It's raining. The washing is sitting in the kitchen mouldering because, if I hang it out to dry, it will just get wetter. Oh yes, it's September in England.
Generally speaking, I actually like rain. Living in the UK, I guess I have to. Last winter, my first at University in Nottingham, we seemed to have rather a lot of it, but I didn't mind it too much. With a decent coat, which I invested in at the end of last summer, and some decent boots, which I should probably be considering replacing by now, I was quite happy tramping around campus and the city, ignoring puddles gleefully1. This winter will be no different, I expect, although I will have to go further to lectures due to being in different accomodation. Still, this time I have an umbrella.
As for University itself, well, I can't wait to get back. I've got so many friends up there I can't wait to see again, and then there's all that learning to be done... okay, so I'm a geek, but that's okay, isn't it? I am a Computer Scientist after all. It's expected.
This week, I'm going to do the obvious thing and recommend my latest music purchase - Whoa, Nelly! from Nelly Furtado. It's certainly not for everyone, and it's certainly different from Kate Bush, whom I recommended a fortnight ago. It is rather good though - powerful vocals, fairly good lyrics (even if the word "shit" is slightly overused for some tastes in the first two tracks), and a compelling beat. If you have no clue who Nelly Furtado actually is, keep an ear out for her current single, Turn Off The Light, or her previous hit, I'm Like A Bird, both are which are on this album. You wouldn't all like it, but this bit's about what I like. So there.
I think it's time to talk about the works of Harry Turtledove. Most well-known for alternative history (an alien invasion of Earth forms the basis for many of his books, none of which I've actually read), Turtledove turned his pen to a fantasy setting with the Darkness series, which is what brought me into his fanbase. I still haven't read any of his other books.
The Darkness series is currently three books - Into The Darkness, Darkness Descending and Through The Darkness, in reading order. The series (which is unfinished as of the time of writing) covers a war with some echoes of World War Two in it. The initial situation is similar to that found in Europe in 1939 - Algarve, defeated in the Six Years' War thirty years before, repossesses a Duchy which was established as an independant kingdom in the peace settlement. The residents welcome the Algarvian soldiers with open arms (and legs - sex features quite regularly, although it is always described tactfully and not in any great detail, alluded to more often than actually written into the narrative), but the countries who were Algarve's foes in the last war see it as an act of war, and immediately invade. Algarve, prepared for war after thirty years of nursing a grudge, counter-attacks against the three invading armies of Forthweg, Jelgava and Valmiera, and the fighting immediately bogs down.
There are many historical parallels - Sibiu, an island kingdom, is much like Britain until it is invaded by Algarve, at which point Lagoas takes over the role. Kuusaamo enter the war late, thus becoming like the USA, a similarity extended when they perform a successful test of a new way of obtaining magical energy that makes the spells the Algarvians cast by slaughtering Kaunians (who have a role not unlike the Jews in Germany) look like a candle next to a bonfire - a nuclear weapon, in other words. As a Kuusaaman theoretical sorcerer named Pekka describes it, Algarve has built the largest wood fire the world has ever seen, but they are looking at a coal fire, or something hotter than coal, and no wood fire burns as hot as coal.
Pending the introduction of this new weapon, the war is fought by armies with magical weapons called sticks which fire almost like laser beams, aided by dragonriders who deride their mounts as being about the stupidest animals on the planet despite their usefulness in battle. On the ground, behemoths carry heavy sticks and egg-tossers, acting as artillery and tanks. On the seas, huge warships cruise the ley lines, bristling with sorcerous weaponry although unable to sail far from the lines lest they go adrift - something Algarve used to their advantage by invading Sibiu with a fleet of sailing ships. Men, protected from the water by sorcery, ride on the backs of whale-like creatures called leviathans, and prove themselves highly useful by planting eggs (magical bombs) on the hulls of enemy ships to send them to the bottom.
The writing style is somewhat chaotic at first, with many viewpoint characters all over the world, ranging from the lowest to the highest in the world. We see through the eyes of the Algarvian footsoldiers Tealdo and Trasone, and a dragonflier of the same country, Count Sabrino. Pekka, a theoretical sorcerer in Kuusaamo, allows us to witness her experiments with new ways of harnessing magical energy and controlling her "egg of terror" young son, Uto. We see diplomacy from Hajajj, the Zuwayzi foreign minister, and we also see his opinion on clothing, having grown up in his desert home where the national dress is sandals, a hat and nothing in between. Marshal Rathar provides an ear in the court of the King of Unkerlant, while Leudast shows us what it is like for Unkerlant's footsoldiers, and Istvan provides the same perspective for the forces of Gyongyos. Vanai gives us an insight into life as a Kaunian in Algarvian-occupied Forthweg, while Ealstan shows us how the Forthwegians feel. Meanwhile, Marquis and Captain Skarnu fights a guerilla war against Algarvian forces occupying Valmiera, and a first-rank mage named Fernao shows us the situation in Lagoas.
I won't write any more on these excellent books, because the column will become far too long and boring. If you're interested, go and find a copy of Into The Darkness. You'll love it. I hope.
That's it for this week. Next time I shall, in all probability, ramble on at you some more, and then recommend some more music and books - perhaps not so long-windedly.
Emails are as always welcome at maw at alledora dot co dot uk.