Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Terry Pratchett: Pyramids

Pyramids. Pyramids are like dams in the flow of time. It is this fascinating concept that Terry uses to explore the small river kingdom of Djel. It's all very quantum. At least, that's how they describe it in Djel. In Djel a man is a man, and a god is a god, except for the king who is both. Like I said, it’s all very quantum.

Teppic, the young king turned assassin, having been sent to the assassin’s school returns to his desert kingdom with lots of progressive new ideas. Unfortunately the high-priest Dios has other plans. Specifically he plans not to have any plans, and for everything to remain the same…forever. As you can see, this would not set well with the progressive young assassin king. Unfortunately Dios has been in charge for a long time…a very, very long time. So it will take all the skills of an assassin king and all of the spunk of a young handmaiden complete with bangles to face the challenge of change to come.

By the way, camels are very important. Remember that. Camels are one of the most intelligent animals in the world. They are so intelligent that they had the foresight to not let humans know they were intelligent. (Which says a lot I think) Fortunately the greatest mathematician in the entire world (A camel named You Bastard) helps the young king and spunky handmaiden with their quantum troubles. All the while calculating the vectors needed to spit a fly to the wall.

Once again in Pyramids, another aspect of my favorite subject, quantum physics, is discussed. The theory that the four dimensions of length/width/height/time can be shifted and an exploration of what would happen if they were is one of the most interesting premises of this book. Because of the stored power in a great pyramid the entire kingdom is shifted 90 degrees in time-space, thus removing it from normal interaction as it attains a 2 dimensional appearance as width is exchanged for time. This of course causes the realm to remove itself from normal time-space into its own side dimension. Being self-contained the kingdom now is forced to deal with the combined power of their collective beliefs (those beliefs having no where else to go now), and as a kingdom they believe in gods. Not just one god, many gods. Several with the same basic roles in the universe, such as making the sun rise, or move. This of course, causes fights…between the gods. As one would imagine, this is not a good thing. It does, however, emphasize the premise in quantum theory that thoughts are reality. In this kingdom the reality is a bit more immediate since it’s not diluted by outside influences, but thought is reality.

Overall, yet another fascinating exploration into the realms of emotion, humor, and quantum physics by Terry Pratchett. Definitely a must read. After all, it’s quantum.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters

In Wyrd Sisters the three prominent witches of the Ramptop Mountains get together to try to save the kingdom. It’s a nice little kingdom that everyone is fairly happy with, until the Duke decides to change the line of succession and murder the king. It’s all very Macbeth with the new king (duke) trying to wash the blood off of his hands with a file, and a truly evil wife who is really running the show.

One of the truly amusing plot points in this book is the eldest witch Granny Weatherwax’s inability to understand the theatre. Unable to fathom the purpose behind the play she tries to call their bluff and point out who the killer in the play was, (now playing a soldier) and how the dead man was still breathing so he wasn’t really dead yet anyway. Only Granny could so completely miss the point of something like theatre, and yet improve the performance by that misunderstanding.

The best part of the book however, was the (you guessed it) quantum physics. In a marvelous display of headology Granny Weatherwax decides to shift time for the kingdom of Lancre by means of a spell, which was designed to convince everything in the kingdom that 15 years had passed overnight. But it had to be done in one night. Amusingly enough it was Nanny Ogg who had the master stroke in that bit as she had convinced her many children to grab all of the roosters in the kingdom and prevent them from crowing so that Granny would have enough time to finish her spell. The best part was they didn’t actually cause time to move forward quickly, they actually caused the kingdom to step around 15 years worth of time which is cleaner and far easier to achieve. By believing that the night was not yet over, Granny was able to shift the kingdom around 15 years worth of time, without anyone really noticing.

In the end the day was saved because the young prince in hiding decided to become an actor and the court Fool (the young prince’s older brother, since neither of them was actually a prince anyway since the queen was sleeping with someone else when the King was away) was elected King of Lancre and they lived happily ever after.

Brian Lumley: Vamphyri!

Brian Lumley’s Vamphyri! is the second in his Necroscope series. In it he describes more fully the terrible powers of the Whampiri and the awesome powers of the Necroscope.

Throughout the world vampires exist in myths and legends. Each one is a little bit different than the others. In some areas of the world Vampires can turn into bats or wolves, in other areas they can become mist and some where they can’t change at all. Some regions have intelligent vampires that can think and reason like humans, while others have only mindless revenants incapable of any but the most animalistic thought processes. Brian explains much of this process by talking about the three types of vampires created by the Whampiri in this book. The primary type of course is the full fledged vampire. They are capable of independent movement and thought able to control their own actions and the actions of the lesser vampires. The second type of vampire is the lesser vampire. Able to think and reason, but completely subservient to the vampire master. Far less powerful they are able to create other vampires of their type or of the mindless type. Though they possess many of the same powers as the full vampire, it is much weaker. The third type of vampire is the mindless revenant. Created from the body of one who is already dead, the vampiric entity can control the body but has no mind to work with. This type of vampire can be controlled by the other two, but does not last very long as the vampiric parasite devours the body from the inside out.

This description makes for a fascinating explanation as to the many types of vampires seen across the world as well as creating an antagonist for the characters to combat.

Another thing that is more fully described in this book is the powers of the Necroscope. Harry Keoghs ability to travel through and view not only space, but time as well, shows the true versatility of his powers. It is almost comical how even with all of his power he is still unable to break free of his son’s mind. For all of his vaunted powers, his son is far greater than he. I look forward to reading the third book and learning just how powerful his son will become.

Overall, I thought it was a good book. It drew some fascinating conclusions and set the protagonist stage for an awesomely powerful character in the form of Harry Keogh Jr. Unfortunately they have killed off all of the antagonists, so Lumley is going to have to reach a bit I think for enemies powerful enough to challenge both Harrys in the next book.

Terry Pratchett: Sourcery

Terry Pratchett has done it again with a fantastically hilarious story that includes the impossible to believe Rincewind and my favorite Pratchett character of all…Luggage.

It begins with a man. This man had eight sons, and that is all. His eighth son however also had eight sons. Eight is, of course, the number of magic in Diskworld and so this eighth son became a wizard. Unlike most wizards however he also had sons, eight of them. The eighth son of the eighth son of the eighth son…was a sourcerer. A Source of magic. Unlike wizards who used magic, the sourcerer was a source of magic, and as such was more powerful than any wizard ever born. As you can imagine, this caused problems. Not the least of which was that his wizard father cast his soul into a mystic staff for the infant sourcerer in order to teach (see control) him. This really began to be a problem in the young lad’s pre-teen years when he started to think that he was better than everyone else. Problem was, he really was better than everyone else. Due to his fathers (staff’s) influence he then decided to take over the Unseen University, the premier school of wizardry in Diskworld.

Once again however, no matter how cool the sourcerer is, or how funny the failed wizard Rincewind is, there is no comparison with the greatest character of all, Luggage. In this book the reader has the opportunity to view the truly awesome power that is Luggage. I will highlight a few passages to illustrate.

“The Luggage paddled gently down the stream. The water was making it feel a little better. It spun gently in the weak current, the focus of several mysterious little swirls that sped across the surface of the water. Te ripples converged. The Luggage jerked, its lid flew open, it shot under the surface with a brief despairing creek.” This of course alludes to Luggage getting attacked by alligators, but later…“A basilisk lay panting in the baking shade of a rock, dribbling corrosive yellow slime. For the last five minutes its ears had been detecting the thump of hundreds of little legs, which seemed to indicate that dinner was on its way. The Luggage staggered to a halt and raised its lid threateningly. The basilisk hissed, but a little uncertainly because it had never seen a walking box before and certainly never one with lots of alligator teeth stuck in its lid. There were also scraps of leathery hide adhering to it and it appeared to be glaring. It turned on Luggage with a stare like a diamond drill, a stare that nipped in via the staree’s eyeballs and flayed the bring from the inside, a stare that – The basilisk realized that something was very wrong. The basilisk was feeling a terrible, overpowering and irresistible urge to blink. It did something incredibly unwise, it blinked.” A basilisk of course is a monster that can either stone or kill with it’s stare, a deadly monster indeed, but not as deadly as Luggage seen here…”The Luggage plodded erratically across the burning dunes. There were a few traces of yellow slime rapidly drying on its lid. The lonely little oblong was watched from atop of a stone pinnacle by a chimera. It judged its moment carefully, kicked away and plummeted down towards its victim. The chimera’s technique was to swoop low over the prey, lightly boiling it with its fiery breath and then turn and rend its dinner with its teeth. It managed the fire part but then, at the point where experience told the creature it should be facing a stricken and terrified victim, found itself on the ground in the path of a scorched and furious Luggage. The only think incandescent about the Luggage was its rage. It had spent several hours with a headache, during which it seemed the whole world had tried to attack it. It had had enough. When it had stamped the unfortunate chimera into a greasy puddle on the sand it paused for a moment apparently considering its future.” This is the awesomeness that is the Luggage. Horde of alligators, basilisk, and chimera only serve to make it angry. Unstoppable, unbeatable, and largely homicidal, Luggage is the ultimate adventurers travel accessory.

The other neat thing about this book, is the ending. Not only do the good guys win (a foregone conclusion…kind of) but the sourcerer decides to take the same path as his ancestors. He decides to enter his own world away from Diskworld and all of the troubles that his presence caused. Showing that even a young boy, with nearly absolute power, is not necessarily absolutely corrupted. Thanks to the efforts of the Indomitable Rincewind.