Tag Archives: fantasy

Explorer: The Lost Islands

Editor: Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Perhaps it’s a place where festivities turn to horror. Or maybe it’s a place where stories are broadcast from all over, where magic is made. It may not be an actual place at all, but rather something symbolizing our sense of self. Whatever the case, the idea of a lost island, isolated and strange, is tantalizing and full of equal parts fear and wonder. Come and see what’s there to find.

I’ve read one volume of Kibuishi’s Explorer series previously, The Hidden Doors, which I quite enjoyed. The Lost Islands brings a similar experience–a collection of graphic shorts by a variety of authors/illustrators, all somehow connected by the titular idea. It’s great to see the immense variety that is presented in this collection. You’ve got light, fluffy pieces and scary, adventurous stories and even one that’s contemplative and psychological. All in all, it’s a good selection; I don’t think there was a single story I didn’t enjoy. The art is all excellent, again with a good bit of variety between styles. The stories are generally middle-grade appropriate, but recommended for basically all ages, in my opinion. I especially appreciate that the stories aren’t just existential occurrences; they focus on ideas such as hard work, self-awareness, being true to oneself, and the importance of being a good friend. I would definitely recommend Explorer: The Lost Islands, and I look forward to reading more by the authors/illustrators represented here.

Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Braden Lamb, Michel Gagné, Katie Shanahan, Steven Shanahan, Eric Kim, Selena Dizazzo, & Kazu Kibuishi

 

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Deal Alert: Humble Book Bundle: Super Nebula Author Showcase presented by SFWA

Hey, just wanted to let you guys know that, for those who enjoy good sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction, Humble Bundle is currently hosting a bundle feature Nebula Award winners and nominees, as well as a few other collections and such thrown in. Several of the stories certainly looked interesting, including The Last Temptation by  Neil Gaiman and Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/super-nebula-book-bundle. As of when I’m writing this post, the deal’s good for 12 more days. Enjoy!

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A Fresh Perspective (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: dr4g0ngrl

FanFiction ID: 8495208

Status: Complete (14 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

An innocuous (if extremely annoying for Merlin) hunting trip with Prince Arthur turns into something drastically different when the two find themselves attacked by a group of sorcerers who manage to shove a suspicious potion down Merlin’s throat. After dealing with their attackers, Arthur turns around to find . . . an unconscious Merlin who is now a little kid of around four years old. Oops. Unsure what to do with a child, Arthur makes the natural decision–take the kid back to his mother. So the two of them show up on Hunith’s doorstep, and Merlin’s poor mom gets dragged into the mess, trying to comfort her confused son while also keeping his magic a secret from Arthur and the rest of the magic-hating world. But for a little child to keep secrets, especially a secret as big as this one, is not exactly easy, and Arthur is in for more than one surprise on his way back to Camelot.

A Fresh Perspective is just about everything I wish for in a fanfic–or in any story, for that matter. The writing flows well, uses excellent grammar, shows a very readable use of third-person narrative, and is just generally pleasant to read. The plot, as the author admits directly, is basically an excuse to write Merlin-as-a-kid fluff. And the result is absolutely adorable. The author’s grasp of Merlin’s character, as well as how that would display as a four-year-old kid, is excellent if flavored towards a highly favorable view of his personality and character (just as I like it). This view of him and his utter devotion to Arthur and to Camelot is vital to the way in which the plot develops, especially after Arthur and the knights discover Merlin’s magic. I also love that the knights (Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, and Leon, specifically) are heavily included in this story, because they’re fabulous and they’re individual reactions to kid-Merlin are important in developing their own personalities, histories, and relationships with each other and with Merlin. The bromance between Merlin and Arthur, as well as between Merlin and Gwaine, is well crafted here, and I think the way in which the author handled that uncertainty of relationship at the point where Merlin is suddenly a child and has no memory of Arthur or Gwaine was very well done. Honestly, I would change nothing about this story, and will probably re-read it many times over. I just want to find more stories by the same author!

Note: You can find A Fresh Perspective at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8495208/1/A-Fresh-Perspective.

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My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker

 

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Deal Alert: Humble Bundle Women of Sci-Fi & Fantasy

So sorry to totally spam posts today, but I just realized that Humble Bundle has a really nice collection of sci-fi/fantasy books by female authors available right now–but it’s only available for the next 5 days. So late notice, sorry. Anyhow, the bundle includes authors such as Robin McKinley, Octavia E. Butler, Elizabeth Hand, Kate Elliott, Diana Pharaoh Francis, and Nalo Hopkinson. Personally, I’ve read the McKinley books, and the bundle would be worth it just for those books alone. But several of the other ones look interesting too. Oh, and the highest tier ($15) includes a Jane Yolen! If you’re interested, you can check it out here.

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Pathfinder (Tabletop RPG)

Released by: Paizo

In light of my D&D group’s being on hold for the indefinite future due to schedule complications, I’ve started playing another tabletop RPG called Pathfinder with another group of friends. This game is very similar to Dungeons & Dragons, being based on edition 3.5 of that very game. However, unlike D&D, Pathfinder is released under an Open Game License–so all the rules and stuff are available for free (see the Pathfinder SRD website for details). This makes it a very appealing option for those who are interested in trying this type of game but who don’t want to spend all the money on books that is a necessary startup cost for most of these sorts of games. (Although, if you are interested, Paizo does also have physical books available–see their website for more details.) As far as gameplay goes, it’s mostly very similar to D&D, although I’ve never played 3.5, so I can’t compare precisely; however, there are tweaks that were made both to differentiate the two and to cater to player preferences. Most noticeable differences: Pathfinder has lots more skills and a different system for leveling up on skills, numbers in Pathfinder get a lot bigger a lot faster than in D&D, there’s a lot more focus on strength-scaled fighting, and you just generally get more feats and extra stuff. It can actually be a bit overwhelming to someone accustomed to 5th edition D&D, but it’s growing on me.

While playing with a different group, I noticed some interesting aspects of different parties’ playing styles–and this has nothing to do with Pathfinder specifically, just my personal rambling observations. Sorry. But I found it interesting. For one, I’ve never played with modules (pre-defined adventures) before; it does help to keep things moving and keep the party on track, but I kind of miss the freedom to do super-random stuff and just see what happens . . . and I feel like it’s harder to roleplay when we’re trying to stick to a pre-defined plot. The other interesting observation is the differing focus groups have on either roleplaying or on battles and the adventure itself. Previously, I’ve played with groups that found the battles and monsters as a means to the roleplay and with groups that balanced and mixed the two in absurd combinations. With this particular group, there’s a greater focus on getting to the next fight or challenge and less of a focus on the roleplay aspect. Both are good; I just find the contrast intriguing.

In any case, if you’re interested in trying a tabletop RPG, but you’re not really invested yet, Pathfinder is a great way to try the whole concept out. Likewise, if you’ve previously played other tabletop RPGs, it might be an interesting way to add variety. Enjoy!

 

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Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies

Author: J. K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5

While entering the world of wizarding and magic through the stories of young Mr. Potter, we are introduced to any number of individuals, some of whom have a profound impact on events even while remaining shrouded in mystery. Professor McGonagall, for instance, shows immense depth of character and insight, yet her students are never told much of anything regarding her personal history. And Remus Lupin, beloved teacher and dear friend of Harry’s parents, had his own share of secrets. Even some of your less well-known residents of Hogwarts may surprise you with their courage, their tragic histories, and the lengths to which they will go in pursuit of their passions.

As with Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, this collection is less a collection of short stories per se and more of a collection of short documentaries and short biographies that were originally released on the Pottermore website and are here collected in an organized volume. It’s quite an enjoyable collection, I must say. This particular volume focuses on the lives of Professor McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney, and Silvanus Kettleburn, providing all sorts of details that never came up in the Harry Potter books. The bulk of the book is focused on McGonagall and Lupin (which is as it should be). The sections about Minerva made me love and admire her all the more, and Lupin’s story made me cry all over again (like I didn’t do that enough while reading those parts of the Harry Potter series to begin with!). Mixed in with the characters’ stories are short sections of a more documentary nature, providing additional details about werewolves, the naming of witches and wizards, and the like, which were quite interesting as well. I would definitely recommend Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies to any fan of the Harry Potter stories (even if the book doesn’t actually contain short stories).

 

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