Dragons of Winter Night

A few months have passed since I read and reviewed Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’ve read a few other books in the meantime, including starting The Eye of the World, but now I’m ready to go back into the world of Krynn and the continued adventures of Tanis, Raistlin, and everyone else!

This book picks up right where the first one left off. While one dragon highlord was killed we already get a replacement, this one wearing blue armor. An army of blue dragons come to join in, but the dragon highlord sends them north. They encounter Tanis and the others, riding on Griffons headed towards Silvanesti (yep, another freaking elf homeland). After a very confusing recount of events and dreams that everyone in the party has due to the corrupted tower in Silvanstri, Laurana and several others head out to find another dragon orb.

Basically, they do find the other dragon orb and stuff happens as they try to get it to Sancrist. While all of this is happening, we don’t hear anything about Tanis, Raistlin, or the others who aren’t with Laurana and Sturm. And Tanis is who I really care about. I don’t care about Sturm, not really.

Later on we do come back to Raistlin, Caramon, Tika, and the others, but not much time or details are devoted to them. We also get a little insight into the Knights of Solamnia as Sturm is questioned before the Council for his actions regarding Derek and his orders. There’s some political undertones and power struggles, and all that comes with that, but in the end it all has very little affect on the story as a whole, and I was ready to move on. Shortly after this is where I stopped, when I realized that the story really wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe it does pick up before the end of the book, but I just don’t have the time to keep reading chapter after chapter trying to find out.

I never realized two things about this trilogy. First, just how little actually happens, and just as few locations those events take place in. Once I finished reading the majority of the second book, I was thinking over what all has happened and it’s just not very much. Second, there’s so much melodramatic “tension” going on between characters. I guess most of it is supposed to create drama and draw the reader in, but most of the time I just rolled my eyes and wished something would actually happen, rather than reading more and more about how a character would first feel angry, and then remorseful, but never actually doing anything about it.

After reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I was still looking forward to what happens to all of the characters. I wanted them to keep exploring the world, meeting new and interesting people, races, and cultures. I was quite let down trying to get through the second book, and I don’t think I’ll try to read any other Dragonlance novels.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

It’s been a very long time since I’ve last read the Chronicles trilogy. It was in middle school that I first learned about it, likely from my friend “Chip” who also introduced me to RPGs. What’s the connection? The Chronicles trilogy takes place in the Dragonlance universe (created by the book’s co-author Tracy Hickman with his wife Laura, and expanded with the help of the book’s other co-author Margaret Weis), used by TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) as a setting for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as well as a multitude of books. Regarding the latter, I’m pretty sure the Chronicles trilogy was by far the most popular. I remember reading quite a few other Dragonlance novels, but I can’t recall which ones, let alone what they were about.

Awhile ago I re-purchased the original paperbacks off of eBay, meaning to re-read them at some point. That time finally came a few weeks ago, when I sat down with the first book, opened it, and came to a horrible realization: the text was too small! Getting old sucks, yes, but seriously it’s really small. I guess for the paperback size it had to be that small in order to come in at a decent page-count. So, I set the books aside in my “to donate” stack, went on Amazon, and purchased the first book for my Kindle. While I still hate using PDFs/tablets/etc. for RPG material, for reading a book it’s just too nice using a Kindle: no holding a book open or page flipping, long battery life on the Kindle’s e-ink screen, and I can even read on my phone or online if I want to.

ANYWAYS, how was my impression of re-reading the book after so long? After all, I had tried to re-read a Forgotten Realms book years ago, and oh the pain! In contrast, I think Dragons of Autumn Twilight holds up fairly well, even though it’s still clear in spots that the writers were still fairly green at the time, and a better editing job could have greatly helped. While we get some insight into each of the main characters, we don’t get much about the main villain. He’s just there, described as the bad guy with the evil queen’s support, and then at the end is a quick fight.

I wanted more backstory for Tanis, and I wanted more development between him and Laurana. I wanted more backstory for all of the characters, honestly, to give them more motivation for their actions now. From what I can remember I think Dragons of Winter Night does go more into that. I did enjoy re-reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight more than I anticipated, so I know it won’t be too long before I pick up the next two.

Jurassic Park

The Film

Released to great fanfare in 1993, Jurassic Park utilized animatronics and CGI that few films even now have surpassed. Its plot veering quite a bit from the book, we nevertheless get a glimpse into a magical possibility led by the child-like enthusiasm of John Hammond.

Drs. Grant and Sattler are visited at their dig site in the Badlands by John Hammond, a major sponsor of their dig and a well-known philanthropist. He offers them more money and years of digging in exchange to visiting a site he promises is both unlike anything they’ve seen and “right up their alley”. Along with Dr. Malcolm they fly to an island, where they encounter living, breathing dinosaurs. After their initial excitement wears off, they realize that these creatures, as any of nature in general, cannot be contained. Things start to break down and people dying, and the rest of the movie is spent fighting to survive and escape the island.

Besides the incredible special effects, what I really like about this movie is the character quirks of everyone, and the details of their mannerisms and interactions with each other. I like that in the movie Dr. Grant doesn’t like kids, and his interactions with John’s grand-kids and fighting to protect them slowly brings him around, eliciting a great smile from Dr. Sattler.

The debate of trying to control and change nature is just as if not more relevant today than when the movie was released, and on the other side we see the passion and dreams of John Hammond falling apart, knowing that despite all the horrible things that happened he truly did want to bring something amazing back for the enjoyment of everyone visiting the park.

The Book

I first read Jurassic Park a long time ago, but didn’t remember much about it, especially as I had watched the movie so many times since then. Recently I purchased it on Kindle and read through it while travelling. I was surprised at how different it was compared to the film. Unlike the differences in the books and films of The Shining and Wonder Boys, this had larger character changes that affected not just this movie but the films that were to follow (but besides Jurassic World I haven’t seen them).

In the book Dr. Grant and Ellie are colleagues but not involved, and Ellie is a graduate student rather than a botanist. Dr. Grant actually doesn’t mind being around the grand-kids. Dr. Malcolm does have similar mannerisms, but in the book he doesn’t survive at the end. The lawyer, Gennaro, is not a stereotypical weasel and does survives. The park warden, Muldoon, isn’t much different as depicted in the movie, but in the book he does drink and seems to be a little more frustrated at the events leading up to what happens when the consultants visit. Just as in the movie Wu isn’t given much attention, although he is the true mastermind behind the dinosaur creations. As an aside, I’m really happy he was given a larger role and more screen-time in Jurassic World! Dr. Harding, the park’s veterinarian, does have a little bit larger role in the book, but is still pretty much a side character and honestly could be combined with Muldoon as the park’s resident expert.

In the book I didn’t really notice that the debate of controlling and changing nature was as prominent as in the movie. The book’s ending is quite ambivalent, with everyone flown to San Juan but not allowed to leave the island, at least so far. It certainly sets up for more to come, but as much as a sequel would be nice to read I do wish the story was a little more wrapped up.

The Shining

The Film

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of my all-time favorite directors, The Shining is one of my favorite horror movies and has even been in my sub-conscious for even longer. For many years I remember the scene of the blood pouring down from the closed elevator doors and could never place where it was from. Then one day, as I had discovered Stanley Kubrick’s films and was watching The Shining, that scene came up and I was staring open-mouthed, as I finally had my answer!

It’s hard for me to review and analyze the film on its own, now that I’ve finally read the book. Many have criticized the casting of Jack Nicholson, as he does already exude a crazy persona and smile before he even begins working at the Overlook Hotel. But he is balanced out pretty well by Shelley Duvall, whose immense sweetness and kindness is heart-wrenching to see taken for granted and even lashed at as the movie goes on. However unlike the book there isn’t much love or romance shown between Jack and Wendy; even though in the book they had come close to a divorce, in the movie it’s barely mentioned and they hardly seem like husband and wife. Danny Lloyd does pretty well as their child, although I would’ve preferred someone a few years older. The hotel itself is an amazing set, with multiple designs and stylings, both open and claustrophobic. The opening music by Wendy Carlos is mesmerizing, but from the next scene on I don’t remember there being much music, which may lend to why the film isn’t quite as scary and creepy as it could have, and should have, been. As this is a Kubrick film, he does take his time to let things slowly unravel for Jack Torrance, so that near the end we’re dreading to see what happens to the family. The ending is an interesting deviation from the book, as it shows Jack in a crazed homicidal daze right until the end. It does end the movie on a sharper note than what the book does, and I think it does work for the film. Overall this is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and out of Kubrick’s films I would rate this fairly high, maybe third or second pick.

The Book

It wasn’t until very recently that I picked up the book by Stephen King and read it all the way through. Years ago I had tried, but because of its glacial pace I stopped pretty early on. When I came back to it, I was still pretty irked due to its pacing, but I just had to remind myself this wasn’t the movie and keep reading. While I now realize there’s some good reason for the slower pace, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of background information and flashbacks that could’ve easily be trimmed down or even eliminated.

We get a lot more information about Jack’s troubles with alcohol and his temper. He’s lost his teaching job, and his friend was nice enough to get him the interview for the caretaker job at the Overlook. In the book Wendy is portrayed as a ditzy, emotional blonde. While it may make her seem more fragile and the contrast to the horrors that happen later, I can only picture Shelly Duvall and like Wendy as her. Danny is a lot younger in the book than the movie, and I’m not sure if that mattered too much or not. He doesn’t speak very much, and more time in the book is spent inside his head, relating to his gift and his thoughts about his parents. Sometimes it seems like too much, but later on when things unravel in the hotel having so much background on the family dynamic does make it far more important to the reader.

The hotel itself also receives far more detail in the book. We learn about the storied history of it and its many owners, as well as far more description of its various rooms. In the first part of the book we read about a little bit about the interaction between the hotel staff before they leave for the winter, but I would have liked to have read more about what the current staff has experienced while working there. Before leaving, the caretaker shows Jack the importance of dumping the pressure of the old boiler, usually twice a day. If that’s not a flag-waving foreshadowing, well then I don’t know. Later on Jack finds an interesting scrapbook on a shelf in the basement near the boiler, and its importance ramps up throughout the book as well.

The first few months are a joy for the Torrance family. Jack, away from his troubles, starts to write again. Wendy is happy both Jack and Danny are happy at the hotel. As time passes the weather and solitude begin to wear on them, although we read far more about the effects on Jack than Wendy or Danny. After finding a scrapbook in the basement, Jack becomes interested in the hotel’s history, including its association with organized crime and the murder that occurred at the hotel related to it.

Some of the scariest portions of the book, which never made it into the movie, was when both Jack and Danny separately heard and saw things in the garden and playground areas respectively. When Jack was working on trimming the animal-shaped hedges, he hears things moving when looking away, and then when he looks back one or more animals are in a different position. When Danny was on the playground, he began to hear things and scurries into the concrete pipe on the playground, where he then thinks he sees a shape at the far end of the pipe, slowly crawling its way towards him. Both of these are written quite well and take their time both with description and character reaction, giving us the reader plenty of time to really sink into the character’s minds and clearly imagine the same happening to ourselves.

As Jack begins to descend further into madness, he begins to build a hatred to Wendy and Danny as he thinks they’re trying to take him away from the hotel, where he feels he now belongs on a permanent basis. While in the lounge he is somehow able to get drunk off of imaginary alcohol, and begins to yield a roque mallet, swinging it around and hitting the walls as he searches for his family. In their suite he attacks Wendy, which is described in quite horrific detail. We clearly feel the pain and fear for her life, and are only grateful when Dick’s arrival distracts Jack’s focus enough for Wendy to pull herself up and escape the suite.

The approach to the climax and the resolution in the book are quite different from what happens in the movie. In the book far more detail is provided on Dick’s hurried trip back to the hotel, and the weather obstacles he faces driving both a car and a snowmobile (in the movie they use snow cats, which are far slower and tougher). When he arrives at the hotel, Dick is attacked by the hedge animals and barely makes it inside the hotel. Danny and Wendy must escape the now-lunatic Jack, and he attacks Dick and nearly kills him (when in the movie an ax kills Dick instantly). Near the end of the book and his life, there seems to still be a small part of the coherent Jack left, as when he’s close to attacking Danny he tells him to run, hurting himself and running to the elevator to get to the basement as the boiler nears its end. Fleeing from Jack and the hotel, the three of them run out of the hotel just as the boiler explodes, destroying much of the hotel and setting fire to the rest of it.

Time skips forward and Dick is working at a hotel in Maine. Wendy and Danny are also staying there for the time being, and Danny is enjoying playing outside. Wendy also seems to have a weight lifted from her shoulders, but she doesn’t apparently have much grief for what happened to her husband.

Conclusion

The movie adaptation will always remain one of my favorite horror films as well as Kubrick picks, even though Stephen King himself did not like it. It has a great atmosphere and takes it time to build at least some tension and suspense, even if not as much dread and horror as the book does. I’m glad I finally did read the book, and I would certainly rate it as one of my top picks for King novels (although I haven’t read that many of his works so far). Whichever medium you choose, it’s a great concept and story.

Designers & Dragons

Having received the PDFs from the Kickstarter many months ago, it’s only recently that I’ve read the four volumes of Designers & Dragons. These are brief overviews, but each volume is still nearly 400 pages! Despite the volume’s titles, they actually describe the various events of the companies founded during those decades through the 21st century.

In the first volume, ’70 to ’79, Shannon Appelcline describes the beginnings of the RPG hobby and industry, led by the founders of TSR and the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. The first part, focused on TSR, ends with its purchase by Wizards of the Coast in 1997. Next we get details for Flying Buffalo, Games Workshop, GDW, Judges Guild, Chaosium, and several other companies. As this volume is a little before my time, I’ll admit that besides TSR I wasn’t very interested in these sections (with the exception of Chaosium). I can certainly appreciate these companies’ help in laying the foundation of the RPG industry and leading the way, but for me personally I never played their games let alone heard about some of them.

In the second volume, ’80 to ’89, we see the second wave of publishers as well as innovations in the rules systems. This is probably the volume that really speaks to me, as it details Palladium Books, West End Games and ICE; these were the companies that were responsible for my RPG birth, and I couldn’t be happier reading about the people behind the creations of Rifts, Star Wars, and Middle Earth Role-Playing. I also enjoyed reading about companies I wouldn’t personally come to know their games until later, including Steve Jackson Games and FASA.

In the third volume, ’90 to ’99, we read about two RPG juggernauts at the height of their popularity, namely White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. For the latter, it details the winding down of AD&D 2E, the debut of 3E along with the OGL license, and then the massive mis-handling of 4E, the GSL, and their attempt at online/electronic integration. The section for White Wolf was also interesting for me, as I had picked up Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day, but otherwise missed out on the popularity of that game and the growth of LARP and the World of Darkness universe. Of course those two companies aren’t the only ones covered in this volume, as some of the other notables include Atlas Games, AEG, Fantasy Flight Games, Eden Studios, and Margaret Weis Productions.

In the final volume, ’00 to ’09, we’re pretty much coming up to date with what’s been happening in the RPG hobby. Although mentioned far too many times in past volumes, it was in this decade that the d20 boom and bust occurred, followed by the rise of the indie rpg. It also includes the OSR movement, starting with Troll Lord Games and Goodman Games, while the heritage of D&D 3.5 is picked up and carried by Paizo. The indie and storytelling games are championed by Evil Hat and Lumpley Games among others.

While not part of the original four volume set, later on Shannon released The Platinum Index, covering women in the industry (personally I’m not sure why this is separate rather than integrated into the four-volume set), influentials groups and clubs to RPG publishers, and some other detailed information that I will admit made my eyes glaze over.

This is a pretty good set that goes over the history of the RPG industry and the various companies, but it is a fairly shallow and wide-casting history that’s covered. For more detailed information on the birth of the RPG, it’s hard to beat Playing at the World. If you have a favorite company or era, then this set is nice as you can buy the PDF and/or hardcopy for just that section.