Colours in the Steel – K.J. Parker

Instead of sticking to a series and read every volume before I move onto something else I try to cover as many authors I can, so that I can have a better idea of the fantasy genre as it is today. The mysterious K.J. Parker isn’t one who gets as much attention as other, more popular writers, but in comments and reviews I read she (we assume it’s a she, but the true identity is unknown and name used just an invention, being mysterious like that) has a very good reputation and more than once caught my attention. Especially when Pat posted an excerpt from a recent book that I thought was brilliant. I made a mental note to buy that book when it came out (a standalone), but sooner than that I read some more comment of an earlier trilogy she wrote (The Fencer Trilogy) whose first book was a detailed and realistic description of a siege to a city, down to the smallest details.

The siege and a lot more I found in the 500 pages of the book. I’m not one to have prejudices, but thinking that the writer may be a woman couldn’t be more misleading. There’s a constant in her writing that I read is common to all her books, and it is the cynicism. This is a story that is always told from a detached point of view. Surgical. It’s like a screen that filters and separates the one who tells the story and what goes on in it. You are, in reading and sharing the seat occupied by the writer, an observer. This is a displacement that is always present. But the cold, detached point of view is perfectly balanced and matched with a sense of humor that makes the writing always interesting.

It’s easy to be mislead by the premises. Along with the cynicism there’s also an obsession with the technical details. At times the book stops to be a story and becomes a technical manual about how to build siege engines and other tools of war. It explains the materials, how they are chosen, how they are treated, all the steps that are required up to the final output. Then explains you how to use them. Whether it is about fencing or how to properly plan the siege to a mythical high-walled city that is the theme of this book. One would assume that a read couldn’t be more boring and I imagine you thinking right now of reading this book and falling asleep after two paragraphs. Instead it’s surprisingly compelling and it’s all merit of the writing itself.

As odd it may sound, this is a character-driven book. None of the characters stand out as memorable. There isn’t any way to quickly describe them and the reason is that they aren’t stereotypes. This is far from a typical fantasy novel and more alike to an historical fiction that isn’t historical simply because the setting isn’t real. But it is real in every element that forms it. An imagined story whose aspects are meticulously researched. The same treatment that goes in the setting goes in the characters. We don’t have key-roles or striking, recognizable characters. We have normal people, defined even here with attention to the detail. They are part of their world down to their mentality. If I had to make an example I’d use Richard Morgan. If in Richard Morgan you have a fantasy written through a modern eye (like we see in the dialogues), here we observe characters that truly live in the book and are shaped by what’s around them. With plenty of natural blind spots.

The execution is excellent. You can’t avoid to admire what the writer did here. The way she can transform potentially boring parts in pages that you can’t stop reading. What is up-to-date is the point of view, the writing itself and cleverness, even wisdom, disillusion. Cynicism again. Black humor. Sometime you feel like you are observing one wicked experiment where guinea pigs struggle and die in the most cynical ways. That detachment between what we know as people of our time, opposed to a medieval world with all its simplicities. You can see what is coming and it produces a wicked sense of humor since you aren’t there, you are observing how people are stupid, or just victims of their time. Victims of simple beliefs. Or just victims in general because no one can really control anything.

There are no winners. There’s also a kind of predestination that is bound with the idea of progress. The medieval world is allegory of “change”. Of science versus beliefs. One day before the age of enlightenment. Parker here is the innate, perfect writer for the task. In the same way there’s this dualism of modernism and pre-modernism, the writer incarnates the perfect match and dualism of the soulless meticulous technical detail and the sense of humor and originality that ties everything together. Art and tech. Enhanced with an air of magic that exist in the book, but that is another allegory of itself. Not a showy, controllable magic. Not fireballs, invisibility, flight or other useful uses. Not devices and desires. But an hopeless fight against destiny and its whims. Trapped guinea pigs that can only believe the illusion in front of the eyes and that are fated to be victims. Humorous tragedies of life that you enjoy only till you understand that the huge distance between you and them is an illusion too.

Don’t expect from this book a story with heroes, spectacular battles or even complex political intrigue or power struggle. Don’t expect escapism or identification. This book needs brain and is great when you admire its cleverness in all its aspects. It has none of the trappings that appeal to younger readers, none of the immediate appeal and satisfaction. It is infinitely more subtle but also more satisfying. In any case this is an original voice that is precious in the genre. The flaw is that she wrote many books and, while investigating many different aspects and improving in what she does best, they all play with similar tones. But if you want to explore human genius and despair at once, this is the best journey.

First volume in a trilogy, but the ending is so satisfying that you can take this as a standalone. The choice to move on the next books is on the reader more than forced by the plot.

Steven Erikson VS Charles Dickens

Some time ago there were flames on the forums after some people continued to compare the Malazan series to Dragonlance. I started to explain that if Erikson wasn’t original it wasn’t because he copied Dragonlance, but because the idea of the Ascendants came right from Glen Cook’s “Taken”, and, before that, from greek mythology with all its meddling gods with humanized flaws.

Nothing is truly originally, especially in fiction. Everything is influenced by what was before. Literary genres are still the same, we play with the same narrative structures, the same tricks. Creativity isn’t about shaping alien concepts. It is about molding what we know into something clever or moving or sincere or authentic or spectacular.

I posted a short quote from a character in Dickens’ novel. It got my attention somehow. Now I know why.

That character is the exact copy of Erikson’s Kruppe. From the physical description to the style of dialogue it is a faithful representation. This is interesting because I used to read that Kruppe was a character that Erikson borrowed right from one of the later books in the Black Company series.

How amusing to have another proof that you can never pinpoint the origin of ideas, even when they seem so obvious.


Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him and he wanted to grovel, is very much in a perspiration about the head, and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.

“My friends,” says he, “what is this which we now behold as being spread before us? Refreshment. Do we need refreshment then, my friends? We do. And why do we need refreshment, my friends? Because we are but mortal, because we are but sinful, because we are but of the earth, because we are not of the air. Can we fly, my friends? We cannot. Why can we not fly, my friends?”

Mr. Snagsby, presuming on the success of his last point, ventures to observe in a cheerful and rather knowing tone, “No wings.” But is immediately frowned down by Mrs. Snagsby.

“I say, my friends,” pursues Mr. Chadband, utterly rejecting and obliterating Mr. Snagsby’s suggestion, “why can we not fly? Is it because we are calculated to walk? It is. Could we walk, my friends, without strength? We could not. What should we do without strength, my friends? Our legs would refuse to bear us, our knees would double up, our ankles would turn over, and we should come to the ground. Then from whence, my friends, in a human point of view, do we derive the strength that is necessary to our limbs? Is it,” says Chadband, glancing over the table, “from bread in various forms, from butter which is churned from the milk which is yielded unto us by the cow, from the eggs which are laid by the fowl, from ham, from tongue, from sausage, and from such like? It is. Then let us partake of the good things which are set before us!”

The persecutors denied that there was any particular gift in Mr. Chadband’s piling verbose flights of stairs, one upon another, after this fashion.


The slippered foot probed daintily downward, wavering until it touched ground. A rather plump calf, knee and thigh followed. The short, round man who emerged was wearing silks of every colour, the effect one of clashing discord. A shimmering, crimson handkerchief was clutched in one pudgy hand, rising to dab a glittering forehead. Both feet finally on the ground, the Daru loosed a loud sigh. ‘Burn’s fiery heart, but it’s hot!’

The short, round man blinked myopically, mopped his brow once again, then beamed a smile. ‘Representative of the City of Darujhistan? Indeed! None better, Kruppe says, though he be a lowly citizen, a curious commoner come to cast kindly eyes upon this momentous occasion! Kruppe is suitably honoured by your formal, nay, respectful welcome – what vast display, Kruppe wonders, will you formidable warriors unveil when greeting the Council of Darujhistan’s official representatives? The sheer escalation now imminent has Kruppe’s heart all apatter with anticipation! Look on, to the south – the councillors’ carriage even now approaches!’

Kruppe was the first to lower himself into a chair – at the head of the makeshift table. He held a tankard and a handful of Rhivi sweetcakes. ‘Such rustic environs!’ he sighed, round face flushed with pleasure. ‘And traditional pastries of the plains to lure the palate. More, this ale is most delicious, perfectly cooled—’

He offered everyone a broad, crumb-flecked smile. ‘But please, let us get under way lest this meeting stretch on, forcing the delivery of a sumptuous supper replete with the dryest of wines to whet the gullet and such a selection of sweets as to leave Kruppe groaning in fullest pleasure!’

ATI makes good drivers

A few years ago ATI couldn’t compete with nVidia. They made some good cards, but you always had too many small issues on this or that game and the drivers weren’t always good.

Last year ATI releases the 8400 series and it was suddenly the ONLY choice. The videocards were surprisingly cheap and the performance very solid. In the past the “best choice” would change every few months, today the best choice is still similar to the one of one year ago.

This is just the result of the Farcry 2 benchmark on my PC, with a standard 4850:

October 2008
Average Framerate: 47.47
Max. Framerate: 62.76
Min. Framerate: 38.11

February 2009
Average Framerate: 49.51
Max. Framerate: 66.72
Min. Framerate: 39.68

May 2009
Average Framerate: 52.49
Max. Framerate: 67.24
Min. Framerate: 40.78

A few years ago when I ran a benchmark I was always getting slightly worse results every few months. This is not a huge improvement, but at least with every driver they make a small step forward and none backwards.

Between the first and second release they fixed some sharp choke points (the performance curve is now much smoother), between the second and third there was an overall increase. Not too bad considering this was already a very good card with solid performance when it launched.

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Let us partake of the good things which are set before us

Just a quote from Dickens’ Bleak House (it’s longer but I decided to cut it). Here it goes:

‘My friends,’ says Chadband, ‘what is this which we now behold as being spread before us? Refreshment. Do we need refreshment then, my friends? We do. And why do we need refreshment, my friends? Because we are but mortal, because we are but sinful, because we are but of the earth, because we are not of the air. Can we fly, my friends? We cannot. Why can we not fly, my friends?’

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Lost, end of 5

I did enjoy watching the season finale, but if I think about it it was one of the worse episodes since the very beginning.

My enjoyment mostly depended from good pacing and screenplay. Once again Lost had an execution that was superior to the actual merits. I only expected (and pretended) one thing from this finale: that it told us if the incident was meant to reproduce “things as we know them” or if the losties were successful to change the timeline.

Well, the finale is everything BUT that. There are three different meaningful segments. The first that introduces Jacob and anti-Jacob, the second with the losties and their attempt to explode the bomb in the past, and a third in the future (of whatever timeline) with Lock now duplicating himself.

There isn’t much to say about the first and last segment. All the elements introduced are new, showing us a whole new story to retcon with all we’ve seen up to this point. So we got a new factional split (Jacob, anti-Jacob) that we need to include in the already chaotic scenario. This part could be the interesting part, but you can see now the discussion in the forums, all the arguing on the new elements sounds ridicule at best. I swear, if Lost didn’t work to bring up to this point, NO ONE would watch the show on the premises we have now. Egyptian gods who fish in the ocean and have extremely improbable dialogues. Resurrections. Evil clones. Apparitions.

If there’s one thing where Lost succeeded is in making us bite onto all this without too many concerns. Take it seriously. This is the MOST RIDICULE plot ever. Yet we are able to chat, between us, like it’s something “serious”.

The second chunk with the losties is fun to watch, but, really, think about it. It’s the worst writing ever. A bunch of unbelievable motivations only to create improbable attrition between the cast. None of what was shown was important if not to delay some more what everyone knew was going to happen anyway. It was all drama around the characters. Juliet changing idea, the silly testosterone brawl between Sawyer and Jack, more blood. How much blood Jack lost in the last two episodes? A change of scenes and blood becomes make-up to make these faces more ‘seasoned’. The love tension between Jack and Kate when they chat amiably while Sayid is dying in the van. The intense looks. And finally the drama scene between Sawyer and Juliet while he tries to desperately save her. How all fucking gratuitous.

Soap-opera grandmas are pointing their fingers and laughing at all of us. Soap-operas nowadays have more dignity than that. We got a collection of everything awful in this show, glazed anew with typical scenes and dialogues that are cut & pasted from the most trite tradition without any effort.

And then we got more mumbo-jumbo about Locke and evil-Locke, Jacob and anti-Jacob (conveniently dressed too). Simply put: more nonsense. Here they lost me, because I’m really not interested about what they are doing here. The whole thing about the Dharma, the experiment, the weird apparitions and so on were engaging and interesting. Now it’s all collapsing into a big joke. A messy pile where they put everything nerdy they could find. The pretense of believability, that was the quality at the base of this show, has blown up into nonsense.

If I have to guess the anti-Jacob is also the smoke monster, who is also evil-Locke. Jacob enjoys messing with people, while anti-Jacob is the one who prefers being left alone and would like as well to get rid of Jacob and enjoy a quiet life.

In short, we got all the hints that the last season will be a disaster.

(of course there’s only one foot left of the statue, it’s all unbalanced on the front. It’s a miracle that it stays up like that)

Is this how Lost ends?

I read that some people didn’t like the latest two episodes, while I think they were great and finally moving toward a conclusion instead of introducing redundant elements.

My current speculation: they are all going to die.


Well, things are now so complicate that it’s impossible to deal with them on their own level. So I’ll simplify a lot. The current time travel theory, proven by the fact that Locke sees himself and Daniel exists at the same time as adult himself and in the belly of his mother, is that copies are made of those who travel. Ben turning the wheel caused the island to “skip” (with Sawyer and friends). When Jack and friends go back to the island they join the same “jump” of Sawyer and go back in the past. This means that there are two Sawyers and two Jacks.

Their goal is now to blow up the island, so that everything there changes and the event that leads to the plane crashing won’t happen. This also means that the plane, with their “copies” aboard, won’t crash and they’ll go on with a “normal” life.

This logic explains the time paradox that happens to Locke (the compass). In the same way copies are made when you jump in the past, copies are made even if you jump in the future. So Locke can basically give himself the compass.

But what happens if one Sawyer leaves with the submarine with Juliet and the other Sawyer does not crash with the plane? That we have two Sawyer around. I don’t think this is going to work, so there’s a possibility that if the plan works, then their copies need to die, so that their copies in the future can go on. There’s some toll that probably needs to be paid as things are never easy.

If this is what happens then Sawyer will never meet Juliet as they’ve never met in the standard timeline (Sawyer never crashed, Juliet never needed to go to the island as the island blew up). This brings the whole theme led by Kate who actually doesn’t want this reset, while Jack and Sayid consider what happen miserable enough to be worth of cancellation:

“It was not all misery.”
“Enough of it was.”

Along this, there’s the theme of destiny. Here destiny is moved by the island. It’s the island who moved them exactly at that time before the “incident” that are trying to prevent. It’s also the island that hand picked Locke, Ben and others without sending them in the past. What’s the purpose? My guess is self-destruction but motivations are obscure and impossible to figure out at this point.

But if you look at the bigger picture, you can definitely see a common theme. Locke “knows” now. He’s the only reliable one. Locke also says that Sun is going to be again with Jin. Why? Because it all still belong to the main timeline: the plane doesn’t crash and Sun and Jin were together on that plane.

So this is starting to look a lot like Donnie Darko:

In fact, the time travel stuff is more of a smokescreen. At heart, this is the story of a young man who is doomed — and a merciful God who gives him twenty-eight days of a life that never existed, in which to become a hero and a rebel, and to find love.

With the difference that in this case they aren’t doomed, and will be able to go on with their previous life. It wasn’t just a dream, but close.

But before they save themselves, they all have to die. Those in the past in order to complete the plan and let their copies live. Those in the future because they are orphans of a timeline (the island blew up, so Locke and Ben can’t be on it, timeline-wise those scenes happen BEFORE what we’re seeing in the past).

There’s a problem, though. Sun has a picture of them in the Dharma initiative, and there’s also a sixth season to fill. So this hints that, if the future is their future as that picture hints, they won’t succeed in blowing up the island.

Or maybe the picture itself is a fake the island produced.

Eve-Online surpasses Warhammer

I guess it’s worth pointing out.

Yesterday was EA financial conference and this time there is no mention of Warhammer subscription numbers in the official report. Probably because subs numbers don’t look all that awesome (if you trust x-fire, the game is steadily but slowly losing activity, that considering various factors would lead me to guess the sub number at 280k in the most optimistic case).

From other sources it was repeated the 300k number for the end of March. I don’t consider this reliable but it’s an hint that either they are where they were in December, or under but still around that number. If the numbers were higher you can bet Mythic and Mark Jacobs would be all over the forums boasting better results, instead there’s absolute silence.

So I’ll be optimistic despite all hints of numbers being lower, and say Warhammer is at 300k.

What is instead proven is that Eve-Online has 300k confirmed now.

In January Eve had 250k. Warhammer 300k. Four months later Eve gained another 50k, Warhammer is either there stalling, or losing behind the scenes.

The surpass happened.

Because, you know, after a few years every game is stale and ready to be replaced. Or so they say. I wonder where Eve will be in another year. And I wonder where Warhammer will be.

Baldur’s Gate “perfect” install

Almost three years after the original attempt, I spent the Sunday revising my EPIC install of Baldur’s Gate. That means the first and second game integrated seamlessly and with more than 170 patches and fixes applied.

I spent some time researching the possible conflicts and incompatibilities, so I hope the final result is solid. Then I even made one 4Gb zip file and I’ll burn it on a DVD, to keep it for the future :)

I wonder if I’ll make out of Candlekeep this time.

An old discussion of whereabouts can be found here.

(And, yep, I even added the Saerileth NPC. It has quite a reputation online.)

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