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book notes: Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (Malazan)

There are at least 15 books in the Malazan world. From all I have heard, they are quite complex. So that I do not forget plot points or people, these are the reading notes for the Malazan novels by Steve Erikson and Ian Esslemont. I am somewhat following the reading order at this link.

I read the prologue for Gardens of the Moon (Steve Erikson’s first novel in his series) and saw that it had the same timestamp as this novel…so I switched over. The writing style between Erikson and Esslemont is quite a contrast. There are points in this novel by Esslemont that are vague; at first I thought that was because I was new to the series and names/places/plot points were many. But after re-reading some passages, it is actually vague. I’m not certain if this is on purpose, but it is another good reason to take notes.

Timeframe: 1154th year of Burn’s Sleep, 96th year of the Malazan Empire, last year of Emperor Kellanved’s reign

Location: Malaz Isle (at this point I have no clue if this is important or not, but, since it is called the Malazan Empire…CLUE!)

Same timeframe and location as the prologue of GARDENS OF THE MOON.

Prologue

Captain Murl’s ship, Rheni’s Dream, is getting stuck in ice south of Malaz Isle and his men are freezing to death. Ice riders pass them riding the sea and the ice, apparently heading for the Isle.

A Path Within Shadow

A creature named Edgewalker is walking along sand dunes. He comes across a creature he knows as Jhedel and asks him if anyone has passed. Jhedel is being held here against his will, and Edgewalker feels some type of change is coming (a disturbance in the force, Luke?). Apparently Jhedel slew his predecessors to take a throne, and then was bound by some who overthrew him in turn.

Edgewalker continued on. He was late, and time and the celestial dance of realms waited for no one. Not even entities as insane and portent as the one pinned behind him. When they conversed during more lucid moments, it could remember its full name, Jhe’ Delekaaran, and that it had once commanded this entire realm as King. Liege to the Que’tezani, inhabitants of the most distant regions of Shadow. And mad though he may be, Jhedel was right in one thing: it had been long since the Throne last held an occupant. With the coming of each Conjunction, this absence worried Edgewalker. But this time what intrigued him most was something so rare he’d almost failed to recognize it…the coiled potential for change. (pg 11)

Chapter One – Portents and Arrivals

We meet Temper, who from the get-go is obviously more than he seems. He thinks about previous battles and injuries, and the fact that the arrival of an Imperial Official couldn’t have anything to do with him. Temper gets off guard duty around Mock’s Hold, and beats the crap out of some pretender named Larkin. Temper is a bad man, but he holds his temper pretty well…get it?

Kiska is a young lady who knows the town and spies on people, hoping it will get her somewhere, raise her station in life. She’s stalking the Imperial Official’s group that Temper saw when on guard duty. They don’t jive with her either. She gets caught by a “Claw” (“Imperial intelligence officers, mages, enforcers of the Emperor’s will!”), but let go, after she begs for a job. She continues to watch, and just as she’s about to follow the party, a grey-cloaked man she didn’t see comes out of hiding in front of her, following the same quarry.

Temper is heading home, stops to help a known acquaintance named Rengel, who tells him of the Shadow Moon…which is the event that will apparently affect this entire book. And Rengel mentions the “Return.”

“Return stank of the cult that worshipped Kellanved, the man who along with his partner, Dancer, had founded the Imperium. They’d been missing for years. Some thought both dead, others that they’d vanished into some kind of thaumaturgic seclusion.” (pg. 38)

Temper thinks about a house across from the Hanged Man Inn, called the Deadhouse.

“Rumour also held that it was there that Kellanved and Dancer, along with others including Dassem and the current Regent, Surly, had live and plotted everything that followed. ….locals called it the Deadhouse.” (pg 39)

Interesting since book two from Erikson is titled Deadhouse Gates.

There’s a different crowd at Temper’s local bar (called Coop’s Inn, after the bar keep), and Coop warns Temper away from them.

I have no clue if Temper and Kiska come up again anywhere in the Malazan books. After the prologue of Gardens of the Moon the timeline skips forward a few decades, so my assumption is that they are just being used as story telling vehicles. But I’ve been wrong before.

Chapter Two – Assignations

This chapter ends up with more re-read notes that I had intended, but a lot goes on here that I assume is background for the entire series.

A quick para on the “Fisherman” who apparently has to head out in inclement weather. Must be important, or they wouldn’t have mentioned him.

Kiska lost track of the guy she was following (“She smelled the warrens on him”).  She follows on, through to an estate, climbs a wall and see two men on a bench.

The one on her right  was the man she’d followed, hood back, shaved scalp dark as rich loam, a long queue draped forward over one shoulder. The other was an old man, ghostly pale, white haired, thin shoulders hunched like folded wings. (page. 53)

She watches them for a while, one leaves. Kiska is about to leave when she hears something, jumps back up on the wall and see the “intruder from the wharf” (the other gent she did not see) standing over the form of the old man. She thinks him adept (that’s what Warrens are – a type of magic!). After a while, the magic man leaves and Kiska goes to rifle through the dead old man’s clothes to see who he is…only he isn’t dead, grabs her, she stabs him, but he still talks to her.

Temper heads to his room upstairs at Coop’s. Corinn (a lady he was hoping to see) waves Temper to her room, trying apparently to protect him. She reveals to him that she is a Brdgeburner…”once of the Third Army. An army that Daseem, with Temper at his side, had led in Falar and the Seven Cities.” (Pg. 58)

Corinn tells him that she knows who he is.

“I was at Y’Ghatan. I saw the Sword broken. I know.” (Pg. 58)

Soldiers barge in and take Temper back down stairs, seating him with Coop the bar owner, Trenech the bouncer who seems not all there, and an old man named Faro.

Kiska finds herself in an alternate world. A Realm – the Path of Shadow….with the dead guy who just grabbed her. He provides some education in what is going on.

“You’re still on your wretched little isle. And at the same time, you are here. Two realms overlapping. Two places at once. What is called a Convergence.” (pg. 63)

“My name is Oleg. Many years ago a man came to me. He claimed to be interested in the arcanum of my research. We worked together. We shared knowledge. His prowess and grasp of Warren manipulation astounded me. I, who admit no peer in such mastery. He -He betrayed me. He stole my work and left me for dead.

That man was Kellanved, Emperor of Malaz. He returns tonight to this island. The Claws and their mistress no doubt think he returns to reclaim the throne, but all who believe such things are fools. He returns to atempt to re-enter the Deadhouse. They are after another, far greater prize. He and Dancer.” (pg 63-64)

And, just like that, we have the summary of the conflict in this book, and what are in the Prologue of Gardens of the Moon.

Oleg tells Kiska that “transubstatiation must be the time of striking. Entombment is the way”. Then Kiska is back in Malaz, in the garden with the dead man (apparently Oleg). The other man who she had seen with him (the one she originally followed) comes back and tries to kill her (she shoots a crossbow but it goes right through where he was). Oleg rises up and puts some serious hurt on the assassin, freeing Kiska before she is garroted.

Sergeant Ash (the Bridgeburner) and Corinn after some planning, take most of the men away, leaving four to guard the Temper, Coop, Trenech and Faro. Temper feels Warrens (magic?) growing, and Trenech responds to a threat by killing all four guards barehanded. Faro and Trenech are more than what they seem, telling Temper to leave, as Shadow and Others come.

Chapter Three – Hounds of Shadow

The fisherman is in his boat, rowing and chanting. The same riders who froze out the boat in the prologue keep trying to approach, but are unable to because of the chant.

Kiska is walking around Malaz, and then flips into another realm. There she meets Edgewalker, (who she describes as a walking corpse) who tells her that he “…walks the borders of Kurald Emurlahn. What you call Shadow.” So, Edgewalker walks the edges of Shadow, eh? He tells he she was swept there by a shadow storm, and that he will send her back. She asks Edgewalker if he knows Oleg, or if Shadow has a ruler. Edgewalker does not know Oleg, and says that many including he have tried to take the throne of Shadow. Kiska asks him what is entombment, and he tells here “the price of failure. Eternal enslavement to Shadow House.” (pg 81).

Then they hear a Hound. Edgewalker tells Kiska it has caught her scent, and she must seek protection in Obo’s tower. Obo is a myth, but so were the Hounds! She reaches the tower and finds a “doddering oldster” who does indeed turn out to be Obo. He somehow gets her back to her Realm on Malaz, and she bolts for the house of Agayla, her friend and caretaker who apparently is also a powerful mage.

Agayla warms her up, treats her wounds while Kiska tells her about her adventures (leaving out Edgewalker and Obo, for some reason). Apparently Agayla knows Oleg. While they are talking, something (one of the Hounds?) comes sniffing and scratching at their door, scaring them both; Agayla somehow makes it leave.

Agayla repeats the story to Kiska the version of the Emperor’s story that we’ve mostly heard before: the Emperor and Dancer have been seen less and less, and Dassem, the Sword of the Empire and two others of the sword, who survived the battle where the Sword of the Empire was broken, were killed later that night, presumably by the Claw (who are loyal to Surly). Agayla also says that Oleg Vikat was an acolyte of Hood and a theurgical scholar who “claims to have discovered a foundations understanding of the Warrens.” The man in grey (who attacked Oleg and later Kiska) was a “cultist. A worshipper of the Warren of Shadow” and an assassin.

Kiska thinks Agayla is going to lock her in a room, like she did when there was a purge against all who are talented (possess knowledge of the Warrens…apparently Kiska has some talent). Agayla used her talents to disuade the soldiers from taking her on. But this time Agayla gives her a letter to take to the man Oleg wanted her to give a message to, and sends her out into the night.

Temper takes Coop to the house of Seal who is apparently a healer with a bit of an addiction to the poppy plant. Temper gets his old armor and gear (which Seal was apparently storing for him), borrows some really old stuff that Seal kept of his father’s dumps Coop and heads out.

Kiska has also headed out into the night of Shadows, and is at once disoriented. She remembers the last time, when there was a purge against those with talent, which she had dropped down to the street to save an old man, had almost gotten raped but ended up fighting and knocking out two of three men and scaring off the third. Kiska has some skilz as well as talent! She also apparently has a crossbow this evening. She spies some more grey clad “cultist” figures, and follows them. She comes across a dead girl, with the mark of a Talon, and then spies the gent she was following (this is described a bit vaguely, IMHO) with four bodyguards. She sees more than 50 cultists sneaking in with three tall grey-clad cultists (obviously in charge and bad mama-jammas), and a fight ensues, with two of the man’s bodyguards kills. Just as the man she is following and on of the grey-clad cultists are about to have a magic battle royale (Kiska can sense it) she is grabbed from behind, bound, gagged, hooded and taken.

Kiska hood is taken off and she is in a inn she recognizes as the Southern Crescent. Turns out that she has been taken by the group that Corrin, Temper’s lady friend is part of. She is questioned, slapped, and apparently on the list to be killed (leave no witnesses) when scratching is heard at the door. Long story, short – a Hound comes in, Corrin and the leader and some others bail, and the Hound feasts on most everyone else. Kiska slips under a table, uses her one remaining hidden knife to slice her bonds, and, when the lone survivor pulls out some kind of magic grenade, dives down the stairs and out the door before the place explodes in magic and light.

Back to Temper, who is running around the city. He is drawn by a girl’s cries, and when he picks her up she wraps herself around him, and turns into something with more than two legs and starts to attack him. Just when he is down and it looks like she/it is going to bite his neck off, someone grabs the creature by the head and chops its neck off. That someone turns out to be Edgewalker, who departs after introducing himself as quickly as he came.

Temper cleans himself off in a fountain, then gets the Shadow treatment as the city starts to shift. He heads up – and finds one of the guards he met back at Coop’s Inn walking toward him with his entrails in hand, saying the Hound was behind him. Temper takes off running. A Hound eventually catches him, and though he fights back and hurts it, the Hound leaves Temper with a broken arm, mauled.

Kiska is hiding after her own encounter with a Hound but pulls herself together and takes off again to deliver her message. She takes a shortcut she knows up to Rampart Way, by way of climbing. She reaches a hole, a cave she has hidden in before, but is surprised by someone already hiding there, whom she fights and loses. She recognizes her opponent of the bodyguard of the man she is trying to get the message to. She convinces the bodyguard, who is called Hattar, and she speaks with a man who identifies himself as Artan. She gives him the scroll from Agayla, and Artan asks for her real name (“Kiskatia Silamon Tenesh”). Kiska tells Artan what Oleg said (about conjunction and transubstantiation). He thanks her for the information, then leaves her tied up as Artan and Hattar climb out. Kiska frees herself and follows.

Ch5OldEnemiesChapter Four (though it is labeled Five in my book) – Old Enemies, Old Friends

Who’s the editor that let two chapter five’s out the door in a Malazan series? Oy vey!

The fisherman who was rowing gets overrun by the boat from the intro (Rheni’s Dream) which was encased in an iceberg. An unknown woman goes into a hut where Agayla was knitting, but as she “reached out to gather up the knitting the wool shattered into fragments.”(pg 147). Then Agayla is meeting with Obo, who she tells of the fisherman’s fate and of other things.

“And the fisherman?” Obo asked, cocking a brow at her.
“Overcome. He was out there all alone. They knew how naked we are. They could sense it.”
“That fool, Surly, trying to outlaw magery on the island. Why didn’t she stop to consider why this island should be such a hotbed of talent? Wind-whistlers, sea-soothers, wax-witches, warlocks, Dragons deck readers. You name it. The Riders dare not come within hundreds of leagues.”
“She didn’t know because no one knows, Obo, “Agayla observed. (pg. 148)

She tells him she has recruited someone to their side in the upcoming fight, but won’t tell him who.

Temper dreams of the siege of Y’Ghatan, where he is with Dassem. Dassem has faced and beaten all of the champions – except one.

As they advanced, Temper kept a look ahead for Surgen – Surgen Ress, the man who claimed to be the last of the Holy City’s patroned and anointed champions. Never mind there were only seven Holy Cities and that all seven champions had fallen to Dassem’s sword. He gave life to Y’Ghatan’s claim to be the eighth Holy City, hidden, but the eldest. (pg. 153)

With Temper and his other bodyguards, Dassem advances, easily defeating the normal soldiers (I am assuming here that “patroned” means something like blessed or backed by one of the gods in this world?) as they make their way to Surgen. As Dassem is fighting, Temper sees something flash in front of him and hit Dassem (an arrow or something), wounding him. The bodyguards surround him, each in turn standing between Dassem and Surgen. Temper gets his turn and somehow holds the anointed one off until a wave of Malazan soldiers rescues them. We readers already knew Temper was a baaaad man, but this really pushes home that point.

Temper awakens from his nightmare looking at a hooded man, who has apparently used healing magic. The healer says his people saw Temper’s “duel with Rood”, which is apparently the name of the Hound (in the dramatis personae in the front of Gardens of the Moon, it lists seven Hounds of shadow). Temper is not sure who they are, but there are a lot of these hooded men, who say “We control the island two or three nights every century.” They take Temper to the top of the ridge and show him a strange set of lights, what Temper thinks accompanies manipulations of the warrens. The robed man tells him they think it is a door.

“An entrance to the realm of Shadow. And he who passes through commands that Warren as a King. A stunning possibility, yes?” (pg. 161)

They ask Temper to help defend the door, but offer him safe passage if he refuses. He accepts their offer of safe passage and goes to Rampart Way.

Temper has another flash back, wakening in a medical tent after being healed with only one Dassem’s bodyguards  (Ferrule) alive with him. They are being held under guard by members of the Claw, Surly’s troops. They fight and kill them and go to find Dassem. When they do, he is barely alive, and Surly and three more Claw are in the tent. They “negotiate”, though Temper believes neither side will hold up their end of the bargain. Surly leaves with one of the Claw, leaving the others with reinforcements to to take care of Temper, Dassem and Ferrule. While Ferrule guards him, Temper pulls a blade and thrusts it at Dassem – thus awakening him (or his patron awakened him? The text is unclear). They easily beat the remaining guards and flee. Dassem leaves them to go do something “he must do.”

So Dassem, the sword of the empire, is alive somewhere! Surly covered up their escape, saying they died in a raid from the Holy City troops….which is why Temper has been trying to avoid the Claw. I’m pretty quick on the up-take here….except for those whose suspected this several chapters ago.

Back to Kiska, who has finished her climb to the top of Rampart Way. There are signs of fighting, the mercenaries who had captured her are dead here. The gatekeeper Lubben grabs her from a door and pulls her in. He’s hiding, she borrows a weapon and leaves again. She finds more of the mercenaries dead, but one alive, who tells her that Surly’s Claw had lain in wait and attacked them. She sees a man coming wearing lots of armor brandishing two swards (Temper, obviously) who has two Claw stalking him. He kills one and calls the other “Possum” which was the name of one of the Claw’s Temper fought with to free Dassem.

Kiska heads further up, into the rooms that used to be used by Sub-Fist Pell (who was over the fort until all hell broke loose). Of course she finds Artan and Hattar. She tells them of the crazy armored man, and Artan catches a glimpse of him, and acts like he knows him. They watch as Temper (the crazy armored man) begins talking to a cultist who appears, who Temper obviously knows (and Artan seems to as well). They negotiate and a woman appears on the floor, one whom Kiska recognizes as Corinn (though she doesn’t know her name). They seem Temper take Corinn and walk away.

Then we see the same thing from Temper’s perspective. He passes Lubben’s quarters, kills a Claw who tries to raise a Warren, and keeps going. He fights Possum and the other Claw (killing that one), and heads further up. He meets the one Kiska thought was a cultist – it is Dancer, “Kellanved’s co-conspirator, bodyguard and the top assassin in the empire.” Temper asks for Corinn, and Dancer asks for something in return.

“One last first, Temper. One last service from the last shard of the shattered Sword.”
The last? Something stabbed at Temper’s chest. Truly the last? He seemed unable to breathe. Then Ferrule – even Dassem – dead? (pg. 191)

Dancer wants Temper to fight and send him back to Pralt, the cultist he had met before in the lower city. Temper takes Corrin, but asks Dancer a question, which I’m guessing may be want the entire series ends up being about:

“You two mean to retake the throne?”
The hooded head tilted to one side. Temper imagined a teasing smile. “We’re not here for a lark; you know that. But even from the beginning we didn’t want such an unwieldy entity. A kingdom, an Empire. There are just symbols. Kellanved and I see much further. We’ve always been after greater things.” (pg 192)

Temper takes Corinn back to Lubben’s, and heads back out.

Night of Knives Chapter 5Chapter Five (the real Five) – Feints and Fates

See? Two chapter 5s!!

Dancer has seen Artan, Kiska and Hattar and comes to confront them, calling Artan “Tay.” He suggests they stay where they are, as everyone upstairs is a “participant” (i.e., possible dead meat). They do as he suggests…for a while. Kiska asks and has confirmed that Artan is actually Tayschrenn, Imperial High Mage. He in turn asks her about her background and Kiska finds out that Tayschrenn considers Agayla a “colleague.”

After a while, she asks him what he is thinking:

“I am wondering,” he began, his voice low, puzzled, “just who is trapping whom. Surly has set a trap above for Kellanved. But he picked the time and place long ago – who knows how long – and has been preparing all the while. So perhaps this trap is for her. One she likely recognizes but cannot avoid. She had to come. They both had to come.” Then he frowned. The lines bracketing his mouth deepened into furrows. “And what could he and Dancer hope to gain? Their followers have been killed or scattered. No organized support remains but for Dancer’s Shadow cult, and they gone to ground and so few. Their authority would not be accepted by the Claws – or the governing Fists – should they return.”
“And Oleg. What of his message?”
The magus actually grimaced, touched one temple as if to still a throbbing vein. “Yes. Oleg. Our hermit mystic. A self-mortifier and flagellant. Drive insane, perhaps, by his own blind ambition? Or a prophet foolishly ignored?” He sighed. “If I follow the lines of his reasoning accurately, they lead to suicide for Kellanved and Dancer. That I simply cannot accept. I know those two and neither would allow that.” (pg 202)

They hear something on the floor above them – pacing, then a battle and screams. The three go upstairs (reluctantly taking Kiska with them).

Surly is there, with a bandaged hand and many bodes strewn around (including Ash, the Bridgeburner from the inn). Surly’s surviving claw, Possum and Topper are there. The balcony is destroyed, the impression is that Kellanved and Dancer lost the battle and were blasted off the balcony. Tayschrenn says he was there for a different reason but Surly does not believe him. Surly declares herself Imperial Regent, says she and Tay must plan. He sends Hattar and Kiska away, back down the stairs…where Kiska falls asleep.

Two cultists meet Temper after he has dropped off Corinn. One gets mouthy, threatens Temper, Temper hits him, the cultist pulls a knife and ends up with it in his stomach. The remaining cultist escorts him into Shadow, to the Deadhouse, surrounded by cultists. The one called Pralt tells him what he traded for – a “simple assault” on the Deadhouse.  When Temper says “I ain’t no stalking horse,” Pralt replies “That’s all you’ve ever been.” So Temper’s assault is to be a diversion for Dancer?

Faro and Trenech show up, telling Temper and the cultists not to enter the gate to the Deadhouse. “By crossing the barriers, you weaken them. And that is not to our liking.” (pg. 217). Temper goes in with Pralt and one other cultist…who magically vanish behind the gate, leaving Temper alone.

Agayla and Obo are holding back the forces attacking Malazan Island, when Tayschrenn arrives (he was the assistance that Agayla had talked about at the beginning of Chapter 4). Agayla is obviously exhausted. She tells him that before the dawn they will fail without Tayschrenn’s help.

“Yet some force was forestalling this. Where are they?”
“He has been overcome.”
“He? One against all of this? There is no one. Osserc, perhaps -”
Obo snorted again.
Agayla merely massaged her fingers across her brow. “Really, Tay. You, above all, should know there are ancient powers, those that see past your and Kellanved’s empire-building as just another pass of season. The paths of Ascendancy are far more varied that you image.” Sighing, Agayla straightened. “But now is not the time for that. Surly’s campaign against magery had left him sorely diminished. A fraction of talent remained to draw upon and so he was overwhelmed.” (pg. 220)

Paths to Ascendancy? Sounds like a huge motivation for the entire series, don’t it?

Tayschrenn uses his Thyr Warren (which I’m sure we’ll learn about in the series) and probes the power behind the Stormriders, called the Wandweilders. He senses a power similar to his old master, D’rel, the Worm of Autumn. Agayla asks him what if their goal was not just to get past the barrier at Malaz island, but to get to the House. Could the house withstand that force? With this thought, Tayschrenn joins them to contain the Riders.

Kiska awakens, Corinn the mercenary mage above her, and Lubben with her, but Tayschrenn and Hattar gone. She tells them what she thinks has happened. They decide to go to the House (isn’t everybody?), and Kiska convinces them to take her. Corinn uses the Thyr Warren (the Path of Light), and Kiska steps in after her. Kiska sees images, and Corinn comments that she must be a “natural.” Kiska thinks of Agayla, and then sees her, exhausted by the sea, and warning her away. Somehow (the writing is a bit vague) Kiska again ends up in Shadow, and finds Edgewalker. She sees the House in Shadow (which looks alive) but also sees a glacier (which we assume is the shadow parallel of the Stormriders force/attack against the isle). Edgewalker says that is the more deadly threat in this “Conjunction”. Edgewalker sends her back…right near an assassin, who Kiska kills…but also near a Hound, who Kiska charges but trips and is knocked out.

Temper see a giant stepping out of the house, a giant that Faro calls the Jaghut (whom Edgewalker has also referred to). He tries to leave, but Faro, Trenech, Cultists and Claws prevent it. The Jaghut calls forth skeletons from the ground, and marches toward the gate, flinging Temper out of the way. Temper fights to get out, fighting Cultists, his old Claw ‘pal’ Possum, skeletons and a tree that wraps its tendrils around him.

Kiska wakes up yet again, this time in the Deadhouse with Oleg. Oleg asks about Edgewalker, then he spies a place over the wall where the vines move, smoke and die. Kiska watches as Oleg jumps over the wall and finds a man near the vines who he attacks. Kiska spies his face and believe it is Kellanved. A third figure – “in rags, scarecrow thin with elongated, oddly proportioned limbs” – grabs Kellanved, much to Oleg’s delight. Another person, Dancer appears, grabbing Oleg and throwing him onto Kellanved and the creature who he struggled with. The creature grabs Oleg, and Kellanved and Dancer proceed into the house, and in through a door in the back of it.

Kiska then runs into Tayschrenn, supported by Hattar. She tells them what she saw, and Tayschrenn forcefully tells her that she must be mistaken, as he and Surly have agreed that Kellanved and Hattar are dead and gone. Tayschrenn goes to talk to “the Guardian”, and a battle erupts with the Jaghut trying to escape with Faro, Trenech, and Tayschrenn trying to stop it. Hattar runs in and rescues Tayschrenn, who is unconscious and Kiska and Hattar take him to be healed.

Temper survives, and Corinn finds him. Lubben and Corinn want him to leave, but they see that magic battle at the gate. Temper finds Faro, a smoldering ruin, and Faro tells him to “step into the gap, soldier.” Temper realizes that the Jaghut cannot be allowed to get through the gate. He “receives the Guardianship” from Faro as he dies. Temper asks Corinn if she can shield him from the magic energies surrounding the Jaghut. She responds “for a heartbeat.”

Temper and Lubben attack the Jaghut, with Lubben quickly thrown aside. Temper defends, not attacking, with something giving him strength (maybe a patronage? the gods choosing sides?). Soon, the Jaghut stops fighting, and starts talking. It’s name is Jhenna, a name it expects Temper to know. It says it was a teacher of humans long ago, defending them from the K’Chain. Then it asks Temper to name his price to stand aside. He declines. The Jaghut says it has brought Temper to its Warren, where his battle would go on forever. As the Jaghut is taunting Temper, Edgewalker walks up. Edgewalker announces that the Riders have been repulsed, and the Shadow cultists have withdrawn. The Jaghut continues to push Temper to stand aside, and Temper asks Edgewalker to tell him what is truth in what the Jaghut says. The Jaghut finally realizes that Temper is the Temper of the Sword, and tells him that Daseem Ultor is alive. But the Jaghut had been stalling, Temper finds his legs and torso encased in ice. Some energy allows him to explode the ice and fend off the sudden resumption of attacks of the Jaghut. The Jaghut attacks furiously, then is hit by weapons thrown from behind Temper. The House sucks the Jaghut back into the ground, as Corinn and Lubben grab Temper who has passed out. It is dawn. The Conjunction appears to be over.

Chapter Six – Resolutions

Kiska awakens to find herself in Coop’s tavern and healed by Seal. She gets a message that the men who she came in with (Hattar and Tayschrenn) are down at the wharf. She runs down to the wharf, finds them and is taken as an apprentice. She runs and tell Agayla and her mother good bye.

Temper is back at guard duty the next day, acting like nothing happened. The guards and his officer only know that there was an assassination attempt, but nobody saw anything.

Epilogue

Edgewalker comes across two prone figures, encountering an old man he calls “Lord” and Cotillion. Based on how the plot has gone, I assume these are Kellavaned and Dancer, now rulers of Shadow. Edgewalker says to himself that this could “continue the possibility of…progression.”

Some of the folks of the island find a body washed up, that of an injured Rider. The Rider speaks to the old man, asking him “Why are you killing us?” before the old man does just that, slicing the Rider’s throat, surprised by the red blood.

 

the-heart-of-what-was-lost

book notes: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

The long wait for the return to Osten Ard is almost over. I was grateful to be given an opportunity by Tad Williams and his wife Deborah Beale to read an advanced copy of The Heart of What Was Lost (available at the beginning of January). Returning there was indeed the sweet breath of cold fresh icy Nakkiga mountain air that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MSantT) fans have been waiting for. And, since it made me want more, luckily the three books in the new series, The Last King of Osten Ard, are not far behind.

Full disclosure: this is based on an advanced copy. Slight spoilers may be below. If you don’t want to read further, the TL;DR of this review is…it sure as hell was worth the wait…but makes the months until The Witchwood Crown seem like an eternity.

I normally include snippets from the book in my notes to emphasize certain thoughts, but in deference to the author and readers of this unreleased book, I will forego that practice here.

After wars there is hatred. If you’ve ever talked to an American veteran of World War 2 who experienced the Pacific battles, many of them had an undying hatred of the Japanese. And that hatred was reciprocated. It may heal over time, but directly after the conflict it is fierce.

Tad Williams captures this (and other points) scarily well in this novel that takes place shortly after the battle at the Hayholt at the end of To Green Angel Tower. Duke Isgrimnur, whose son Isorn was killed by Pryrates and Norns in that battle, leads an army of Rimmersmen and others to chase the Norns as they retreat north, all the way back to Nakkiga. The Duke’s men’s increasingly fervent goal is genocide, to completely exterminate the Norns. Though tired of war, they are propelled by a hatred and an “it’s us or them” mentality (as it was the Norn’s intention to end the human race with The Storm King and Utuk’ku’s plans).

The Norns return the harsh sentiment. In MSandT the reader saw little of the Norn viewpoint, save for small vignettes from Utuk’ku. In The Heart of What Was Lost, as hoped for, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a very complex and developed Norn society, as one would expect from a people who had been around for many human lifetimes. The Norns believe, rightly so, that they are fighting for their very existence. With their Queen Utuk’ku in a deep sleep of recovery after her part in the battle, they are on their own. And their is “court intrigue” as those leaders who would normally bow to Utuk’ku vie for leadership roles and influence in what remains of the Norm kingdom.

There are dark parts of this novel, parts that remind me of Williams’ writing in Happy Hour in Hell (reviewed here on the archived and Hugo-award winning SFSignal) from his Bobby Dollar series (a series I highly recommend, and hope Williams continues to write…AFTER he’s finished The Last King of Osten Ard, of course). There is a viciousness to the battle scenes and tactics not seen in MSandT but appropriate for the enmity of these two armies. In MSandT, when a long-lived Sitha was killed, there was an almost palpable sorrow in the writing…that one who had lived so long and had so long yet to live would perish. In this novel, perhaps because there is so much death for the Norns, that sentiment is different; it is the blasphemy of genocide that permeates each Norn death. 

There is not much character development in the humans (we’ve known the Duke and Sludig through thousands of pages, so not much is needed), other than the view of a Pedruin named Porto who gives the common soldier’s perspective. This is well played, as in any war the common soldier normally wants nothing more than to survive and return home, and desires the same for his brothers-in-arms. Porto portrays this well, as the hatred of the Norns is left mostly for others (save when the Norn violence hits close to him), and Porto stays, committed to his fellow men but constantly pining for distant, warmer places…and survival.

I admit that after the mysteriousness of the Norns in MSanT (which fed their mystique), as a reader I was apprehensive about seeing them as real characters, and losing that veil of unknowing. But that apprehension faded the as the story moved. The Norns are paraded out for all to see, with their family histories and specialities: Singers, Builders, Sacrifices. Simply put – Singers work with magic, Builders build and Sacrifices are soldiers – an interesting but appropriate name for the riskiest job of a long-lived people. Family histories are hinted at and in some cases revealed. The Norns have human slaves as well, unlike the Sithi. One wonders if this was another of the reasons for the split between the two (Sithi and Norn), or if the Sithi learned to survive without the Dwarrows (the other part of the Gardenborn who were used mostly as slaves) better than the Norns. It would be interesting (and perhaps will be revealed?) to learn if the Norn builders learned from the dwarrows how to do their craft of bending stone to will. And, though hinted at here (no spoilers), it will be interesting to see how the Norns and their slaves change in the The Last King of Osten Ard. There are several great new characters to follow into the forthcoming series.  

There is a building suspense in the question of whether the Norns would survive, fed by notes interspersed amongst the novel from a Chronicler of the Norns (Lady Miga). With The Last King of Osten Ard series looming, and the Norns set to play a roll in those tomes, there is little room for such suspense of whether the Norns would be wiped out. But there is uncertainty on which of the long-lived Norns will survive and how the Norns will be changed; and how, if at all, the humans like the Duke will be changed from this last ordeal. One assumes this book would be the Duke’s last hurrah, as the Last King series is said to be set 30-40 years after these events. The Duke is already an old man, and one would assume he would not make an appearance. From my standpoint, he will certainly be missed; his characterization was outstanding throughout the entire MSanT series, as well as in this addition to the canon.

With MSandT there were some glimpses of the Garden, of the time before the Gardenborn (Norns, Sitha and Dwarrows) were driven out by “Unbeing.” And there is a bit more of that in The Heart of What Was Lost. As we are shown a more complete vision of the Norns world in this novel, I hope we see more of the history of the “Garden” and what really drove them out in the next series..

One note on the setting, the descriptions of which show the effort Williams puts into such things: much of the latter half of MSandT took place in the cold, in winter-like conditions, and this book has more of the same. As the locale moves further north, the weather grows colder. It is amazing how Cali-based Williams can write the cold so much that the reader knows, even feels, how much the characters abhor it.

This is a novel that requires an extensive background in Osten Ard (or at least of the events of To Green Angel Tower), but given Mr. Williams’ tendencies in all of his series, this book will be prefaced by a “What had gone before” section to catch up old and new readers. This practice should be the norm among writers on long works and series, other than expecting readers to re-read or catch-up via Internet scraps. There are already (as of December 1) photos around the InterWebs of some spectacular maps that will be included in the book. Hopefully this will be accompanied by “previous events in the series” blurb for new readers…and there should be a lot of new readers. This series influenced the legion of great fantasy writers that are being published today (for more background on this, see this SFSignal article).

It’s been more than two decades since To Green Angel Tower, the last book in MSandT, was released. The 1990s were a different world, or so they seem. But Tad’s books have remained timeless. I, like many, have so been looking forward to this continuation, so much that I hope, in typical Tad fashion, he turns The Last King of Osten Ard “trilogy” into a 4 or 5 book set! (or at least a record setting length for the books).

dan_simmons_-_fires_of_eden

book notes: Fires of Eden by Dan Simmons

I honestly thought I had read all of Dan Simmons works, but was proved wrong when I stumbled upon Fires of Eden. Written in 1994 (just before Endymion was released, the third book in the Hyperion cantos, if that helps to place it in a timeline), it is, as many of Mr. Simmons novels are, an interweaving a some historical facts, some myths and lots of imagination. There are two timelines running in parallel:

  • an 1866 timeline involving Samuel Clemens (yes, Mark Twain) and Lorena Stewart (who appears to be based on the travel writer Isabella Bird, based on some of the titles that Simmons attributes to Ms. Stewart, and who wrote a travelogue about the Hawaiian Islands (source));
  • and a modern timeline following one of Ms. Stewarts modern day relatives Eleanor, her new friend Cordie Stumpf, and Byron Trumbo, a bombastic billionaire real-estate mogul who I would say was based on Donald Trump had not Mr. Simmons mentioned Trump as a rival of Trumbo’s.

The main conflict in both timelines is the eruption of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawai’i, caused by the on-going fight between the goddess Pele and her enemies (of which there are many) brought about to some extent by kahuna (Hawaiian shaman) invoking her name to get the haoles (non-Hawaiians) kicked out of Hawai’i.

This myth is discussed in several texts. From Fundamentals of Hawaiian Mysticism:

In one well-known myth, Pele, the volcano goddess, engages in a colossal battle with her would-be lover, Kamapua’a, the hog god, during which she tries to annihilate him with fiery lava and he tries to quench her fires with ocean waves. (pg. 27).

Simmons description of this is much more entertaining, told by Eleanor to Cordie while they are drinking an adult beverage called “Pele’s Fires” at the resort owned by Trumbo. It is interesting and effective author choice that has two haole are explaining Hawaiian mythos while drinking adult beverages. I’ve edited out Cordie’s non-essential rejoinders (sorry, Dan):

Eleanor took a sip of Pele’s Fire, cleared her throat and started again. “Pele is not one of the older gods, but she comes from the best family. Her father was said to be Moe-moea-au-lii, literally “the Chief Who Dreamed of Trouble,” but he disappeared early on and doesn’t figure into any of Pele’s later tales…”
“Typical male,” muttered Cordie, and sipped her drink. “Go on.”
“Yes…well, Pele’s mother was Maumea, sometimes known as Hina or La’ila’i. In her various forms, Haumea is the supreme female spirit, goddess of women’s work and fertility, the mother of all the lesser gods and of all of humankind, and and generally the female counterpart to all the male power in the universe.”
“Right on,” said Cordie, and lifted a clenched fist.

“Pele’s powers were created out of the womb of the Earth Mother the ancient Hawaiians called Papa,” said Eleanor.

“The ancients saw the universe balanced only in the embrace of opposites,” said Eleanor. “Male light penetrating female darkness , begetting a universe of opposites.

“Pele came late to these islands,” continued Eleanor, regaining her storyteller voice. “Her canoe was guided by Ka-moho-ali’i…”
“Hey, that’s the shark king you were talking about earlier,” said Cordie. “The old man of the brat who tried to eat me today. Sorry…I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“You’re right,” said Eleanor. “Ka-moho-ali’i was Pele’s brother. Back in Bora-Bora, where the both came from, he was also known as the king of the dragons. Anyway, he helped lead Pele’s canoe to Hawaii. She landed first at Niihau and then moved on to Kauai. Being the goddess of fire, Pele had a magic digging tool – I think it was called Paoa. She used Paoa to dig fire pits in which she could live, but the sea kept rolling in and quenching her flames. Pele moved down the island chain until she came here to the Big Island, where she eventually found Kilauea to be just right. That’s been her home for thousand’s of years.”

“Anyway, before she settled here, Pele got in a huge battle of Maui with her older sister, Na-maka-o-Kaha’i, the goddess of the sea…”
….
“Pele and her sister slugged it out until Pele was killed,” said Eleanor.
“Killed?” Cordie looked confused.
“The gods have mortal sides,” said Eleanor. “When Pele lost hers, she became even more powerful as a goddess. And because she died here in Hawaii, her spirit could be free to fly to the volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, where she lives to this day.”
Cordie was frowning. “I thought that Pele could appear as a mortal…”
“She can,” said Eleanor. “It’s just that she’s not mortal anymore.”

“It get’s complicated,” agreed Eleanor. “For instance, Pele is the goddess of fire, but she can’t make fire…that’s a male perogative. But she can control it, and she does on these islands. She has several brothers, also gods, who control thunder, explosions, fountains of lava, the so-called rain of fire…all the noisier and more dramatic but less powerful aspects of fire.” (pg 289-291)

 The Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain historical fact integration follows Clemens’ adventures in Hawaii somewhat. In Clemens autobiography (have you not yet read this? egads!) there is a section entitled “My Debut as a Literary Person” where he talks about chatting with the survivors of the U.S. S. Hornet and being in the “Sandwich Islands” (as Hawai’i was called by some) in the 1860s:

I had been in the Islands several months when the survivors arrived. I was laid up in my room at the time, and unable to walk. Here was a great occasion to serve my journal, and I not able to take advantage of it. Necessarily I was in deep trouble. But by good luck his Excellency Anson Burlingame was there at the time, on his way to take up his post in China where he did such good work for the United States. He came and put me on a stretcher and had me carried to the hospital where the shipwrecked men were, and I never needed to ask a question. He attended to all of that himself, and I had nothing to do but make the notes. It was like him to take that trouble. He was a great man, and a great American; and it was in his fine nature to come down from his high office and do a friendly turn whenever he could. We got through with this work at six in the evening. I took
Twain, Mark; Smith, Harriet E.; Griffin, Benjamin; Fischer, Victor; Frank, Michael B. (2010-11-15). Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (p. 128). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Thus the timeline is set for Mr. Simmons’ purposes. Both the past and current timeline participants first try to comprehend the Hawaiian mysticism that they find themselves in, and then they participate in ancient rituals as if they are believers. While this transformation of belief has neither the slow downward spiral of drug-induced belief of Drood (still one of my favorite books) or the reality scariness of The Terror, the book relates well the unrepentant belief of a native peoples in their gods…even a peoples trod on and trampled like the Hawaiians. There is a bit of foreshadowing of Black Hills in this novel, of native americans getting trod on and seeking a type of revenge of their own making.

Overall, yet another enjoyable read…but one that makes me question my memory and forces a review of Dan Simmons’ bibliography!

Dan Simmons And Me

Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

About a 45 minute drive from where we are in Tomball north toward Montgomery is the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. We did not know about it at all until this past Saturday when they held their open house.  It is a fascinating place, housing thirteen wolves (at least when we were there) in a variety of enclosures. They are a 501(c)(3)  non-profit, and the annual open house is their big yearly fund raiser.
Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

 

There are a number of ways to visit the sanctuary, almost all (except the open house) are by appointment only (link here). I highly recommend visiting by an arranged appointment vs. the open house…there were tons of people at the open house, and the road to get to the Sanctuary had cars backed up quite a ways and parked on the side of the road for a long way.

The sanctuary consists for about seven enclosures which have two wolves each. There are two “ambassador” wolves (Tala and Meeko, who is jet black) that were out for pictures as part of the open house.  The wolves were, for the most part, lounging (except for Romulus, pictured above, who shared enclosure #7 with snow white Rafiki who never left the house). When they brought Meeko back from his photo ops and took Tala out, most of the wolves got up and paced.

That’s Rajah and Lapua (enclosure #5) greeting their neighbor Meeko, who shares enclosure #6 with Tala who was taking her turn with the photos. The video below is the wolf being taken out.

I’m not sure why all the wolves get excited when one of their number comes back or gets taken out, other than the obvious concepts of greeting, wanting to be let out, or some other pack-like emotion.

Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

The highlight of the open house was Romulus, who stayed close to the fence in spite of (or perhaps because of) the large number of people…including young kids howling, hoping to elicit a response. For the most part, he just sat there, but he did get up and pace. One of the volunteers who was talking to visitors said that the younger wolves were kept toward the end where Romulus and the ambassador wolves were kept, so it makes some sense that the younger ones would be more active.

Below is a picture of enclosure #4, home of Echo and Achilles. You can barely see one of them close to the hut, but the picture gives you a good idea of what the wolves enclosure look like.

Saint Francis Wolf SanctuaryThe Sanctuary has an on-going fund raiser to move to a new sanctuary location, which plans for a much larger enclosure. The relocation fund and the plans for the enclosure and new location can be found here.

For those of you driving from Houston, I suggest using Waze (someone has added the location and it took us right to it) or following the directions on the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary’s web page.

 

McKinney Falls

McKinney Falls State Park

Above Lower Falls McKinney Falls State ParkMcKinney Falls State Park is about 6 miles from downtown Austin and 3 miles from my son’s apartment. We hiked there on a sunny September Sunday. (For links to our other State Park hikes, see Brazos Bend and Huntsville).

Like many of the State Parks in Texas, McKinney Falls has a long history. Thomas F. McKinney was one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists, and the remains of his house are still in the park. There is an excellent book from the Texas State Historical Association on McKinney Falls (link here) that gives a great view of its history.

It is $6 per person to get into the park. We hiked the Homestead Trail (the longest listed trail in the park at 3.1 miles) and portions of Rock Shelter Trail (to the point where it was blocked) and Picnic Trail, and spent time around both the Upper and Lower Falls.

After entering the park and taking the first right, there are three parking lots at the trailhead to Homestead Trail. It is a short walk over part trail, part rock formation to get to the Lower Falls. Though there at not been much rain lately (as usual) the falls was still flowing and there were quite a few swimmers at the lower falls.

Lower Falls McKinney Falls StatePark

 

Just past the waterfall (either a short rock to rock jump or a wade through the water) the trail continues. We found a sign that pointed toward the Homestead one way and the Gristmill the other; we chose to head toward the Homestead.

The Homestead is from the late 1840s and was (according the the sign) occupied by the McKinney’s until Thomas McKinney’s death in the house in 1873. Several families lived in it until it burned in the 1940s.

McKinney Homestead McK
Homestead Trail is pretty overgrown; I do not know if this is normal or just from the time of year when we were there. The ground was pretty dry and cracked in places, so given the dry conditions it wasn’t recent rains that had it overgrown. There were certain places where we had to duck under the overhanging brush.

McKinney Falls State Park

There were some open parts and a little bit of elevation change, but not much. And there were places where you would walk out of the brush and see office buildings or a golf course – one of the “features” of being in a state park this close to a major city.

McKinney Falls State Park
There were a lot of dogs in the park. Some, like this one, seemed to know the trail quite well, as he was taking his owners on a walk.
Dog at McKinney Falls
There were a couple of places where we could have taken additional trails (Flint Rock Loop Trail, which intersects with Williamson Creek Overlook trail – combining these would provide for an almost six mile hike), but we stayed on Homestead Trail. We finally got back around the the remains of Thomas McKinney’s grist mill, which was interesting (there must have been more water there at that time, but it was bone dry there now) but there wasn’t much left of it.
Gristmill McKinney Falls
And then we came back to the lower falls from the other side.
Lower Falls McKinney Falls
As we walked back toward the trailhead, you can see the large limestone covering that you walk over to get to the falls. It was still before noon but it was already getting warm on those rocks. I’d imagine in the hot Texas summer afternoon sun it would not be a place to be…unless you were heading for a dip in the water.
McKinney Falls State Park
We then intended to hike along Picnic Trail (the picnic tables gave the name away) and Rock Shelter Trail to get to the Upper Falls. We made it to the Rock Shelter, which we read had been in use as a shelter by people for nearly 4,000 years. There were also some trails that you could scramble down to get a look at Onion Creek.
Rock Shelter McKinney Falls
But the trail was closed right where “Old Baldy” (a large tree) was. We weren’t informed of this at the ranger station, but it wasn’t a long trail so turning around was not difficult. In the picture below you can see “Old Baldy” in the middle. It looks like the rails on the wooden walkway were down and the bridge had other damage.
Trail Closed
With no hiking options, we drove to Upper Falls, which had more swimmers and divers that the Lower Falls did.
Upper Falls
Here’s a short video to show the extent of Upper Falls.

Overall, it was a very convenient park with some short trails and a couple of really nice waterfall swimming holes.

Upper Falls

Drowzee

Pokemon Go for Runners, Developers and Businesses

RealWorldPokemonWorldBack in the day, my son collected Pokemon cards, played Pokemon on Gameboy, and taught me about Pikachu, Snorlaxes, and other interesting creatures…as I’m sure the kids of many others my age did. As my son grew older, he gave his Pokemon card collection to someone much younger who had more enthusiasm (a very generous move, one he semi-regretted when he saw the prices for some of those cards on eBay!) and moved on to other things. Now in his mid-twenties, my son and I are playing Pokemon Go, semi-together from 200 miles away.

Despite the articles about “nerd herd” and getting the geeks out from behind their computers (which is a pretty good thing, IMHO), in addition to the afore mentioned family camaraderie (and I loudly applaud those friends of mine that are actively playing with their kids), there are other obvious reasons certain people should become familiar with this app/game:

DEVELOPERS

Pokemon Go is the top Free app (with in-app purchases) on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in the US, the UK and multiple other countries, and has been there since it’s release. It is the fastest app to reach 10 million downloads worldwide, reaching that mark in seven days (source). It also currently leads all apps in daily usage time (i.e., how long do users actually have the app opened). (source).

It did have a bit of a head start in both content and database:

  • The game is built on top of Ingress (which is a game similar in play to Pokemon Go, but with a different story line), which is also a game put out by Niantic. From what I understand, all of the locations and landmarks in Pokemon Go originated from the database that Ingress uses.
  • The content head start is obvious – the previous cards and games provide not only for the 151 pokemon in the current game, but fodder for expansion in later games…and a knowledgable audience familiar with how the game might work.

PokemonGoAppAnniepng

There are some characteristics of the game that are familiar, especially to those familiar with previous pokemon games. But the basics are similar to anyone who has used any count/goal based program: collect everything and level up. This is a common development model, whether it is for a beer drinking app like Untappd (see my breakdown of the Untappd app here), a healthcare/shopping app like Walgreens or game apps. There are badges for most everything (similar to programs like Untappd) though I seem to rarely look at them, other than for counts.

PokemonGoARThere are some characteristics that are missing,

  • there isn’t any type of social sharing (like on Untapped where you can toast a friend’s beer check in, you cannot high five your friends when they get a rare pokemon).
  • a user cannot see their friend in game. Though this would be great for multi-player play, it would certainly complicate the program, and could enable a bit of stalking (if it were done without a type of permission).

These are holes that will be filled, either in future releases or by independent developers. There are already examples of an entire ecosystem springing up around the game; Chat apps (see this developer’s app blog) as an example, I assume to be used to tell people when a rare pokemon is near. There are also several hacks, such as maps that use the app protocols to determine locations of pokemon, pokestops, etc. (most of these can be found in the pokemondev sub on reddit). Some of these are getting shutdown; one even mentioned a “cease and desist” order.

The “augmented reality” piece, where you can use your device’s camera to see pokemon on the background of the real world, is interesting but unnecessary in this game. It is such a battery sucker that I do not know of any players that have not yet turned it off. It is being used primarily as a novelty (I found a pokemon at a landmark) or by businesses to lure pokemon hunters in.

ENTREPRENEURS and INVESTORS

The estimates of how much the game has made the various parties varies. One estimate says that Apple, purely on the percentage that they receive from in-app purchases through the app, will make $3 BILLION in revenue over the next couple of years (source). Since Apple gets 30% of in-app purchases, that would imply an estimate of $7 BILLION in revenue for Niantic (one would assume this gets shared with Nintendo for licensing).

There is, of course, no need to spend money in the game if you choose not to (full disclosure: I do not). Sensor Tower is estimating $1.6 million per day in the US spent. And the app has not yet been launched in Japan where the average spend per mobile user is higher, and the Pokemon craze is even more rabid.

Nintendo’s stock price doubled following the release of the app (chart here) though it has retreated a bit from those highs.

Local businesses are taking advantage as well. Yelp now lets users filter based on pokestop locations. Many shopping areas and downtowns will have multiple pokestops near them. In the game, there are items known as “Lures” which do what the name implies (they lure pokemon to a pokestop for 30 minutes). When this happens, the pokestop lights up on the map, shooting purple pieces up like flares. Small businesses near pokestops are dropping these lures to lure people in while they hunt.

ServerProblemsINFRASTRUCTURE and SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS

Pokemon Go is almost as well-known these first few weeks for server crashes as it is for having more users than most other applications. Since Niantic spun out of Google, one would assume that they have Google infrastructure. They don’t have Amazon Web Services (AWS), as the Amazon CTO has humorously repeatedly offered health over twitter whenever the servers are down.

As the game added multiple countries over this past weekend (July 16), the servers supporting the game crashed repeatedly, causing the game to be in operable most of that Saturday morning.

The image on the right is all that the players see. There is no notice that the game is having server issues. So users either continue to press “retry” (which comes up after a few minutes of this screen) or kill the app and start over…both of which cause more login attempts and impact on the servers.

From a capacity planning standpoint, one would assume that there would be a trending analysis done on the initial implementation based in the United States before adding in the multiple additional countries. Either this was not done or it was done incorrectly, causing capacity to crash the servers.

This is tolerated somewhat humorously (check out the Pokemon Go reddit forums for examples) for now. But if there are tours, events and other plans made around the app ( as there were that Saturday), this will not be acceptable by the user community for long.

Interestingly as of this writing, Niantic is advertising for a Software Engineer – Server Infrastructure...probably a much needed position just now!

RUNNERS

My fellow joggers: we have an enormous advantage in this game of Pokemon Go. And this infuriates my son…and is the only reason I can even begin to keep up with him in this game (and with the many teenagers that are on summer break and do not have to work). That advantage is that mileage matters in several different facets of the program:

  • To hatch eggs, the player has to travel either 2K, 5K or 10K – depending on the type of egg. This distance cannot be travelled in a car (many have tried) so it certainly favors runners. During these summer months, I average 25-30 miles a week which builds up to a lot of hatched eggs.
  • When using incense (which I call perfume, much to the chagrin of my son), the player will see more pokemon if he moves at a faster rate. I’ve seen some tests where if you are stationary the player will only see a pokemon every five minutes with the incense, but when moving quickly the player sees one every minute. When you do this as a runner, I highly suggest that you make sure you have enough pokeballs.
  • If you have a Lucky Egg (which doubles your XP earning for 30 minutes) this could be a great combination with incense while running. I did this twice, for parts of two separate four mile run, averaging between a 9:00 and 9:45 pace in the lovely South Texas heat and humidity. In the 30 minutes the incense and Lucky Egg was active on the first instance I caught 21 Pokemon (missed 1) and gained 6000 XP. So…not quite one per minute, but not bad. On the second, I caught 25 and missed one, gained 9000 XP.

It may be obvious, but the downsides to running with the game are:

  • Pace is slower (at least mine is) due to distraction. I had been able to flick the pokeballs while running, but it only took running out of pokeballs once to stop that foolishness. Now some of those one-handed throws are acting like curveball throws, without me meaning to throw them. That may be related to the next problem.
  • Down here in Southeast Texas, sweat is a problem. When I run, it is usually 80 degrees and 70-80% humidity. Very irritating to try and throw a pokeball while running with sweat on your fingers. It can be done, but who needs those kind of challenges. And as I mentioned in the previous bullet, I’m seeing some unintentional curveball throws, which may be due to me sweating on the screen.

I have an old Google Glass from an earlier development project. Glass would be a great accessory for this game, and for all games that combine real-world with augmented reality. The ability to see landmarks and have heads-up display facts and stats was one of the benefits of Glass. Unfortunately, the issues it had, particularly with battery life, would have to be fixed. And it had a sweat problem (i.e., sweat be bad for Glass). But image just running along and speaking commands to Glass about throwing Pokeballs…those that make claims of “nerd herd” would have a field day with that one!

My current collection is below. Have fun!

covergkq

It is time for Jerry Kramer to be nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

JerryKramerLombardiThe Pro Football Hall of Fame contains many Green Bay Packers. All-pro Jerry Kramer is not one of them.

Six-time AP All-Pro, three Pro-Bowls, the only player on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team NOT in the HoF, a member of five NFL Championship teams in seven years…is not in the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Kramer’s stats on Pro Football Focus are here for those who would like to see them.

The Hall of Fame Seniors Committee is meeting in a few weeks to nominate next years senior members. Below is a note I’ve written to one of those members, John McClain of the local Houston Chronicle. I will send addition notes to Seniors Committee members whose addresses I can find. The addresses I’ve found I will post below.

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Dear John,

I hope you are well. I’ve enjoyed reading you through the years, especially during the Luv Ya Blue days. My mom still has her Luv Ya Blue wardrobe. She never got into the Texans.

I never did either…mainly because I’ve been a Packers fan for about 45 years, and was so when our family moved to Houston back in the late 1960s. I was in elementary school.

When we lived in Florida, I bought the Bart Starr biography through the scholastic book club in elementary school. My Dad saw me reading it, and found a copy of Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer’s Packer Diary. Though it was a bit of a tougher book for me to read, I ate it up. It was a great gift…especially since my Dad was a Cowboys fan. 

I was barely old enough to understand football when the Pack was winning their NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls. And then the hard years of being a Packers fan ensued. Kramer’s book, and watching those old games, got me through the tough Packer decades of the 70s and 80s.

I know that I do not have to recite Mr. Kramer’s resume (six-time AP All-Pro, three Pro-Bowls, the only player on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team NOT in the HoF, a member of five NFL Championship teams in seven years) to you, as I’m sure the Senior Committee has run through that. And I understand the objections of having too many players from the same team in the Hall.

And, I will admit, I cannot be objective about it. Mr. Kramer’s book, and Mr. Kramer’s team, led me to a life long love of the Packers. When I moved to Texas, at the time I was told I was the youngest person receiving the Packer Backer newsletter (you’ll remember, we had no Internet back in the day). Granted, there was little good news (other than the occasional John Brockington 1,000+ yard season). Thanks to my wife, I’ve been to Lambeau a few times (the first was a birthday present), and through the Packer Hall of Fame. Kramer is there, of course. 

I hope he is one of the two nominations this year. I do not know all of the eligible players stats and records. But Mr. Kramer has certainly been passed over for too long.

Best regards, and thanks,

Larry Ketchersid

Tomball, TX

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This site has a current list of members of the Seniors Committee and how you can contact them. I encourage you all, Packer fan or not, to send them a note of “encouragement.” Please be polite and respectful as you contact them.

 

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The Lights are still out at SFSignal

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 5.13.35 AMI glanced at SFSignal this morning, and, as expected, there were no posts yesterday, May 6, 2016. None. Zero.

After 12 years of not missing a day, John got a well-deserved day off.

Some have speculated (ok, some = me) that somewhere in that decade-plus there must have been at least one day. I certainly am not going back through 12 years of archives to double check that claim. One year of posting every day is pretty spectacular; posting for 12 years, through family events and crisis, through Houston hurricanes and thunderstorms, and through the demands of a full-time job…well that’s an extraordinary accomplishment.

What did John do yesterday, with that extra 4-5 hours? Sleep? Have an extra bag of bagels? Catch up on his reading? Run a marathon? 

John has three Hugos, deservedly so. He should have one for every year for the amount of time, effort, care and feeding he has put into the website for so many years (with his only pay being books sent to him by publishers/authors and a small bit of online ad revenue). John recused himself from any more awards after winning the two Fanzine Hugos, mainly because he believes there were others out there like him that put their sweat and time into it and should have a chance to win. He should get another Hugo just for that … and that describes John pretty well. He did it because he really REALLY liked science fiction. He didn’t care about the politics, or the puppies (I’m not sure he likes cats either)…he just liked the genre.

I’ve taken advantage of John’s kindness and good humor and have thus been writing occasional posts for SFSignal for eight years.  I met John in 2007 after I sent in a query to see if there was interest in reviewing a copy of my first book. When he gave me the shipping address, I emailed him that I could walk it to his house faster than the USPS would get it there (sadly true for many transactions these days). We both had worked at Compaq, so we met.

It started out as a great way to get great books before anyone else and interview some very cool people…and meet some outstanding fellow contributors, first online, then at a few of the conventions.

Because of John and SFSignal, last year alone I was able to interview two gentlemen whose works are on my “read everything they put out” list: the legendary Michael Moorcock, and Robert Charles Wilson. I still owe them both a beer (or do they owe me one?), and Mr. Moorcock is in a city where I visit often, so I certainly intend to collect that one.

I was given the opportunity to interview Andy Weir, the legendary James Gunn, and several others. John let me indulge myself with a Doc Savage Primer, a John Carter primer, even an article on Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and its place in Fantasy canon (Fantasy? On SFSignal? Ye Gads!).

And then…there were the books. Did I mention the books?

Now…it’s over. I hope John and JP have taken the time, after the overwhelming outpouring of thanks and support they received in the last couple of days, to reflect on this massive thing that they built. Twelve years…it is quite an accomplishment.

I’m pretty sure John still owes me bagels….and I intend to collect…many times in the future.

Thank you, John, for the opportunities. And…did I mention the books?
HugoAwardWinner-Fanzine2013HugoAwardWinner-Fanzine2012

Xcode capitalization problem

Xcode – Simulator vs. Device: CAPITALIZATION matters

There are, obviously and intuitively, differences between testing an iOS app on the Xcode simulator, and testing on a real device. The obvious ones run the gamut from no camera on the simulator to the way the keyboard works differently on both. The intuitive ones, in my mind, come from the fact that the Simulator is running on a different operating system (OSX) than the devices (iOS) that the app is intended for.

The difference that repeatedly bites me is: CAPITALIZATION matters.

The majority of the apps I do at JoSara MeDia are HTML5 apps in a framework called Baker. If you are interested, the rationale behind this is that most of the apps are either coming from books or eBooks (and hence are already in a format close to HTML, like ePub) or are heading in that direction (so we want to make conversion easy).

I was putting in a very nice jPlayer-based audio player (called jquery.mb.miniAudioPlayer, checkout the link, it is quite well done), and it looked great on the simulator, as you can see on the screenshots below. I tested it on several different simulator devices – all looked as expected, all performed the autoplay function, when expected.

Quebradillas Audio 2

In case you are interested, this is from a forthcoming “coffee table poetry book as an app” project called Quebradillas.

Quebradillas Audio 1

But, once I transferred the app to a device (either through cable or TestFlight) the audio player graphics did not make the transition (see screenshot below). And neither did the autoplay functionality.

Quebradillas on Device

 

Xcode capitalization problemThe culprit, of course, was two instance of capitalization. One was in the name of the included css file – in the head of the two pages, the “q” in “jquery” was lower case, and, as you can see from the Xcode screenshot, the file name itself was “jQuery.” This was acceptable in the simulator, which runs on OSX, but would not work (and, interestingly, did not pop up an error anywhere) on the devices tested (iOS). After looking at the javascript code in the jquery plugin, I could see that the “Vm” and “P” were icon placeholders…which lead me to the css file misspelling.

The autoplay issue was, again, capitalization: the parameter in one of the examples had autoplay in camelCase (i.e., autoPlay), but in the mb.miniAudioPlayer.js, the parameter was simply “autoplay.”

 

By noting this, I aim to remind my future self to use capitalization as one of the first items to check when apps look different in the simulator vs. on the device, especially when using HTML5 app frameworks.

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That time my wife and I saw Prince live at the Super Bowl

We didn’t think he’d come out. I sure wouldn’t have. The “It never rains at the Super Bowl” adage had come crashing down like so many gallons of sticky, cool moisture. We were enjoying the game, but we were freezing in the rain and the wind…freezing in southern Florida

My wife had won tickets to the Super Bowl (if you like, you can read about that trip here). Audrey was pulling for Peyton. As a lifetime Packers fan, I was pulling against the Bears. But we were mainly there for the experience.

And the halftime show, the only one I’ve seen line and one of the best I’ve ever seen, was a great part of that experience.

There was grumblings around us that Prince was going to play superstar and play his set from the tunnel. Folks were claiming to be “in the know”… and of course, they weren’t. Prince not only came out, he nailed it. And, like they say in this video, when he started singing Purple Rain, we got even more drenched. He must have used some of that Prince Purple Rain magic for special effects.

And he looked great, soaking wet in his whatever-the-heck color of suit that was (it wasn’t Packers Green or San Jose Sharks teal!). He certainly looked better than me in my rain trash bag ensemble (but not better than Audrey, who rocked hers).

57 is too young.

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo

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