

For adventures of the terrestrial kind check out Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, now available in paperback!

It’s All About the Dress

Guest post by Arlys Holloway

Victoria's wedding dress

Victoria’s wedding dress. Portrait painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1847, as an anniversary present for Prince Albert.

We all know the importance that the wedding dress carries in our culture.

Everything must be right with “The Dress” for that special day. Your author has been through such an event, so I understand. The prospective bride must consider the cost, color, fabric, theme, style, and construction, as well the movement of the dress and train, and the ease of exit from the dress. It is not an easy task to choose the right wedding gown.

Throughout the Victorian era and the subsequent Edwardian era, tradition, propriety, and superstition reigned. For most of history, women rarely purchased a dress specifically for their wedding day. The bride would typically wear her finest dress to the ceremony, even if it was a dark color. In fact, many brides wore black during this time. Though examples of brides wearing white can be traced back as early as 1406, the 1840 marriage of England’s Queen Victoria to her cousin Prince Albert is considered the archetypal white-wearing occasion. Described as “dripping with orange blossoms,” her stunning white dress inspired thousands to follow suit. Almost a decade after the wedding, Godey’s Lady’s Book, one of the first women’s magazines in America, declared that white was the most fitting hue for a bride, though the tradition was not yet set in stone.

Women of that time were flocking to dressmakers or making their gowns themselves. But what color should they pick? Funny you should ask. Here is poem from the Edwardian era to help brides avoid a fatal mistake in choosing the wrong gown color.

Married in White, you have chosen right,
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you will live in the town,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink.

Well, that pretty much leaves white as the color of choice.

A dress that had been purchased specifically for the ceremony or was already had in the bride’s wardrobe was often worn by her long after the wedding. But that practice carried with it certain superstitions — shocking, I know. Of course, a lady would never wear her wedding dress to a funeral, wake, last rights or vigil, or any other depressing occasion. She also would never wear it to a close acquaintance’s wedding. Many women decided instead to pass the dress down to their daughters. However, in some higher circles, it was thought to be bad luck to wear someone else’s wedding dress even if it had been your mother’s or grandmother’s.

Most likely due to all the superstitions and restrictions on where and when it was appropriate to wear one’s wedding dress after the wedding, it became popular to pack the gown away. Yet storing it away was looked upon as wasteful. So for some frugal gals, it became commonplace to repurpose the dress instead, turning it into doilies, handkerchiefs, or even curtains, which would be given as gifts or placed in a hope chest.

Skeleton Bride

Photo by @. My actual wedding dress from 1985 Repurposed 2016.

Today we are encouraged to store our wedding dresses. They are usually very expensive and the thought of taking them apart would make one nauseous. We pay to have them shrink-wrapped, framed or pack them away with cedar. I find the thought of passing down the gown to your daughter, granddaughter or great granddaughter very nostalgic and sweet. However, styles change and what my mother wore on her special day may not be for me.

Here we are in 2017. In these enlightened times, very few women stick to any kind of tradition. They find the dress that speaks to them. I have seen some weddings where the bride wears a vintage style gown. But best of all, I have seen some amazing steampunk wedding dresses and I find that to be very cool. My recommendation is, wear whatever you want.

Steampunk Bride Photos

Photos by @ Steampunk Series. Model Arlys Endres

Sources:

http://www.vintageroyalwedding.co.uk/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress_of_Queen_Victoria (photo, Wikimedia commons)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress

http://literary-liaisons.com/

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony: with a Complete Guide to the Forms of a Wedding, published in 1852

Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition (4 Vol.) c.1880s [no date]

Check out my steampunk novella, Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel (with Vaughn Treude) now available as an illustrated paperback on Amazon.

 

 

“I am not an animal!” – review of The Lobster

The Lobster movie poster

The Lobster: Colin and invisible friend

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, released in the US in 2016, is one of the most original films I’ve seen in years. I shouldn’t have been surprised since that same director also created the bizarre Dogtooth in 2009. It received an award at Cannes, an Oscar nomination, and 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet I had mixed feelings about it. Although it’s thought-provoking, watching it was frustrating at times.

The film’s premise is strange. Its setting is a world much like ours, except that being single is in effect illegal. Anyone who becomes divorced or widowed is taken by the authorities to a special resort with others of their kind. Here they must find a new mate within 45 days. If they fail, they will be surgically converted to an animal of their choice. The protagonist, David, played by Colin Farrell, has chosen to be a lobster – an exemplary, unusual selection. Too many people, David’s counselor explains, choose a mundane animal like a dog. This was the fate of David’s brother Bob, who is now his pet.

You might assume, as I did, that in this situation, people would hook up with just about anyone; yet they are irrationally picky. All believe that couples must have at least one common trait. David’s friend John (Ben Wisham) takes a fancy to a girl who gets frequent nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), so he repeatedly injures himself to fake a similar condition. Robert, the lisping, autistic fellow (played hilariously by John C. Riley) doesn’t have a prayer.

Many singles try to escape, and resort attendees are forced to hunt them down with tranquilizer guns. Each captured escapee extends the capturer’s 45-day grace period, but one particularly aggressive woman (Angeliki Papoulia) bags most of them. After a brief, disastrous fling with her, David flees to the woods, where he joins an underground group of fellow loners. This is also the home of random animals such as camels, peacocks, and hogs. All, we assume, are former humans.

Here David meets his true love, a fellow runaway (Rachel Weisz.) Since both are myopic, they are compatible. Unfortunately, the society of the loners forbids intimate relationships on pain of mutilation. The lovers secretly plan their escape back to the city, but meet with the treachery of the group’s leader (Lea Sedoux). The ending is either a triumph of love, a tragic farce, or both.

On the surface, Lanthimos appears to be saying that society is geared around couples to the detriment of singles. To me, the more interesting aspect was the self-defeating behavior of the singles – passive, unconfident, and exceptionally picky. Farrell’s low-key performance was perfect in this regard. The culture of the society of loners was an astute comment on today’s disconnected alienated society. The scene where everyone dances separately to techno music, each listening to his own headphones, was quite striking. On the downside, I found the message to be so obvious and relentless to be tedious at times. Still, I have to give it high marks for originality. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Speaking of weird animals, check out my sci-fi short story “Found Pet,” only 99 cents on Amazon.

 

A Victorian Christmas

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Christmas is one of the few times in the year when we Americans celebrate our nation’s European heritage. Though Christmas itself dates back over a millennium and some of our holiday traditions are ancient, many hail from the Victorian era. I believe this is partly due to the surplus of great literature from that time. This was one of the many benefits of the Industrial Revolution: a middle class with leisure time and surplus income. In other words, much of what we think of as a traditional Christmas is relatively modern, a set of cultural cliches which originated when the advance of technology brought much of our population above subsistence level.

The more religious elements of the holiday, such as midnight church services, nativity scenes, and Christmas plays are many centuries old. Some of the customs with pagan origins, such as kissing under the mistletoe and burning the yule log, are equally ancient. Many of our more secular Christmas traditions, however, date from the 1800’s.

* The poem “A Visit from St. Nick,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” helped shape our modern view of Santa Claus. It was published anonymously in 1823 and is usually attributed to Clement Clarke Moore but others claim Henry Livingston, Jr. as its author.

* In his 1812 edition of A History of New York, American author Washington Irving wrote of St. Nicholas soaring over the treetops in a flying wagon, which later became “Santa Claus” after the “Sinterklaas” of Dutch New Amsterdam.

* A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was published in 1843. This tale of avarice and redemption is still relevant in our modern age and has been staged and adapted dozens if not hundreds of times. It also helped establish turkey as the essential Christmas meal, though “Indian Chicken” as it was then called, was popular from the 1600’s onward.

* Christmas trees are an ancient tradition that began with German pagans and embraced by Christianity. They were popularized in both the British Commonwealth and America in the 1840’s by England’s half-German Queen Victoria.

* Christmas caroling, banned in England under Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell, made a comeback when two writers made collections of old Christmas songs: William Sandys (Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, 1833) and Davies Gilbert (Some Ancient Christmas Carols, 1823.) Many traditional songs such as “The First Noel” appeared around that time.

* Jingle Bells, one of our most beloved secular holiday songs, was composed by James Lord Pierpont in 1857.

* Tchaikovsky’s iconic Christmas-themed ballet The Nutcracker debuted in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892.

* Fruitcake has been popular since cheap sugar became available in the 1600’s, but the Victorians upped its popularity by adding alcohol to the recipe. Sadly, this ingredient is absent from most commercial fruitcakes which may help explain its decline.

* Santa Claus parades first appeared in Peoria, Illinois, in 1887, originally as a parade of boats on the river. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which also featured St. Nick debuted later, in 1924, and it also helped establish Black Friday as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

* The much beloved (and sometimes maddening) song “Twelve Days of Christmas,” was adapted from a Franco-English folk tune first published in 1780, but didn’t reach its current form until 1909.

* Currier and Ives – This 19th Century American printmaking firm produced popular and inexpensive lithographic prints, many of winter scenes, and was forever associated with Christmas in the lyrics of the 1948 song “Sleigh Ride.”

References: Wikipedia, recipes.howstuffworks.com, www.sinterklaashudsonvalley.com, www.whychristmas.com

Amazon gift certificates make a great last-minute Christmas gift, especially if they’re used to purchase my e-books.

Free Speech Friday: Is There a War on Christmas?

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It’s that time again, to hear the conservative lament about the “war on Christmas.” Is this, as the New York Times suggest, merely in our imagination? I’d agree that the term “war” is a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe “cultural skirmish” would be a better term. No one has outlawed Christmas here in America, but expressions of “Merry Christmas” and related decorations aren’t welcome in all situations.

One of the drivers of this anti-Christmas mentality has been the American Civil Liberties Union. Years ago, I was a member of that organization, as I believed that it did a lot of important work to support our civil rights. I let my membership expire when they began to view political correctness as more important than freedom. Though I’ve been a religious skeptic all my adult life, I’ve never shared their hard-line view on church-state separation. What harm does it do to have a nativity scene at the county courthouse? Does this constitute establishing an official church? I see it rather as a recognition of the local culture. I’d prefer that the decorations be paid for by private donations rather than taxpayer funds, but in any case, there are a lot more egregious things we could spend our money on.

This is why it’s unfortunate that we feel obligated to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” lest we offend someone who is not Christian. Though I would not go out of my way to say it to someone I knew was Jewish, or who appeared Middle Eastern, I wish I didn’t have to worry about that. Christmas is part of our culture, which is shared even by those of us who aren’t religious. For example, if I were in Japan and someone wished me a happy Gozan no Okuribi, it wouldn’t matter at all to me that I’m not Buddhist. It’s part of their culture, and besides, it’s the sentiment behind the wish that counts.

Speaking of Christmas, check out the new flash fiction collection, Christmas in Love, edited by George Donnelly. I’m sure you’ll find my contribution to be amusing. Even better, the e-book is FREE for a limited time.

Time Travel Thursday – The Wild Wild West

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Ross Martin and Robert Conrad as Gordon and West

In this year of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I’d like to call attention to another pioneering series: The Wild Wild West. In my childhood, it was my second favorite show. For those of you who are too young to remember, it was a historical drama created by Michael Garrison, set during the 1870’s and starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin as Jim West and Artemis Gordon, dashing Secret Service agents. I loved it for the gadgetry and its science fiction elements. Its fanciful treatment of America’s past has caused many steampunk aficionados to declare it a forerunner of their favorite genre.
West and Gordon had the coolest ride, which doubled as their headquarters: their own private train, which included a laboratory and a stable. It had great villains, too, particularly the Spanish dwarf Dr. Miguelito Loveless, played by Michael Dunn. An evil genius, he invented the airplane, the cathode-ray tube, and an LSD-like drug. Another thing I enjoyed about the show was the animated title sequence, a montage which showed a heroic cowboy fighting the bad guys and kissing the girl. At the commercial breaks, they would replace each of these pictures with a scene from that episode.
I didn’t know this, but the show’s Wikipedia article notes that the series was canceled not due to bad ratings but because of the outcry over “television violence.” Was that the real reason, or was it political correctness that pushed the Western genre off of television? It’s not a scientific study by any means, but I seem to remember cowboy shows as being less violent than the 1970’s crime dramas that replaced them. The Wild Wild West, with its campy James Bond light-heartedness, did not deserve this early death.
Many of my younger readers may recall the feature film version which was made in 1999, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline as Agents West and Gordon, with Salma Hayek as the damsel in distress. Sadly, its quality wasn’t up to that of the series, earning only 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Though I’m a big fan of Smith, it seemed strange to have a black man as a Federal agent so few years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. Then again, it’s steampunk; anything can happen.
Another plot element that changed in the movie was that West and Gordon’s nemesis changed. The scheming little person became an embittered Southern amputee, Dr. Arliss Loveless. The PC anti-Confederate message was obvious, though at least they gave him a cool name.
DVD’s of the original series are available for rent on Netflix or for purchase on Amazon. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate it in streaming form.

If you like steampunk cowboy adventures you’ll love my book Fidelio’s Automata on Amazon.

Photo is from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes, V for Vendetta, and Anonymous

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Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday which commemorates the foiling in 1605 of an anti-royalist conspiracy to blow up the House of Lords. Traditionally, it was celebrated with bonfires and burning effigies of the treasonous Fawkes. It’s ironic that the image of this historical villain has been transformed into a heroic symbol of anarchism and the liberty movement.

This is because in V for Vendetta, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the anti-government protagonist wears a Fawkes mask to hide his identity. This work and its popular movie adaptation led the hacker group “Anonymous” to adopt the Fawkes mask as its symbol. In a case of life imitating art, they have staged protests with masked members, just like in the movie. This brings up the question of extralegal political action. When is it justified and in what fashion?

On one end of the spectrum, we have violence against people, including political assassination. While this may be justified in the case of a Hitler or Stalin, it is almost always counter-productive. As the Who put it, the “new boss” will be “same as the old boss.” Terroristic and retaliatory violence is similarly flawed. If an organization is willing to sacrifice innocents in order to gain power, how will it behave after the battle is won? If we expect them to change, we will surely be disappointed.

At the other end are peaceful protests, including the non-violent civil disobedience advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Such tactics are more likely to achieve lasting change, but they may require members of the movement to sacrifice their freedom or even their lives. Furthermore, nonviolence is less effective against authoritarian governments, which is why Iran’s “Green Movement” did not achieve its goals.

In the middle, we have destructive but non-violent action, such as sabotage, computer hacking, and release of secrets. This may be the only option when peaceful and legal channels are blocked. In the US, the release of state documents by Wikileaks has done tremendous good in revealing the machinations of the power elite. Cyber-attacks against institutions that kill innocents and violate our privacy, such as the CIA and NSA, would also be morally justified. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that hackers could win those battles. This is why the rebels have focused on easier targets such as corrupt politicians and thieving bankers.

I believe that extralegal action is sometimes necessary, even in a “free country” such as ours, because democratic systems are prone to capture and manipulation by the rich and powerful. Those who participate in such actions must be aware of the risk. Consider, for example, the steep price Chelsea Manning is paying for blowing the whistle on US atrocities in Iraq. Violent actions, such as Fawkes’ “Gunpowder Plot” are not just wrong, they are damaging to any positive goals one might have.

If you’re a “V for Vendetta” fan, you’ll love my books. Check them out on Amazon.

Image is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_%28group%29

Can We All Get Along?

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This election has been without a doubt the most contentious one I’ve ever witnessed. I see the acrimonious political postings on Facebook and Twitter, as people lose friends and gain enemies. The closest I’ve seen to the current situation was the Vietnam War era. I’m not talking about the conflict itself. I was too young to be drafted and didn’t have any war casualties in my family, thank God. I’m talking about the battle it spawned in America, pitting family members and friends against one another.

In the early days of the conflict, those on the right were the most intolerant. The war’s supporters smeared peace activists as Communists, America-haters, and cowards. As the war went on and the carnage in Asia increased, the left became vitriolic as well. Anti-war protesters screamed “baby killers” at the returning troops, as if they hadn’t suffered enough already. Though I turned against the war at the age of 12, I never thought to blame the American soldiers, who were just as victimized and traumatized as the Vietnamese.

Now, in 2016, the intense political debates on social media give me a sense of déjà vu. I’m OK with trashing politicians like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; that comes with the territory. However, we shouldn’t let our scorn trickle down to our friends and neighbors who support the opposition.

The election has played on our emotions, even though few of us find either major-party candidate likable. I think this is because we’re afraid; afraid of unemployment, soaring prices, civil disorder, terrorism, and crime. Because Trump and Clinton both speak the language of identity politics, it adds another dimension of fear. Will our group fall victim to punitive taxes, regulations, confiscations, or censorship? Will the powers that be neglect our rights while granting favoritism to others? Why does it seem that every other group, from crooked bank presidents to third-world refugees, receive better treatment than the hard-working middle class?

What’s missing from too much of our discourse is respect. Assuming we are sane, legally competent adults, all our viewpoints are based on some degree of truth. This means we should try to avoid labeling others, and listen to each other before reacting. We need to define our terms, too, because words like “justice” and “fairness” can have many disparate meanings. When all is said and done, however, we must agree to disagree. To quote the late Rodney King, whose controversial arrest led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, “Can we all get along?”

Photo of 1967 Anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon is from Wikimedia Commons.

Review – Throne of Bones

I first heard of Vox Day in conjunction with the #Gamergate scandal. Day, also known as Theodore Beale, is a writer and game developer who’s become controversial for his outspoken conservatism. My first encounter with his work was a short political book called SJW’s Always Lie, a harsh critique of the so-called “social justice warriors.” The book outlines a simple strategy for protecting oneself from the fanatical progressives who try to silence anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Despite his tendency for hyperbole, I enjoyed Day’s abrasive style, and decided to take a look at his fiction. I selected his 2012 fantasy novel Throne of Bones, Arts of Dark and Light, Book One.

In its print version, Throne of Bones is approximately 850 pages, almost as long as a George R. R. Martin work. Due to my busy schedule, and the fact that I’m always reading several books at a time,it took me several months to finish it. But I persevered, and I found it quite enjoyable.

My biggest complaints about Throne apply not to this specific work but to the fantasy genre in general. I prefer novels of about half that length, so I can finish them in a reasonable about of time. There are also too many point-of-view characters and story threads. Just when I get caught up in one of these narratives, it switches to another. If there were just 2 or 3 threads, I’d read on, expecting the author would get back to it soon. When a novel has 7 or 8, I become frustrated.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to recommend this book. Of the plethora of characters, most are well-rounded and interesting. You might expect a notorious radical like Day would create characters who are purely good or evil. Thankfully, he does not. In that way, he’s a lot like (he’ll wince at this comparison) Game of Thrones Martin. This depth of character is complicated by their mores of their world, which are nothing like our modern, tolerant ways. Take for example the general Valerius Corvus, who has his own nephew executed for disobeying orders during a battle. He is a tough, unyielding bastard but is also one of the book’s most sympathetic characters.

The novel’s setting is Selenoth, a Tolkien-like fantasy world. It contains the expected races of humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs, with some interesting twists. In particular, the elves are not noble and pure like Tolkien’s; they possess a cruel sense of humor and have a xenophobic, genocidal history. Humans on Selenoth are organized loosely in three political groups. The first and most prominent in the story are the Amorrans, denizens of a Roman-type empire that speak a Latin-like tongue and practice a strict, quasi-Christian religion. They rule over a vast number of subservient cities and territories, none of whom possess Amorran citizenship. Secondly, there is Savondir, a neo-French kingdom with a complex aristocracy. Unlike Amorr, which forbids the use of magic on pain of death, Savondir employs battle-mages as part of its military forces. In the third group are the barbarian Dalarn, Viking-like reavers who inhabit the Wolf Islands in the far north.

Much of the action consists of warfare within and between the various human groups, as well as battles against the blood-thirsty, cannibalistic goblins. As I said before, Day does not soften these cultures in line with modern, Western sentiments. There is plenty of killing of and by the protagonists. Amorran martial discipline is enforced by the threat of summary execution. Male-female sex roles are similar to those seen throughout human history, with women taking a subordinate (though often conspiratorial) role. Only among the elves do females have a prominent place in society, due to the magic powers of their virginal sorcerer-priestesses.

My biggest issue with Selenoth society is the imbalance that should be caused by the Amorran ban on magic. I don’t understand how they would not be defeated by Savondir or the elves, both of whom have a magical advantage. The long-lived elves are relatively aloof from human concerns, but the Savonner nobles are as cruel, arrogant, and power-hungry as their Amorran counterparts.

Regardless of what you may think of Day’s politics (and I personally couldn’t care less about an author’s ideology,) Throne of Bones is a great read. If I were to subtract a star for anything, it would be the book’s marathon length and complexity.